Monday, July 30, 2012

The Morning After: Helping Johnny Listen

I am just returning from vacation today, which means that I did not preach yesterday. It is good from time to time for my heart to take time to listen to the preaching of God's Word. As I have had a chance to sit and listen to preaching at Grace Bible Church last Sunday and Harvest Bible Chapel yesterday, I could not help but reflect back upon my book Helping Johnny Listen, which is my book on listening to preaching.

Probably the most important part of the book is the fourth chapter: Live the Preaching of God's Word. In that chapter, I tried to show the importance of actually allowing the preaching of God's Word to do something in our life. If we are good listeners, we will be changed by the sermon. The following are a few excerpts from the book on the issue of living the preached word, particularly as it has to deal with our faith.
"Living any preaching of God's word begins with our faith. It starts with us believing something. When Paul told the people of Thessalonica to 'hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil' (1 Thess 5:21-22), he meant that if they found the teaching to be true, they were to make it part of their lives. Another way to say this is given in 1 Thessalonians 2:13 when Paul commended them: "For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe." Notice that not only did they receive the word of God but also accepted it. On the surface, it may seem that Paul was saying the same thing; but there is a slight difference between receiving and accepting the word preached. When you received (external reception) from us 'the word of hearing' (meaning: the word which you heard), which was nothing less than God's own word, you accepted (inward welcoming) it as such, that is, as a word of God and not as a word of men. At what point do people internalize a message and make it their own? It is at the point of faith. It is at the point that they believe the message. 
There is a very clear distinction that needs to be made at this point. As Christians, we often see faith as a means to enter into a relationship with Jesus Christ. We believe what he says about himself. we believe what he has done for us. We believe and trust him to save us from our sins. But then we forget about the issue of faith. We need to understand that faith and action in obedience must be hand in hand. If we walk out of any sermon and try to obey the sermon apart from faith, we are living a works-based religion. Our obedience begins with faith; and, in reality, our obedience is an act of faith" (102-103).
I wrote that a couple years ago and I probably believe that more today. I wonder how many times people walk out of church thinking they must do such and such as some sort of duty to fulfill the calling of the preacher that Sunday. When what they really needed at that time was to believe and trust God. I continued . . .
"This issue of faith is everything. We can look at every sin and come to the same result. Do we really believe what the Lord says is more important than our own comfortable situations in life? Do we really believe that if we obey God and do what he has told us to do, our lives will be better, even if it means that the external parts of our lives will be worse? We all need faith every single day of our lives. We will never respond to the preaching of God's word if we do not cultivate hearts of faith every single day" (108).
If you want to check out the rest of what I have to say, check out my book. There are several places you can pick up a copy:

If you have read my book, would you consider leaving a review on one of those sites or promoting it to others for me?

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Video Sunday: Piper & Keller on Sanctification, part 2

Last week, I posted a short video of John Piper and Timothy Keller talking about justification and sanctification. Here is the second part of that interview.

[Justin Taylor originally posted these videos on his blog the past couple of weeks]

Saturday, July 28, 2012

This Week in the Blogosphere (July 28, 2012)

I have been on vacation the past two weeks. But I have still taken some down time over the past week to read a few of my favorite blogs. Each week, there are hundreds upon thousands of blog posts written by people all over the world. I find myself each week reading several of them. I have taken the time to link to some of my favorite blog posts from around the blogosphere from the previous week. I hope maybe one or two of these stories will be an encouragement to you.
  • Preaching "One-Time" Sermons by Ed Stetzer. I think Stetzer gives some good advice for those times when you find yourself getting the opportunity to preach a sermon that is not part of a series or as a guest preacher at some other church.
  • The Book Review Page by Tim Challies. Are you looking for a good review of a book that you might be reading? Check out Challies extensive archives of all the books he has reviewed.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

A Vacation Bible Passage

I am in the middle of a second week of vacation. As I spend some time with my family, I am trying not to spend too much time in front of the computer screen. That is why I have not blogged as much as I normally do. But I wanted to share one passage of Scripture that I am officially donning as my vacation bible passage. Maybe I should have memorized this on vacation. It is one that I need to hear regularly, not just on vacation. Maybe you need to hear it today as well.
"Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble." (Matthew 7:25-34)

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Video Sunday: Piper & Keller on Justification, Sanctification, and the Dynamics of Faith

John Piper interviews Tim Keller on the issues of justification & sanctification. There are some very good thoughts in this 14 minute video. One of the most helpful parts is about the 4:00 minute mark where they try to clarify the distinction between justification and sanctification.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

This Week in the Blogosphere (July 21, 2012)

Each week, there are hundreds upon thousands of blog posts written by people all over the world. I find myself each week reading several of them. I have taken the time to link to some of my favorite blog posts from around the blogosphere from the previous week. I hope maybe one or two of these stores will be an encouragement to you.

