Friday, August 31, 2012

Reforming Marriage by Douglas Wilson

I am doing a series on the family during the month of September at my church. In preparation for it, I have been trying to do a lot of reading on the topic. I do not remember why, but I picked up several books by Douglas Wilson on the family. Reforming Marriage is the first of several I have read. And I was pleasantly surprised by what he had to say in this book.

Wilson takes a very strong stance on biblical headship in this book (which I will talk about more in another of his books). He says at the beginning that the key to a great family is a great marriage. And that hinges upon how the husband treats his wife. 

What I took as one of the most important elements of this book is how he very pointedly makes the connection between the marriage relationship and Christ's relationship to the church. You have probably read it before, but during the middle of Paul's instructions on marriage in Ephesians 5, he says, "This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church." Wilson's explanation of this has really helped me think through the ways in which marriage is connected to Christ and the church. For instance, he writes,
"Every marriage, everywhere in the world, is a picture of Christ and the church. Because of sin and rebellion, many of these pictures are slanderous lies concerning Christ. But a husband can never stop talking about Christ and church. If he is obedient to God, he is preaching truth; if he does not love his wife, he is speaking apostasy and lies--but he is always talking. If he deserts his wife, he is saying that this is the way Christ deserts His bride--a lie. If he is harsh with his wife and strikes her, he is saying that Christ is harsh with the church--another lie. If he sleeps with another woman, he is an adulterer, and a blasphemer as well. How could Christ love someone other than His own Bride? It is astonishing how, for a few moments of pleasure, faithless men can bring themselves to slander the faithfulness of Christ in such a way" (25). 
Did you see that? How could a man bring himself to slander Christ in this way? By what way? By sleeping with another woman. We tend to say things like, "how could he slander his wife like that." But Wilson helps us see that the greatest offended party is Christ, whose name is slandered because the man's relationship to his wife is a picture of Christ's relationship to the church. That certainly raises the bar on marriage, don't you think?

Throughout the book, he offers great word pictures and illustrations to make his points. His writing style is easy to grasp and flows naturally from one point to the next. Another strength of this book are the applications that he offers. For instance, in chapter five, he recommends that the husband and wife keep short accounts of their sin with God and each other. He offers several rules that have helped shape their home.
  • Never split up until things are resolved.
  • Never let anyone into your home when there is no harmony there.
  • Never go anywhere else when you are out of fellowship.
  • Never wait until later to fix things, even when you are surrounded by others.
  • Never have sexual relations when you are out of fellowship with one another.
This book was helpful enough to me that I decided to pick up some of his other books on family relationships. More of that to come later.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Same-Sex Marriage: The Biblical Answer, pt. 2

The Bible is crystal clear on the issue of homosexuality. Yesterday, I looked at the Biblical texts in the Old Testament on this issue. In almost everything that I have read by those in favor of same-sex marriage, the passages in the OT take the brunt of their arguments. But not many people who claim to be "Gay Christians" are willing to take on the passages of the New Testament. But they must be looked at to get a full picture of what the Bible has to say on this issue.

Jesus View of Homosexuality
We first have to acknowledge that there is no place in the gospel accounts where Jesus says "homosexuality is a sin." But He didn't have to say that. He was speaking to Jewish people who already believed that it was a sin (they believed in the OT). But just because Jesus didn't say those words does not mean He didn't believe that it was not God's intended plan for mankind.

First, Jesus is God. If we believe that, then we have to acknowledge that He is the One who condemned homosexuality in Leviticus 18 & 20. In addition, there is one passages where Jesus unequivocally affirms that marriage is for one man and one woman. In Matthew 19, the Pharisees comes to Jesus to test Him about the issue of divorce. In His answer, Jesus clearly states that God made mankind male and female. He affirms that God had brought them together to make one flesh. By referring back to Genesis 1-2, Jesus clearly says that marriage is between one man and one woman.

But then Jesus does give an exception clause for divorce. He says that if anyone divorces their spouse except on the grounds of sexual immorality (pornea), and marries another, they have committed adultery. This term, pornea, is a general term that was used to refer to anything sexual outside the marital relationship is wrong. And don't forget that Jesus just defined the marital relationship as one man and one woman.

So this means that sex before marriage, sex with someone other than your spouse once your married, looking at or reading sexual things (yes, that means 50 Shades of Grey is included), sex with animals, sex with prostitutes, sex with children, sex with relatives, and the list continues all the way down to even sex with someone of the same gender. It couldn't be clearer.

Romans 1: The Clearest Argument
The Apostle Paul's argument is the clearest teaching in the New Testament on homosexuality. He says that the practice is "shameful," "unnatural," "indecent," and a "perversion." Those are some strong words. Let me show how he gets to this conclusion.

Verses 18-20 -- Paul states the wrath of God is revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth of God. Paul is very clear that knowledge of God is evident to all men through their conscience and creation.

Verses 21-23 -- In rejecting the knowledge of God available through creation, people claim to be wider than God. Propping ourselves up as god lies at the core of every human heart. It is what is at the root of all of our rebellion. But in doing so, we prove that we are fools.

Verses 24-25 -- Mankind is now worshipping and serving the creature instead of the creator. This is a huge problem which leads to . . .

Verses 26-27 -- When people consistently turn away from the true revelation of God, when they find themselves worshipping the creature instead of the creator, they invariably find themselves in the worshipping of the body in sex. And sex and sexual experiences is the height of their pursuit of life. A person would have to do some major hermeneutical gymnastics to get around Paul saying that homosexuality is sinful in this context. It is as clear as it could be.

Verses 28-32 -- Is there any doubt that this is where we find ourselves today. We are a generation that not only practices these things, but gives hearty approval to those that practice them.

1 Timothy 1: Another Example
I have a hard time seeing how anyone could interpret Paul's words in 1 Timothy 1:10 to mean anything other than he thought it was sinful. Paul says that the law was given to point out sin in the life of people. And one of the things that he lists is "the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality."

