Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Celebrating 13 Years

Yesterday was my 13th wedding anniversary. My aunt Judy was in town and she watched the kids so that Monique & I could get away for just about 24 hours. We took off on Sunday afternoon for the Cleveland area and came back Monday afternoon. We spent a lot of time talking, planning, and thinking about the past & the future. We did have some great food as we went to an early dinner at Maggiano's and then a late dessert at Cheesecake Factory. That's a pretty good combination, if you want my opinion.

As we thought about these past 13 years, we were overwhelmed at how the Lord has been gracious to us in so many different ways. We have lived in 8 different homes & have served in 5 different churches during this time (of course, we hope those trends do not continue). We have connected with many, many people that we consider dear friends. We have been blessed with three wonderful children. I am not sure the next 13 can be as great as the previous 13 were, but I pray they will be.

All of this made me think that if we are going to have another 13 great years, we are going to need one thing in more abundance: God's grace! Here is why: I am going to mess things up a lot. There are going to be lots of times in the next 13 years that I am going to be selfish. I am going to be mean with my words. I am going to focus on trivial things instead of what's important. And during those times, I am going to need God to give both of us some special grace to seek & offer forgiveness. Monique might even occasionally mess something up (maybe once every 13 years or so). And during those times, we are going to need more of God's grace.

I need more of God's grace for a very important reason. Because as I receive more of God's grace, I will be constantly reminded to reflect more grace towards my wife. And vise versa. We need to live with the grace of God constantly in our forefront of our minds. When I think of this concept, I am reminded of one particular passage in John 1. Listen to these words about Jesus and the grace that He gives.
"And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth . . . For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace." (vs. 14, 16)
Let's beg God for grace upon grace in our marriages!

Monday, May 30, 2011

The Morning After: A Life of Prayer (Matt 6:5-8)

Kingdom People Pray! That was the main thought yesterday as I continued my series in the Sermon on the Mount (the audio will be posted HERE by Tuesday afternoon). Three times in Matthew 6:5-8, Jesus says "when you pray." He says this because obviously He assumes those who are part of the Kingdom will pray.

In Christian circles, we often make prayer out to be something more than it is. Prayer is simply talking to God. Many have described that prayer is Trinitarian in nature, that it is "To the Father, Through The Son, By the Spirit." Jesus gives us the example that prayer is directed toward our heavenly Father. But it is only through the Son that prayer is possible. It is only because of the cross that we can have the relationship with the Father and pray to Him. The Spirit of God pricks our hearts and helps us when we pray.

I think sometimes, the greatest obstacle to developing a good, healthy prayer life is failing to distinguish between the formal and informal aspect of prayer. Of course, we should all have times of formal prayer. But the bulk of prayer should be informal. In 1 Thessalonians 5:17, Paul says that we should pray without ceasing. Obviously, he meant that we should always be in a spirit of prayer. Conversing with our Father should always be on our mind.

Back to Matthew 6: Jesus' greatest concern is the heart motivation of praying to be noticed by others. If that is the case, then we should seek to take our prayers to the closet by ourselves, so that our Father in Heaven will reward us for our prayer life. That doesn't mean we should never pray in public, but we should be checking our heart's attitude in the prayer. Here are a few questions to test your heart (these are  taken and adapted from Kent Hughes commentary on the Sermon on the Mount).

  • Do I pray more frequently or fervently when I am alone with God than when I am in public?
  • Is my public praying an overflow of my private prayer?
  • What do I think of when I am praying in public?
  • Am I looking for 'just the right' phrase?
  • Am I a spectator to my own performance?
How is your prayer life? Do you seek attention for it? May we all seek the Lord and see our hearts pour forth in passion for our Father who is in heaven.

The Next Story by Tim Challies

I have followed Tim Challies' blog for some time now. In 2008, at T4G, I had the opportunity to meet him and ask him questions about his first book for a project I was working on at the time. He even gave my book a shout out several months ago on his blog. So when this book came out, I knew that I would take the opportunity to read it. I just didn't think I would read it so quickly or it would impact me so greatly. 

(Please read to the very end, for a chance to win a copy of the book!)

The Next Story is a book about how Christians view technology in light of the digital explosion. He says repeatedly that the book was conceived as he tried to answer some questions in his own mind.  Questions like, "Am I giving up control of my life? Is it possible that these technologies are changing me? Am I becoming a tool of the very tools that are supposed to serve me?" (11)

The perfect illustration came as I read this book sitting in my living room, with my IPhone at my side. It seemed like every other page, my email alert would sound off and I was forced to make a decision. Keep reading or check my email. As I told my wife what I was reading, at every sound, she would look over at me to see what I was going to do--answer the email or keep reading? And that is his point in the book. Am I giving up my freedom of doing what I want to do because that thing that owns me has called my name. Of course, it is not that big of a deal when it interrupts my reading of a book (sorry Tim). But it is a big deal when I leave the focus of my family, church, God, meetings, or many other things in my life so I can answer an email or text message. He says, "But if technology is a good gift from God, with the potential to help us fulfill our God-given calling and purpose, why does it so often feel like we are slaves to our technology, like we are serving it instead of demanding that it serves us?" (13)

All of the book is good. Each chapter brings forth some concept or idea that is helpful and challenging for the Christian to think about. Yet, for me, the most insightful is Chapter 5: "Life in the Real World (Mediation / Identity)." In this chapter he shows how the "best relationships we can have are not those that rely on mediation, but rather the ones that allow for unmediated contact and communication . . . face-to-face contact between human beings is inherently richer and better than any mediated contact" (92). That is so true. We just moved to Ohio several months ago and greatly miss our friends. As I read that chapter, I was texting a friend that has moved to Texas. I talked to a friend in Ohio that ended the conversation saying "it is good to hear your voice." It was good to hear his as well, but it was nothing like seeing him in person.

He continues, "At its best, digital communication can be a supplement for real communication, but whenever possible should be a minor component to the many ways we can interact with one another. It is certainly not a suitable replacement for face-to-face contact." (96). His view of technology as a modern  day, new gnosticism was very insightful. You will have to read it to understand his argument that "cyberspace gives us a place to be ourselves apart from our bodies" (101). 

After reading a book like this, I am forced to make a decision. Either this is going to be another book that educates me and simply increases my knowledge of some subject; or this is going to be one of those books that forces me to do something. I do NOT think you should read this book if you are not willing to give some serious thought about how technology is affecting your life. If you are NOT willing to take a step back to evaluate the gadgets and gizmos in your life, I believe you will miss the point of this book. So, what are the outcomes for my life because of this book? Here are a few on my list as of now.
  1. Turn off my email alert on my IPhone when at home. I will check it when I want to check it, not when it beckons me to check it. I will not check it until the kids go to bed at night.
  2. One digital night off per week for the entire family. There will be one night a week that we will not watch TV, no computers, no wii, nothing that involves technology. We will read or play games, back to the old days when we were forced to talk to each other face-to-face. So, if I don't respond to one of your text messages or emails or calls, you probably know that you have chosen the night off. (However, I am a pastor, so I will answer phone calls selectively on those nights).
  3. Limit the amount of time my kids are in front of screens. I was shocked after I read this book how much I noticed my kids wanted to play wii, ds, games on my IPhone, or on the computer. It is constant. I am still thinking how to do this, but I want to set up how many minutes a day that get to do this.
  4. When studying, I will turn off all beeps & alerts. I have always said that I need time to not be distracted, that is why I often close my door when I study. Yet often when I close my door, I get 10 minutes into something and some email pops up or an instant message on twitter or something happens to distract me. I need to get rid of those so I can think, meditate, and be impacted with God and His Word.
It's a really helpful book, one that I hope you might choose to read. Thanks to Zondervan for sending me a free copy of the book, I would like to give you a chance to read it by giving away a free copy of the book. Here is how it is going to work. Simply make a comment in order to be registered to win. You MUST give at least your first name & last initial to be entered to win the book. I will draw randomly on Friday, June 2nd at 12:00 pm, and will post the winner in a blog post later that day. Please check back then to see if you won the book!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Video Sunday: Preaching the Gospel to the De-Churched by Matt Chandler