  • An Interview with John Piper by Tim Challies. Here are some great questions and answers about the topic of sanctification as Tim Challies had the opportunity to interview John Piper.
  • Wheaton College Contraception Mandate Lawsuit by Christianity Today. This is another interview, but I found it very interesting as Wheaton President, Philip Ryken explains the rationale for filing a lawsuit against the government concerning the recent medical mandate by Obama that was upheld by the Supreme Court.
  • Pastors, Fight for the Time to Read by Justin Taylor. I would add to the title of this blog, "Pastors, & Other Christians, Fight . . ." This is not just for pastors, it is for all Christians.
  • You Believe in Karma by Tullian Tchvidjian. This is a short segment of his forthcoming book on suffering. He tries to point out that most people subtly believe that "good people get good stuff and bad people get bad stuff."

Friday, July 20, 2012

Understanding the Big Picture of the Bible

There are many good books that have been written in the past year. But there are few good books that have been written on the topic of the Good Book. Understanding the Big Picture of the Bible, edited by Wayne Grudem, C. John Collins, & Thomas R. Schreiner is one of those books. As the title states, the purpose of this book is to introduce readers to the big picture of the Bible by showing the unity of the Bible. In fact, that is how the book begins. Vern S. Poythress begins by showing an overview of the Bible as God' s plan to redeem a people for Himself. One can gain a better understanding of the Bible when it is viewed as all pointing to Jesus Christ. He says,
"Understanding the unity of the Bible increases when one pays attention to instances where God brings salvation, and instances where a mediator stands between God and man . . . In reading the Bible one should look for ways in which God brings his word and his presence to people through means that he establishes. All these means perform a kind of mediatorial role, and because there is only one mediator, it is clear that they all point to Christ" (17-18).
After the initial overview of the Biblical storyline, the book unfolds with five short articles on the Old Testament, three on the background to the New Testament, & then four on the New Testament. If you are curious, here is a list of the chapters and authors:

  • The Theology of the Old Testament by C. John Collins
  • Introduction of the Pentateuch by Gordon Wenham
  • Introduction to the Historical Books by David Howard
  • Introduction to the Poetic and Wisdom Literature by David Reimer
  • Introduction to the Prophetic Books by Paul House
  • The Time Between the Testaments by J. Julius Scott Jr.
  • The Roman Empire and the Greco-Roman World at the Time of the New Testament by David Chapman
  • Jewish Groups at the Time of the New Testament by John Delhousaye
  • The Theology of the New Testament by Thomas R. Schreiner
  • Reading the Gospels and Acts by Darrell Bock
  • Reading the Epistles by Thomas R. Schreiner
  • Reading Revelation by Dennis Johnson

The real strength of the book is found in three places. First, its authorship. As you might be able to tell from the above list, many of these theologians are experts in their fields. Add to the fact that Wayne Grudem is an editor of this book even adds to its credibility.

The second strength of the book is its brevity. There are certainly books with much more depth on these topics, but those books can become burdensome for many people. The brevity of these chapters allow for them to only deal with the main issues, which they do a great job of doing.

The third strength is found at the end of the book in the timeline charts. It was very helpful to read the couple chapters in the middle about what was going on historically during the time of Jesus. But also, to read a detailed outline of the intertestamental events was really helpful. For instance, I am not sure if I ever really understood that Julius Caesar was murdered just about 47 years before the birth of Jesus. In addition, to see by dates the events of the New Testament is probably something I will turn to again and again.

The only concern I have in this book is trying to decide who should read it. While it is brief and helpful, there are a few parts that seemed overly technical. The brevity seems to lend itself to the novice, but the technical parts of the book seem to lend itself to the professional. Either way, I think that everyone can take something from this book. The novice will learn some basic information on the unity of the storyline of the Bible while the professional might be challenged to keep things brief. As long as you understand that thought, I would heartily recommend this book to you if you are looking for a big picture of the Bible.

I received a free copy of Understanding the Big Picture of the Bible by Crossway Publishers for review.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Anni Turns 7 Years Old

My little girl was born on July 19, 2005 in Hutchinson, Kansas. Today is her seventh birthday and we are currently on vacation in Hutchinson. Being here brings back many memories as to the first time I saw my little girl. Up to this time in our life, God had blessed Monique and I with two wonderful boys. I felt comfortable with boys. I felt I knew what to do with boys. What I didn't know was girls. That should be no surprise, but I was unsure about what to do with a girl. And yet God gave us this great treasure.

One of the immediate reactions I remember feeling was one of protection. I remember similar feelings towards my boys, but this one was different. I wanted to protect her in different ways than I wanted to protect the boys. I remember wanting to protect my boys from many things this world has to offer, but my feelings towards Anni went deeper and stronger. I felt a natural response to her to be her man.