1 Corinthians 6: The Clearest Hope
This is a passage that speaks against the so-called "Gay Christian." I have read several biblical arguments (although really bad ones) from those from this camp, but I have yet to see someone address this passage.
"Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God" (6:9-11).
Do not be deceived. Those that practice things like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. One of the things mentioned is "men who practice homosexuality." If someone practices such things, they will not go to heaven.

I think it is impossible to look at the OT or NT to argue that the Bible says it is okay to be gay and that God will accept you for it. The Bible is very clear on this issue.

So what is someone to do? Do we just use these verses as hammers over the heads of those who are wrapped up in the gay world? This is what I will write about next week. There is hope in the gospel. Until then . . . 

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Same-Sex Marriage: The Biblical Answer, pt. 1

Last week I began a series of blog posts on the issue of same-sex marriage. These are flowing out of a series of lectures I am teaching on this issue at my church. So far, I have simply introduced the series and then suggested that there's a more important question that needs to be asked than whether homosexuality is right or wrong. Today and tomorrow, I want to look at the Bible. What does the Bible have to say about this issue? As with anything else, the Christian must not stand on issues simply because we think they might be right. We must stand on more firm footing than our opinions. We must have something more stable. We must know what God has to say. When we turn to the Biblical evidence, it is crystal clear.

Genesis 1-2: The Creation Account
It is impossible to read Genesis 1-2 without getting the very clear picture that God intended marriage to be one man and one woman. God creates man. Male. Then God comments that it is not good for man to be alone. He puts man to sleep and creates another human that would be his companion. He doesn't create another man; he creates a woman. Then God said these words:
"Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed." (Genesis 2:24-25). 
God instituted marriage. There is no possible way to get anything from the creation account other than this was God's plan. It was God's plan spiritually and physically. They became one flesh. And they were given a mandate from God to be fruitful and multiply the earth (Genesis 1:28). Two men or two women cannot physically fulfill the creation mandate to be fruitful and multiply the earth. At some point, there would need to be another person of the opposite sex involved in that mathematical equation.

In addition, there is nowhere in Scripture where this mandate or this example is erased. Nowhere does God give an allowance for something other than this. In fact, every place in the Bible that refers back to Genesis 1-2, confirms that marriage is between one man and one woman.

Genesis 19: The Sin of Sodom
As the account goes, there are two angels that show up in Sodom to visit Abraham's nephew, Lot. As they were closing the door on the house, the men of the city rose up and wanted Lot to bring the men out so that they could "know" them. They were not interested in having a cup of coffee with them and play board games. They wanted to "know them" in the biblical sense of sexuality. Within two days of this event, the city will be completely destroyed because of its wickedness.

Some people will try to argue that the sin of the city was rape, not homosexuality. While rape is certainly in play here, it must be noticed that the conviction and passion of the men of the city was to pursue other men. When they are offered women to satisfy their lust, they refuse. They wanted men. What this passage does has nothing to make us think that homosexual behavior would be considered an accepted behavior in the mind of God.

Leviticus 18 & 20: The Moral Code
No doubt, the clearest examples, and the ones that gets more attention than anything else in the OT are found in Leviticus 18 & 20. I want to show the context so that this makes sense.
"And you shall not lie sexually with your neighbor's wife and so make yourself unclean with her. You shall not give any of your children to offer them to Molech, and so profane the name of your God. I am the Lord. You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination. And you shall not lie with any animal and so make yourself unclean with it, neither shall any woman give herself to an animal to lie with it: it is perversion" (Leviticus 18:20-23).
I still believe that most people think it would be wrong to lie sexually with your neighbor's wife (vs. 20). Don't you? And do you think that most people would condemn offering your children as a sacrifice to some god (vs. 21)? And do you think that most people would still consider it to be degrading and perversion to have sex with an animal (vs. 23)? Then why do those same people think that vs. 22, sex with someone of the same gender, shouldn't be included?

This is actually an important question because the number one objection of Leviticus 18 & 20 would be  something like, "Well, don't you eat shellfish and wear clothes that have multiple threads to it? That's in the OT as well and you don't do that? So why should we think that sex with someone of the same gender is wrong?"

If they say that adultery, bestiality, and offering children for sacrifices is wrong, they are doing the same thing they are accusing the Christian of doing. Picking and choosing which OT laws are still valid for today. When in fact, that is not what the Christian is doing. There are certain things in the OT Law that are still valid for today because they are Moral Laws, written on the heart of man. There are other parts of the OT Law that are not valid today because they were Ceremonial Laws, meant to be customs for the nation of Israel to separate them from other nations. (For more information, check HERE).

In addition, I would ask someone who does not want to take their cues from Leviticus 18 & 20 to answer this question: If you believe that the Mosaic Law of God has fully passed away, does that mean that you believe God has no laws or moral codes for us today? The answer of course has to be NO. Of course God has moral standards for today.

It just seems as though everyone wants to pick on these verses as if the New Testament is silent. But it's not. The NT is even more clear than these passages that homosexuality is sinful behavior in the eyes of God. And that is what I will offer tomorrow. What does the NT teach about the issue of homosexuality? Until then . . .

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Church Membership by Jonathan Leeman

Over the last year, I have had a renewed desire for church membership. I had been taking more of a laid back approach to this issue. I would tell people, "If you do not join the church, it doesn't mean we will not visit you in the hospital." I still feel that way. If someone is coming to our church, I am not going to ignore their needs, if they arise, simply because they are not a member. As long as I have the time, I will certainly seek to help them. But the more I study the issue of church membership, the more I desire to direct people to officially joining a church.

