Saturday, December 31, 2011

Personal Retreat Day

Several months ago, I was impacted by a book I read that encouraged pastors to take a day a month to review their spiritual priorities, evaluate how they have spent their time, and plan their schedule for the next month. The purpose of this is not only to create some time for spiritual refreshment, but also to be proactive in your schedule of life. So, I did it. Finally. Well, sort of. I wanted to take an entire day, but only ended up taking about 7 hours. I also wanted to do it away from the church office, but since the office was closed and nobody was there, I chose to do it there. I thought I would share a bit about what I did on my Personal Retreat Day:

Quiet Time With God
I started the day with my Bible and a journal at a coffee shop. I hunkered down in the back of Coffee Corners in Burton for about an hour and a half. I put my headphones on and read and journaled my thoughts from Proverbs 1-7. I do not journal very often, but I think I am going to do it more in the future. I was trying to quiet my life and listen to what the Lord had to say to me through His Word. Not in sermon prep, but just for my life.

If I were honest, there are times in my life that I feel like it is hard for me to separate Thad the Christian from Thad the Pastor/Preacher. I have so many thoughts racing through my mind all the time, and often when I read the Scriptures I begin thinking of a new sermon series that would be interesting. But I think journaling like this over some Scriptures helped me stop and reflect upon my life. Thad the Christian.

Spiritual Life Evaluation
After this time, I went back to my office and spent some time evaluating my walk with Christ. It just so happens that tomorrow in my sermon, I will be asking 8 questions to evaluate whether you are growing in your relationship with Jesus or not. These are questions I have used in my life for years and have given them to lots of people. So, I spent a good hour going over them in my own life, writing in my journal how I would rate myself as well as my plan of action.

I will post all of the questions on Monday, but let me illustrate how I evaluated my heart in just one of the questions. This is what I did with all 8 of the questions.

  • Question: Am I Growing In My Desire To Spend Time With God?
  • Grade: 4 (out of 10). I feel I have sunk into a duty of reading God's Word. And my prayer life, while it is very good informally (constant communion with God), I feel I have a void of formal time of prayer. I am doing well memorizing Scripture. It has been harder than ever to separate reading the Bible for personal growth from reading the Bible for preaching/sermon prep.
  • Plan of Action: (1) Daily, Scheduled Bible Reading Plan; (2) Finish Memorizing 1 Thessalonians; (3) Redeem my drive to the office with prayer cards; (4) Journal 4x a week in January.

Other Evaluations
After this, I spent some time evaluating and grading other priorities in my life. For instance, I had to evaluate my marriage. How am I doing as a husband. I made myself evaluate my parenting. How am I shepherding my children. By the way, these were the hardest for me. It becomes so easy in the position I am in to schedule time to disciple, train, or equip other people in the church and often I am spent when it comes to my family. I had to repent of sometimes ignoring and not helping my wife and kids develop a spiritual growth plan.

I went on to evaluate my office life, my ministry life, my financial life, my social life, my writing life, and my physical life. That last one wasn't very good. Ugh. I gave myself a grade for each one of these and wrote out some plans of action for those that needed it.

I spent about 30 minutes looking at my calendar for the next month. The busier I become, I realize if I don't schedule what I want to make sure and accomplish, it probably will not get done.

Casual Reading
I grabbed a book that I have wanted to read and spent an hour just reading. This is very relaxing and encouraging to me.

Sermon Planning
I spent about one hour looking at my preaching schedule over the next 3-4 months and planning out some sermon titles and what I want to accomplish through these messages.

The last thing I did was to look back over my journal from the day and to pick out the 5-10 things that I needed to make sure to apply to my life this next month. I wrote them down into Evernote, which I have been using to keep notes.

That's it. My Personal Retreat Day. I think it was very beneficial to me spiritually. But now the hard work comes in trying to grow in all of these areas. I would greatly appreciate your prayers if you think of it.

Question: Have You Ever Done Something Like This? Do You Think It Would Be Beneficial To Your Life?

Friday, December 30, 2011

Raised Right: How I Untangled My Faith from Politics by Alisa Harris

I have had this book for months on the top of my "books to be read & review." And for one reason or another, it just kept being pushed off. But I finally have finished Raised Right by Alisa Harris and wanted to give due diligence in my review of this book.

First off, Harris is a journalist by trade and her skills at writing comes through in this book. She has a way of painting a picture that brings allows me to be there. She draws me into her story, which is very engaging.

And her story? Well, she was raised in a conservative Christian home that believed America could be restored back to God if only the right politicians were elected into office. So, from an early age, she wrote speeches, campaigned, wore political buttons, and hung calendars of politicians in her bedroom. She says, "My faith was so intertwined with conservative politics that I viewed them as one and the same" (5). She was a Christian conservative Republican.

And at some point in her life, her thinking began to change. She says,
"I'd been fighting my entire life for change through politics. But I had seen no real change--no mass civil-rights movements for the unborn, no revival sweeping the public schools. I tried to explain my disillusionment to my parents when they wanted to know why my interest in campaigning had waned, and I found myself repeating an idea from Bush's stump speech. Bush had said that when it came to abortion, we had to change not just laws but also hearts. Politics only goes so far, he'd said, and I was beginning to think it didn't go far at all." (120)
I agree. She realized that fighting the political battle is not the most important thing in life. Much of what she said is what I tried to articulate in a blog post last July called, "A Christian Perspective on Being American." My faith moves me to not worship this country. I agree with Bush's comments that laws being changed are not going to be the cure, the heart needs to change. And politics will never do that. A new political campaign will never change a person's heart. That is what the gospel does.

For all I agree about in this book, the tragedy I found is that it is void of the gospel. The subtitle of the book is "How I Untangled My Faith from Politics." As I read it, I kept asking myself, "faith in what? Faith in God? Faith that takes care of the homeless? Faith that fights for the rights and dignity of women?" It wasn't until the conclusion where she summarizes what she has learned, that we should care, love, and take heart. She ends the book like this:
"As Jesus urged His followers, 'Take heart! I have overcome the world'--not through a show of power but a picture of love." (219)
And there we have it. It's all about love. Yes, love. I agree, love. But there was never a mention of why our hearts need the love of Jesus. No mention of sin. No mention of the cross. No mention of the wrath of God poured out on His son on my behalf. No mention of faith in Jesus alone. Just the mention that we need to love and care for the hurting and helpless, which apart from the gospel does nothing for eternity. I just keep thinking, what good is it if we help someone live another 50 years, but never help them look 50 million years from now? It is probably about as much use as a new political campaign.