I tell her that often. I tell her that I am her man. She knows that there are no other boys in her life to the degree of her father. She knows that she is not allowed to kiss any other boys than her father (brothers sometimes are the only other exception). She knows that dad is there to protect her. And what has amazed me is that there is a longing in her heart to be with her man. I can't help but think that this is a God-given desire to be led by a man.

The other day, I tweeted a picture of this shirt that we were thinking of getting Anni for her birthday. I love it in so many ways. And if you know Anni, it so fits her. She is really competitive and wants to win at everything. She wants to beat the boys in everything from T-Ball to just racing to the fence and back. And she does her share of beating the boys and winning by herself.

But as much as I love this shirt, I hate it. I do not want her to grow up being depending on boys to win. But I do not want her to ever think that she shouldn't be dependent upon at least one man. I never want her to think that she can't depend on her dad to help her. And, as much as this is going to bring joy and hurt at the same time, I do not want her to think that she can't count on her future husband some day. I want her to realize that, unless God's plan for her is singleness, He has someone for her to marry and submit to in this life.

I do not know who you are, but I assume there is some man out there that might read this someday. My goal in teaching my little girl to depend on me is so that she will depend on you. Don't blow it! Lead her with the love of Jesus. Make yourself dependable. I know that she is only seven years old today, but someday she is going to be a young lady looking to you to be her man. I want her to realize that she can depend on you.

But as much as she needs me. And as much as she is going to need you. She needs Jesus. He is going to be the only man that will never let her down. I will. You will. But He never will. That is one reason why I want to be like Jesus, because I want my life to be a window to Him. And I hope you will as well, whoever you are. Love her like Christ loved the church. I will teach her to submit to you as to the Lord. 

But until that day comes around, I will simply love her. I will take her on dates. I will continue to be her man pointing her to the Ultimate Man! 

Love you baby girl! I could not have asked God for a more unique and special little girl!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Visiting Old Friends

Lord willing, today we are waking up back in Hutchinson, Kansas. I never thought I would take time out of my vacation schedule to visit Kansas. But in 2004, God led us to minister alongside some really awesome people in the heart of America. It was a formative time in my life personally and professionally. I am sure Pastor Rick could point out all the many things I did wrong. But I also know I learned a lot while I was there. I did some things that I hope I will never do again in ministry. But I also built some friends in ministry that will last a lifetime. For some reason, God chose to use our family in the lives of some people to encourage them to walk with Jesus.

As like no other place I have ever been in ministry, when we left Kansas, I had a sense of what the Apostle Paul felt when he left the churches that he was a part of. One of the greatest examples of his feelings comes from the book of 1 Thessalonians. One particular response we see from Paul is that he was deeply grateful for their response to his teaching of the gospel.
"And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers" (1 Thess. 2:13).
I felt like that with those we had the chance to minister to in Kansas. They received and listened to me as a preacher and teacher. But more than that, they saw through my words and listened to God through my message. The Apostle Paul wasn't content with that. He had been torn away from his ministry there and was fearful in his heart that some of the people he had ministered to might bail on Christ.
"But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face, because we wanted to come to you--I, Paul, again and again--but Satan hindered us. For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy. Therefore when we could bear it no longer, we were willing to be left behind at Athens alone, and we sent Timothy, our brother and God's coworker in the gospel of Christ, to establish and exhort you in your faith, that no one be moved by these afflictions" (1 Thess. 2:17--3:3).
I was not really torn away from them. I was led by the Lord to a different ministry. But in many ways, I will always have a vested interest in the spiritual welfare of many back in Hutchinson. I would be the first to get on the plane to help someone out in the time of need. I talk to the pastors there regularly to see how they are doing spiritually. I care that they do not walk away from Christ.

I guess what I am saying is that we can't wait to see our dear friends in the faith. We can't wait to spend part of our vacation checking up on the lives of people that have meant so much to us in the past. We can't wait to share how God has been using us in our new ministry. And we can't wait to hear how they are pursuing Jesus even more than ever. It is our joy to drive 16 hours to spend time ministering and being ministered to by friends in the faith. It is way better than sitting on the beach by ourselves collecting sea shells.

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Morning After: A Passion for Purity (Psalm 101)

I have spent the last several weeks preaching through different Psalms. Yesterday, I was in Psalm 101, which has always been one of my favorites. It is a Psalm of David, where he expresses to the Lord a great concern for the purity of the nation of Israel. Not many people talk about holiness anymore, but the topic should be quick off the tongue of the believer. It should concern us greatly. I think what David does here is to give a 3-Step Guide To Purity.

1. Get Passionate About God (vs. 1)
David begins by saying that he is going to praise God. God consumed his thoughts. He was consumed with the love of God and the justice of God. Two sides of the same coin. We completely lose the real meaning of God's love when we get rid of His justice.

