Friday, December 28, 2012

Free Will


The Arminian view...makes the final decision for our salvation rest upon a human choice not upon a divine action. —R.C. Sproul

I recently had this quote come across my Twitter feed.  It is an interesting quote, meant to show how wrong it is to believe in Arminianism.  The problem is that it does exactly the opposite.  What love God has shown to us, that the final decision on whether we will follow Him or not isn't a decision He makes for us, but gives us the ability to make it for ourselves.

The hesitation on the part of Calvinists comes because they believe that our will is completely destroyed by sin, to the extent when all we can do is sin.  This is called "Total Depravity."  Frankly, I don't have a problem with that as a starting point. I believe every human is born apart from God, and that without Him we can't do anything about it.  

This, though, is where Calvinists and Arminianists part ways.  The Calvinist believes that because we are this depraved, we cannot decide on our own to follow God, and therefore God makes the decision for us.  This is called "Unconditional Election".  God makes the decisions about who will and won't go to Heaven based on His will.  Nothing else, then, comes into this decision.  Therefore those who end dwelling with God for eternity are those whom God has chosen, and those who spend eternity without God are those whom God has not chosen.  

The Arminian, however, doesn't believe.  Arminius believed in what is called the "freed will" of man.  In other words, through the grace of God, man is given the ability to accept what God has done.  The work is still the work of God; it is by grace we given the ability to look to God.  Then, however, it is the choice of mankind; will we choose God, or choose our own way?  This then leads to the belief that those who dwell with God are there because they wanted to be there, not because they were chosen.

There are a lot of ways to go back and forth on this, but that will have to wait for another time.  


Saturday, December 22, 2012

Gun control - Can we have a real conversation?

We have become a nation of "sides".  We all have opinions.  Some of those opinions are even thought out after seeing all angles of an argument.  Most, quite frankly, are not.  I'm not pointing fingers here.  My opinions have gone through seasons, and there have been times I have been very staunch on a subject only to discover that there is more to this argument than at first I saw, and I have had to back down.  I'm not suggesting that isn't the case with some of my very strong opinions now either.  I just don't know which of my opinions might fit into that category, or I would seek to see more sides.

As for right now, I want to say that one of the subjects I am far less "staunch" about these days is gun control.  By the way, please don't judge what I'm about to say with any preconceived notions about me.  I still don't know that there is an answer to this argument.  I have some ideas, some of them I think are good, but might not work.  Most of them aren't as well thought out as I would like.

What I really would like is a conversation.  I want to talk about this, as a nation, but it doesn't seem like we can have that conversation.   There is too much of taking sides.  It's as if those who are siding with the NRA are suggesting that those who talk about gun control want to take all of their guns away, while the extremists who do want to take all the guns away, suggest that those in the NRA are just a bunch of gun totin' hillbillies who just want more massacres to happen.

While there might be some on the extreme sides, I believe most of America lies somewhere in the middle.  For the sake of coming generations, we need to talk about what we can do. To be fair, I don't think any laws put into effect will make a great difference for my generation, but we do have a responsibility to future generations.

So how about a conversation?  I'll start by asking a couple questions...

Is there anything with saying "No automatic or semi-automatic guns belong in the home"?  I know there are some enthusiasts who really love their guns, and I'm okay with you shooting them.  But can't you keep them at the shooting range, locked up?  Then, when you want to kick your shooting into high gear, you go shoot.  And if you need a semi-automatic gun for hunting, maybe you need some more time at the shooting range anyway!

What about this; is there a way to ensure that only the person who bought the gun can shoot it?  Some type of fingerprint system which unlocks the gun?  Then, if it is sold, it has to go through proper channels to exchange hands or it is unable to be used.  Technology has gotten us some huge guns; can't we use it to help these guns not be used in extreme ways?

Okay, so maybe there are answers to these questions I haven't thought of.  And there are likely a lot more questions which need to be asked.  I, for one, am ready to have this conversation.


Thursday, December 20, 2012

Sermon? Or Message?

"Anyone can preach a sermon.  It takes a man of God to preach a message."

