Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Reformation Day 2012

For the Christian, October 31st should not simply be a day for costumes and candy. It is the day that we celebrate Reformation Day. The day that Martin Luther nailed the 95 Thesis to the door of the Catholic Church in Wittenberg, Germany. It was that day that Martin Luther decided to take a stand against the heretical teaching of the Catholic Church. The day that Luther wanted to create a rallying cry for people to look at the teachings of the Bible, not just the teachings of men. It was because of that day that many of us stand here today, believing in doctrines like justification by faith alone.

Luther simply was the instigator in the protestant reformation, but he was not alone in his views. One of his contemporaries, John Calvin, also created a buzz around these sort of doctrines. He is unfortunately viewed simply as the man who started "Calvinism," when in reality, he was simply a man who was deeply committed to the preaching and teaching of God's Word.

Over at Desiring God today, John Piper has a great short article and video about Calvin on this great day. Calvin used to say, "After Darkness, Light", a short statement meant to capture what was happening in their day as the glory of the gospel was illuminated in the dark religious world in which they lived.

As you celebrate this day however you are going to do it. Don't forget that much of the truth you claim to believe was defended and championed by a group of men in the early 1500s. It was announced and proclaimed and brought back out of the darkness of their era. And maybe, it needs to be championed again today . . . by YOU!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Video Sunday: Nobody Dies Early by Matt Chandler

This fresh perspective on death, by someone who has been fighting cancer, is very helpful. I hope you will be moved to have a different perspective about your death (and your life until that time).

Saturday, October 27, 2012

This Week in the Blogosphere (Oct 27, 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 will be an encouragement to you.
  • Politics Is Not A Cure-All by Tullian Tchividjian. This is another very helpful word in a culture that is facing some very serious issues as it relates to politics.
  • US Presidential Elections: A Nation Divided by Adrian Warnock. He is not from America, but has some very interesting thoughts on what it means to disagree with someone, but to do it agreeably. That is, to disagree with civility.
  • 12 Things To Do When You're Criticized by Mark Altrogge. As I read through this list, I couldn't help but to think of how politics would be different if those running for office would respond with this in mind.
  • Interviewing Tullian Tchividjian by Tim Challies. I thought I should include one that didn't have anything to do with politics (although this interview is about his new book on suffering). 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Preaching vs. Teaching

There has been a long-standing debate among pastors and churches as to the difference between preaching and teaching. Some people say that teaching is content while preaching is persuasion. Some people say that teaching is boring and preaching is lively. For every ten pastors you ask, you will probably get ten different answers as to the difference between these two concepts. I have always tried to define them in this way.

  • Teaching is the presentation of biblical truth with a view towards life change

  • Preaching is the presentation of biblical truth with a view towards life change.

To me, they are the same thing, just with a slightly different emphasis. It is impossible to teach the Bible without calling someone to change their life. And it is impossible to preach the Bible without presenting biblical truth as the foundation of life change.

This past week, I started reading The Priority of Preaching by Christopher Ash (full review coming soon). There was one section of his book that addressed this issue. He emphasized that in the pulpit, the pastor needs to both teach and preach. One without the other leaves the audience lacking. Here is how he put it.
"Let us not just teach, but also preach. If teaching is like the signpost which explains clearly to us where we ought to go and how to go there, preaching is like the friendly but firm shove from behind to get us started on actually going there and to keep us moving. We must teach: exhortation without teaching is like someone giving me a shove without explaining why. It is an act of verbal aggression, an invasion of my personal space, a ranting and raving without explaining to me why I need to do what the soap box warrior shouts to me that I must do. We must teach. If we do not teach with patience and clarity, there is no point preaching. But we must not stop with teaching. It is a fine thing patiently to explain to me so that I understand. But if you love me you will press home to me with all the force you can my need to act on what I now understand, and to act on it today." (64-65)
Pastors, maybe the issue is not how we define preaching and teaching. Maybe the issue is to make sure that both of them are part of our presentations in the pulpit. Or maybe, I had it right. There are the same thing and there are times when we emphasize different aspects. There might be times when we are emphasizing the presentation of biblical truth. And there are times when we are emphasizing the life change that should flow from that truth. But either way, we need to make sure we are doing both consistently when we open the Bible to teach (I mean, preach to) others.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

I Would Like To Fire Lance Armstrong

I have a problem. The beginning of chapter five in my book, Helping Johnny Listen, begins like this:
"Life is filled with inspirational stories of people who have overcome amazing odds to achieve amazing results. Take for instance, Lance Armstrong. At the young age of twenty-five, this young, promising bicyclist was diagnosed with testicular cancer. The cancer had spread quickly, being found throughout this abdomen, lungs, and lymph nodes. After aggressive treatment, Armstrong was at first given a 75 percent chance of survival, which soon dropped to 40 percent when the doctors found cancer in his brain. The rest of the story is one of epic proportions, only the kind of results normally found in the movies. 
Two years later, in 1999, he won the Tour de France for the first time and continued to win it for seven straight years until his retirement in 2005. From 2002 to 2005, Armstrong was named the Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year. He has said that although he is a seven-time winner of the Tour de France, he is mostly a full time cancer survivor. He has overcome amazing odds to achieve amazing results." (127)
Following in the spirit of Nike and all of his other endorsements, I would like to fire Lance Armstrong from my book. Apparently, the rest of the story will be one of epic proportions, just not the good, moral kind.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Developing Community