There is about zero chance of you pursuing holiness and purity in your life if you are not passionate about God. It is a heart-felt love and passion for Him that moves us to obey Him in our life. It is in treasuring Christ where we find a real desire to be pure before Him. So, how passionate are you about God? How passionate are you today? Did you go to church yesterday with a heartfelt desire for Him, not the things about Him, but Him? This is the first step in your sanctification.

2. Get Passionate About Your Sin (vs. 2-4)
Once we are passionate about pursuing God, we are going to be passionate about dealing with our sin. When we get a glimpse of God, it reveals to us in what ways our lives fail to match His standards. When we deal with our sin, it always begins with the heart. That is why David began by saying "I will walk with integrity of heart within my house." God cares that we have a soft heart and not a hard heart. This is the second step in the process of our holiness.

3. Get Passionate About Corporate Sins (vs. 5-8)
It is always easier to run the race of holiness with others. Once David dealt with his sin, he was moved to help others deal with their sin as well. Confronting someones sin is one of the hardest things to do in this world. But if it is done right, with the right motives, it can be one of the most loving things anyone can ever do. The point of confrontation is to gently point someone back to Jesus, to restore them to Christ.

David mentions several sins that he had to deal with because they were community sins that destroy. He had to deal with the sins of slander, pride, lying, and wickedness. But in the middle of that, he says that he is going to find comfort with those that are faithful and blameless (vs. 6). That is not those who are perfect, for nobody is perfect. But it is those who are teachable, who are receptive to the things of God. One thing is for certain: one of the most contagious things in this world is to be around someone who is passionate for Christ. Running with people like that is a very powerful weapon for the cause of Christ. There is power in unity. That is one thing that the good old Charles Schultz taught us in this great Peanuts comic.

I hope you desire purity in your life. Don't try to run alone. Find someone to help you in the race. If you want to listen to this sermon, you can find it HERE (usually posted by Tuesday afternoon).

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Video Sunday: Is It OK to Drink Alcohol by John Piper

John Piper gives a great answer to the question: Is it OK to drink alcohol? I think I fall right where he lands on this issue.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Thoughts on the Legacy of Joe Paterno

In case you missed it, a report Louis Freeh was published yesterday detailing his perspective as a private investigator as the problems in the sexual misconduct at Penn State University. In the report, he comes down hard on Joe Paterno. I have previously wandered what his legacy will become. Now I think we know. 

In this, there is no shortage of opinions and thoughts on this matter. Here are a few articles or blog posts that I have read. If you are looking for some quick thoughts on this issue, you might want to check out one of these articles.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

J.C. Ryle on Freedom

Last week, I posted some thoughts on the pursuit of our freedom. I said that freedom can be a good or bad thing in our life. We should enjoy the freedom that our country provides, but that our pursuit of freedom is really what is at the heart of our sin nature. We don't want people to tell us what to do. We want to be boss. As I contemplated that, I said that we need freedom from our pursuit of freedom.

The other day, I was looking through J. C. Ryle's Practical Religion and came across a few things that he had to say about our freedom. Here is just a sample of what he says:
"The freedom I speak of is a freedom that is within the reach of every child of Adam who is willing to have it. No power on earth can prevent a man or woman having it, if they have but the will to receive it. Tyrants may threaten and cast in prison, but nothing they can do can stop a person having this liberty. And, once our own, nothing can take it away. men may torture us, banish us, hang us, behead us, burn us, but they can never tear from us true freedom. The poorest may have it no less than the richest: the most unlearned may have it as well as the most learned, and the weakest as well as the strongest. Laws cannot deprive us of it: Pope's bulls cannot rob us of it. Once our own, it is an everlasting possession. 
Now, what is this glorious freedom? Where is it to be found? What is it like? Who has obtained it for man? Who has got it at this moment to bestow? I ask my readers to give me their attention, and I will supply a plain answer to these questions. 
The true freedom I speak of is spiritual freedom,--freedom of soul. It is the freedom which Christ bestows, without money and without price, on all true Christians. Those whom the Son makes free are free indeed: "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty." (2 Cor. iii. 17.) Let men talk what they please of the comparative freedom of monarchies and republics; let them struggle, if they will, for universal liberty, fraternity, and equality: we never know the highest style of liberty till we are enrolled citizens of the kingdom of God. We are ignorant of the best kind of freedom if we are not Christ's freemen." (Practical Religion, 216-217)
He goes on to talk about that Christ's freemen are . . .
  • Free from the guilt of sin
  • Free from the power of sin
  • Free from the slavish fear of God
  • Free from the fear of man
  • Free from the fear of death
  • Free for ever
He finishes by saying:
"The freedom of Christ's people been procured, like all other freedom, at a mighty cost and by a mighty sacrifice. Great was the bondage in which they were naturally held, and great was the price necessary to be paid to set them free: mighty was the enemy who claimed them as his captives, and it needed mighty power to release them out of his hands. But, blessed be God, there was grace enough, and power enough ready in Jesus Christ. He provided to the uttermost everything that was required to set His people free. The price that Christ paid for His people was nothing less than His own lifeblood. He became their Substitute, and suffered for their sins on the cross: He redeemed them from the curse of the law, by being made a curse for them. (Gal. iii. 13.) He paid all their debt in His own person, by allowing the chastisement of their peace to be laid on Him (Isaiah liii. 5.) He satisfied every possible demand of the law against them, by fulfilling its righteousness to the uttermost. He cleared them from every imputation of sin, by becoming sin for them. (2 Cor. v. 21.) He fought their battle with the devil, and triumphed over him on the cross. As their Champion, He spoiled principalities and powers, and made a show of them openly on Calvary. In a word, Christ having given Himself for us, has purchased the full right of redemption for us. Nothing can touch those to whom He gives freedom: their debts are paid, and paid a thousand times over; their sins are atoned for by a full, perfect, and sufficient atonement. A Divine Substitute's death meets completely the just of God, and provides completely redemption for man." (219-220)
What do you think of this sort of Freedom? 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

