Thursday, February 28, 2013

Chris Tomlin in Concert

I am excited to be able to get away with my wife for the next couple days. No cell phones. No books. No technology. And no kids. We try to do this from time to time as it helps us stay connected to each other. As we started planning this trip, we looked for something that we could do together. But we kept coming up with nothing. That is, until last Saturday when we realized that Chris Tomlin was going to be in concert in Toledo, OH.

Tomlin just came out with his new album, Burning Lights. It is one that I have downloaded and listened to a lot over the past several weeks. I have posted videos of a few of my favorite new songs on this album. His melody is always easy to sing and his lyrics always draw my thoughts heavenward. I have really come to appreciate his ministry to the universal church and am glad God has gifted men like him to write music that can help us worship Our Great God. We cannot wait for the time of worship tonight at his concert!

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Excommunication is NOT Shunning

I live in an area of the country that knows what it means to be shunned. There are many in my church that have been shunned as they left the Amish church. They understand what it means to be rejected by their family. They understand what it means to be cut off so that every relationship they have ever known is gone. Over. Finished. They understand the loneliness that comes at that moment. They understand the gravity of their decisions. Because of this, the matter of excommunication in step four of church discipline, takes on a completely different significance where I live. 

I believe in church discipline, but I do not believe in shunning. And I do not think Jesus does either. When Jesus refers to excommunication, He is NOT advocating shunning. In the fourth step of church discipline (Matthew 18:15-17), Jesus says that we are to treat them like a Gentile and tax collector. The Gentile would have been someone outside their covenant community. The tax collector was probably someone inside that had betrayed the covenant community. Treating someone outside your covenant community is NOT shunning.

How did Jesus treat the gentiles and tax collectors? How did He treat those that were outside the Jewish covenant community? He ate and drank with them. Not socially, but for a spiritual reason. He wanted to call them to repent of their sins. He loved them enough to continue seeking their spiritual restoration. It was not a casual relationship, but a very intentional one. He wanted to point out their sin, show them a solution, and call them to change.

To be sure, if a situation gets to step four in the process, there should be some marked difference in the relationship. But that difference should not be cold and indifferent. It is one that should be marked with the gospel truth of repentance.

There might be one exclusion to this. The Apostle Paul seems to make a case in 1 Corinthians 5 of sin so public and grievous that the only way to handle it is to send the person out of the community and not associate with them. Paul says to not even "eat with such a one" (1 Cor. 5:11). But the context of 1 Corinthians 5 is that the arrogance and spiritual pride of this sinning brother had so impacted the spiritual vitality of the church, that Paul calls for a separation. If someone's sin has caused the church to become desensitized to sin, then there probably needs to be a stronger separation.

Either way, the church should continue to pray for the repentance of that individual. There should be some in the church that continues to call them to leave their sin. But the relationship will be different.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Church Discipline by Jonathan Leeman

Over the past few years, I have come to appreciate 9Marks Ministry. I have grown personally and professionally through their understanding of the local church and the practical implications of being involved in a church. And so when I was studying to teach on church discipline last Sunday, I wanted to read at least one thing from them on the issue. That is when I picked up Jonathan Leeman's book, Church Discipline: How the Church Protects the Name of Jesus. I found it to be a very simply, yet helpful treatment of the subject. It is the second book as part of their Healthy Church series (I have already reviewed Leeman's book on Church Membership, which is the first book in the series). As with the book on Membership, this book on Discipline is easy to read, well-written, and very practical.

Leeman tackles the subject of church discipline in three ways. He begins by giving the biblical precedent for discipline. Even though he takes time to walk through the different steps of the process, he is not trying to give a final defense that it should happen. In fact, he says at the beginning of the book that "The main purpose of this book is not to persuade you about church discipline. It's to help the already-persuaded know how and when to practice it" (17). In this section, he walks through the purpose of restoration and how the gospel is seen in the process. The most helpful section for me was his explanation of when discipline is necessary. He says,
"Formal church discipline should occur with sins that are outward, serious, and unrepentant. First, a sin must have an outward manifestation. Churches should not throw the red flag of rejection every time they suspect greed or pride in someone's heart. It must be something that can be seen with the eyes or heard with the ears. Second, a sin must be serious. A church and its leaders should not pursue every sin to the utmost. There needs to be some place in a church's life for love to 'cover a multitude of sins' (1 Pet. 4:8). Thankfully, God doe snot perceptibly discipline us every time we sin. Finally, a sin must be unrepented of. The person involved has been confronted with God's commands in Scripture, but he or she refuses to let go of the sin. From all appearances, the person prizes the sin more than Jesus. More or less, all three of these factors should be present before a church moves toward excommunication" (54-55).
Leeman then moves onto his second section of the book, a series of case studies to show how different sins and responses to sin might be worked out in the life of a church. These are helpful as he looks at everything from the adulterer to the nonattending member. There are nine short chapters of how to deal with different types of people.