I received a copy of Raised Right by Alisa Harris from Waterbrook Multnomah Publishing Group for review.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

My Little Girl & A Haircut

I love my daughter. I simply cannot imagine my life without her. Yesterday, she got a haircut that I will not forget for some time. You see, she cut off four long sections of her hair, each over ten inches long in order to donate it to Locks of Love. I will get to that in a minute, but you have to know the history first to appreciate this story. It actually starts with a dad not leading his daughter. You see, I have somewhat glorified my daughter having long hair. I will sit at night and tell her how beautiful her hair is. I will run my hands through it. I have told her for so long how much I love her having long hair. I would even quote passages in the Bible like 1 Corinthians 11:15, "but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory." I loved that she loved it.

But something happened in recent months that has caused me to stop doing that. Several weeks ago, my wife came to me and gently told me that my glory in her long hair was teaching her to glory in her hair. Anni was growing to love her hair, in a very idolatrous way. That made stop and think. As a parent, am I subtly leading my daughter to love and glory in herself or anything this world has to offer and not in Jesus? The answer was yes.

And so, what I had to do was to teach her. To help her see that the best thing to do when we love something too much is to give it away. That is when we came up with the idea of donating her hair to Locks of Love. This is a public non-profit organization that provides hairpieces to financially disadvantaged children in the United States and Canada under age 21 suffering from long-term medical hair loss from any diagnosis. They meet a unique need for children by using donated hair to create the highest quality hair prosthetics. The prostheses they provide helps the young children have confidence, enabling them to face the world and their peers.

It is with anything else in life. Giving things away tests our heart to see if we are holding onto it too much or whether we are truly holding onto Christ. I pray that someday she holds onto Christ and never lets go. But I also pray that she will not hold onto anything this world has to offer. I hope you pray that for your children as well. And model it as a parent.

Well, below I have just a bunch of pictures. I can honestly say, she is cuter than ever. At the bottom, you will want to check out the video of the haircut. I am so proud of her for doing this!

She had enough hair to pull back into 4 sections to be cut,
each over 10 inches long. They say it takes 8 sections
like this to make one prostheses
Here goes, the hair is getting cut
It is almost all gone. She did such a great job
There's the hair. Wow, that's a lot
Here's the after picture. Doesn't she just look the cutest. Her hair
has a lot of curl to it, but since it was so long, the weight
made is seem straight.
This is a side shot of her hair

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Bible Reading Plans

January is right around the corner, which means the christian blogosphere is buzzing about different Bible reading plans for 2012. Have you ever read the Bible all the way through? I often find it interesting when I talk to Christians, how many of them have never read the entire Bible. The Bible is the guide for the Christian, it should be read. So, if you have never made it all the way through the Bible, maybe one of these links will be helpful.

I was actually planning on listing each of the plans I have either used or have heard about. But yesterday, I noticed several blogs that did all that work for me. So instead, here are a list of blogs or other sites that I have found helpful and you will want to check out if you want help in reading the Bible next year.

Justin Taylor @ The Gospel Coalition blog has some very helpful thoughts on reading through the entire Bible next year. If you are going to go to only one link here, go to this one. He gives a very extensive rundown of different ideas to help people read the Bible.

Nathan Bingham @ the Ligonier blog has some other thoughts. One value of his blog post is that he has pdf's available to download to help lead you through the coming year.

Tim Challies is leading an on-line community through Professor Horner's Bible Reading Plan. It is a plan  that reads 10 chapters of the Bible each day. But the unusual aspect of this plan is that each chapter is from a different part of the Bible. You can join their project by going to their Facebook group they have set up.

It has been interesting that of all the plans I have read about, no one has mentioned The Bible in 90 Days. This has been my plan of choice the past two years. There are several reasons why I like this plan, but I am not going to pretend that it is easy. It will take hard work, but there is light at the end of the tunnel from the very beginning. If you can do P90X for 90 days, you can read the Bible in 90 days. Here was my plan from last year.

Whatever you end up doing for 2012, read your Bible. Make it a habit. Make it a priority. Your life will never be the same again.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Christmas at Cornerstone

I was really unsure of what to think about the attendance on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. This is my first year as the Senior Pastor at CBC. I wrote about my thoughts about church on Christmas last week in a couple of blog posts (Will You Go To Church On Christmas Day & The Importance Of The Church). And while I had many comments on Facebook and Twitter, I still had no idea of what to expect. 

Here's the conclusion: I was blown away. Our attendance was down a bit on Sunday morning, but there were still plenty of people at church with smiles on their face and joy in their heart. I was so thankful to be a pastor at a church that was willing to put their family and traditions on hold to put the focus where it is supposed to be: the birth of Jesus Christ. 

I was also very encouraged by the Christmas Eve service. I know there were a few that chose that service over the next morning service. But I was glad they were there. I was told that it was the largest Christmas Eve service they ever remembered at CBC. I was so thankful and I pray it was moving for people.

Love you Cornerstone! I look forward to next year already. Our main Christmas time will be on a Sunday with Christmas Eve on Monday night. I hope you put those on your calendar now and plan ahead (OK, sort of a joke). 

And now to New Years . . . can you think of a better way to start the new year than with the body of Christ? See you on Sunday.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Video Sunday: Christmas by John Piper

Merry Christmas! I really hope and pray that you have a great day rejoicing around the birth of Jesus Christ, not about what things or stuff you might get today. There are two video's I would like to share today that has to do with Christmas, both by John Piper. If you get some time today, I hope you give some serious thought to what he has to say. 

This first video is a bit more in detail about the importance of Christmas.

This second video is some great advice from a pastor who is a father who has been there and done that with a family. Maybe there are a few things in this that you might be able to apply next year.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Incarnation (Spoken Word)

I saw this posted on Facebook the other day and thought it was very interesting. I love how differently God gifts people. The lyrics that are spoken in this video are really cool. Enjoy and I hope you get to spend some time today in the Word of God thinking about the birth of His son, Jesus Christ.