Listening to Matt Chandler preach the past couple years has been nourishing to my soul. This is a short clip from a sermon that he preached at a conference in 2009. It is about how American Christianity has often been a message of morality verses the gospel of Jesus Christ. I can't appreciate this message enough!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

One Way To Help Your Preacher

This past week, I started reading a book about preaching (Feed My Sheep: A Passionate Plea for Preaching). In the first chapter, written by Albert Mohler, I came across an interesting quote that I wanted to share with everyone. Since I know most of the people who read this blog are not preachers, let me pull the curtain back to give you a bit of an inside look at preachers and what they go through. He writes:
"I acknowledge that pastors have a certain 'product envy.' We envy those who build houses or sell cars or build great corporations or assemble automobiles. Why? It is because they have something tangible to show for their labor at the end of the day. They may be assembling widgets. They may be putting things in boxes, sealing them up, and sending them out. They may be cutting the grass. But in each case, they can see the product of their hands. A carpenter or an artist or a building contractor has something to which he can point.
But what about the preacher? The preacher is denied that satisfaction. We are not given the sight to see what we would like to see. It seems as if we stand up and throw out words and wonder what becomes of them. What, after all, is our product? Words, words, and more words. We sometimes feel as if we are flattering ourselves that people even remember what it was we had to say. We are chastened from even asking our own church members and fellow believers to recall our text halfway through the next week. Why? Because we are afraid that we will get that shocked look of anticipated response when a person of good intentions simply says: 'That was a fine message. I don't remember exactly what it was about, and I have a very vague recollection of something you may have said, but I want you to know it was powerful.'" (4-5).
That is so true! So what is one way you can help your preacher. Listen and remember what he says. Write something down. When you say that it was a good sermon, tell him something specific that impacted you. Resist some obscure generalization about the message. And work hard at being a good listener. If you want more information about this, check out my book:

The cheapest place to purchase it now is through the publisher, Wipf & Stock

If you prefer the free shipping, combine this book with something else and get it on Amazon

You can also check it out on ChristianBook, which might be the cheapest place to get it when they run their special free shipping.

Friday, May 27, 2011

BRC: A God-Sized Vision, week 2

As we continue in our Book Reading Challenge (BRC), this week we read about the First Great Awakening that took place here in America in the 1730's & 1740's. I don't know about you, but I love reading the accounts of how God worked in some remarkable ways in the lives of ordinary people. We learned about guys like Solomon Stoddard, who saw a revival at his congregation in Northampton between 1679 and 1718. But it was his grandson, Jonathan Edwards, who saw the real impact of revival on the Eastern Seaboard of America. The authors write about him:
"We remember Edwards as a deathly serious preacher, and he certainly rubbed some church members the wrong way. But he longed to see everyone find ultimate, eternal joy in the Creator and Savior . . . He was concerned for their souls as well. Their sins revealed a spiritual longing only God could meet" (40-41).
Much of the revival took place in Edward's ministry because he was not scared to talk about the hard things in life. Of course, his most famous sermon, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, did much to bring about the cold, hard insensitive image many have of Edwards these days.
"Yet Edwards believed that he loved people by warning them of hell. Eternity separated from God is so terrible, Edwards believed, that a minister who explains it dispassionately contradicts himself. 'If I am in danger of going to hell, I should be glad to know as much as possibly I can of the dreadfulness of it,' he said. 'If I am very prone to neglect due care to avoid it, he does me the best kindness who does most to represent to me the truth of the case, that sets forth my misery and danger in the liveliest manner'" (43).
APPLICATION POINT #1: Let's Not Be Scared To Talk About The Eternal Destiny Of People. There has been much debate in the past several months about the nature of hell and who goes there and who doesn't. Or whether it really exists. If God is going to do an extraordinary (I say that completely understanding that any work of God is extraordinary) work in the hearts of people we come in contact with, we must talk about the future destiny of believers and unbelievers. Or at least, we must not be scared to do so. I am not saying we should be gloom and doom, but we should have courage to say that hell is real and without Jesus a person will go there for eternity (check out the heart of Francis Chan & Mark Driscoll when it comes to the issue of hell).

One of my favorite people I long to meet is George Whitefield. He preached more than 100 sermons in five months by the time he was 23 years old. What? Where are those young men today? One of his main messages was that "it wasn't enough for them to sign an orthodox creed or live morally. They must be born again" (45). He called people to real life change, not just moral life change. As well, the young man, David Brainard, called his friend to be born again when he admitted to him that he didn't have any religious affections. That means, he didn't feel any passion or excitement for the things of God. And Brainard's response was that he might not be saved. He told him to get into his closet and beg for new spiritual life (50).

APPLICATION POINT #2: We Must Be Careful Not To Preach A Gospel Of Morality. It isn't just about someone not sleeping with their girlfriend or not drinking or not doing ________. It is about change from the inside out. God wants our heart, not just our externals and therefore, we need to preach a gospel that changes from the inside out.

And now your thoughts! What did you learn? What are you thinking about as you read this book? Please give some comments below.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Top Ten Mistakes Leaders Make by Hans Finzel

I just finished going through this book with my fellow elders at Cornerstone Bible Church. I wanted to read this book with them because I think so many leaders fail to accurately assess their weaknesses. This problem as leaders is even magnified in the church. We fail to look in the mirror and filter through what we are struggling in. That somewhat amazes me, since grace is the key component of our faith. But I guess leaders fail to correctly evaluate themselves because they are scared to see whether they are failing. I was once told by a fellow leader that they do not want to ask for feedback because they are scared they are not connecting with their people.

Well, The Top Ten Mistakes Leaders Make by Hans Finzel helps leaders accurately evaluate their weaknesses (well, at least ten of them). It is one of the most helpful books on leadership I have ever read. In the introduction, Finzel states his purpose of this book:
"This book is not intended to answer the question of leadership scarcity, but rather to look at what makes a good leader go bad, or better yet, what habits to avoid if you want to help fill the gap and replenish the great leadership famine. It is a resource book for anyone in any kind of leadership role" (15).
He goes on to say that leaders fail because "most of us who lead have neither been formally trained nor had good role models. So we lead as we were led. We wing it" (19). While this book is not exclusively Christian, Finzel does use many church or Biblical illustrations throughout the book. He obviously has some Christian upbringing and church leadership experience. So what are the top ten mistakes?

1.   The Top-Down Attitude
2.   Putting Paperwork Before Peoplework
3.   The Absence of Affirmation
4.   No Room For Mavericks
5.   Dictatorship in Decision Making
6.   Dirty Delegation
7.   Communication Chaos
8.   Missing the Clues of Corporate Culture
9.   Success Without Successors
10. Failure to Focus on the Future

Let me briefly talk about one of the chapters that I felt like is the one area in my leadership that I tend to make mistakes. It is found in Chapter 2: Putting Paperwork Before Peoplework. His subtitle for this chapter is "Confessions of a Type A Personality." That is me. While there are many good things about being a Type A guy, there are many things are not so good.

