Friday, March 30, 2012

Learning From Other's Painful Lessons

Nobody likes to get hurt. Nobody likes to have conflict. And it seems like nobody likes to learn from others mistakes. But maybe if we would watch and listen to other people who have done what we do we could learn from the mistakes they made. And not have to make them ourselves.

The other day I ran across an article by Pastor Mark Driscoll in which he detailed "10 Painful Lessons From the Early Days of Mars Hill." I was particularly impacted by several of his lessons and hope that I can learn from them.

Create a Team
He makes the point that it is unhealthy to think that one person can fully shepherd everyone in a growing church. Things will have to change or the leader will burn out. He says,
"Through much prayer and study of the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit impressed upon me that I'd done a poor job of raising up leaders alone with me to help care for his church. I was carrying the burden myself and was not doing a good job because it was too much. I needed to transition from caring for all the people to ensuring they were all cared for by raising up elders, deacons, and church members. This spurred me to make some dramatic changed to increase membership and train leaders."
Lead from the Pulpit
He emphasizes the extreme importance that the greatest leadership a pastor gives is from the pulpit each Sunday. He says,
"As a church grows, it becomes physically impossible, for the pastor to meet with everyone for coffee and still lead the church through vision. For our church to grow and for me to survive, I needed to transition from being everyone's pastor to being a missiologist preacher who led the church from the Bible in the pulpit."
Now I agree to a certain extent. But a preacher must be a pastor. He must be spending as much time as he can with his people. But a pastor must also be a preacher. He must avoid getting distracted from some of the things of ministry that he forgets the main thing of ministry--preaching God's Word. Maybe this is why the first point and the next one is so important.

Expect Members to Minister
I appreciate this because too often churches soften the expectation of the members in the church. But maybe in reality, the need is to raise the standard of what a member is to do and to be.
"We also made it clear that our members were expected to be missionaries and to do the work of the ministry in their daily life and among each other. It was not enough to just attend regularly and give money. Members needed to understand they are the church and should be ministers of the gospel. This meant that we trained them theologically through classes and preaching, and we created systems for deacons and elders to train our members for the work of the ministry and to provide opportunities to minister."
That is just three of the ten that he shares in his article. I hope to learn from all of them. I hope to be able to listen to those who have gone before me and learn from their mistakes. And I hope that someday, someone might be able to learn from all the mistakes that I make. I would recommend that you read it. You can find it HERE.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Jefferson Bethke & Student Ministries

I had a really good youth ministry experience. My youth pastor loved me enough to not only spend time with me, but also to point out sin in my life. I was so impacted by my youth ministry that after graduating high school, I spent a few years at my church discipling junior high students. In fact, it was my time working with those students that led to my calling into full time ministry. Two years later, when I went to Moody Bible Instituted, I immediately began attending and helping with a youth ministry at a local church. Then two years later, I went on staff as an intern for another two years. It was only after this that I went to a different church as a youth pastor for almost four years. At this point, I had spent almost 10 years in youth ministry.

Now, I am not saying that I was the best youth pastor or youth worker. In fact, I think at times, I was not a good one. But one of the things that I was taught, applied, and taught others is to not buy into the lie that students don't want someone confronting their sin. It is not games that make a good youth ministry. It is the teaching of God's Word and the relationships that are built that allow you to speak into their life. It is not that we did not have fun in our youth ministry, it was just that the fun was defined differently than it is at the local YMCA.

Yesterday, I was watching a video by Jefferson Bethke as he was being interviewed by Trevin Wax for The Gospel Project. Bethke became a YouTube hit with his "Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus." In that interview (the video is provided below), Bethke made the following comments about students and ministry to young people:
"Why kids think God isn't relevant or why they think they don't need Him is because we're not making sin big and we're not making God big. And when you do that [make sin big], the cross is huge. But when you make sin small, then the cross has to be small, and God is automatically small."
Watch the entire video. And youth pastors, preach the Bible. Develop relationships with your students so that you can speak into their life. And don't be scared to confront them on their sins. Quit playing games and focus on the things that will matter ten years later. Don't be scared to deal with their hearts!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Directions Against Hypocrisy by Richard Baxter

Every now and then, I will pick up Baxter's Practical Works, Volume 1: A Christian Directory. This is an almost 1,000 page, with very small font, work of Richard Baxter. In this book, he covers a multitude of items concerning the life of the Christian. Several months ago, I posted his Directions to Reading the Bible. But today, I wanted to share some helpful thoughts he has in regards to Hypocrisy.

He begins by defining hypocrisy as "the acting the part of a religious person, as upon a stage, by one that is not religious indeed; a seeming to be in religion to be what you are not, or to do what you do not." We all know that hypocrisy is an accepted sin in our world. I say it is accepted because it is so prevalent. But it should not be. There should be in none of us an acting that everything is religious or good when it is not. And yet how easy is it to find ourselves pretending that we are walking with Christ when we are not. We know the temptation to talk about what we are reading in the Bible when we have never opened it all week. We know the dangers of talking about Jesus in public, but never crying out to Him in private. To these things, Baxter has some helpful thoughts.

If you have never read Baxter before, you should be warned that it is old puritan English. Great content, but sometimes difficult to grasp in our shallow culture. You might have to think about each of these for some time to fully get what he is saying. In his book, he offers 27 directions to help us avoid hypocrisy. These are the five that impacted me the most.

