Sunday, November 2, 2014

International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church

Today is the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. As you sit in your comfortable churches today, I hope you will think of those who are experiencing the edge of the sword at the hands of evil men. Please visit The Voice of the Martyrs website for more information about those who suffer persecutions today because they are following Jesus.

And take a few minutes to watch Liena's Prayer as she describes what it is like to be a Christian in Syria. This is powerful. 

Would you pray this prayer? 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

New Marriage Book by Francis Chan

Francis Chan just released a new book on marriage called "You and Me Forever." I wouldn't mind reading it soon as I'm always in need of more help on my role in marriage and I have enjoyed most of what Chan has written.

But there is one thing about this book being released that is unique. What would you do in order to publicize your books? How committed would you be that people know about your book? Would you completely sell out by making a music video? That's what Francis and Lisa Chan have done. Apparently, they wrote and performed this video together. Not bad.

If you are looking for a good laugh today, check it out. And then maybe check out the book as well. I know this video worked in getting me to order the book. 

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Psalm 145 by Shane and Shane

Its been a while since I have posted here on the blog. But tonight as I was studying and going over my sermon for tomorrow, I was listening to the Psalms album by Shane & Shane. The lyrics to the song, Psalm 145, moved me and I wanted to share it tonight. Listen to the words closely and follow along with your Bible. 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Vulnerability

Last week, I read Mitch Albom's bestseller, The Five People You Meet in Heaven. It is a book that tells the story of a man by the name of Eddie who dies, goes to heaven and meets five people who explain his life to him. [A full review is coming as soon as my son reads the book & does his summer reading assignment; I'm not going to make it easy for him to copy my thoughts, if you know what I mean.] But there is one thing I wanted to mention now about the book that particularly struck me. 

Throughout the book while Eddie is in heaven, there are flashbacks to his time on earth. In one of them, Albom pulls the curtain back to see some of the true feelings of Eddy. We witness what's really going on in his mind and heart. One is when he wakes from a dream when he is 33 years old.
"And then he wakes up. Sweating. Panting. Always the same. The worst part is not the sleeplessness. The worst part is the general darkness the dream leaves over him, a gray film that clouds the day. Even his happy moments feel encased, like holes jabbed in a hard sheet of ice. 
He dresses quietly and goes down the stairs. The taxi is parked by the corner, its usual spot, and Eddie wipes the moisture from its windshield. He never speaks about the darkness to Marguerite. She strokes his hair and says,' What's wrong?' and he says, 'Nothing, I'm just beat,' and leaves it at that. How can he explain such sadness when she is supposed to make him happy? The truth is he cannot explain it himself. All he knows it that something stepped in front of him, blocking his way, until in time he gave up on things, he gave up studying engineering, and he gave up on the idea of traveling. He sat down in his life. And there he remained" (118).
The part that struck me is the part I underlined above. He never speaks about the darkness with his wife. She asks what's wrong and he says that nothing is wrong. He puts up a mask disguising the real issue going on in his heart. 

I wonder how many people really do this. How many people think its too dangerous to be vulnerable. How many people think its too risky to pull back the curtain of their life to allow someone to see inside.  When asked what is wrong, how many people will deflect the real issues and point to something simple . . . "I'm just tired." Why do so many people do this? Why do we do this? Why do I do this?

Vulnerability isn't easy. It is risky. It can be painful. But it is necessary if you are going to successfully deal with anything significant in your life. I've been thinking about this topic a lot recently and will continue to think about it. But until then . . .

Why do you think people avoid the risk and pain of vulnerability?

Friday, July 25, 2014

My Life: My Birth Story

The other day, I shared a short review of Jerry Bridges new book, God Took Me by the Hand. One of the things I took away from that book is the need to tell life stories. I'm not pretending to be Jerry Bridges or that anyone would want to hear my life story. But I thought if I do not write these things down (at least for my kids), I'll forget about them. They may not hear them. And so today I'm starting a series of stories that I'm going to write to show how God has been active in my life throughout my life. I'm writing these stories for my children, you just get to look through the window of our storytime (if you want). 

I thought I would start with my birth story. I know I was there, but do not remember much about it. Several years ago, I asked my mom to write down some of the details of my birth so I would have them. These are her words as she recalls the events of the beginning of my life.
"On October 31, 1973, I went to the hospital, trusting to have a baby that night because our insurance ran out that day. When I had not given birth by the next morning, the doctor took an x-ray to see how many babies I was carrying: 'One big one' was the report. (There were no ultrasounds back then.) Labor was induced and at 4:44 that afternoon, Thad was born. Then on Saturday night, November 3, as we were celebrating with my sister the birth of our 9 pound 1 ounce baby boy, the doctor entered our room and said, 'Mr. and Mrs. Bergmeier, you have a very sick son.' 
He then proceeded to tell how Thad had a blood infection, which caused him to be very lethargic and to run a temperature, was jaundice, had a collapsed lung, and had an enlarged heart, which probably meant a congenital heart disease. Thad had already been put under the lights for the jaundice, and a heart specialist had been called in. At first I thought God was punishing me because I really did not want two babies so close together. That night God showed me again Romans 8:28-29. I studied it and read it over and over again. All this was to be for God's glory. Later that night a young nurse started to witness to me. God had everything lined up just the way He designed it to be. The next day, Sunday, I went home without my baby. 
Because we lived about thirty minutes from the hospital and I had a child not quite a year old at home, I did not get to see Thad everyday. On Monday we talked to the heart specialist. He said that he would call us back the next day because he was running all kinds of tests on Thad and would not have the results until the next afternoon. Tuesday afternoon he called and asked us to meet him that night outside the nursery so he could talk to us about Thad. We went, expecting to hear how we were going to have to deal with an invalid. The doctor then said that if he had not personally examined Thad Saturday night, he would have thought that someone had switched babies. Thad's blood infection was clear, he was no longer lethargic, and he did not have a fever. His lung was working properly. His heart was still large but probably just to fill his large chest cavity. (Several doctors had told us that Thad had the broadest shoulders and largest chest cavity they had ever seen.) The doctor referred to Thad as the miracle baby. We verbally gave God the credit. When the doctor asked if we had any questions, Gary had one: 'Will he be able to play sports?' 
'Yes.' 
'Will he be able to play football?' 
'With the size of those shoulders and chest cavity, he better.' 
Since there had been so many things wrong with Thad, the doctor wanted to keep him in the hospital until the next Sunday, just for observation. Finally, when he was ten days old, we brought home a healthy baby boy, knowing that God had something very special planned for him."
I never played football, but I did play futbol. Maybe my dad just mispronounced it back in the day.

