Tuesday, April 30, 2013

A Christian Response to Jason Collins

In case you were not aware, the sports world was in a buzz yesterday when Jason Collins came out to admit that he is gay. The reason this is big news is that Collins is the first active sports athlete in the major sports (NBA, NFL, MLB, NHL) to come out and admit his sexual preference. ESPN interviewed many people, but among them was Chris Broussard. He is a NBA analyst, but also a Christian. The entire interview is really interesting, but the heated part of the discussion starts about the 9:00 minute mark. Broussard's response to Collins admission to being gay and a Christian was spot on and very helpful. Christian's should learn from him, but also pray for him. I have a feeling that things could get really tough for Broussard in the coming weeks.

If you want some commentary on this story, Denny Burk has written some helpful thoughts on this story.

Monday, April 29, 2013

The Morning After: Jesus' Authority over Demons (Matthew 8:28-34)

The authority that Jesus has and displays is not just with the physical world. He is Lord of creation and people, but He is also Lord of the spiritual realm. He is Lord of demons and Satan. And even though the Bible unequivocally states this, the demonic world will do anything and everything they can to defeat Jesus. But the reality is they have no hope of victory because they are already defeated. That is what is happening when Jesus comes in contact with two demon-possessed men in Matthew 8:28-34.

The story goes something like this. Jesus gets in a boat to get away from the crowds. He is exhausted from the work of teaching and healing. After the incident in the boat with the wind and the waves, He gets to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. When He does, He is greeted by naked, strong, multiple-demon-possessed men who live in a graveyard. And when that happens, the demons confess they know who Jesus really is and then beg to be cast out into a herd of pigs. When Jesus allows them to go into the pigs, the herd rush down the hill and drown in the sea. In response, the men worship Jesus, but the townspeople beg Jesus to leave them alone. That's the story.

Even in this story, there are several interesting thoughts. First, the demons know who Jesus is, they know their outcome, and they know Jesus' authority. When they approach Jesus, they immediately recognize who He is. They admit that He is the Son of God. And they also know that they will lose in the end. They ask Jesus a very revealing question: "Have you come here to torment us before the time?" Before what time? Before the time that they know He is coming to end it all (Revelation 20:7-10). They know it is a fixed game. They know they are fighting a losing battle. They know in the end, there is no hope for them. But they obviously continue to battle in the hopes of keeping as many people from being rescued from their same fate as they can.

Another thing that is obvious here is that they know the authority Jesus has over them. They beg Jesus to cast them into the herd of pigs. This raises a question, why the pigs? Think about it. The demons know that Jesus has the authority to do whatever He wants with them. And we know that demons are here primarily to create chaos and hatred for the things of God. It seems best to me to see this request to be cast into the pigs as one final effort by the demons to destroy and create animosity towards Jesus and His ministry.

And it works. The result of the pigs drowning (the gospel of Mark tells us that it was about 2,000 pigs) is that the townspeople want nothing to do with Jesus. For sure, they were upset at the loss of their pigs. But they were also scared at the power of Jesus. These men who could not be tamed were released with just one word by Jesus. That's authority. That's power. And that is Jesus!

If you want to listen to the sermon or read my notes, you can find them HERE (audio is usually posted sometime on Tuesday). I go into much more detail on all of those points listed as well as drive home some points of application at the end of the message. 

Friday, April 26, 2013

Answering the Problem of Evil

I always seem to have a book or two on my desk that I am reading. One of the books that is front and center now is God's Not Dead by Rice Broocks. I am sure I will review it fully when I finish reading it. But there was something that he wrote that might really help answer some questions for many people. It has to do with the question of evil. 

Many people deny the existence of God because of all the evil in this world. People arbitrarily confess that there must not be a God if He allows two brothers to kill people in Boston during the running of a marathon. Broocks answers that question with a shocking reality. The fact that you believe in a right and wrong shows that there must be a God. He says,
"If there is no God, there couldn't possibly be a transcendent morality that everyone should obey. Good and evil would simply be illusions, man-made and arbitrary. Certainly without a transcendent God or source of moral authority, it comes down to whatever are the opinions of the majority. So from where does this universal sense of right and wrong come? C. S. Lewis said, 'My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?' . . . The problem of evil has plagued the minds of men and women since the beginning of time. Yet God intends for us to understand its source, not just be aware of its existence. The real challenge is this: whether you are a believer or an unbeliever, atheist or theist, evil is not just around us--it is in us" (44-45).
He will go on to say that the real issue we have with evil is that we want it to stop happening to us; we just are not willing to get to the point of admitting that we want it to stop being evil. Interesting thought!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Best & Worst Jobs of 2013

I was strolling through my Twitter feed yesterday and I came across a post by someone linking the best and worst jobs of 2013. I was intrigued. The people over at CareerCast.com put together a list of 200 occupations, from best to worst. To measure each occupation, they looked at four main criteria: pay, outlook for future employment, work environment, and stress. Here are some of the results of the study:

Five Best Jobs:

1. Actuary -- Interprets statistics to determine probabilities of accidents, sickness, and death, and loss of property from theft and natural disasters.

2. Biomedical Engineer -- Analyses and design solutions to problems in biology and medicine, with the goal of improving the quality and effectiveness of patient care.

3. Software Engineer -- Researches, designs, develops and maintains software systems along with hardware development for medical, scientific, and industrial purposes.

4. Audiologist -- Diagnoses and treats hearing problems by attempting to discover the range, nature, and degree of hearing function.

5. Financial Planner -- Related to careers in portfolio management, the financial planner offers a broad range of services aimed at assisting individuals in managing and planning their financial future.