These were the words of one of my professors in college, and they are something I have never forgotten.  Too often I'm afraid I preach sermons.  Let's be honest; it's a lot easier.  I can whip out a sermon on any topic, passage or Bible story you want in very little time.  It will be coherent and applicable.  I'm not trying to brag.  I want to school for this stuff, taking two years of Homiletics.  I have listened to people preach with an ear toward not just content, but preparation and delivery.  I read articles and books meant to help me become a better preacher.  I spend 12-15 hours every week preparing the content and delivery of my sermons.  More than anything else, I believe God has called me to preach, and has therefore equipped me to do so.  And frankly, I think it has worked.

But preaching a sermon isn't the problem.  As my professor said, anyone can do that.  Preaching a message...now that's hard.

A message isn't just truth; it's timely truth.

A message isn't just truth; it is truth which is needed.

A message is a sermon, but more than that, it speaks directly into people's lives.

Perhaps this is what people mean when they talk about the difference between a preacher and a prophet.  Maybe I need to lean more toward seeking to speak directly into people's lives more.  I don't know.  What I do know is that in messages, it is much more about what the Holy Spirit does in me through the text than what I do with the text.  Maybe that should tell me something.

This reminds me of a quote from A. W. Tozer.

“The scribe tells us what he has read, and the prophet tells us what he has seen…We are overrun today with orthodox scribes, but the prophets, where are they?” A. W. Tozer

Monday, December 17, 2012

Christians in the Face of Tragedy

During the service this past Sunday, I spoke on how Christians should respond to tragedy, especially in light of situations like the shooting in Newtown Connecticut.  I spoke of 7 things we as Christians must do.

First, we must pray.  We need to pray for those whose lives have been destroyed through this.  The parents without a child, or those left trying to explain what happened to siblings.  We need to pray for the community, as this type of event shakes them to their core.  We need to pray for our nation.  If there was ever a time for Christians to join together and pray for our nation, this is it.

Secondly, we need to love our families.  Sometimes my life gets busy, but life is precious, and time is of considerable value.  We need to love our children enough to give them to God.

Thirdly, we need to watch our words.  Normally the phrase "everything happens for a reason" just bothers me.  Or when people say there is some "hidden" will of God through these events.  This past weekend these phrases didn't bother me; they made me angry.  God did not want this to happen.  He loved these children more than we can believe, and this was not the will of God.  God created these children with the ability to create, love and be loved.  He gave them to families to bring joy into their lives.  I say it again; God did not desire this.

Fourth, we need to acknowledge that we live in a broken world.  Since the fall of man, we have seen the way sin destroys lives and families.  This is no exception.  We live in a society which devalues life and glorifies violence.

Fifth, we need to look out for others.  There are people all around us who are hurting like this young man was who brought this violence into that school.  Most people who suffer from sin will not respond to the darkness within in the same way this young man did, but they still need to be loved.  That responsibility falls on Christians, who are called to take light into the darkness.

Sixth, we must remember our suffering Savior.  Jesus came to live and die for us to become our Great High Priest.  He suffered so sin could be washed away, so we could be free from the penalty of sin, and to free us from the fear of death.  We are also told in Scripture that Jesus suffered to better understand when we go through suffering.  He is our Priest, and He is our Good Shepherd, who walks with us through the valley of the shadow of death.

Finally, we need to long for Christ's return.  One day there will be no more tears, death, mourning or sin.  It is the return of Christ, and the final destruction of sin and Satan which will bring this about.  "Even so Lord, come quickly."

I have written on the subject of evil, and how this connects to God here and here, if you would like to read those.

If you would like to listen to the message, here is the link.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Keeping Christ in Christmas

It is a big theme this time of year, and has been for several years now.  How can we fight against atheists in order to preserve the "Christ" in Christmas.  Their calls of "Happy Holidays" really bother Christians throughout the country.

But should they?  I mean, have we stopped to think about it?  Sure, I call it Christmas, and even celebrate Christmas, but isn't it bigger than that?  I think the problem is we think we are keeping Christ in Christmas by the way we greet people this season.  If we say "Merry Christmas", we are obviously being better Christians.  It all goes back to words.

In case we forget, Jesus was rarely concerned with what you said if it did not coincide with what you did.  In other words, you can say you are a follower of Jesus all you want, but unless you are living like Christ, it really means nothing.

