Tuesday, November 27, 2012

What I'm Reading...From the Back Cover (Nov '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 that are currently on my "to read" list for the next several weeks.

I am reading this book with a few pastor friends. I have been humbled to think about my own shame issues and how the gospel brings healing to me and others I minister to with this issue.
"Shame controls far too many of us. Worthless, inferior, rejected, weak, humiliated, failure...it all adds up to wishing we could get away from others and hide. We know what shame feels like. The way out is harder to find. Time doesn't help, neither does confession, because shame is just as often from what others do to you as it is from what you have done. But the Bible is about shame from start to finish, and, if we are willing, God's beautiful words break through. Look at Jesus through the lens of shame and see how the marginalized and worthless are his favorites and become his people. God cares for the shamed. Through Jesus you are covered, adopted, cleansed, and healed."
A couple months ago, I started reading a pdf copy of this book and was so humbled that I knew I needed to read a hard copy of it. I will probably be a book I come back to often.
"After traveling the globe and speaking to thousands of churches worldwide, Paul David Tripp has discovered a serious problem within pastoral culture. He is not only concerned about the spiritual life of the pastor, but also with the very community of people that trains him, calls him, relates to him, and restores him if necessary. Dangerous Calling reveals the truth that the culture surrounding our pastors is spiritually unhealthy--an environment that actively undermines the well-being and efficacy of our church leaders and thus the entire church body. Here is a book that both diagnoses and offers cures for issues that impact every member and church leader, and gives solid strategies for fighting the all-important war that rages in our churches today."
On the surface, this appears to be a "Peak Inside the Village Church" sort of book. Since I have been so impacted through the ministry of Matt Chandler, I wanted to read this book.
"The Reformers viewed the gospel as not one thing among many in the life of a church but rather the means by which the Church exists. When the gospel is rightly declared and applied to God's people, the Church becomes 'a Creature of the Word.' She understands, embraces, and lives out the reality of Christ's birth, life, death, and resurrection in more than her doctrinal statement. Creature of the Word lays out this concept--examining the rich, Scripture-based beauty of a Jesus-centered church, then providing practical steps toward forming a Jesus-centered church."
I was sent this book by the publisher to review and since I really appreciate the ministry of John MacArthur, I am eager to read his take on these unlikely heroes.
"Far from the children's tales depicted in picture books and nursery rhymes, the men and women highlighted in the Bible were unnervingly real. They faltered. They struggled. And at times, they fell short. Yet God worked through them in surprising and incredible ways to accomplish His purposes. Scripture does not hide their weaknesses, caricature their strengths, or spin their stories as a display of human nobility. Instead, it describes these heroes of the faith with unflinching honesty and delivers an unexpected ending: 'God is not ashamed to be called their God' (Hebrews 11:16).

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Radical Christian Sacrifice by John Piper

Please listen to the very end of this short sermon excerpt by John Piper. His description of Jesus is why I am thankful today!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

This Week in the Blogosphere (Nov 24, 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.

  • Hobby Lobby and Religious Liberty Under ObamaCare by Ben Domenech. I would guess that most people reading my blog will agree with the direction of Hobby Lobby. I hope you will pray for their future decisions. But as you can see from this article, the ones that lose will ultimately be the workers.
  • A Father's Fright of Twilight by Mark Driscoll. Some people have told me that some of this information about Twilight is inaccurate. I don't know because I have not seen any of the movies. But what I will say is that I never want to see them or to let my children see them. 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving

Igniter Media is one organization that I look to for some good Christian videos. They have a few videos that have to do with Thanksgiving. I hope you enjoy them, but I hope you do not live them. You will see what I mean by that as you watch the videos.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Is Jesus More Than A Savior?

This word by Francis Chan is something we really need to give some consideration to as we think of gathering with our families in the next couple of day. It is a word that is needed as we seek to purchase things that we might not need. It is something we should take to heart as we claim to be Christian and live in a world that is so anti-Christian. What makes the difference?
"Whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked." (1 John 2:6)

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Priority of Preaching by Christopher Ash

I was first introduced to Christopher Ash when someone had told me that he has written a short booklet on how to listen to preaching (Listen Up!). It was originally printed in the UK, just a few months before my book (Helping Johnny Listen) on listening to preaching was published. I was eager to read his take on how to listen to preaching (which by the way, if you are looking for a very short thought on that subject, his resource is very helpful).