Friday, December 23, 2011

How Important Is The Church?

Yesterday, I wasn't trying to start any controversy, but really wanted to know "Will You Go To Church On Christmas Day?" It is my feeling that many churches will be down in attendance, maybe not as sparse as this picture, but who knows. And honestly, I just do not get it. Let me first clarify some things I am saying, or really not saying.

I am NOT saying that we should necessarily go to church on Christmas day, whatever day it falls on. I have heard from some that have come out of the Roman Catholic church and feel like going to church on Christmas day is simply a ritual. That is not what I am saying. What I am saying is that when Christmas falls on a Sunday, a normal day that Christians normally gather, why not go? For instance, Christmas next year will be on Tuesday. I am not suggesting that the church should gather on that Tuesday.

Let me get to my point today. I said yesterday that I think the major reason why attendance will be down this Sunday is because I sense people do not fully understand the nature of the church. At the very root of the understanding of the church is the concept of gathering. That is specifically what the New Testament word Ekklesia means, the assembly or gathering. More than this, during the reformation, guys like Luther and Calvin, worked hard to define the true natures of a church. Their conclusions were that if a place preaches the Word of God, people listen to the Word of God, and the sacraments are administered in Christ's name (they would define these as baptism and communion), then a true church exists. Many later have added that the place is also organized under structured leadership.

It is this gathering of believers in Jesus to practice the sacraments and to listen to the preaching of God's Word that constitutes a church. This would mean then, that two couples getting together to talk about doctrine and Christ can be encouraging and beneficial, but it wouldn't be church. And this leads to an even deeper question. What is the purpose of the church? I would say that the church exists to the glory of God for the good of His people. The church gathers to worship God and to edify other Christians.

My final plea is that you do not play games with the church that Jesus is building (Matt. 16:18). He is building a church, not your family. He is building a church, not an earthly organization. It is all about Him. And if you are a Christian, when you were saved, you were placed into a new family. A Christian family. A church family. And until we realize that the family bows to the church instead of the church bowing to the family, we will always have questions like these. And guys like me will rant about the importance of the church over the family. I hope, to the glory of God and the good of His people.

Question: Is The Church Important To You?

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Will You Go To Church On Christmas Day?

In case you have not heard, this coming Sunday is Christmas. Yes, Christmas is on a Sunday. So the normal day that is set aside in our schedules as Christians to go to church is going to take on Christmas morning. And I have no idea who is going to win. It is a showdown for the ages. Well, okay, maybe not for the ages since it just happened six years ago. But it does seem like a big deal and the question of whether people will go to church seems to be getting a lot of press.

I have to be honest, I do not get it. I do not get why this is such a big deal. It's Sunday. It's Christmas. I just can't imagine canceling or not going to church. I guess I have thrown all my cards on the table. There it is. I think if you are a Christian, you should be in church on Christmas morning.

Before I get too far into this, let me make very clear what I am NOT saying. I am NOT saying that if you choose to skip church you are less of a Christian or less spiritually mature than someone else. I am NOT saying that you must not love Jesus or His church. I am NOT trying to twist anyone's arm or guilt anyone into being in church. I think years of ministry and a fresh view of the gospel has eliminated the guilt out of my system. I am NOT saying that God will hold you in higher regard for being at church this Sunday.

But what I am asking you to do is to answer this question: Why wouldn't I go? I understand that December 25th is most likely not the day that Jesus was born. I do not know the exact day and neither do you. And while this is not his birthday, it is the day the Christian community has collectively used to celebrate His birth. And if the day that we have set aside to celebrate His birth happens to fall on the first day of the week, the day that we have set aside to gather and worship as a church, what good reason is there for us not to gather and worship? It seems to me that there would be double reason to gather--it's Sunday & it's Jesus' birthday.

Yet many Christians almost seem annoyed that the thought of church would interfere with their Christmas plans. Yes, you read that right. I hope that statement is an exaggeration and without merit, but I do not think it is. Or maybe I should stop talking about Christians as this nebulous group of people out there and get direct with the readers of this blog: Do you feel like going to church on Christmas will interfere with your Christmas plans?"

I wholeheartedly agree with Ed Stetzer, when he said in an article for the Christian Post:
"Too many Christians get distracted by the secular at Christmas - lots of lights and music but not enough Jesus. If you're too busy for worship during the Christmas season, you are too busy. In general, I'm always struck that so many say that, 'Jesus is the reason for the season,' but don't have much time for Him during the season."
There are many reasons why I think churches will be drastically down in attendance on Sunday. Yes, there are many have taken the bait of the world and are choking themselves on their idols of stuff. Yes, there are many who do not want to offend their family even though Jesus said He came to turn family members against each other. Yes, there are many who think this day is about their kids and fail to realize they are ruining their children by not showing them there is Someone greater than them.

But of all the reasons, I think the number one reason people will skip church on Sunday is that they do NOT fully understand church! Tomorrow, my plan is to unpack that thought. Until then, I am just wondering:

What Are Some Reasons Why You WILL Skip Church This Sunday?

    Wednesday, December 21, 2011

    Some Christmas Videos

    IgniterMedia has been one of my favorite resources for videos and other technological needs. They have put together a few Christmas videos that will be worth checking out that tell the story of Christmas. The first one is more comical in nature, but tells the accurate story of the birth of Jesus. 

    The second one is, well, just a good old fashion animation of the Scriptures as they tell the story of the birth of Jesus Christ.

    Tuesday, December 20, 2011

    Is Santa Clause Real?