Direction 3: Make conscience of the sins of the thoughts, and the desire and other affections or passions of the mind, as well as the sins of tongue or hand. A lustful thought, a malicious thought, a proud, ambitious, or covetous thought, especially if it proceed to a wish, or contrivance, or consent, is a sin the more dangerous by how much the more inward and near the heart; as Christ hath showed you, Matt. v. and vi. The hypocrite who most respecteth the eye of man, doth live as if his thoughts were free.

Direction 4: Make conscience of secret sins, which are committed out of the sight of men, and may be concealed from them, as well as of open and notorious sins. If he can do it in the dark and secure his reputation, the hypocrite is bold: but a sincere believer doth bear a reverence to his conscience, and much more to the all-seeing God.

Direction 5: Be faithful in secret duties, which have no witness but God and conscience: as meditation, and self-examination, and secret prayer; and be not only religious in the sight of men.

Direction 9: Be much more busy about yourselves than about others; and more censorious of yourselves than of other men; and more strict in the reforming of yourselves than of any others. For this is the character of the sincere: when the hypocrite is little at home and much abroad; and is a sharp reprehender o others and perniciously tender and indulgent to himself.

Direction 16: Be most suspicious of your hearts in cases where self-interest or passions are engaged; for they will easily deal deceitfully and cheat yourselves, in the smoke and dust of such distempers. Interest and passion so blind the mind, that you may verily think you are defending the truth, and serving God in sincerity and zeal, when all the while you are but defending some error of your own, and serving yourselves, and fighting against God.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

T4G Promotion Videos

It is just about two weeks away from the Together for the Gospel conference in Louisville, Kentucky. I just cannot wait. There are many reasons why I am looking forward to this conference, but most of all because I need some time of refreshment. I am excited about spending some time with some good friends and being encouraged from some teaching from God's Word. 

A friend that I am going to meet there sent me this video the other day. I laughed so hard that I had to post it to the blog today. 

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Morning After: The Glory Days (1 Kings 4:1-34)

With my whole heart, I believe in Second Timothy 3:16 which says that all Scripture is inspired and profitable. All Scripture is profitable. If we are honest, that statement often collides with our experience in studying much of the Old Testament. Especially when we read passages like First Kings 4 and read lists of names of people we have never heard of and know nothing of what they ever did in life. How does this profitable to my life?

Even in our doubts, I still believe it is profitable. It  might not be as easily applicable to our lives as some other passages, but it is still beneficial to our life and godliness. It probably means we just need to read and study harder to find the profit. And maybe that is part of the profit, that we are forced to interact with the text with even greater zeal?

What we have in First Kings 4 is Solomon, in his wisdom, organizing the kingdom of Israel. In verses 1-6, he appoints his high officials (think of the president appointing his cabinet). Then in vs. 7-19, he redistributes the land into 12 districts and appoints a governor over every district. Most of these men are never mentioned anywhere in the Scriptures other than this section. We do not know anything about them. While they have names, they are nameless to us. 

But that really does bring about a good point for us. We should never worry about being a nobody. While we do not know who they are other than a name, it is a helpful reminder to us that most people in the world have no idea who we are either. And all the energy that we spend on trying to make our name known is foolishness. As a Christian, we should not be trying to make our name known, but to make the name of Jesus Christ known. Its not about us, it is all about Him.
"In the kingdom of God, every person matters. Most of the people in the world have no idea who we are, either, and our  names may sound as strange to them as names like Ben-deker and Ahinadab sound to us. But every one of us has a name that is known by God, as well as the ability to serve his kingdom. We should not be discouraged, therefore, if our service to Christ seems insignificant or sometimes gets overlooked by others. God knows the people who belong to him and remembers the work we do for his glory" (Philip Graham Ryken, 1 Kings, 100).
In addition to this, Solomon's organization of the kingdom was essential for the life of the kingdom. God cares that things are done decently and in order. From the opening pages of the Bible, we see order. We see the sun rising and setting. We see scientific rules and principles, established by God, that are essential for all the world. We even see order established in the life of the church. That is why God gave the gift of administration to the church, to help establish order. That is what Solomon is doing at the beginning of chapter 4, and the affects are incredible. 

We are told at the beginning of verse 20 that the people ate, drank, and were happy. The people of God found their enjoyment in the prosperity of their king and his kingdom. How much more should that be true of the Christian. Shouldn't we be finding our ultimate joy in the prosperity of our King and His Kingdom? We will someday in its fullness. We will in the new earth and new heaven. We will when we live with Him, as it is recorded in Revelation 21. That will be the REAL Glory Days. All of the glory days of Solomon was simply a passing shadow of what is to come. Don't miss it! Embrace Jesus today!

If you want to read my notes, they can be found HERE. Or if you want to listen to the message, you can find it HERE (usually posted by Tuesday afternoon).

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Kony 2012

By now, I am sure you have heard the name Kony. Just 17 days ago, there was a video posted on YouTube by an organization called The Invisible Children. In just those 17 days, it has had close to 5 million hits per day. That's almost 85 million hits in total. I finally took the time to watch it this afternoon. It is powerful. It is unreal. It is moving. You might just be very important for you to take 30 minutes of your day and watch this video.

But just as important as this video and the social justice to stop Kony is the response of Christians to this issue. I do not have the time, energy, or expertise to respond to this video. But I am linking a couple responses I have read that seem to do a good job of dealing with the main points. Hopefully, these will help you think through your response to Kony in 2012.

New Hope Uganda says that the real issue is not schooling, but families. In addition, the greatest thing that we can offer those who are hurting by this issue is the gospel of Jesus and forgiveness.