One of books that has really helped me along the way is Church Membership by Jonathan Leeman. He is part of 9Marks ministries, which if you know anything about them, strongly advocate church membership. I greatly appreciated this book because it was not what I was expecting. That probably sounds strange, but his take in this book was very refreshing. He acknowledges the fact that church membership is different than every other form of membership in our culture.
"If you are a Christian living in a Western democracy, chances are that you need to change the way you think about your church and how you are connected to it. Most likely, you underestimate your church. You belittle it. You misshape it in a way that misshapes your Christianity . . . If you are a Christian, the local church is not a club. It is not a voluntary organization where membership is optional to you. It is not a friendly group of people who share an interest in religious things and so gather weekly to talk about the divine. Nor is a church a service provider, where the customer has all authority" (22). 
What was refreshing about this book is that he plainly says the biblical issue of church membership is not that we join, but that we submit to the church.
"The basic disease behind all of these symptoms, the disease which, I admit, courses through my own veins, is the assumption that we have the authority to conduct our Christian lives on our own. We include the church piece when and where we please. That is to say, we treat the local church like a club to join--or not" (24).
He continues.
"Christians don't join churches; they submit to them . . . Once you choose Christ, you must choose his people, too. It's a package deal. Choose the Father and the Son and you have to choose the whole family--which you do through a local church" (30-31).
He touches on a nerve that so many people in the churches today (particularly younger people) struggle with. They simply do not want to submit to authority. They want to be their own authority. I have struggled with that in the past, and certainly do have those feelings in my heart today. That is why I need to be in submission to the church. I need them and they need me.

In chapter six, he lists eight ways in which a Christian submits to a local church.

  • First, Christians should submit to their local churches publicly, by which I mean formally or officially (95).
  • Second, Christians should submit to their local churches physically and perhaps geographically. This is done by gathering regularly (96).
  • Third, Christians should submit themselves socially. The church should be more than a social club, but it shouldn't be less (97).
  • Fourth, Christians should submit themselves affectionately. We should be willing to weep or rejoice with others (98).
  • Fifth, Christians should submit themselves to their local church financially (99).
  • Sixth, Christians should submit their vocations to the church. Some will go into ministry. Some will take less pay to stay at a local church (100).
  • Seventh, Christians should submit themselves ethically. This has to do with submitting to church discipline (101).
  • Eighth, Christians should submit spiritually. They should exercise their gifts, build one another up, and pray for one another (102). 
You may not agree with everything Leeman writes in this book. I didn't. But I sure did appreciate his angle. It was refreshing. And he is a very good writer which helps. I would encourage you, no matter if you are a member or not of a local church, to grab a copy of this book.

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Morning After: Down Goes the Kingdom (1 Kings 11:9-43)

There may be no better illustration in our culture today to the fall of King Solomon than Joe Paterno. The former head football coach at Penn State University had it all. He had spent over 60 years at the same school, succeeding at the highest level possible in college football. He had won more games as a coach than anyone in the history of the game. And then the reports of child molestation by one of his former employees, Jerry Sandusky, surfaced. Within a few weeks, Paterno was fired. Two months later, he died. 

When Paterno fell, he fell hard. And when Solomon fell, the kingdom came crashing down. In 1 Kings 11:1-8, we are told the issue that brought down the kingdom was not the fact that he had 700 wives and 300 concubines. It was, however, that these women subtly shifted his attention away from the one true God of Israel, to serve other gods. He was an idolater, which brought on series consequences. 

First off, we are told that the Lord was angry with Solomon (vs. 9). Here we see the intersection between God's holiness and our sinfulness. The result of that combination is that God's anger must be poured out. God was angry with Solomon even though God had appeared to him two times instructing him on how to live.

I was struck by this, because I have heard so many people say it. "If only God would appear to me, then I would believe. Then I would follow Him." God appeared two times to Solomon and those incredible spiritual experiences did not stop him from walking away from God. So many people want the great experiences in the Christian life. People want the hype of the Super Bowl when the game is really won with the wind sprints six months earlier. The Christian life cannot be lived from one spiritual high to the next one. It has to be lived in the daily grind of getting into the Word, choosing to pray and repent of sins daily. It is picking up your cross daily and following Jesus.

The consequences of his sinful actions are that God is going to tear the kingdom of Israel apart. He is going to give ten tribes to a servant of his (which turns out to be Jeroboam), and then his son will get only one other tribe than their own tribe to rule. God does this by raising up several adversaries against Solomon. We are told about Hadad, the Edomite (I tend to think he is like this man), and Rezon, a leader of Syria. But the greatest adversary was Jeroboam, who was raised up from within the nation of Israel.

I was particularly struck with one aspect of the judgment from God. In the very unique account when the prophet Ahijah tells Jeroboam how it is going to happen (read vs. 29-32 for a very interesting story), we are told in vs. 33 that "they" followed after the false gods. For the entire story, we have been led to believe that God would bless the nation of Israel based upon the obedience of King Solomon. And now we get a glimpse into why Solomon's obedience was so important to God. The decisions of Solomon to walk away from God slowly led the people towards apostasy.

This should be a warning to all leaders. As Jesus said, a disciple is not above his teacher (Luke 6:40). The Christian should have a vested interest into the spiritual vitality of their leaders. Pray for them. Encourage them. And even confront them. If only someone would have had the courage to take Deuteronomy 6:14-15 to bear upon the life of King Solomon. How things could have been different.

If your leader starts to lead away from the Scriptures, and they respond wrongly when you bring the truth to bear upon their heart, then run. But if you run without bringing the Holy Word of God to bear upon their life, you are not helping anyone. Pastors will fail. Elders will sin. But they should both be known for their repentance.

But even in this sobering passage of Scripture, we see the grace of God. For the sake of David, he does not split the kingdom until after Solomon dies. He does give a portion of the kingdom to Solomon's son. He does even say that this split would not be eternal. As one commentator said, "the rays of hope flicker from behind the clouds of judgment" (Dale Ralph Davis). It should remind us that even though God's anger is being poured out on sin, there is hope for us to be saved. The death that Jesus died is enough to satisfy God's wrath once and for all. If only we trust in Him alone.