It was a few months later that I was at a pastor's conference when Alistair Begg quoted Christopher Ash as an expert in preaching. It was at that time that I picked up The Priority of Preaching as I was looking for a good resource on the art of preaching. This very short book that deals with the importance of preaching is one of the best resources I have ever read on the topic. I could not recommend it enough!

His take is that the sermons that are preached every week in churches, small and large alike, are much more powerful and needed than any large conference sermon that is preached. He says, 
"This little book is written for ordinary ministers who preach regularly to ordinary people in ordinary places, who may dream of being world-renowned but are going to be spared that fate . . . the sermons you and I preach week by week in ordinary local churches are more significant than most conference addresses even if they were to be recorded and played back all over the world" (12-13).
That is a very humbling and powerful thought. But is it true? Throughout the book, he focuses on the book of Deuteronomy, as the people of Israel are receiving a message from God. One of the most interesting parts of the book is when he articulates that preaching is trans-cultural. Every culture there has ever been has seen someone stand in front of others and speak. On the other hand, small Bible study groups are a modern day phenomenon. The small groups is culturally narrow as opposed to preaching.

His insights are inspiring. But they are humbling. He holds nothing back as he seeks to inform the preacher that he has a high calling to preach with a borrowed authority. But with that authority comes great responsibility. He says that the preacher needs to stay engaged with the people so that he can know how to articulate and answer their objections as he preaches.

He rightly believes that the calling of preaching is what God is going to use to change the church and the world. In order for that to happen, preaching needs to take a central place in the life of the church. He says, 
"A church can very easily become any of these things--superficial, empty, even hostile to God. So how is the world to be reassembled? Not by technology. Not by force. Not by natural human affection. Not by religion. But only by grace. Only the preached word of Christ, the word of grace preached again and again and again, pressed home with passion and engagement, only that word will create God's assembly to rebuild a broken world" (96). 
One of the highlights of the book is that it is very practical. This book is like a short seminary class on preaching. Take it. Read it. Study it. And live it.

He really believes in expository preaching. Or maybe I should call it preaching through books of the Bible. In the appendix, he gives several reasons why he believes that this type of preaching is the most effective. On pages 111-121, he argues that Consecutive Expository Preaching . . .
  1. Safeguards God's agenda against being hijacked by ours.
  2. Makes it harder for us to abuse the Bible by reading it out of context.
  3. Dilutes the selectivity of the preacher.
  4. Keeps the content of the sermon fresh and surprising.
  5. Makes for variety in the style of the sermon.
  6. Models good nourishing Bible reading for the ordinary Christian.
  7. Helps us preach the whole Christ from the whole of Scripture
If you are a preacher, you should read this book. If you are not a preacher, this book will help you understand your preacher better and make you a better listener. Pick it up today.

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Morning After: The King's Temptations (Matthew 4:1-11)

The concept of temptations is not as simple as you might think. One the one hand, we are tempted to think that if something is not attractive to you, it will not be a temptation. For instance, I do not like potatoes at all, therefore, I am never tempted to eat them. But on the other hand, spiritually speaking, we know that we often can relate to the Apostle Paul who said that we find ourselves doing what we do not want to do and not doing what we want to do (Rom. 7:15). While we do not want to gossip, we find ourselves talking out of turn way too often. 

Temptations are a complicated matter. Maybe that is why when I come to Matthew 4, I have always been intrigued by the temptations of Jesus Christ. Maybe in understanding how He overcame temptation, I can find a sense of clarity in a world in which temptations just do not make sense to me. We are tempted as He was because we are told that He was tempted as we are (Heb. 4:15). Yesterday, I investigated the temptations of Jesus to see what we might deal with in our life.

Much of my thinking on this topic has come as a result of reading Russell Moore's book, Tempted and Tried. If you have never read this book, I would highly recommend that you read it. His knowledge and giftedness in writing has helped me understand this issue much more clearly.