Tim Challies says that we need to stop and breathe and not overreact to things like this. That doesn't mean we do not get involved, but be informed of your involvement.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Christ is Risen by Matt Maher

I spent some time yesterday planning some of what we are going to do for Easter. I cannot believe that it is just a few weeks away. It is here so fast. Easter morning is that day we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. We do not serve a dead god, but a living Lord. In that we greatly rejoice!

I had heard this song before by Matt Maher, but never really paid too much attention to it. But after listening to it several times and watching some videos on it, we are going to use it for Easter. It speaks the truth that Christ is risen from the dead and has overcome death. If you are going to be at Cornerstone on Easter morning, learn this song so you can sing it with full joy and passion. And I hope it is not just a song we sing once a year.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Interesting & Helpful Articles

I thought I would link to a few articles I have read the past couple days that I have found helpful in some way. I hope there is something in there that you find helpful as well.

I was particularly struck that almost 85% of people who read the Bible have more than one copy of it. I couldn't help but think of those people who do not have one or have never heard about the Bible.

Aaron Armstrong gives some very helpful bullet point advice on what we can do to help those who are in poverty.

This is a great quote by Martyn Lloyd-Jones on the issue of justification. It just might be my favorite doctrine in the Scriptures.

Eric Raymond offers three reasons why questions should be allowed, no encouraged, in a church.

If you are married, this might be a good idea.

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Morning After: The Wise King Solomon (1 Kings 3:1-28)

As I continued through my preaching journey in the book of First Kings, I arrived at one of the most famous parts of Solomon's life. God appears to Solomon and offers him one wish to be granted. Most people say that Solomon was probably not much older than 20 years old at this time. What a person wishes for in moments like this probably tells a lot about his or her character.

What would you have wished for? Would you have wished for long life, a good family, more money, a better job, a nice husband, or more wishes? Not that any of those are wrong (well, maybe the more wishes might be). Or maybe I should say, what do you wish for? You see, in many ways, this same thing is available to us today. Jesus at one point came to His followers and told them, "Ask and it will be given to you" (Matthew 7:7-11). We are to live our lives in dependence upon Him, but that doesn't mean that God wants us to sit back, idly waiting for what He has for us. He does desire for us and takes joy in us when we ask and petition Him for things in our life. It is God's generosity that should move us to pray to Him.

Solomon's prayer of petition begins with a praise of God's faithfulness (vs. 6). It is probably a good exercise for all Christians to engage in before requesting from God. When we rehearse God's faithfulness in our life, we are reminded that we are not just praying to an all-powerful God, but to an all-faithful God as well.

His request is finally found in verse 9, that he would have an understanding mind (or heart) so that he would be able to have discernment so that he could judge between right and wrong. I think the implications of this prayer to us are found in his humility. He was overwhelmed at what God had called him to do. He was a young man who was in charge of a great nation. Probably nobody that reads this will be a king or queen of a great nation. But I am sure that everyone that reads this will eventually at some point become overwhelmed in life. Solomon was saying that unless God intervenes, he was not going to be successful. That is probably where you need to be in life. That is where I need to be in life. So completely dependent upon God that unless He intervenes, I will not be able to do it.

Do you think you need God's help?

If you want to listen to the message you can find it HERE (usually posted by Tuesday afternoon). Or you can read my sermon notes HERE.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Video Sunday: The biggest Lie In Your Life by Francis Chan

I really appreciate the openness of Francis Chan in this short sermon. But he does drive home his point when he asks the question, "What is the biggest lie in your life?" I had to repent of some things in my life that I have subtly slipped towards loving more than Jesus after watching this message.

Friday, March 16, 2012

An Incredible Promise

I am in Indiana today visiting my parents. Which means, I am at Starbucks all morning working on my message for Sunday. I was reminded in my studies this morning of the greatness of this promise by Jesus in Matthew 7. Read it and believe it. It's incredible.
"Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or  which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are veil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!" (vs. 7-11)
How does this promise change the way you pray?
How does this promise change the way you view God?
How does this promise change the way you parent your children?

Some things to think about this morning.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Pastoral Loneliness & Friendships

According to many statistics I have read, pastoral ministry can be one of the loneliest professions. I guess I don't need to read the statistics, I have often felt it. I feel it. I have felt the sting of putting in 60 hours in a week and only dealing with problem after problem. And I have friends that feel it as well. Not too long ago, there was a survey by LifeWay research that indicated that 65% of pastors either strongly agree or somewhat agree with the statement, "Pastoral ministry makes me feel lonely at times." I can relate. And I bet if your pastor is honest, so can he.

But why? I think one main reason is that often times, pastors do not feel like they can be themselves. They feel like they have to be someone that they often times are not. They cannot share they struggle with pride or lust. They cannot share with the average person of the church that they are having marriage problems. It is not just that they worry how people will respond to them, it is that they are scared for their livelihood. They are scared that people will leave their church if they knew their thoughts or even who they really are before God.

(SIDE NOTE: If you are not a pastor and reading this, please remember that your pastor is NOT Jesus. He will sin. And he will probably sin against you at some point. You must be patient and forgiving of him. You must be patient with him. You must be willing to shepherd him from time to time as he shepherds you most of the time. Please try to avoid contributing to the loneliness of your pastor by putting him on a pedestal that no human person can achieve.)

When pastors do seek friendships, they tend to find comfort and help from other pastors. That is one of the things I have enjoyed the most about my move to Cornerstone Bible Church. I have enjoyed getting to know some of the other pastors in my community. There are several that are meeting together on a weekly basis and another group that meets monthly (I get there occasionally) to talk and pray. They are a good group of men and I hope to continue relationships with them.