Five Worst Jobs:

196. Oil Rig Worker -- Performs routine physical labor and maintenance on oil rigs and pipelines, both on and off shore.

197. Actor -- Entertains, informs, and instructs audiences by interpreting dramatic roles on stage, film, television, or radio.

198. Enlisted Military Personnel -- From serving food in the mess hall to fighting a battle on the front line to avoiding land mines along the path to a village, the duties a soldier carries out have very different levels of responsibility.

199. Lumberjack -- Fells, cuts, and transports timber to be processed into lumber, paper, and other wood products.

200. Reporter (Newspaper) -- Covers newsworthy events for newspapers, magazines, and television news programs.

As I was looking through this list, a few things struck me. First, there are a lot of different occupations in our world. There are many different types of jobs. Who would have thought that someone determining the likelihood of someone living or dying would be a job? Let alone the #1 rated job. There is great diversity in our world to how people make a living to support their families.

Second, almost every comment that I read had people complaining about their job. Doesn't that make sense to you? We probably know from personal experience that people complain or think that their job is the worst job. Or at least, worst than it is represented by a list like this. I hardly meet many people who say they have the best job in the world. I think you would have to agree, everyone thinks the grass is greener on the other side. Those that are rated in the top think their job is to highly rated. Those rated in the bottom probably agree, and even want everyone to know how bad their job really is.

Third, it made me reflect that God created us to work. Yes, He made man to work. Work was instituted by God to be a good thing. When He created the world, He modeled that work is a good thing. 
"Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation." (Genesis 2:1-3)
But before He rested, He created man and gave man a job to do in the garden. Man was to emulate God, who worked, and he was to cultivate and keep the garden (Gen. 2:15). In addition, man was put there to protect His wife.

I wonder how many people think the terribleness of their job is directly related to the fall of mankind. It is true that one of the consequences of the fall of man is that work would be more difficult. But work was instituted by God before the fall of man to be something that mankind engaged in for His glory.

Fourth, it made me think about my profession. In case you are interested, like me, a pastor (clergy) falls just below the middle of the scale. My profession is just a bit worse than a truck driver and purchasing agent, but just better than a typist or word processor. 

As I read that, I have the same temptation as anyone else to say something negative about my profession. Instead of talking about the stress level of pastoral ministry, I want to emphasize how thankful I am to be a pastor. I wish our profession was higher on the list. As Pastor Mark Driscoll frequently says, "I love my 'job'!"

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

I Am A Church Member by Thom S. Rainer

Over the last two years, I have found myself being drawn to books that deal with the life and nature of the church. When I think of all the  books I have read, there is one constant theme that keeps coming up again and again. It is Church Membership. In a few short days, Thom Rainer's new book, I Am A Church Member, will be released, adding another helpful book to this discussion on church membership.

In this book, Rainer gives us six attitudes he claims will make the difference. And his wording there is important. It is an attitude. He rightly diagnosis that for many, the problem with church membership is a heart issue. Many people see it like they see membership in any secular organization. I join, pay my dues, and expect to be treated as I want to be treated. But it shouldn't be so with the church. The difference, according to Rainer, has to do with the attitude behind the individual as they approach church. The six attitudes are . . .

  1. I Will Be A Functioning Church Member
  2. I Will Be A Unifying Church Member
  3. I Will Not Let My Church Be about My Preferences and Desires
  4. I Will Pray for My Church Leaders
  5. I Will Lead My Family to Be Healthy Church Members
  6. I Will Treasure Church Membership as a Gift

The aspect of the book that impacted me the most was the chapter on leading my family to be healthy church members. I talk to many people about church membership and the importance of serving in the church, but I'm not so sure I talk to my children intentionally about it. Maybe I am less intentional because I feel it is our life, so they will see it by example. He makes a great point about the great opportunity we have to teach our children.
"Part of the opportunity and honor of being a church member is the teaching of our family to love the church. And that teaching often begins by praying together as a family for the church where God placed us" (60).
The strength of this book is found in the pledges that are found at the end of each chapter. It is meant to be a statement that you sign and make a commitment to fulfill. For instance, the pledge at the end of the chapter on leading my family says this:
"I will lead my family to be good members of this church as well. We will pray together for our church. We will worship together in our church. We will serve together in our church. And we will ask Christ to help us fall deeper in love with this church because He gave His life for her" (64).
The one aspect of the book that becomes somewhat unclear is what makes a member. I think the most difficult aspect of church membership today is whether someone that comes regularly, serves regularly, and is part of the church . . . are they members automatically? Or is there some formal process they need to take in order to become a member? Or said another way, is membership in the universal church automatically make someone a member of the local church? That is what I would love for someone to unpack.

But this book is well worth the small investment. It will be read easily and quickly. Applying it? That will take a bit more time and energy.

Watch this short trailer. It will help bring the point of this book to life.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

A Ministry Lesson . . . From Refinishing My Porch

A few weeks ago, I had the brilliant idea to tear apart my screened-in porch. The screens needed to be replaced, so I thought I would just take them off, sweep things up a bit, and then put new screens back in. I was so wrong. after I removed the screens, I decided it would be a good time to add some additional framing to help protect it from birds and debris. And then, I thought it was a good opportunity to repaint the porch. But of course, if I was going to repaint, I needed to take time to strip off the pealing paint and sand down the wood so the paint would take better. All of this because I wanted to redo a few of the screens.

Yesterday, I spent five hours sanding and stripping the inside parts of the porch to be ready for the paint. It was a long and exhausting time. And then I spent another five hours painting, and only finished the inside of the porch. I now need another day to finish the outside before I get to the point of putting up new screens, new baseboards, a new door, and new decorative lattice. 