And lastly, he gives some pastoral insight into how to approach the subject of discipline at your church. These last several chapters are extremely important and some of the most valuable in the book.

If you are thinking about the issue of church discipline, I would recommend this book. It is short enough that you can make it through in a day or so. But it is detailed enough that you will find many of the answers to your questions.

Monday, February 25, 2013

The Morning After: Church Discipline

The point of my current preaching series is to find our way back to God's design for the church. I have no doubt that the church has drifted or lost God's original design for how the church is to operate. And when we talk about losing what God wants us to do in the church, there is no topic that gets less press than church discipline. It is a subject that is foreign to most churches, particularly those in America. But it is one that we need to find our way back to, for the glory of His name.

Jesus gave us His opinion on the matter in Matthew 18:15-20, when He called for sin to be dealt with fairly and properly. As I walked through this passage yesterday, I shared four principles on the topic of Church Discipline.

Principle #1: The Process of Church Discipline Is to Involve as Few People as Possible to Bring about Restoration.
The steps that Jesus gives are for the purpose of helping someone deal with their sin. The process is to involve as few people as possible to bring about that restoration. More people become aware of the situation, only when the person refuses to be restored. Only when they refuse to turn from that sin.

The first step in the process is that as a Christian, if we see someone in sin, we are to go to them and point out that sin in them. This does not happen judgmentally, but graciously. Jesus' point is that we are to pursue relationships with one another. Our heart in this matter is to be like God's heart, who leaves the 99 sheep to pursue the one that has gone astray (Matthew 18:10-14).

Principle #2: The Heart of Church Discipline Is Not about Sin, but About the Response to Sin by a Professing Christian.
Way too often, we make this about some sin that someone has committed. Jesus' point is not that we put their sin on a scale to see if it is bad enough. His point is that if their sin is pointed out to them, will they repent? How do they handle confrontation? The normal pattern of someone who has been converted is to respond to confrontation of sin with repentance. The normal pattern for the non-Christian is to respond with anger, bitterness, or even dismissal.

This is why the circle of people who knows about the sin needs to be expanded if they do not deal with their sin. The more someone refuses to repent, the more they are showing signs of not acting like a Christian. That is why Jesus tells them to take a few people into the confrontation if they will not listen to the one-on-one. And then if they still refuse to listen, they are to tell it to the church so that the church can pursue them to repent. And if they refuse to listen to the church, they are to be excommunicated, or treated like someone who is outside the covenant relationship (I will write more on the concept of excommunication later in the week).

Principle #3: The Excommunication in Church Discipline Is about Declaration, Not about Judgment.
If a situation must get to step 4, excommunication, the message the church is communicating is that they no longer have the confidence in the salvation of that individual. In vs. 18, Jesus says that the church has the power of declaration (binding and loosing). Because of the way the person has lived and how they have responded, the church now declares that they no longer have the assurance that the person is truly saved. Only God knows the truth, but we continue to hope for their repentance which will help confirm that they are saved.

Principle #4: The Agony of Church Discipline is Eased by Christ's Promise of His Presence.
There is not a church leader that would take any joy or happiness in taking a case to step 4. It is a solemn and devastating time for the church. It is one that comes with tears. But the promise Jesus makes in vs. 19-20 is that He will be with the church that has to walk through this process. He says that He will be with them.