But even in those relationships, it is hard to talk about deeper issues I am facing. It is hard to connect the theological questions I have with the practical implications upon my ministry. You see, we all come from different theological perspectives, which makes for some conversation killers. Or at least makes for hesitations in what is off limits and what is acceptable to talk about.

Enter Dave and Mark into my life. I am so thankful that God has placed in my life a few men I have met and begun, what I hope will become deep friendships. We have set up a schedule to meet once a month for a couple of hours to talk and pray. They are deeply committed to the gospel. They are each concerned about the Word of God. They love the church and take seriously the primacy of preaching.

They are both young enough to be going through the same things I am going through. But they have each been in the senior pastor role longer than I have, which means I get the opportunity to learn from their experiences. We are trying to meet one time a month for a couple of hours to just talk and pray. We study a book together. We are trying to encourage each other (and I think a bit, seeking encouragement from each other). I am learning to listen to them as they speak truth into my life. I just don't want to be the guy who has no friends. I don't want to become that pastor that is isolated and lonely. I want them in my life and I sense they want it as well.

Pastors, who are you seeking to speak into your life? Don't be afraid to ask.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Commentaries for First Kings

I am currently preaching a series on the life of King Solomon as it is recorded in 1 Kings 1-11. Since I am now four weeks into the series, I have a decent handle of the different commentaries I am using. I have 11 commentaries on my desk that I am using in this series. Here are a few of them that I have found the most helpful. 

Philip Graham Ryken in his commentary on 1 Kings does a great service to pastors. He really has helped me think through some of the key ideas in the book. But most of all, he shows me a line or thread back to Jesus, the only real King. It is doctrinal and practical. But most of all, it is Christological. I have to be careful with this commentary. I only use it after I have spent some deep time in the text myself, because it could be really easy to take what he says as my sermon. It's that good! It is part of the Reformed Expository Commentary, which is starting to become one of my favorite commentary series in print.

Dale Ralph Davis is a close second to Ryken's commentary. His commentary on 1 Kings is part of the Focus on the Bible series. I put it second to Ryken mostly because of its brevity. I feel like he could spend much more time on the passages than he does. For instance, he spends less than seven pages on chapter two of First Kings, which deals with a whole lot of history. What he does say, though, is very helpful and his continual focus to bring it into practice for the 21st Century church is really beneficial.

For some time, I have enjoyed the Welwyn Commentary Series. This edition by Roger Ellsworth on 1 Kings is another edition that has some very good things to contribute to the discussion on King Solomon. Like Davis, I wish Ellsworth would camp a bit more on the text. Give me more discussion. But he has little nuggets that have helped link concepts together for me. There is only one thing that seems a stretch to me in this edition. Some of his applications read too much imagery into the text. For instance, in chapter 2, he makes the comparison that Adonijah's evils represent to the church today the evils of heretical teachings that seem sweet and harmless, but are deadly. Just a bit outside. But I can see through some of those comments.

Even though it is the NIV (just kidding), I have appreciated Iain W. Provan's work on 1 & 2 Kings. He seems to go just deep enough to gain some additional information that previous authors skip over. The additional notes at the end of each section of Scripture takes the reader even deeper into certain words or phrases. While the first three are more practical, this is a bit deeper into the text.

Marvin Sweeney's work on I & II Kings is one of the most technical commentaries that I am using. It is the first volume of The Old Testament Library commentary series that I have ever used. It is a well written volume that brings in some historical arguments for why people are acting as they are. One caution is that this is a very expensive book, so make sure to purchase it through CBD which has it at over 70% off (HERE)

There are several other volumes that I use each week, but these are some of my favorites. Have you ever studied the book of First Kings? What is your favorite commentary?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Two Years Later . . .

Two years ago this month, my book was released. It is a book that I wrote trying to help people think through not only the necessity of listening to preaching, but also how to become better at it. Here is a portion of the introduction::
"Over the past several years, there has been a wealth of material calling pastors back to their God-given responsibility to preach his word without shame or embarrassment. Yet, there is relatively little information addressed to the people in the church as they sit under the weekly preaching of the word of God. How are they to listen to the preaching of God's word? What are they to do when the Bible is preached to them the way God intended preaching to take place? How are people to respond to biblical preaching? 
I will never forget the first time I considered this problem. I was sitting at a national conference for pastors, looking out at over 3,000 men who were receiving instructions on going back to their churches and preaching more boldly, accurately, and passionately. I sat there thinking that their people have no idea of what is about to hit them next week. Their people have no concept of what it means to respond to the preaching they are soon to receive. Their people need to understand what it means to listen to preaching from God's word. At that moment, I felt a burden for the people who sit in the pews every week."
The book is divided into five chapters:

1. The Preaching Intersection - In this chapter I deal with a theology of preaching and preachers and how that intersects with a theology of listening and listeners.

2. Receive the Preaching of God's Word - Preparing for the message is extremely important. I try to articulate what it means to prepare for church, physically and spiritually.

3. Examine the Preaching of God's Word - It is very important to take the word of God as it is preached and discern it. Is there any chance that your preacher is wrong? Compare it to the Scriptures yourself. Everyone should learn how to be discerning when they listen to preaching.

4. Live the Preaching of God's Word - This is probably the most important part of the book. I try to make the argument that biblical listening only happens when it changes the way you live. Have you applied it to your life?

