Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Bring Your Nothing by Shane & Shane

It is no secret on here that I really like the music of Shane & Shane. I love their harmonies. I love how they play the guitar. But mostly, I love their lyrics. The title song off of their new album, Bring Your Nothing, emphasizes why I love their lyrics. They are so biblical. They capture the gospel so clearly. Watch as they give some background to the song, and then listen to the entire song, paying close attention to the words they sing.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Chasing Francis by Ian Morgan Cron

I read very few fiction books. But when I go on vacation, I tend to take at least one with me to stretch my thinking. The book I chose to take this year was Chasing Francis by Ian Morgan Cron. I wanted to read this book for two reasons. First, I really enjoy the writing style of Cron (THIS is another book I enjoyed). Second, the topic is intriguing to me. 

Chasing Francis is a fictional tale about a pastor of a mega church in the New England area who lost his faith. He just couldn't believe that God would do some of the things He did. "Doing Church" became so commercialized that he felt there was no longer any relationship with God. In response, he was asked to leave by the leaders of his church and went on a pilgrimage to find himself and found God through the life of St. Francis of Assisi in Italy. 

[Let me make one thing clear. This topic intrigues me not because I am about to lose my faith. But it interests me because I have had many conversations with pastors in the past and present who are struggling with their relationship with God. Pastoral ministry is such a dangerous profession.]

I was interested in this book . . . until I was a few chapters into the book. I understood the premise, that this pastor was going to interact with some of the teachings of Francis of Assisi, but what I didn't realize was that his life would end up becoming a weird combination of the emergent church meets Roman Catholicism. Truth was stripped of any meaning. This pastor could no longer be certain of what the Bible really means. Truth cannot be fully understood or known. I believe this book will do more harm for the cause of Christ than good. Even in making that statement, I assume Cron might put me on the same journey as this pastor, before meeting Francis.

And why does this pastor need to meet Francis in order to understand God? I get that God has given teachers to the church to help us understand truth. I certainly do not want to discount how those in church history have helped us on our path. There are many who certainly have helped me. But we do not need another mediator, we have Jesus.  

The one thing I knew about St. Francis of Assisi going into this book was that he is often credited with the statement, "Preach the gospel and if necessary use words." He may or may not have said it, but after reading this book, it certainly sounds like something he would have said. In one of the many teaching moments of this book, Cron describes Francis in these terms:
"Francis was more than an entertaining street preacher. He didn't want to win people to faith through theological arguments or by reasoning with them. His way of evangelizing people was through the example of his own life. That's what gave his simple words so much gravity and impact. His life was his theology. He once said, 'It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching.' He taught the friars that preach the good news was useless unless they were the good news. 'Preach as you go!' was one of his favorite sayings" (150).
I was greatly disappointed that the gospel message was not found in this book. This pastor found Jesus in the experience of Catholicism. Towards the end of his journey in Italy, he was deeply impacted as he took the Eucharist for the first time. I can just imagine what Martin Luther would be thinking if he were to read this book. He would probably be nailing a few more thesis to Cron's door.

While I still enjoy the writing style of Cron, this book just doesn't do it for me. It diminishes the fact that we can know for certain whether we are saved or not (1 John 5:13). And it blurs the lines between justification by faith or works. I just cannot get behind it at all.

I received a copy of Chasing Francis by Ian Morgan Cron by Zondervan Publishers for review.

Monday, July 29, 2013

The Morning After: Is God Really Good (Psalm 73)

It was good to be back at Cornerstone yesterday after a few weeks away with the family. This picture does not necessarily represent the beach that our family went to, but we did spend some time on the beach. My guess is that most people would think that spending time on a beach like this would be a really good thing. The Christian might even give God the credit for such a beautiful beach and water by saying that God is indeed good. But what if it rained the entire time? What if something tragic happened, like a shark showed up in the water? Is God still good when things do not go the way you think it should go?

That was the point of Psalm 73 that I preached on yesterday. Asaph, the author of this Psalm, was confused. He witnessed that wicked people were prospering and he wasn't. He just did not understand why God would allow that to happen. He was doing everything right. He was doing what he was supposed to do. And yet, the people that seemed to get God's blessings were those that were not following God.

I'm sure you have been there. I know I have been. What I love about Psalm 73 is that Asaph does not hide behind any spiritual facade, that everything is okay. He explains that his feet almost slipped, he almost lost his faith because he was jealous and didn't understand what was happening around him. He was having a moment of religious crisis. But even in this moment, he shows what it was that got him out of the tailspin.

The key for him was to get a new perspective. He widened the zoom on the camera and was able to see the forest instead of his tree. He stepped outside of his situation and looked at things from an eternal perspective instead of a temporal one. And that was when he saw that God is indeed good to those that love Him. Those that do not love God end up in ruin. This put a new perspective of treasures into the heart of Asaph.

"Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever." (vs. 25-26)

Jesus Christ, as being the means to having a relationship with God, is well worth desiring. There is nothing that compares to Him. That means, that if we have Jesus our life cannot fall apart. It doesn't matter how much food or work we have. It doesn't matter if it rains on vacation. Those things are just trivial compared to His greatness.