Church discipline is not an easy subject. But it is something that must be considered for the sake of the sinning Christian and the name of Jesus. If you want to listen to the sermon, you can find it HERE. If you want to read my notes, you can find it HERE.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

40-Day Lent Bible Reading Plan (February 24th)

I am about two weeks into my New Testament Bible reading plan during Lent as we lead up to Easter at the end of March. If you have ever tried to read through the NT on a quick plan, I am sure you have noticed the repetition of the gospel writers. This past week, I read Matthew 25 through Luke 9. As I read the end of Matthew, the entire book of Mark, and the beginning of Luke, many of the accounts of Jesus' life seemed to intertwine together. That is good and bad. It is good in the sense that we see the personality of each writer relating the story, which brings in a much fuller picture of the event. But it could be bad because of the temptation to skip over the details of the event seeing how you just read about it a few days earlier.

There was one account that really made me stop and think this past week. For reasons I will explain later, I was particularly impacted by the account of Jesus healing the man who was possessed by the Legion of Demons (Mark 5:1-20; Luke 8:26-39). Maybe you remember the story. Jesus meets this man who lives out in the wild and was basically manic. He lived in the tombs because nobody could even bind him with chains. The demons that possessed this man made him stronger than anyone or anything around. Well, at least until Jesus shows up. As the story unfolds, the Legion of Demons know that Jesus is going to heal the man and beg to be cast out into the heard of pigs instead of into the abyss. Jesus grants that wish and they enter the herd of pigs and they rush down the bank towards the sea and drown in the sea.

Those that were watching the pigs went to the city and told what happened. The people come back and see the man sitting in his right mind. When the people of the city realized what Jesus had done (healing the demon possessed man by sending the demons into the pigs, they begged him to leave their region. They wanted him gone. Here is the thought that struck me as I read this account.

Did the people think the 2,000 pigs were more valuable than one man being healed?

Could this story be about the value of human life? There is no doubt that these people wanted Jesus to leave because they were scared of His power. There was a guy they could not control and Jesus subdued him easily. But I also wander if they were upset at the loss of their pigs. In that culture, that was their livelihood. And it was gone. Would they have traded the death of that man for the life of their pigs? Would we?

Saturday, February 23, 2013

This Week in the Blogosphere (February 23, 2013)

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 or news stories around the blogosphere from the previous week. I hope maybe one or two of these will be an encouragement to you.
  • Do You Still Want To Be Like Mike? by Matt Smethurst. Michael Jordan turned 50 years old this past week, which led to many interviews. Smethurst takes a look at some of the things said and makes the point of how sad it is to be Jordan.
  • Howard Hendricks (1924-2013) by Justin Taylor. One of the greatest teachers of all time died this past week. Taylor shares some thoughts about him and his legacy.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Advance13 Conference

I have been to many different conferences throughout the years. The conference I have attended the most is the Shepherds Conference. My life has been changed because of the numerous times I have spent at Grace Community Church. I have been to Together For The Gospel two times. This past year was the best conference I have ever attended. I have been to conferences at Moody Bible Institute and other various smaller church related conferences. I have also been to the Basics Conference a few times (I hope to post more on this conference later today).

As I looked at all the conferences out there and the ones that I want to attend, I was drawn to the Advance13 Conference in Raleigh, North Carolina for this year. There are several reasons why.

1. The Speakers
I love to go somewhere to listen to men who preach God's Word. A few of the preachers that have had the most influence upon my life will be at this conference. John Piper motivates me to be passionate with my relationship with God. Matt Chandler is the preacher I listen to the most these days. I really appreciate his insights into the churched world. And recently, David Platt has rocked my world. I cannot wait to sit under their teaching ministries at this conference.

But beyond those that I love to listen to, there are a few that I have never been engaged with and would like to hear preach. I have heard some good things about J.D. Greear, but really am not that familiar with his ministry. Tyler Jones is a familiar name, but I know nothing about him. And as for Bryan Loritts, his father's preaching ministry has had a tremendous impact upon my life.

2. The Topic
The theme of this conference is "building a faithful and effective church." As you can tell from the video, they chose this topic because of the growing tension between being faithful and effective. Some people believe that faithfulness is all that matters, even if there is no impact for the Kingdom of God. Others will change or do anything to make sure there is an impact of effectiveness. But they often do it outside of being faithful to what God has called them to do. But how can you be faithful and effective? I look forward to hearing what they have to say.

3. The Location
This is a distant third compared to the first two, but the conference is located in Raleigh, North Carolina. It is a place of the country I have never been. But it is a place of the country that is within a few hours of some family (which means a few nights of free housing and hopefully some good food). I also hope it is going to be warm.