5. Persevere the Preaching of God's Word - There are many obstacles that will keep a person from listening as they should. I try to give some words of advice on how to overcome things like technology, traditions, and comparing your pastor with your podcast preacher.

It is two years later and I still believe in the content of this book. When I wrote this book I was primarily a listener. Most of my weeks were spent in the seat listening to the main preaching event in our church. But now I have transitioned into the main preaching role. And I think this issue is as big as ever. There are many weeks as people leave church, I fear that they are more like the foolish builder than the wise builder (Matt. 7:24-27). Or they are more like the forgetful hearer than the effectual doer (James 1:22-25).

Will you help me? Would you spread the word about my book? If you have read it, would you be willing to post a review on Amazon or Will you tell others that they need to read it? Not because it helps me (trust me, I don't really make anything off of this), but because they need this word in their life.

Where is the best place to buy it? There are many places you can get the book, but here are the most common places.

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Morning After: Radical Justice Equals An Established Kingdom (1 Kings 2:13-46)

There are always times in life when we need to make difficult decisions that we really do not want to make. We know that it might be the best thing for us, but it is very difficult to do. I think that is what we find in 1 Kings 2:13-46 as the newly anointed King Solomon has to execute some radical justice to establish his kingdom. After dealing with four individuals, we are told in vs. 46 that "the kingdom was established in the hand of Solomon."

Solomon Deals With Adonijah (vs. 13-25)
All Adonijah had to do was prove himself to be a worthy man and not one hair would fall from his head. He would live. This is the mercy that Solomon extended to him after his attempt at the throne in the first chapter. But now, he tries to make another attempt, by asking for Abishag (David's last and certainly very popular concubine) for a wife. And it is this attempt at the throne that costs him his life as he shows himself to be an enemy of the state.

He tries to make a covert ploy for the kingdom through his sense of entitlement. He thought he deserved to be king. It was his throne. If you think about it, this is a very prevalent attitude in our country. The dad thinks he is entitled to sit in his chair without being distracted after a hard day's work. The mom thinks she deserves some peace and quiet. The kid thinks they deserve the next gaming system. 

And it is probably the heart of religion. Most people think they are good enough and deserve to go to heaven when they die. But the heart of the gospel says just the opposite. Nobody is good enough. Nobody deserves eternal life. Our unworthiness is why Jesus had to come and die!

Solomon Deals With Abiathar (vs. 26-27)
Abiathar was a priest that sided with Adonijah. Solomon once again offers mercy, but strips him of his ministry and sends him to his hometown. Unlike the other cases, this apparently worked. For in just a few chapters later, we are told that he is once again a priest ministering to the people of Israel. Let us never forget that while we have made some really stupid decisions in life, there is always time to repent and make things right.

Solomon Deals With Joab (vs. 28-35)
Joab thought he was going to die because he had sided with Adonijah. In reality, he was going to die because he had committed cold-blooded murder earlier in his life. The lesson to be learned from Joab is that no amount of running to religious things (like grabbing the horns of the altar) is going to save us from our sins. Our only hope is to grab hold of Jesus. [I would highly recommend reading THIS sermon by Charles Spurgeon on this topic].

Solomon Deals With Shimei (vs. 36-46)
Once again, Solomon responds with mercy. Even though Shimei deserved death, Solomon allowed him to build a house and then put him under a house arrest. If he stays in the house, he lives. If he leaves, he will die. After three years of living by this commitment, we see him leave the house for financial reasons. I wonder as he was looking for his servants, if he was looking over his shoulder to see if he would be exposed for disobeying the king? It is so easy to make a commitment in some area of our life and then have it slowly fade from our life. It cost him his life!

In the end, Solomon represents a man who was fighting for the Kingdom. These four men represent others who were fighting against the Kingdom. The question for us is simply: Are we for or against the Kind and His Kingdom?

If you want to listen to the message, you can find it HERE (usually posted by Tuesday afternoon). If you want to read my notes, you can find them HERE.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Video Sunday: I'm Totally Committed to Jesus, But... by Mark Driscoll

I hope this puts steel in your spine! Love that quote. He shows how John the Baptist is fully committed to Jesus in everything to the end.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Explicit Gospel Video

I am really looking forward to this book that comes out next month by Matt Chandler. After listening to him preach for the past couple years, I have been blessed by his total commitment to gospel ministry. I look forward to see how he communicates that in print. In addition, if you happen to be on the East Coast, you might like to check out the tour that Chandler will be on with Shane & Shane.

Friday, March 9, 2012

What is the Mission of the Church by Kevin DeYoung & Greg Gilbert

Have you ever wondered if the church should primarily be about helping the poor? Have you considered whether the church should make its focus the adoption of children? Or have you thought that the focus of the church should only be the gospel? If you have ever thought any of these questions, or ones like them, What is the Mission of the Church by DeYoung and Gilbert is a book that you MUST read. I intentionally used capital letters on that one. I normally recommend books, but this is one that should be a MUST for those who lead the church and care for their community. It is a MUST for those who lead missions committees that are praying over who to support. And it is certainly a MUST for those who care for the mission of the church.