Jesus is the Eternal One, the Creator, our Sustainer, the Redeemer, our Sacrifice, the Reconciler, Intercessor, Perfect Example, Overcomer of Death, Returner, and Sovereign. He is Holy, Righteous, Loving, Gracious, and Savior. The list can continue on and on, and in comparison to that, our world has nothing to offer. God's goodness is ultimately seen in the fact that Jesus has come to remedy our standing before God. Everything else is nothing. Nothing.

If you want to read my notes or listen to the message, you can find them HERE.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Ministry Quiz #8: Evangelism

I am returning to the office today from about a week and a half of vacation. During my vacation, I tried to post questions on the blog that have to do with the Christian life and ministry. My purpose in these questions was to try to have you evaluate your heart as to how you are doing in your Christian life and ministry to others. The seven topics I have covered so far are Love, Sin, Attitude, Relationships, Truth, Holiness, and Joy. This last question has to do with evangelism.

Evangelism is the Christian term for sharing the gospel with people who do not believe in Jesus. It is making the gospel message vocal. It is telling and explaining the truth of Jesus to those that do not know who He is. But this question I have today has more to do with our attitude than it does with what we are doing. Here's the question:

Do I Have A Burden For The Lost?

I am not asking if you have shared the gospel with someone recently. What I am trying to ask is whether you have a burden for lost people. Do you look at lost people and say, "My heart breaks for you; my soul is in anguish because of your lack of repentance?" Are you hurting inside because of your friends that do not know Jesus? Are you afraid that if they died tonight, they would spend eternity away from Christ? Do you have compassion on the lost the way Jesus did? Do you pray for your lost friends? I mean, really pray for them?

Are you more concerned today for lost people than you were a year ago? When something happens in your life and you become excited about sharing the gospel, does it stick? Or is it just a passing fad? It is my prayer for my life that my heart gets more sensitive as the years go by, not more complacent. I hope your prayer request is the same.

So, how did you do? Eight topics; Eight questions. I hope they were helpful for you to evaluate your heart of ministry in your Christian life. 

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Ministry Quiz #7: Joy

Over the past week I have been attempting to ask questions that were once asked of me by a close friend of mine. These are questions that have to do with the Christian life. I have turned them into a short quiz, asking you to evaluate your heart in these items. I have already covered the topics of love, sin, attitude, relationships, truth, and holiness. Today's question has to do with JOY.

Joy is one of those biblical characteristics that is hard to define, but you know it when you see it. It has to do with happiness, but not a happiness that is based on external things in life. It is something that is deep-rooted in a person's life. It probably manifests itself in a desire for God instead of a duty for God. This leads me to this very simple question:

Do I Experience Joy?

Do you know what it is? Have you experienced it? Are you experiencing it? The wisest man to ever live, outside of Jesus, King Solomon once said that "to the one who pleases him, God has given wisdom, and knowledge and joy" (Ecclesiastes 2:26). Paul tells us in Galatians that joy is a fruit of the Spirit. Yet, what I find interesting is that countless Christians around the world believe Christianity should be somber and serious and self-disciplined to the point of pain. But God does not desire us to do thing out of a dutiful attitude, but because of the joy in our heart. Finally, Jeremiah said that when he found the words of God, he ate them and they became a joy and delight to his heart (Jeremiah 15:16). 

Are you happy about being in Christ? Does it bring fulfillment in your life? Is there satisfaction there that is not brought about by other things? Or does the Christian life seem to you to be one of anything but joy? How would you grade yourself on your level of joy in the Christian life?

Monday, July 22, 2013

Ministry Quiz #6: Holiness

Last week, I started sharing a list of questions that someone once asked me. I have turned these questions into a quiz to help evaluate your Christian ministry. I have already asked questions relating to love, sin, attitude, relationship, and truth. There are three more questions that I plan on sharing this week. The question I want to address today has to do with holiness. Here's the question:

Do I Pursue Holiness?

The Christian is called to pursue holiness. It really is that simple. The Christian is called to leave the things of the earth and run to the things of God.
"Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, 'You shall be holy, for I am holy'" (1 Peter 1:13-16).
To be holy means to be separated. It means to be set apart. In this context, it means that we are set apart for the things of God instead of the things of the world. It is leaving our sinful flesh to set our mind on the things of God. But I do not want to pretend that this is easy. Even this morning, I have had several holiness opportunities. These are times when I was forced to either run to Jesus and respond well or pursue my own flesh.

What about you? Does your pursuit of holiness affect the way you live your life? Do you think about it when you wake up in the morning? Do you think about it as you are at school or work? Are you willing to evaluate your activities, all of your goals and plans in light of the statement, "I am doing this to please God."