I would ask my mom to tell me this story often as a child. She would always end the story the same way: "God has something special for you someday." I don't know why I used to ask her to tell the story. Maybe it was simply that I longed to be considered special. Maybe it was because there was something inside of me that was curious as to what that "something special" was that God would have for me someday.

I used to love having my mom tell that story. I don't share it much these days. I don't know why. I don't know why I was born so sick and then healed so quickly. I don't know why me and not the countless other children who are born with illnesses. Maybe I don't share it so much today because of fear that I won't live up to that "God's got something special for you" feeling. That can be a lot of pressure.

One thing is for sure. God began to take me by the hand (to borrow Bridge's verbage) while I was still in the womb. He began to work in my heart back then (physically and spiritually). And for that I'm thankful. 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Pastor's Kid by Barnabas Piper

I have been on vacation the past two weeks and have taken the opportunity to do a lot of reading. One of the books I read early on in the vacation was Barnabas Piper's new book, The Pastor's Kid. You might have guessed from his name, Barnabas is the son of the well-known pastor, John Piper. And so when I saw that he was coming out with a book on what it is like growing up as a pastor's kid, I wanted to read it for three reasons. 

First, I am a pastor. Second, I have children. Third, I love them dearly and want to do everything I can to help them avoid any stereotypical or extraordinary demands placed on them because I am a pastor. I was happy to find out that my third reason is the main reason Barnabas wrote this book. He seeks to correct wrong thinking of expectations placed upon the children of pastors.

In the beginning of the book, he calls for pastors, and churches in general, to back off of an undue expectation of the Pastor's Kid (PK) to be someone different than every other kid in the church. He shows how it is unfair for the PK and creates a wrongful expectation of perfection that is impossible to bear. He shares how he felt everyone expected him to be perfect because his dad was the pastor. That is not only unfair, it is impossible. He talks about living in the fishbowl, where everyone hears and knows things about you . . . but they don't know you. That's painful for the PK. He shares, 
"PK's want to be known, not just known of. We want to be in relationships that cut through the facades and fronts and unearth the insecurities and needs. We long for those friends and mentors who will willfully set aside all they think they know of us as PKs and get to know us as people. These friends will engage our passions, our interests, our fears, our confusions . . . PKs struggle, and if all we have are people around us who know of us, we bottle those struggles inside and the pressure builds. Being known is a release, a way to pour out our problems and be helped, supported, corrected, taught, and simply known" (37). 
I was really drawn to my children through reading this book. It made me want to do a better job shepherding them in this area. I have had many conversations with my oldest son, who is now 14, about this issue. I often ask him if he feels any pressure from anyone because I'm the pastor of the church. So far, he says he doesn't. Only he knows if he is being honest with me. I hope so. I consistently reaffirm to him that if he ever feels that, he needs to let me know. I want him to feel freedom to be real; to struggle, to grow, to develop his own relationship with Jesus.

Barnabas offers several solutions to these problems faced by the PK. For one, he says what the PK needs more than anything else is grace. Of course, doesn't everyone? But what he means by this is that the PK needs to see grace from his parents (specifically dad) more than hear about grace. He shares one way this happens . . .
"What the PK needs is parents who not only admit to being sinners but actually admit to sins. It is far more powerful for a child to see his parents admitting, apologizing for, and working to correct real, actual sins. When a father refers to himself as a sinner and says he needs grace but doesn't make a habit out of admitting and apologizing for specific failings, he mixes up his kids. PKs see the lost tempers, the harsh words, the overwork, the pride, the gossip. We know what sins our dad commits, but if he doesn't admit to them, we can lose respect for him. We also fail to learn to recognize sins in our own lives, and even if we do see them, we won't admit them. Why should we? Dad doesn't" (79). 
My guess is that this is good parenting advice, not just specifically for pastors.

But he also says the church needs to show grace. He consistently begs that the church treat the PK as they would treat any other child in the church. In the appendix of the book, Piper offers Seven Rules For When You Meet a PK (pg. 145-147). These are helpful and could be expanded upon in depth. But they are things that are helpful for those in the church to think through.
  1. Do not ask us 'What is it like to be the son or daughter of . . .
  2. Do not quote our dads to us.
  3. Do not ask us anything personal you would not ask of anyone else.
  4. Do not ask us anything about our dads' position on anything.
  5. Do not assume you can gain audience with the pastor through us.
  6. Do not assume that we agree with all the utterances of our fathers.
  7. Get to know us.
I feel our church does a good job of this. But it is one thing I will continue to keep an eye on in the future.

While I assume my children are having a different experience growing up in a church being my children than Barnabas did being John Piper's son (size of church, breadth of ministry, popularity, etc...), he makes many great points I need to pay careful attention to. No matter if you are a pastor, pastor's wife, or a congregant, I hope you will give some thought as to how you can care for the children of pastors. After all, as one PK was quoted as saying in the book . . .
"Where is there a safe place to go with your struggles? Who can you talk to? Not even the pastor . . ."
That touches me deeply.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A True Spiritual Community?

Do you want great relationships with people? Do you desire to live as God created you to live? Do you hope that you could have friendships that speak into your life and you into theirs without hesitation or pretense? Then think deeply about this thought . . . 
"A spiritual community consists of people who have the integrity to come clean. It is comprised of those who own their shortcomings and failures because they hate them more than they hate the shortcomings and failures of others, who therefore discover that a well of pure water flows beneath they most fetid corruption . . . Integrity is the first step: We must admit to our community, to a spiritual friend or a spiritual director, who we are at our worst. We must tell our stories to someone without consciously leaving out a chapter" (Larry Crabb, Becoming a True Spiritual Community, 30-31).
A few questions to think about . . .
  • Is this possible?
  • Why or why not?
  • How badly do we want spiritual community?
  • What could we do to lead the way towards this sort of community?
  • What are we afraid of?
  • Are you afraid to share or afraid to hear what others share?

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

God Took Me by the Hand by Jerry Bridges

Many consider Jerry Bridges as one of the top Christian authors in the past 30 years. I would be one of the many. His first publication, The Pursuit of Holiness, is the first Christian book I read after getting serious about the Lord, between my junior and senior year of high school. I was hooked. Since that time, I have been blessed by his gospel-saturated writing in his books. He was gospel-centered before it was cool to be gospel-centered. 

I'm probably wrong, but it would not surprise me to learn that his books have been read and studied in different bible studies more than any other author. Because of my appreciation for his thinking and writing, when I saw he had come out with a new book, I quickly grabbed it and read it in one day. That was several months ago.

God Took Me by the Hand is a great read. It is so different from any of his other books as it is his memoirs. In this book, he shares his life story, from how God opened his eyes unto salvation to his struggle with many theological concepts to his career ambitions. Throughout it all, he shares God's providence of being actively involved in his life in all aspects.