So by all means, keep Christ in Christmas this year.  Let's just worry about what we do more than what we say.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Deep & Wide

I've just finished the latest book by Andy Stanley.  It was given to me by Zondervan for free, if I would be willing to write a review.  I didn't have to be positive about the book; just honest.  I jumped at the chance. Now, let me say that I've not read much by Andy Stanley.  Other than one book he co-wrote which I read about 6-7 years ago, this is the first book of his I've read.  Sure, I've read articles, heard his leadership podcasts and even his sermons, but I was interested in reading another book.

What grabbed me about this one, and made me want to read it, was the subtitle: "Creating churches unchurched people love to attend."  This, to me, should be the call of every church as we join with Jesus searching for the lost sheep.  Of course, this book does have a "deep" element to it.  We should have churches which those who are following Christ grow in.  But too often, that is the only point.  We want to make Christians comfortable.

I could write a lot about the book.  To be honest, there were a lot of things which challenged me, and I'll be spending some time over the next few weeks/months examining different things around the church I pastor to see what we can improve on.

His own story is how Stanley begins the book, challenging me with statements like "Over 83 percent of our regular attendees marked that they have invited at least one person to church in the past twelve months."  That is a staggering statement, and I'm not sure how many churches can boast numbers like that.  This is what happens when you have a church people feel comfortable inviting their friends to.

One of the important portions of the books, for me, was the one on preaching.  I'm always looking for ways to improve the way I communicate the Word to people on Sunday, and this gave me a lot to chew on.

Whether you're a pastor or a church leader, I recommend the book.  Take some time, and don't rush through it.  Thanks to Andy Stanley for a great book, as well as his refreshing honesty.

Monday, September 17, 2012

I love Mondays

Everyone hates Mondays, right?  I mean, it is the start to another week, and any time something goes wrong on this day, Monday gets the blame.  A little unfair, if you ask me.

Let me tell you how my week started, and maybe you'll understand where I'm going with this.  I barely slept last night.  Not complaining, just stating a fact.  It took some time to get to sleep, and then it wasn't great sleep, and I had to get up early and get to work.  Not only work, but I also was going to take my girls to school, one of them beginning her early learners by herself for the first time.  A pretty exciting day for them.  So I go outside, pull the car out, and am in the process of getting the car seats moved around, when I notice that the rear, drivers side tire is flat.  Not all the way, but very flat.  This obviously took a lot out of my morning.

Please understand that as a pastor, Monday mornings tend to be busy.  I'm getting back into the office after a tiring Sunday, and I have a lot of things to catch up on.  So these little inconveniences aren't very helpful.  In fact, they are quite disturbing.  So I was tempted to say, along with everyone else this morning, "I hate Mondays."

The problem is that I love Mondays.  Monday is a fresh slate for me.  As someone who gets to preach every week, Monday morning is when I begin that prep.  This means digging into the passage I'm studying, finding sermons by other people who have preached on the same passage which I'll be using, and getting into commentaries.  I love this part of the week.  It actually happens to be a great day.

I think the big difference for me is that I don't just love Mondays; I love my "job".  I say "job" because it is really a joy and ministry to be able to do what I do.  Being a pastor is a blessing greater than many which have been given to me.

But does this only have to be those in full time ministry?  Shouldn't this apply to everyone?  Shouldn't we all look forward to a fresh week, being sent from our places of worship on Sunday in order to live lives of worship in our communities, jobs and homes.  So my mantra is not "I hate Mondays", but "I love Mondays."

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Does God get what He wants?

Does God get everything He wants?

This question has been posed by many before, and I'm afraid the answer is often somewhat disturbing.  The answer, for many, is "yes".  The conversation usually centers around the sovereignty of God, and how God is "in control", and therefore everything happens which He wants to happen.

The problem with this answer is that, while it might sound good, it isn't Biblical.  God doesn't get everything He wants.  Scripture tells us "God is not willing that any should perish", yet many do.  And as I look around at the world around me, I'm constantly faced with things which I cannot believe God wanted.  I heard this week about a 2 year old who is getting skin grafts this morning because she fell into a fire pit.  There is the 8 year old girl who has had cancer, which has now returned for the third time.  A young boy in our church fell from about 20 feet onto concrete.  Thank God he is doing well today, as miracles seem to be abounding in this particular story.  But what about the others?