    I came across this a few years ago and thought it would be good to share today for all of you who are still wondering about the reality of Santa. I think it once for all answers the question as to whether Santa Clause is real.
    "No known species of reindeer can fly. But there are 300,000 species of living organisms yet to be classified, and while most of these are insects and germs, this does not COMPLETELY rule out flying reindeer which only Santa has ever seen. 
    There are 2 billion children (persons under 18) in the world. But since Santa doesn't (appear) to handle Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, and Buddhist children, that reduces the workload to 15% of the total--378 million. At an average rate of 3.5 children per household, that is 91.9 million homes. One presumes there's at lease one good child in each. 
    Santa has 31 hours of Christmas to work with, thanks to the different time zones and the rotation of the earth, assuming he travels east to west (which seems most logical). This works out to 822.6 visits per second. This is to say that for each Christian household with good children has 1/1000th of a second to park, hop out of the sleigh, jump down the chimney, fill the stockings, distribute the remaining presents under the tree, eat whatever snacks have been left, get back up the chimney, get back into the sleigh and move on to the next house. Assuming that each of these 91.8 million stops are even distributed around the earth (which, of course, we know to be false but for the purposes of our calculations we will accept), we are now talking about .78 miles per household, a total trip of 75.5 million miles, not counting stops to do what most of us must do at least once every 31 hours. 
    This means that Santa's sleigh is moving at 650 miles per second, 3,000 times the speed of sound. For purposes of comparison, the fastest man made vehicle on earth, the Ulysses space probe, moves at a poky 27.4 miles per second -- a conventional reindeer can run, tops, 15 miles per hour. 
    The payload on the sleigh adds another interesting element. Assuming that each child gets nothing more than a medium-sized Lego set (2 pounds), the sleigh is carrying 321,300 tons, not counting Santa, who is invariably described as overweight. On land, conventional reindeer can pull no more than 300 pounds. Even granting that 'flying reindeer' could pull ten times their normal amount, we cannot do the job with eight, or even nine. We need 214,200 reindeer. This increases the payload -- not even counting the weight of the sleigh -- to 353,430 tons. Again, for comparison -- this is four times the weight of the Queen Elizabeth. 
    350,000 tons traveling at 650 miles per second creates enormous air resistance. This will heat the reindeer up in the same fashion as a spacecraft re-entering the earth's atmosphere. The lead pair of reindeer will absorb 14.3 quintillion joules of energy. Per second. Each. In short, they will burst into flame almost instantaneously, exposing the reindeer behind them, and create deafening sonic booms in their wake. The entire reindeer team will be vaporized within 4.26 thousandths of  second. Santa, meanwhile, will be subjected to centrifugal forces 17,500.06 times greater than gravity. a 250-pound Santa (which seems ludicrously slim) would be pinned to the back of his sleigh by 4,315,015 pounds of force. 
    In conclusion, if Santa ever DID deliver presents on Christmas Eve, he's dead now."

    Monday, December 19, 2011

    The Morning After: Authentic Trust (1 Thessalonians 5:23-28)

    For some reason, this sermon was very difficult to preach. Maybe it was because I was trying to think of how to finish the series on the book of 1 Thessalonians. Maybe it was because of the busy week I had last week. Or maybe because trust is a difficult thing for me personally. The one main question I sought to ask myself (as well as the entire church) was "Do We Really Trust God In All Things?" That can be a very difficult question to answer. Do I really believe that God is faithful? Do I really believe that He works for our good? Do I really believe that everything that happens to me is God working through situations and people to conform me more and more into the image of His Son, Jesus Christ?

    The Apostle Paul gets to the end of this great letter and has nothing more to give them but to leave them in the trust and care of the One who saved them. He knows that his influence on them is waining. He knows that he can do very little in their life. His only comfort is to trust God, the One who saved them, to lead them to Holiness. He is trusting that God will eventually deal with them in every ares of their life.

    Have you ever noticed how easy it is to dig our heads into the sand of our own life? When things go wrong in our life, it is easy to become so focused on what is going on that we lose the perspective of what God might be trying to teach us. Maybe the loss of the job or that trial you are going through is because God needs to deal with something in your heart that you are fighting to not give up. He who calls is faithful and He will surely bring the Christian to sanctification. Slowly but surely, God is going to be working in the life of the believer to conform them into the image of Jesus with the culmination coming when we die or when Jesus returns.
    "Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it." (1 Thess. 5:23-24)
    So, are we going to trust Him in all things? He is faithful. He is faithful. He is faithful. I pray you do today. If you want to listen to the message in its entirety, you can find it HERE (usually posted by Tuesday).

    Sunday, December 18, 2011

    Video Sunday: Linus Explains Christmas

    There are many things I thought as I watched this, but the first thing was how far cartoons have come in the past 50 years. And I'm not talking about quality, but content and what might be allowed on Television.

    Saturday, December 17, 2011

    Truths for Gospel-Centered Living

    The other day, Pastor Mark Driscoll posted some thoughts on his blog about gospel-centered living. I would encourage you to read the ten points he posted. To simply tease you to actually read them, let me give you points 3-5: 
    3. The Gospel Must Be Preached 
    The Word of God is powerful. And our God is a speaking God. When he made the world, he spoke it into existence. When he created our first parents, Adam and Eve, he spoke to them. And after they sinned, he spoke to them again, and he sent a succession of prophets to speak to us. He sent leaders in the New Testament to speak to us. And now God ultimately speaks to us through the Scriptures by the leading of the Holy Spirit. If you read the book that God wrote, God will speak to you. That's the primary way that God speaks today. The Scriptures are powerful to change lives when preached. But, the power is not in the preacher; the power is in the truth. The power is not in the preacher; the power is in the truth of the Word of God. It's when the preacher faithfully preaches the Word that lives are changed because faith comes by hearing the Word of God. 
    4. The Gospel Must Be Received 
    As important as it is for the gospel to be preached, it must also be received. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:1-2, "Which you received, in which you stand," like a soldier holding his ground, "and by which you are being saved." Salvation is a constant process. It starts with justification, where you are declared righteous in the sight of God because of the person and work of Jesus and faith in him. It continues with sanctification, where you learn and you grow by the power of the Holy Spirit. And it ends in glorification, where one day you die and are raised one day to be with Jesus, to be like him, to live for him, perfectly and forever. Paul says your salvation comes in receiving the truth about Jesus and then standing in it and continuing in it, as your salvation grows and you mature by God's grace. 
    5. The Gospel Is The Most Important Thing 
    In 1 Corinthians 15:3, Paul calls the gospel "of first importance." That is a massive statement. Essentially, Paul is saying that of all the information on the earth, that has ever been on the earth, is on the earth, or will ever be on the earth, there's one bit of information that supersedes and rises above all others: the person and work of Jesus. And while it's important to study at university, work hard at our jobs and trades, and learn a lot in this life, nothing is more important than to know Jesus and the gospel. Spend time in prayer and study of God's word, seek first the kingdom of God, and everything will be added to that.
    Those are just three of his points. Check out the rest and be encouraged.