To Heaven and Back by Mary C. Neal

I have tried to stay current the past couple of years by reading books that have become part of the mainstream. One particular genre of books has been the "I experienced heaven and am back to tell about it" books. I have read 90 Minutes in Heaven by Don Piper; 23 Minutes in Hell by Bill Wiese; and even took the time to review Heaven is For Real by Todd Burpo. The newest book to gain notoriety is To Heaven and Back by Mary C. Neal, MD.

In this book, Neal tells the story of how she died in a kayak accident, spent time with angels and Jesus, went to some heavenly place, and then came back to life. As with all the other books, the part of her story about being in heaven was very short. Most of the book has to do with her spirituality before and after the event on the river and how she recovered from her injuries. After reading this book, I do not question that she went through a horrific tragedy. I do not question that she died. I do not question that there were angelic beings that welcomed her as she was dying. I do not question that she spent time in the field with an angelic being. I do not question that she was told that her job on earth was not finished. I do not question these parts of her story. The only thing I question is that what she experienced was from God. Let me explain.

This book is completely and utterly void of the gospel. It is void of the cross. It is void of man's sin. It is void of God's holiness. It is void of the substitutionary death of Jesus. In fact, the only place in the book that the cross of Jesus is even mentioned in when she is trying to explain how sometimes bad things happen to good people.  She says that the crucifixion was a bad thing and Jesus was obviously a good person and this "bad" thing that happened is at the heart of the "good news" (103).

I would even go so far to say that she believes that all people will go where she went when she died. After reading the book, I strongly doubt that she believes in hell as opposed to heaven. At one point, while she was explaining the pain that is experienced when loved ones after someone dies, she says,
"In our country, we no longer seem to have funerals; instead we have 'celebration of life.' But truly, the only person who ever celebrates is the one who died. Those who have died experience the joy of returning to the glory of God's world, while the people left behind are sad, lonely, and rarely feel joyful about the occasion" (151).
Did you see that? "Those who have died." And nowhere does she further articulate that the celebration after death only comes when someone has believed in the finished work of Jesus on the cross. Nowhere! This is feel-good religion at its best. It is a book designed to make everyone, regardless of their view about Jesus, feel good about dying. And she very clearly shares that she was brought back to this earth because she had more work to do. While she was "dead" on the river bank, she was floating with these other spirit beings. She explains why she couldn't stay with them.
"We arrived at the entrance to the hall, and I could see many spirits bustling about inside. They all turned to look at us as we began to enter, and they communicated great compassion and love. Before we could go inside, however, an oppressive feeling of grief and sadness descended upon my spiritual companions and the atmosphere became heavy. They turned to me and explained that it was not my time to enter the hall; I had not completed my journey on earth, had more work to do, and must return to my body. I protested but was given several reasons for my return and told that I would soon be given more information. We shared our sorrow as they returned me to the river bank. I sat down in my body and gave these heavenly beings, these people who had come to guide, protect, and cheer for me, one last, longing glance before I lay down and was reunited with my body" (74).
This is going to be controversial and I know that some people will not like me saying this. But there is very little doubt in my mind that she was sent back here by the enemy to convince the thousands of people who will read this book that they will be okay when they die! We are told that Satan disguises himself as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14-15). So why do we struggle with the thought that what she experienced was from him and not God. Especially, when the book is void of the gospel; void of the death of Jesus; void of resurrection of Christ; and void of a calling for faith and repentance.