One of my favorite books of all time is Jerry Bridges, The Pursuit of Holiness. It is a book that has impacted the way I view my desires to pursue holiness. He says,
"When the Holy Spirit comes into our lives at our salvation, He comes to make us holy in practice. If there is not, then, at least a yearning in our hearts to live a holy life pleasing to God, we need to seriously question whether our faith in Christ is genuine. It is true that this desire for holiness may by only a spark at the beginning. But that spark should grow till it becomes a flame -- a desire to live a life wholly pleasing to God. True salvation brings with it a desire to be made holy. When God saves us through Christ, He not only saves us from the penalty of sin, but also from its dominion" (33-34).
Are you pursuing holiness? Does it consume your thinking? My prayer is that for my life is that each day, I grow in some aspect of my holiness. I pray you do as well.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Story of Julie Manning

Do you like good stories of people's suffering and how they handle it? Then watch this video of Julie Manning and how her family has coped with a serious heart condition. 

Friday, July 19, 2013

Ministry Quiz #5: Truth

This week while I am on vacation, I am going through an old list of questions that someone once asked me. I have turned them into a quiz to help evaluate your Christian ministry. I have already asked questions relating to love, sin, attitude, and relationships. Today's fifth question has to do with Truth.

Jesus is referred to as the Truth in John 14:6. The Bible is called the Truth in John 17:17. The Holy Spirit is called the Spirit of Truth in John 16:13. It is obvious that the Bible has a lot to say about the Truth of God. This leads us to the next question in our list:

What Do I Do With The Truth?

Truth is getting a bad name these days. It seems to me that more and more people are claiming there is no such thing as truth. Or maybe even worse yet, that there is truth, but you are extremely arrogant for saying that you know it. In opposition to all of this, the Apostle Paul was very clear to Timothy that the church was to be the place where truth was upheld. 
"I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth" (1 Timothy 3:14-15).
It is the job of every believer individually and then corporately to uphold the Truth of God. I remember listening one time to John MacArthur as he gave a list of what every Christian should do with the Truth of God.

     1.  Believe the Truth
     2.  Listen to the Truth
     3.  Memorize the Truth
     4.  Meditate on the Truth
     5.  Study the Truth
     6.  Obey the Truth
     7.  Defend the Truth
     8.  Proclaim the Truth

I suppose that list by MacArthur could make for a more detailed study in the future. But for now, do you believe the truth of God? Do you put yourself in situations where you are learning and listening to it? Do you memorize it? Do you meditate on it or does it just go in one ear and out the other? Do you study it? Are you quick to obey it? Do you defend it and then proclaim it?

Authentic ministry does not happen without Truth. I just hope that it is something that has so impacted you that you are moved by it in deep ways.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Ministry Quiz #4: Relationships

I am working through a list of eight topics about the Christian life and ministry. I am posing these topics in the form of a quiz, asking all of us to evaluate how we are doing in each of these topics. So far, I have posted the first three topics for evaluation: Love, Sin, and Attitude. Today I want to address the next topic at hand: Relationships.

The thought of humans being created to be relational seems to be gaining momentum amongst Christendom. But it needs to be talked about more and more. We were created to long for human relationships. But even beyond that, Jesus often talked of a relationship that exists that is even stronger than family relationships. It is the relationship among Christians. But if we were honest, many of us hardly experience that sort of deep relationship with other Christians. They often can become some of the hardest relationships we face. This leads me to the next question in our quiz:

Do I Love Other Christians?

Jesus was very clear in His instructions to the disciples. The way in which people will know that we are His followers is by loving each other (John 13:34-35). Not by going to church. Not by giving lots of money. Not by reading the Bible. Of course, all of those things are important, but the way in which we display that we are followers of Jesus is by our love for other Christians. The Apostle John put it very simply in his first epistle.
"Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another" (1 John 4:7-11).
Later on in that chapter, John continues his thoughts on love . . .
"If anyone says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother" (1 John 4:20-21).
If you say that you love God and yet do not love that which you can see, you prove yourself to be a liar. That is one reason why I dislike all of the "I love Jesus but not the church" statements. For Jesus, it is clear. If you say you love Him, you prove it by loving others who love Him. What specifically does this mean?

It means that you care for other Christians. It means that you put their desires and longings as more important than yours. It means that 1 Corinthians 13 means something beyond a poem to be read at a wedding. It means that you are patient with other Christians. It means you are kind to them. It means you are not jealous of them. And so on . . .

This is always a tough one for me to answer, so maybe it will help you to put it in comparison to growth. Do you feel as though your love for other Christians has grown in the last year? Two years? I hope it has.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Ministry Quiz #3: Attitude

I am posting some questions on the blog this week and next that have to do with our Christian life and ministry. I have already asked a question about our view of love of things and then our thoughts concerning sin. This morning, I want to get to the heart of our attitude in different situations and with different people. Here's the question:

Is My Attitude Like Jesus?

What is your attitude like at home, work, school, or church? Is your attitude different towards different people? Do you act differently when you are at different places? How do you respond when you are pressed? 

I have noticed this being a parent. It is really easy for my children to have great attitudes when they are involved with other people and then really struggle with their attitude when it comes to their siblings. As I have coached many different youth league sports teams, I have noticed how easy it is for kids to develop bad attitudes based on how they play, what the ref calls, and so on.