#1: A Temptation of Consumption
When Satan tempts Jesus to turn the rocks into bread, it was more than just a temptation of simple meal preparation. Jesus had been with the Father, praying in the desert for 40 days without food. He was hungry. And Satan is trying to get Him to question the fatherhood of God in His life. Will He trust the Father to provide for Him or will He go out and seek provisions Himself?

On the other side of this temptation, Jesus is going to say that we should not worry about our life, what we will eat or drink or clothes we will wear (Matt. 6:25). He says that we should just trust God to take care of us. Jesus can say this because He lived it. 

I spent some time in my sermon talking about the different areas of consumption that we might struggle with. For some it is food; others it is sex. For some it is addictions like smoking or drinking; and others it is toys and possessions. The issue is whether or not we think we are going to find our hope and satisfaction in the consummation of things instead of trusting the Father to provide what we really need in life.

#2: A Temptation of Security
After Jesus quotes Scripture to say no to not trusting the Father, Satan changes tactics. He quotes Scripture himself and tells Jesus that if He were to jump from the top of the temple, the Father would have no option but to save Him miraculously. The heart of this temptation is found in Satan wanting Jesus to question whether the Father would protect Him. Satan wanted Jesus to demand of the Father the miraculous to prove His care. This would be the equivalent of treating the Father like a divine bell-hop.

For many of us, our security comes in the form of money or relationships. We think God doesn't care for us because He has not given us a good job or close friends. And we stare into the heavens and tell Him that if He would do these things for us, we would follow Him. We want the security of Him proving to us that He cares for us through tangible things in this life.

Does the Father care? Of course. That's why the cross is so important. Jesus denies His own self-protection because He was looking for the protection of His people. And because of that, our security in Christ is rock-solid secure.

#3: A Temptation of Status
Satan goes for the jugular in the last one. He takes Jesus to a high mountain and shows Him all the kingdoms of the world. And then Satan promises to give them all to Jesus if He would just bow down and worship Satan. The interesting part of this temptation is that Satan is promising to give to Jesus what Jesus knows He will one day own. The Kingdom. But Satan is willing to give it to Him now. Why? Because Satan wants Him to have it without going through the agony of the cross.

Satan doesn't mind if we live Christianly with our neighbors as long as we do not preach the cross. He loves the morality of Christianity without the cross. The glory without the cross is an empty gospel! Satan knows that. But so did Jesus. He says no and it provides for us the foundation on which we can resist these temptations as well. I just pray that I do . . . and that you do.

Throughout the sermon, I tried to show how we face these temptations everyday. If you want to listen to the message, you can find it HERE (usually after Tuesday). Or you can read my notes HERE.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Importance of a Perfect Life by Jesus

One of the central doctrines to the true gospel message is that Jesus was sinless. He committed no sin. He never hit his brother out of anger. He never dwelt on lust. He never longed for material possessions. He never coveted. At the same time of never doing those things that are deemed sinful, He fully did what was righteous. He was fully obedient. He always did the right thing at the right time. He related perfectly with other people. He fulfilled the righteousness of God. 

At many levels, this is overwhelming. And some probably think it is mythical. But the evidence in the Bible is overwhelming.
"He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth." (1 Peter 2:22) 
"For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin." (Hebrews 4:15) 
"You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin." (1 John 3:5) 
And the list of Scriptures can keep coming. We are taught that Jesus was free from actual sin. He bears no consciousness of guilt. He never prays for forgiveness. He never confesses shortcomings. On the contrary, all He did, in word, thought, and deed, conformed perfectly to the will of God. He fulfilled all righteousness.

But was it necessary? YES! Without Jesus perfectly fulfilling the righteousness of God, the gospel would be incomplete. The place where this is seen most evidently is in Paul's words to the Corinthians.
"For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." (2 Corinthians 5:21)
At the moment of salvation, the great transaction takes place. God treats Jesus, who is sinless, as if He committed every sin that you committed (past, present, and future). But God does not leave you neutral. He also imputes upon you the righteousness of Christ. He treats you as if you did every righteous act that Christ accomplished. That is the righteousness we need in order to stand before God. His righteousness.