This book is dangerous. The enemy wants people to think they are okay in their casual, self-centered, religious ways. The truth is, you are not. Have you repented of your sins? Have you given yourself to the Lordship of Jesus Christ? Then what she writes about life after death being a peaceful, glorious place is not your fate. There are many other problems I had with this book (for instance, she believes that young children are aware of where they came from in heaven before they come to this earth--that is why they are more sensitive to the things of God). Just weird. But the main problem I have is that it tells everyone they are okay and they do not need to fear death. But apart from Christ, a person absolutely should fear death!

Towards the end of the book, she tries to answer the question of why God would allow her to go through all the experiences she has had. She says,
"I do not know all of the answers to these questions, but I do know that millions of people are in dire need of knowing God, receiving His love, experiencing His presence, and accepting the truth of His promises" (207).
I agree. I just don't think that any of that is going to really happen through this book. I think just the opposite is going to happen. People are going to feel more and more comfortable to live a semi-religious life apart from Christ. That, in turn, will be devastating!

I received a copy of To Heaven and Back by Mary C. Neal by Waterbook Press for review.

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Morning After: My God is Majestic (Psalm 8)

In a world that longs for meaning, the Bible gives answers. It tells of our beginning. It tells of our hope. It tells of our significance. But none of those things can be discovered without first understanding how utterly insignificant we are in this life. Yesterday, I preached through Psalm 8 and was utterly blown away at how great God is in comparison to our puny selves.

My main idea was that A Person Finds Significance For Their Life Only When They Understand The Majesty Of God! To find the truth about our purpose in life, we have to understand the truth about ourselves. And that truth is that we are not the center of the universe. God is. This is not my world, it is His. I do not deserve the praise, He does.

Psalm 8 begins and ends with a statement of praise directed to God. "O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth." Majestic means powerful or excellent. This was a way for David to reflect back to God the character of His name. This was not simply a form of address, but he was saying, "Oh God, the covenant powerful master, your name is majestic throughout the entire world." In fact, he will go on to say that His glory has been set above the heavens. For God to set His glory above the heavens means that His glory is not even contained in the highest heavens. He is so much grander, so much larger, and so much more excellent than even the excellencies that we can see with our eyes. 

I can picture David out on a starry night in the pasture looking up to the sky and being overwhelmed at the size of the universe. There is something about being out in nature, looking up at the stars and moon that is overwhelming. It makes us feel as if we are really, really small. To which that feeling is right. Let me give a few examples:
  • Light that leaves the sun, traveling at 186,000 miles per second will reach the earth in 8 minutes.
  • As that light continues, it will take 6 hours to reach the furthest planet in our solar system, Pluto (which my son is quick to inform me is no longer called a planet - when did that happen?)
  • It would take about 75,000 years to get to the most distant stars in our galaxy.
  • To get to the nearest large galaxy, the Andromeda Galaxy, it would take about 2.2 million years traveling at 186,000 miles per second.
That's a really big universe, don't you think? That makes us feel small. And I can picture David outside looking up at all of that and thinking, "What is man that you are mindful of him or the son of man that you care for him?" In light of how large of the universe we live in, how stupid is it for some person on this puny planet called earth to look into a mirror and find their significance in themselves? That's stupid! But we all do it. We love to be the hero of our own stories. We love to be the center of attention. We love to think the world revolves around us. 

It is only when we realize that we are infinitely small and unimportant that we are on the right path towards our real meaning in life. The answer to David's question about "what is man" is the key. Nothing. We are nothing. We have done nothing to make us lovable. There is nothing we have done that makes ourselves worthy of being care for and esteemed.

But even though we don't deserve it, God has placed His love upon us. That is where we find our hope and meaning in life. Even though we are nothing, God loved us so much that He sent His Son to this puny planet to become one of us, to live the perfect life that we could not live, so that we could have life eternally with Him. That's where are purpose and meaning are found.

If you want to listen to this message, you can find it HERE (usually posted on Tuesday).

Saturday, July 7, 2012

This Week in the Blogosphere (July 7, 2012)

Each week, there are hundreds upon thousands of blog posts written by people all over the world. I find myself each week reading several of them. I have taken the time to link to some of my favorite blog posts from around the blogosphere from the previous week. I hope maybe one or two of these stories will be an encouragement to you.
  • Complementarianism for Dummies by Mary Kassian. This is a very helpful summary of what complementarianism (a view of the role of men and women) is and is not.
  • 5 Questions to Ask of a Book by Tim Challies. I obviously love to read and have tried to post many book reviews on this blog. Challies gives a helpful framework through which to read books and how you know you can recommend them to others.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Christian & Culture