It is easy for me to get into projects and forget that the point of my job is people! I have grown tremendously in this area over the years, but I do realize I have so far to go. He says, "Leadership is essentially a people business. Experts confirm that the most effective leaders spend most of their time being with people and solving people problems" (49). I know that is true. But I also feel from time to time like I am being interrupted. He says that instead of seeing it as an interruption, look at it as an opportunity (45).
"How are people changed? How is it that we as leaders can influence others to be more mature? The clearest way to answer these questions is to ask one simple question: As you review your past, what has had the greatest impact on your growth as a leader and as a person? Has it been books, lectures, or tapes? Sermons or seminars? Classroom experiences? Every survey I have ever heard about regarding this question comes back with one resounding answer: A person or a number of key people with whom one has had real-life personal contact has been the primary change agent in the person's life" (53).
So, how can we help you, Thad? Glad you asked. First, Feel Free Interrupt Me. Test me. Stop in and see how I respond. See if I see it as an opportunity or as an interruption. Second, Please forgive me. I know that I am in the people business, but I also know that I will fail in this area. So, I ask you now and will continue to ask you, please forgive me when I treat you like it is an interruption. I do not mean to and want to be available for you. Third, Model People-Centered Leadership For Me. If you are in leadership, be the person who does what I am saying we all need to do. I know that many of you are much better at this than I am, I can learn from you.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

JT's 9th Birthday (May 25, 2011)

Today is my son JT's birthday! As I have been thinking about his birthday, I reflected back at a blog post I wrote about him several months ago. This was a list of several reasons why I love him so much (read it HERE). Today JT turns 9 years old. I just can't believe he is getting so old. I feel like it was just yesterday that he was born. But as I have been thinking about him and his birthday, I have come up with a few other things that I have noticed recently about him as he continues to grow into a young man.

First, his heart is as soft to the things of God as it has ever been. I pray for him today (really, everyday) that he would never lose that sensitivity. I can't believe how easy it is to lose. I can't believe how easy it is to fake the Christian life. I can't believe how easy it is to do things for Jesus because we are suppose to do them instead of a heart to do them. I am praying that as he continues to grow more and more, learn more and more about Jesus and the gospel, that his heart for Christ would continue to be sensitive to the Savior. Last week, he won The Outstanding Student award at his school. He was the only one chosen from his class. Yes, he is really smart, but more than that. He is kind. He is a helper and really cares about the needs of others. That is because he has such a soft heart for the things of God. (Oh, by the way, Anni won the award for her kindergarden class; the Bergmeier's rocked Jordak Elementary).

Second, he is excited about being discipled or trained. About two weeks ago, I bought him this book, 30 Days To Understanding the Bible by Max Anders. I have gone through this book with Karsten and thought that it was time for JT as well. He loves it. It is a workbook that takes a person through the major time periods, characters, locations, and concepts of the Bible. It really helps put order and structure to the Bible by pulling it all together. It is designed to be about 15 minutes a day for 30 days. The other day, he forgot to do it and was distraught because he wanted to get it done in 30 days. I know Monday morning, he did two lessons. The cool thing is that I have hardly had to remind him to do it, he just gets up each morning and does it! And then we have taken some time to talk about it.

Third, he would rather give than get. Now, look, he is a 9-year old boy. So, for sure, he enjoys presents and getting things. But two scenarios have come up that make me say what I have said. The other day out of the nowhere, he asked if we could take all his money he has in the bank and just give it to the church building fund. How do we respond to that as a parent? Tough one! When thinking about his birthday presents, we asked him this question: "Would you rather get a lot of presents for yourself or do things as a family?" Guess what he chose? He would rather not get many presents but do things as a family. He wants everyone to be involved with his birthday (although if we were offering an IPod Touch or something like that, he might have changed his mind).

I love that he loves to sit in my lap. I love that he loves to talk to me. I love that he loves to do things with me. I just pray that will not change. Let me end with just a few pictures that I have taken recently of my little guy!

For some reason, JT loves to go mini-golfing. Just a couple weeks ago, I took him with me as I went to a funeral on the other side of Cleveland. He wanted to spend the day with his dad. After the funeral, he changed clothes and we found a little place to play. He is actually getting really good. I only beat him by 1 stroke, and I was really trying!

He is really starting to love reading as well. This is him sitting at the Middlefield Library reading a book. I love it that he loves to read!

And of course, there are always the cinnamon rolls at CiCi's Pizza! He loves those (but who doesn't?)


Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Average Joe by Troy Meeder

Average Joe by Troy Meeder is a book written to men to help them rejoice in the fact that they are just ordinary. Or maybe I should say that God uses ordinary men to accomplish what He wants to accomplish. On the surface, this is a great concept. Yes, I believe God uses the ordinary men in ways that are extraordinary. Yes, we need more men in our world to fulfill their calling in their homes, the church, & their community. But what started out as a good concept, honestly, left me empty after finishing the book.

Let me say this at the beginning: It was not a bad book! There was really nothing in the book that was unbiblical or heretical. It's just that a book about the average Joe turned out to be average itself. Maybe it is because of the number of books I find myself reading these days, I am looking for the next great book. Maybe I am the one who needs to realize that most books are average (including my own writings). It is not bad, but it does not change lives.

Meeder begins with the premise that as men, our lives have not turned out the way we thought they would. I guess, I am not like most men then, for I think at this point in my life, it has been what I thought it would be. He says, "I worked hard, trained, planned, dreamed. Yet for some reason my life--and your life--turned out differently from what we anticipated. We've given it all we have, only to seemingly fall short" (11). I guess, I understand what he is saying, but I wonder if assuming every man had the dream of being a rock star, cowboy, or professional athlete is a bit presumptuous. I don't think I ever did, or at least really thought it would happen.

The book is filled with stories of men that have impacted him or of things he has done in his life. Those stories are used as illustrations of basic principles Christian men should be seeking to apply to their lives every day. I believe the two most helpful chapters are Chapter 9: "The Friend" and Chapter 10: "The Test."

In the chapter about friendship, Meeder hits home and says that most men do not have good friendship because men do not work at their friendships. He says they do not try. They do not ask the hard questions to each other. (on a side note, I think men do not ask hard questions to others because they do not want those questions asked back to them). Men, we need friendship!

In the next chapter, he talks openly about how his marriage almost ended. I appreciated his openness and how candidly he discussed the issues that led to that day when it all blew up. He puts the main responsibility upon the man to shepherd his family. He says, "Within the context of marriage, no failure in a relationship is one-sided. It always takes two. However, I strongly believe that the health of a marriage is directly related to the spiritual health and leadership of the husband, the 'pastor' of the home" (94). Men, do you see yourself as the pastor of your home?

The book is a quick read. If you are looking for the book to change your life, I don't think this is the one. But if you are looking for a book to introduce some basic men's issues, you might enjoy it. But just remember, it is an average book about average men.

I received a copy of the book: Average Joe by Troy Meeder from Waterbrook Multnomah Publishing Group for review.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Morning After: A Life of Generosity (Matt 6:1-4)

Does any pastor really like to talk about money? Or at least, any pastor that is not seeking to manipulate and trick their congregation (or TV viewers) into helping build their little kingdom. Most preachers I know do not love it, but we all know it is important. Jesus talked about money and possessions more than heaven and hell combined, so it must be important.

Yesterday, I continued in my series through the Sermon on the Mount and came to Matthew 6:1-4, where Jesus does talk about the way in which we give our money away (Listen HERE, usually posted by Tuesday). Our main thought was Our Motivation For Being Generous With Our Money Should Be Our Father In Heaven, Not Others Or Even Ourselves! Of course, we know that is difficult. Most people act differently when other people are watching, particularly when it comes to religious things.

Jesus warns that we should not seek to do things for the sake of other people. If we do, we forfeit our reward that is in heaven by our Heavenly Father. Think about that for a second. Who would you want to reward you for your righteous acts? The Almighty Creator of the universe who knows all things or the person who cannot even remember what they had for dinner two nights ago.

Jesus begins verse 2 by saying, "When you give...", because He assumed those who are part of the Kingdom would be givers. Unfortunately, the statistics say just the opposite. The stats say that those in America who claim to be Christians are generally not givers, let alone generous givers.