But here's the deal. The Christian has been called to have the attitude like Jesus Christ. His attitude was one of service and giving. His attitude was for others. It was selfless, not selfish. It was pouring out, not taking in. That is the attitude of the one following Jesus. The Apostle Paul says it plainly in the book of Philippians:
"Have this mind [attitude] among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross." (Philippians 2:5-8)
When I talk about attitude, what I am trying to diagnose is the real you. Do you put on a front at church and then act differently towards people at work or school? Are you a hypocrite? That can be defined in two ways. One is saying that everything is okay when it really is not. It is hiding your sin from your Christian friends. But there is another way to be a hypocrite. It is hiding your faith from your non-Christian friends. Hypocrisy displays that your attitude is not like that of Jesus. 

When we tell our children to "check their attitude" there is probably something for us to learn as well.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Ministry Quiz #2: Sin

I am taking time while on vacation to post some expanded questions relating to the Christian life and ministry. Yesterday, I asked a question about love, specifically, whether our love is focused on eternal or earthly things. Today, I want to ask a question about sin. Yes, sin. This is a question that gets to the heart of how we view any offense against a holy God. It tries to identify what we think about when we do those things that offend God. And it is a question that will drastically affect the way we relate to others in ministry. Here's the question:

Do I hate sin?

I know that seems simple. It sounds like a trick question. For the Christian knows that they are to hate sin. But this question is not about whether you know you are to hate it. The question is, do you?

The second beatitude states, "blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted" (Matthew 5:4). This is not in reference to mourning over the loss of a loved one or a sad movie. In the context, it is the mourning over those things that offend God. So, do you? When was the last time you mourned over your gossip? When have you weeped over your sexually perverse thoughts? Do you mourn over your sin?

My guess is that you see people sin all the time. You have read about the sins of people in the Bible, and witnessed the consequences to their sins. But then you still sin. Why? Because you do not hate it. I am certain there are some sins you do hate. You hate adultery. You hate murder. You hate homosexuality. But hatred of sin does not mean you get to pick and choose which sins you dislike. It means you hate all sins.

I often treat sin like I treat potatoes. I hate potatoes. I despise them. It is partly the texture and partly the taste, but I can't stand them. They can be served baked, mashed, twice-baked, scalloped . . . it doesn't matter, I hate them. Except when you cut them really thin and deep fry them. Then it is easy to put away a bag of chips or even some McDonald's fries (if they really are potatoes). I say I hate potatoes, but in reality, I hate most potatoes. 

I do the same thing with sin, and my guess is you do as well. You say that you hate sin, but there are some sins that are more than okay for you. You probably even revel in them. The thoughts of the Psalmist is completely lost on you (and me): "Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way" (Psalm 119:104).

But it is even deeper than this. The hatred of sin means that you hate the sins in others. The Psalmist also says, "No one who practices deceit shall dwell in my house; no one who utters lies shall continue before my eyes" (Psalm 101:7). A true hatred of sin affects who you associate with in life. It impacts your relationships. 

To love sin is worse than to commit it. In the Valley of Vision, there is a quote in one of the prayers that has always stuck with me. It gets to the reason why hatred of sin is so important. 
"Let me never forget that the heinousness of sin lies not so much in the nature of the sin committed, as in the greatness of the person sinned against."
That person is God! You think it is just an innocent moment of unthankfulness, but in reality, it is a slap in the face of a sovereign God. It is not just a moment of indiscretion of lust, it is an offense against the One who created male and female. It is not just a moment of anger that will go away, it is an opposition against the only good and true One.

It is my prayer in my life that I will grow deeper and deeper in love with Christ and deeper and deeper in hatred of sin. What about you?

Monday, July 15, 2013

Ministry Quiz #1: Love

I am currently on vacation, trying to take some time to relax with my family. As I was thinking about my time away, I wanted to share something valuable on my blog. As I was thinking, I quickly thought back to several questions about ministry I was asked. I have often turned these questions into a little quiz. I have adapted it from time to time and shared it in different forms with many people (HERE is one example). Over the next two weeks, I wanted to expand the quiz beyond a simple question. I want to ask it in detail, seeing how it relates to how we view ourself and ministry.

The first question has to do with love. It gets to the heart of our perspective of what is the most important thing in our life. This question tries to diagnose what is most important to us. That which is most important is probably our greatest desire and will greatly affect how we view other people. Here's the question:

Do I love earthy or heavenly things?

What is it that moves you? What are you motivated by? Are you motivated by accumulating things that are going to last for 10 years or 10 million years? This is the first question to diagnose your heart for ministry because it is the one that will eat away at your spiritual life more than anything else. You sin because you are focused on earthly things. And odds are that you (we) love earthly things much more than what you say you actually do.
"Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world--the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life--is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever." (1 John 2:15-17) 
"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Matthew 6:19-21)
What can be said about these passages? They are fairly self explanatory. Do you love and pursue the things of this earth or the things of eternity? What captures your affections more? Do you love accumulating more and more things because you think that will bring about your happiness? Is your happiness ultimately found in the second home and the additional car or the new video game system? Please do not misunderstand me. I do not think it is wrong to have the latest video game system or a new car, or even a second home. What I am asking is whether the pursuits of these things have affected you to the degree that you no longer are pursuing God or ministry for Him.