Eric Metaxas made some interesting points about the Christian and Culture on the radio program, Breakpoint, yesterday. 
"Here's a particularly egregious case in point: the recent campaign to remove a great movie, 'The Blind Side', from the shelves of LifeWay Christian Stores. Remember, 'The Blind Side' was denounced as Christian propaganda by many liberal critics. It explicitly depicts an affluent white Christian family devoting itself to helping an impoverished black kid because it's the Christian thing to do."
Why did LifeWay cave into the demands of a Florida pastor who started a campaign to have it removed? Check out the program to find the full answer. But it seems as if this pastor and others who backed this campaign has an isolationists view about culture. Metaxas says in summary:
"For outsiders looking in, the moral of the story is that 'there is no pleasing Christians. They always seem to be looking for something to be mad about.' We complain about the calumnies and caricatures of Christians on the big screen; and then, when an Academy-Award winning film shows us at our very best, we complain that scenes depicting harsh, inner-city reality are too true to life!"
You can read or listen to the entire program HERE

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Reminded of God's Promise

The sun was shining as I was driving in to work this morning. But just a few miles away, a huge thunderstorm was brewing. The combination of sun and rain made for a nice reminder of God's faithfulness. A beautiful rainbow. When I got into the office, I thumbed through my Bible to Genesis 9 to read about the first rainbow that was placed in the sky by God. It was a sign of a covenant with Noah and the world that God would never again flood the earth like He did at the great flood. Here is what God says:
"'This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.' God said to Noah, 'This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.'" (Genesis 9:12-17)
I could well imagine that early on after the flood when a big storm came rolling through, there could have been some fear that the flood was going to happen again. But then they might look up in the sky and see a rainbow of God's promise. It has been thousands of years since that first rainbow and yet it still appears today as a reminder. A reminder that God is faithful to his promise.

If you want to read some more about rainbows, I would recommend this short article by Answers in Genesis.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Pursuit of Our Freedom

Today is July 4th. Independence Day. The day American's celebrate our freedom. If you are from the United States, you are probably taking the day to celebrate this freedom in some capacity. As I woke up this morning thinking about this issue of freedom, I thought how it is a double edged sword in our lives. On the one hand, I love it. I love the fact that we are a free country. I love the fact that I have the freedom to write this blog, to worship at church on Sunday, and live openly as a Christian. It is a really good thing. This is the freedom that I am given because of the first amendment:
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceable to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
But there is another side to this pursuit of freedom. I think it can find its roots all the way back to the origin of sin in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3). What was it that Eve wanted when she took of that fruit? She wanted her freedom. She didn't want to be told what to do. Along with Adam, they ate of that fruit thinking that they would be like God, knowing good and evil. What they didn't realize is that when they took of that fruit, they would enter bondage. Their pursuit of freedom led them to a bondage of sin. 

The story goes even go back before them. Satan was once the highest of created beings, but he wanted more. He wanted to be like God. His pursuit of freedom is told in Isaiah 14:13-14, which says:
"You [Satan] said in your heart, 'I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far reaches of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High."
He was not content with being the highest created being. He wanted to be like God. What was it that he wanted most? I would say, he wanted what we often want. We want to make the rules. We want to have the freedom to do what we want to do. We do not want anyone to tell us what to do. We want our freedom and we wholeheartedly pursue it.

This pursuit of freedom evidences itself so often in the rebellious heart against authority. Kids abort the authority of their parents. Wives go against the authority of their husbands. Employees balk at the authority of their employers. Christians avoid the authority of their pastors. Even Americans despise the authority of their government (which has established this freedom). We simply want more. And we will never be satisfied.

Do you really want freedom? I would argue with you that ultimate freedom comes at the expense of Jesus and the cross. He offers freedom from the bondage of sin. He offers freedom from the rebellious heart. It may seem ironic, but your ultimate freedom will come in giving up of your life and submitting to the Lordship of Jesus. He offers freedom from our pursuit of freedom.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Fighting Materialism

The giving the past couple months at our church has been down. That's somewhat usual in church ministry, especially in the summer months. But as we look to bring on another pastor at Cornerstone Bible Church, this issue enabled our church to have some good, healthy conversations that are often hard to have. In leading up to talking about that, I had to do some thinking about my own heart and my own giving. And even after that time, I have had some more time to talk to my wife and more people from the church in smaller settings.

One thing that I keep being reminded of is how easy it is for me to subtly shift back towards materialism. When I am reminded of that, I always go back to Randy Alcorn's book, The Treasure Principle, which has influenced me more than any book on biblical stewardship. As I took a few moments and thought about that book, his 5th Key kept coming back to me: "Giving is the only antidote to materialism." He goes on to explain how giving helps us fight against the pursuit of ourselves in this life.
"The act of giving is a vivid reminder that it's all about God, not about us. It's saying I am not the point. He is the point. He does not exist for me. I exist for Him. God's money has a higher purpose than my affluence. Giving is a joyful surrender to a greater person and a greater agenda. Giving affirms Christ's lordship. It dethrones me and exalts Him. It breaks the chains of mammon that would enslave me. As long as I still have something, I believe I own it. But when I give it away, I relinquish control, power, and prestige. At the moment of release the light turns on. The magic spell is broken. My mind clears. I recognize God as owner, myself as servant, and others as intended beneficiaries of what God has entrusted to me. Giving doesn't strip me of vested interests; rather, it shifts my vested interests from earth to heaven--from self to God." (59)
I do not know where you are at in your life. God knows. But maybe the issue is not the amount on any check that you write. Maybe the issue is the heart behind the pen that writes the check. I agree with Alcorn, the only way I can fight against materialism in my life is to give more and more money away. What do you think? How do you fight against materialism in your life?