There is still time to register if you want. The last minute registration fee is only $147, which is still a good price for a conference like this. Come on out. Anyone else going to this conference? I will be blogging about it while I am there, so comment and maybe we can meet up.

If you are not going to this conference, where are you going to? What is your favorite conference to attend?

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Why Pastors Need Pastor Conferences

Most pastors I know love going to conferences. Over the years, I have been to numerous events that have ranged from a handful of men to a few thousand church leaders. It is one of the highlights of my year. There are a number of reasons why I, and I'm guessing that many other pastors, love going to conferences each year.

1. To Continue Learning
Most pastors teach at least once, maybe several times a week. Their life revolves around preparing for the next lesson or sermon. I hope they are learning as they do those preparations. I really hope that those sermons are not an end of themselves, but they are a means to an end of learning about God (If not, read THIS). But it is good from time to time for them to sit under the teaching and preaching of God's Word.

For me personally, this is one reason I love to go to conferences. I want to be challenged. I want to hear God's Word preached. I care less about techniques or new "tricks of the trade." I want to grow closer to my Lord. It is my camp time. It is a time of refreshing. It is my time up on the mountain. I want to continue learning.

2. To Enjoy Fellowship
Many of the conferences I have attended are chosen strategically so I can spend time with close pastoral friends. I cherish any time I can spend with a handful of men from around the country that I have befriended over the years. I want them to speak into my life. And I want to invest in them. In many ways, conferences provide a boost to community relationships. There is as much encouragement happening around the dinners as there is in the teaching times. I want to fellowship with other church leaders.

3. To Step Out Of The Spotlight
It is good every now and then to get away from the day-to-day pastoral spotlight. I know that most people think pastors only work one day a week (insert joke here). But it is just not true. At least, not a good pastor. Going to a conference gives the man time to take a vacation that is not a vacation. It is time away from the pressures of their normal routine, but it is still time beneficial to their occupation. I would recommend if a guy goes to a conference during a week that they do not preach that coming Sunday (although, I will be breaking that recommendation in a few weeks). If he is not preaching, it gives him time to not have to think about the preparation of a sermon while he is being ministered to by someone else.

4. To Receive Free Books
I would be lying to you if I didn't say pastors love to receive free books. When the Shepherds Conference first starting offering free resources from different vendors, it was a frenzy. It looked like a bunch of heroin addicts looking for their next hit (not that I know anything about any of that). I am fairly sure there was some sin going on. But over the years, conferences have found better methods of passing out free books. Many of these books are new releases that help shape their thinking on different issues. It certainly is a highlight of any conference.

I am sure there are many other reasons for going to conferences. Maybe you could share a few reasons why you go. But maybe the larger question that hangs over many church leaders these days is, "Which Conference Should I Attend?" Tomorrow, I will share which conferences I plan on attending this year and why I am going to them.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Importance of the Trinity

I have recently been challenged by some in my church to think more deeply about the Trinity. In order to do that, a friend highly recommended that I read Delighting in the Trinity by Michael Reeves. I am only part of the way through the book, but I found the way he communicates the importance of Trinity enlightening. Actually, the way he views this subject can be understood by the subtitle of the book: "An Introduction to the Christian Faith." He tries to articulate why He thinks the Trinity is the core of the Christian faith at the very beginning of the book. Here are a few of his statements that argue this case.  
"For what makes Christianity absolutely distinct is the identity of our God. Which God we worship: that is the article of faith that stands before all others. The bedrock of our faith is nothing less than God himself, and every aspect of the gospel--creation, revelation, salvation--is only Christian insofar as it is the creation, revelation and salvation of this God, the triune God. I could believe in the death of a man called Jesus, I could believe in his bodily resurrection, I could even believe in a salvation by grace alone; but if I do not believe in this God, then, quite simply, I am not a Christian. And so, because the Christian God is triune, the Trinity is the governing center of all Christian belief, the truth that shapes and beautifies all others. The Trinity is the cockpit of all Christian thinking" (15-16). 
"Allah is a single-person God. In no sense is he a Father ("he begets not"), and in no sense does he have a Son ("nor is he begotten"). He is one person, and not three. Allah, then, is an utterly different sort of being to the God who is Father, Son and Spirit. And it is not just incompatibly different numbers we are dealing with here: that difference, as we will see, is going to mean that Allah exists and functions in a completely different way from the Father, Son and Spirit. All that being the case, it would be madness to settle for any presupposed idea of God. Without being specific about which God is God, which God will we worship? Which God will we ever call others to worship? Given all the different preconceptions people have about "God," it simply will not do for us to speak abstractly about some general "God." And where would doing so leave us? If we content ourselves with being mere monotheists, and speak of God only in terms so vague they could apply to Allah as much as the Trinity, then we will never enjoy or share what is so fundamentally and delightfully different about Christianity" (17-18).
I will share my review of the book soon. But until then . . .