On Sunday night, we had our first all-church meeting at our new Ministry Center. It was great. It is a meeting that we try to have quarterly, which we call a Clarity Meeting. Our purpose is to bring into focus the vision of our church. We want to engage those that come to our church. It is my desire that this is much more than a business meeting. We pray together. We invite questions from people. We talk about future aspects of our ministry together. And we read Scripture together. I began the meeting by reading two passages in the book of Acts:
"And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved" (Acts 2:42-47). 
"Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles' feet" (Acts 4:32-37).
As I read these passages, several questions kept coming to my mind:

  • What would this type of community look like in 2012 in America?
  • How can we develop this type of community with our people at CBC?
  • Is this communal living? Should it be?
  • How can we orchestrate people to spend time with each other, the way that the early church spent time with each other?
  • In what ways should relationships with those in the church compare to relationships with those outside the church?
  • How has technology changed real community?

And on and on the questions kept coming in my mind. It is something that I am trying to figure out. It is something I have experienced at different points in ministry. But I do not think it is something you can manufacture. It is something that I am trying to study and think about as we try to be more intentional in our ministry.

What do you think? Can Real Community Be Developed?

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Morning After: The King's Worshippers (Matthew 2:1-12)

As I continue my series through the first four chapters of the gospel of Matthew, I was forced to deal with one of the most speculated passages in this great book. What were wise men? How many were there? Where did they come from? What did they see when they looked into the sky? What was the purpose of the gifts that they brought? How did they know about the Jewish Messiah? How old was Jesus when the wise men came to worship Him? And the questions continue on and on. For many of them, we have no idea. 

We can speculate that while there were three gifts, there were probably more than three wise men. We can speculate that they were probably astronomers who were advisers to a king. We can speculate that it had been several months since Jesus' birth before they show up (the shepherds and wise men were not there at the same time). We can speculate that their trip would have taken a long time and was difficult traveling conditions. We can speculate on many things. But there is one thing that we know for certain. They came to worship the One who was born the King of the Jews. They traveled to worship King Baby Jesus!

While they are the main part of this story, there are many other characters in this story. This is more than a simple story, it is a window into how different people respond to the King of the Jews. As I studied it, I saw at least four different responses to Jesus.

Some People Respond to Jesus with Hatred
In this account, King Herod was very disturbed that someone was being called the King of the Jews. He held that position. In the next section of Scripture, we are going to see that his hatred for Jesus moved him to do some rather inhumane things.

The hatred of Jesus is not something that is exclusive to Herod. Many people hate him. They fear him. They are scared that if they are exposed to Him, they will be forced to deal with their lifestyle (John 3:20). Jesus stands against them, and they despise his morality in doing so. They do not want anyone to tell him what to do.

Some People Respond to Jesus with Selfishness
The people of Jerusalem feared Herod. They feared for what he might do. So, when a group of men come into town claiming they saw the star of the King of the Jews, they had a choice. They could either respond with the wise men and accept the wrath of Herod. Or they could cower in fear and shame. It seems like they responded to Jesus with what they thought was safest for them. They did not want to sacrifice and give up of their life for him.

Many people want to respond to Jesus with a half-hearted, watered-down version of themselves. They want to follow Jesus unless it costs them seriously. That is why Jesus uses such hard language as "hating your own life" and "hating your father and mother for my sake" (John 12:25; Luke 14:26-33).

Some People Respond to Jesus with Apathy
The religious leaders knew all the right answers. When Herod quizzed them to see where the Messiah was to be born, they nailed it. And it did nothing for them. When these foreign men showed up saying a sign had appeared that indicated that the Messiah had been born, the religious leaders apparently, did not even think it was worth the 5-mile trip to Bethlehem to see if these things were true.

Being around the things of God does not make you a worshipper of Him. Having the knowledge of the things of God does not make you a worshipper. Quoting Scripture, memorizing doctrine, and being able to answer Bible trivia questions does not necessarily make you a worshipper of God. The question is, has any of it made an impact on how you live your life?

Some People Respond to Jesus with Worship
These wise men came and believed in a little baby that did nothing to merit their worship. They worshipped Him for who He was, not what He did. Let me finish with this quote from J. C. Ryle. He summarized their faith perfectly:
"They saw no miracles to convince them. They heard no teaching to persuade them. They saw nothing but a new-born infant, helpless and weak, and needing a mother's care like any one of ourselves. And yet when they saw that infant, they believed that they saw the divine Saviour of the world! They fell down and worshipped him."

Friday, October 19, 2012

Incredibly Talented People

Our family likes to watch talent reality shows. We like other reality shows like The Amazing Race, but there is something about watching talented people. We used to watch American Idol. We have seen The Voice several times. We have watched America's Got Talent. But these days, we regularly watch The X-Factor. There is no doubt that there are some acts that we fast forward. I simply do not want my kids watching some of the performers. In fact, I do not need to watch them.

