Wednesday, October 23, 2013

God's Not Dead, the Movie

In March 2014, a new Christian film called God's Not Dead will be released in theaters. Here is the synopsis of the film:
"God's Not Dead is a new Christian film about faith and the limits one young man will go in order to defend his belief in God. Josh Wheaton (Shane Harper), a freshman college student, enrolls in a philosophy class taught by an infamous and dictatorial professor. Dr. Radisson (Kevin Sorbo) demands that all of his students must sign a declaration that "God is dead" in order to get a passing grade. Josh refuses. But, he needs to take this class to meet his academic requirements. And so the professor strikes a bargain: Josh must defend his position that 'God is alive' in a series of debates with him in order to stay in the class. If he loses, he flunks. When Josh accepts the challenge, he gets more than he bargained for--jeopardizing his faith, his relationships and even his future . . . When your faith is tested, can you explain what you believe?
I will reserve my opinion of this movie until I get a chance to watch it. But here are my hopes and prayers of this movie. I hope it is helpful for those Christians who are put in an environment like this everyday in the educational classroom. I know my son who is in 8th grade faces a kind of this same sort of indignation every day in his science class. I hope seeing someone stand up for their faith and belief in the existence of God will motivate people like him to do the same thing. 

But I also pray it is real and not just a feel-good story. I have no idea how the movie ends, but I hope it does not pain the light that if you stand up for your faith everyone will turn to believe what you believe. Sometimes, we stand up for our faith in Jesus and things in this world turn south. It is just exhausting for me to watch Christian films paint a picture that believing in God brings about all of our worldly hopes and dreams. 

I do hope this movie does good for the cause of Jesus and His gospel. Watch the trailer below to get a glimpse of what this movie will be like.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

A Helpful Bible Passage for Today

I shared last week that I am trying to become a better pastor and shepherd. One thing that has flowed from this desire is to get together with all the members of our church over the past couple weeks. And today is a big day. I have 11 appointments/meetings today. Most of them are only about 30 minutes long, but still that is a bit overwhelming. As I was flipping through my Bible this morning, I came across this passage, which spoke some comfort to me. 
"Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ." (Ephesians 5:15-20)
Eleven appointments may be overwhelming, but not while I walk in the Spirit. If you think of it, pray for me today as I meet with people, that I would be sensitive the Spirit of God; that I would be quick to encourage and share the truth of God with them; that I would be thankful for all these opportunities. With the Spirit of God, it can and will be a great day!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Crazy Busy by Kevin DeYoung

In his most recent book, Crazy Busy, Kevin DeYoung confesses he has a problem. It is a problem that resonates with most people. He is busy. Who isn't? I cannot believe the number of people I talk to that are very quick to tell me how busy they are. I'm sure it's true. The subtitle of his book is A (Mercifully) Short Book About A (Really) Big Problem. Because he thought it prudent keeping his book short, I will also oblige and keep this review short.

The book is fairly practical, unless you are looking for a 10-step process to remove the clutter of your life. He doesn't deal with that. He deals with heart issues that can lead us to live (sinfully) busy lives. It could be our pride, wrongful use of technology, unhealthy view of our children, lack of a Sabbath, and so on. I found these diagnostics very helpful for my life.

One thing he said that really made me stop and ponder was when he said our busyness can cover up the rot in our souls. He says,
"The greatest danger with busyness is that there may be greater dangers you never have time to consider. Busyness does not mean you are a faithful or fruitful Christian. It only means you are busy, just like everyone else. And like everyone else, your joy, your heart, and your soul are in danger. We need the Word of God to set us free. We need biblical wisdom to set us straight. What we need is the Great Physician to heal our overscheduled souls. If only we could make time for an appointment" (31-32).
One thing I have noticed about my own busy schedule is that there is always time for what I want to do. There is always time for the top priorities in my life. Maybe the issue with my schedule is that I have a priority problem. That is how he ends the book. With all the things we are busy doing, let us never forget that sitting at the feet of Jesus is the one thing we must do for His worship and our refreshment. 