These are just a few stories which have disturbed me this week.  And I hear people talk about these things all the time with comments like "well, it must be God's will", or "I'm not sure how God is going to get glory out of this".  Isn't this a little disturbing?  Shouldn't we be bothered by the fact that many people think God wants people to suffer so He can receive glory?  Where is the God who is described as love?  Where is the grace and mercy?

This is why I believe this teaching not only contradicts some very important passages concerning the will of God, but is inconsistent with the picture we see of God in Scripture.  He is a God of love, He is a God who grants free will and He is a God who repents, changes His mind, and wished He hadn't done things.  This doesn't sound like a God who gets what He wants.

What we must acknowledge is that several factors come into play when we are talking about the bad things. As I've mentioned in a previous post, sometimes bad things are indeed caused by God.  But sometimes they are caused because humans have free will, and do evil things.  At times it is demonic warfare.  By the way, they have free will too!  These things all come into play whenever we are talking about the bad things which are happening in the world around us.

So does God get what He wants?  Clearly, at times, He does.  But also, at times, He clearly does not.  Some might argue that this makes God less than trustworthy.  Surely, if God doesn't control everything, I cannot put my faith in Him, because other things could happen and my prayers not get answered.  My response is this; I believe it makes Him more trustworthy.  How can I trust a god who would cause disasters and pain all so he could receive glory?  This god would be untrustworthy, and frankly, I don't believe he would be worthy of my love.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Maybe it's you...

As a pastor, I have a lot of people who come to me and say things like, "I don't know why this is happening to me.  Maybe God is punishing me".  My first instict is to say, "No, God doesn't do that.  These things you are going through are a result of Satan, or maybe you are just going through a tough time in life."

While both of those things could very well be true, and often are true, they are not the only possibility.  Maybe Satan is fighting against you.  We see this often in the Bible.  We see Job, Jesus and Peter being attacked by Satan, so clearly this happens to Christians today.  Satan went after Jesus, and if you are His disciple, Jesus has promised that you will go through trials as well.  That is part of having an enemy.  

It could also be that you are just going through a tough time in life.  After all, Jesus said "The rain falls on the just and the unjust."  Or, as a friend of mine stated, "Everyone's grandma dies".  Though a little blunt for our taste, that statement is certainly true.  Bad things happen because that is part of life.

But I find myself unable to tell someone that God isn't causing their trials.  As a matter of fact, the further I go in life, and the more I study Scripture, I find myself cringing a little when someone else says it.  Is this because I think God likes to watch us suffer?  Of course not.  

My reasons can be summed up rather well by looking at a passage in Hebrews 12.  

6  And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? 
    "My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, 
        nor be weary when reproved by him.
     For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, 
    and chastises every son whom he receives.”
7  It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?
8  If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.
9  Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live?
10  For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.
11  For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

While God may not be "punishing" you, it is possible that He's disciplining you.  After all, this is what a father, who genuinely loves his child, does for them.  God is not so unloving that He will let us go on in our lives living less than the full life He wants us to have.  Instead He will discipline.  

So when you're going through a tough trial, particularly when you can't seem to shake your trial, don't assume God isn't trying to get your attention.  Take some time to think, pray and allow the Holy Spirit to guide you in your Scripture readings.  Be honest with God and listen for His voice.  I can assure you that He will be honest with you.  

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Bible Translations

Which translation of the Bible is the best translation?

As a pastor, I have been asked this question many times.  Not a few, but many.  And it is a question with many possible answers.  So let me explain how I approach this question.  It may help, and it may not.

There are two basic ways people translate the Bible.  One is to translate the Greek into English, word for word.  Translations which follow this are ones like the King James Version (KJV), New King James Version (NKJV), English Standard Version (ESV) and New American Standard Version (NAS).  These texts take the words found in the Greek, and while rearranging them a little for coherency, don't change any of the words themselves.

The other way to translate the Bible is called Dynamic Equivalency.  This is remarkably different, and is found in translations like the New International Version (NIV), the New Living Translation (NLT) and the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB).  Instead of word for word, these are thought for thought.  Assuming that many of the words don't mean the same to us today as they would have in the days they were written, translators feel comfortable not only rearranging the words, but in using ones which aren't in the original text in order to make the ideas which the author was talking about get across.