And then there are other singers that become our favorites. This year, I think without a doubt, our favorite is Carly Rose Sonenclar. She is a 13 year old girl that is an incredibly talented young lady. The first time we watched her sing I became convinced that she might win this event.

You might not think this is a real "gospel" post. And it might not be compared to some others. But there is something about seeing the gifts that God has given people that move me to worship God. When I hear her sing, I think about how incredible and creative a God I serve. She might not know it, but her gifts are given by Him in order to worship Him. I can only hope that if she doesn't know Jesus, that someday someone will tell her. I pray that she doesn't get stuck in the seduction of Hollywood. There are some people that are good singers and then there are others who were created by God to sing. I think she falls into that later category. If you have not heard this little girl sing, you are missing out on an incredible talent.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

High Impact Church Boards by T. J. Addington

It has been about two months since I finished reading High Impact Church Boards by T. J. Addington. But for some reason, I never got around to writing a review on it. Just this past week, I took some time in preparation for our Elders Retreat to reflect back upon this book, and so I thought I would take a few minutes to share some of my thoughts.

For the most part, I really appreciated much of what Addington  had to say. Books like this are so needed in the church. I doubt if there are many pastors that would say they have a high-impact church board. That does not mean they think their board is not godly. It does not mean they think their board is not impacting people. It just means that they probably think they are not as engaging of leaders as they could be. I have only been in the senior pastor role for a few years now, but I am learning how important it is to equip and train the leaders that we have on our board. That is why I wanted to learn through a book like this. His very clearly states his purpose for this book right at the beginning. 
"High-Impact Church Boards is written for leaders who want to see their churches become everything they can be under God--those who want to maximize the missional impact of their congregations. It is for those not content with the status quo, who believe a high-impact board is not only possible but is the only kind of leadership Christ would want for His church. It is for those who want healthier leaders and more intentional leadership paradigms, who long for empowered leadership structures and congregational cultures." (13)
To do that, he articulates three factors that lead to maximum ministry results. The first was that a church must have Healthy Leaders. These are godly men who are called by God to fulfill the calling to shepherd the church. He articulates six God-given responsibilities for church boards: Ensuring spiritual power, teaching, protecting, caring, training (that's my word, he calls it developing, empowering, and releasing), and leading. These are the key components that make a leader healthy.

The second factor is Intentional Leadership. He shares the difference between "accidental ministry" and "intentional ministry." I concur that much of what happens in church ministry is forced through situations in life, but they are not intentional. Church boards often react to situations, they fail to plan strategically.

The third factor is Empowered Leadership Structures. He gets to the heart of what happens when there is mistrust within the congregation and leadership board. But the biggest issue is that the board often finds itself dealing with minor things instead of dealing with the major issues of vision. When that happens, the board will not highly impact a church.

This book is probably best to be read as a board together. I didn't do it that way. But there were many thoughts and questions that I am taking to my elders. For instance, one of the things he suggests is to develop a church leadership covenant. I am working on that. 

But I'm Not On A Church Board
I know most of those who read this blog are probably not on a church board. Let me end by giving a few ideas of ways you can help your church board be effective.
  • Pray for those who are on your church board often (at least once a week). Please do not pray just for the senior pastor. Pray for all the men that are on the leadership board of the church. 
  • Communicate the good, the bad, and the ugly. Too often, people at a church speak up only when they are dissatisfied with what is happening at the church. When things are going well, communicate it to the leadership of the church. That will give you more credibility when you communicate things that are not going well. But in the end, please just communicate.
  • Show up regularly. Nothing encourages the leaders like regular attendance.
  • Help them stop gossip. You will make your leaders more effective when you refuse to listen to complaining by others and send them directly to the original sources.
  • Serve in the church. You need to use your gifts. It could be that they are not leading out of vision and strategic because they are too busy doing things in the body of Christ because you are not  using your gifts as you have been called.

Question: What Are Some Other Things You Can Do To Help Make Your Leaders Effective?

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Adoption of Jesus

I mentioned yesterday that Joseph adopted Jesus. When the angel came to Joseph and told him not to fear taking Mary as his wife, and then that HE was to name the baby, the angel was telling Joseph to take responsibility for Jesus. And he did it. Think about that for a minute. Our King Jesus was adopted! The Savior of the world was adopted! The One that we place our hope and faith in for the salvation of our souls was adopted by a human father. We see in Joseph the standard of what it means for men to take responsibility for those that are not their blood and treat them as their own. 

