Friday, January 31, 2014

Read the Bible in 100+ Days

It's that time again. It is time for me (and hopefully you) to discipline ourselves to read through the Bible. I have tried many different plans in the past and by far, the best plan I have ever used to read through the entire Bible is The Bible in 90 Days. I have finished this plan three times in the past several years and it is time to do it again.

There are many reasons why I love this plan, but let me share two of them. First, there is light at the end of the tunnel from the very beginning of the plan. Three months is not that long. It is possible to keep up with the reading because you realize you are going to finish soon. Now, I am not going to lie and say it is easy. There is a lot of reading that takes place each day. For the normal reader, it will take about 45 minutes a day. I have known people that read along with me and they were able to knock it out in about 30 minutes. For others, it took closer to an hour. Some people get stuck reading through Leviticus in some plans, but in this one, you are through it in two days. It keeps you moving.

But there is another reason why I love this plan. It helps put the Bible in perspective. When you begin reading Matthew and he quotes OT prophecies, you easily remember them because you just read them a week or two ago. You are able to see the big picture of the Bible. I love that. 

One Slight Change!
I am making some slight modifications to the program as I have used it in the past. I am going to pencil in a Meditation Day each week. And so, it will be slightly more than 90 days, it will be 102 days. But I am doing this for a very important reason. Every Sunday is a day off from reading. For some of you, it will be a catch-up day (probably for me as well). But the thought is that I wanted to take some time that day to reflect back upon what I read that past week. 

One of the weaknesses of this plan is that you cannot stop and think and meditate on a particular passage or you will never get through it all. You have to keep moving. Engaging this plan will help you see the Bible from the big picture. There will not be time for the tiny details. And so I am planning a day each week to think back over some of the details I wanted to think about as I was reading. In addition, I do expect it will become a day I can catch up in some reading that I missed.  

When Will We Start?
My plan is to start on Monday, February 10th. And then every Monday, I will post some thoughts on what I read the previous week. I would love for your thoughts as well. If you are interested in reading with me in this plan, simply leave a comment on this post and then check back ever Monday. 

Just so you do not have to do the math, this plan will help you read through the Bible by May 13th. I want to do this and would love others to join me. I hope you will. 

If you want to see the plan, you can download the plan I am going to use HERE.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

How To Receive Confrontation

Yesterday, I shared several steps of how to approach someone in their sin. I think many people find it very difficult to approach people they love to tell them about sinful patterns of behavior they have noticed. It is very difficult to approach people in sin.

But it is also very difficult to be approached. It is very difficult to hear that you are sinning. It is painful being told that you are walking away from Jesus. But it is something we need if we desire to follow Him.

There is a lot of information out there on how to confront someone. But there is relatively little information on how to receive the confrontation. That is what I want to share today. How should you respond when someone confronts you on something in your life?

1. Invite Other Into Your Life
The reality is that we need people in our life to confront us. We may not like it when people point stuff out in our life, but we know it is good for us. And if it is good for us, maybe we need to invite it in. We need to welcome it. We need to go to friends of ours and have this sort of conversation: "I want you to know that if you ever see sin in my life, I want you . . . I need you to talk to me about it."

2. Strive For Humility
The proud person thinks they never fail. The humble person knows they do. I don't think I have met many people in my life that claim to be perfect. Most people know they sin. They know they fail. And so if you are humble, why would it surprise you that someone wants to talk to you about your sin?

3. Ask For Specifics
Ask them to be very specific in what they see in you. Ask them to open God's Word with you and point out the sin clearly. The point is that you want to make sure you understand them correctly. Now, there is a way to ask for specifics that is godly and one that is sarcastic. Obviously, I am saying the godly way. And it is manifested through the rest of these responses.

4. Resist Arguing
It can be true that the best thing you can do when someone confronts you is to remain silent. Thank them for their input in your life and don't respond until you have had time to think about it. Sometimes it is helpful to remain silent because the natural reaction is to fire back at them. It is to argue. If you find yourself wanting to argue, then there is probably some guilt somewhere in your heart.

5. Resist Pointing Out Their Sin
When someone comes to point something out in your life, the ungodly response is, "Well, you think I sin? Do I have something to talk to you about." That is not going to be helpful. It is deflecting. I usually go by a simple rule. If someone is talking to me about my sin, it is not the time to talk to them about their sin. I just don't trust myself to not make it more about them than about the ways I have offended my God.

6. Listen With Thankfulness
You may not feel thankful in the moment, but you should. Proverbs says it is the faithful friend who wounds you. It means they love you. Take them at face value. Don't read into their motives. And be thankful that they cared enough to help you see the ways you are walking away from Jesus.

7. Be Willing To Change
If it is sin, be ready to run from it. If you have hurt them, be quick to apologize. I am constantly amazed when people resist apologizing. I just don't get what kind of pride it takes to never admit you are wrong. If they are pointing out sin, then run from it.

8. Ask For Follow-Up
Ask them to follow up with you at a later point. This might be needed simply because you may need time to think about what they have told you. Or it could be that you simply need help in the repentance process.

9. Look For The Truth In Their Confrontation
It is possible that they were misguided in their confrontation. Maybe you did not sin. Maybe you did not mean to offend them. Maybe they completely missed it. But my guess is that there is something you can learn from the interaction you had with them. 

Being confronted can be painful. Being pursued is not fun. But it is for our good and we need to learn how to respond biblically. I hope these steps help. 

Are there things you like to do when you are confronted that I did not address? I'd love to hear your thoughts. 