Ever since the creation of the world, this has been a tension. Read Romans 1 and you will discover that it is natural for people to become tempted to worship the creation instead of the Creator. But when you pursue the things of the world over the things of God, you are saying that this whole thing is more about you being worthy to be worshipped and not God. What you are saying is that everything is ultimately not about God, but about something in you. But as you know, people (and every other created thing) make for bad gods.

How do you do on this first question? Stay tuned for tomorrow as we dive a bit deeper into the question of sin.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Marks of a Faithful & Effective Church by J. D. Greear

We are on vacation in North Carolina this week. Whenever we are on vacation, I try to find a place for our family to go worship at a different church. Since we are driving from Winston-Salem to Carolina Beach today, I knew we would pass somewhat close to Raleigh-Durham. And so I wanted to take the opportunity to visit Summit Church, where J. D. Greear is the Lead Pastor.

My first interaction with Greear was at the Advance Conference that took place in his city back in March. I was impacted by his message at that conference in a number of ways. As we visit their church today, I am hoping that he will be there. I have looked around on their website hoping to find out if he will be preaching this morning or not, but even if he is not, it will be good to worship with their church family this morning. 

I have posted the video of his message from the Advance Conference. If you are a pastor or ministry leader, I really hope you will watch this sermon. If you are someone that attends a church, I hope you would take the time to watch it as well, as this message speaks to the marching orders of all Christians.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

At Your Name by Phil Wickham

From time to time, I like to share new songs we are singing at our church. At Your Name by Phil Wickham has become one of my favorites in the last month. There are two videos below. The first one is Wickham sharing the story behind the song. The second one contains the lyrics and music of the entire song. This song is great!

Friday, July 12, 2013

My Goals for Vacation

This morning we are leaving for vacation. For most people, this is one of the most exciting times of their year. It is a time to get away from work; away from the regular pressures of life; away from stress; and away with the family. For most people, it is something that is looked forward to throughout the year. For most people, it is what they work the rest of the year for. It's vacation.

I'm not most people!

Don't get me wrong. I am very much looking forward to driving down to North Carolina today. We will be staying with some family in Winston-Salem for a few days and then heading on over to Carolina Beach. This will be the first time that my children will have the opportunity to swim in the ocean. That's exciting. We will spend about a week there and then make our way back to Winston-Salem for a few days before coming back to Ohio. It should be a good time.

But if I am honest, there is a bit of me that is hesitant when it comes to vacations. I'm not very good at them. This is really going to sound strange to most of you, but I do not always enjoy getting away from the office. There certainly are things I am ready for a break from. And while I say that I am looking forward to getting away with the family, I generally get bored really fast when I have nothing to do. I  sort of thrive when it is pressured situations. I feel productive. And I certainly like structure. But not many of those things are found on vacations. I know, call me weird. I am strange.

But even with these weird thoughts, I am going to do my best this year to relax and have fun with the family. In order to do this, I have come up with a few goals for vacation. Here goes.
  1. Spend quality time in conversation with my wife as we drive a couple thousand miles.
  2. Laugh with my children.
  3. Read some genre of books that I normally wouldn't read.
  4. Sleep in past 8 a.m. one day.
  5. Golf
  6. Get only a very light sunburn.
  7. Share the gospel at least once.
  8. Play some basketball and baseball with the kids.
  9. Turn off my email and cell phone for long periods of time.
  10. Listen to several sermons by some of my favorite preachers.
  11. Read the book of Hebrews several times.
  12. Eat some good Carolina barbecue.
I don't know if I will accomplish these things. I just hope and pray that I could shut off my mind from the normal pressures of pastoral ministry for a few days to enjoy my family. I sure would appreciate your prayers in that regard. 

But don't turn away from the blog as I do have some pretty cool things scheduled to post over the next two weeks. You are not going to want to miss it.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

What I'm Reading...From the Back Cover (July '13)

I am always reading a book or two (or three, etc...). From time to time, I like to share a list of the books that I am making my way through. Maybe you might be interested to read them as well. Here are the books currently on my "to read" list for the next several weeks and what the publishers have to say about these books from the back cover (or inside jacket cover). These are all books I hope to finish on my vacation these next couple weeks.

Fully Alive by Dr. Larry Crabb
Discover who you were truly meant to be and how you were truly meant to live. Gender roles have been the subject of much debate and confusion over the last several decades. What is expected of a man? What is expected of a woman? And where do those expectations come from? But the bible is clear--God created men and women to be unique, and He did so for a purpose. In Fully Alive, author and psychologist Dr. Larry Crabb offers a life-changing, biblically dependent understanding of gender uniqueness. He shows you how to appreciate and exhibit your God-given femininity or masculinity to reveal God's loving character to a world that is desperately in need of understanding.