One person who has thought through this issue is Russell D. Moore. If you have never read his book, Adopted for Life, you should. It is not just a book on adoption, it is a theology of adoption. Chapter three in his book is entitled, "Joseph of Nazareth vs. Planned Parenthood: What's at Stake When We Talk about Adoption." The book is worth the cost just for this chapter. Here are a few of my favorite sections from this chapter.
"When we talk about Joseph at all, we spend most of our time talking about what he was not. We believe (rightly) with the apostles that Jesus was conceived in a virgin's womb. Joseph was not Jesus' biological father; not a trace of Joseph's sperm was involved in the formation of the embryo Christ. No amount of Joseph's DNA could be found in the dried blood of Jesus peeled from the wood of Golgotha's cross. Jesus was conceived by the Holly Spirit completely apart from the will or exertion of any man. That noted, though, we need to be careful that we don't reduce Joseph simply to a truthful first-century Bill Clinton: "He did not have sexual relations with that woman." There's much more to be said. Joseph is not Jesus' biological father, but he is his real father. In his adoption of Jesus, Joseph is rightly identified by the Spirit speaking through the Scriptures as Jesus' father (Luke 2:41, 48)" (66-67). 
"Joseph is unique in one sense. He is called to provide for and protect the Christ of God. But in other ways Joseph is not unique at all. All of us, as followers of Christ, are called to protect children. And protecting children doesn't simply mean saving their lives--although it certainly means that--or providing for their material needs--although, again, it does mean that. Governments are called to protect the innocent and to punish evildoers (Rom. 13:1-5), which is why we should work to outlaw abortion, infanticide, child abuse, and other threats to children. Governments and private agencies can play a role in providing economic relief to the impoverished, which is why Christians weigh in on issues such as divorce policy, labor laws, and welfare reform. But picturing the fatherhood of god means more than these things. His fatherhood is personal, familial. Protecting children means rolling back the curse of fatherlessness, inasmuch as it lies within our power to do so" (69). 
"Joseph's faith was the same kind of faith that saves us. Very few, if any, of us will have a dream directing us to adopt a child. None of us will be directed to do what Joseph did--to teach Jesus Christ how to saw through wood or to recite Deuteronomy in Hebrew. But all of us are called to be compassionate. Al of us are called to remember the poor. All of us are called to remember the fatherless and the widows. That will look different in our different lives, with the different situations and resourced God has given us. But for all of us there'll be a judgment to test the genuineness of our faith. And for some of us, there'll be some orphan faces there" (82-83).

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Morning After: The King's Birth (Matthew 1:18-25)

Sometimes, things in life do not turn out the way you have planned them. Have you ever felt like that? You made some great plans and God stepped in and changed them. There may be no truer example of this than in the life of a young Jewish couple, Joseph and Mary.

This couple was engaged, planning to be married, when something rather dramatic happens in their life. In order to understand their story, we have to realize that their engagement was not like engagements in our culture. They were officially committed to each other. They would have already gone through one ceremony with some friends and family and have been legally bound to each other. The only way to break this engagement would have been through divorce. It might be best to think of them as legally married, just they did not live with each other and had not yet consummated their marriage.

In the gospel of Luke, we read about the birth of Jesus through Mary's perspective. But in Matthew, we are told through the lens of Matthew. We are told that they were engaged and Joseph finds out that Mary is pregnant. I cannot imagine the emotions that he must have felt at that moment. Betrayed. Hurt. Of course, as we read the account, we know that she is pregnant from unusual measures. But Joseph does not know that until the angel comes to visit him.

Because he does not know, he makes plans to divorce her. But his love for Mary moves him to divorce her quietly. He could have made a public display of her. He could have humiliated her. One thing I really learned as I studied this is how gracious Joseph is to his wife. He does not over react to the news. He responds with patience and godliness. And ultimately, he is planning on responding with what is best for Mary. It made me wonder how my marriage would be different if I responded in life to my wife with patience and godliness while thinking through what is best for her. I have a feeling it would change our marriage!

But then the angel intervenes and tells him the real story. Their thoughts of a perfect wedding day have been changed. Instead, God has a much bigger plan for them. The angel tells Joseph that the baby is actually going to be the Messiah and Joseph is going to name him Jesus. This is very significant. It was customary for the father of the baby to name the child. When Joseph takes the boy that is born to Mary and names him, he is in effect adopting Jesus as his child. This event brings Jesus into the royal line to the throne.

The greatest part of this passage are the two names that are give to this baby boy. The name "Jesus" is the Greek version of Joshua, which means "Yahweh Saves." While the name of Jesus is often defamed and used as a swearword, it should be used as a lifeline. The other name is found in the prophecy that is fulfilled from Isaiah 7:14. The name "Immanuel" means "God with us." It is to signify that God is now dwelling among man. There are many names for the baby that is born to Mary, but I may argue that these two summarize His purpose in coming to this earth. God came to dwell among man to save them from their sins.

There are many other things I mentioned throughout this passage on Sunday. If you want to listen to the sermon, you can find it HERE. If you are interested in reading my notes, you can find them HERE.