I would highly recommend a book by Christian Smith called Passing the Plate: Why American Christians Don't Give Away More Money. In this book, he diagnosis the problem of the American Christian as to why they do not give away more of their money. He tackles the issue from a sociology standpoint. At the end of his chapter entitled "Failed Generosity," he makes this statement:

"First, American Christians appear to possess the financial resources to give generously if they so desired. Second, nearly every tradition in American Christianity explicitly teaches its followers to give liberally, if not to tithe 10 percent of income . . . Third, generous financial giving promises to help achieve so many things that American Christians profess to desire to accomplish, and to achieve them through means consistent with their core values and standards. Here, then, is the confounding riddle: why, in light of these three points, do Christians in the United States not give away their money much more generously than they do?" (55-6).

Good question! In response to that question, I give you the words of Jesus: "WHEN you give...". As I thought about this, I wondered if Jesus would have given this teaching today, if he would have given more instruction on it. I don't think so. From the OT all the way through the NT, we are continually told that those who have been impacted by their Lord would be givers. They would not hold onto their stuff with tight fists, but have them open, seeking the Lord as to what He would have them do with them.

And in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus continually is telling them that He wants their heart. He is not about the external duty only (like tithing in this case), but He wants our hearts. There was so much more I talked about in this message. Listen to it if you have the time.

I think the best illustration I could come up with as to what Jesus is teaching in this section is the issue of delayed gratification. We have all heard about the experiment where the child is offered a few pieces of candy now or a whole bunch a week from now. The young child cannot think that far away and so almost always picks the here and now. We think the child is not smart. However, maybe they learned that from the adults in their life. We often choose the here and now instead of investing and thinking about the eternal with our money. We pick the treasures today instead of the treasures in heaven!

In response to this section of Scripture, let us not ask the wrong questions. The wrong question is how much do I need to give or should I give. The right question is how can I develop a more generous heart. To answer that, I would encourage you to take a long, hard look at the cross of Jesus Christ!

"Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!" (2 Corinthians 9:15)

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Video Sunday - Hell: We Can't Afford To Get It Wrong by Francis Chan

I have been thinking about ways in which I can add a little something extra to this blog. I came up with this idea, maybe it's good, maybe it's not. But I run across several videos each week of preachers or other church leaders talking about good things. So I thought each Sunday, I would give everyone a short video they could watch.

This week, I have chosen this video by Francis Chan. It is called, Hell: We Can't Afford To Get It Wrong. What I really appreciate about Chan is his humility when it comes to the issue of Hell. You may or may not know, but there has been a lot of buzz recently about hell. This is one of the best responses to it. And I do look forward to his book that he is writing about this topic, due out soon. Enjoy! It will be worth your 10 minutes.

Friday, May 20, 2011

BRC: A God-Sized Vision, week 1

A few weeks ago, I challenged many of you to read a book with me. Here is they way it will work (read the blog challenge HERE): We will read a book, a chapter a week, and then post some thoughts on this blog to encourage each other. Even though most of us do not live near each other, we can still be involved in each other's life. It is a way to redeem the technology that we use. I am calling this: BRC (Book Reading Challenge). And the book that I wanted to start with is A God-Sized Vision by Collin Hansen & John Woodbridge.

I chose this book for two reasons. First, I have always enjoyed church history. I love reading about stories of men and women of the faith and how God used them. I also think that most Christians are very ignorant about the people who have gone on before them in the faith. We know names, but we have no idea who they really were or what they really did for the cause of Jesus. I think knowing and hearing these stories encourage us to keep going and will stretch our faith.

Second, I want a revival. Don't you? Don't you want God to do something that cannot be explained? For the first time in my life, I have taken a job as a senior pastor of a church. That means, I am in more of a position of influence than I ever have been. As I think about what I want to happen in our church and in our community, it is a revival.

That leads me to the Preface and Chapter 1 of this book. Most of this book is going to be stories of revivals throughout church history, but this beginning is more of the theology of revival. At the very beginning, they say, "This book is not for those who have grown comfortable with the Christian Life" (12). This made me think: how do I know if I have grown comfortable? Maybe the answer to that is found in my attitude. Do I want God to do something more and amazing in my life (and those around me) or am I comfortable with where I am spiritually? 

They continue to say "Few of us are tempted today to dream too big. Rather, our vision shrinks to the size of our limited experience. Yet all things are possible for those who believe in the God who created the heavens and the earth" (12). In dreaming big, they say that we need to pray for revival. We need to cry out to God to do His work in our midst. They even say their hope is that this book would "stir you to offer prayers that move God" (15).

APPLICATION POINT #1: Let's Pray For Revival! I commit to you that if you are reading along and are posting comments, I will pray for you. Will you pray for me? Let's pray together that God might do something that shocks and amazes us. Let's pray that God does something that can only be explained by Him! They quote Lloyd-Jones as saying, "Let us lay hold upon Him and plead with Him to vindicated His own truth and the doctrines which are so dear to our hearts, that the church may be revived and masses of people may be saved" (17)

I found they never really gave a detailed definition of revival in these opening pages. But they did give many characteristics of revival. They say that some of the general patterns of revivals are when the Bible brings about conviction, "followed by repentance, resulting in rejoicing, because the redeemer God doesn't abandon those who seek his face" (23). They seemed to acknowledge one of the key components of revival is that there is someone or a group of someone's that call for a change. "Following a period of spiritual decline, someone steps forward to acknowledge failure to live according to God's good and gracious law. Others begin to see the problem, and they turn from their wayward path" (24-5).

APPLICATION POINT #2: Let's Be The Someone! Let's be the people that not only pray, but step forward calling people to seek the Lord. But in this process, we must fight against seeking our own glory. They say that in revival, God "responds favorably not to exalt earthly leaders but to defend and display the glory of his name" (23). This is what we need, to seek the glory of God and not ourselves. Let's be the someone, but for the real Someone! I can attest that when people come to our ministries and are saved, there is the temptation to rob God of His glory. Let us walk cautiously.

Okay, now that I have shared more than enough. What did you think? How were you impacted? What could you share with everyone else? What questions do you have? Let's interact together in this book. Thanks for participating.

Don't forget, next week we will cover chapter 2, "Surprising Sings of the New Birth."

Thursday, May 19, 2011

King's Cross by Timothy Keller

This is the first book that I have read cover to cover by Tim Keller. And it was really good! King's Cross is Keller's account of the Gospel of Mark. Keller has a very easy style of writing that moves very quickly and makes his point very directly. He has a way of taking the story of the Bible and weaving it so that it just makes sense. He is very skilled at using even current illustrations from our culture to help explain the importance of the King and His Cross.

The book is divided into two sections: The King (Mark 1-8) & The Cross (Mark 9-16), hence the name King's Cross. Each chapter deals with a certain portion of the gospel account. In each chapter, he will define what is going on, how it plays into the overall theme of the gospel of Mark and ultimately point to the cross. That is probably what I enjoyed the most of each chapter. Usually the last couple pages of every chapter had a road that led to the cross of Jesus and the gospel message.

For instance, in chapter eight, Keller tells the story of Syrophoenician Woman who asks Jesus to heal her daughter of her demon possession & the story of Jesus healing a deaf man by the Sea of Galilee (Mark 7:24-37). Good stories, right? She begs, Jesus eventually goes and heals her daughter (that is the story where the woman, being a Gentile, says that even if she is considered a "dog" she still needs help). People bring a deaf man, Jesus heals him after he gives out a sigh. What Keller does is show the connection Mark is making (by Jesus making a deep sigh) with Isaiah 35:5, the only other place a word like this is used (in the Septuagint at least).
"Mark is saying: Do you see the blind opening their eyes? Do you see the deaf hearing, do you hear the mute tongue shouting for joy? God has come, just as Isaiah 35 promised; God has come to save you. Jesus Christ is God come to save us. Jesus is the King" (94). 
The only problem with this view is that Isaiah 35 has to do with divine retribution and Jesus isn't coming to smite people. So where's the retribution?
"Where's the divine retribution? And the answer is, he didn't come to bring divine retribution; he came to bear it. On the cross, Jesus would identify with us totally. On the cross, the Child of God was thrown away, cast away from the table without a crumb, so that those of us who are not children of God could be adopted and brought in. Put another way, the Child had to become a dog so that we could become sons and daughters at the table" (94). 
The book is filled with analogies like this. It is very insightful. This is one of those books that I might actually order several of to keep them stashed away to give to those who are searching. I would give it to skeptics. I would give it to those who do not know who Jesus is. It is one of those books. It would be well worth your time to give it a read. He ends the book with these words:
"The gospel is the ultimate story that shows victory coming out of defeat, strength coming out of weakness, life coming out of death, rescue from abandonment. And because it is a true story, it gives us hope because we know life is really like that. It can be your story as well. God made you to love him supremely, but he lost you. He returned to get you back, but it took the cross to do it. He absorbed your darkness so that one day you can finally and dazzlingly become your true self and take your seat at his eternal feast" (230).