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

Saturday, August 25, 2012

This Week in the Blogosphere (August 25, 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.
  • A Pastor's Monday by Tony Reinke. This is actually an extended quote from Jared Wilson. If you are curious as to what a pastor might go through on Mondays, give this a read. And pray for your pastors on Monday.
  • A Message for Vanderbilt's Leadership by Byron Yawn. This is the start of many situations where universities will be taking stands against Christianity. But Yawn thinks this was a good thing for their church. Some good thoughts.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Same-Sex Marriage: There's A Larger Question That Needs To Be Answered

As I stated yesterday, the issue of same-sex marriage (homosexuality in general) is a volatile issue in our culture today. There is no doubt in my mind that Christians should know where to stand on this issue. Unfortunately, many Christians do not know how to talk to someone with these desires. But we must. I began yesterday by summarizing my view on the issue. The Christian must graciously, but boldly stand against same-sex marriage because the Bible explicitly and repeatedly says any sex outside the marriage relationship of one man & one woman is sinful. But how do we speak to someone about this issue? It might be something that will be impossible without bringing out the "this is hate" speech. But I think there is a place to start.

We cannot talk about same-sex marriage 
by beginning with same-sex marriage.

There is a much larger question that must be answered. If it becomes a debate over homosexuality, it is a debate that the Christian is destined to lose. We cannot start with man. We must start with God. Therefore, we must begin by asking the question: "Why did God create the universe?" Or even, "What is the purpose of all of creation?"

And of course, the answer to that question must lead us back to God's glory. We will be led to different conclusions on any morality issue if we begin with our temporal happiness as opposed to God's infinite glory. Is it all about "me" or is it all about "God?" All the Christian (or really anyone) needs to do is to open the Bible to the very first verse which states, "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." It astonishes me how far we have come when we begin to think that we are the center of the universe that God created.

This theme of God's glory being the purpose of all creation is literally everywhere throughout the Bible (Psalm 135:5-7; Isaiah 46:9-10; 48:9-11; Ephesians 1:5-6). The Apostle Paul summed it up well when he said, "For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever" (Romans 11:36). We can't make the issue about us, but it has to begin with God.

There is a reason why. When the issue becomes about man instead of God, then the issue easily becomes an identity issue. It becomes a "I was made this way and there is nothing I can do about it" issue. No doubt, you have probably heard the phrase, "Gay is the new black." The statement reflects the attitude of a culture that sees homosexuality as the same as the color of your skin. And to deny rights to the gay person is the same as discriminating against someone because they are black.

I would highly recommend Voddie Baucham's words at this point. In an article entitled, Gay Is Not The New Black, he says,
"If sexual orientation/identity is the basis for (1) classification as a minority group, and (2) legal grounds for the redefinition of marriage, then what's to stop the 'bisexual' from fighting for the ability to marry a man and a woman simultaneously since his 'orientation' is, by definition, directed toward both sexes? What about the member of NAMBLA whose orientation is toward young boys? Where do we stop, and on what basis?"
He makes a great point. How far do we go with this line of reasoning? Polygamy? Bestiality? Could someone not say, "its not my fault, I was made a pedophile." And before we scoff at such statements, imagine what our grandparents would have thought about the need for this blog post.

If you are going to talk to someone about same-sex marriage, I would highly recommend that you begin with a much larger question than simply, "is gay marriage right or wrong?" You must begin with "why is the world here?" And any answer that deviates away from "for the glory of God" starts you on a slippery slope towards humanism. And you will never win the argument.

Next week, I will share my thoughts on each of the biblical texts that deal with this issue. Until then, please be filled with grace on this issue . . .

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Same-Sex Marriage: An Introduction

There may be no more important social issue in our culture today than same-sex marriage. At the root of the question as to whether two men or two women could be married is the issue of homosexuality. I have chosen to deal with this issue at my church over three Sundays in a combined Adult Sunday School class. At the conclusion of the series, I will post my notes in their entirety if you want them. But along the way, I thought I would offer some tidbits of what I am learning. 

My intent in studying this material is to provide as clearly and humbly as I can the Christian perspective on this issue. There are some who are going to dismiss what I am saying simply because they do not like my conclusions on this issue. What I hope as I write this series of blog posts is that I do not hate homosexuals. There is nothing that I will write over the next several weeks that flows from anything other than a heart longing for the best eternal motives for people.

The Christian needs to be crystal clear on this issue. If I would summarize my position on this issue, it would be like this:

The Christian Must Graciously, But Boldly Stand Against Same-Sex Marriage Because The Bible Explicitly and Repeatedly Says Any Sex Outside The Marriage Relationship Of One Man & One Woman Is Sinful.

At the beginning, let me express my indebtedness to Albert Mohler and his article "Homosexual Marriage as a Challenge to the Church: Biblical and Cultural Reflections" which is published in the book, Sex and the Supremacy of Christ. Above any other article I have read on this issue, it has helped frame my thoughts. I highly recommend you to read it. I have borrowed from much of his outline in that article for my series. But the content I have supplied inside of the outlines are my thoughts as I have studied and thought through the issues. 

Over the next several weeks, I am going to be blogging on each of my main six points. These are Six Fundamental Principles That Should Shape Our Conversations About Same-Sex Marriage. Here they are, this is what you have to look forward to in the next several weeks.
  1. We cannot talk about same-sex marriage by beginning with same-sex marriage.
  2. We cannot talk about anything meaningful without acknowledging our absolute dependence upon the Bible, God's full revelation to us.
  3. We cannot talk about sex without talking about marriage.
  4. We must develop an adequate explanation for the deadly deception of sexual sin.
  5. We must rejoice in Christ's victory and the power of the gospel over sin.
  6. We must tell the truth about same-sex marriage & refuse to accept its possibility because we love and seek the glory of God for all.
I will begin tomorrow with the first point. Until then . . .