Have You Ever Thought Deeply About The Trinity?

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Ministry of Sareth Duong

I shared last week about a new friend, Sareth Duong. He is the national leader for Cadence International in the country of Cambodia. He loves his people. He loves the military in his country. And he loves to share the gospel with them. He is truly a good brother in Christ. Today, I have three videos to share with you that tells his life story and ministry.

There are two main reasons why I am showing these videos. First, I am trying to introduce my church and others that read this blog to the ministry of this man. He inspired me while I had the chance to spend time with him. I want you to pray for him as he gets so many opportunities that we would only wish we had. But the second reason is that I am praying that by this information, we might be able to raise him some more monthly support. The last video today shares his current needs. Please watch all of them before you watch that last one. But please get to that last video. Onto the videos . . .

In this 3rd video, Sareth shares why he is involved in military ministry. He shares how God has changed his heart from hating the military to loving them. It truly is a great story.

This 4th video might be my favorite yet. This is his account of how God used a prison sentence to open up doors for ministry. He told me that they had been praying for open doors to expand their ministry in the nation of Cambodia. He just never thought it would happen by him spending 31 days in a 12' x 12' prison cell with 24 other men. If you like the story of Joseph or Daniel, you will want to watch this video.

This last video shares his current needs. Because of all the opportunities he has to share with the military all over the nation of Cambodia, he really needs more gas money. He is asking for about $400 a month in extra support. In addition, at some point, he is going to need to trade his truck in for a smaller car. He estimates that is going to cost about $10,000. Originally, the larger truck was needed because the infrastructure of Cambodia made travel impossible with a car. But now the country has built enough roads that a car is feasible (and less expensive to operate).

If the Lord is moving in your heart to help Sareth with some monthly support, please send me an email and I would love to get you in contact with the appropriate people. You can reach me HERE. Thank you for considering helping this man reach the military of Cambodia.

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Morning After: Preaching, Hearing God's Message (2 Timothy 4:1-5)

It is always an interesting task to preach on preaching. I guess it is one thing to do it at a conference with preachers. But to do it at church is quite a different thing. I find myself standing before people trying to explain what I am actually doing. But I think it is important every now and then to communicate the purpose behind why we do what we do. That's what I did yesterday as I continued my series on the church.

My main thought was that when we come to the act of preaching, as the preacher is faithful to the biblical text, it is as if God is speaking. Now, I understand that many people might not agree with that, but I did my best to show the biblical evidence for this statement. You will have to catch the notes to see how I tried to unpack that thought in the message (NOTES).

The Apostle Paul very directly told Timothy to preach the word (2 Timothy 4:2). To preach means to declare as a proclamation. And the word he was to preach is obviously the inspired word of God that is mentioned just a few verses earlier (3:16-17). There was no mistaking that Paul took this seriously. Timothy was not to waiver from this calling. It was this serious thought that I tried to unpack in my message, but it is not what I want to share in this blog post. At the end of my sermon, I tried to leave everyone with a few practical thoughts for those that sit in the pew each week. What should their attitude be towards the preacher and His sermons.

1. Demand that Your Preachers Preach God's Word.
If it is true that when the preacher preaches God's Word, it is God speaking, then why would you want to settle for anything less. Refuse to settle for some man's opinion about how to be a good friend. Demand that He give you a word from God on the matter.

2. Demand that Your Preachers Preach the Whole Counsel of God.
If it is in the Bible, it should be on the table to be talked about. We should not limit our preachers to preach only what we want to hear (2 Timothy 4:3-4). We must not demand that our preachers only speak about the love of God and not the justice of God. We should invite them to be like the Apostle Paul to the church at Ephesus and preach the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27).