What's the point of all of this? It certainly is not to convince you never to refinish your porch. I think the result will be worth it. The point is that as I was working all day yesterday, I began to see some obvious parallels to ministry. Here are some of the things I was thinking.

  • There are no short-cuts to a faithful ministry.
  • Ministry takes hard work.
  • It is going to take longer than you think it will take.
  • There are always going to be surprises in ministry.
  • When you think you have it figured out, think again.

I could keep going. I think mostly though, I was struck with this one thought. It is really easy to begin a ministry thinking it will radically turn around in a few short months or years. But to build an effective ministry is going to take much longer than we think it is going to take. And this means, I need to be patient.

Why Do We Think Ministry Will Be An Easy Fix?

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Morning After: Jesus' Authority over Nature (Matthew 8:23-27)

There are many things that we use everyday that used to amaze us. Take for instance the computer. I write this blog post on a computer that once amazed me. Do you remember the first time you ever used one? Or the first time you ever used the Internet? Were you amazed? My guess is that they are both something you take for commonplace these days. The more familiar something becomes to you, the less amazed you are by it.

Unfortunately, this same thing can be true of our relationship with Jesus. I have seen it and lived it. A person comes to Jesus amazed at His greatness. They are forgiven of their sins. They experience and appreciate all that He is for all that they are. The result is that they are passionate for Him. They can't help but tell people about Him. They read His Word, pray, and are excited about Him in all things. And eventually they tend to drift. 

When this happens, our lack of amazement says more about us than it does about Jesus. Or let me phrase that a different way. The more we get to know Jesus, the more we should be amazed by Him because He is infinitely amazing! That's what happens in Matthew 8:23-27. Jesus performs another miracle that makes the disciples stop in amazement.

If you grew up in the church, I'm sure you have heard this story. A great storm comes up while the disciples and Jesus are trying to cross the Sea of Galilee. The disciples freak out; Jesus sleeps. The disciples are scared; Jesus is getting some peaceful rest. Let's investigate each side of this equation.

Disciples Scared
Why were the disciples scared? There is no doubt they were scared to die. But I think there was something even more foundational than that. I think they freaked out because they are not in control. Many of them were fishermen who grew up fishing that lake. They had been in storms. But this one must have been larger and more severe than any other one. As the waves crashed over the sides of the boat, they realized they were no longer in control of their life. And so they cried out for help to the One who could help.

Jesus Sleeping
While the disciples were freaking out, Jesus is sleeping. He slept because He had no worries. He knew who was in control. He was not scared of what the people on the other side of the island was going to think of Him. He wasn't worried about the religious leaders. He had no fear of death, He came to the earth to die. He slept with great peace and security.

I picture this scene playing out in this way. The disciples are scared, so they wake Jesus up with this thought: "How can you be sleeping? Why are you not afraid?" To which, Jesus replies, "Why are you?" Jesus has a way of putting things. He looks at the disciples and says, "Why are you afraid?" And then Jesus calms their fears in a way that amazes them and makes them think deeply about His personhood. When Jesus calms the storm (great storm to great calm), the man say, "What sort of man is this that even the winds and sea obey Him?"

Let's be very clear. The purpose of this miracle was to move the disciples to further levels of faith based upon understanding WHO Jesus was. His authority over nature was (is) not simply so He can flex His muscles of authority. It is meant to be a lesson on faith for His followers. And in the end of it all, it is not enough for us to respond to the power of Jesus like we would in watching the latest Superman movie. The point is that the marveling should move us to follow Him in deeper ways.

If you want to read my notes or listen to the sermon, you can find it HERE.

Friday, April 19, 2013

The Danger of Delaying by J. C. Ryle

One of the main points I tried to make in my message last Sunday was that we should resist the temptation of putting off till tomorrow to get right with God. To drive home my point, I gave several quotes from J. C. Ryle and his book, Thoughts for Young Men. From the first time I read this book, these thoughts have captured my attention. I hope they capture yours as well.

“Young man, it is appointed unto you once to die (Heb. 9:27); and however strong and healthy you may be now, the day of your death is perhaps very near. I see sickness in young people as well as old. I bury youthful corpses as well as aged. I read the names of persons no older than you in every graveyard . . . Are you thinking you will attend to these things tomorrow? Remember the words of wise King Solomon: ‘Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth’ (Proverbs 27:1) . . . Tomorrow is the devil’s day, but today is God’s. Satan cares not how spiritual your intentions may be, and how holy your resolutions, so long as they are fixed for tomorrow. Oh, give no place to the devil in this matter! Tell him, ‘No Satan! It shall be today: today!’" 
“Young man, do not be deceived. Do not think you can willfully serve your self and your pleasures in the beginning of life, and then go and serve God with ease at the end . . . It is a mockery to deal with God and your soul in such a fashion. It is an awful mockery to suppose you can give the flower of your strength to the world and the devil, and then put off the King of kings with the scraps and leftovers of your hearts, the wreck and remnant of your powers. It is an awful mockery, and you may find to your horror that the thing, in fact, cannot be done." 
"I venture to say you are counting on a late repentance. You do not know what you are doing. You are reckoning without God. Repentance and faith are the gifts of God, and gifts that He often withholds, when they have been long offered in vain. I grant you that true repentance is never too late, but I warn you at the same time, late repentance is seldom true. I grant you, one penitent thief was converted in his last hours, that no man might despair; but I warn you, only one was converted, that no man might presume. I grant you it is written, Jesus is ‘able to save to the uttermost those who come to God by Him’ (Heb. 7:25). But I warn you, it is also written by the same Spirit, ‘Because I have called, and you refused, I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your terror comes (Prov. 1:24, 26).” 
“Every day you are either getting nearer to God, or further off. Every year that you continue unrepentant and unconverted, the wall of division between you and heaven become higher and thicker, and the gulf to be crossed deeper and broader. Oh, I urge you, dread the hardening effect of constant lingering in sin! Now is the accepted time."