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Don't Waste Your Sports

I have been trying to give some serious thought to what it means to have kids in sports these days. It is so different from when I was a kid, at least it seems like it from this side of the perspective. Here is the reason why I am thinking about my kids in sports right now. Here is our weekly schedule the past four weeks and will continue for the rest of May.
  • Monday Nights--Karsten Baseball from 6:30-8:00 pm
  • Tuesday Nights--JT Baseball from 6:30-8:00 pm
  • Wednesday Nights--Karsten Soccer from 6:00-7:00 pm
  • Thursday Nights--Karsten Baseball & Anni Tball from 6:30-8:00 pm (different fields of course)
  • Friday Nights--JT Baseball from 6:30-8:00 pm
  • Saturday Mornings--Karsten Soccer from 10:30-11:30 am & Anni Tball from 10:00-12:00 pm.
Get the point? This is just flat out crazy. Soccer will end at the end of May, but then baseball goes for another two months. Last night, we had another game rained out. It was the second this week. So, I took the opportunity to have the family sit down and watch a short DVD by C. J. Mahaney called "Don't Waste Your Sports."

The initial question that Mahaney asks is "what will keep us from turning sport from something beautiful into something ugly." We all know what something ugly looks like. We have seen or read the stories of parents that go so far as hurt other kids so their child can succeed. He begins with the premise that sports, all sports is a gift from God. Now, what are we going to do with it? Are we going to rejoice and enjoy it or are we going to turn it into some form of idolatry, something ugly?

He says that before we participate in sports, we must be informed by the knowledge of God. We cannot play for God's glory if we do not know God.

The heartbeat of the message is when he gets really practical. He says that we glorify God in sports by giving thanks to God for sports. That made me think about my kids. I do not very often take time before the sporting event to pray with my kids, giving thanks to God for the weather, the ability they have been given, the opportunity, and so on. I plan on doing that for now on, before and after their sporting events. I think what this does is keeps them in a mindset that God is integrally part of this event. It is a gift God has given and when I help them see that or help them understand that, they will better be able to glorify God in it.

He also said that we glorify God in sports by displaying godly character in sports. Play the game in light of the final judgment, not the immediate circumstances. In that, we teach our children to play with humility and servanthood. I was able to ask my boys several questions about how their character is being formed as they play sports (these are questions Mahaney asks):

  • Do you accept corrections?
  • Do you know and rejoice in your limitations?
  • Are you willing to depend on your teammates?
  • Do you rejoice in the talents of your teammates, even if they are better than you? (this was a good one, particularly when I asked if they would rejoice if their brother was better at it than they were. You know, they are boys who are competitive)
  • Are you gracious in defeat?
  • Are you modest in victory?
  • Do you honor your coach? (I think I learned a lot about that. I tend to be critical of the coaches. I need to stop that because that makes my boys less likely to honor them)
  • Do you respect referees?
  • Do you give glory to God, not to yourself?
  • Will you play any position the coach assigns to you?

I think you get the point. Parents, don't let your kids waste their sports. And don't waste watching their sports. Above all, don't forget that the pull or lure of sports can conflict with church these days. Which are you going to pick? That is not meant to be a question to condemn you if you ever miss a church service. It is meant to be a question as to whether you are thinking through what that says to your child about church. Which is more important?

If you are into sports or your kids are into sports, I would recommend that you watch this message from Mahaney. You can buy the DVD or book at www.dontwasteyoursports.com. They also have the audio as a free download or you can watch it on the site for free.

Don't Waste Your Sports!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Simplicity in Preaching by J.C. Ryle

J. C. Ryle has long been one of my favorite writers (or preachers). The style that he uses in his writings (or sermons) is simple, easy to understand, and filled with illustrations that bring life to his meaning. It was a special gift that he had, but one in which is needed by all preachers.

While at the Parkside Basics Conference, I ran across a little booklet by Ryle that I have never seen before. Simplicity in Preaching is the printed form of a lecture that Ryle gave to a clerical audience. In this little book, he gives his view of how preachers should preach, at least in the sense of being able to communicate clearly and simply.

I have always been concerned that what I preach is understood. I have always cared that people get it, that it is clear and simple. That does not mean it cannot be deep, but as we speak forth the depths of the truth of God, we say it in a way that everyone can understand it. Probably one of the compliments I hear the most about my preaching style is that it is easy to follow. I never want to get far from that thought in my preaching. For that, I am deeply thankful. Today is my main study day. As I study, this thought will be in the forefront of my mind: Keep It Simple!

Wanting to continue to learn this, I gave this short book a quick read. Let me summarize Ryle's main points in this little booklet (although I give the main points, all preachers, you should purchase this book and read it).


(a) For one thing, I ask all my readers to remember that to attain simplicity in preaching is of the utmost importance to every minister who wishes to be useful to souls.

(b) The next thing I will say is that to attain simplicity in preaching is by no means an easy matter.

(c) Let me observe in the next place, that when I talk of simplicity of preaching, I would not have my readers suppose I mean childish preaching.

(d) Finally, let me observe, that it is not coarse or vulgar preaching that is needed. It is quite possible to be simple, and yet to speak like a gentleman, and with the demeanor of a courteous and refined person.

I. If you want to attain simplicity in preaching, take care that you have a clear view of the subject upon which you are going to preach!

II. Try to use in all your sermons, as far as you can, simple words!

III. If you wish to attain simplicity in preaching, take care to aim at a simple style of composition!

IV. If you wish to preach simply, us a direct style!

V. If you would attain simplicity in preaching, you must use plenty of anecdotes and illustrations!


(a) Whatever we preach, or whatever pulpit we occupy, whether we preach simply or not, whether we preach written or extempore, we ought to aim not merely at letting off fireworks, but at preaching that which will do lasting good to souls . . . Let us aim so to preach, that what we say may really come home to men's minds and consciences and hearts, and make them think and consider.

(b) All the simplicity in the world can do no good, unless you preach the simple gospel of Jesus Christ so fully and clearly that everybody can understand it. If Christ crucified has not his rightful place in your sermons, and sin is not exposed as it should be, and your people are not plainly told what they ought to believe, and be, and do, your preaching is of no use.

(c) All the simplicity in the world is useless without a good lively delivery.

(d) Above all, let us never forget that all the simplicity in the world is useless without praying for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and the grant of God's blessing, and a life corresponding in some measure to what we preach.


Monday, May 16, 2011

The Morning After: A Life of Love

Two weeks ago as I learned the news about Bin Laden's death, I wrote a blog post on my feelings. I did so because something just didn't seem Christian about the all the rejoicing over his death. As I studied this past week for my message on Matthew 5:43-48, I was struck once again that the Christian response to our enemies should be LOVE, not revenge (you can listen to it HERE).

Jesus begins this section by reminding them that they had always been taught that the law of God was to love your neighbors, but hate your enemies. Now, that first phrase we get. But that second one is a gross addition to the OT law. You will never find it in any section of the OT. Sure, there were some who hated those that hated God, but we are never told to respond individually to those who are our enemies with hatred. 