Monday, July 2, 2012

The Morning After: The Pursuit of Happiness

I usually enjoy taking the summer months of the year and preach through a different Psalm each week. Yesterday, preached through Psalm 1, which I entitled "The Pursuit of Happiness." The movie by that title is one of my favorite movies. It tells the real story of Chris Gardner, who was homeless with his son while working through an internship with Dean Witter. He eventually is offered the only job out of 19 interns and when he does, he says, "This little part of my life is what I call 'Happiness.'" When he is offered the job, I am always gripped emotionally. Even though I know what is about to happen. It gets me every time. 

The heart longs for redemption and triumphant things. While that story is amazing, it holds nothing compared to Psalm 1, which tells the story about a greater pursuit of a greater happiness. It is not about getting a job offer or your team winning some big game. It is about the abundance of happiness that is found in being part of the righteous versus being part of the wicked. In fact, it only takes a short reading to realize that this chapter is about distinguishing or comparing the righteous person to the wicked person.

One word of warning here. We should avoid reading Psalm 1 as causative, meaning that if you follow these things, you will be righteous instead of wicked. It is better to read it as evaluative, meaning that it tells us what the righteous person does and what the wicked person does. It is best understood when we read it as a mirror to our hearts. The way in which I am living gives evidence to my team. As I went through this Psalm, I tried to show Three Distinguishing Characteristics Between the Wicked and the Righteous.

1. Their Influences (vs. 1-2)
The righteous person refuses to be influenced the way the wicked person is influenced. He does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, stand in the way of sinners, or sit in the seat of scoffers. Taken individually, each of these three statements could mean many things for our life, but taken together they are meant to warn us against the downward spiral of negative influence. 

Instead, they want to be influenced by the Law of the Lord (revelation of God) which is their delight. It is in the meditation of the truth of God that this man is influenced. It is his joy to pick up the Word of God and orient his life by it. And in them, he meditates day and night. That does not mean they sit in the yoga position and empty the mind. It means that they are actively filling the mind with God's truth that they continually reflect. 

2. Their Fruit (vs. 3-4)
The righteous man that is influenced by the Word of God is like a tree planted by the streams of water. He is a prosperous tree that yields fruit in its season. The wicked man is one who is influenced by walking, standing, and sitting with sinners is compared to a dry, dead chaff that the wind drives away. This is the difference between something that is alive and something that is dead. It is the difference between something that produces good fruitful things in life and something that is worthless, of no value.

What does the fruit look like? It could be many things. It could be the fruit of the Spirit. It could simply be the stability in troubled times. As the roots of your life go deeper and deeper into the depths of God's truth, it becomes easier and easier to respond right in difficult times of life. Bad theology will produce bad responses in life. But good theology that is rooted to the truth of God will produce good responses.

3. Their Destinations (vs. 5-6)
This may be less noticeable, at least now. But the wicked man will not stand in the judgment, they will perish. The righteous man is known by the Lord. This is an intimate knowledge; a saving from judgment knowledge. The two teams face two drastically different outcomes.

This passage is usually one of the easiest in the book of Psalms to grasp. However, I have always found difficulty with this question: Are there ever any righteous? Has anyone ever fully walked not in the counsel of the wicked? Has anyone ever taken their delight in the law of the Lord, or meditated on that Law day and night? Has there ever been anyone who has really been firmly planted by the streams of water?

The answer is YES. Jesus Christ. It is because of Jesus' perfect righteousness that allows us now to be the blessed man. It is only because of His obedience that we can say no to the counsel of the wicked. It is only because He pleased the Father that we can find delight in His Word and meditate on it day and night. It is only because He overcame death that we can be like a tree planted by streams of water yielding good fruit. He is the only perfect man; but because of His perfections, we can be made perfect in God's eyes.

If you want to listen to this message, you can find it HERE

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Video Sunday: Casual Acceptance or Absolute Surrender by David Platt

This is the video of David Platt as he addresses the students and faculty of Liberty University in February, 2011. At the beginning of the sermon, he says as his purpose:
"I want to call you based on the authority of God's Word to abandon your plans and your dreams and your ideas, your possessions, all of your hopes of living out a nice, comfortable, middle-class American Christianity. I want to call you to abandon it all to make the glory of Christ known among every nation in the world."
This sermon has been archived into three videos that I have posted below.