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Next Generation Leader by Andy Stanley

The past several years, I have enjoyed reading books on the subject of leadership. As I read them, I am often challenged to think through my (often poor) leadership style. That is sort of how I felt as I read through Next Generation Leader by Andy Stanley. While I was challenged on many aspect of my own leadership, it felt like I had read this before. Don't get me wrong, there are many practical things in this book that I found helpful. But as I read it, not much appeared revolutionary to me. It is clear that he has been influenced by many of the same leadership books I have read before. 

That doesn't mean this book did not have some good things to say about leadership. Let me point out a few of them that are found in this book, which is organized around five essentials: Competence, Courage, Clarity, Coaching, and Character.

In the first section on Competence, he describes that we all have a niche. There are some things we will be more gifted and competent to do than others. A good leader finds what they are most called and gifted to do and does that thing and does not allow his time to get challenged with the other things.

He describes that Courage is necessary for the leader because often they are the ones out in front. They are the ones seeing what is not there and trying to make it happen.

His section on Clarity is important and is one area that I have tried to work on more than any other in my leadership ministry. He is quick to point out that uncertainty is normal for the leader. But the leader is called to "bring clarity into the midst of the uncertainty" (86).

I was encouraged that Stanley encourages leaders to have Coaching in their life (someone in their life that they have invited in to help point out blind spots). This is the one area of this book that I plan on implementing more strategically. He rightly points out how most leaders respond to this area:
"There is something in many of us that resists being coached in the realm of leadership. We are willing to spend outrageous amounts of time and money perfecting our putts, serves, and swings. But when it comes to our leadership, we resist input. Maybe it's the way leaders are wired. Maybe it's pride. I don't know. But on more than one occasion I have interfaced with young leaders who had great potential but who were unteachable" (109).
The last section of the book on Character was particularly interesting. He rightly points out that there are many people who are great leaders who are not individuals of character. Character does not provide the platform for leadership, but it does make the person worthy to follow. He says,
"To become a leader worth following, you must be intentional about developing the inner man. You must invest in the health of your soul. Nobody plans to fail, especially leaders. But to ignore the condition of your soul is the equivalent of planning to fail" (153). 
This book is a book written by a pastor. So I can relate to many of his illustrations. My only wish is that he would have brought out more biblical examples or grounded his arguments for these leadership characteristics more profoundly from the text of the Bible. While it is a book written by a pastor, the book is not just a book about pastoral leadership. He does a good job of making it applicable for the leader in any industry. If you are looking for a good introductory book on leadership, Next Generation Leader will be worth your investment. If you have read many books on leadership, you may want to take a pass at this one.

I received a copy of Next Generation Leader by Andy Stanley from Multnomah Books for review.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Introduction to the Trinity

I just finished reading Delighting in the Trinity by Michael Reeves. For years, I have believed I lived and taught a very high view of God. After reading this book, I believe I still teach and think shallowly when it comes to God. I plan on reviewing the book very soon, but for now I wanted to share part of his conclusion to the book.
"In the early fourth century, Arius went for a precooked God, ready-baked in his mind. Ignoring the way, the truth and life, he defined God without the Son, and the fallout was catastrophic: without the Son, God cannot truly be a Father; thus alone, he is not truly love. Thus he can have no fellowship to share with us, no Son to bring us close, no Spirit through whom we might know him. Arius was left with a very thin gruel: a life of self-dependent effort under the all-seeing eye of his distant and loveless God. 
The tragedy is that we all think like Arius every day. We think of God without the Son. We think of 'God,' and not the Father of the Son. But from there it really doesn't take long before you find that you are just a whole lot more interesting than this 'God.' And could you but see yourself, you would notice that you are fast becoming like this 'God': all inward-looking and fruitless . . . However, starting with Jesus, Athanasius found himself with a God who could not have been more different from the God of Arius. It wasn't that he found himself with some extra small description of God ('the Trinity'): Athanasius had a God of love, a kind Father who draws us to share his eternal love and fellowship. 
The choice remains: Which God will we have? Which God will we proclaim? Without Jesus the Son, we cannot know that God is truly a loving Father. Without Jesus the Son, we cannot know him as our loving Father. But as Luther discovered, through Jesus we may know that God is a Father, and 'we may look into His fatherly heart and sense how boundlessly He loves us. That would warm our hearts, setting them aglow.' Yes it would, and more: it would bring about reformation" (129-130).

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Helpful Links to a Christian Perspective of the Boston Bombings

I was working outside almost all day yesterday, so I missed much of what happened in Boston. But as I watched the news last night, my heart went out to the people who are suffering under the loss of family, friends, and peace, and security. This morning, I noticed that several people have written some great articles on the events that unfolded yesterday. If you are looking for some good Christian perspective on how to deal with this tragedy, here are some stories that might be helpful. 

On Bombs and Boston by Aaron Armstrong

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Morning After: Jesus' Authority over Men (Matthew 8:18-22)

Jesus has the authority to demand our full devotion. Not part of our devotion, but all of it. That was the point of our sermon on Sunday. Jesus heals people, but then He calls people to follow Him in a radical way. That calling comes on the heals of a busy ministry. The popularity of Jesus had made it difficult to travel or get alone. And sometimes, Jesus wanted to go off by Himself. He wanted some peace and quiet. He wanted to pray. He wanted to be close to His closest followers.