    Friday, December 16, 2011

    Some Thoughts on Christmas Cards

    Did you know that there are about seven billion greeting cards purchased by Americans every year. Of those, over two billion of them will be purchased and given during this holiday season. That's a lot of cards. And to think, each card costs a few bucks, which means there will be a lot of money spent on Christmas cards this year. Can I be honest without losing all the readers of this blog? My wife and I have gone back and forth almost every Christmas, contemplating if we should give out Christmas cards. And most of the time, we have opted not to do it. Let me explain.

    Some of you may not like me saying this, but many of the cards I receive every year do nothing to me. They don't affect my life. Unlike the TV commercials, the poem that is written by some Hallmark writer never moves me to tears. The main reason? I am just not impressed with a card that makes me feel like one in a thousand. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate it when people think of us and send us a card in the mail. Who doesn't like to get more mail? I appreciate when people give cards attached to gifts. I appreciate that they thought of us, even though we have not seen them in years. Please understand, in no way am I trying to make those that send out cards to feel bad about doing it.

    What I am trying to do is to ask ask you to redeem your card giving. How do you do that? How can you make Christmas Card giving something that is meaningful and really affects people? Here are a few ways I think you might be able to redeem your card giving.

    First, Make Each Card Personal! It doesn't even have to be much more than a sentence or two, but write something specific to each person. Please don't just sign each card with your name or even some catchy slogan like, "I hope you have a Merry Christmas." Make each person you send cards to feel like you really care for them. Be personal with them. Tell them what they have meant to you this past year. Explain to them your feelings. One main objection to this is that people say they do not have time to write a personal note on each card. Then I would ask you why you are doing it? Is it to make yourself feel better or to really encourage the other person? Whenever I open a card, I hardly ever read the typed message at first, but always go right for what is handwritten. My guess is that most other people do as well. So give them something to read about how you feel about them.

    Second, Include A Family Picture. Especially if your children are younger, this is a great way to let people know more about you. Instead of giving something that goes into the garbage, give something that will hang on the refrigerator for the coming year. I love this because it allows me to pray for that family every time I open up the fridge, which seems to be a lot of times. It makes me think of them.

    Third, Write A Family Letter. I enjoy this, especially with those people we are no longer around. It allows us to stay in touch with what is going on in their life. They make the card personal by revealing their life to us. Tell me what you have been doing in life. Tell me how your kids are doing. And if you are a Christian, tell me how your relationship with Christ is doing. How are you growing? How has your walk with Jesus changed this past year? How are you serving the church? I long to know those things.

    Fourth, Include A Small Gift. Obviously, you cannot do that with everyone. But we have received a few Christmas cards with gift cards in them and we feel blessed. You can even take it one step further and write a short message as to why you are giving that little gift to them. It makes us feel special because we understand that card came at a cost to the person.

    Well, I did not do this blog post in order to receive less cards this year. I did it to encourage you to redeem your card giving. I sure would appreciate any feedback you might have. Do you agree? Am I just a weird guy? How do you feel about Christmas Cards?

    Thursday, December 15, 2011

    Advent Conspiracy

    Allow me to follow up on my post yesterday about Christmas not being your birthday. There is another book that I have wanted to read, but just have not gotten to it quite yet. It is called The Advent Conspiracy. Look at the description of this book:
    "Worship more, spend less, Give Presence, Love all. Are you tired of how consumerism has stolen the soul of Christmas? This year, take a stand! Join the groundswell of Christ-followers who are choosing to make Christmas what it should be - a joyous celebration of Jesus' birth that enriches our hearts and the world around us, not a retail circus that depletes our pocketbooks and defeats our spirits. Advent Conspiracy shows you how to substitute consumption with compassion by practicing four simple but powerful, countercultural concepts: Worship Fully---because Christmas begins and ends with Jesus! Spend Less--and free your resources for things that truly matter. Give More---of your presence: your hands, your words, your time, your heart. Love All--the poor, the forgotten, the marginalized, and the sick in ways that make a difference. Find out how to have a Christmas worth remembering, not dreading. Christmas can still change the world when you, like Jesus, give what matters most--your presence."
    Interesting. I have a friend that just read this book and he has told me that his family is going to change the way they do Christmas this year. Only one small present for each child and the rest of the money they normally spend, the family will come up with an idea of how to give it away to someone that needs it. That is somewhat radical, isn't it? Or maybe it is just as radical as Jesus giving up it all to come to be born in human flesh.

    As you think about it, why don't you watch this video that articulates the Advent Conspiracy. May God prick your hearts as to how you might be able to help those that really need help.

    Wednesday, December 14, 2011

    Christmas Is NOT Your Birthday by Mike Slaughter

    After our first son was born, Monique and I wrestled through what we were going to do with Christmas. When I grew up, I was spoiled ridiculously (and thankfully) at Christmas time. I received many gifts every December 25th. But then on my birthday, I usually received one gift. As we talked about it, we decided to switch those around for our kids. We decided that we would limit Christmas to one gift (actually, after they receive one from us, both grandparents, aunts, cousins . . . they still receive a lot), but then on their birthday's, we would go all out. My reasoning at that time is that we wanted to teach them that their birthday's are all about them, but Christmas is about Jesus.

    I am glad to see we are not alone with this thought. A few weeks ago, I came across Christmas Is Not Your Birthday by Mike Slaughter. After seeing the title of the book, I just had to read it. Honestly, I wish I would have written this book. It is what I have been saying for about eleven years now, that Christmas is not about my kids, it is about Jesus. There were a few things in the book that made me uncomfortable, but I'm not going to go into detail on them since the major premise of the book is so needed in our culture today. In the book, Slaughter does not hold back at all. He says,
    "Christmas has been hijacked and exploited. We have professed allegiance to Jesus but celebrate his birth with an orgy of materialism." (xi)
    Wow. That's powerful. It is probably such a strong statement because it is true. We speak out of one side of our mouth as Christians that this is the day we have chosen to celebrate the birth of our Savior. But out of the other side, we say how many things we want and what we want to spoil our children with. Even as a pastor, I really do not know what to do about Christmas this year. What better way to teach our children that this day is not about them than to go to church and worship Jesus. Unfortunately, I anticipate many Christians skipping church in just about ten days.