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

How To Talk To Someone About Their Sin

I have been preaching through a series on the topic of Church Discipline. In Matthew 18:15, Jesus tells us that if we see a brother in sin, we should go and tell him his fault. This is traditionally understood as the first step of Church Discipline. Private confrontation of sin. 

But how should it happen? How do you approach someone to talk to them about something in their life? My guess is that we often avoid this conversation because we do not know how to do it. Let me offer a few practical steps to consider when thinking about going to your brother or sister in Christ to talk to them about their sin.

1. Make Sure You Are Dealing With Sin
We need to be careful about going to our brother or sister in Christ to talk about a "sin" which is really nothing more than some tradition we have invented. Make sure that the topic is an actual sin. Are there clear biblical passages that explain what they are doing is sinful?

2. Pray Before You Go
Pray for your heart. Pray in repentance of your own sinfulness. Pray that God would soften their heart to be receptive to your initiation into their life. You will want to make sure to come with a praying heart. 

3. Don't Talk To Others
Jesus didn't say when you see someone in sin that you should go ask everyone you know if they know what's going on with that person. And so we should avoid gossip. We avoid slander by going directly to the person. We can avoid a lot of damage by just talking to the person instead of talking about the person. In his book, The Transforming Community, Mark Lauterbach made this insightful comment:
"My obligation is to love my brother. If he has sinned, love owes him the opportunity to repent without embarrassment. If I have misunderstood, love owes him the opportunity to clear my misperceptions" (101).
4. Make Sure You Have Accurate Information
Ask questions. Don't go in accusing, go in seeking to know the person. Is there any chance you didn't see something correctly? Is there any chance you are wrong? Tell them what you saw or what you have heard and ask them to respond. 

5. Choose Your Words Carefully
Lead with humility by the words you use. Make sure you communicate how much you love them and care for them. Make sure they are well aware that you are there for them. This is not a hit and run. This is not a traffic stop. Proverbs 25:15 says that a soft tongue breaks the bone. Be gentle with them and help them seek repentance. 

6. Open Your Bible
Your authority is not your own wisdom. Your authority to help restore them rests in the authority of the Word of God. God says that His Word is like a sword that deals with the heart. Use it. 

7. Give Them Time To Talk
This conversation best happens in an environment where you are not rushed. Engage them in a dialogue. Listen to them. Be engaged and interested in their life. Give them time to explain.

8. Pray With Them
Ask them if you can pray with them right then and there. The prayer is not one to call God's judgment down upon them. You are praying for their sensitivity to the Spirit of God and that He would help lead them in repentance. 

9. Follow-Up With Them
Don't forget them after you have talked to them. Schedule a time later to talk to them. For some sins, if they repent, it is over. For others, while it will be over and forgiveness can be granted, the consequences of that sin are going to take time to help them walk through. So don't leave them alone. 

What have I missed? What are some other things to think through as you seek to go to your friend in sin and help them be restored?

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Should Marijuana Be Legalized?

I was recently talking to a friend about legalized marijuana. During that conversation, we talked about the medicinal benefits of this drug. My obvious first reaction is negativity toward this, but honestly, I have not taken too much time to think about it. That conversation made me rethink some of my positions, particularly for those that live in a state of constant pain. 

And then today, I came across this video by Dr. John Piper, where he answers this question. His response might be surprising to you. But it is certainly something that I want to carve out time to think about in the future. 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

How Strong Is Your Desire To Grow Spiritually?

Do you want to grow spiritually? I am not talking about a casual, sort-of desire to grow. I mean, do you really want to grow? Do you want to leave your sin? Do you want to follow hard after Jesus Christ? How strong is that desire to grow in your life? Is it strong enough to move you pray this prayer?
"Let the rains of disappointment come, if they water the plants of spiritual grace. Let the winds of adversity blow, if they serve to root more securely the trees that God has planted. I say, let the sun of prosperity be eclipsed, if that brings me closer to the true light of life. Welcome, sweet discipline, discipline designed for my joy, discipline designed to make me what God wants me to be."
Prayers like this are dangerous for the safety of our life. But maybe, just maybe, our safety is keeping us from growing.

What do you think? 