Third, Demand that Your Preachers Show You Jesus.
Never let the pulpit become about one man more that it becomes about Jesus. Demand that he be like William Carey who had a plaque on his pulpit that said, "Sir, We Would See Jesus." Do not let your church ever become about one man.

Fourth, Demand that You Work as Hard at Listening as You Want Your Preachers to Work at Preaching.
The next time you walk out of church and give your preacher a grade, why don't you grade your listening as well. We spend so much time in our churches talking about how bad the preachers are when a lot of the time, the problem is just as much with the listener. I know it is a shameless plug, but this is what I tried to articulate in my book, Helping Johnny Listen. Check it out.

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.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

40-Day Lent Bible Reading Plan (February 17th)

I shared the other day that I am taking the Lent season to read the New Testament. It was encouraging to know that several other people have jumped on board for this plan as well. I believe as we prepare our hearts for Easter, that God will speak to us through His Word.

The plan contains reading every day of the week except Sundays. I thought on Sundays, I would take a few moments to share what God had impressed upon my heart during the previous week's reading. This past week, I read Matthew 1-24. While I have read the book of Matthew many times in the past, there was one part that I was particularly impacted by. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus made several statements about our heart of worry about our food or clothing. He says, 
"Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?" (Matthew 6:25) 
"But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?" (Matthew 6:30)
I get it that we are not to be anxious about our food or clothing. But this took on a different impact to me. You see, the more I thought about this, I can probably say that I have never worried about whether I would have clothes to wear. I have never worried about having enough food to eat. I have never worried about whether I would have a coat to keep me warm. My heart was convicted that I worry about whether it is a designer coat or good food.

Let me illustrate this from my life. When I was in Cambodia, I lost or had stolen a new Adidas golf jacket. It is something I bought last year and was quite costly. I loved this coat. When I realized that I couldn't locate it, I began to worry. I tried to think over and over of where I could have lost it. But it was gone. My heart of worry had nothing to do with whether or not I would stay warm. It had everything to do with whether I would stay warm in a nice, cool, new jacket. O, my wretched heart. I realized I have taken sin to a new level.

That is what God impressed upon my heart this past week. How about you? 

What did God impress upon your heart as you read the New Testament these past days?

Saturday, February 16, 2013

This Week in the Blogosphere (February 16, 2013)

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 or news stories around the blogosphere from the previous week. I hope maybe one or two of these will be an encouragement to you.
  • Above Reproach, Not Unapproachable by Katie Persinger. This is actually an older post that was linked this past week by Ed Stetzer. She has some really interesting thoughts about what it means to be friends with someone of the opposite sex.
  • When My Love Grows Cold by Tim Challies. He takes time to show the connection between a love for someone and how much time you spend with them. The connection with our relationship to God is obvious, but he does a good job of pointing it out.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Introducing Sareth Duong

One of the highlights from my trip to Cambodia was to meet and become friends with Sareth Duong. He is the national leader for Cadence International in Cambodia. But he is much more than that. He is now an assistant to one of the high ranking Senators in Cambodia. As well, he is to oversee all protestant ministries in the nation. His story is really amazing.

While we were there, I was able to take some video of him telling his story. Remember, that he is not a native speaking English person, so a few of the things he shares are difficult to understand. In this first video, he shares about what it was like growing up in a nation that had been taken captive by the Khmer Rouge. He shares about his family and how God spared his life during this terrible genocide.

In this second video, Sareth shares about his education. He started school when he was eleven years old. But he then goes on to share how he came to know that Jesus is the true God. This does not seem important to us because we have often been told that. But for someone from Cambodia, a very pluralistic society, in the 1980s, this was a startling revelation.

I will share the other videos at the beginning of next week. You will certainly want to hear what this man is doing in this country today and how doors for the gospel have been opened that can only come from God.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Who Do You Think You Are? by Mark Driscoll

Pastor Mark Driscoll is a very polarizing figure. So anytime he comes out with a new book, people tend to take sides. At least that has been the popular trend. Some people love him while others would rather treat him as if he is their enemy. It seems to be a disturbing trend for me on both sides of this argument.