The focus of DeYoung and Gilbert is to drill down to core issues. They are less concerned about the things that the church could do or even should do. They are primarily concerned with what a church must do, so that, if the church fails to do it, she has failed to fulfill her primary mission. And their answer? Its not really that profound, for it is everywhere in the Scriptures. And they repeat it over and over in the book. The primary mission, or the central calling, of the church is . . .
". . . to go into the world and make disciples by declaring the gospel of Jesus Christ in the power of the Spirit and gathering these disciples into churches, that they might worship the Lord and obey his commands now and in eternity to the glory of God the Father." (62)
But what I love most about this book is that it is balanced. While they say that the primary mission of the church is the gospel and making disciples, they are not unconcerned about the poor, the hungry, the hurting, or the waterless. In fact, they repeatedly say that it would be wise for a church to be actively involved in these sort of activities. It is wise for a church to serve its community. It is good for the church to do things for the betterment of their community. It is what a redeemed human desires to do as he or she lives out the good works of their faith. It is just not the primary thing the church is called to do. They say,
"If we improve our schools, get people off welfare, clean up the park, and plant trees in the neighborhood, but aren't seeking to make disciples, we may 'bless' our communities, but we're not accomplishing the church's mission. Ultimately, if the church does not preach Christ and him crucified, if the church does not plant, nurture, and establish more churches, if the church does not teach the nations to obey Christ, no one else and nothing else will." (238)
And I will add. Even if you transform your community and never introduce them to Christ, what have you really gained? A good community of people that will spend eternity in hell away from God? What ultimate good (or love for them) is that? They say it like this:
"Since hell is real, we must help each other die well even more than we strive to help our neighbors live comfortably. Since hell is real, we must never think alleviating earthly suffering is the most loving thing we can do. Since hell is real, evangelism and discipleship are not simply good options or commendable ministries, but are literally a matter of life and death." (245)
It is a helpful read for there are many in our culture today that are seeking to be missional (especially in the younger generation). They want to live among the people like Jesus and alleviate their pain and suffering like Jesus. I think DeYoung and Gilbert would applaud them, but also remind them not to forget the main thing: the gospel is priority, not secondary.

It is helpful read for there are many in our culture today that do not care for meeting pressing needs of their community. They only want to preach the gospel and expect people to respond. I think DeYoung and Gilbert would applaud them for standing firm in the gospel and remind them that a proper response to the gospel is a sensitivity to the needs of others.

The book is well-written. It is easy to read. They do a very good job of dealing with the key Scripture passages that need to be dealt with; and at certain points, they are not afraid to dig deep into them, asking well thought-out questions. I greatly enjoyed this book! I will probably pass some out, which is probably the best recommendation I could ever give.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Praying in Jesus' Name

I am still slowly making my way through Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology with my elders. Last night we talked about chapter 17, Miracles, and chapter 18, Prayer. There was one part in his chapter on prayer that really made me stop and think. I think it might change my focus when I pray. He asks and answers the question, "What is Praying in Jesus' Name?"

He says that praying in Jesus' name is so much more than a mere slogan that we put on the end of our prayers. He says that it is a prayer "made on his authorization." It has to do with praying according to his character and his will. Then he adds this:
"Does this mean that it is wrong to add 'in Jesus' name' to the end of our prayers? It is certainly not wrong, as long as we understand what is meant by it, and that it is not necessary to do so. There may be some danger, however, if we add this phrase to every public or private prayer we make, for very soon it will become to people simply a formula to which they attach very little meaning and say without thinking about it. It may even begin to be viewed, at least by younger believers, as a sort of magic formula that makes prayer more effective. To prevent such misunderstanding, it would probably be wise to decide not to use the formula frequently and to express the same thought in other words, or simply in the overall attitude and approach we take toward prayer." (380)
What I took from this is that it is not wrong or right to end prayers with the phrase, "In Jesus' name." But I think for me, it has become a way to end prayers. A thoughtless way to end prayers. A way to land the plane without really thinking about what I am saying. I suppose that I will often end my prayers like this, but I hope at least, my mind will be sharper and actually mean it more when I say it. 

What do you think?

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

My Sunday Prayer For Chardon

The tragic events that took place at Chardon High School is still before the people of our community. Yesterday was the funeral of Demetrius and tomorrow is the funeral of Russell. With that in mind, I thought I would share my prayer that I wrote out for our service on Sunday morning. Please realize this is a prayer that I specifically wrote for our church on that Sunday. I am not saying it should be your prayer. I am not saying it is the right prayer. It was my heart for our people as they are dealing with this tragedy.

Heavenly Father,

It is difficult to make sense of these events this past week. Our hearts have been tested and have often failed in our trust in You. But we come this morning and ask for help. We are asking that you give us comfort. We are asking that you give the families that have been touched by this nonsense some moments of comfort. We pray specifically for the families of Daniel, Nick, & Demetrius. Not many people can really understand what they are going through at this moment. But we know you do. We know you know what it is like to have Your Son die. And so we pray that you would reveal your truth and plan for them through this tragedy.

We also pray for TJ Lane and his family. We pray that somehow the gospel would be preached to this young man and his family and he would embrace Jesus as his only hope. Father, it is in moments like this that it is difficult for us to fully understand what you mean that hatred is just as sinful in your eyes as murder. That just doesn’t seem right to us. But we trust you and we repent of our hatred. Let these events move us not cast stones from a distance, but to look inside our own lives as to how we are murdering people in our hearts.

And Father, I pray that these events will instill in us urgency for the spread of the gospel. None of us are promised tomorrow. It could have been us. It could have been our children. It could have been someone that we have wanted to share Jesus with and never had the courage to do it. I pray for boldness. I pray for a view beyond the temporal. I pray that we would love others with a view towards 70 million years, not 70 years. May these events move us to make the name of Jesus and his life and death more known in our community.

Father, help us move on. Give those that are hurting more grace and mercy. Help them to see and trust you in this time. We come and give our lives to you this morning and ask for your help. May the name of Jesus Christ be praised. And as Job prayed, ‘You have given and You have taken away, but blessed be Your name!’