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Story of Robert Robinson

On Sunday, I shared part of the life's story of Robert Robinson. He was born in 1735 in England and for most of his life, he was an influential baptist in that country. He is most famous for penning the words to the now famous hymn, "Come Thou Fount." But what happened to him in the latter parts of his life have really impacted me personally. 
It was a bright Sunday morning in 28th Century London, but Robert Robinson's mood was anything but sunny. All along the street there were people hurrying to church, but in the midst of the crowd Robinson was a lonely man. The sound of church bells reminded him of years past when his faith in God was strong and the church was an integral part of his life. It had been years since he set foot in a church. Years of wandering, disillusionment, and gradual defection from the God he once loved. That love for God, once fiery and passionate, had slowly burned out within him, leaving him dark and cold inside. 
Robinson heard the clip-clop, clip-clop of a horse-drawn cab approaching behind him. Turning, he lifted his hand to hail the driver. But then he saw that the cab was occupied by a young woman dressed in finery for the Lord's Day. He waved the driver on, but the woman in the carriage ordered the carriage to be stopped. "Sir, I'd be happy to share this carriage with you," she said to Robinson. "Are you going to church?" Robinson was about to decline, then he paused. "Yes," he said at last. "I am going to church." He stepped into the carriage and sat down beside the young woman. 
As the carriage rolled forward Robert Robinson and the woman exchanged introductions. There was a flash of recognition in her eyes when he stated his name. "That's an interesting coincidence," she said, reaching into her purse. She withdrew a small book of inspirational verse, opened it to a ribbon-bookmark, and handed the book to him. "I was just reading a verse by a poet named Robert Robinson. Could it be . . .?" He took the book, nodding. "Yes, I wrote these words years ago." 
"Oh, how wonderful!" she exclaimed. "Imagine! I'm sharing a carriage with the author of these very lines!" But Robinson barely heard her. He was absorbed in the words he was reading. They were words that would one day be set to music and become a great hymn of the faith, familiar to generations of Christians: 
"Come, Thou Fount of every blessing, Tune my heart to sing Thy grace; Streams of mercy, never ceasing, Call for songs of loudest praise." 
His eyes slipped to the bottom of the page where he read: 
"Prone to wander, Lord I feel it; Prone to leave the God I love; Here's my heart, O take and seal it, Seal it for They courts above." 
He could barely read the last few lines through the tears that brimmed in his eyes. "I wrote these words and I've lived these words. 'Prone to wander . . . prone to leave the God I love.'" The woman suddenly understood. "You also wrote, 'Here's my heart, O take and seal it.' You can offer your heart again to God, Mr. Robinson. It's not too late." 
And it wasn't too late for Robert Robinson. In that moment, he turned his heart back to God and walked with him the rest of his days.
[I have shared this part of his life's story before, but do not remember where I first read it. So, the credit for this account of his life goes somewhere else, just not sure where.]

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Thoughts on Heaven, week 2

I am leading a small group Sunday School class through Randy Alcorn's book on Heaven. We are reading about two chapters each week and then coming together to share about what we are learning about the eternal destiny of those that know Jesus. I thought I would take the opportunity each week to blog about what I am learning in this study.

This week, we read chapters 3-4. He is still setting the foundation for this book on heaven by looking at the default position of humanity and whether or not we can know for sure we are heading to Heaven. You see, the default position for all people is not Heaven. It is Hell. Because of sin, humanity has been separated from God. Because of that, our natural destination is not eternity with God in Heaven, but eternity without Him in Hell.

But this is not a comfortable thought. I can't think of anyone that would readily rejoice in someone enduring eternal destruction. In fact, as I read this chapter, I allowed my mind wander to some people I know who have died and I had little confidence of their salvation. I let my mind drift to what is going on with them right now. And it was not a pleasant thought. It hurt. It was devastating. And that's probably the point. And that is probably why so many people struggle with the concept of Hell. In particular, Satan doesn't want people to think of it. Alcorn says,
"Satan has obvious motives for fueling our denial of eternal punishment: He wants unbelievers to reject Christ without fear; he wants Christians to be unmotivated to share Christ; and he wants God to receive less glory for the radical nature of Christ's redemptive work" (25). 
Quite possibly, the most insightful comments in this chapter have to do with earth being the in-between world touched by Heaven and Hell. He says,
"The best of life on Earth is a glimpse of Heaven; the worst of life is a glimpse of Hell. For Christians, this present life is the closest they will come to Hell. For unbelievers, it is the closest they will come to Heaven" (28). 
That's helpful when things go wrong in my life. It helps bring a perspective that this is not Heaven yet for me. But when things go wrong, and they will, it is the closest to Hell as I will ever get. My life and eternity is secured in Christ as my Savior.

He goes on to explain that in the fourth chapter. I wish chapter four were put into a short booklet to pass out to unbelievers. He does a wonderful job of explaining how the gospel of Jesus is needed and how we need to respond to it. He explains how our sin is removed and we are covered with the righteousness of Christ. He ends this section with these important words: "Wouldn't it be tragic if you read this book on Heaven but didn't get to go there" (37)? Tragic indeed!

If you are reading this book along with me, what did you think? What impacted you? Do you feel these chapters were necessary for the overall thought of the book?

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Learning the Trinity

Last year, there was a really funny video that taught about the Trinity that floated around the Internet. It is really funny, and really accurate. Todd Friel has taken this video and adds some of his own teaching to it. It's really good. If you have ever wondered how to explain the Trinity, this is a good video to watch. 

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Two Minutes with the Pope

What would you say if you had two minutes with the Pope? This video shows how John Piper answered that question. His answer is my answer. It is the one thing I would love to ask the Pope if I had two minutes with him.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Transforming Community by Mark Lauterbach

I have started a five week sermon series on the topic of church discipline at our church. In the process, I have taken the time to read several books on the topic. The Transforming Community by Mark Lauterbach is one of my favorites. I think it is one of my favorites because it is the only book I have read on this topic that seeks to directly apply the gospel to church discipline.

Don't get me wrong, many others talk about how the gospel is meant to change us to be holy, therefore we need to hold one another accountable in church discipline. But this is the only book I have read that repeatedly and consistently shows how the gospel brings us into a new community, but then shows how the gospel is still needed for the Christian in that community. It takes the gospel and then applies it to the concept of church discipline. I loved that.