The providence of God is a doctrine that we do not talk much about these days. That's unfortunate. At the beginning of the book, he shares some insights into this doctrine and then throughout the book, shows how God was actively involved in every twist and turn of his life. Here are a few thoughts he has about the the providence of God.
"God's providence is His constant care for and His absolute rule over all His creation for His own glory and the good of His people . . . To say that God rules can give us an image of a king ruling from his throne, making major decisions but basically unaware of the day-to-day events occurring in his kingdom. But to say that God rules over His creation is to say that He controls all events and circumstances. Absolutely nothing can happen outside the controlling hand of God" (19).
But God's providence is even more than this. He goes on to say . . .
"God not only controls all events and circumstances, He directs all of them so that they accomplish His purposes. God is 'hands on' in directing the affairs of His creation . . . God not only directs all things to accomplish His purposes, He orchestrates all diverse events, things we consider 'good' and things we consider 'bad,' so that the end product displays the beauty of His glory" (20-21). 
These may not be easy doctrines to swallow or understand, but in each of these thoughts, Bridges shares verse after verse in support. My goal in this review is not to defend this doctrine (maybe that will come later). But I wanted to show the premise of the book, because in conjunction with these thoughts, he shares the significance of common and special grace in understanding God's hand in our life. The way he weaves these truths throughout his life's story is something special. It is something that is noticeable as you look back on life. As the old adage goes, "hindsight is 20/20 vision."

I won't share much of his life in this review. If you have enjoyed his writing ministry, you really should read it. He ends the book with this thought:
"I do know that for over sixty-five years God has been leading me by His invisible hand of providence, most of the time in fairly routine ways and sometimes in remarkable ways. But whether it was routine or remarkable, God has been leading me. I trust Him to continue to do that until He calls me home. Someone has said, 'Everyone has a life story, but not every story gets written.' I have written mine, not because my story is particularly important, but because it so clearly and so consistently over the years illustrates the unusual providence of God in the life of a very unpromising young boy. As you read this, I hope that you can see why I say, it seems that when I was seventeen years old, God took me by the hand and said, 'Come with Me'" (147-148).
As I read his story, it made me think of how I have witnessed God's hand in my life in the past. One of the things I took from this book is my desire to remember my past. I think it is way too easy to forget how God has been active in our life. I want my kids to know how much God has been involved in my life. And if you are interested, I wouldn't mind you knowing it as well. And so, I think from time to time, I'm going to write some things on the blog here as a way to remind myself and encourage others as how God's hand has been active upon my life the past 40 years (yes, I'm 40 years old).

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Dwelling In God's House Forever

I am preaching on Psalm 23 this morning. In my studies this week, I came across several quotes from Phillip Keller's book, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23. 

Now, I love to read. I have developed quite a vast library in the past fifteen years. While I faintly remember seeing this book, I never bought it or read it. After being impressed by a few quotes, I decided to order the book. After taking some time this week to read most of it, I can say without hesitation . . . it is pure gold!

I jokingly said on Twitter last night that maybe for my sermon on Psalm 23 this morning, I should just get up and read portions of his book. It's that good. I will never look at this Psalm the same way again.

The Psalm famously ends in verse 6 with these words: "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever." Speaking on that last thought, Keller says these words:
"Here is a sheep so utterly satisfied with its lot in life, so fully contented with the care it receives, so much 'at home' with the shepherd that there is not a shred of desire for a change. Stated in simple, direct, rather rough ranch language, it would be put like this, 'Nothing will ever make me leave this outfit--it's great!' 
Conversely, on the shepherd's side there has developed a great affection and devotion to his flock. He would never think of parting with such sheep. Healthy, contented, productive sheep are his delight and profit. So strong, now, are the bonds between them that it is in very truth--forever" (165-166).
I love it!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Church that Prays Together by Elmer Towns & Daniel Henderson

Several months ago, I picked up several books that have to do with churches praying. The concept of being a church that spends time praying together has been heavy upon my heart. And so I want to read more about this concept. One of the first books I have read is The Church that Prays Together by Elmer Towns & Daniel Henderson.

In this book, Towns and Henderson take a look at ten different types of churches and how they make prayer central to their mission. The premise of the book was intriguing to me as I wanted to see how different churches integrate prayer into their ministry. And believe me when I say this, they look at different churches. But they are clear from the beginning that they are going to look at all different shapes and sizes of churches. 
"First, we wanted to look at several different denominations, because people from different theological persuasion can pray and get answers to their prayers. Second, we wanted to look at different sizes of churches. We believe small-, medium-, and mega-size churches are all uniquely privileged by God to do His work through prayer." (12).
While they say they are going to talk about the prayer life of 10 Dynamic Churches, they only talk about nine of them (although, one is in two locations, so maybe that is why there is a discrepancy). The nine churches they investigate are: 
  • Jefferson Baptist Church; Jefferson, Oregon
  • The Brooklyn Tabernacle; Brooklyn, New York
  • Second Baptist Church; Houston, Texas
  • Arcade Church; Sacramento, California
  • Lakeview Wesleyan Church; Marion, Indiana
  • Christ Fellowship; Palm Gardens, Florida
  • Central Christian Church of East Valley; Mesa & Gilbert, Arizona
  • Vietnamese Baptist Church; Houston, Texas
  • Thomas Road Baptist Church; Lynchburg, Virginia
Let me share about the one church that impacted me the most and why. Pastor Dee Duke of Jefferson Baptist Church firmly believes that the way a church becomes a prayer church is only if the pastors of the church pray. After being convicted of this, he set seven specific goals for his life and ministry concerning prayer, which they quote on page 18:
  1. Spend on uninterrupted hour per day praying by himself.
  2. Spend one hour per day praying with at least one other person.
  3. Pray for everyone in the church by name weekly.
  4. Pray at least once per month with other pastors.
  5. Preach on prayer for three months.
  6. Plan four major church prayer events each year (always to precede a major evangelistic thrust). 
  7. Identify the church's 'farm' (twenty miles in every direction from the church), claim it, and target prayer for it.
Now, I can take issue with some of these things (for instance, the claiming the church's farm . . . I'm not even sure what that means). But the thing that impressed me is that he committed to praying. I bet there were days and weeks in which he didn't reach his goal. But it made a conscious decision to begin praying. 

I wonder if sometimes, we make things way too complicated. I know I do. Even in reading this book, I want to find out what churches do when it comes to prayer. And what I know I should do is to pray. Simply pray. The older I get in my spiritual life with Christ, the more I realize I don't pray enough. I know we probably all could say that, but I'm saying it. I don't pray like I should. I'm lazy. I'm way too content to live off my own strengths and energy. I'm way too self-dependent. 