In the name of your precious son, Jesus Christ, we pray these things. Amen!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

How The Gospel Brings Us All The Way Home by Derek Thomas

I have always loved the book of Romans. Since my time in college when I took a class on Romans, it has been one of my favorite books in the Bible. The depth of the theology Paul communicates has so radically impacted my life to the core. And in this great book, chapter eight stands as the pinnacle. Some have said that it is the greatest chapter in the entire Bible. It is this great chapter that Derek Thomas faithfully and vividly articulates in How The Gospel Brings Us All The Way Home.

Even that title should make you stop and pause. I thought the gospel introduces us to Christ, but how does it get us home? In his exposition of Romans 8, Thomas gives "a description of the Christian life from death to life, from justification to glorification, from trial and suffering to peace and tranquility of the new heaven and new earth" (xiii-xiv). He is trying to show that the gospel is what introduces us to Christ, yes for sure. But it is also the greatness of the gospel that keeps us with Christ all the way to glory. Romans 8 begins with no condemnation facing the one who is in Christ Jesus. It ends with nothing being able to separate that person from Christ.

I cannot sugar coat it at all. There are some very deep theological concepts in this book. But the deeper you go theologically, the sweeter the truth becomes to your soul. Too many people are too content with shallow thinking about Christianity. This book will force you to wrestle with some very hard truths like: Man's inability, killing of sin, being 'in Christ', predestination, justification, and glorification, and a whole host of other things. But at the end, Thomas keeps hammering home the gospel.
"The gospel guarantees that we will be brought home to glory. It is by grace that we are saved from the consequences of our sin; the same grace of God in the gospel brings us home. Better, Jesus brings us home. Our salvation is bound up not in something intangible and impersonal, but in a person--in Jesus Christ. The grace that ensures our final glorification is the grace of God in Jesus Christ. 
The gospel--the good news (Greek, euangelion)--is that God has provided for sinners like me a Substitute, One who takes my place and bears the consequences of my sin. At the cross, the wrath that my sins deserve was poured out on the Substitute. Justice was satisfied and atonement was given. My sins were imputed to the Substitute; His righteousness (obedience) was imputed to my account. I received the benefits of the cross by faith alone. 
Who is the Substitute? He is Jesus, my Savior. (114-115)
What can be said other than, "do you believe that?" Do you really believe that Jesus is your Substitute? Have you turned to Him in faith alone for your salvation? If so, then this chapter speaks to your life. It tells your story of how God is going to bring you all the way home to glory! Don't just read this book (which would be a good idea). Read Romans 8, meditate on Romans 8, memorize Romans 8 . . . consume yourself with the truth of Romans 8 as you look forward to being home in glory someday.

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Morning After: Parting Fatherly Advice (1 Kings 2:1-12)

The book of First Kings opens with David about to die. Towards the beginning of chapter two, it happens. But before he dies, he gives some final words of advice to his son, Solomon, who has been anointed the next king. God provides us a window to see behind the scenes of a father giving last minute instructions to his son before he dies. What would you say to your son? What would you say to your loved ones? If you had that opportunity, what would you tell them as you lie on your deathbed? David took the opportunity to give Solomon some spiritual (2-4) and political (5-9) advice.

Spiritual Advice
His final message for Solomon was to be strong and to show yourself a man. This was his way to say, "it's time to step up. Everyone is going to be looking at you as the King of Israel, you need to step it up and be a leader." What does it mean to be a man? Many in our culture says it has everything to do with being athletic, rough, tough, successful in your career, sexuality, and so on. But not for David. He qualifies being a man by telling Solomon to walk with God. He says that if you want to be manly, then you had better be godly! David says,
"Keep the charge of the Lord your God, walking in his ways and keeping his statutes, his commandments, his rules, and his testimonies, as it is written in the Law of Moses, that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn." (1 Kings 2:3)
The seven words that David uses (charge, ways, statutes, commandments, rules, testimonies, and law) are all used to make a simple point: it is the totality of God's law that should concern Solomon. And should concern us.

Manliness isn't whether you eat meat or vegetables, but it is whether you live your life and are nourishing your life by every word that comes from the mouth of God. David is telling Solomon to live his life, shape his life, and guard his life according to every word that God had given . . . every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. There would be no situation that Solomon would face that the revelation God had given him would not have the answer of how to think, speak, or act. 

It is similar for us. We are to filter everything through a biblical framework. Do we think through our tragedies through the lens of the Scriptures? But do we also filter our actions and attitudes when our children refuse to be potty-trained through a biblical framework? The Scriptures and walking with God should greatly concern our every action.

Political Advice
David not only told Solomon to be a godly man, but he gave him some specific actions he should take to secure the kingdom. Honestly, when you read vs. 5-9, it seems like the Godfather is giving the hit list on his deathbed. But there is certainly something to what David is trying to communicate to Solomon.

David told Solomon to take care of Joab because he had killed Abner and Amasa in peaceful times. He killed Abner because of revenge and killed Amasa because of jealousy. Joab had proved himself a dangerous liability for the kingdom. He was out only for himself. Joab wasn't the only one. Solomon was also to deal shrewdly with Shimei, for he had cursed the king. Both of these men proved to be in opposition to the king and the kingdom. They had to be judged. I wonder how frequent it is for us to put our interests and our desires over and above Jesus and the Kingdom's plans.