So the next time you contemplate the sinlessness of Jesus, please do not think of it as a secondary aspect of His life. It was as critical to our salvation as the cross was. His life and His death!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Grace by Max Lucado

I am sure you have heard the idiom that the only certain things in life are death and taxes. Let me add one more thing to that list. A book written by Max Lucado will be really well written. He is a masterful writer. I do not claim to be a literary critic (I usually only deal with the content, not the style), but I will go out on a limb and say that the way Lucado writes is very rare. There are not many people that have the gift he has. Because I know that to be true, when I had the opportunity to read and review his new book, Grace, I was eager to do it.

The book itself does not disappoint from that literary perspective. He is a very easy writer to read and understand. The book moves very quickly. I was able to read it in just a few hours. That is not because I am a speed reader, but the book is actually not as long as it might look (there is a 50+  page study guide at the end of the book). I would feel confident that anyone out there would read this book very quickly.

Now onto the content. For much of the book, I was impressed. It actually was good for me to ponder the grace of God in my own life. I read it during a time while on vacation, when I was really struggling with some depressive thoughts. It proved to be good for my soul. At the beginning of the book, he tries to articulate his purpose of the book:
"Here's my hunch: we've settled for wimpy grace . . . This book asks a deeper question: Have you been changed by grace? Shaped by grace? Strengthened by grace? Emboldened by grace? Softened by grace? Snatched by the nape of your neck and shaken to your senses by grace? God's grace has a drenching about it. A wildness about it. A white-water, riptide, turn-you-upside-downness about it. Grace comes after you. It rewires you. From insecure to God secure. From regret-riddled to better-because-of-it. From afraid-to-die to ready-to-fly. Grace is the voice that calls us to change and then gives us the power to pull it off." (8)
At this point, I was somewhat surprised. Of course, I was only eight pages in, but I completely agreed! You see, in every book that I have ever read by Lucado, while I have appreciated the literary value, there always ended up being something that I didn't agree with theologically. But this sounded great. God's grace coming to change us. God's grace being active in our life. Yes, I'm in!

He continues to explain how God's grace is found in forgiveness of our guilt. Agreed! Then he shows how God's grace is found in the exchange of Christ's righteousness for our sin. Awesome! On and on he continues. The resurrection is God's grace in our life; grace moves us to forgive; Grace is seen in Jesus being our redeemer; Grace means you can risk confession with God; We do not need to fear because of God's grace; and it should move us to be generous. Chapter after chapter, I just couldn't disagree with what he was saying. I was moved. I was inspired. I was challenged. I was feeling hope in my depression.

That is, until I reached chapter ten. Ugh. As I was reading, I thought for sure I was about to write a glowing review of a Max Lucado book. But now, I feel as as though I had to say something about this chapter. He speaks about grace in the fact that God has chosen us. But what he really says, is that God's grace is poured out on us because of something we have done. He puts the cart before the horse. This is what he says.
"There is something in you that God loves. Not just appreciates or approves but loves. You cause his eyes to widen, his heart to beat faster. He loves you. and he accepts you." (118)
And he continues.
"Rather than conjure up reasons to feel good about yourself, trust God's verdict. If God loves you, you must be worth loving. If he wants to have you in his kingdom, then you must be worth having. God's grace invites you--no, requires you--to change your attitude about yourself and take sides with God against your feelings of rejection." (121)
But that is not the Scriptures I read. The Bible I turn to says that He loves us and pours His grace out on us in spite of who we are. He does it while we are his enemies. He does it, not because we are special, but because of the kind intention of His will. Our worth and value as people are found, not in the fact that we are special, but that the grand Creator of the universe took note of us while we were not special.  Our worth is found in our unworthiness, not in that we have done something to deserve it. It is simply a misrepresentation of the facts of Christianity. It puts the onus on God to respond to us because we have something in us that is lovable. When in fact, the real story is that it begins with God loving those that are not lovable at all!

I understand that he is trying to get people to not feel rejected. He wants them to see that God's grace is greater than their feelings of rejection. But here's the problem. When you say that there is something lovable inside of us that God responds to, you have cheapened grace. It sounds like we deserve it. To use his words, it is "wimpy grace." But if there is nothing in us that is lovable and God still pours out grace on us, that is not wimpy or cheap. That is where we find real meaning!