That needs to change. I hope it does.

Friday, July 11, 2014

To Blog or Not To Blog

August 14, 2010 was a big day for me. It was the day that I registered and started to blog at ChangedbytheGospel. Before this date, I had considered blogging for a long time. I had many things to say, but didn't know if anyone would listen. I was really trying to count the cost of blogging because I didn't want to be the guy who said he was going to blog and then end up not posting anything for months at a time.

Over the last four years, I have written and posted just over 950 blog posts. Those first few years were great. In 2010, I averaged about 10 posts per month. But then I took it seriously in 2011 when I averaged just over 25 posts a month. In 2012, it dropped a bit to about 22 a month. And then in 2013, about 21 a month. But this year, I have averaged about 12 blog posts a month. To make matters worse, it has been over a month since I posted some new content to my blog. I have become that guy I didn't want to be when I started.

I am creeping up on the four year mark of starting this blog, which has led me to contemplate some things about this blog. Should I continue blogging and make it a priority or should I stop blogging? Or is it alright to be the guy who blogs once a month, even though I don't like it? In my thinking about these things, I have tried to make a list, which I'm sure is very inexhaustive. But I'd love any feedback any of you might have on this list as I try to decide what I should do with my blog.

Reasons to NOT Continue Blogging

1. The Time Commitment. To write something worthwhile (I'm not sure I've even done that with the 950 posts I have already made) it takes time. While I love to write, it takes time to carefully craft words and make arguments. It seems as if my life is constantly busy, and so I am asking myself whether this is one of the ways I should to be using my time? I don't know for sure. 

2. Difficulty of New Content. It's not easy coming up with something new. Something fresh. The topics to write about are difficult. While I have ideas (see below), it seems increasingly I sit in front of a blank screen begging for something to come out of my mind . . . and not much is coming (please, no jokes there). 

3. Many Good Bloggers. There are myriads of blogs out there today. There are many just like mine, well, not exactly, for they are much better writers. I don't think I can or desire to compete with them.

4. Readership. I tried for a while to give things away, promote, and increase the readership of this blog. And for some time, I did see many jumps. But is that what this is about? I just wonder if it creates something not so good inside of me that wants to be famous or well-known. Maybe a desire for readership is very bad for me personally. Just being honest.

5. Boring Blog Template. I am in dire need for a change in the template of my blog. I would love to change to a wordpress theme, but just don't have the time or resources to invest in making the transition. 

Reasons to Continue Blogging

1. A Place to Review Books. In the past few months when I have not been writing blog posts, I have continued to read. I have read four books that I have not reviewed. A few of them were good that I'd love to pass onto the few people that happen by here. Some are not so good and I'd like to tell people to not waste their time. Either way, it seems as if reviewing books is always a good thing. If nothing else, it helps me crystalize the book in my own mind, which helps me remember the book.

2. Unique Way of Ministry. It seems like blogging is a unique way to minister to the people of my church as well as those that I've had the opportunity to interact with in other churches. I cannot say everything I want to say to everyone about how the gospel has transformed my life, but I can write it down. 

3. Testimony to My Children. I don't think my kids read my blog. But if I were to continue, I would hope they might someday. How cool would it be for them someday to look back and read hundreds of things I wrote on how the gospel had influenced me? I would hope it would encourage and strengthen their faith. 

4. Some Cool Ideas. I know I shared earlier that it is difficult to come up with new content, but I have had some ideas recently that I think would be cool. I'll share one of them. One of my greatest things concerns is that my children learn discernment. I want them to look at situations and evaluate them in light of who Jesus is and what the gospel says. So often as parents, we just tell them no, without walking them through the discernment process. One of the ways many Christian parents do this is through the arts. We tell them "NO" when it comes to music, TV shows, or movies. One of the things we have done with our children (the jury is still out on whether it is a good thing or not) is that I let them listen to secular music. But we talk openly about it. And when they want to download a song, we take time to walk through the lyrics and evaluate them from a Christian perspective. I thought it would be fun to do a series evaluating some of the most current secular songs through the lens of the gospel. Good idea? I don't know, but it could be fun.

What Should I Do? I go on vacation the next couple of weeks and will probably post a few things from time to time as I think through this in my own mind. But I would love your feedback. Any thoughts?

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Becoming A Church That Prays

I shared yesterday a short review of Thom Rainer's new book, Autopsy of a Deceased Church. In the book, as he articulates the evidences of those things that ended up killing churches. In one of the chapters, he mentioned a silent killer is when the church starts praying together less and less. That struck a chord with me.

Over the past six months, I have had this impression that our church does not pray together "quite enough." Now on one hand, I'm not sure what "quite enough" would look like. Do you? Does it mean that everyone comes to a prayer meeting every week? Does it mean that when prayer requests are sent out by email, 100% of those emails are opened and people actually take time praying? Maybe the term "quite enough" is not a good qualifier for what I'm feeling. I simply feel as though it could be easy for us to get on the path of self-dependence by not calling out on the Lord to do His work in our midst.

It sure seems as when I read the book of Acts, the people got together and prayed together. In the book, Rainer makes this observation:
"When the early Jerusalem church members devoted themselves to prayer, they were doing a lot more than reading names off a list. They were fervent, intense, and passionate about prayer. They had no doubt that god was listening and responding. A failure to pray was tantamount to a failure to breathe. Prayer was not an add-on to give them permission to eat a meal. It was serious stuff for a serious group of church members. Prayer was the lifeblood of the early church" (67).

What would it look like for a group of people to get together to pray with one another for the sole purpose of crying out to the Lord?

How would it change a church if people prioritized prayer and didn't treat it like an add-on or something they had to do before they ate lunch?

What would it say to new people if the church continually sought the dependence of the Lord in all things at all times?

This has been something that has been on my mind for some time now. I have begun reading books and actually praying myself, that I would learn what it means to pray. I want to dig deeper into this subject. Will you with me? Will you just take 10 minutes today to pray? Not just for health issues, but for praise and worship out of a spirit of dependence upon the Lord. And the next time you are together with people from the church, would you consider praying with each other for each other?

All to His glory and our good!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Autopsy of a Deceased Church by Thom Rainer

Several weeks ago, I received Thom Rainer's new book, Autopsy of a Deceased Church, in the mail to read and review. It took me just a few hours to read through the book, but I have waiting several weeks to write this review. I wanted to process some of the information he writes about in this book as I filter these thoughts through the grid of my church.