Fearless by Eric Blehm
When NavySEAL Adam Brown woke up on March 17, 2010, he didn't know he would die that night in the Hindu Kush mountains of Afghanistan--but he was ready. In a letter to his children, not mean to be seen unless the worst happened, he wrote, 'I'm not afraid of anything that might happen to me on this Earth because I know no matter what, nothing can take my spirit from me.' Fearless is the story of a man of extremes, whose courage and determination were fueled by faith, family, and the love of a woman. It's about a man who waged war against his own worst impulses, including drug addiction, and persevered to reach the top tier of the U.S. military. In a deeply personal and absorbing chronicle, Fearless reveals a glimpse inside the SEAL Team SIX brotherhood and presents an indelible portrait of a highly trained warrior whose final act of bravery led to the ultimate sacrifice. Adam Brown was a devoted man who was an unlikely hero but a true warrior, described by all who knew him as...fearless.

Only one thing stands between you and success. It isn't experience. It isn't talent. World-renown leadership expert John C. Maxwell says if you want to succeed, you must learn how to connect with people. And while it may seem like some folds are just born with it, the fact is anyone can lean how to make every communication an opportunity for a powerful connection. In Everyone Communicates, Few Connect, Maxwell shares the Five Principles and Five Practices to develop the crucial skill of connecting, including:
  • Finding common ground
  • Keeping your communication simple
  • Capturing people's interest
  • Inspiring people
  • Staying authentic in all your relationships
The ability to connect with others is a major determining factor in reaching your full potential. It's no secret! Connecting is a skill you can learn and apply in your personal, professional, and family relationships--and you can start now!

Chasing Francis by Ian Morgan Cron
Pastor Chase Falson has lost his faith--and he did it right in front of the congregation of his mega-church. Now the elders want him to take some time away. Far away. So Chase crosses the Atlantic to Italy to visit his uncle, a Franciscan priest, where he encounters the teachings of Francis of Assisi and rediscovers his ancient faith. Chase Falson's spiritual struggle rings so close to the truth that, at times, you'll swear you're reading a memoir rather than fiction; a memoir that mirrors the searching heart of a large movement within evangelicalism today. Author, musician, and speaker Ian Morgan Cron sheds new light on the legacy of St. Francis of Assisi as he masterfully weaves actual accounts from the life of Francis into the fictional story of Chase Falson. It's an amazing story with profound implications for the contemporary church today. Follow Chase's spiritual journey in the footsteps of Francis, and then begin one of your own through the pilgrim's guide included in this book.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Saving Eutychus by Gary Millar & Phil Campbell

One of the joys of my current ministry situation are the relationships I have been able to establish with a few pastors in the neighboring communities. Once a month, there are three of us that get together to encourage each other in the faith, pray for each other, and spur one another on to become better shepherds. At our  meeting in June, we spent time evaluating and talking about our preaching. From that conversation, we decided we wanted to read a book on preaching together. We decided to read a new book by Gary Millar and Phil Campbell called Saving Eutychus

If nothing else, this book is cleverly titled. Eutychus was a young man who fell asleep while listening to a sermon that Paul preached in Troas (Acts 20:7-12). As I'm sure you have experienced, people fall asleep all the time during the sermon these days. But let's give Paul a little credit. It was probably the last time he would see these people and he had much to tell them. Because of that, his sermon went past midnight. Eutychus was sitting in a third-story window, which means when he fell asleep, something terrible happened. He fell to his death. That has never happened when I preach. Don't get me wrong, people fall asleep all the time. But I have never had someone fall to their death because of my sermons. Paul, though, went outside and raised this young man from the dead. I've never done that either. Millar and Campbell wrote Saving Eutychus to help preachers know how to preach and keep people awake. But it's even more than that.
"Saving Eutychus doesn't just mean keeping him awake. It also means doing our best to keep him fresh and alert so he can hear the truth of the gospel and be saved" (15).
As a general summary, I did enjoy the book. There were certain parts of the book that convicted me. For instance, one of the opening chapters was on prayer. I realized as I started thinking about my own life and heart that I do not pray enough for my sermons. I do not pray enough for my listeners. I do not pray enough that God would help me keep people awake and alert so they can hear the truth. And I do not engage others to pray for me enough. Their observation that we pray "more for my Aunt Nelly's next-door neighbour's friend's daughter than we do for the proclamation of the message of Jesus" (22-23) is so true. Don't you think?

In addition, their insight that we work towards the key text was helpful. What they say is that when you quote a verse or read a text, we should be helping the listener out by setting it up before we read it rather than after we read it.
"Instead of quoting it then explaining it, do the reverse. Explain and then show. Prepare them for the logic of what they're about to see for themselves in Scripture by raising the question the text is about to answer, or by building the logic of the argument that the text itself is about to resolve, or by explaining anything complex that they'll need to understand to make sense of it. Then, let the words of Scripture close the deal" (60).
That is a helpful thought that I plan on investigating further as I continue to grow in my preaching.

As in any book, I'm not totally sure I agree with everything in the book. This is where I am really trying to evaluate my heart in the matter. But the one thing that did rub me the wrong way was when they say that an effective sermon should only be around 23 minutes (Campbell) or 25 minutes (Millar). Their argument is that preachers should stop a minute or two before people start wishing the sermon was over. They believe that is enough time to introduce a text, build to a main idea, illustrate and apply that main thought. And it might be. The sample sermons they give at the end of the book are biblical. They are practical. But to me, they don't seem to go very deep into the meaning of the text of Scripture.