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Introducing Luke Rosenberger

It has been a down week blogging this week. Hopefully, I will get to write down some of the things I have been thinking about this week. One reason I have struggled finding time to write this week is that our church has welcomed a new pastor. We are very excited to have Luke Rosenberger come and join the staff at Cornerstone Bible Church. After months of pouring through resumes, phone calls, and face to face interviews, the elders of CBC were pleased to bring Luke as a candidate before the body as the Pastor of Family Ministries. In early July, the body at CBC graciously confirmed that God was leading him to this position.

Luke met his wife Laura while they were both attending Baptist Bible College in Clarks Summit, PA. On May 31st, they celebrated their 9th anniversary. They have been blessed with four daughters: Madison (7), Haylie (4), Alaina (3), and Nora (10 months). Luke grew up outside of Grand Rapids, MI, and recently lived in Byron, MI.

We are thrilled to have him, as we believe that his unique mix of giftedness is what our church needs at this time. He has worked in student ministries, either part-time or full-time since 2001. He is a gifted teacher who values relationships with people. But we believe that the most important characteristic of Luke is that he is a man of character who loves the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I am personally excited to have someone I truly long to serve along side (even though he is a Michigan fan). If you are part of CBC, I would ask you to continue to pray for him in this ministry as he is hitting the ground running this week. I know his goal is to be used by God to see His gospel spread throughout Geauga county and the world. I can't wait to see how that fleshes out in real life.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Will You Give It Away?

This week, I have been trying to wrestle with the question: How do we choose to follow God in blessing? It is very easy to follow Him when things are tough. We are driven to our knees in dependence. But when things are going well, we tend to get self-sufficient. I have been trying to wrestle through this question by asking a series of questions:
Today, I want to ask one final question: Will You Give It Away? It seems to me that the best way, quite possibly the only way, to really fight against materialism is to become very generous with your money.

Giving away our money shows that we are not holding it in a closed fist. After all, if we are truly content with our godliness and the basic provisions of life, what more do we need. We witness this type of giving from the early churches. Read the accounts in the book of Acts. People were selling their land in order to share with those that had needs. As the church continued to grow, other churches from other parts of the world continued to share in their abundance and in their poverty to help other churches.
"We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints--and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us" (2 Cor. 8:1-5).
What the Apostle Paul details for us is the generosity of the churches in Macedonia (Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea). They wanted to help the saints in Jerusalem with their needs. The problem was that they were needy as well. But they didn't think even the little that they had was theirs. They gave according to their means, and then beyond their means.

This has always blown me away. Most people give less than their ability. We think we are sacrificing when we decide not to buy the third TV for our house and give that money away. I am not saying that you should not have a TV. I am simply saying that is no sacrifice. I would venture to say that very few people give to their ability. And there are very, very few people that ever get to the place where they give beyond their ability.

How do you do this? If Jesus is your God and not money, then when you do not have enough, you do not get depressed. You pray and seek Him and still give away with a joyful heart. I would not say that I am there, but I hope to be there someday. I hope to be the person who holds all things, all money, all material possessions in an open hand--asking God what He wants me to do with them? And then seeking ways to use them for His glory and His Kingdom.

But I have a feeling that is going to come with giving things away. Will you give it away? I do not know what your "it" is, but you do. We continue to live in one of the most prosperous places in the world (even during a recession). Can we choose to worship God during it? The ball is now in your court for your life as it is in mine for my life.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Will You Ever Be Content?

Yesterday, I read the fictional story of a president who had a dream. In the dream, God came to him and offered him the wealth of Solomon, the fame of Solomon, or the wisdom of Solomon. But he could only have one of them. After some deliberation, he decided to choose the wisdom of Solomon. The news quickly spread that the president now had the wisdom of Solomon. As his closest advisers gathered together, they were eager to hear what the wisest man in the world would now say. They waited in anticipation as he said, "I should have taken the money."

There you have it. It's all about the money. It seems like it is always about the money. The past couple days I have been asking some questions about our pursuit or view of money. I have been convicted of how we can choose God in the blessings He gives. First, I was curious if you think about money as much as I find myself thinking about money? Second, I wandered if you have the desire to be rich? Today, I am curious if you will ever be content?

The Apostle Paul was an interesting guy. He gave up his life to travel the world to share the good news of Jesus. In the process, he talked about contentment. He talked about learning how to become content with what he had, no matter how little or how much. One portion of Scripture that he talks about contentment is in First Timothy 6, just before he warns about the desire to get rich.
"Godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content" (1 Tim. 6:6-8).
Contentment is the feeling of calm satisfaction. It is the fulfillment of a need. It is the happiness of one's situation in life. To say you are not content would be the opposite. It would mean that there is no satisfaction. It would mean there is a desire for something better than your present situation. It is not being satisfied with what you have.

Paul reminds us that we cannot take anything out of this world. We brought nothing in and we will taken nothing out. We came in naked, we will leave the same. His contentment is found if he has the basics of life--food and clothing. Can you believe that? If we have food, if we have a place to give us shelter from the weather, Paul says, we should be content.

Can you imagine that? Is that possible for you? It is not about another video game system or another vehicle. It is about trusting God with the basics of your living. And then whatever exceeds these basics, should be received with great enjoyment, but should never be conceived of as necessity in life. If we think it is a necessity, it will rob our contentment.

I think we struggle with contentment because we have so much. If all we ever knew were the basics of life, I think we would be content with them. So what does this mean? How does contentment help me choose God during the blessings of life? I think it starts with distinguishing between wants and needs. I am not saying that we never purchase wants. We should. That is okay. Certainly God does permit us to have luxuries in life. But at least we should be aware that it is a want, and not give into our cultural seduction that this item is something we have to have to bring us happiness. We should never think that the luxury is something we deserve.

Tomorrow, I plan on finishing this series by dealing with the question of giving.

Question: What Is Something You Want But Is Not Essential For Life?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

A Parent Rap

Someone sent me a link to this song. They thought I could use it in the new series I am starting in the month of September, Exposed: Uncovering The Lies Of The Modern Family. I don't think I will use it in church, but it is pretty funny. Enjoy a good afternoon laugh.