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 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Friday, November 9, 2012

Shame & Guilt

I just started reading Edward T. Welch's new book Shame Interrupted. I look forward to reading what he says about this topic of shame. Towards the beginning, he has a very interesting thought on the difference between shame and guilt. This is just a little taste of this book.
"Shame and guilt are close companions but not identical. Shame is the more common and broader of the two. In Scripture you will find shame (nakedness, dishonor, disgrace, defilement) about ten times more often than you find guilt. 
Guilt lives in the courtroom where you stand alone before the judge. It says, 'You are responsible for wrongdoing and legally answerable.' 'You are wrong.' 'You have sinned.' The guilty person expects punishment and needs forgiveness. 
Shame lives in the community, though the community can feel like a courtroom. It says, 'You don't belong--you are unacceptable, unclean, and disgraced' because 'You are wrong, you have sinned' (guilt), or 'Wrong has been done to you' or 'You are associated with those who are disgraced or outcast.' The shamed person feels worthless, expects rejection, and needs cleansing, fellowship, love, and acceptance. 
Guilt and shame intersect when a particular sin is regarded, by yourself or others, to be worse than most sins. For example, get caught with child pornography and you will experience both guilt and shame. Same-sex attraction finds itself here too. But what if your anger briefly flares at a reckless driver? You might feel a little guilt but, most likely, no shame because everyone else has done similar things. 
Don't forget that your sensors for guilt and shame are fallible. They can be silent when they should say something, and they can also sound false alarms. But, false alarm or not, when we hear them we must do something. they don't turn off automatically." (11)

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Key To America's Economical Success

I do not claim to be an economist. I do not really know or understand how tax systems work. I have no idea what it is that causes or hinders economic growth. When people make claims that they will ensure millions of new jobs, I have no grid to filter their plan through. I do know that a country (and household) is better off when it spends less than it makes. But how all economic growth works out, I have no idea. 

One of the great concerns in this previous election was America's economics. As you know, the last four years have not been very good. There are more and more people out of work. Our nation is falling more and more into debt. The value of the American dollar continues to decline. The future does not look as bright as it has in the past for the American people. 

Well, I think I found the answer. It's actually not a new answer. It is an old answer. It is an answer that on the surface might not make sense. But I want to propose to you that it is one of the main reasons for our economic struggles over the past four years (and probably for the next four). Here it is. Ready?

The Key to America's Economic Success = Bless the Nation of Israel!

There it is. I said it. Could it possibly be that the problem with the decline of our nation economically is because over the past four years, President Obama has distanced himself from being an alley with Israel? I know what you might be thinking: "How is our support for one of the smallest nations on earth the key to our economic success?" The answer to that question is found in God's covenant with Abraham as the father of the Jewish people. In Genesis 12, we see God calling Abram (his name will soon be changed to Abraham) to leave his country and start a new nation.
"Now the Lord said to Abram, 'Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.'" (Genesis 12:1-3)
God is very clear in his promise to Abram. He is going to make a great nation out of him. From him, all the nations of the earth will be blessed (we ultimately see that in the fact that Jesus comes as a Jew to die for the sins of all nations). But God also very clearly says that He will bless those who bless Abram (implication is his nation). And God will curse the one who dishonors the nation of Israel.

For many years, the United States has been one of the closest alleys to the nation of Israel. We have defended them. We have fought for them. And our economy has flourished. There is no doubt in my mind that God has blessed our country because we have blessed God's chosen people. But over the past several years, we have begun the process of not honoring them. And I wonder if we are now feeling, not only God's withdrawal of blessing, but maybe His cursing of our nation.

Mr. President, you have an option. You can either continue your trajectory away from blessing this small nation and continue to feel the sting of a downward economic culture. Or you can restore our national stance of blessing this small country and feel the upward swing of economic success. The choice is yours. As an American who loves my country, but loves the Lord God more, I beg of you to turn your policies back towards being a safeguard of the nation of Israel. For our sakes. For their safety. And for the glory of God.