When I say I have to evaluate my heart on this matter, I mean that I never want to be the guy who says that a sermon must be 45 minutes to be a "deep" sermon. That's not true. I just wander with the amount of text they tried to cover (almost 2 chapters in Acts), you can only stay on the surface. But I am very quick to say that I am an amateur at this preaching thing. I need to continue to learn and am thankful for most things in this book.

At the Parkside Basics Conference, Alistair Begg said that this book was one of new favorite books on preaching. I'm not so sure I would go that far, but it is helpful to give a good introductory thought into how to help listener's listen to the preaching of God's Word.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Albert Pujols: I Am Second

I grew up loving the Chicago Cubs. Yep, I'm one of those baseball fans. Being a Cubs fan ineveitebly means many things. Heartache for sure. But it also means you do not like the St. Louis Cardinals. It was a great day for me when he left the Cardinals to play for the Angels, because in the past ten years, nobody has hurt the Cubs more than Albert Pujols. I say all of that, but after watching this video, I have to say that I am a Pujols fan.

Monday, July 8, 2013

The Morning After: God's Enduring Love (Psalm 136)

One aspect of my preaching schedule that I have settled on is to spend several weeks every summer in the book of Psalm. It makes for a good series in the summer since so many people are gone on vacation. It is my hope that eventually, I will make my way through the entire book (that is going to take some long-term ministry).

On Sunday, I preached on Psalm 136, which contains one of the most famous statements in the book: "His steadfast love endures forever." In every single verse of this Psalm, the author repeats this phrase as a way of reminding the people of God's commitment to them. He is overwhelmed by the love of God. And why wouldn't he? He is most likely writing at a time in the nation of Israel when things were going well. It is likely that this was a song that was sung in Solomon's temple (2 Chronicles 7:3).

While repetition in songs is certainly debated in the church today, I doubt many people would greatly appreciate singing a song that repeated this much. But this repeated statement concerning God's love, as Spurgeon said "are not once too often." This statement is connected to God's covenantal love. It is the favor of God that He pours out upon those He has entered into a covenant relationship with. For the people of Israel, it goes back to Genesis 12 when God called Abram into this special relationship. God promised and He never forgets His promises.

What I appreciated most about this Psalm is the way in which the author looked at his nations history. I understand that hindsight is always 20/20. Do we really think the people of Israel felt like God was good and loving to them as they wandered in the wilderness? Do we really think they felt as if God was on their side when Pharaoh was chasing after them? Do we think they felt God's love as they were being attacked by great kings? Probably not. 

And yet with each of these events, after looking objectively at them, the author was clear to ring the refrain of God that "His steadfast love endures forever." It is really easy for us to interpret the love and goodness of God in light of our current situation in life. Is God really loving when the test results come back indicating cancer? Is God really loving when our spouse runs from us? Is God really loving when there is not as much work as there used to be? Of course He is! Our current situation does not mean that God's love and commitment to His people have changed. The history lesson we learn in this Psalm is that we can look and feel God's great love for His people, even during the storm!

If you are interested in this subject and want to read my notes, you can find them HERE.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Praying for the Sunday Sermon

I was reading something the other day and was struck with the reality of how much I need the prayers of God's people as I prepare for my sermon each week. Do you pray for your preacher during the week as he prepares for the sermon? Do you pray that he would be impacted personally by what he studies? Do you pray that his life would be changed through the Word of God? If you don't, let me encourage you to start. We need it.

Here is what you should do. Talk to your preacher and ask him his study schedule. If the main time he takes to study is Wednesday mornings, make a calendar appointment or task reminder to pray for him sometime that morning. There might even be a few times during that week that he studies. And then, as you are going about your business on Saturday night, odds are that your pastor is going over his notes one last time. That is a good time to pray for him. And then as you wake up on Sunday morning and head to church, take one last time to pray for him as he gets up to deliver God's Word. My guess is that if you were to do this, you would find yourself looking forward to the sermon much more than you normally do. You are invested into it.

Now, of course, you should pray for your own heart as well. You should be praying that your heart would be soft and sensitive to the message God has for you that morning. Don't discount how much praying for the sermon will change your perspective of the message that morning.

Why should we pray? Well, the early church modeled praying for boldness for their preachers (Acts 4:24-31). The Apostle Paul asked that the churches would pray for him as he spoke the truth of God. His main prayer was that doors would be opened and that he would be able to make his message clear (Colossians 4:3-4). But even more than each of these examples, we need to pray because the preaching event is a spiritual event. There is so much more going on that simply words and speaking. There is a spiritual battle taking place. The Enemy would rather you not listen and the preacher to not do a good job. Your life, the pastor's life, and the sermon is under attack each week. So pray. Let me end with a quote I read the other day. This is why we need to pray.
"God doesn't use people because they are gifted. He uses people (even preachers) because he is gracious. Do we actually believe that? If we do believe it, then we will pray--we will pray before we speak, and we will pray for others before they speak. It's that simple" (Saving Eutychus, 21).