Do You Desire To Be Rich?

Yesterday, I started a short series on money. I have been impacted personally by studying the life of King Solomon. It is an understatement to say that he was rich! The first question I asked was whether you thought about money as much as I think about money. Sometimes I find myself being consumed by it. And yet the Bible consistently says that the things of God are so much greater than money or gold. I ended the last post by asking how we can choose God even in all the blessings that we have been given. How can we follow Him when He has put us in a place where we have lots of money and lots of opportunities to make more money?

I think it starts where all things start. In the heart. Do you desire to be rich? Is it the motivation for your job? If you want to worship God as you live in a world of prosperity, then I would suggest that you constantly deal with your heart's desire to be rich. If you desire to be rich, it will cause problems in your life. Notice these somber words from the Apostle Paul.
"But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs." (1 Timothy 6:9-10)
He makes it very clear that the results of wanting to get rich (or let's just call it what it is--GREED) are a downward spiral away from the Lord. 

First, the greedy fall into temptation. If your desire is to be rich, you will fall for temptations when it comes calling to you. 

Second, the temptations lead to a snare. You are now trapped. Maybe you are trapped into materialism or maybe simply the enjoyment of a good life. Maybe you are trapped in some sort of moral compromise. 

Third, the snare results in many foolish and harmful desires. This has to do with longings or cravings. These desires are harmful because of what they do to you. They grab you and take hold of you. Greed is an addiction and money is the drug. If you desire it, the more you have of it, the more you will want of it.

Fourth, these desires plunge men into ruin and destruction. These desires will sink your life. Paul says they will sink you into ruin and destruction. These two terms are similar, but probably have a small difference in nuance. Ruin probably has to do with the flesh (see 1 Cor. 5:5). Destruction has to do more with the soul. It does seem like Paul is saying that those who desire to get rich will ultimately find themselves sinking into the destruction of their physical bodies and spiritual souls.

Maybe this is why Jesus warns: "For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul" (Mark 8:36)? The person who desires to get rich ends up plunging themselves into ruin and destruction of their soul. Is that what you want? Then go upstream and stop it before it becomes a raging river. Start with your desires to be rich.

How do you do that? Well, we will talk more about that tomorrow.

Question: How Strong Is Your Desire To Get Rich?

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Do You Think About Money Like Me?

I have been studying the life of King Solomon form the book of First Kings. Most Christians know that he was extremely wise. But he was also extremely wealthy. In First Kings 10, we are told that the amount of gold that he would accumulate in one year was 666 talents. Now, often when we read the Bible, the numerations get lost on us. I mean, what's a talent? Would it mean more if I told you that 666 talents would be the equivalent to over 1.297 billion dollars? That's a lot of dough. That's a wealthy man. When we say that he was rich, we mean that every year he brought in at least 1.297 billion dollars.

As I have been studying his life and wealth, I have found myself thinking about money. I found myself thinking about wealth. I found myself daydreaming about just a few of those talents. I wouldn't want all of it, but just a little of it would be okay. I found myself focusing on the things on the earth instead of focusing on the eternal glory that God has promised in our eternal home.

It is at moments like this that my faith in the Scriptures are tested. Do I really believe that wisdom is better than gold? Early in Solomon's life, he thought that. He wrote, "How much better to get wisdom than gold! To get understanding is to be chosen rather than silver " (Proverbs 16:16). I wonder what changed for him? I wonder why he once thought wisdom was greater than gold and then eventually he became a hoarder of gold?

Or do I really believe that the truth of God, revealed in His Scriptures are greater to me than gold? Solomon's father, David, once said that the law of God was "more to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold" (Psalm 19:10). Other Psalmists say the same thing. "The law of your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces" (Psalm 119:72). And "I love your commandments above gold, above fine gold" (Psalm 119:127). Do I really believe that? Am I willing to pursue the truth of God with more fervency than I would pursue the treasures of this world?

Or do I really believe that my faith is more valuable than gold? The Apostle Peter once said that "the tested genuineness of your faith--more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire--may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 1:6-7). Later he states that we are not redeemed "with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ" (1 Peter 1:18). Do I really believe that my faith in Christ is worth more than everything the world has to offer?

Money. We can't live without it. And apparently, it is difficult to live Christianly with it. So how do we live? How can we choose Christ as greater than the treasures of the world? That is a little series I would like to start this week. So check back each day as I try to wrestle with our response to God as we live in one of the wealthiest nations of the world (even during a recession).

Question: How Often Do You Think About Money?

Saturday, August 11, 2012

This Week in the Blogosphere (August 11, 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.
  • What I've Learned Along the Way by Tim Challies. Please read this article if you want a glimpse of what your preacher goes through each week. I couldn't agree more.
  • Some Advice for Youth Ministers by Dave Hinkley. This timely word was posted on Kevin DeYoung's blog the other day. I was glad to read it since we are just a few days away from our new pastor coming to CBC, Luke Rosenberger. And in case you wondered, his first point is why we hired Luke.
  • Chick-fil-A and the Mosque by Daniel Darling. He questions our motives behind buying a chicken sandwich. Very interesting question.

Friday, August 10, 2012

JC Ryle on Bible Reading

Usually when people come to me with troubles, I ask them one main question. I ask them how much time they are spending in reading the Bible. It amazes me how often their answer is little to none. The most basic thing that we can do as Christians to hear from God is the one thing that the enemy so often convinces us not to do. Or we are just lazy.