There is a bunch written on the gospel these days. But there wasn't nearly as much written about it ten years ago when this book was published. In many ways, I wonder if Lauterbach is a pioneer in showing how the gospel is needed to bring together a community of people, but then also needed to keep that community together, striving towards holiness. He says,
"Church discipline is not something we 'do' to someone in sin. Church discipline is the constant activity of a church where holiness and love are pursued. We should always be watching over each other, encouraging each other daily against the possibility of a hardened heart, stimulating each other toward love and good works. We should always be facing sin head on in the Gospel. Such a pattern was the function of the apostolic church were people came from similarly messed up lives as we face today. God used them. We must be realistic about the mess and hopeful because of Christ" (20).
One of the strengths of this book is how he calls for Christians to be real with each other. Good pursuit towards holiness only happens when we have others in our life, challenging us to walk with Jesus Christ. In several places throughout the book, he calls on the Christian to be real with other Christians in their church. He strongly encourages relationships within the church as the key to church discipline.
"I am fairly convinced that the primary barrier to real fellowship (where the members of a local church experience the work of the Spirit in their lives, building them up in Christ) is pride. We do not want to walk in the light with each other because it will ruin our image. It is scary to let people into our lives and allow them to expose our faults. If we do not, we shall not be the church. We shall be a club" (41).
He continues . . .
"Churches cannot be glitzy, well-oiled places and be real at the same time. Either we are sinners needing the Gospel, or we are self-righteous" (74).
And finally . . .
"Over the years, I have observed that the worst cases of sin in the church have always been in believers who lived a life isolated from the intimacy of sharing the things of God with their brothers. No one knows them. They have no spiritual friends" (83).
Throughout the book, Lauterbach offers example after example of how he has handled situations in his church. Some of them are good examples, but he is not afraid to share the negatives either. The best way I can describe this book is that He describes Church Discipline in a way that is attractive and drawing. After reading this book, I wanted what he described!

One last thought that impacted me on how he describes the relationship between the gospel and church discipline. He says,
"The church must be a place where people can grow, can begin as immature, and come to maturity . . . Every day believers need the Gospel. The new community is not a place where people are perfect. It is a place where people are honest about their sin. It is a place of perfection, but of humility and the cross" (80)
Amen! If you are a pastor and are looking for a book on how to do church discipline, I would highly recommend this book. If you are a layman and are interested in how this subject should play out in the life of the church, read this book. I'm grateful I did.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Books on Church Discipline

On Sunday, I began a sermon series on the topic of Church Discipline. In the process of studying for this series, I have tried to read many books on the subject. I have already reviewed a couple of the books (Church Discipline by Jonathan Leeman & In Pursuit of Prodigals by Stephen Davey). In addition, I plan on reviewing a couple more in detail that have been particularly helpful to me. 

But I do not have time or energy to do a full review on all the books I have read or used in my research. So I thought I would share several of the other books I have consulted. I have not read each of these books from cover to cover, but I have read enough of them to get a grasp of what they are about. As far as I have read, I wouldn't necessarily disagree with them. But that doesn't mean I would fully agree with everything in each of them. What I am sharing with each book is what the publisher has written about them on the back cover. If you are researching this subject, you may want to grab one or two of these to read.

"Church discipline is a term that is fraught with problems for the church today. However the biblical witness is clear that it is an essential component of a healthy, God-honoring church -- a church where Christians grow and mature in grace and develop solid foundations with which they can, with the help of the Spirit, withstand the storms of life. With many years of pastoral experience, Robert K. Cheong has faced this issue many times. Additionally he interviewed over 30 pastors from different countries and a wide variety of church settings, which enables him to bring a breadth and depth of experience to the issue that is practically unprecedented."

"Fears of disunity, conflict, and even legal problems have caused many church leaders to avoid confronting Christians who are living in sin. Challenging the church's reluctance, Dr. Laney provides a biblical, practical, and loving handbook for pastors and lay leaders alike on church discipline."

"As Christians, we have become experts at shooting our wounded. We watch an erring brother travel down a path of destruction, bringing hurt and shame to his life and family, and what do we do? Usually nothing, or even worse, we join in the local gossip and slander about his sin. In 'Restorative Church Discipline,' author Terry Ivy walks us through the biblical call for the Church to begin rescuing and healing the wounded instead of shooting them. He covers in detail the various steps involved, as well as addressing many areas which are important for believers to understand. This is not a book about dry principles or cold detachment from the pain of others. Instead, it is a plea for the Church to being loving our brothers and sisters enough to reach out with grace. Terry speaks from his experience and shares many insights about this much needed topic. There are believers, including leaders, who are suffering from the wounds of their failures. They feel abandoned and forsaken. This book is a call for us to reach out to restore them. They need us...and we need them!"

This is a handbook for pastors, elders, and all Christians who want to see how Scripture presents the process of discipline that should operate in the Christian community. It was written in response to an urgent need . . . This is a simple and very readable little handbook. The influence it can and should have on the church is, however, quite profound."

"Discipline is one of the most difficult issues in contemporary church life. Church leaders often need to battle to maintain the integrity of their churches, sometimes with tragic results. But why is it so hard? Should we bother with it at all? In this thorough treatment of the subject, Stephen McQuoid answers these questions and provides a biblical framework for church discipline. Because prevention is better than cure, he shows that discipline is not just about punishing but includes a whole way of life which keeps us spiritually accountable and in a right relationship with God. Corrective discipline will also at times be necessary, and he guides us through the disciplinary stages taught in the New Testament. By using appropriate case studies, he also demonstrates the complications of real-life situations and highlights the lessons that can be learned."

Are there any books that you have read that you think are the best on this subject that I have missed? I'm always still looking for more insight into this subject. 

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Thoughts on Heaven, week 1

I am leading a small group Sunday School class through Randy Alcorn's book on Heaven. We are reading about two chapters each week and then coming together to share about what we are learning about the eternal destiny of those that know Jesus. I thought I would take the opportunity each week to blog about what I am learning in this study.