There are many reasons why I think they arrived at this point in their law. But the most important point is remember how easy it is for sinful man to twist and manipulate the Bible to say what they want it to say in order to serve them. They sought to do everything they could to limit the law of love instead of expanding it. In Luke 10, a lawyer comes to Jesus and asks Him about the nature of the law and inheriting eternal life. Jesus responds by telling him to love God with everything and love his neighbor as himself. He responds by asking "who then is my neighbor?" That question is asked from a heart of wanting to do just enough to get by.

Of course, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says that it is not about hating your enemy, but loving them. If someone has done something wrong to you; if they have hurt you physically; if they have offended you or your family; if they have made it their point in life to attack you personally--the response by the person of the Kingdom is to love them sacrificially. And of course, this makes no sense in our world today. One person has said, "to return evil for good is devilish; to return good for good is human; to return good for evil is divine."

Jesus gives us two reasons why we should love like this. First, Loving Our Enemies Displays The Heart Of Our Father (vs. 45). God loves without limits and so when we love without limits, we are displaying to everyone that we are like our Father in heaven. Jesus refers to what is known as "Common Grace." It is God's favor poured out to all people, regardless of their spiritual status. He rains on the righteous and unrighteous. He shines sun on the wicked and holy. Even though we both deserve nothing, He continues to bless. And when we love those that do not deserve it, we are showing that we are like our Father.

Second, Loving Our Enemies Shows We Are Different (vs. 46-47). When we love those that love us, what's the big deal? So does everyone else. Even tax collectors and Gentiles love those that love them. The key phrase Jesus uses is in vs. 47, "what more are you doing than others?" If people were to look at the way in which we love others, would they say they are normal, just like everyone else? Or would they say we are radical. There is no explanation to why we should love that person. That's where we want to be, for sure!

Love your enemies and do good to those that hate you!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Basics Conference @ Parkside Church, Day 2

I wanted to share briefly the highlights of yesterday's Pastors conference at Parkside Church. It began as I went to another training session for Logos Bible Software, which I purchased, installed, and indexed the night before. I was greatly encouraged to see how much I will be able to do with this program. Although, I am overwhelmed at how much it can do. Now to the real sessions that instructed me.

Session #1: John Dickson

The first session I went to was with John Dickson, who is from Australia. I guess you have to have an accent in order to speak at the Basics Conference. He spoke from Philippians 1-2 on the topic of "The Medium & the Message: the church, the pastor, and the gospel." He asked 8 questions as he worked his way through the passage as he tried to apply Paul's gospel emphasis to our hearts.
  1. Am I helping my people to become citizens of Christ's Kingdom more than citizens of 21st Century America?
  2. Am I enhancing the platforms of Junior Pastors?
  3. Do I allow God's Word to speak to me as much as I speak it to others?
  4. Am I motivating others to evangelism by obliging them to a command or by inspiring them about Jesus' majesty?
  5. Do I talk about money in church as a mundane necessity or as an act of worship & a promotion of the gospel?
  6. Is my congregation's stance toward the unbelieving world one of admonition or mission?
  7. Is there a factional or competitive ministry relationship I should mend today?
  8. How can my congregation increasingly embody the gospel of Christ's love we proclaim?
These were some very interesting questions I will need to spend some time thinking about, particularly #7 & 8.

Session #2: Rico Tice

The next session I attended was by Rico Tice. He once again went through portions of Mark's gospel. His motto through Mark is to "teach the gospel by the gospel," meaning that as we let the gospel of Mark speak, we are teaching the gospel. He asked three important questions as he compared the attitude of Jesus with the Sons of Thunder (James & John).
  1. Are we living self-seeking or self-sacrifice?
  2. Are we living service or power?
  3. Are we living suffering or security?
These were helpful and impactful to me personally. It is so easy to seek the glory for ourselves, but Jesus says that that we are called to be a servant of all. I appreciated him saying over and over again Jesus' words in Mark 10:43, "But it is not this way among you." Or at least, it is not to be that way among us.

Session #3: Alistair Begg

In one of the breakout sessions, I listened to Alistair Begg on the issue of Evangelistic Preaching. He called that, "Preaching the gospel to unbelievers with a view to their conversion." There are many things that stood out to me, but let me just give one statement at the end. I challenge us all to think about this statement. "Do I really believe the Spirit of God takes the Word of God into the heart of people?" If so, then preach the Word & let God do the work.

Session #4: Rico Tice

Rico Tice walked through the curriculum he has designed called Christianity Explored! I think I will check this out at some point. It looks like an interesting study to take people through who do not know Jesus. It looks like a good evangelism tool.

Session #5: John Dickson

This was the last session of the evening. Dickson continued to speak about the book of Philippians, particularly the last half of chapter 1 & first half of chapter 2. He framed it around this concept of citizenship. As Christians, we are called to not to this world, but to conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel (1:27). The gospel is that thing that calls us or shapes us out of this world. Of course this is seen in the humility of Jesus in the beginning of chapter 2, as Jesus exemplifies that greatness is found in humility.

He said, "The Christian revolution was a humility revolution." It is a shame when we are ever proud as Christians, because the leader was one of humility. In the end, he said that we are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling (2:12) and gave a couple questions in conclusion. Do we have the mind of Christ . . .

  • In our marriages?
    • what would our marriages look like if we truly lived the gospel and put the other person as more important than ourselves in everything?
  • In our bedrooms?
    • what would our sexual lives look like if we truly lived the gospel and put the other person as more important than ourselves in everything?
  • In our criticisms?
    • is the gospel shaping us to not be defensive?
    • is the gospel moving us to gain feedback, even if it is negative?
  • In our communities?
He ended with an illustration of a friend of his who on his deathbed made this statement: "People cling to silly things that keep them from the gospel." May we not be that person!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Basics Conference @ Parkside Church

One of the great things about where I am now located is that we are just about 35 minutes from Parkside Church, which is where Alistair Begg is the Senior Pastor. This week, they have their annual Pastors & Church Leaders Conference. The theme this year at the Basics Conference is "Doing the Work of an Evangelist."

The conference started yesterday afternoon and I was able to go to a couple seminars and general sessions. First, I went to a seminar for those interested in the Logos Bible Software. I have always been interested in Logos and for the first time, I was able to see what it does. I was impressed. And yes, I did make a purchase (but don't tell my wife - just kidding, she knows).

Alistair Begg kicked off the general sessions by talking about John 3 and Jesus' interaction with Nicodemus. He began the message with this statement: "The pulse-beat of the heart of God has an evangelistic rhythm." He expounded on the necessity of being born again, the tragedy of unbelief, the complete sufficiency of His death, & our personal responsibility of believing in Jesus alone. It is all about regeneration or being born again! At the end of the message, he made this statement which really was impacting: "If God's pulse is evangelistic, what's my pulse?" What's your pulse?

One of the great things about conferences like this is catching up on relationships. I was able to spend some time with two guys in particular yesterday. Adam Romans works at Parkside Church as a Campus Pastor at their Green Campus. The other guy was Nate Friedrichsen who works at College Church in Wheaton, Illinois. The interesting thing about these two guys is that each of them married a young lady that was part of our youth ministry when I was a youth pastor in Bartlett, Illinois. So, I always have to ask them if they are taking care of their wife.

The last session of the evening was by Rico Tice, a guy I have never heard of. He was a great surprise to me. I really appreciated him. He is an evangelist from England, as he said, probably one of only three born again people in the Anglican Church. His style is very unique as he gave a look at the program he has produced called "Christianity Explained", taken from the gospel of Mark. He summarizes Mark's gospel with these three words: Identity, Mission, & Call! I will definitely be checking out more of his ministry and look forward to his sessions today.

You can watch the Live Stream of the General Sessions today. Here is the Schedule (E.S.T). I hope you can enjoy it.