I will never forget one ministry token of advice I received from my former pastor. He told me he tries to never communicate to people that he is busy. Even though life may be running at full speed and he may be pulled in different directions, he didn't want to communicate that to others. He wanted them to know that there is always time to find for them. I have tried to live by that philosophy. But at some point in my life, I assume, I am going to have to draw some lines and not be afraid of saying no to people.

Do you feel you are busy? Do you feel you are getting buried under the weight of all of your commitments? Then taking a few minutes to read this very short book will probably help you. I think it will. 

I received a copy of Crazy Busy by Kevin DeYoung from Crossway Publishers for review.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Observation of Strange Fire

I just finished watching the live stream of the first session by John MacArthur at the Strange Fire Conference. Here are my initial thoughts (I am shooting from the hip, so I hope this does not get me in trouble).  

I agree with almost everything MacArthur said about the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Christian. I do fully believe there has been a distortion of the work of the Spirit. His role has not been defended or fought for like that of the role of Jesus or the Father. And so, in one sense, I hope and pray that a conference like this lends itself to people thinking deeply about the person and work of the Holy Spirit.

But I do have some reservations concerning the very large brush strokes MacArthur used in this opening sermon. I wish he would have began his message by defining what he means by Charismatic. Since he did not, I have to assume that he means by it what is traditionally meant by the term: a person who believes in the continuation of all the gifts of the Spirit. Therefore, when he says there are roughly 500 million self-claimed charismatics in the world, he means there are 500 million people in the world that would claim to fall in line with the belief that all the gifts of the Spirit are still in operation for today.

In the opening illustrations, he said that nobody would think it wrong to confront the 14 million Mormons on their view of the Father or Jesus. So, why would it be wrong to confront the 500 million who are charismatic? That was my main problem with this sermon and is my main concern with this conference. Certainly he is not saying that the charismatic is like the mormon? Or maybe he is.

Towards the end of the message, he said something to the affect that he will take them seriously when their leaders begin to show the spirit-controlled evidence that Jesus displayed (sorry, that is not a direct quote, but I believe that is what he said). When he said it, I thought, "Like John Piper, Wayne Grudem, and Matt Chandler?" They believe in the continuation of all the gifts of the Spirit, thereby making them Charismatic. As to my knowledge, they are certainly leaders of the church. Certainly he isn't talking about them? Or are they being lumped in with the Benny Hinn's and Joel Osteen's? I hope not. 

I would love for him to clearly spell out whether he sees the Piper's, Grudem's, and Chandler's of the world as different in kind from the Hinn's and Osteen's? Or does he see them as one of the same kind, just the best possible result of that kind. Unfortunately, when he doesn't explain and lumps all 500 million charismatics into one group, and then quotes Benny Hinn as the leader of that group, I have to think he believes they are the best possible result of all Charismatics.

Some clarification on this would be helpful. But I doubt it will come.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Surprise Wedding

It is true that in today's world, most people do not look for news, it comes to them. Social media has changed the way we receive information. It is true for news and it is also true for cool stories. Last week, I was quickly scanning through Facebook when I saw someone post this video of a surprise wedding. This video happens to capture what marriage is all about. Love. Romance. Sacrifice. Relationship. Friendship. Giving. Christ. 

Ladies, you will want to watch this video with your tissues in hand. Men, you should watch it with pen and paper, and after watching it, think of something romantic you can do for your wife.

On a side note, the groom in this wedding is Ryan Leak. Just about three years ago when I was looking for my current pastoral position, I spent some time on the phone talking to him as he consulted pastors looking for new positions. It was interesting putting a face and life story to his name.  

Friday, October 11, 2013

Making Every Effort to Shepherd the Sheep

The imagery the New Testament uses of the relationship between pastors and the congregation is hard for me to experientially understand. I am not a shepherd and have never been around sheep. And so, when I come to understand my calling, I do not come with a lot of experience. But I have read much about it. I have studied the concept of shepherding sheep. I have heard people describe how sheep act and how a loving shepherd responds to sheep. And the more I read about it, the more the concept of what it means to be a faithful pastor is driven home in my mind. After all, this is directly what us pastors are called to do. The Apostle Peter gave the elders in 1 Peter 5:1-3 this direct command:
"So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock."
Over the past few years, we have been seeking ways in our church to up the responsibility of membership, but also to display our desire to shepherd more effectively. I simply want to be the best shepherd I can be in the dependence of the Holy Spirit under the direction of Jesus, the Chief Shepherd.