This week we read the Introduction and the first two chapters. J. C. Ryle once said, "I pity the man who never thinks about heaven." Alcorn takes a slightly different thought: "I pity the man who never thinks accurately about Heaven" (8). After reading the opening few chapters, I get the feeling that he cares deeply that people think accurately about heaven.

One of the overwhelming emphasis he gives of heaven is the physicalness of heaven. The pictures he describes certainly makes heaven a place that I long to be. Here are a few thoughts from Alcorn . . .
"This place is not an ethereal realm of disembodied spirits, because human beings are not suited for such a realm. A place is by nature physical, just as human beings are by nature physical. (We are also spiritual.) What we are suited for--what we've been specifically designed for--is a place like the one God made for us: Earth" (xx).
He continues to pain the picture of the physicalness of heaven . . .
"Think of friends or family members who love Jesus and are with Him now. Picture them with you, walking together in this place. All of you have powerful bodies, stronger than those of an Olympic decathlete. You are laughing, playing, talking, and reminiscing. You reach up to a tree to pick an apple or orange. You take a bit. It's so sweet that it's startling. You've never tasted anything so good. Now you see someone coming toward you. It's Jesus, with a big smile on his face. You fall to your knees in worship. He pulls you up and embraces you. 
At last, you're with the person you were made for, in the place you were made to be. Everywhere you go there will be new people and places to enjoy, new things to discover. What's that you smell? A feast. A party's ahead. And you're invited. There's exploration and work to be done--and you can't wait to get started. 
I have biblical basis for all of these statements, and many more. After examining what Scripture says, I hope that next time you hear someone say, 'We can't begin to imagine what Heaven will be like,' you'll be able to tell them, 'I can'" (18). 
I can't wait to get further into this book to continue looking at why he makes all of these claims. Since I have read some of this book before, I know where he is going. But I can't wait to dig in deeper to the text of Scripture that he takes these thoughts from. This certainly is a picture of heaven I can get behind, get excited about. Wouldn't you? These first few chapters whet my appetite for more.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

This Week in the Blogosphere (January 11, 2014)

Every week, there are hundreds upon thousands of blog posts written by people all over the world. I find myself each week reading a few of them. From time to time, I like to share some of my favorite things I have read in the past week. I hope one or two of these stories might be an encouragement to you.

"It is a solemn thing to part company with the old year. It is a still more solemn thing to begin a new one. It is like entering a dark passage: we know not what we may meet before the end. All before us is uncertain: we know not what a day may bring forth, much less what may happen in a year. Reader, are you ready?"

In this short post, Burk looks at the statements by former 80s sitcom star Candace Cameron Bure on her life as a Christian wife. Many people have a problem with her saying she strives to submit to her husband. Her statements are counter-cultural, but spot on biblically.

In 1741, Jonathan Edwards received a letter from an 18-year old girl who had just been saved. She was seeking spiritual direction on how to live the Christian life. What do you think he said?

Are you looking for a laugh? Every Monday morning, Kevin DeYoung posts a funny video. This is his  summary of what he thought was the funniest from the past year. Warning: You will laugh!

"My kids aren't my life. But I'm not my life, either. I was at one time, or I thought I was, but not anymore. And their lives are eternally tied to mine, and mine to their, and every decision that I make will have an impact on them, for better or for worse. This is a responsibility that I must always keep in mind, all of the time, no matter what."

Friday, January 10, 2014

No Ordinary Marriage by Tim Savage

In my years of being a Christian and involved in pastoral ministry, I have read many books on the topic of marriage. I have enjoyed and learned from many of them. But I feel confident saying that Tim Savage's new book, No Ordinary Marriage, is the best book on this topic I have ever read. That is no exaggeration. It is excellent.

But even when I write that, I have to check my own heart. You see, I started reading this book several months ago with my wife. I was awed by his premise and what he said in this book. But even his writing style was engaging. I was drawn to it. The points he made were insightful, practical, and impacted my life. I even wrote three different blog posts on parts of the book (What Does It Mean to Glorify God; A Husband's Love; and A Wife's Spirit).

But then, for some unknown reason, I put the book down with four chapters unread. I never finished it . . . until the other day. I grabbed the book again and told myself I needed to finish reading it and I quickly gobbled up the last several chapters. My point is that even the best books, read by someone who loves to read, can get ignored. My lack of desire to finish this book has nothing to do with the book. In fact, I am so glad I finished it.