So which is right?  To be honest, I don't know.  I'm not a professional when it comes to the original languages.  But even if you were to ask the professionals, they would give you two different answers.  That is why those who are eminently familiar with the original languages have done it these two different ways.

Understand that there are bad translations, but all the ones I have pointed out have merit, and critics, and are all fairly reliable.

Actually, if someone asks me which translation I think they should read, I usually follow up with a question of my own.  Which translation are you the most familiar with?  Once they have answered that question, I like to point them in the opposite direction.  For instance, if you have spent most of your Christian life reading the NIV, which is true with me, I suggest you go read one of the word for word translations.  Take a look at the ESV, for instance.  If you grew up with the NKJV, maybe it's time to look at the NLT.

I also think it can help if you are studying a passage to have both types of translations with you.  Find a parallel Bible which has both types of Scripture so you are getting all out of the passage you can.  

The reason is because these two different texts can be so different that it can provide you with fresh insight on a text you've read many times before.  Take a look at John 1:14, first in the NLT, and then in the ESV.

"So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son."

"And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth."


While the text is not remarkably different, it will cause you to read, study and understand the passage differently.  Or perhaps it will give you some new way of approaching an old truth.  Either way, this, I believe, can be valuable.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Come Thou Fount

I love much of the hymn "Come Thou Fount".  I say "most" because, to be honest, it gets a little hard for me to sing the traditional words in the third verse.  This is how they read.

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I'm constrained to be!
Let they goodness, like a fetter
bind my wandering heart to thee.
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 thy courts above.

My issue with these lyrics is simple; they aren't Biblical.  I know, everyone wants to go back to Romans 7 at this point, when Paul is admitting his struggles with sins.  However, they are forgetting not only the rest of Romans in this case, and particularly chapter 8, but also the rest of the New Testament.

Does God really desire His children, who are called to love Him with all their hearts, minds, souls and strength, to be "prone to wander"?  Are the ones who are led by the Holy Spirit really "prone to leave the God I love"?  I've never been prone to wander away from anyone else I loved, so why would this apply to God?

So what am I denying here?  Am I denying my humanity, and the question of failure?  Of course not.  I do fail, and I'm certain that I'll make plenty of mistakes throughout my life.  However, this is really a question of sin and intent.  Scripture identifies sin as something I do out of desire, not something I do because I "made a mistake".  Wesley defined sin as "A willful transgression to a known law of God".  Is this really what I'm doing?

So I will continue to cry out to the fount of all blessing, raising my Ebeneezer, and cling to the grace of God, which I'm indebted to far more than I can ever pay.  But at my church we sing the following lyrics to the third verse, found in the Nazarene hymnal.


Oh, to grace how great a debtor 
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let that grace, now like a fetter, 
Bind my yielded heart to Thee.
Let me know Thee in Thy fullness; 
Guide me by Thy mighty hand,
Till, transformed, in Thine own image 
In Thy presence I shall stand.

My heart is yielded, not wandering.  I do not wander, as long as I crave to know God in His fullness.  I do not leave the God of love when I am led by His mighty hand.  I will have to be excused for believing in the power and love of God, which is too great to leave me wandering.  

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Debate team

I was home schooled.  Sometimes I wish I could have gone to public schools for some things, though there are really no regrets.  I enjoyed the amount of freedom it provided.  However, I would have loved to be on a debate.  I love to argue, and if I hadn't been a pastor, I probably would have been a lawyer.  I don't always have to be right, but I do have to think I am by the end!  I even have a bit of a knack for it.  I've been in debates/arguments where I have not really known all that I was talking about, but was able to bluff my way through.  People think I'm smarter than I am sometimes because of that.  Honestly, I've been in debates where I went away to try to figure out if what I said was even true.  Sometimes it even was!

Online debates, however, are of a different breed.  I've been in many, stating my case for whatever I happened to be arguing about that time.  Whether it was politics, religion, sports or just nonsense, I'm often involved in some type of debate.  I find them fun, try not to offend anyone, and always do my best to not take myself too seriously.

It's not always easy.  I have myself had to walk away from arguments, go back and delete comments, and even apologize.  My biggest gripe is when it gets personal.  All this to say, I've noticed that I'm changing a little.  I don't debate nearly as often these days to try to convince someone that I'm right.  It's not that I don't want people to change their minds, putting themselves on my side of the debate (which of course means they are right).  That is okay.  I've found that the thing I look for more often than anything else is that someone understands my position.