This ministry of teaching and healing was very tiring. And so, we are told in verse 18 of Matthew 8 that Jesus intends to go to the other side (the implication is the other side of the Sea of Galilee). He was getting ready to jump into a boat when a teacher of the law approaches Jesus with the most promising offer. He tells Jesus that he would follow Him anywhere He goes.

It might seem like a promising offer, but in reality, it is an offer that flows from a Spirit of Arrogance. His offer comes off in this way: "Teacher, I have a great offer for you. It's your lucky day. I'm willing to be your understudy. I'm willing to follow you anywhere you go." He wants to be Jesus' sidekick. In response, Jesus informs Him that it is good that he is willing to go anywhere because they have no place to sleep tonight.

Probably as Jesus is responding to this man, another man comes up and tells Jesus that he is willing to submit to His Lordship, he just wants time to go bury his father first. Most people I have talked to see Jesus statement ("Let the dead bury the dead") to be very harsh and insensitive. But we have to understand what is going on in the text to fully grasp why Jesus said this. That phrase is often used to mean "let me get my inheritance." This man wanted to follow Jesus, but he comes with a Spirit of Delay. He wanted to enjoy a few more years of independence. He wanted to make sure his financial future was taken care of before he jumped into that boat with Jesus.

Jesus' response is not meant to be taken as a callous look at death. It is meant to be a wake up call to stop making excuses. Not many people I know think they will die this week. But the reality is that hundreds of thousands of people will die this week around the world. Jesus' words of not delaying are just as valid today as they were then. His desire is for us to follow today. Not tomorrow. Today.

If you want to read my notes or listen to the sermon, you can find it HERE

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Forgiveness Sermon Jam - Matt Chandler

Christian, my guess is that this will bless you at some level.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

This Week in the Blogosphere (April 13, 2013)

It has been almost a month since I have given a weekend wrap-up of some of the blogs or news stories I have read during the week. This week was too good to pass up. I am amazed each week as to the creativity and clarity of so many writers. I hope you take the time to read a few of these stories. They have impacted me in one way or another. I believe they will impact you as well. What was the favorite thing you read this past week? Any contributions to leave in the comment section?

Much has been said this past week about abortion and the horrific crimes of Gosnell. Because of that, this article is important to read. And it might be a bit too personal.

This is a very helpful round-up of many articles and links to books that deal with the subject of mental illness. This was thrust upon us last week when Rick Warren's son took his own life. You might want to bookmark this page.

Armstrong blogged his way through The Gospel Coalition Conference in Orlando this past week. He took the notes from the pre-conference and put them together in a free eBook. Check it out. You may also want to check out the rest of the conference sessions he blogged about. Good stuff.

Do you have a kindle? Do you like it? Are you looking for some good books at a decent price? Challies has brought some organization to help you towards that goal.

My friend finally finished his review of the "The Bible". I agree with his assessment. It was better than anticipated, but still left a lot to be desired. 

Friday, April 12, 2013

Abby Johnson's Testimony Concerning Planned Parenthood

I saw a link to Abby Johnson's story on Facebook on Wednesday. It made me sick. Literally, I was nauseous as I read her account of what happened as she helped with an abortion when she worked with Planned Parenthood. I know the story is old. Maybe I am just behind the game on this, but I wanted to share a bit from the story and also link to a video of her testimony. She writes . . .
"The cool air of the exam room left me feeling chilled. My eyes still glued to the image of this perfectly formed baby, I watched as a new image entered the video screen. The cannula -- a strawshaped instrument attached to the end of the suction tube -- had been inserted into the uterus and was nearing the baby's side. It looked like an invader on the screen, out of place. Wrong. It just looked wrong. 
My heart sped up. Time slowed. I didn't want to look, but I didn't want to stop looking either. I couldn't not watch. I was horrified, but fascinated at the same time, like a gawker slowing as he drives past some horrific automobile wreck -- not wanting to see a mangled body, but looking all the same."
The rest of the article details what happens next. Prepare yourself before you read it. I wouldn't doubt if you, like me, become sick to your stomach. Her video testimony is below.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Bad Parts of "Accidental Pharisees" by Larry Osborne

I have shared some thoughts the past two days on Larry Osborne's new book, Accidental Pharisees. My hope is that someone who reads this post will take these comments understanding what I have said the past two days. But nevertheless, I assume there will be some that will think this book is about me after reading this post. As I read the book, I felt I needed to point out a few of the books weaknesses as well as its strengths. This is the weaknesses post.

I hope people can see my heart as I write this. I am not trying to "go after" Osborne, but there are a few things I need to point out that I believe will help people understand not only this book, but also how to have healthy arguments.

First, Osborne Seems to Use the Obscure to Justify a Casual Christianity
Let me be clear with this. I do not think Osborne is advocating that people should seek a casual Christianity. I believe he desires people to full-heartedly follow Jesus with all they have. He just thinks it is okay if they don't. Or at least, we shouldn't question their Christianity if they don't.

The bulk of this book is based on the phrase "secret disciple" that the Apostle John uses of Joseph of Arimathea. He says,
"Frankly, if I came across a modern-day Joseph, I'd be more likely to call him a fraud and phony than a disciple. I might even use him as an example of everything that's wrong with the shallow and uncommitted Christianity of our day. Except for one small problem. Jesus didn't call him out, write him off, or tear him apart. He used him for his glory . . . he was a rich and secret follower, afraid of what he might lose, before he stepped forward to claim the body of Jesus" (35-36). 
But the point is that HE DID STEP FORWARD. God used him in a might way by stepping forward to care for the body of Jesus. As I read this, it came across with an "its okay to be a secret follower of Jesus." He is taking this one phrase in opposition to the countless texts by Jesus on what it means to be His follower. Jesus says to count the cost. He says that we must die to ourself. Take up our cross. Deny ourself. Be willing to give up your family. Over and over, Jesus articulates the radical call of what it means to follow Him.