I was thumbing through my copy of Practical Religion by J. C. Ryle and he had these words of advice concerning our Bible reading.
"For one thing, begin reading your Bible this very day. The way to do a thing is to do it, and the way to read the Bible is actually to read it. It is not meaning, or wishing, or resolving, or intending, or thinking about it, which will advance you one step. You must positively read. There is no royal road in this matter, any more than in the matter of prayer. If you cannot read yourself, you must persuade somebody else to read to you. But one way or another, through eyes or ears, the words of Scripture must actually pass before your mind . . . For another thing, read the Bible with child-like faith and humility. Open your heart as you open your book, and say, 'Speak, Lord, for they servant heareth.' Resolve to believe implicitly whatever you find there, however much it may run counter to your own prejudices. Resolve to receive heartily every statement of truth, whether you like it or not. Beware of that miserable habit of mind into which some readers of the Bible fall. They receive some doctrines because they like them: they reject others because they are condemning to themselves, or to some lover, or relation, or friend. At this rate the Bible is useless. Are we to be judges of what ought to be in the Word? Do we know better than God? Settle it down in your mind that you will receive all and believe all, and that what you cannot understand you will take on trust. Remember, when you pray, you are speaking to God, and God hears you. But, remember, when you read, God is speaking to you, and you are not to 'answer again,' but to listen" (131-132).
There is much more that he has to say here. I would encourage you to pick up this book. But don't pick it up until you have picked up THE BOOK!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Platform: Get Noticed In A Noisy World by Michael Hyatt

In many ways, I despise the fact that Michael Hyatt needed to write Platform: Get Noticed In A Noisy World. It is no longer good enough for someone to be a good writer, speaker or musician. It is no longer good enough to simply have a good product. The product, or the producer of the product, must be lifted up so that it becomes noticed above all other products it is similar to in this world. That is just a reality. Because that is a reality, I am glad he wrote it. He says,
"The stage has never been more crowded--and simply being on it doesn't matter much if the lights are not shining on you, or if there is no one in the audience. This book is all about attracting that audience, turning on the brightest lights you can find, and building passionate loyalty so your audience stays with you through every line, every scene, every act. It's not about ego or being the center of attention. It is about having something of value to others and finding the most powerful way of getting that message to others who can benefit from it" (xv).
The book is composed of 60 short chapters that have been edited from blog posts. They are insightful and helpful. I initially picked up this book because of my blog and my desire to write more books in the future. But in the first section of the book, Start With Wow, I continually kept thinking about our church. I kept thinking about how new people to our church feel or think about what we are doing. I wondered how we are doing in welcoming them and making them feel special at being at our church. There are certainly some applications here that I will be working with our team to implement.

The parts of the book that were most helpful to me were those that mentioned the different software that he uses. Here is a list of the different technologies he uses that I plan on looking into in the near future:

  • Acorn - Imaging Software
  • Scribd - Online library to read & share documents and written words
  • Anti-Social - App that turns off Social networking sites for a period of time
  • Disqus - Blogging commenting system
  • Google alerts - Alert system to hear what's happening in the blog about your products

One other helpful distinction he makes has to do with the purpose of marketing. He says,
"Marketing is no longer about shouting in a crowded marketplace; it is about participating in a dialogue with fellow travelers. Marketing is no longer about generating transactions; it is about building relationships. Marketing is no longer about exploiting a market for your own benefit; it is about serving those who share your passion--for your mutual benefit" (127).
That is helpful. I want this to be about the benefit of others. I am not trying to sell anything for my betterment. I want to promote things that I believe will help others that I have been able to connect with through either my blog or social media.

While some of the things in the book seemed a bit over the top for me, I would have no problem recommending this book to those who are trying to build a platform on which to communicate something special. His dedication says it all:
"To all the authors, artists, and creatives I've met through the years who have been turned away because they didn't have a platform. This book is for you."

Monday, August 6, 2012

The Morning After: A Small Chink In The Armor (1 Kings 9)

I was excited yesterday to jump back into my series on the life of King Solomon from First Kings 1-11. I only have four more messages in this series (actually 3 now). It has been a series that has resonated in my heart as I have seen a man who had it all and gave it all up through some stupid choices in life. I do not want to be that man.

We have crested the hill in the life of Solomon. He is at the top of the largest hill of the largest roller coaster, looking down. And he is going to start falling fast. Life is about the decisions we make. And every decision we make has consequences for our life. In 1 Kings 9, we see a king who has it all and makes some good kingly decisions. But as you investigate these decisions, there appears to be some chinks in the armor. These are some warning signs that show us what is about to come.

But before we see the warning signs, God comes to Solomon for a second time to remind him of His standards (vs. 1-9). This is a timely reminder for Solomon, for in the middle of prosperity it is really easy to let the guard down. When things are going well, it is easy to develop a false sense of security. This takes place about 20 years into the reign of King Solomon. That might seem like a long time, but it is important to remember that he has 20 years left. He is only halfway through his reign and God comes to him to remind him that obedience will equal blessing and disobedience will equal judgment.

Even though we may have made wise decisions in the past; even though we have walked with Christ yesterday; we are still faced with making the decision to walk with Him today. We must not live our lives on the memory of some spiritual high we had in the past. We must walk with God today. Jesus said that if we want to follow Him, we must deny ourselves and pick up our cross daily. This is why I cringe when someone tells me that their assurance of their salvation is based on some prayer they prayed with their momma when they were six years old. If our life has nothing of spiritual fruit or passion for Christ, or sensitivity to the Spirit today, we would be a fool to assume everything is okay.

Even though Solomon had a good 20 year run in his obedience to God, he had to still make the decision to keep going. In the rest of 1 Kings 9, I think we see a few warning signs that make me scared for his spiritual well-being.

How Do You Treat Other People?
That is a good question. In Solomon's interaction with Hiram in vs. 10-14, it seems as though Solomon is only in that relationship for himself. He is only vested in him. Hiram seems to bend over backward to help supply Solomon with everything he needs. And Solomon in turn gives him the worst cities in return. What would our relationships look like if we were in them for the gain of the other person, not our gain?