    One of the most powerful parts of this book comes in chapter three when he describes the prophet Hosea and his marriage to a prostitute as an image of God's people's response to God. He says,
    "This is beyond the scope of human imagination. I would be kicking her to the curb! Yet, this scandalous biblical account testifies to the outrageous, pursuing love of God for a broken world. This is the desanitized version of the Christmas story: God loves us and wants us even while we remain under the influence of unworthy lovers such as greed, selfishness, addiction, and deceit. So God has come to buy us back! The magnitude of this kind of love is beyond my comprehension" (45).
    I think if we were to look deep down inside, we would all say that we struggle with the lure of the world during this time of the year. I know I do. So what should we do about it? I think, and he argues, that the only way to deal with our heart of selfishness is to give away. Give away to those who are really hurting and in need. That doesn't mean an extra toy to your kid who already has a dozen of them. It means to those who have no water or those who have no food. Maybe what we should do this Christmas is to give away as much, if not more, than we spend on our family. He says,
    "Can you imagine the birthday celebration if every Christian in every church practiced the commitment of giving an equal amount of what they spend on themselves to a specific mission for Jesus somewhere in the world . . . More of him and less of us. More for him and less for us" (66).
    I invite you to think this year what you will give away to those in need. What will you give to your church? What will you give to those who are hurting? Is there a need that you can meet outside of your family? How would your Christmas be different this year if you were to worship Jesus and not just say that you are worshipping Him? How would it be different if He was more important than your stuff? 

    Tuesday, December 13, 2011

    Finishing My Sermon Series & Looking Towards The Next One...

    This coming Sunday, I will be finishing my series on the book of 1 Thessalonians. I so looked forward to this series on this book and I have not been disappointed on a personal level. I have grown to love ministry and Jesus more as I studied these great words. I am completely in awe at how seriously these people took their Christianity. I am in complete awe at how Paul called them to trust God in all things. I want to be that person. I want to be serious about my faith and my service to Jesus. In the end, Paul calls them to trust. God is faithful, I should trust Him. He ends with these words.
    "Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass." (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24).
    As I trust Him personally, I am praying as to what God would have us do next. As I finish next week on this series, I need to be moving on to something else. I love planning and organizing. I love to looking and planning sermon series. And so this time of my calendar is really fun. We have Christmas and New Years and then on the 8th of January, we will be starting a short 6-week series on our Church. I will give more information in a few weeks on this, but I hope all those in and around CBC will be part of that.

    And then . . . Well, you will have to wait to find out. But I will give you a hint: It is in the Old Testament. I would appreciate your prayers as I seek the Lord's face as to what we should study as a church. It's all good when we use the Scriptures. But I want to be strategic for our church at this time. So please pray with and for me.

    Monday, December 12, 2011

    The Morning After: Authentic Character (1 Thessalonians 5:12-22)

    One of the worst things a person can do is to play or pretend to be a Christian. It has been that thought that has framed my series through the book of 1 Thessalonians. This week, we looked at a portion of the end of the book where the Apostle Paul makes a list for them of things he is thinking about. I called these 15 items in 1 Thessalonians 5:12-22 little Nuggets of Truth that will help us live an authentic life with other people in the church.

    1. Be Appreciative (vs. 12-13a)
    It is important that we are always taught about authority and submission because the way in which we submit is always a sign of how we are doing spiritually. In this case, Paul requests of them that they appreciate those that labor over them. How are you doing in submitting to the leaders in your church?

    2. Be Peaceful (vs. 13b)
    The leaders of churches should be seeking peace with those in the church and those in the church should be seeking peace with those in leadership.

    3. Be Warning (vs. 14a)
    This is a general call to everyone in the body of Christ that we warn those who are undisciplined or lazy or walking away from the ways of Christ.

    4. Be Encouraging (vs. 14b)
    There are some who are discouraged or fainthearted, maybe because of loneliness, a hard marriage, a tough trial, or even persecution. They need to be encouraged.

    5. Be Helping (vs. 14c)
    There are some without strength that need to be helped, maybe because of being stuck in their sins. We need to fight with them and for them.

    6. Be Patient (vs. 14d)
    Our calling is to be patient with all of the different type of people we come in contact with in our life.

    7. Be Gracious (vs. 15)
    We should never respond to people based on how they respond to us, but according to how Jesus would respond to them. Forgiveness. Grace. Mercy.

    8. Be Joyful (vs. 16)
    Always be happy! How does that happen? The only way I can see this happening is that we see the hand of God in all things. Good theology will help the heart to rejoice.

    9. Be Praying (vs. 17)
    Prayer for the Christian should be like breathing, it happens naturally.

    10. Be Thankful (vs. 18)
    Nowhere does Paul ever say that there are exceptions to giving thanks. But we are to give thanks in all things, regardless of how we feel.

    11. Be Obedient (vs. 19)
    We can obey the Spirit of God in our life when we submit to the Scriptures and when we listen to the internal prodding of the Spirit as we live our life by the Spirit.

    12. Be Listening (vs. 20)
    To despise prophetic utterances would be to disapprove of the truth of God. This has to do with what we do with truth as it is presented. I  would say specifically, it has to do with listening to preaching (see my book Helping Johnny Listen for more information on this).

    13. Be Examining (vs. 21a)
    When we listen to preaching, our first response should be to test it to see if it is true or not.

    14. Be Grasping (vs. 21b)
    When we find the message we have listened to as accurate, we need to grasp it. Hold onto it. Love it. Keep it. Apply it.

    15. Be Rejecting (vs. 22)
    If you find the message to be false, get rid of it.

    If you want the full explanation to all of these points, you can find it HERE. It was a longer message than normal as you can tell, I had 15 points to get through in one sermon.

    Sunday, December 11, 2011

    Video Sunday: It Will Cost You Everything by Steve Lawson

    Steve Lawson is one of those preachers that leaves it all at the pulpit. If he were an athlete, commentators would say that he left it all on the field. His sermons are passionate. They are convicting. They are bold. They are straightforward. There is no way to leave a sermon like the one below without knowing exactly what he is calling you to do. He is a spokesman for God. He speaks a message that is rarely spoken these days. 