And Osborne says that it is wrong to make that the standard because of one situation where someone is called a "secret disciple" who eventually does something radical? I would turn it around. Is there anyone that was a follower of Jesus that didn't at some point in their life do something that would have been deemed risky? Anyone? Joseph's story is one of someone who did publicly follow Jesus. And don't forget, we are talking months, maybe years in this story. Not decades or a lifetime.

This is just one example of many throughout the book. I would argue that it is not helpful theology to base an entire thought on a few obscure examples when the vast majority of evidence seems to be pointing the opposite direction.

Second, Osborne Seems to Have an Issue with David Platt, Francis Chan, and their Tribe
I am not trying to make controversy where there is none, but it sure seemed to me as I read that he is not favorable with the Platt/Chan tribe. I define this group as those who think a Christian should live a sold-out life for Christ. I believe I am discerning this accurately, especially when he describes the "New Legalism" in the churches today.
"No one wants to be called a Pharisee anymore. The word no longer connotes the idea of being different and separate. It now signifies someone who is self-righteous and hypocritical. So we've come up with new phrases to describe ourselves as more committed than most. We've coined words like radical, crazy, missional, gospel-centered, revolutionary, organic, and a host of other buzzwords to let everyone know that the our tribe is far more biblical, committed, and pleasing to the Lord than the deluded masses who fail to match up" (90).
It is hard to see this as anything other than a shot at people like Platt and Chan, among others. Beyond calling them the "New Legalism," this concept keeps coming up again and again through the book.
"A luxury car in the driveway or an expensive house is to a radical what cold beer in the refrigerator is to an old-school legalist. It's proof positive that your priorities are messed up" (92). 
"The poverty gospel also assails the American dream. It has no room for a God who blesses us with good things to enjoy. Instead God wants us to live as simply as possible so that we can give away as much as possible. They won't come right out and say it, but all you have to do is listen to their sermons and read their books, and it becomes clear that today's money police are quite sure that no true disciple would buy a big house, drive an expensive car, go on a fancy vacation, splurge on a nice restaurant, wear designer clothes, or attend a church with elaborate facilities" (186-187).
I am not trying to defend Platt, Chan, or anyone else associated with them. And it is not that I did not ever have any of those thoughts as I read Radical or any of their books. But I just can't get to where Osborne goes by calling it the "New Legalism." Never have I thought or felt as I read their material that they believe they are more "pleasing to the Lord than the deluded masses."

It seems as if Osborne writes angry. He seems ticked off by those that challenge Christians to rethink that the purpose of Christianity is not the American dream. After all, he did write that the poverty gospel goes after the American dream. I agree. It does. But where do we ever find that God has called us to pursue riches as our dream. Yes, I agree that God does bless some people with riches. And it is not sinful for them to have riches. It is not sinful to have a nice car or a larger house. But that should never be the dream of any Christian.

I read this book right after getting back from the Advance13 conference. It struck me as I was reading that Osborne spoke minutes before Platt spoke. I wish I would have been a fly in that green room. Because love hopes the best, I assume they were cordial and have talked through these issues. I just found it somewhat humorous as to the timing of their sessions.

Once again, I hope you take this post in light of the previous two. I think there are some very helpful things in this book that helped diagnose some attitudes in my heart. But at the end, I'm not sure I would fully recommend this book to many people. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Good Parts of "Accidental Pharisees" by Larry Osborne

I shared the basic premise of Larry Osborne's new book, Accidental Pharisees, yesterday. It is a book I struggled through as I read it, and for good reason. In many ways, I saw my life as a reflection of some of the basic concepts he shares in the book. It pains me to share these truths that I recognize about my own life. It pains me to realize how often I have failed, from my family to friends to church relationships. But these are realities that I have come to realize over the past five years and have tried to deal with them.

Let me say one more word before I get into these realities that Osborne does a great job of pointing out. I write this realizing I am completely responsible for my own actions. But these realities I have seen in my life are things that were taught to me by just about everyone who ever impacted my life. They might be more "caught" as opposed to "taught", but they have been present at different levels. And much of that has been filed under the banner of a "biblical philosophy of ministry." I am thankful for them in my life. My life would not be what it is today without them.

Saying that, let me share two ways I have noticed my life could potentially be on a trajectory towards becoming an "Accidental Pharisee."

First, I Lean towards Pointing Out the Negative Instead of Encouraging the Positives.
I don't know why, but I tend to be negative. I tend to never be satisfied with the spiritual growth I see in people. Or I should say, I used to. I do believe I have grown significantly in this area. I remember when I was a youth pastor, I was never satisfied with the growth of our students. I wanted them to get to be at "Z" and failed to celebrate their growth from "A" to "L." In my mind, they still were not where they needed to be. Maybe that was my perfectionist mindset, but it really hindered my ministry. I wish I could apologize to all those students. I wish I could go back to them and encourage them in their small steps of growth.

Osborne points out that we need to learn from how Paul began his message to the messed up church at Corinth:
"The first thing to notice about Paul's rebuke of the Corinthian church is the way he starts out. He begins with praise. Not contempt. Not critique. Not a scolding. Though there was plenty to rant about. He finds the good and praises it, sincerely and genuinely . . . most of our stinging rebukes have not a word of praise . . . We start with the bad and move on to the horrible. Our tone can be scornful as we ridicule, mock, and question the salvation of everyone who's at the back of the line . . . Paul wrote with a broken heart. He felt great distress. He shed many tears. He loved the Corinthians as if they were his own children. Yet many of the harsh critics that I hear and read today seem to have far more disgust than tears" (132-133).
That is what I want to be. I want to be more of an encourager of the positives, which hopefully would open the door for me to talk about the negatives.