9:30 am - Main Session, John Dickson
11:00 am - Main Session, Rico Tice
7:00 pm - Main Session, John Dickson

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Morning After: A Life of Forgiveness (Matthew 5:38-42)

Have you ever been offended by someone? Have you ever been taken advantage of by someone? Have you ever been verbally or physically abused by someone? Has anything ever happened to you that thought was a violation of your rights? Yesterday, I had the opportunity to preach on such questions (the audio is usually posted by Tuesday HERE).

They are tough questions! Our natural instinct when things do not go our way is one of spite, anger, or retaliation. But Jesus says that if people do things against you, you should not return in kind to them. You should return with forgiveness. In Matthew 5:38-42, we read that Jesus tells His followers how a person of the Kingdom should respond to personal offenses that are done to them. Jesus is calling us to extend forgiveness to those that offend us!

This passage starts with a very familiar statement. If you grew up in a church, you have probably heard of "eye for eye" or "tooth for tooth." These were statements in the OT Law (Exodus 21:23-25; Leviticus 24:19-20) that were known as the Law of Retaliation. This Law was given so that those in authority would know what was fair punishment for certain deeds that were done to others. But it was primarily given so that people would not seek their own retaliation. They were to trust the governing authorities to take care of the person, not respond by knocking out their friends tooth. The principle of the Law was justice, but it was also grace and mercy. And our calling today as a person of the Kingdom is and has always been forgiveness and love.

Jesus says in vs. 39 that while you have heard "eye for an eye," He wants us to understand our heart should be so sensitive that we do not resist an evil person. This is not calling us to become a passivist, but wants to know if we are willing to give up our perceived rights for Him and for others. He then launches into four illustrations of the impact an evil person may do to us and wants to know how we will respond to them.

1.  How To Respond To Insults (vs. 39b)

Turning the other cheek is not turning away from violence, but turning away from an insult or mockery. To hit someone on the right cheek would have signified a back handed slap, which was a very serious insult. Some even say it was an insult that was used when someone was condemning you of heresy because of your faith. Maybe it was that, or maybe it is just an insult because of your intellect, looks, status, or some dumb thing you have said. Whatever the case, when someone comes at you in a spiteful way with an insult, how should you respond? By turning away and not responding in kind.

Isn't that what Jesus did? How did Jesus respond to insults? First Peter 2:23 says that "while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats."

2.  How To Respond To Injustice (vs. 40)

The imagery Jesus uses is that of courtroom where someone receives a verdict against you for some reason (most likely a bad reason, because of the context of the evil person). Jesus says that you should be willing to give up not only the shirt off your back, but also the coat that would have kept you warm at night. That means, that you should be willing to radically respond to make things right, even if you think you are being ripped off.

How did Jesus respond to injustice? Well, just about everything about the arrest, trial, & crucifixion of Jesus was against the law of the day. And while hanging on the cross, He uttered those words, "Father, forgive them . . ." (Luke 23:34).

3.  How To Respond To A Lack Of Freedom (vs. 41)

A Roman soldier could command anyone at anytime to carry their personal luggage for a mile. Think about that. How would you respond if someone forces you to do something that you do not want to do? How would you respond if you were forced to give up your freedom? Jesus says to take it an extra mile. He says that because that is what He did. He sacrificed His freedom to come as a man, go to a cross, and die a death of criminals . . . for us!

4.  How To Respond To Those In Need (vs. 42).

The last illustration is that of a person who needs something and they come to you and ask for help. I think most of us would be willing to give to a friend in need, but remember the context. It is to an evil person. Would we be willing to lend to those that we think have done us wrong?

Yet that is the heart of our Savior. Wasn't He willing to help those who had offended Him (Romans 5:8)? Because of Jesus, we can let go of our desire and lure for fairness. Because of Jesus, we can forgive those who have done us wrong. Because of Jesus, we can not hold grudges or retaliate in kind. Why? Because of the cross, we don't get what we deserve anyways, do we? That is why He calls those who are part of the Kingdom to extend forgiveness to those who offend us.

Friday, May 6, 2011

A Book Reading Challenge

Calling anyone whose interested, I have a challenge for you. I guess that is slightly generic, but anyone can be involved. I have picked a book from my library that I have always wanted to read and thought it would be cool to read it together with some people. It would be a great book for pastors, church leaders, or any Christian to read. Here's what I am thinking:

I have been wanting to read this book, A God-Sized Vision by Collin Hansen and John Woodbridge for some time now. It is a book that tells stories of revivals that have taken place across the world in the past while thinking about revival today in our ministries. It is a book on history, but it is really a book on revival. Here is a little blurb from the inside cover:

"Throughout history, God has used revival to build and renew his church. A god-Sized Vision challenges you to remember God's work int he past and pray expectantly for God to send revival again today. 'Is it possible,' the authors ask, 'that we do not see God working in mighty ways because we don't ask him to work in mighty ways?' With this challenge in mind, the authors recount details of past revivals, beginning with biblical times and continuing through the Reformation, the Great Awakenings, the Welsh and Korean revivals, the East Africa Revival of the 1930's, and more recent revivals in the United States and China . . . With accessible language and fascinating examples, Hansen and Woodbridge explore these questions and more, strengthening your understanding of God's work while deepening your faith in the possibility of revival--right where you are."

Anyone up to read with me? Here is what I was thinking. I wanted to give you a chance to get the book. You can get it on AMAZON, CHRISTIANBOOK, or your local retailer. It is available on kindle or other e-book readers. So, you have enough time to get the book, my first post will be in two weeks, May 20th. Then each Friday after that, I would make a short post with my thoughts from the chapter and you would join in and share your thoughts.

Here is the schedule in case you want to join in. I hope you might choose to be stretched in this way. Accountability always helps us read better!

May 20     Preface & Chapter 1
May 27     Chapter 2
June 3       Chapter 3
June 10     Chapter 4
June 17     Chapter 5
June 24     Chapter 6
July 1        Chapter 7
July 8        Chapter 8 & Conclusion

Anyone want to join me? Comment below or on twitter or FB page. Thanks, looking forward to hearing your thoughts.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Galileo by Mitch Stokes

Galileo by Mitch Stokes is part of a series called "Christian Encounters" by Thomas Nelson Publishers. I wanted to read this book because, honestly, while his name is very popular, I am ashamed to say that I knew very little about Galileo. I knew that he had something to do with science or mathematics, but not exactly what he was famous for. I can't believe I am 37 years old and don't know these things.

For the most part, I have answers to who this man is after reading this book. He was a scientist and a mathematician of extraordinary order. He was one of the first inventors of the pendulum clock (32) and most notably the telescope (90). He is often referred to as the originator of modern day physics (47) and dealt with issues regarding motion. He was a keen observer of details and nature. In his last days, he went blind, which was really difficult for him, since his life had been built upon observations with his eyes (181). Much of his life seemed to be the defense of Copernicanism, which was the belief that the sun was at the center of the universe, not the earth. For the most part, this book helped me understand the man named Galileo and his contributions to our world.

However, the biggest issue for me is that while being published under the banner of "Christian Encounters," there was very little in this book to prove to me that Galileo was indeed a Christian. He grew up Catholic, which some will argue with me, are not what I think of when I think Christian. I do believe there are Catholics who are Christians, but not those who believe the teachings of Rome. Stokes does say towards the beginning of the book, "Galileo, we are surprised to hear, was a devout Christian, and his debate with theologians was an internal Catholic debate over the interpretation of Scripture" (3). But this debate had nothing to do with justification by faith, it had to do with how we reconcile science with the Scriptures. For instance, the main passage had to do with Joshua 10 when God caused the sun to stand still. Therefore the sun must be a moving object and the earth a stationary object. He denied this which brought about the problems with the Catholic church.

In dealing with his Christianity, there was no mention of Jesus or a personal relationship with Him by Galileo in this book. Worse yet, it was not just that Galileo was Catholic, he was Catholic during the anti-reformation. He was born in 1564 in Italy, which is just less than 50 years after the beginning of the reformation. There was no mention of joining the ranks of the reformers in regards to salvation. His only problem with the Catholic church had to do with science, or so the book details. For that reason alone, I am not sure I would recommend this book (or this man) as an example of a Christian to Encounter. The information of his life was insightful and interesting, but Christian? Not really.