But when his new book, Who Do You Think You Are? came out, I was encouraged to see some of those that have taken issue with Driscoll in the past to be open to this message. And they should. In this book, Driscoll tries to identify what it means to find our true identity in Jesus Christ. Not in our money. Not in our positions. Not in our relationships. Not in our clothes or friends. But in Jesus, we find who we were created to be. He says,
"My goal is to take one massive need in your life, your need for identity, and connect it to one book of the Bible, Ephesians" (18).
That is what he does. Did you know that hundreds of times in the NT, the Christian is identified as being "in Christ." That is the identity of the Christian. Driscoll simply identifies the major aspects of our identity as he teaches through the book of Ephesians. For instance, he begins with Ephesians 1:1-2 and shows how the Christian should say, "I am a Saint." He then goes on to talk about the Christian saying "I am Blessed" (Ephesians 1:3-14). In all, it is a very clever way of walking through the book of Ephesians. It is biblical. It is insightful. It is practical.

In speaking of our identity in Christ, Driscoll writes,
"But God knows that what you do flows from who you are. As Christians, we live from our identity, not for our identity. We are defined by who we are in Christ, not what we do or fail to do for Christ. Christ defines who we are by who he is and what he's done for us, in us, and through us. Understanding this information is the key to your transformation" (19).
Before the book came out, Driscoll tweeted that he thought this was his best work as an author yet. Many others who have reviewed this book have said they feel it is his best work yet. When I read that, and after reading the book, I wonder if they meant, "It is his safest work yet." There are very few jokes which push the edge of acceptability in this book. It does not contain the edge that is usually associated with him. But that is good. He simply lets the text speak. If you struggle with finding identity in your life, you might want to pick this book up. I think his words of explaining God's word will help you.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the 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.”

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Devil in Pew Number Seven by Rebecca Nichols Alonzo

When I traveled to Thailand and Cambodia a few weeks ago, I took several books with me to read. I figured that since I would have many hours on planes and airports, I would redeem the time by reading. The first book I picked up to read was The Devil in Pew Number Seven by Rebecca Nichols Alonzo. I normally do not read books like this, but since several of my friends had just read & raved about this book, I thought I would check it out. I am glad I did. 

I have struggled with what to say in a review like this, mostly because I do not want to give away too much of the story. This book is Rebecca's true story of her family as they moved to a rural town in North Carolina where her dad was a pastor. Growing up as a pastors kid has traditionally been seen as a tough thing. But what she went through was even more than anything I could imagine. Since I don't want to spoil the book for you, if you were to read it, let me share the information from the back cover:
"Rebecca never felt safe as a child. In 1969, her father, Robert Nichols,  moved with his family to Sellerstown, North Carolina, to serve as a pastor. There he found a small community eager to welcome him . . . with one exception. Glaring at him from pew number seven was a man obsessed with controlling the church and determined to get rid of anyone who stood in his way. The first time the Nichols family received a harassing phone call, they dismissed it. the same went for the anonymous letter that threatened they'd leave 'crawling or walking . . . dead or alive.' But what they couldn't ignore was the strategy of terror their tormentor unleashed, more devastating and violent than they could have ever imagined. Refusing to be driven away, Rebecca's father stood his ground until one night when an armed man walked into the family's kitchen . . . and Rebecca's life was shattered. If anyone had reason to harbor hatred and seek personal revenge, it would be Rebecca. Yet The Devil in Pew Number Seven tells a different story. It is the amazing, true saga of relentless persecution, one family's faith and courage in the face of it, and a daughter whose parents taught her the power of forgiveness."
That last phrase is what I wanted to focus on in this review. This book is THE BEST book on forgiveness that I have ever read. It is not just a book on theory. It is a book on how someone went through horrific, unexplained tragedy and was still able to extend forgiveness to those that changed her life. Closely connected to the message of forgiveness was the message of the gospel. In many books like this, forgiveness is something that "makes your life better." But for Rebecca (and her parents), forgiveness of others is linked to her own forgiveness of her sins by Jesus. The gospel message is loud and clear in this book.