Second, I Have Died on Many Hills.
When I was younger, I would have died on almost any hill of theology. That is what I was taught. That is what I saw modeled in just about everyone around me. If it is wrong, it is wrong and we shouldn't be associated with that person. That thought obviously assumes that we are right. We are saying they are wrong and we are right.

I remember when this first became a reality with me. I was having to shepherd a friend who was being removed from teaching at his church because of what I would call a secondary theological issue. He did not respond correctly, but I'm not sure the leaders of the church did either. It was a hill for them. But it started me thinking about what hills I would die on, or should die on. From that moment, the list started to shrink.

Don't get me wrong, there are many hills I would die on today. But the older I get, the smaller the list becomes. I often joke now that there are some areas of doctrine I would give my life for; there are some I would give a limb for; and there are some I wouldn't give a friends limb for. Osborne makes the connection in this way.
"We become accidental Pharisees when we lay down boundary markers that are narrower than the ones laid down by Jesus and then treat people who line up on the wrong side of our markers as if they were spiritual imposters or enemies of the Lord. Our goal may be to protect the flock. But boundary markers that are narrower than the ones Jesus laid down don't protect the flock; they divide the flock. They so discord among brothers, something God says he's not too fond of. They also result in a rash of friendly fire" (142-143).
I do realize that for some of my more hard core friends, this is going to be a turn-off. It might even put me on the other side of the battlefield with them. I hope I never receive that sort of friendly fire that could come as a result of this. I have learned, and hope to continue to learn, to work with those that are not 100% in line with me doctrinally. I am not settling, but I also know that I can learn from them.

Those are just two ways in which this book really hit home with me. But I cannot leave the impression that everything in this book was helpful. That is what I will share tomorrow. At the risk of acting like an "Accidental Pharisee", I will share a few of the bad things I found in the book.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

End It Movement

There is a movement going on right now. Am movement to end slavery. Maybe you did not know, but April 9th is the day that has been set aside to shine a light on the problem of slavery in our world. You can find out information about this movement at www.enditmovement.com. This is what they have to say:
"Slavery is wrong. You know it. We know it. As a country, we've officially known it since 186. But here's something you might not know -- slavery still exists. We want every man, woman and child to know that there are 27 million men, women and children, just like them, living in the shadows. In brothels. In factories. In quarries. Working as slaves. In 161 countries. Including our own. We are here to shine a light on slavery. No more bondage. No more sex trafficking. No more child laborers. No more, starting now."
For more information, watch this video or check out their website. It is inconceivable at being a Christian and not value human life.  

Accidental Pharisees by Larry Osborne

There have been few times in my life in which I have been as torn in reading a book as I was when I read Larry Osborne's new book, Accidental Pharisees. On the one had, I completely agree with his premise. His calling to guard our hearts against thinking we have everything all perfect came through loud and clear. But on the other hand, I completely disagree with his applications in the life of the Christian. I was torn so much that I feel the best way to express my thoughts is to give a short review of the book today, but then spend the next two days explaining in more detail why I agreed and disagreed at the same time as I read this book.

The Book's Premise
In this book, Osborne goes after the religious elite, or at least those people who act as if they have everything together. He describes this genre of people, the Accidental Pharisees, in this way:
"People like you and me who, despite the best intentions and a desire to honor God, unwittingly end up pursuing an overzealous model of faith that sabotages the work of the Lord we think we're serving" (17).
He begins the book by arguing that in our culture, a pharisee is a really bad term. But in first century Judaism, it was a high honor. It was not that these people were trying to be religiously cold. They were totally committed to God's Word. They were completely trying, as best as they could, to be faithful to the Scriptures.
"They were zealous for God, completely committed to their faith. They were theologically astute, masters of the biblical texts. They fastidiously obeyed even the most obscure commands. They even made up extra rules just in case they were missing anything. Their embrace of spiritual disciplines was second to none" (24). 
These men were spiritually impressive. But we only think of them for as they were exposed by Jesus. His warning in this book is that the overzealous Christian might be on that same sort of trajectory in their faith. We have blind spots that might just be leading us to become an Accidental Pharisee.

The poster child he argues stands against the "new legalism" of the Christian church today is Joseph of Arimathea. We are told his story throughout the gospel accounts, but there is one phrase that he points to as an evidence that we need to be more cautious in our high calling to surrender to the gospel. Joseph is called a "secret disciple" (John 19:38-42). This thought gives him warning:
"It makes me hesitant to call out, write off, or tear apart those who struggle with full devotion and reckless abandonment. Who am I to blast a 'secret disciple' as unworthy if Jesus didn't? Who am I to write off the not-yet-fully-committed if Jesus didn't? Who am I to say that God can't use the kind of people he actually used?" (36-37).
That is the basic premise of the book. His goal is to convince people not to think too narrowly on what it means to follow Jesus. Now, at this point, I will refer to what I wrote earlier. There are some good things and some bad things with this thought. I am really trying to be cautious here. For in many ways, he lays down the gauntlet that to go after or call out those who are fellow Christians might be a sign that you are an "Accidental Pharisee." It is almost as if he played his ace of spades on the subject of pride.

But I will risk it. I will share tomorrow why there are things in this book that I greatly appreciated. I think it is much needed in our culture, especially for me. But then on Thursday, I want to share the aspects of this book that really bothered me. I just hope as I do it, he does not label me a pharisee.