Friday, October 12, 2012

I Never Made A Sacrifice

I am reading Desiring God by John Piper once again with a group of men from my church. Tomorrow, we will be talking about the chapters on Missions and Suffering. In his chapter on Missions, Piper quotes David Livingstone on the subject of making sacrifices.
"For my own part, I have never ceased to rejoice that God has appointed me to such an office. People talk of the sacrifice I have made in spending so much of my life in Africa. Can that be called a sacrifice which is simply paid back as a small part of a great debt owing to our God, which we can never repay? Is that a sacrifice which brings its own blest reward i healthful activity , the consciousness of doing good, peace of mind, and a bright hope of a glorious destiny hereafter? Away with the word in such a view, and with such a thought! It is emphatically no sacrifice. Say rather it is a privilege. Anxiety, sickness, suffering, or danger, now and then, with a foregoing of the common conveniences and charities of this life, may make us pause, and cause the spirit to waver, and the soul to sink; but let this only be for a moment. All these are nothing when compared with the glory which shall be revealed in and for us. I never made a sacrifice."
I agree with Piper that his statement of trying to pay back to God is not a helpful statement. But Livingston's attitude of seeing all that he did in his life, all the things he gave up in this life, are not worthy to be called a sacrifice. Because he traded them for something so much greater. I am praying for that spirit in my heart.
"For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us." (Romans 8:18)

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The River by Michael Neale

I have a couple thousand books in my library. Probably less than 20 of them are fiction. For some reason, I just do not normally read fiction books. I might read one a year. Maybe one. And so when I picked up The River by Michael Neale I did not know what to expect. And honestly, I sort of even struggle writing a review on a fiction book. How should it be judged?

Let me begin by saying that in many ways, I was pleasantly surprised. For being his first novel, he is a really good writer. Let me offer one example of how Neale paints pictures that help the reader engage in the story.
"The River had brought another unexpected surprise to Gabriel--Ezra Buchanan. Spending time with Ezra was like peering through a window into the epic landscape of his past. Every conversation with Ezra, like the stroke of a towel on a dirty windowpane, brought more and more clarity. Each conversation breathed new life into Gabriel." (220)
He is a very colorful writer. The story reads fast and engaging. The characters are relatable. Without spoiling the story, let me share a summary of the storyline. A tragedy happens to Gabriel Clarke when he was just a young boy on The River in Colorado. Because of this, he is forced to move to Kansas for most of his life. But he kept feeling a pull back towards The River, even though he was scared to death of it. When his friends go on a camping weekend to Colorado, a few years out of High School, Gabriel finds himself having to deal with his inner demons. Towards the end of the story, he realizes that that The River is the place that he was created to be.

But I did have a few problems with the story. It was engaging. It was interesting. I found myself wanting to read it constantly. But in the end, I'm not completely sure of the moral of the story. There is nothing in this book that deals with God or Jesus (I think God's name is mentioned only once). There was more spiritualistic imagery in this book than imagery about God (for instance, the recurrence of the hawk that kept flying around Gabriel).

The one exception might be if Neale intends for The River (which is always capitalized) to be imagery of God. For instance, it could be interpreted that Gabriel Clarke, at the end, realizes he is created to be with God, or The River. The Journal (which is also always capitalized) that he receives from his father and grandfather, and reads continually, could also be a reference to the Bible. But that does seem like a far stretch to me. I just do not know how to interpret this book.

If I were to guess, I would say that The River is about finding that place or dream or calling that someone feels in life. My dad could claim that he was created to build buildings. Maybe you might claim that you feel most fulfilled teaching school. It is probably a book about chasing your dreams. I just question the absence of Christianity in this book. While I appreciate many books that Thomas Nelson publishes, this book could have been published by any number of secular publishers. To me, there seems to be hardly anything Christian about it. 

But that doesn't mean it is a bad read. But if you are looking for something Christian, it might not be for you. If you are looking for something interesting and engaging, it might be worth your time.

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.”

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Seriousness of Preaching

Three of the walls in my office are filled with books. But I have left one wall clear of books (for now) so that I can hang three pictures of men that mean a lot to me. First, I have a picture of Martin Luther. I believe I am here today because of his radical calling to understand justification by faith alone. I have a picture of Charles Spurgeon. He was the prince of preachers, the perfect balance of reformed theology with a heart for evangelism. 

Then I have a picture of Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. His seriousness in the calling to preach has greatly impacted me in several ways. The first time I read his book, Preaching & Preachers, I was deeply convicted and humbled by my calling to preach. Recently, I have picked up this book to read it again. The other day I read about the seriousness of the preacher. I do not think I ever take the job of preaching lightly. But I am not sure I take it serious enough. As you read this short quote, consider ways in which you might encourage your preacher today.
"The preacher must be a serious man; he must never give the impression that preaching is something light or superficial or trivial . . . I simply make the general statement now that a preacher of necessity must give the impression that he is dealing with the most serious matter that men and women can ever consider together. What is happening? What is happening is that he is speaking to them from God, he is speaking to them about God, he is speaking about their condition, the state of their souls. He is telling them that they are, by nature, under the wrath of God--'the children of wrath even as others'--that the character of the life they are living is offensive to God and under the judgment of God, and warning them of the dread eternal possibility that lies ahead of them. In any case the preacher, of all men, should realize the fleeting nature of life in this world. The men of the world are so immersed in its business and affairs, its pleasures and all its vain show, that the one thing they never stop to consider is the fleeting character of life. All this means that the preacher should always create and convey the impression of the seriousness of what is happening the moment he even appears in the pulpit. You remember the famous lines of Richard Baxter: I preach as never sure to preach again and as a dying man to dying men."
Maybe one way you can help him with the seriousness of preaching is to grow in your listening to preaching. Its never too late to check out my book that deals with the act of listening to preaching: Helping Johnny Listen.