    I have enjoyed some time with Steve in the past. And he is as passionate out of the pulpit as he is in it. I would ask you this coming week, as you think about the coming season of Christmas. Is that baby that was born that day in Bethlehem really the Lord of your life? Is He your King? I appreciated the one statement that he made in this clip where he said that giving up all your possessions means:
    "You must transfer the ownership of all that you are and all that you have to all that He is."
    Could you do that? Would you do that? Please watch this video and ask yourself, "Is Jesus my all?"

    Saturday, December 10, 2011

    Understanding the Will of God

    I found this discussion in Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology concerning the will of God very helpful. He articulates that there are many different usages for God's will in the Scriptures and it is always helpful to know what you are talking about when that term is being used. Maybe these several short quotes will help as you have questions about the will of God.

    God's Necessary Will "includes everything that he must will according to his own nature. What does God will necessarily? He wills himself. God eternally wills to be, or wants to be, who he is and what he is. He says, 'I AM WHO I AM' or 'I WILL BE WHAT I WILL BE' (Ex. 3:14). God cannot choose to be different than he is or to cease to exist" (212-3)

    God's Free Will "includes all things that God decided to will but had no necessity to will according to his nature. Here we must put God's decision to create the universe, and all the decisions relating  to the details of that creation. Here we must also place all God's acts of redemption. There was nothing in God's own nature that required him to decide to create the universe or to redeem out of sinful mankind a people for himself . . . However, God did decide to create and to redeem, and these were totally free choices on his part" (213)

    God's Revealed Will are those things that God has revealed for the purpose of obeying Him.  For instance, in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 we are told to give thanks always for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus. Even beyond direct statements of His will for us, we know that the Scriptures as a whole encompass His revealed will for us. This is "sometimes also called God's will of precept or will of command. This revealed will of God is God's declared will concerning what we should do or what God commands us to do" (213).

    God's Secret Will "usually includes his hidden decrees by which he governs the universe and determines everything that will happen. He does not ordinarily reveal these decrees to us (except in prophecies of the future), so these decrees really are God's 'secret' will. We find out what God has decreed when events actually happen. Because this secret will of God has to do with his decreeing of events in the world, this aspect of God's will is sometimes also called God's will of decree" (213).

    So, next time someone tells you that they are trying to determine God's will, ask them, "which one?"

    Friday, December 9, 2011

    Letters to a Young Pastor by Calvin Miller

    No matter how I feel, I still consider myself a young pastor. While I feel much older, I am only 38 years old. I have been in pastoral ministry for 13 years, but am coming to the close of my first year as a Senior Pastor. For those reasons, I was drawn to Letters to a Young Pastor by Calvin Miller.

    This is a book written by a seasoned veteran in pastoral ministry, serving as a pastor in one church for twenty-five years and then teaching pastoral ministry in seminaries. He is very vulnerable, sharing the highs and lows of what he has learned over the years. At the very beginning of the book, he gives the main reason why he wrote this book and why men like myself should read it:
    "But the all-time great reason that you should listen to me is that much of what I write about in this book is written from the edge. Ministry is not for sissies, and the requirement of the tough times brings us to the edge of our commitment. Would it surprise you to know that I almost resigned the long-term pastorate after my second year at my church? Would you further be surprised to know that I genuinely believed I came very close to burnout in my twenty-fifth year in the church? These kinds of experiences are what I am speaking of when I talk of letters from the edge. If you have not encountered such dark times in your leadership, you are fortunate. But the truth is, if you haven't, these experiences are likely ahead of you. Perhaps I can help you build up a trove of courage for the times ahead." (23)
    What I found as I read this book were some good nuggets that can help me be a young pastor. Let me share a few of the things that I can learn from:
    "So many of the letters in this book focus on the long haul and the power of sticking to one thing: tenure." (21) 
    "Surveys indicate that 80 percent of pastors and 84 percent of their spouses are discouraged or are dealing with depression from time to time . . . The dropout rate for seminary-trained pastors is estimated to be as high as 80 percent." (50-2) 
    "It is impossible to serve a church for many years and not here and there reap the scorn of congregational gossip." (66) 
    "Pastor, consider this: Church members have a way of emulating their pastors. Only when the pastor cares will the people care. Only when pastors are big of spirit will their people be." (112)
    There are many good things in this book that were helpful for me to think through. But there were also some strange things. Some things that I just didn't get. I want to be teachable and learn, but they just seemed strange. Allow me to share just one. He is making the argument that we are much too concerned about the "big boys" in the evangelical circles. He says,
    "The quarrels rage, however. Is Rob Bell a universalist? Is Rick Warren? Is there consequence in John Piper inviting Rick Warren to his annual Desiring God conference? Does it matter that Andy Stanley doesn't like the word shepherd? (Yes, but only to Andy Stanley, I'm sure) and if Brian McLaren wants to widen orthodoxy, can it really matter in the realm of those who must still concern themselves with joblessness or the heartbreak of psoriasis? Is N. T. Wright too revisionist with Pauline theology as John Piper asserts, or is Piper himself, as McLaren might assert, too stingy with his orthodoxy? Is Osteen conservative or only cute? While I hate to spoil the playground of those who see their dialectic as all-important, the truth is the world is too needy to care about what is going on at the top of evangelicalism." (126-7)
    I get what he is saying to a certain point (other than how John MacArthur missed that list). I really don't have time to consume myself with the ins and outs of what those guys are doing . . . unless my people are reading Rob Bell or Brian McLaren. Maybe it is his age, but in our digital world,, I think he has underestimated the impact these "big boys" in the evangelical circle have on our people. They need to be warned against certain people and doctrines. And it is our job as pastors to shepherd, warn, and protect our sheep.

    I guess this book helped in some ways, but was not the best book I would recommend on this issue of young pastoral work.

    Thursday, December 8, 2011

    An Afternoon Laugh

    Okay, so everyone seems to be linking this song. It is old. I remember listening to this at an Elder retreat several years ago and being in tears as all of us laughed so hard at it. I have always wondered what I would do if this took place in my church. I hope that never happens . . . I hope I am never faced with that situation.