I am not sure I know of anyone who wants their church to die. Who would? But we know that it happens every day. While the Church universally is not dying and will not be stopped (Matthew 16:18), individual churches are dying. Constantly, there are churches that shut their doors and stop doing ministry. And for these churches, Rainer argues they almost never see it coming. They fail to see the subtle signs that indicate they are headed for disaster. He says,
"It is rare for a long-term church member to see erosion in his or her church. Growth may come rapidly, but decline is usually slow, imperceptibly slow. This erosion is the worst type of decline for churches, because the members have no sense of urgency to change. they see the church on a regular basis; they don't see the gradual decline that is taking place before their eyes" (12-13).
Throughout this book, Rainer gives several reasons of attitudes that killed the church. For some, it is glorifying the past instead of living in the present. For others, it is an inward looking church. Still for some it is a church that becomes about facilities instead of people. His research and observations are extremely helpful.

At the end of every chapter, he includes a short prayerful commitment that seeks to summarize the chapter. And then there are several helpful questions that makes a person think about their current situation. I could easily see this book being read together with a small group or even a leadership team.

At the very end of the book, Rainer gives four responses for those who think their church is sick; four responses for those who think their church is very sick; and four responses for those that think their church is dying (or is dead). They are worth the time to think about and pray through with your individual church.

It is a very short book, but a helpful book. The research and experience of church ministry that Rainer brings to this topic is something that all of us can learn from. I would recommend it not just for your library, but for your thinking about church life.

I received a copy of Autopsy of a Deceased Church by Thom Rainer from B&H Publishers for review.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Anniversary, Race, & Chicago

I was on vacation last week, which is why I did not write anything on my blog. I did some work around the house the first few days, but then took Monique on a short trip to one of our favorite cities in the world. Without a doubt, the highlight of my vacation was this trip to Chicago with my wonderful wife and some good friends from our church. Here we are in front of Buckingham Fountain:


The purpose of our trip was to participate (I'd say 'run' but we didn't really 'run') in the Great Urban Race. If you have ever watched the Amazing Race, I'd say it is much like that except for only in one city. At the end of last year, we were talking with our friends, Steve & Sandy, about this race and they said they had never been to Chicago and wanted to participate in it. While racing is not normally in our vocabulary, we wanted to do it with them (plus, he said he wanted to hit all the good Chicago food places . . . who could resist that?).

16th Anniversary
Getting out of town for the race was an easy decision once we learned it took place the day after our 16th anniversary. It is hard to believe that we have been married that long. Sixteen years. It was here in Chicago that we first met. I was a student at Moody Bible Institute, she was a Wheaton College girl. We met at the best place to meet someone, a church. While our "romance" didn't start until either of us were no longer in school, our friendship began right away. 

Even after sixteen years, I am still getting to know this woman. Her example of forgiveness marvels me. I know I mess things up all the time with her. I say things too harshly. I am selfish. I am quick to think of myself. And she quietly goes about her business, letting go of my sins in the ways of Jesus Christ. She truly is a great woman and I love her very much.

The Great Urban Race
Even though we did not "run", the race was way more difficult than I anticipated it being. It was really spread out. We calculated it by the end of the day, we walked about 9 miles (plus another 2-3 after the race to get pizza and then to Navy Pier for fireworks). It was an exhausting day. 

At the beginning of the race, you are given a clues that will help you figure out the 12 locations around the city in which you need to go. At each location, there is an obstacle you have to complete to get credit for it. There was everything from Corn Hole to Parkour to imitating statues. 

If I were to design the course, I would have the locations closer together with more difficult challenges at each location. But it was still fun and we were still smiling after the race was completed. While we have never done anything like this before, it certainly would be fun to do it again.

Chicago
It is truly one of my favorite cities to visit. The food is the best around, and trust me, we did our best to eat as much of it as possible. It's probably a good thing that we walked over ten miles everyday there, for it gave us excuses to eat lots of pizza and beef. 

After the race on Saturday night, Monique and I went on a boat ride to watch the fireworks. As we witnessed the city at night lit up in all of its glory. It was amazing. And then to sit on the water on a boat and watch the fireworks was amazing as well. There are not many things like it in the world I have experienced.


As we sat on that boat, I began to marvel at the ingenuity of mankind. Sinful, fallen man created all of this. The architecture is superb. The lights. The buildings. As I thought of this, my mind quickly raced toward what the Great City of God is going to be like. If this is what sinful, fallen, imperfect man can come up with, what will a perfect, Holy, infinite God create in His city? It is described as "having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal" (Revelation 21:11). I can't wait to see what God has in store for those who know Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

What Has God Called You To Do?

In Matthew 17:20, Jesus says, "if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.'" I shared yesterday that I believe the word "nothing" in this verse doesn't mean "nothing without any exception." I believe it is limited by the context in which it is used. 

Because of the context, it is better to understand it as "nothing God has called you to do." It means that when God calls you to do something, it will always be possible. It doesn't matter how large of a perceived obstacle stands in your way, it will be possible to accomplish the given task as long as you believe (trust) in Jesus Christ. The issue is not whether it is too big or too difficult, it is whether you are staying connected to Jesus. So then, the natural question that follows is this: 

What Has God Called You To Do? 

I do not want to discount that God calls some people to do things that He doesn't call other people to do. He gives different gifts of different degrees to different people. It is impossible for me to argue with someone who shares a story similar to Eric Liddell, who once said, "I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast! And when I run I feel his pleasure." He strongly believed that God called him to run.

God may have made you fast. He may have made you smart. He may have made you gifted in business. He may have made you athletic. He may have made you musically inclined. And all of these things are good and right. But I want us to get past the feelings and experiences that tend to dominate our thinking these days. All you have to do is watch the opening rounds of American Idol to see that some people believe God made them to sing and very clearly, He didn't. Whenever we begin to deal with our feelings and experiences, we open ourselves up to be wrong!

He may have called you to do something unique. I don't know that. But one thing I do know. I know what He has called you and me to be and do. We can find a whole host of things He has called us to be and do in the Bible. And these things are not up for debate. These are things we do not have to guess at. These are examples of things that we know for certain He has called us to, which means, they are possible as long as we have faith in Jesus Christ. These are things that are possible to achieve if we stay connected to Jesus. Here is just a small sampling of what could be many . . .

  • Moral Purity
  • Thankfulness
  • Evangelism
  • Forgiveness
  • Humility
  • Patience
  • Love & Honor Your Spouse
  • Prayerful

For sure, we could list many other things we are called to in the Scriptures. And so, the next time you are in a situation in which someone does something to you and you think, "There's no way I can forgive that person for what they have done." I want you to think of this text. God has called me to forgive others as He, in Christ, has forgiven me. Therefore, if I trust Him; if I believe in Jesus; if I stay connected to Jesus, forgiveness is possible. It may seem impossible, but it's not!