His purpose in this book is to show how the union of a man and woman in marriage exhibits a divine glory that can and should sustain a marriage. In fact, he says:
"Here is the first principle of matrimony: we marry for the glory of God. When this becomes the guiding impulse of our unions, when this becomes the guiding impulse of our unions, when the glory of God becomes our primary focus and greatest love, husbands and wives will track along a trajectory that is decidedly upward . . . When two people resolve to make the glory of God the energizing principle of their marriage, they become united in an increasingly seamless union. Nothing cements a marriage like focusing on the glory of the Lord. It is the tie that binds!" (23-24).
In the individual chapters on the wife and husband, he takes an uncommon view of selflessness. We glorify when we are like Jesus, pouring ourselves out for the betterment of the other. But his applications are extremely insightful. For instance, in his chapter on "Becoming One Flesh" he makes these insightful comments:
"Have you ever witnessed one flesh in action? It is one of the great wonders of creation. When a husband redirects the river of his passions--a river which normally would flow in the direction of his own ambitions and projects--into the interests of his wife, when he takes up her life and begins to live it as though it were his own, when he cancels a trip or an appointment or a sporting engagement in order to commit more time to fulfilling her needs, when he sits down after a busy day and initiates a conversation that truly taps into her heart, when he responds to her criticisms by gathering her tenderly into his arms--how can this not but draw in a wife! 
And when a wife pours herself into the things that interest her husband, serving him at the point of his needs, redirecting the flow of her life to insure that he is receiving maximum refreshment, asking not whether he is ministering to her but only whether she is emptying her resource fully into him--how can this love not but draw in a husband! 
And when both partners pour themselves simultaneously into the other, a brand new 'community,' far more radiant and fruitful than just the sum of the two individuals, is miraculously created" (95).
I wish I could make every married couple read this book. One of the problems I have in writing about this book is that I wish I could quote page after page. It's that good. But one more should suffice in conclusion. If you want to know what message Savage tries to get across in this book, it would be this simple thought:
"When people see a Christian marriage, they ought to be overwhelmed by the incandescent splendor of God himself" (162). 
That is our aim. And when we give ourselves to our spouse for their good and for God's glory, people will witness this. May God work in our hearts as we seek this. 

Thursday, January 9, 2014

A Cold Day; A Hot Hell

It's no secret that the past several days have produced some cold weather. Thank you Polar Vortex. As soon as you walked outside, the cold temperatures had an immediate affect on your body. It pierced the skin. It became hard to breathe. And you realized you have hairs inside of your nose. It has been cold.

But there have been some benefits. The kids have loved it because they received a few extra days off of school. It's probably not true of all parents, but we enjoyed the extra couple days with them. The extra few days of cold weather allowed us to learn science. After all, who didn't try throwing boiling water into the air? #Snowmakers!

But there is one thing this Polar Vortex reminded me. As I thought about the cold temperatures outside, I was reminded of the hot temperatures in hell. That's right, a cold day reminded me of a hot future for those that don't know Jesus Christ. Listen to some of these descriptions of hell.

  • Cast into the fire (Matt. 7:19)
  • And shall cast them into a furnace of fire (Matt. 13:41-42)
  • Cast into hell fire (Matt. 18:8-9)
  • Everlasting fire (Matt. 25:41)
  • The fire is not quenched (Mark 9:44)
  • I am tormented in this flame (Luke 16:24)
  • In flaming fire (2 Thess. 1:8)
  • Suffering the vengeance of eternal fire (Jude 6-7)
  • He shall be tormented with fire (Rev. 14:10)
  • In the lake which burns with fire (Rev. 21:8)

I could keep going. What we used to keep us warm the last few days is what the Lord will use to punish those that reject Him. How do we make sense of that? Some people wander, "Isn't the fire just a literary agent God uses as a metaphor of something else." Certainly it isn't a literal fire. In response to this, I love these words of John Piper:
Consider some of the word pictures of God's wrath in the New Testament. And as you consider them remember the folly of saying, 'But aren't those just symbols? Isn't fire and brimstone just a symbol?' I say beware of that, because it does not serve your purpose. Suppose fire is a symbol. Do people use symbols of horror because the reality is less horrible or more horrible than the symbols? I don't know of anyone who uses symbolic language for horrible realities when literal language would make it sound more horrible. 
People grasp for symbols of horror (or beauty) because the reality they are trying to describe is worse (or better) than they can put into words. If I say, 'My wife is the diamond of my life,' I dont' want you to say, 'Oh, he used a symbol of something valuable; it's only a symbol. So his wife must not be as valuable as a diamond.' No. I used the symbol of the most valuable jewel I could think of because my wife is far more precious than jewels. Honest symbols are not used because they go beyond reality, but because reality goes beyond words.  
So when the Bible speaks of hell-fire, woe to us if we say, 'it's only a symbol.' If it is a symbol at all, it means the reality is worse than fire, not better. The word 'fire' is used not to make the easy sound terrible, but to make the exceedingly terrible sound something like what it really is."
Hell is so much hotter than the earth was cold the past few days. We need this perspective!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Jesus in the 9 to 5 by Dennis Hensley

Most people who read this blog have probably never heard of Dr. Dennis Hensley. He is the director of the professional writing program at Taylor University in Upland, Indiana. But more than that, I consider him a friend and an advisor. He has been more than gracious to me on several occasions by sharing advice on my writing. He was even gracious enough to endorse my book. And so when my parents gave me his new book, Jesus in the 9 to 5, I knew I wanted to read it.

It is probably not an exaggeration to say that this is the most unique book I have read recently. In this book, Hensley portrays Jesus as the CEO of a furniture business in the modern world. He shows how Jesus might have recruited workers, handled adversity, shepherded his employees, and many other challenges that face those in business these days. It is his attempt to cast the shadow of biblical texts on today's world. And it works.

Each chapter contains a mix of information and fictitious story. It is easy to tell that he has spent much of his life teaching business principles meant to help people become better at their occupation. For instance, in the first section, he discusses how Jesus handled personnel problems. He explains how Jesus was quick to offer praise and slow to be negative. And then in section nine, he goes into detail on how to be a better manager of your time. I needed those helpful reminders in each chapter, for they are very helpful. They are well thought out. They are committed to biblical truth. But they are not the best part of the book.

The best parts are the stories he tells. Throughout the book, he weaves a fictional story of how Jesus handled different business situations as the CEO of his furniture business. His writing is humorous and engaging. From the characters to the situations, it is easy to identify what Biblical story his is retelling. I only wished this part of the book would have been longer, but then I suppose, I wouldn't have wanted more.