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Morning After: The King's Family (Matthew 1:1-17)

On Sunday, I started a new teaching series at Cornerstone Bible Church on Matthew 1-4. The purpose of the series is to introduce us to the King of all Kings, the King of the Jews--Jesus Christ. What events led to His coming to this earth? What was His family like? How did His ministry begin? And a whole list of other questions. 

I began the series by looking at one of those sections of Scripture that we tend to quickly pass over. We looked at the King's family, the genealogy of Jesus Christ. There are many things that we have to realize as we come to a section of Scripture like this. The main thing that will help us understand it is if we understand the purpose of the book of Matthew. This gospel was written to declare to the Jewish people that Jesus of Nazareth was the King of the Jews. It is a very Jewish book written by an average Jew to the average Jew.

There are many questions about this genealogy that I tried to answer at the beginning of my sermon. I tried to explain how Matthew says there are 3 segments of 14 generations from Abraham to Jesus. I tried to explain how the genealogy of Matthew and Luke are different (check out my sermon notes for my answer to these questions). But the bulk of my time was spent on trying to be practical. What can we learn from this genealogy that is important for our life. We believe in the sufficiency of Scripture. We believe that every portion of Scripture is inspired and useful for our life. Therefore, this has to be more than a list of names.

To Help Us Trust God's Word
God had promised to Abraham that through his lineage a messiah would come that would bless the world. God had promised David that through his lineage a king would come that would rule eternally. And while there certainly were times when that looked in question (at least from an earthly perspective), God was moving behind the scenes, preparing for the coming of the messianic king. God promised and God delivered. If God is going to keep His word in the coming of the king that fulfills perfectly what He has said, it should instill in us trust in the other things He has said to us.

To Help Us Patiently Wait For His Second Coming
It took a really long time from God's promise to Abraham until the coming of Jesus. I wonder if they ever were impatient? We know from human experience that they probably were. Galatians 4:4 says that Jesus came "when the fullness of time had come." It was in God's perfect timing. And God continues to work in His perfect timing. That might be the reason why this can help instill in us patience to wait on the Lord's timing for things in our life that we want on our timetable. But also for His second coming. He has now promised that He will return. But when? At His perfect time.

To Help Us Have Perspective In Our Tragedies
Go back and read Matthew 1:1-17 sometime and you will realize that those people were consumed with hard lives. They will filled with hard choices. God told Abraham to sacrifice his son. David had been appointed king and then had to run for his life. Solomon grew up knowing that his mom was the wife of another man that his father stole. Ruth was a pagan woman trying to scavenge the fields in Israel to simply survive. And Joseph is engaged to a woman who ends up pregnant. Some of these people responded well. Some didn't. But they tell us that life can be difficult. But if were to zoom the lens away from our tragedy, we might just realize that God is doing something that can't be explained.

To Show Us Our Need For A Savior
This account reads as a "who's who of sinners." The family of Jesus highlights to us why God needed to come and rescue people. He had to come and rescue His own family. Abraham was a liar and mocker of God. Isaac also lies and is partial to one son. Jacob stole a blessing from his brother. Tamar tricked her father-in-law (Judah) into have sex which led to the birth of Perez. Rahab was a prostitute by trade. Ruth was a pagan woman who turned to follow the Israelite God. David was a chief of sinners, committing adultery, murder, and many others. Bathsheba was an adulterer. Ahaz offered his son as a sacrifice to the Assyrian gods. Manasseh killed so many innocent people that blood filled Jerusalem.

The list can continue, one after another. The point? Even in the genealogy of Jesus Christ, we see His grace. He came to redeem His ancestors. And He came to redeem those that would come after Him. He indeed is gracious.

If you want to listen to the entire sermon, you can find it HERE. If you want to read my sermon notes from the message, you can find them HERE.

Friday, October 5, 2012

The Blood of Christ

Sometimes Christians overemphasize the blood of Christ, as if it has some mystical properties. They tend to think that they must claim the blood of Christ to rid themselves of curses or even protection against the Evil One. Because of a sensitivity to this sort of nonsense, some Christians are afraid of the phrase. They think if they use the phrase, people will misunderstand and think they are lunatics. After all, does blood really cure anything? Are Christians some sort of pagan religion that thinks the slaughter of blood cures life's ailments? 

There is a lot of misunderstanding about the blood of Christ these days. There are some who are so sensitive to this that they refuse to sing even some old hymns that talk about the blood of Christ (There is a Fountain and Nothing But the Blood). But if we are reading the Scriptures rightly, we have to acknowledge that Jesus did in fact die. He did in fact shed His blood. And the Bible does in fact talk about the blood of Christ. I was reading about this in Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology the other day and came across a list that described the importance of the blood of Christ. 

By the Blood of Christ . . .