The next time you face a temptation that strongly pulls you away from moral purity, I want you to think of this. If you believe and trust in Jesus, you can say no and remain morally pure. "Nothing is impossible for you."

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

When "Nothing" Doesn't Mean "Nothing"

I am a big proponent of verse by verse preaching through a book of the Bible. The main reason why I believe this is the most effective means of preaching is that it allows you to see the text of Scripture in the context in which it was written. This past Sunday, I came face to face with a passage that can only be understood in the context in which it was written. But unfortunately, it has often been ripped out of the context and applied wrongly in many different ways!

But before I illustrate how it has been wrongly understood, let me help paint the context for you. I am preaching through the book of Matthew and last week came to Jesus' interaction with a father who desired to have his boy healed of his epilepsy (Matthew 17:14-20). We are later told that the boy's problems are rooted in demon possession. As Jesus normally does, He extends grace on this man and heals they young boy. 

But to me, the most interesting part of this interaction is Jesus' conversation with the disciples after the healing. Matthew 17:19-20 says . . .
"Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, 'Why could we not cast it out?' He said to them, 'Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.'"
When the man approached Jesus seeking healing for his son, he tells Jesus that he first brought the boy to the disciples and they failed in healing him. And so now the disciples get Jesus alone and ask him why they couldn't do it. They know they have been given authority to heal and cast out demons. Jesus  told them to do it. When Jesus sent out the twelve, He gave them "authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction" (Matthew 10:1). He told them specifically to "heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons" (Matthew 10:8).

But now they tried to do what God told them to do and they couldn't do it. Why? Why were they not able to do what Jesus had told them to do. Jesus' answer to them is that they have little faith. He isn't saying they have a little quantity of faith. After all, just a few words after this He will use the illustration of faith that is like a mustard seed. That's little faith. It's little faith, but powerful enough to move mountains (to move mountains was proverbial for overcoming great difficulties . . . another textual faux pas, but we don't have time to deal with that here).

 Jesus isn't talking about their quantity of faith, but their quality of faith. Quality of faith seemingly is a faith that is dependent upon Jesus. It seems to me that they were not relying on Jesus when they tried to heal this boy. If I were to guess, they simply were going through the motions of healing, instead of relying on the One who commanded them to do it.

Okay Thad, this is a good story, but what's the point of this blog post? Well, glad you asked. At the end of the passage, Jesus says . . .

"Nothing will be impossible for you."

NOTHING!

As in NOTHING without any exceptions. Is Jesus saying that we do possess the ability to literally move mountains if we have enough faith? Is He saying that I can do anything I want if I have faith in Jesus? I am convinced after studying this passage that nothing cannot mean nothing without any qualifiers. Let me explain.

  • The reason why I cannot break a 4-minute (or 5-minute or 6-minute) mile has nothing to do with me not having enough faith in Jesus Christ. 
  • The only explanation as to why I cannot fly has nothing to do with not trusting Jesus enough.
  • The reason why I am not on the PGA Tour is not connected to how much faith or dependence in Jesus I have had in my life.

I use these as crazy examples because I want to prove a point. Nothing cannot mean nothing without any exception. There is not a person I know that would literally say the reason why they cannot fly is because they do not have enough faith in Jesus. That's ridiculous!

But I have heard things like . . . "The reason why your child is sick is because you do not have enough faith. The reason why you are poor and do not live in a nice neighborhood is because of your lack of faith. The only explanation for why you are driving a 2001 Saturn instead of a 2014 BMW is because you do not trust Jesus enough."

Ever heard anything like that? It's just as ridiculous as my illustrations, but people tend to buy into them. I hear this all the time from those who preach a health / wealth gospel. The reason why your are not rich; the only explanation for your sickness; the reason you are not happy all the time is because of your lack of faith in Jesus. Ridiculous! Nothing doesn't mean Nothing without any exception. It Can't! 

So What Does NOTHING Mean?

Well, put it in the context. The disciples were not able to do what Jesus commanded them to do. He told them to cast out demons and now they found themselves not being able to do it. But then He explains to them that if they have a faith that stays attached to Him, a faith that is connected to Him, then nothing will be impossible for them. 

Doesn't it seem reasonable that what Jesus is saying is that NOTHING He commands us to do will be impossible if we stay attached to Him? We will be able to accomplish everything He has told us to do if we trust in Him. If we live a life of dependence upon Jesus Christ, then we can do what He has told us to do.

Makes sense, doesn't it?

Tomorrow, I'm going to share some further thoughts on how to know what God has called us to do.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Grace is Free by Marci Preheim

In the week leading up to Mother's Day, I took the opportunity to read a book directed at womanhood. I know, that sounds strange. Here I am, the evangelical gospel-loving pastor, who takes time to read a book addressing issues with women. 

There are at least two reasons for this. First, I want to learn more about what women struggle with as this would hopefully, make me a better pastor. Second, my assumption is that the solution to a woman's struggle is not that much different than the solution to my problems, even though I am a man. 

Both of those hopes were fulfilled in Marci Preheim's little book, Grace is Free. In this book, she shares how she grew up in a very fundamental home in which her lack of perfection told her that she was not good enough to be loved by God. That moved her to abandon the faith and run headlong into a sinful life. Thankfully, she eventually discovers the truth of grace in the gospel message.

Throughout the book, Preheim wonderfully shows how the gospel of grace penetrates and releases the heart from any sort of performance-based thinking. And there is one phrase that seems to come up over and over again. She consistently calls women (and men) to believe more, not do more. 

I never perceived in her writing that she thinks the pendulum should swing so far to one side that a person never does things. It's just that it follows the believing. And so the greatest need for the woman (or man) is to trust Christ and believe more intentionally the truths of the gospel, not first do something. Believe, not perform. Let me share two quotes of many that explain her perspective on this thought of believing more instead of doing more.
"Both Leslie and I default to a 'striving' mode when we are not consciously believing the true gospel. It's in our DNA to feel like we are not praying hard enough, reading enough Scripture, or doing enough godly things to deserve God's favor. We fall into the mentality that somehow with Christian activity we can draw down God's favor upon us. Believing we have his favor no matter how we perform in a given day is the hardest thing for us to do" (51).
And then she writes,
"When it comes to the gospel, perspective is everything. I can easily default to what I grew up believing--that I can make myself better. It's the same individualistic lie the world promotes: do better, discipline yourself more, choose your own destiny, be somebody. But the gospel is a gift given to sinners who humble themselves before an almighty God, surrender to his plan, and gratefully receive the sacrifice he made on the cross to pay for their sins. It doesn't demand the spotlight--it doesn't demand anything" (122). 
Obviously, this is not just a thought for women. I learned many things about women in this book. For instance, she shares how no women can ever live up to the standard of Proverbs 31 and to teach it as the standard probably hurts women more than helps them. But this book helped affirm to me how the gospel of grace impacts and heals from the temptation of performance. For that reason, I would highly recommend you to read this book!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Basics Conference, Day 3


This afternoon concluded the 2014 Basics Conference. If you are interested, you can find all the resources (audio and video) HERE. I would highly encourage you to take some time to listen to the messages from this conference. You will be blessed. Here are just a few highlights from this morning.