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

Monday, April 8, 2013

The Morning After: Jesus' Authority over Disease (Matthew 8:1-17)

I started a new series yesterday as we jumped back into the book of Matthew. At the end of the Sermon on the Mount, we are told the people were astonished at the teaching of Jesus. His teaching was filled with a kind of authority they had never heard before. When He came down from the mountain, we are told that his reputation was growing as great crowds followed Him. It was at this time that Jesus demonstrates that it was not just His teaching that was authoritative, but He was authoritative over all things.

In Matthew 8:1-17, Jesus demonstrates that authority by healing three unlikely people: A leper, a gentile, and a woman. All three of these people would have been considered outsiders to a Jewish man.

Jesus Heals A Leper
Leprosy was a very serious condition in biblical times. So much so that those with the disease were often referred to as the "walking dead." Not only was it an excruciating disease on the body, it also affected the soul as the people were isolated (Leviticus 13:45-46). Despite this public rejection, this man approaches Jesus and says, "Lord, if you will, you can make me clean." He came to Jesus knowing that Jesus had the authority to heal him. His point was not whether Jesus could, but whether Jesus would. Jesus responded by touching the man and healing him. The touch affirmed how much Jesus cared for the man.

Jesus Heals A Gentile's Servant
In Capernaum, a centurion approached Jesus to inform Him that his servant was paralyzed and suffering terribly (Luke says he was near death). Just like the leper, this man never asks Jesus to do anything. He simply informs Jesus of his situation. The only explanation I can give for why these two do not beg Jesus to heal them is that they felt so much like an outsider that they did not want to presume that Jesus wanted to help.

After Jesus offered to go to the man's house to help, the soldier acknowledged that Jesus had the authority to heal from a distance. This was not just a faith in Jesus' ability to heal, but it was an affirmation that he understood Jesus came with the authority of God. He understood the authority of Jesus when most in Israel didn't. In response, Jesus heals the man's servant.

Jesus Heals Peter's Mother-in-Law
The first thing we have to acknowledge here is that Peter was married. He was originally from Bethsaida and probably moved the family to Capernaum, which was the ministry home of Jesus, in His early days. His mother-in-law was with them and was at home with a great fever. She was near death. Jesus enters and heals her so effectively that she gets up and serves Him.

What's the Point?
Are these miracles simply about the compassion for people who are struggling with some sort of disease? Yes and no. Yes, Jesus was trying to alleviate the pain and suffering that people went through. But ultimately, these miracles were to point to something greater. They were to point the people to a time and place when there would no longer be sickness. That is why Matthew quotes Isaiah 53:4 in verse 17. There are obviously practical benefits to the atonement of Jesus Christ, and Jesus often does heal people of their sickness. But the ultimate physical fulfillment of the atonement is after we die or when He returns. It is eternal, not temporal. There will be a time when Jesus will show His ultimate authority over sickness and disease. But until then, there are four things we can do.

1. Believe that Jesus has the authority to heal.
2. Make our requests made known to Him.
3. Trust His grace to get through our day.
4. Long for the day when all sickness will be removed.

If you want to read my notes or see the study guide, you can find them HERE (there was a glitch in the recording, so unfortunately, no audio of this sermon is available).

Friday, April 5, 2013

John Piper's Farewell Sermon

Last weekend was John Piper's last weekend as the Senior Pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church. This was his final message. While I was never a part of this church, I did visit on Easter Sunday, 1999. I was overwhelmed by the passion and joy for the Lord that came from everyone we met; from the worship team to the preaching. I will never forget that visit.

Thank you Dr. Piper for fighting for the joy of God's people. As you leave this post, may your ministry become even more passionate for the glory of God for the good and joy of His people.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Authority of Jesus Christ

I shared yesterday over at our church blog that I am starting a new preaching series at our church this Sunday. We will continue a series through the book of Matthew as we enter a 12-week series on chapters 8-10. The theme I am going to highlight as we walk through this section of Scripture is the Authority of Jesus Christ. His ministry is in full swing and He flexes his muscles of authority for everyone to see.

As Matthew is progressing through his gospel, he spent chapters 5-7 on the Sermon on the Mount. This was the greatest sermon ever preached by the greatest preacher who ever lived. And we see that the people responded to his message in a very particular way. 
"And when Jesus finished these saying, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes" (Matt. 7:28-29).
Jesus finishes the Sermon on the Mount and the people respond in awe to His teaching ministry. They know there is a distinct difference between Him and their normal teachers. His teaching was authoritative. William Hendriksen, in his commentary on Matthew, shares six ways in which Jesus' teaching was different from the teaching of the average scribes of the day.
  1. Jesus spoke with truth while the average scribe was marked with corrupt and evasive reasoning.
  2. Jesus presented matters of great significance, matters of life, death, and eternity while the average scribe wasted time on trivial matters.
  3. Jesus was systematic in his preaching while the average scribe rambled on and on.
  4. Jesus excited curiosity by making generous use of illustrations and examples while the average scribe was dry and boring.
  5. Jesus spoke out of a love for men while the average scribe lacked love for mankind.
  6. Jesus spoke with authority because His message came from the heart of the Father while the average scribe borrowed from fallible sources...other scribes.
If Hendriksen is correct, and I think he is, then there is no doubt why people were drawn to his authoritative message. But there is something else. When he steps off that mountain and begins to interact with people, Jesus acts with authority. He heals people. He calls people to action. He is authoritative over demons. He even is authoritative over death. 

His authority is so much greater than anything else this world has ever seen for He is the Creator come to earth. This is what we see in Matthew 8-10 and is the reason why I am so excited for studying this section of Scripture with our church over the next several months. May we all fall on our knees at the King of all kings. May we humbly submit to the One who is the Lord of all lords.