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.”

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Life Lessons From An Auction

One week ago I went to an estate auction hoping to purchase a house. We didn't get the house, but we did get a helpful reminder. This was an estate auction, which means that everything was being sold from the house. All the dishes, all the chairs, all the tools, everything that had any value.

I took my boys with me to the auction. At auctions like this, there are tables and tables of stuff. And they are sold as fast as the auctioneer can make his way through them. At one point in the auction, I grabbed both of my boys and whispered some words of instruction in their ear. Here is what I told them:

Look at the stuff. Each and every thing on that table at one point in this person's life was so important that they thought it necessary to spend money to purchase it. It meant something to them. And now they are dead and all their stuff is going to the highest bidder, whoever will give a buck for it.

I told them that possessions and earthly things are trivial. I wanted them to see it. I told them it reminded me of a passage of the Bible from the richest man who ever lived. The man who had all the stuff. King Solomon in Ecclesiastes made these statements about stuff:
"I enlarged my works: I built houses for myself, I planted vineyards for myself; I made gardens and parks for myself and I planted in them all kinds of fruit trees; I made ponds of water for myself from which too irrigate a forest of growing trees. I bought male and female slaves and I had homeborn slaves. Also I possessed flocks and herds larger than all who preceded me in Jerusalem. Also I collected for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and provinces" (Ecc 2:4-8).
He had it all! He had everything he could ever have wanted. And if he didn't have it, he could have bought it at a moment's notice. What would that be like? Many people dream of that. I am sure my boys dream of that. I dream of that from time to time. What did Solomon think of it?
"Thus I considered all my activities which my hands had done and the labor which I had exerted, and behold all was vanity and striving after wind and there was no profit under the sun" (Ecc 2:11).
It was meaningless. It was useless. It didn't profit him any real or meaningful satisfaction. It was just here then gone. And all those things that he just had to have in order to find happiness will just be there going to the highest bidder after he is gone.

As I told that to my boys, I asked them to think of that as they desire more and more things in life. And I thought of that for myself. It's just another earthly possession, do I really need it? Do YOU need it? What do you think?

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Books I've ALMOST Finished, But Probably Won't.

In the months leading up to us moving, there were a couple books that I started to read, made most of the way through them, but have never finished for one reason or another. I have them sitting on my desk as part of the "soon-to-finish" section of my library. But I have to be honest, I don't think I am going to get to them anytime soon. So, I thought I would write a short statement about each one and then file them into my library. Here goes.

I first picked up this book several months ago when it first came out because I have always had a little interest in church planting. This book was highly publicized by Crossway (the publisher) and had a fairly cool video to promote it.

I greatly appreciated Patrick's focus on men to be men. We live in a culture that men are not what they used to be. Knowing that a church being planted relies upon the men to be the leaders, he begins with the man. What is he like? What is his character?

After dealing with the character of the man who is the church planter, he deals with the message the man is to proclaim. He calls men to be about the gospel message! He very directly says,
"The gospel, then, is fundamentally an announcement: it is not just about who God is or what he might do, but about what God has done in history. The gospel is not good advice on how to reach up to God; rather, it is a declaration about what God has already done to reach down to us. It is good news about a historical even that changes everything! This declaration calls for a response." (111)
This was where I have not finished the book. The last section deals with the mission of the man. Not long after I had put it down, I was challenged to dive back into this book because of some of the comments that John MacArthur made. He took some comments in this book to task (you can find his concern HERE). I am not going to go into it, if you want to understand them, read his arguments. What I greatly appreciated was Darrin Patrick's humble reply to MacArthur (find it HERE). It was encouraging to see how someone responded to public criticism of a comment he made.

I have always struggled with some ambitious thoughts I have had for my life. In my mind, they sound so proud and selfish (and they probably are). It was for this reason that I picked up Rescuing Ambition by Dave Harvey. I actually started reading this book as I candidated at a couple different churches before landing at Cornerstone Bible Church.

What I realized as I read this book is that ambition can be good or bad. And as I look to be ambitious, I need to continue asking myself is my desire to make Jesus look good or myself look good? It is my sin that makes me strive to make myself look better as opposed to making Jesus look better (not that Jesus needs to look better, but I hope you understand my illustration). It is about who I am in Christ as I pursue my hopes and dreams. He says,
"Sometimes God brings our dreams to life; sometimes he doesn't. But how we respond to his work becomes an important intersection for change in our lives. As we cooperate with him, we discover that it's not ultimately about nailing the promotion, or raising well-behaved kids, or winning the Daytona 500--as good as all those things may be. It's about something much bigger: how I become like Christ while I pursue those dreams." (70)
Probably my favorite part of the book that I read was chapter 6, "Ambition's Path." He talks about ambition being a paradox, well, at least godly ambition. He lists five paradox's:

  • Paradox One: The Greatest Fulfillment Is Found in Emptiness
  • Paradox Two: It's Wrong To Think First About Rights
  • Paradox Three: It's Really Something To Be Nothing
  • Paradox Four: When It Comes To Self-Evaluation, Don't Trust What You See
  • Paradox Five: True Humility Promotes Great Ambition

It is a good book, not life changing, but good. But in reality, how many are really life changing?

Monday, May 2, 2011

A Christian Response To The Death Of Usama Bin Laden

I woke up this morning to the news that most the world has heard by now. A task force of Navy Seals, under the operation of the CIA found Usama Bin Laden, attacked his compound, killed him, and buried him at sea. The response by just about all that I have seen is joyful excitement. Crowds have formed spontaneously to applaud and celebrate his death. As I watched the news this morning, my 8-year old son J.T. said, "Dad, are they celebrating that this guy was killed?" "Yes son, they are!"

Let me say first of all, justice needed to take place. Bin Laden was the leader of a group that has killed thousands of people around the world, most notably those who died because of the 9/11 tragedy in America. He was a murder who deserved to die.

Having said that, I feel like I can't rejoice over his death. I am saddened by his death and the response of most people. As I watched the news this morning, something just didn't feel right. Is this the heart of God? Does God rejoice over the death of Bin Laden? Of course not. Several thousand years ago, the nation of Israel was doing some very bad things. God responded to them saying that their sin was upon them and that they would be condemned. But that did not make God happy, in fact, He said:
"'As I live!' declares the Lord God, 'I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways! Why then will you die, O house of Israel?'" (Ezekiel 33:10-11)
As I watched the news, including an interview with Todd Beamer's father who said that Bin Laden is just now paying his dues in eternal hell, I just couldn't help but think that the Christian response should be one of sorrow that another life has perished and is now separated forever from God in eternal fire (I am of course presuming that He never came to Christ before being shot dead). I couldn't help but to think that many who are rejoicing over his death will one day spend eternity being consumed by the same flames that consume him.

I am preaching through the Sermon on the Mount. In two weeks, I have to deal with this passage: "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (Matt 5:43-44). What would it mean to love Bin Laden for the sake of Jesus?

I cannot help but think what life would have been like had Bin Laden come to Christ on a public stage. How would those in the church have received him? How would they respond if someone who did so many horrible things found the same grace in the cross they found for their acts of anger (Matt 5:21-26)? Do we think that people who have committed those sort of crimes do not deserve the same grace and mercy of God in Jesus Christ that we have received?

I want my son to grow up in a society that rejoices over peace and safety. But I do NOT want him to grow up with a heart that grows cold to the death of anyone, even an enemy of the state. I want him to have compassion and a heart that realizes that we are just as much in need of the cross of Jesus as someone who does things like Bin Laden did. I want him to pray for those who are opposed to the gospel. I want him to accept those that come to Jesus, no matter what they have done. I want him to weep over any soul that perishes without Jesus. Christian, don't you want the same thing?