One of the latest ideas I am trying is to schedule a time to sit down with every member of our church. This is a huge commitment, but worth all the energy it will take. I hope and pray that my door is always open to anyone who has a need. But I am trying to be more intentional with those that have taken the step of church membership. In these meetings, we are going to be talking about the following six questions they have been given to answer.

  1. Do you think CBC is helping you grow spiritually? How can we be more effective to help you grow spiritually? How do you think we can do better?
  2. How can we help engage you more relationally with others at CBC? Do you care to be more involved?
  3. Are you in a small group? Would you like to be? Why? What would you hope to gain from being involved in a small group?
  4. What are your current joys and sorrows concerning CBC?
  5. Are there any sermon topics you feel would be good for our church to study and why?
  6. How can I more effectively pray for you?

My goal is to simply provide the forum to listen to those in our church. I want them to know I care for them. I want them to know they are valued. I want them to know I have concern for them. And I want them to know I desire to listen to them. That doesn't mean we will change or do everything they suggest, but I want them to know their opinions count. But mostly, I want to find out how I can better help them grow spiritually.

The author of Hebrews gives some very specific instructions to people in a church. He tells them to . . .
"Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you." (Hebrews 13:17)
I have created these meetings because I want to keep better watch over their souls. I know I will give an account for them, so I want to do due diligence in creating ways to help them grow spiritually. I do believe it will also help me pray for them more strategically. 

If you are a member of CBC and have not signed up for these meetings yet, please do so. Let's get it on the calendar so you can help me help you. If you are not a member of CBC and you do go to our church, I hope something like this might be inviting to you. If you go to some other church, please make yourself available to the leadership of the church to express some of those questions I posed above. Please do not do it in a demeaning or chastising way, but out of a heart of wanting to be shepherded.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Reflections from North Korea Border

A few days ago, David Platt and Francis Chan stood on the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea and recorded these thoughts about a nation that is closed to the gospel. They make some very good points and helpful thoughts about our attitude toward those that do not have access to the good news of Jesus Christ. 

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Keeping Peace with All Men

I don't know about you, but this "government shutdown" really is disheartening. I certainly do have opinions and certainly do fall on one side of the argument, but I simply wish that people could get along. Why can't men get in a room peacefully and discuss their differences? Why do they have to resort to backbiting, lying, ignoring, and spinning in order to get their way? Why do they have to call each other names to perpetrate to the American people who is wrong and who is right? It just seems to me they have an elected responsibility to figure this out . . . peacefully!

Of course, if we are honest, this is not just a problem among our government. It is a problem among us. Our lack of peace with each other happens when neighbors fight over trees and land issues. It happens between friends when they fail to solve conflicts in a normal way. And it certainly happens among sports teams, who so despise their opposing teams that the mere mention of them creates animosity. Why can't men just get along? Why can't men just have fun with each other while rooting for the other team?

One answer, for sure, is that man is wicked and evil in their heart, and desperately self-seeking. We want what we want and will do anything in our power to get it. That causes conflicts. That hinders peace. The book of James very clearly tells us this:

"What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask." (James 4:1-2)

As I was thinking about this issue of peace among men, I came across some directions by Richard Baxter on how to keep peace with all men. These are helpful.