You can find the audio sermon HERE.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Video Sunday: Does God Want Me To Be Happy by John Piper

I really appreciated Piper's answer to this question. He says that God doesn't want to make us happy through our circumstances, but in Jesus Christ! For eternity! Good and helpful words considering the Chardon tragedy that our community experienced this past week.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Chardon Back to School Video

Here is a short video about Chardon High School going back to school today.

Back To School

Chardon High School went back to school this morning. Just a few days after the tragic events where one person opened fire and killed three students and injured two others, the students are walking back into the building where it all happened. I can't imagine what it is like for them as they enter through the same doors, walk the same halls, and eat lunch in the same cafeteria where this senseless crime took place.

In one sense, you never want to move on. The memory of Daniel, Russell, and Demetrius will be with those that knew them for a really long time. From all accounts, they were incredible young men who were well liked by their friends and community. And so, you don't want to move on. Moving on means forgetting. And nobody wants to forget them.

Yet, it is healthy to move on. While never forgetting the affects of this senseless tragedy, it is good to move past what happened. It is good to get back to life. It is good to get back to some sense of normalcy, whatever that may mean. I can imagine that in the weeks and months to come, people who have been affected by this are going to feel all sorts of emotions at all different times.

People will deal with this in many different ways. In all the ways that people seek to deal with it, I just don't know how they find the healing they are looking for without Jesus Christ. Not just God. Jesus. After all, it is Jesus that gives us access to God in prayer. It is Jesus who was tempted in every way that we have been tempted, but didn't sin. He was tempted to be angry and didn't sin. He was tempted for revenge, but didn't sin. He was tempted to not trust His Father, but didn't sin. The author of Hebrews puts it like this:
"Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need." (Hebrews 4:14-16)
And finally, it is only in Jesus that we can have eternal life. And having eternal life gives us perspective that this life is just the beginning. Not the end. The beginning.

My heart breaks for those who are going through this tragedy and I pray today that they will come to find the glorious healing nature of Jesus Christ. After all, He died as well. He gave up His life so we could live a life that we don't deserve to live. He did what we could never do. He satisfied the wrath of God on our behalf when we receive Him by faith. I pray that we believe in Jesus. He has revealed God to us (John 1:18). 

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Cornerstone Questions: Where Do I Go When I Die & Future Resurrections?

Over the past month I have been trying to take some time each week and answer a question that I have received by someone in my church. I have received questions from all over the spectrum and am always excited about answering more. Before I get into this question, here are a list of the questions I have already received:

Question: If there are specific resurrections, why do people believe they go immediately to heaven? Will God raise them at this time? If there is no time with God then are they already there, or does that make it seem immediate to them since that's their next waking moment? I read about the Last Great Day and specific resurrections, not immediate ascension to heaven. It doesn't make sense that you go there and are joined with God but you're just hanging around waiting for your body to be resurrected by itself. What's the point? When Christ was resurrected, he was resurrected.

This question may be a bit confusing, but let me see if I can get to the root of the issue. I think primarily this person is asking about the intermediate state. What happens to us when we die and our bodies are put into the ground. Does our soul go into some sort of sleep and then awake at the resurrection of our body or do we go to some holding place.

The very short answer is that I believe when a believer dies today they go immediately to be with the Lord. I get this from several passages of Scripture. The Apostle Paul told the church at Philippi that it was his desire to depart and be with Christ.
"For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better." (Philippians 1:21-23)
It was very clear to him that if he were to die, he would be with Christ. I really don't think he needed to clarify that, but he does make it even clearer, I believe, in his words to the church at Corinth.
"So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord." (2 Corinthians 5:6-7)
What Paul is saying is that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. The Apostle Paul makes it plain and simple. But not as simple as the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. While He was hanging on the cross, one of the thief's next to Him and begs, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." Jesus responds to him by saying, "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise" (Luke 23:42-43). We know that Jesus' body was laid in the tomb and we can assume the same thing happened to the thief. Yet, Jesus said, that day they would be with each other in paradise.

I clearly believe that when a person dies, they go immediately to be with the Lord. What I do not believe is that this is the final place we will spend all eternity. That is why I referred to it earlier as the intermediate state. Randy Alcorn, the author of the insightful book, Heaven, wrote a blog post entitled Intermediate (Present) Heaven vs. Eternal Heaven. I would highly recommend it. Here is a taste of what he has to say:
"When a Christian dies, he or she enters into what theologians call the intermediate state, a transitional period between our past lives on Earth and our future resurrection to life on the New Earth. Usually when we refer to 'Heaven' we mean the place that Christians go when they die. When we tell our children 'Grandma's now in Heaven,' we're referring to the intermediate Heaven."
He goes on to say:
"God's children are destined for life as resurrected beings on a resurrected Earth. We must not lose sight of our true destination. If we do, we'll be confused and disoriented in our thinking about where, and in what form, we will spend eternity. Will we live in Heaven forever? The answer to the question depends on what we mean by Heaven. Will we be with the Lord forever? Absolutely. Since Heaven is where God dwells, we'll always be in Heaven. But will we always be with God in exactly the same place that Heaven is now? No. In the intermediate heaven, we'll be in Christ's presence, and we'll be joyful, but we'll be looking forward to our bodily resurrection and permanent relocation to the New Earth."
I have no doubt that when we die we will be in the presence of Christ. What I don't fully grasp is what kind of form we will be in, body or spirit? Since our bodies are buried, will we have some other type of bodily form or just some sort of spirit form (Alcorn argues that we have some sort of bodily form that is at least recognizable to others).

I hope that makes sense. And I hope that somewhat answers the question that was being asked.