There are a few points in the fictional stories that leave me with some questions about the biblical text. I suppose I'll ask him the next time I get to spend time with him. But it is probably more about me not understanding the genre of fiction than it being textually inaccurate.

The book does end somewhat abrupt. But after watching these videos below, it sounds like a sequel is in the works. It is a fun book to read. It flows quickly and you will finish one vignette only to be anxious to get to the next one quickly. Overall, I enjoyed the book.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Everyone Wants to be Happy

Maybe you have heard me talk about Desiring God or John Piper before. But maybe you still have no idea who he is or what his ministry is about. Just the other day, they released a new video that adequately summarizes who they are and what they do. What is their message? What is their purpose?

It would be no exaggeration to say that the ministry of John Piper has been used by God in my life to shape me into the man I am today. Their message of joy and desire has so deeply impacted me. And I would love for you to see how this message is not just the message of some random guy, but the message of the Scriptures.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Relationships in Heaven

I am beginning a new Adult Sunday School class this morning on the topic of heaven. We will be going through Randy Alcorn's book on Heaven. It is the best book on this topic I have ever read. I thought it would be interesting to see what everyone thinks about this short video on relationships in heaven. If he is right, does this excite you?

Saturday, January 4, 2014

A Letter To My Former ABF @ Grace Bible Church

Dear Friends,

It has been about three years since the Lord moved us away from Grace Bible Church. It seems like its been a blink of an eye. But every time I log onto Facebook, I'm reminded how long it has been. Your kids are getting huge. And there are so many more of them. 

The other day, as I was going through some old files, I came across some bullet-pointed notes of my final words I said to you on that last Sunday in Foundations ABF. As I prayed for many of you once again, I began to wonder how you are doing with these last words of exhortation. Here they are: 

First, Love Jesus Radically
  • Don't play the religious game. 
  • Spend time with Him in His Word & through Prayer
  • don't let other dictate what your life with Him should look like.
Second, Love Your Spouse
  • Make sure and cultivate Date Nights
  • Take opportunities for marriage retreats
  • You marriage is not for you, but for your spouse
  • Please forgive each other
Third, Keep Having Babies
  • Be faithful dads and moms
  • Love your kids, serve your kids, sacrifice for your kids, display humility for your kids.
Fourth, Look For New People
  • Pray for eyes to see those in need
  • Remember those who welcomed you and imitate them
  • So what if they have been here for a year and you introduce yourself to them . . . rejoice you finally met them.
Fifth, Be Hospitable - Open Your Home
  • There is no place like your home for real ministry to take place
  • You home doesn't have to be perfect . . . let others be part of your real life.
Sixth, Fully Engage The Church (Eph. 4)
  • Change the church from your ABF - Be change agents
  • Pass on to others what you have learned
Seventh, Be Patient With The Next Guy
  • You dont' want him comparing you against his last people
  • Take what you've learned from us . . . add what you will learn from him.
  • Be teachable
Eighth, Be the Light (Matt. 5:13-16)
  • Don't quench the Spirit
  • Fear God, not men
  • Don't shine the light, BE the light
Ninth, Be Real With Each Other
  • Refuse to put on masks
  • Don't be surprised when people struggle with sin.
  • Live the life where people want to open up to you.
Tenth, Keep The Gospel Central
  • It applies to the believer as much as the unbeliever
  • Every day - you're a humble beggar!
  • Every day - you're in need of grace!
  • Every day - you can't do it on your own!
  • Every day - God's grace is amazing!
I hope you are growing in each of them. I hope and pray you are staying faithful to your spouse and to the Lord. I hope you are increasing in your holiness. It is a joy to me that we live in an age of technology where we feel we can still live life with you (through social media, phone calls, texts, etc...). 

As for us here in Ohio, the Lord is being gracious to us once again. The relationships we are building are encouraging and helping us grow more like Jesus. We are thankful for where the Lord has led us. But as you know, we have not arrived. Neither have you. So, let's keep going in this race of the Christian life. I think these words of the Apostle Paul adequately summarize my feelings towards you.
"For now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord. For what thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God." (1 Thessalonians 3:8-9). 
We look forward to God's timing for us to once again see each other and rejoice over what the Lord is doing in each of our lives. All to His glory and our good.

Thad Bergmeier

Friday, January 3, 2014

Bible Verses for the Day

This is what I woke up to this morning. Of course, it wasn't a surprise. It snowed all day yesterday which caused the kids to have a "snow day" off of school. I love the snow. Not so much the single degree temperatures. But I love how the snow looks. And I love how the snow reminds us of what the Lord accomplished for us on the cross. 
"Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool." (Isaiah 1:18)
Isn't it great that the Lord created something to remind us of what He does with our sinful life. He cleanses us to be white as snow. Pure. Without stain. Righteous. I thank the Lord for that reminder today.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

A Call to Resurgence by Mark Driscoll

Mark Driscoll is a polarizing figure. When he is mentioned, people tend to gather on different sides. Many of my friends do not like him at all. They think he is arrogant and pushes the contextualization button a bit too hard. But then I have many other friends who have been greatly blessed through his ministry. They love his sermons and God has used his message of Jesus to change their life. I often feel I am one of the few that falls in the middle when it comes to his ministry. I have been blessed in the past, but certainly do understand some of the reservations. I do not know which side you gravitate towards, but one thing is for sure: I don't think Driscoll can or should be ignored.