Our consciences are cleansed
" much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God." (Hebrews 9:14)
We gain bold access to  God in worship and prayer
"Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus." (Hebrews 10:19)
We are progressively cleansed from remaining sin
"But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin." (1 John 1:7)
We are able to conquer the accuser of the brethren
"And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, 'Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death." (Revelation 12:10-11)
We are rescued out of a sinful way of life
"Knowing that you were not ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot." (1 Peter 1:18-19)

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Hole in Our Holiness by Kevin DeYoung

There is a lot of talk these days about grace in the gospel. This is good news. It is good because our world, dare I say our churches, have strayed from the glorious nature of grace in the gospel message. But one potential danger with the volume of this conversation is that the pursuit of personal holiness has been put on the back burner of Christians lives. That is what Kevin DeYoung is calling The Hole in Our Holiness. In this, his most recent book, DeYoung calls for Christians to take very seriously their pursuit of Christ; their pursuit of holiness.

I really appreciated his genuine call that we take holiness seriously. He does a great job of answering the objections that are often made in this holiness debate: it is not simply rule keeping (33), it is not imitating a former generation (34), it is not general spirituality (35), it is not finding your true self (36), and it is not the way of the world (37). One of the highlights of the book was when he took the concept of holiness and applied it to the body. He says,
"You can think of holiness, to employ a metaphor, as the sanctification of your body. The mind is filled with the knowledge of God and fixed on what is good. The eyes turn away from sensuality and shudder at the sight of evil. The mouth tells the truth and refuses to gossip, slander, or speak what is coarse or obscene. The spirit is earnest, steadfast, and gentle. The heart is full of joy instead of hopelessness, patience instead of irritability, kindness instead of anger, humility instead of pride, and thankfulness instead of envy. The sexual organs are pure, being reserved for the privacy of marriage between one man and one woman. The feet move toward the lowly and way from senseless conflict, divisions, and wild parties. The hands are quick to help those in need and ready to fold in prayer. This is the anatomy of holiness" (41).
Another part of the book that was very helpful was his distinction between the uses of the law. Over and over he shows how that it is both true that the law leads us to the gospel, but also the gospel leads us back to the law. It does not move us begrudgingly to obey a list of rules, but it graciously moves us to obey the instructions that flow from a gracious God.

I would gladly recommend this book to every Christian I know. The chapter he writes on union with Christ is very helpful and practical. It is probably worth the cost of the book itself. He says,
"Those in Christ should make it their aim to grow in fellowship with Christ. We must always remember that in seeking after holiness we are not so much seeking after a thing as we are seeking a person. The blessings of the gospel--election, justification, sanctification, glorification, and all the rest--have been deposited in no other treasury but Christ" (123).
In the end, he summarizes the pursuit of holiness with these profitable words.
"Holiness is the sum of a million little things--the avoidance of little evils and little foibles, the setting aside of little bits of worldliness and little acts of compromise, the putting to death the little inconsistencies and little indiscretions, the attention to little duties and little dealings, the hard work of little self-denials and little self-restraints, the cultivation of little benevolences and little forbearances. Are you trustworthy? Are you kind? Are you patient? Are you joyful? Do you love? These qualities, worked out in all the little things of life, determine whether you are blight or blessing to everyone around you, whether you are an ugly spiritual eyesore or growing up into a good-looking Christian" (145).
The thing about this book. It will never go out of style, because nobody is every going to be perfectly holy in this life before death.

I received a free copy of The Hole in Our Holiness by Kevin DeYoung by Crossway Publishers for review.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

A Birth-Day Fit For A Queen

Today is Monique's Birthday. In honor of this great day, I have written a short letter to her, but am making it public. There are subtle things in this letter that only Monique is going to appreciate. I am sharing it because I want everyone to think about one aspect of being a Godly Woman through the example of my wife. Enjoy!


Dear Monique,

I find it somewhat impossible to explain to everyone how much you mean to me or the kids. Today is your birthday. I know you know that. You probably even feel that you are one year older today. I have some great thoughts that have been rattling around in my head about what a birth-day fit for a queen might look like. If I could create the perfect day for you, I think it would be something like this:
The day would begin with no alarm clock. You wouldn't get up before everyone else in the family. You could just sleep in. No responsibilities. No getting up to fix lunches for the kids. Your day would begin with as much sleep as you desired. 
When you did wake up, you would find by your side a bell that you could ring so that at any moment, someone would come and serve you. Myself or the kids would bring you your breakfast. We would get you some hot tea. We would be there to serve and pamper you. You would have your (my) kindle by your side with a unlimited Amazon gift card waiting for you. You could search and download as many books as you like. 
After some time, you would get ready and I would take you shopping. You would call the shots. I would walk into as many women's clothing stores as you desired. We would spend countless hours shopping for what you want to shop for. I would get you as many new clothes as you desire. It would be your time to shop for yourself. 
Then we would go to a nice dinner. Your choice. Not Chipotle (even though its a great choice). But we would go some place that is really nice. Money doesn't matter. I know you would choose some nice choice piece of steak, as rare as they would serve it. We would even get dessert. Probably something that has dark chocolate in it. 
The evening would finish with you watching some movie that did not have guns in it. There might be some tears because of the great love story. But I would sit there on the couch with you joyfully to watch the movie with you.
Doesn't that sound fun? While many of these things sound intriguing, and we will do some of them on Friday, what I love about you this day is that these things are not what motivates you. I can truly say that I feel your great joy and desire to get up to pack lunches for the kids. You are the most selfless person I know. In many ways, October 3, 2012 will continue as most days. I must work. The kids need taken care of. I have an elders meeting tonight, which means you are sharing me with the church on your birthday. I love that you are okay with that. The kids are going in many directions tonight. One has soccer, the other baseball, in different locations. You are chauffeur tonight to your children. Amidst all this, at least my lunch meeting was cancelled so we can have lunch together (even though it is going to be at Dairy Queen because we have free meals there that have to be used by Friday).