  1. Get your own hearts into a humble frame; and abhor all the motions of pride and self-exalting.
  2. If you would be peaceable, be not covetous lovers of the world, but be contented with your daily bread. 
  3. If you will be peaceable, love your neighbors as yourselves.
  4. Compose your minds to christian gentleness and meekness, and suffer not passion to make you either turbulent and unquiet to others, or impatient and troublesome to yourselves.
  5. Be careful to maintain that order of government and obedience, which is appointed of God for the preservation of peace, in families, churches, and commonwealths.
  6. Avoid all revengeful and provoking words.
  7. Engage not yourselves too forwardly or eagerly in disputes, nor at any time without necessity: and when necessity calls you, set an extraordinary watch upon your passions.
  8. Have as little to do with men, in matters which their commodity is concerned in, as you can.
  9. Buy peace at the price of any thing which is not better than it . . . Money must not be thought too dear to buy it, when the loss of it will be worse than the loss of money, to yourselves or those that you contend with.
  10. Avoid censoriousness; which is the judging of men or matters that you have no call to meddle with, and the making of matters worse than sufficient proof will warrant you.
  11. Neither talk against men behind their backs, nor patiently hearken to them that use it.
  12. Speak more of the good than of the evil which is in others.
  13. Be not strange, but lovingly familiar with your neighbors.
  14. Affect not a distance and sour singularity in lawful things.
  15. Be not over-stiff in your own opinions, as those that can yield in nothing to another, nor yet so facile and yielding as to betray or lose the truth.
  16. Yet build not peace on the foundation of impiety, injustice, cruelty, or faction; for that will prove but the way to destroy it in the end. 

What would happen if our government took some of this advice and implemented it in their negotiations with each other? What would it look like if they all spoke more good of others instead of the evil? What if they were not motivated by money, but the good of people? What would it look like if they avoided all revengeful and provoking words? What if they were not motivated by a covetousness of the world? Do you think that would change their peacemaking efforts?

What if we did these with our conflicts?

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Worship Focus: Here With Us by Joy Williams

I was studying the other day with a Pandora station of Christian music streaming that I have taken a long time to create. This is a custom for me, I always have music on in the background. After several years of listening and refining this station, it is not very often that a new song comes on that I 'thumbs up.' But when "Here With Us" by Joy Williams started playing, I couldn't help but to stop and listen. After listening to the song, I immediately went over to iTunes and downloaded it. I have been listening to it nonstop since.

Come to find out, this is a song is not new at all. It was released in 2005. But for some reason, I do not have any recollection of hearing it before. It is probably not a song that is meant to be congregational. But it would make for a great song this coming Christmas. Here are the lyrics.

It's still a mystery to me
that the hands of God could be so small.
How tiny fingers reaching in the night
were the very hands that measured the sky

Hallelujah, hallelujah;
Heaven's love reaching down to save the world.
Hallelujah, hallelujah
Son of God, Servant King
You're here with us
You're here with us.

It's still a mystery to me
How His infant eyes have seen the dawn of time
How His ears have heard an angel's symphony,
But still Mary had to rock her Savior to sleep.

Jesus the Christ, born in Bethlehem
A baby born to save, to save the souls of man.

It is a song that captures the mystery that the One who created everything became a baby with little fingers and eyes and ears. At the heart of this song is the fact that the Son of God came to be here with us. Even as I think of that, it doesn't make sense and seems surreal. But I'm so thankful for it. Aren't you? 

I love this song and I think you will as well. Below is the song set to some video of the life of Jesus. It's good. Watch it. 

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Bible Reading Plan (October)

During the month of September, I tried to discipline myself to read the book of James everyday. I mixed it up from time to time by listening to it, writing it, and just meditating on it. I really enjoyed spending a month in that book. But now we are on to October and I have been asked by a few people what my plan is for this month. Let me share that with you and if you do not have a plan, feel free to join me. During the month of October, I am going to read the books of Luke & Acts two times through.

  • Week 1 - Luke
  • Week 2 - Acts
  • Week 3 - Luke
  • Week 4 - Acts

Why Luke and Acts? Both of these books were written to the same person, Theophilus, who probably funded the project for Dr. Luke to investigate the claims of Jesus and His followers. Luke even explains his purpose in writing these books at the beginning of each of them.
"Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught." (Luke 1:1-4) 
"In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen." (Acts 1:1-2)
The book of Acts is a sequel to Luke. Together they deal orderly with all the claims of Jesus, what He accomplished, and how His name was spread to the nations.

If you are not currently in a plan, I would invite you to join me and a few others that are spending the next month reading a detailed historical account of Jesus and His followers. If you are already in a plan, good. Keep going. There are few things in the Christian life that will help you grow spiritually like reading the Word of God.