A couple months ago, I noticed Driscoll Tweeted that he was giving away free copies of his new book, A Call to Resurgence, to a handful of senior pastors. So, I commented on the tweet and actually won. He sent me a free copy (even autographed) of this new book. So I thought I would read it. And I'm glad I did.

My response to the book fell in line with what I have traditionally thought of Driscoll. Much of the book I really loved. I particularly enjoyed his take on the difference between Christendom and Christianity. This is the message I have preached and strongly believe. We need to stop fighting for the morality of our country and fight for the message of the gospel. We need to preach Jesus. His take is that Christendom, the ideology of a Christian nation, is dead. He ends the first chapter with these motivating words:
"This is not a political book. This is not a reactionary book. This is a prophetic book. Christendom is dead. Jesus is alive. Stay salty. Fear not" (31).
I also appreciated throughout the book some of the insightful thoughts he shares about the nature of the gospel message. For instance . . .
"The problem is, the gospel cannot be shown; it must be spoken. Love, grace, mercy, justice, and the like can be shown with works. The gospel of Jesus Christ, however, must be spoken with words, because the gospel of Jesus Christ is not about our deeds but rather Jesus' deeds: his sinless life, substitutionary death, burial, and bodily resurrection for the salvation of sinners. And without the gospel of Jesus Christ, you may still have morality, spirituality, and charity, but what you don't have is Christianity. Real Christianity results in these things but cannot be replaced by them" (24). 
He continues . . .
"At the end of the day, we don't need more celebrities and more debate. We need more Spirit-empowered Christians who take seriously their call to witness to God's work in this world, and to do so in unity with other Christians, even if they don't agree on some secondary matters" (81).
And . . .
"To the preachers who read this, I say this: You need to preach. Don't be a coward; preach! Don't be a motivational speaker; preach! Don't cave in to your critics; preach! Don't share your feelings; preach! And if you won't preach, then have the humility to find someone who will, and go find a job where the eternal fate of people is not at stake" (221).
I love it.

Probably the most controversial aspect of this book comes when he identifies tribalism. And this is part of the issue of why I struggle with Driscoll. Now, it was helpful for him to label the different tribes (people who believe different things) within the sphere of evangelicalism. I think his point in this is to get people to be okay with working with others who do not believe exactly how they believe. As long as they believe the basics of Christianity, they are on our team. This is the traditional cliche that gets thrown around in many Christian circles:

Let's just major in the majors and minor in the minors. 

I understand the premise of this statement, but it just doesn't seem to work in the real world. Who gets to define what is major and what is minor? That's the problem. Driscoll makes an attempt, but what if I think his circle of the gospel is too wide? Or what happens if I think he is too narrow? Then what, am I part of the problem? I mean, even in his descriptions of tribal leaders under the banner of evangelicalism, he includes people like Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer, and T. D. Jakes; all people I would put in the realm of false teachers.

I know he is trying to include as many people as he can under the banner of Christianity so we can go to war with them instead of against them. But are some people who fall under the banner of Christianity actually not Christian? I'm not saying I have all the answers. For on the other side of the coin you have people who make it so narrow that they cannot work with anyone that doesn't fully agree with them in everything. And we discern ourselves to death, creating a culture that is known for pointing out the negative in people, even when we know they have the gospel correctly.

It is a hard question to answer. I appreciate he has started the conversation. There are other aspects of the book that I struggle with, but not enough for me to make them a big deal. I appreciate that Driscoll preaches God's holiness, our sin, Jesus as our substitute, and the balance of faith and repentance for salvation. His gospel message is solid and that is why I appreciate his ministry.

Does he do things that make me squirm? Absolutely. But that doesn't mean I will dismiss everything about him.

If you have never heard of Driscoll, this book will give you a good idea of who He is. It is funny. Sarcastic. Filled with Scripture. Bold. And seeks to lift high Jesus Christ. If that is what you are looking for, this might be a good read. 

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

A Prayer For My 14-Year Old Son

Fourteen years old! I can't believe it. It seems strange for me to think that it has been 14 years since the birth of my first son. I can't believe how fast time is going and how old he is becoming. It scares me to think that in a couple years, he could be driving. I know I am not ready for that. But I assume God will grant me the grace when that time comes. I just wish I could slow things down.

I usually try to write a short something about my kids on their birthday. A few years ago, I wrote a prayer for Karsten as he turned twelve. I am going to return to that again this year. The inspiration for this prayer comes from a prayer entitled "True Religion" that is found in The Valley of Vision


Lord God Almighty,
I ask that Karsten not be known among the earthly great and rich,
     but to be known among the spiritually blessed.
Make it his present, supreme, and persevering concern
     to obtain those blessings which are
          spiritual in nature,
          eternal in their continuance,
          satisfying in their possession.
Preserve him from a false understanding of his true character.
May he pay attention 
     to his heart as well as his conduct,
     to his motives as well as his actions.
Help him 
     never to mistake the excitement of his passions,
          for the renewing of the Holy Spirit;
     never to judge his religion by occasional impressions,
          but by a constant and steady disposition.
May his heart be right with You.
May his life be an example of the gospel.
May he maintain a supreme regard for others.
Give him all the direction, support, and consolation 
     his journey in life requires.
And grant him a mind focused upon You.
Give him an abundance of the supply of the Spirit of Jesus,
     that he may 
          be prepared for every duty
          love You in all his mercies
          submit to you in every trial
          trust You when he walks in darkness
          have peace in You as life changes.
Lord, he believes in You;
     Help his unbelief and uncertainties.