Are You Willing To Completely Obey God?
In vs. 15-23, we see that Solomon enslaves those who are not Israelites in their land and forces them to be his work force. That might seem troubling, for how can anyone enslave another human being? But the troubling thing seems to be that they allowed the people to continue to live in the land. Over and over in the history of Israel, they were commanded to get rid of foreigners from their land. They were to kill them off or expunge them from the land. Don't miss vs. 21, which says that those who were used as forced labor were people that Israel were not willing to devote to destruction. Little compromises always come back to haunt you.

How Do You Treat Your Spouse?
We all know that Solomon struggled (that's putting it mildly) with morality issues. In vs. 24, we are told that he built a house for his wife in a different part of the country. In 2 Chronicles 8:11, we are told that he did this because she was Egyptian and since the Ark was in Jerusalem now, it was holy. She shouldn't be around. I'm calling his bluff on this one! I don't buy it. It is just a few short years that he ends up having 700 wives who were not all Jewish. He was in this relationship for himself, to be around her when it was convenient for him.

Are You In It For Material Possessions?
In the last part of chapter 9, we are told that Solomon built a navy. There's nothing bad about that, but one of the things that they did was to pursue more and more gold for him. In Deuteronomy 17:17, God says that His kings should not acquire for himself excessive gold. He had more than we could ever think or imagine and it was never enough.

These issues might not seem to be a lot. But added together, I think they represent a man who is headed in the wrong direction. He has had 20 good years, but that is not enough. He is going to fall and fall hard. But so have you. And so have I. What I have learned through this entire series is that in each failure of King Solomon, we see the success of one of his sons. Someday, Jesus will come and do exactly what Solomon couldn't do. He came to fully and totally fulfill the righteous demands of God so that we might be accepted by Him.

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

Saturday, August 4, 2012

This Week in the Blogosphere (August 4, 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 interesting to you.
  • Sproul on Luther and the Reformation by Justin Taylor. Obviously, Taylor simply posted this video, but it is well worth watching. It is R. C. Sproul giving some brief introductions about Martin Luther and the Reformation. If you have ever wanted to know some good church history, this will be worth your time.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

How Do You Invite People To Church?

I hope you invite people to your church. I hope you do not do it like this! While you laugh during this, think about who you will invite this coming Sunday.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

J.R.R Tolkien by Mark Horne

J. R. R. Tolkien by Mark Horne is part of the Christian Encounters series through Thomas Nelson Publishers. It is a book that I have had on my desk to read for almost a year. For one reason or another, this book kept getting pushed to the back of the pile of books to read. But while I was on vacation last week, I was able to get through most of the book in one sitting. As I have been thinking about what to say about this book, I think it best to review it through two lenses: The Good Parts & The Remaining Questions.

The Good Parts:
If you are looking for a very basic treatment of the life of one of the greatest writers of all time, this would be a good start. It is a very short biography. I would bet that most readers could get through the 130 pages in a day or two. Mark Horne's biographical writing style is fairly easy to read and moves along at a good pace.

Tolkien is one of the greatest writers in the 20th Century. He is most famously known for writing The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Horne's background information on each of these books helped to put the books into some historical background. I found it intriguing that there are several parts of these books that contain references to his friends, family, or acquaintances throughout his life.

Horne refers to Tolkien as one of the most creative writers ever. If you have ever read those books, you might agree that it is an understatement. He wonders whether the creativity that existed in Tolkien was related one way or another to the tragedy that he went through as a child. His father passed away when he was young and then his mother died while he was still in school. He says,
"The fact that Tolkien lost his father at a young age seems to have significance not only to him as a person but also as a creative writer. Interesting studies show that people who have lost one or both parents are highly represented among creative people" (6).
Horne does a good job in this book at showing the perfectionist tendencies of Tolkien. In fact, he originally did not want to publish any of his writings. If the book were to be published, then it was finished and the creative process would have to be finished. It seems as though he continued to work on his writings time and time again. But, I think, we are all thankful that he did finish them.

The Remaining Questions:
I have always heard that Tolkien became a believer in Christ after the Lord of the Rings were published. According to Horne, that would not be true. He became a Catholic early in his life when his mother converted to Catholicism. But the remaining questions I have after reading this book primarily have to do with his relationship to Christ. I kept wanting to know more about his stance with Jesus and was continually left empty. Maybe Tolkien never expressed a relationship. Maybe he didn't have one. I just do not know after reading this book.

No matter what people say, I have no assurance that The Lord of the Rings has any spiritual implications at all. In fact, it seems as though Horne believes that Tolkien didn't like hidden meanings or moralization of messages. At the end of the book, Horne states:
"While one can rightly read The Lord of the Rings and all of Tolkien's epic fiction as a saga about war and good and evil, it applied just as well to the courageous heroism required of every man and woman to simply live in the world with all its splendor and ugliness and the struggle between. Tolkien's use of his own private experiences in creating his epic fantasy give us more evidence that the key to his success lies in his humility in refusing to moralize to his readers. He did not wish to dominate his readers because he wanted them to be free to see their own lives in the adventures that he described. Even though world war and Tolkien's experiences in the face of real battles are part of what created his story, one does not need to experience life during wartime to relate to, learn from, and use Tolkien's fiction. The loves and losses that we all experience in peacetime as well as in wartime are more than sufficient to make his imagined world relevant to ours. His enduring impact on the world shows us how a Christian artist can be most effective when he offers himself rather than when he tries to 'help' others see the truth. While God calls Christians to proclaim his truth in a variety of ways and situations--some of which are unavoidably confrontational--we can learn from Tolkien that sometimes a mere story can change people's lives" (130).
So many Christians want to find so many spiritual truths in these books, when in fact, they are probably just a good story about good and evil. But then again, I felt like Horne leaves me hanging in fully answering that question. I wish he would have included more.

In the end, I did enjoy the book, and it made me eager to the end of this year when The Hobbit will be released in theaters. For what it might be worth to you, here is the official trailer for the movie that is still several months from coming out. If you go, you can contribute to keeping Tolkien's estate as one of the top money making estates in the world. It just goes to show you that if you are a creative writer, the sky's the limit.

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