Do You Think Our Stance On The Nation Of Israel Has An Affect On Our Economic Success?

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Election Recap

As you probably know by now, Barack Obama retained his presidency in the elections last night. It turned out to not even be that close (in the electoral vote at least). In the wake of this event, many good Christian men and women have written good articles and blogs about what now. What should the Christian do now?  How should we respond? Here are a few of them that caught my attention.

  • From Me, Yesterday by Collin Hansen. A very clever note to self about what really matters in the election.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Scripture of the Day

This is a big day for the United States of America. As I have said many times, being American does not define me. My Christianity defines me. That doesn't mean I am not in prayer over this election. To keep my heart guarded, I needed to remind myself of my calling to my government as a Christian. Here are just a few of the passages that talk about that calling.

Romans 13:1-7
"Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good and you will receive his approval, for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed."

1 Timothy 2:1-2
"First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way."

Titus 3:1-5
"Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit."

1 Peter 2:13-17
"Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor."

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Declaration of Independence

At the end of American Patriots, Rick Santorum quotes the Declaration of Independence. I can't remember, but I am thinking the last time I would have read it as in High School. And my guess it is for you as well. That's probably not a good thing. This is a document that was written to declare that our nation would be independence of the nation of Great Britain. It is a very serious and historic document for Americans. 

Because tomorrow is a really big day for our country, and since my guess is that not many people have read it recently, I thought I would post part of it today. Let me be very clear. I am not claiming to be an expert in political law or in the Declaration of Independence. Probably all I know about this document I learned from National Treasure. I know it's sad, but at least I am admitting it. I am a pastor who loves Jesus more than my country. But that does not mean I do not love being an American. I love the freedom that I have. I just do not let that freedom define who I am as a person. My Christianity defines me. 

But as I read the Declaration of Independence, I was blown away at how Theocentric it is. The founders of America were very much dependent upon their Creator and were willing to lay themselves at the altar of His Judgement for their actions. Read it, maybe you will see what I saw. And then ask yourself, "How Should This Document Affect The Way I Vote?"
"When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with one another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation. 
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.--That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security . . . 
. . . We, therefore, the Representative of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiances to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor."

American Patriots by Rick Santorum

Since this is going to be a really big week for the future direction of our country, I wanted to share some thoughts from a book that I read last week while on vacation. American Patriots by Rick Santorum is a collection of stories told of unknown people that did much to secure the freedom that we now celebrate. I found these stories inspiring as these people risked their life to fight for my freedom. 

From the very beginning, Santorum expounds how the United States, from its origin, has been different from every other nation of the world. He says, 
"America is not about birthrights, classes, or bloodlines. We are not a tribe or an ethnic group or a civilization with a long written history on this continent. America is an ideal--a set of common values that unite us not only as states, but as a people. Those ideals were expressed at the very founding of our country in the Declaration of Independence and reinforced in the United States Constitution" (xviii).
The book then is categorized into three sections: Life, Liberty, and The Pursuit of Happiness. Into these categories, we find 25 life stories of hero's and heroins. 

Take for instance the life story of Lydia Darragh. She was a normal woman and mother turned spy for the Americans. Oh, did I mention she was a Quaker woman, which means she would have been a pacifist. When the British army moved into Philadelphia, they looked for buildings in order set up their command posts. One of the buildings they took over was her house. Through some strange circumstances, their family was allowed to live in part of the house with the soldiers and officers. One night, she learned of a secret British meeting was going to take place. She sneaked into a closet next to the meeting room and uncovered a surprise attack they were planning just two days later. She risked her life to make her way to George Washington to inform him of the impending attack. And it worked. They were prepared.

As I read these inspiring stories, I could not help but think of how far we have come as a nation. And not in a good way. How many ordinary, non-soldiers, would risk their life to help this country. Instead of a pursuit of life, liberty and happiness, we have become a society of entitlement. We think we are entitled to those things. We expect the government to provide us with life, liberty, and happiness. We have lost the sense of ownership in the process (to be fair, I think part of that is the government's fault, but the people are at fault as well).