Q & A with All Speakers
The morning began with a Question and Answer time with all the speakers. While many of the questions are the same that they receive every year, I was particularly drawn to one that had to do with a sabbatical. I don't know a pastor who wouldn't want a sabbatical. While I do not know if I will ever be at a place where I could have one, their words of advice about rest and purpose made me desire it even more. Please listen to the audio for a further explanation.

Main Session -- Alistair Begg
Begg began the conference by encouraging pastors to preach through the book of Ecclesiastes. He chose to end the conference by preaching through the last chapter of the book. As I said the other day, I do not have to be encouraged to preach this book. I see the relevance. I understand how it applies to the life of the average person today. But to sit and listen to this last chapter being explained showed once again how it applies. 

There is an opportunity we have with our young people to teach them about our Creator God. But it is a limited time. Soon, they will grow old and drift away from any understanding of Him. The description of the old man is humorous and enlightening. In the end, we are called to get above heaven and fear God (enjoy Him, love Him, worship Him) and do what He says. That is the chief end of man.

Concluding Remarks
I once again appreciated the interaction I was able to have with friends and colleagues at this conference. I will look forward again to it next year. 

Thank you Parkside Church for your generosity and hospitality. The work of the gospel in the life of your people is obvious. I praise the Lord for you.

Basics Conference, Day 2


As I have shared, I am at the 2014 Basics Conference at Parkside Church this week. Here is a summary of what happened on the second day (which is the only full day) of the conference.

Main Session - Gary Millar
My only exposure to Gary Millar is in reading his book, Saving Eutychus, a cleverly entitled book on the basics of preaching. Sometimes when you listen to someone preach after you have read their book on preaching, you become disappointed. This was not one of those times. His words from 1 Kings 18 were timely and helpful for my life. 

One thing stood out for me, and it is in his comparison between Elijah and Obadiah in that chapter. Elijah is a black and white, hard-core prophet; Obadiah seems to be in all shades of grey, almost cowering in his position as assistant to Ahab. And yet, God used both of them. God uses all kinds of different people and it is always based on His grace. When the big leader is affective for the kingdom, it is just as much God's grace as when the nobody does something great for Him. That was helpful for me to think through in my own life.  

Main Session -- Christopher Ash
In his second main session. Ash preached from Psalm 146. While there were many things in this message that impacted me, some of the most helpful parts was when he gave several general questions to help interpret the Psalms. He said the Psalm teacher should ask these questions in this order . . .

  1. What would it have meant for an Old Covenant believer to sing or pray this Psalm?
  2. What would it have meant for Jesus to sing or pray this Psalm?
  3. What does it mean for us corporately in Christ to sing or pray this Psalm?

The main thrust of this sermon was that God is the one that deserves praise, men do not. We are not to put our trust in princes (any influential person) because they die. And when they die, they take their plans with them. This is a shot across the bow of the Christian Celebrity. In fact, the real danger in putting someone on a pedestal is that we soon begin to believe that they are worthy to be trusted. That is dreadful.

Breakout Session -- "Maintaining Pastoral Zeal While Avoiding Burnout" by Christopher Ash
This session is very important and helpful for pastors. In fact, I would encourage all pastors to watch or listen to it if you have some time. And even if you are an elder or church leader, I would encourage you to think through how you can help your pastor think through these things. Ash shared several helpful thoughts for the pastor who is on the verge of burnout. 

  1. Dust - He tried to help us remember that we were created from dust and we will return to dust. The point being is to help us remember that we are human. 
  2. Sleep - God might not need sleep, but we do.
  3. Sabbath Rest - One out of seven rest pattern is a Christian mandate
  4. Renewal - He encouraged us to find what it is that energizes us and make the conscious effort to make room in our schedules for them.
  5. Friends - We all need people who will tell us the truth.
  6. Rebuke - We need people who will be able to tell us to quit seeking our own glory.
  7. Encouragement - Pastoral ministry is worth it. It is difficult to measure the success of a ministry, but it is worth it.
  8. Joy - Rejoice in being a recipient of God's grace, that even if we do nothing else in ministry in our life, we can still rejoice over the fact of being a Christian.

Breakout Session -- "Preaching Simply, Preaching Richly" by Gary Millar
Much of this session was taken out of his book, Saving Eutychus. But it was still very good. He is a masterful communicator and it came through as he shared how the preacher is to preach simply! SIMPLIFY! And as you simply, it always goes back to Jesus and the gospel. 

But once you learn to preach simply, you need to learn to preach richly. We should not only know the main idea of the text, but also the vibe of the text. What is the emotional tone of the text? That should influence the message as well. 

Evening Activities
I regret to say that I was unable to attend the evening dinner or session by Gary Millar. But I heard good things of his treatment from 1 Kings 19. I look forward to watching it soon (all of the resources can be found HERE).

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Basics Conference, Day 1


As I have shared, I am at the Parkside Basics Conference this week. Here are some of my thoughts from the first day's sessions that took place yesterday. 

Breakout Session -- Daniel Henderson
The conference started with a bang for me. I chose to attend a breakout session entitled, "Seven Vital Truths about a Culture of Prayer." I have been feeling recently that our church does not pray enough. I don't pray enough. This concept of a prayerful dependence upon God is something I'm not sure I sense in my life or the life of our people.

One statement at the beginning of his session really struck me. He said, "Prayerlessness is my declaration of my independence from God." Ouch! When I choose not to pray, I am saying I do not need God. And even when I do seek Him in prayer only when I need things, I am seeking His hands and not Him. Henderson encouraged a culture of prayer that seeks God for God, not because of what He can give. He then continued to give his seven truths about developing a culture of prayer in your church. 

1. A Prayer Culture is not a Prayer Program
2. A Prayer Culture Always Emanates from the Epicenter of Church Leadership
3. A Prayer Culture is Fueled by Experience not Explanation
4. A Prayer Culture is Rooted in Clarity and Conviction about Community
5. A Prayer Culture is Sustained by the Right Motives
6. A Prayer Culture is a Key to Supernatural Mission Achievement
7. A Prayer Culture is more a Crock Pot than a Microwave

He encouraged that prayer is not simply another ministry in your church, but it is something that the leaders of the church should make sure permeates every ministry of the church. There were many helpful thoughts in this session that I will go back to in the next few weeks.