Thursday, July 4, 2013

4th of July Humor

Happy 4th of July to everyone out there. Between your burgers, brats, and fireworks, I thought you might need a laugh. This really has nothing to do with the gospel or Jesus, other than, He gave us humor as an expression. This is so funny because it is so true. Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Weakness Is the Way by J. I. Packer

It seems natural to me that the longer you do a job, the more confident you should become in doing it. My father, for instance, is a carpenter. The longer he has worked in that trade, the more confident he has become on how to build things. I could probably guess the same thing could be true of you. The longer you do taxes, the more proficient you becoming in doing them. The longer you clean homes, the more you discover what works and what doesn't. And the list can continue . . . with more experience brings about more confidence.

I find this to be true in many aspects of my life, except the one that is my occupation. As a pastor, I find that with more experience comes more inadequacies. I feel I need to be clear. I am not talking about how to organize a sermon series or plan activities at a church. What I am talking about is the more I seek to impact people for the glory of God, the more I realize how inadequate to do it. Or maybe it would be better stated that with more experience, my inadequacies are magnified.

It is for this reason that a new book by J. I. Packer, Weakness Is the Way, resonated with my heart when I simply read the title. Ministry has exposed my weakness. But according to Packer, and he is simply quoting the Apostle Paul, that is a good thing. It is only in weakness that we learn to live our life with Christ as our strength.

This book finds its contents from Second Corinthians, where Paul had to defend himself against a group of people who did not think much of him. Paul agreed. It was only when he was found to be weak that Christ was powerful. The climax of his argument is found in chapter 12 when he confesses a "thorn in the flesh" had been given to him to keep him humble. Christ's response to him when he prayed for it to be removed was simply, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."

Packer does a helpful job of summarizing some major themes from the book of Second Corinthians. He speaks towards the Christian's calling, giving, and hoping. Much of what he writes is relevant to my life. He ends each chapter with how those topics apply to the concept of weakness. In the process, we are able to listen to the heart of a man towards the end of life on how he has witnessed weaknesses in his life. It is powerful.

In conclusion, these words are powerful for us as we consider our own weaknesses: 
"Look to Christ as your loving Sin-Bearer and living Lord. Embrace him as your Savior and Master. and then in his presence resolve to leave behind the old life of conscious self-service, marred as it was by bitterness, self-pity, envy of others, and feelings of failure, in order that you may become his faithful--that is, faith-full--disciple, living henceforth by his rules under his care. 
Love Christ, in unending gratitude for his unending love to you. Labor to please him in everything you do. Let his love constrain, compel, command, comfort, and control you constantly, and, like Paul, stop regarding human approval as in any way important . . . Live and love the way Paul did before you, and aspiring eagerness will replace gloom and apathy in your heart. 
Lean on Christ and rely on him to supply through the Holy Spirit all the strength you need for his service, no matter how weak unhappy circumstances and unfriendly people may be making you feel at present . . . Lean on Christ, the lover of your soul, as Paul did, and in all your ongoing weakness, real as it is, you too will be empowered to cope and will be established in comfort and joy" (51-52).
With that I leave you with a short video of Packer explaining the book in his own words. There is something very endearing about what he says.

I received a copy of Weakness is the Way by J. I. Packer from Crossway Publishers for review.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Puritans on Riches

Over the past several months, I have been working my way through A Puritan Golden Treasury. It is a collection of Puritan quotes that have captured my heart. The way these men think about issues we still face today deeply impacts my heart. I find myself wishing I would spend as much time thinking deeply on subjects like these.

As I read their thoughts, I am trying to pick out a different topic each week to share a few golden nuggets. I have already shared thoughts on Unity, Idleness, Excess, Parenting, the Church, Eternity, and Emotion. Today, I wanted to share a few of their thoughts on the topic Riches

As you know, we are in a constant rat race to see who can accumulate the most things in life. The world is in the pursuit of riches. We work more hours so we can buy more toys or do more things with our kids. We overspend our money so we can keep up with our neighbors. But riches themselves are not evil. It is the love of these riches that produce all sorts of evil in our life. They can be very dangerous. The Puritans thought deeply about this subject and these quotes impact me. I hope they might impact you as well.
"Riches may leave us while we live; we must leave them when we die." (Thomas Fuller) 
"When a man is to travel into a far country. . . . one staff in his hand may comfortably support him, but a bundle of staves would be troublesome. Thus a competency of these outward things may happily help us in the way to heaven, whereas abundance may be hurtful." (Richard Sibbes) 
"Solomon got more hurt by his wealth, than he got good by his wisdom." (Thomas Brooks) 
"As sick men used to love health better than those that never felt the want of it; so it is too common with poor men to love riches better than the rich that never needed. And yet, poor souls, they deceive themselves, and cry out against the rich, as if they were the only lovers of the world, when they love it more themselves though they cannot get it." (Richard Baxter) 
"It is hard to carry a full cup without spilling, and a full estate without sinning." (Thomas Watson)