Let me share a few examples. As things began to happen to their family, she recounts her mother's teaching to her on what it means to love enemies and extending forgiveness to them.
"Momma explained that we had been forgiven by Jesus for all of our sins, which is why He expected us, in turn, to forgive others. Taking the teachable moment one step further, she pointed to Romans 12:14, where Paul, a follower of Jesus, calls us to 'bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not.' Looking back on those conversations, I can see that Momma was, as best she knew how, teaching me that forgiveness is close to the heart of God. That forgiveness is the language of heaven. That forgiveness should be a way of life. Even when it was humanly inconceivable to do so" (87-88).
Towards the end of the book, she turns from biographer to exhorter when she explains why forgiveness is so important in our world today.
"Here's why you and I should practice the language of heaven with the persistence we'd bring to the study of any foreign language. As I've thought about it, God's forgiveness is mankind's greatest need. Against the backdrop of eternity, the thing you and I need most is not food, air, water, shelter, love, money, family, friendship, or a lifetime companion. While those are wonderful things to have, our single greatest need is to be forgiven by God for our sins" (246).
And then later she writes:
"Personally, I want forgiveness to become my heavenly habit, not an obligation. There's a big difference. The first approach reflects a lifestyle that flows from God's Kingdom and changes my way of operating in all my earthly relationships. The other approach is all about duty; it's about as heartfelt as paying income taxes" (248).
I am not sure I could recommend this book enough for you. It is a book that will bring you to tears and then humble your heart. It puts your trials into perspective. I rarely give a book 5-Stars, but I would certainly give it to this book!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Don't Subtract; Add Something For LENT This Year.

I have never really been a big proponent of celebrating Lent. I understand that it is the 40-days before Easter, but it carries with it so many Catholic overtones that I have often just let it be. It seems to me that giving up something because you are told to do so seems disingenuous. I am sure there are thousands of people that take it as a serious time, but it just seems odd to give up chocolate because you are told you have to give up something during this time of the year (or as my friends would do, watermelon, since it was out of season). 

Maybe the solution is not to give something up this year. Maybe, starting tomorrow, you can add something. What about adding strategic Bible reading to your daily schedule. I hope you already read the Bible, but what if you were to take the next 40 days and strategically purpose to read the Bible. Each day.

The last couple of days, I have read of many different plans for reading the Bible over the coming weeks. After some consideration, I am going to take the days leading up to Easter to read the New Testament. Would you consider joining me? The plan I will be using is posted below (download it HERE). I am hoping that some of my online friends will join with me and interact with me as we read the Scriptures together.

Every Sunday leading up to Easter, I will take the opportunity to share some of my thoughts from the previous weeks reading. If you are so moved, I hope you would comment as well. I would love to know what God is doing in your heart as you read His word. 

It starts tomorrow. Happy reading! And may the Lord shape us as we engage His Word in a purposeful way! 

Scripture Reading
Wednesday, February 13th
Matthew 1–7
Thursday, February 14th
Matthew 8–12
Friday, February 15th
Matthew 13–18
Saturday, February 16th
Matthew 19–24

Monday, February 18th
Matthew 25–28
Tuesday, February 19th
Mark 1–6
Wednesday, February 20th
Mark 7–11
Thursday, February 21st
Mark 12–16
Friday, February 22nd
Luke 1–4
Saturday, February 23rd
Luke 5–9

Monday, February 25th
Luke 10–13
Tuesday, February 26th
Luke 14–19
Wednesday, February 27th
Luke 20–24
Thursday, February 28th
John 1–5
Friday, March 1st
John 6–9
Saturday, March 2nd
John 10–14

Monday, March 4th
John 15–19
Tuesday, March 5th
John 20—Acts 4
Wednesday, March 6th
Acts 5–9
Thursday, March 7th
Acts 10–15
Friday, March 8th
Acts 16–20
Saturday, March 9th
Acts 21–26

Monday, March 11th
Acts 27—Romans 4
Tuesday, March 12th
Romans 5–10
Wednesday, March 13th
Romans 11–16
Thursday, March 14th
1 Corinthians 1–8
Friday, March 15th
1 Corinthians 9–16
Saturday, March 16th
2 Corinthians 1–9

Monday, March 18th
2 Corinthians 10—Galatians
Tuesday, March 19th
Ephesians—Philippians 2
Wednesday, March 20th
Philippians 3—1 Thessalonians 2
Thursday, March 21st
1 Thessalonians 3—1 Timothy 5
Friday, March 22nd
1 Timothy 6—Hebrews 1
Saturday, March 23rd
Hebrews 2–10

Monday, March 25th
Hebrews 11—James 5
Tuesday, March 26th
1 Peter 1—2 Peter 3
Wednesday, March 27th
1 John—Jude
Thursday, March 28th
Revelation 1–7
Friday, March 29th
Revelation 8–15
Saturday, March 30th
Revelation 16–22