Main Session -- Alistair Begg
I have loved the ministry of Alistair Begg. He has blessed me tremendously in the past years through his teaching and writing ministry. He opened the first main session by reading Ecclesiastes 1 and then encouraging pastors to preach the book of Ecclesiastes. He noted that his talk was not going to be an exposition, so I'm not going to critique him on it in that way. But he did say he is going to do an exposition on a portion of the book in the last session. I really look forward to that.

It wasn't an exposition, but a reminder that preaching this book is needed. To be honest, I failed to see the purpose of his sermon. Maybe there are some in the audience that need to be encouraged to preach through the book of Ecclesiastes, but not me. If there are, then I'm certainly glad he preached it. But I don't need that motivation. I get it. I know it speaks to the audience today. I get that it is extremely relevant to the world in which we are living. I have preached through this book before and I look forward to preaching through it again.

There was one thing he said that impacted me. He made mention that too often, preachers talk about the gospel, but do not present the gospel. That's a helpful warning to me. It is not just enough to talk about gospel truths, but I need to make sure to turn that gospel truth toward the listeners, asking for a response from them.

Dinner
Parkside does a wonderful job with the mealtime at this conference. As is usual, the group of guys I am with end up sitting with some people we do not know. I had the privilege to sit with two men from West Virginia, two men from Ireland, and one from Norway. Yep, three of the guys at my table were from across the pond. It was encouraging to hear their stories of how the gospel transformed their life and how God is using them today.

One funny note. The two gentleman from Ireland made the note that it is unfortunate that Alistair Begg has lost his accent. Huh? If that's the case, I'd hate to hear what he used to sound like. 

Main Session -- Christopher Ash
The main session ended with Christopher Ash preaching through Psalm 74. Again, a very unique selection of a biblical text to preach through for a pastors conference. He noted that the Psalm begins with Grief (vs. 1-11), then notes the author's Belief (vs. 12-17), and ends in Pleading (vs. 18-23). I suppose that some of the men might be in that place of grief in their ministry. Some are finding themselves holding onto, in belief, the One who breaks the heads of the sea monsters. And some are pleading with God to continue. I see that and trust it landed where the Spirit of God wanted it to land.

Probably the most helpful part of his sermon was at the beginning when he explained the job of the teacher of Psalms. He explained how the one who teaches Psalms should . . .

1. Teach the Lyrics - He needs to help make the words understandable.
2. Teach the Tune - He needs to help people feel the meaning in their heart.
3. Teach the Want-To - He needs to help them want what it wants. 

I like that and will come back to this during the summer months as I preach through several Psalms as part of my "Summer in the Psalms" series.

If you think of it, pray for the many pastors and church leaders who will be taking in a full day of conference today. If you are interested, you can find the schedule and link for live stream HERE.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Parkside Basics Conference 2014


Today begins the 2014 Parkside Basics Conference. This is an annual conference put on by Alistair Begg & Parkside Church for pastors and Christian workers. There are a few reasons why this is one of my favorite conferences to attend each year.

First, it is close to my home. I only have to travel about 35 minutes to get to the church from my office. I love that. I can get some work done Monday mornings, get back to the office on Wednesday afternoon, and still enjoy time sitting under the teaching of God's Word. Anytime I can sit under a quality conference that is close to my house, I'm going to take advantage of it.

Second, the speakers are usually men I've not had the opportunity to hear before. Besides Alistair Begg, this years conference will include Christopher Ash and Gary Millar. While I have never heard Ash or Millar speak, I have read some of their books. The Priority of Preaching by Christopher Ash is one of the most helpful books on preaching I have read in the last few years. In addition, he wrote a short little book called Listen Up!, a book on listening to preaching. Since that has always been a topic on my heart (Helping Johnny Listen), I was eager to read it and learned from it. I hope to get a chance to talk to him about that resource.

Third, the atmosphere of the conference is free, loose, and casual. I appreciate that. Some of the pastors conferences I have attended in the past tend to be filled with formal music and feel like a production. This one is just simple. Teaching, meals, and some time for fellowship (oh, and their incredible bookstore). I appreciate the simplicity of this conference.

I am looking forward today to spend some time with friends in the ministry. I am looking forward to learning and growing in my faith and profession. And I'm looking forward to getting out of the office for a few days to be challenged by the teaching of God's Word. As I often do through the different conferences I attend, I will try to blog my way through each day, sharing things I am learning. 

If you are interested, you can follow along with the conference. It is being streamed live HERE. The first break-out session begins at 3pm and then the first main session is at 4:15 pm. I'm sure they would love for you to join in wherever you are at in the world.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Shallow Repentance

I am most of my way through reading Dr. Larry Crabb's Fully Alive (review coming soon). This thought on shallow repentance was really helpful.
"Shallow repentance looks something like this: we do something wrong and then we feel guilty. Feeling guilty also makes us feel bad, unhappy, irritable, and cold. We then dwell on our failure as a way of doing penance. Penance, of course, is pride. It's our way of telling God that He really ought to forgive us so we can feel better about ourselves. We weary God with tearful pledges to do better, promises we repeat after every failure. When we manage by serious self-effort to not commit our besetting sin for a season, we feel more proud than grateful, still self-absorbed. When we do fail again, whether in familiar or new ways, bad feelings start the same cycle of shallow repentance all over again" (177).

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Best Way To Handle Conflict

Have you ever wanted to know how to handle a situation when someone is upset at you? Have you wondered what you should do when people are saying things about you behind your back? Before I get to the answer, watch this video . . .



If anything, this teaches us one very important lesson. People will easily say something behind your back that they will not say to your face. And so, when you are trying to deal with conflict, bring the conversation out into the public. Don't allow it to stay in the dark, expose it to the light. That is why I would say, the best way to handle conflict is to . . .

Talk Face to Face Whenever Possible.

Isn't it amazing how the people responded when Robinson Cano came out of the box? Now, granted, he is one of the best baseball players in the world and the people were probably just excited about meeting him. But obviously, they didn't want to say things to his face they would say behind his back. 

When you are having problems with people, the best thing you can do is to sit down and talk face to face. If you possibly can, avoid communicating only through text messages. Don't try to have all your conversations through long emails. If it is impossible to sit down face to face, at least pick up the phone and call them. Talk to them, don't just text or email them. 

How to handle adversity? Don't run away and allow it to fester in the darkness. Run towards the problem and help be an agent of reconciliation. It's sort of like the gospel of Jesus Christ. Because of sin, we are the problem and He ran towards us to expose us and bring it to the light. Model Jesus in how you deal with conflict.