Maybe that's the problem with our country today. We have lost the sense of what it means to be a patriot. And maybe that is why this book is needed in our day today. The words that Santorum quotes from Franklin Roosevelt are very appropriate for our situation:
"This country has been made by . . . the men in the ranks . . . Our histories should tell us more of the men in the ranks, for it was to them, more than to the generals, that we were indebted for our military victories" (63)
Our nation needs to hear the stories of those who risked their lives for our freedom. The common, everyday, ordinary person stories. Not the generals. Not even the soldiers. The people. That's the benefit of this book.

I received a free copy of American Patriots by Rick Santorum from Tyndale Press in exchange for this review.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Vacation, Sandy, & My Birthday

This week has been vacation week. Well, really, it is more like a staycation. I am not working, but I have not left town. I went into this week with lots of goals. I wanted to check off a long to-do list around the house. I had several books I have been wanting to read. I wanted to start doing some writing on some projects I have been ignoring. I had several hopeful things to do this week. Unfortunately, things have not turned out exactly how I planned them to turn out.

Hurricane Sandy
I was shocked to find out on Monday night that the kids would be off school on Tuesday. I guess high winds and lots of rain were in the forecast over the night from Hurricane Sandy that all the schools closed. That was a pleasant surprise. I now was able to spend some time with the family But what also surprised us was having the power go out really early Tuesday morning. For almost 18 hours, we were without the modern conveniences that we have come to enjoy. We do have a generator that runs our water and wood pellet stove and a few other things, but it is not the same. Going to the bathroom by candlelight is a bit too archaic for me.

Of course, during this time, our family was trying to stay thankful for all that we have. Seeing the pictures of what Sandy did on the East coast, made our short time without power nothing much easier to go through. Maybe the things we go through in life can be redeemed when we see them in light of a much bigger picture. 

The highlight of Tuesday with the kids was playing a 5-hour game of Monopoly. Yes, you read that right. Five hours. It was one of those games that just kept going and going and going. I thought it would never end, and probably wouldn't have if we did not set a time limit on it. In the end, Karsten won because he had more money than JT. It was one of those memories that we will have for a long time.

My Birthday
Yesterday was my birthday. I want all of you who contacted me to know how much you mean to me. The phone calls, emails, and text messages mean a lot. The cards in the mail were very encouraging. The notifications on FaceBook are nice. But there is something about my birthday that I just really do not understand. I should be studied by some psychologist or something. The past several years, something weird happens to me. Late the evening before my birthday, it feels like a dark cloud envelopes me. I get really depressed. All I can do is think of all the negative things I have done the previous year. I cannot help but think about all the ways I have failed everyone. I feel like a complete loser in so many ways. And no matter what I do, it just does not seem to shake from me. 

I read the Bible. I spend time praying. I try to read. Everything is just extra hard on that day. This morning, I woke up and was myself once again. But yesterday, it was just honestly hard. In the days leading up to my birthday week, I was reading Respectable Sins by Jerry Bridges, and one statement seemed to leap off the page at me. Maybe this is my problem that brings all the negative thoughts into my mind on this day. He says,
"Another aspect of the pride of achievement is the inordinate desire for recognition. All of us appreciate commendation for a job well done or for many years of faithful service on the job or at church. But what is our attitude when we do a specific job well and don't receive recognition? Are we willing to labor in obscurity, doing our job as unto the Lord, or do we become disgruntled over the lack of recognition?" (96)
I am an overachiever. But I am also a competitor. Most of the time, I want to get more out of giftedness than the next person. I know that sound stupid and sinful. And I'm acknowledging that it is. But that is why I have a hard time taking vacation. That is why I have a hard time each year evaluating my year, because I only focus on all the ways I am failing instead of focusing on what God has done through me the previous year. 

As I was struggling with this yesterday, the thought came to me. "Isn't the gospel of Jesus Christ the complete opposite of my desire for a life of achievement?" Yes. But that doesn't mean that working to be the best 1, 2, or 5 talent person you can be is wrong. But there must be a balance between realizing my acceptance in Christ and my desire to be the best that I can be for Him. And not for me. 

I appreciate your prayers. I have just a few days left of vacation. I think I am going to forget all the stuff I want to get done and go grocery shopping with my wife. That should cure my desire for achievement.