    Remember, this is just for fun. If you want the history of this song, well, I mean this rendition of the song, go HERE. Enjoy and have a good laugh. Then get back to your regularly scheduled business.

    The Story of Mars Hill Church

    This post will certainly take some of your time, if you want to watch the entire video. But I think it just might be worth it. There are certainly a variety of opinions concerning the ministry of Pastor Mark Driscoll. Last Sunday at Mars Hill Church in Seattle, they shared the history of their church in documentary form. They are very creative and this is an excellent use of technology in sharing their story. It tells how the church was started, where it met, the troubles it went through and how Jesus has impacted their community. I found it very interesting and helps answer some of the questions that some people might have about his ministry. Maybe you will find it interesting as well. Or maybe it will raise more questions.

    I know there will be some that nitpick some of the things that he talks about (I still struggle with a few of his theological tendencies). But I rejoice in what God is doing in their ministry as they seek to make the name of Jesus known to a lost and dying world.

    Wednesday, December 7, 2011

    Directions to Reading the Bible

    I don't know why, but yesterday I picked up my copy of Baxter's Practical Works, Volume 1: A Christian Directory. It is the writings and teachings of Richard Baxter, one of my favorite puritans (if you have never heard of him, I would recommend THIS site for information). 

    As I thumbed through it, I happened to find myself in Chapter 20, "Directions for Profitable Reading the Holy Scriptures." In this relatively short chapter (short for him, since he waxes eloquently for page after page on many topics), Baxter gives Ten Directions to Reading the Bible. I thought I would share them today so that hopefully when you find yourself reading the Word today, you might do so more strategically. 

    (FYI - If you do not know, Baxter writes in the 1600s, which means his English is rough to us, but good for them.)
    1. Bring not an evil heart of unbelief. Open the Bible with the holy reverence as the book of God, indited by the Holy Ghost . . . Bethink you well, if God should but send a book or letter to you by an angel, how reverently you would receive it! How carefully you would peruse it; and regard it above all the books in the world! And how much rather should you do so, by that book which is indited by the Holy Ghost, and recordeth the doctrine of Christ himself, whose authority is greater than all the angels!
    2. Remember that it is the very law of God which you must live by, and be judged by at last. And therefore read with a full resolution to obey whatever it commandeth, though flesh, and men, and devils contradict it.
    3. Remember that it is the will and testament of your Lord, and the covenant of most full and gracious promises; which all your comforts, and all your hopes of pardon and everlasting life, are built upon. Read it therefore with love and great delight. Value it a thousandfold more than you would do the letters of your dearest friend, or the deeds by which you hold your lands, or anything else of low concernment.
    4. Remember that is is a doctrine of unseen things, and of the greatest mysteries; and therefore come not to it with arrogance as a judge, but with humility as a learner or disciple; and if any thing seem difficult or improbable to you, suspect your own unfurnished understanding, and not the sacred word of God.
    5. Remember that it is a universal law and doctrine, written for the most ignorant as well as for the curious; and therefore must be suited in plainness to the capacity of the simple, and yet have matter to exercise the most subtle wits.
    6. Bring not a carnal mind, which savoureth only fleshly things, and is enslaved to those sins which the Scripture doth condemn.
    7. Compare one place of Scripture with another, and expound the darkest by the help of the plainest, and the fewer expressions by the more frequent and ordinary, and the doubtfuler points by those which are more certain.
    8. Presume not on the strength of your own understanding, but humbly pray to God for light; and before and after you read the Scripture, pray earnestly that the Spirit which did indite it, may expound it to you, and keep you from unbelief and error, and lead you into the truth.
    9. Read some of the best annotations or expositors; who being better acquainted with the phrase of the Scripture than yourselves, may help to clear your understanding.
    10. When you are stalled by any difficulty which over-matcheth you, note it down, and propound it to your pastor, and crave his help, or (if the minister of that place be ignorant and unable) go to some one that God hath furnished for such work.

    Tuesday, December 6, 2011

    Back from Vacation

    This morning I walked back into the office from a week's vacation. The past week, I have taken off from mostly everything. I have done a few things here and there (funeral, phone calls, a few emails), but for the most part I was away from everything about my job. I even avoided blogging the past week. Actually that was not my intent, but moving into a new house without Internet made things difficult. So, I apologize to the five of you that missed the blog.

    Anyways, getting back to the office is always an interesting feeling for me after a week or more out of it. There are always so many things backlogged for me to do and to think about. But can I tell you a secret? I sort of like it. I woke up a bit early this morning wanting to get into the office earlier so I could tackle this monster. I never want to feel like the picture states, however, I know that sometimes I do. Do you? Do you ever feel like you need a vacation from the pile of work that is waiting for you after vacation? If you do, hang in there. Maybe that is God's grace to you letting you know that you have job security. Maybe it is God's grace to you teaching you that you need to depend upon Him every day. Maybe all that work is God's grace to you as He is giving you an opportunity to reflect Him through your work ethic. Somehow, two passages from the Apostle Paul seem appropriate this morning:
    "Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world." (Philippians 2:14) 
    "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
    I hope you have a great day. I will try to dig myself out of this pile of work. And I will try to do it with a joyful heart, giving thanks in everything without complaining. Will you do that today as well?

    Additional Thoughts:
    If I were completely honest, I did really miss blogging this past week. Those were the first days that I had missed in several months. Last Tuesday, I remember telling my wife that I needed to run to the coffee shop so I could blog. She gave me that look of doom and reminded me I was on vacation. I told her, that blogging was not my job, and that I really enjoyed it. Anyways, I have some good ideas and some book reviews coming up in the next couple of weeks. I have some things I have been thinking about Christmas that I want to share with you. I hope these are helpful to someone out there in cyberspace. God bless,

    Sunday, December 4, 2011

    Video Sunday: Treasuring Him by John Piper

    How do we live with things in our lives in light of the glory of Christ? How do we treat our money in comparison to Jesus? What about our friend or family? What about our jobs? In this short video, John Piper teaches us that we should be using these things in such a way as to show a watching world that Jesus is our ultimate treasure!

    Think deeply about the implications of these things upon the life of the Christian! Think about these things in light of the upcoming Christmas season.