Just the other day, Christianity Today came out with the 50 Women To Watch. There are some very powerful women on that list. Some that you appreciate. Supposedly, this list is of women who are "profoundly shaping the evangelical church and North American society." As I looked at this list, I found something really wrong. We tend to glorify those in powerful positions. May I suggest that what the evangelical church needs more of are women like you. Women who feel that John the Baptists words in John 3:30 actually mean something: "He must increase, but I must decrease."

Maybe the way the evangelical church is going to be profoundly shaped is from the bottom up, not the top down. Your life has been characterized by service. To me, you are what a godly Christian woman should be. I love you. I can't wait for lunch and our date time on Friday night.


Your Husband

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

What I'm Reading...From the Back Cover (Oct '12)

I am always reading a book or two (or three, etc...). I like to share from time to time, the books that I am making my way through. Here are the books on my "to read" list for the month of October and what they are about.

I hardly ever read fiction books, but for some reason I picked up this book.
"Gabriel Clarke is mysteriously drawn to The River, a ribbon of frothy white water carving its way through steep canyons high in the Colorado Rockies. The rushing waters beckon him to experience freedom and adventure. But something holds him back--the memory of the terrible event he witnessed on The River when he was just five years old--something no child should ever see. Chains of fear and resentment imprison Gabriel, keeping him from discovering the treasures of The River. He remains trapped, afraid to take hold of the life awaiting him. When he returns to The River after years away, his heart knows he is finally home. His destiny is within reach. Claiming that destiny will be the hardest--and bravest--thing he has ever done."

I have had this book for years. I have referenced it many times. But now I have a 12-year old son, who will soon be turning 13. This book is taking on a different dimension for me. It's time to read it in depth.
"Paul Tripp uncovers the heart issues affecting parents and their teenagers during the often chaotic adolescent years. With wit, wisdom, humility, and compassion, he shows parents how to seize the countless opportunities to deepen communication, learn, and grow with their teenagers."

Several months ago, I heard Alistair Begg recommend this book on preaching. I have wanted to read it ever since.
"This little book is written for ordinary ministers who preach regularly to ordinary people in ordinary places. Most of us preach in gatherings that are smaller than we would wish and tougher than we might have hoped when we entered pastoral ministry. There is a voice on our shoulders who whispers as we prepare, and then as we preach, 'Is it really worth it?' Christopher Ash writes to tell us that it is worth it. More than that, he sets out a charter for preaching that draws from the very roots of the Old Testament--showing us that nothing in the world is more worthwhile--for preaching is God's strategy to rebuild a broken world."
 What Books Are You Planning On Reading In The Month Of October?

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Morning After: Living the Gospel in the Family

Yesterday, I finished my short series on the family. Speaking to the family has been very helpful for our church. We dealt with husbands, wives, parents, and children. But I wanted to end the series with a defining call to live in light of the gospel in all of these relationships. 

The bulk of the sermon was based out of Colossians 3:12-17, the section that precedes the family directions in the book of Colossians. I set out to apply these great gospel words, which are for everyday life, towards the family. I wanted to answer this question in the sermon: How does the fact that Jesus died on the cross for my sins affect the way I deal with others in my family? I tried to take these words as diagnostic on our family life. For instance, how would we know if we are living out of the gospel? I came up with five evidences. I am not going to go into detail of each one here (check out the notes for a complete understanding of what I meant by each one).

1. Relationships Are Aggressively Pursued (vs. 12)
2. Forgiveness Is Generously Offered (vs. 13)
3. Love Is Rightly Prioritized (vs. 14-15)
4. Truth Is Boldly Spoken (vs. 16)
5. Worship Is Visibly Seen (vs. 17)

I told everyone last week that this might well be the most important sermon I have preached since I have been here. (Although, it would be easy to say that each week). My point is that the gospel message that Jesus died in our place for our sins and rose again on the third day to show that sin and death no longer has a hold upon us is so important that it affects my relationships. It is not just a message that is to be believed and isolated to self. It is one that impacts everything about my life.

I hope the gospel means that to you. It hope it has changed your eternal destiny, but I also hope that you rely upon it every day as you parent your children; as you husband your wife; as you submit to your husband--all to the glory of God.

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