You see, I don't mind if you disagree with me, as long as you understand why I believe what I believe.  I have been in many debates where the person who disagreed with me didn't really disagree with me at all.  They only disagreed with a position they assumed I held.

Please don't misunderstand; I'm sure I have fallen into this trap myself.  I am certain that I have argued with people I didn't understand.  This is where it gets so critical, though, to ask questions and listen.  What do the people who are disagreeing with me actually believe?  When using certain words, do these words mean the same to them that they do to me?

One lesson I've tried to apply to my life over the years is this one; listening isn't waiting your turn to talk.  In debates, that is essential.  I hope I never listen to someone long enough to disagree with them.  I hope I listen to them long enough to understand them.  Then the real discussion, and possibly debate, can really begin.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Where is God?

Have you ever wondered this?  Have you ever wanted to know where God was?  Tragedy is happening everywhere, yet Christians claim to serve a God of love.  Well, where is this God now?

This is a really good question, and while there can be the obvious temptation to ignore the question and just hope it goes away, the question remains.  So let me, briefly, attempt to answer this question.

First, there is mystery.  No matter who answers this question, there will always be an element of mystery.  The question we must ask is this; where does the mystery belong?  Some say that mystery belongs in the will of God.  They would tell us that when tragedy strikes, it will, in the end, bring glory to God.

But God isn't as mysterious when it comes to His love as we might think.  God is love.  It is not something that He does, but something that He is.  So when we ask questions about how a man could go into a crowded theater and shoot down the innocent, or how a man, who claims to be doing good for society, turns out to be a pedophile, how can we possibly look to God and think He wanted this?  How could we possibly believe that God desired these things to happen?

So while there is mystery, let me say that I don't believe it falls on God, at least not in this case.  Instead, we need to look to the people who are doing these terrible things.  Indeed, when bad things happen in the Bible, the finger is not pointed to God, but to man, and the sin which is in each of us.  It doesn't take much to convince us that within humanity is the desire, quite often, to do evil.  We are a selfish people, and hurting others for our own good is pretty much the way we've been doing things since creation.

No, these tragedies in our lives don't belong to God; instead, they are brought on to us by the enemy, Satan, and the people who are living under his authority.

This doesn't mean, though, that during tragedy we don't point to God.  In fact, it is more important than ever during our times of suffering to look to God.  We look to Him God and we see a suffering Savior.  We see Jesus, who chose to not look on our suffering from a distance, but to become one of us and join us in our suffering.  He was made flesh and dwelt among us.  He was wounded on our behalf so we could, one day, know an end to suffering.

So for me the mystery isn't how God could have let this happen.  The mystery is why God would come be a victim with me.

Friday, July 20, 2012

A Mixed Bag

On occasion, I would like to provide some links of things which have interested me.



First, do you know how many slaves work for you?  There is a way to get an idea of just how big your slavery footprint is.  Head over to http://slaveryfootprint.org/ to find out.  My number ended up being 60, which might have been a little high, as they didn't include questions about some things.  Still, it's a little disturbing, and something I need to be more careful with.  If you want to know what you can do to help, one of the organizations I really like is International Justice Mission.  You can head over the their site to learn a lot more about the slave trade and what we can do to respond.





Gregory Boyd is one of my favorite authors.  On occasion I get an opportunity to listen to his sermons.  This one intrigued me, because in it he deals with the disturbing passages in the Old Testament.  While you may not agree with his conclusions, I would encourage you to listen and consider.  I don't always agree with Boyd, but I always find him challenging and thought provoking.




Another group I really like is Project 7.  They are a for-profit organization which takes their money and gives it to various groups who are doing good in the world, focusing on seven areas of need, including hunger, education and creation care.  They sell water, gum, mints and coffee.  Their motto is "To ensure everyone around the globe has access to fundamental human needs for a healthy life."  Sounds like a great motto to me.  Watch a short video about them here.





Finally, my favorite new comic strip comes from Radio Free Babylon.  These are quite humorous looks at life, particularly religious life.  Since I'm not offended easily, I really enjoy them.  If you don't like people making fun of things which some people take way too seriously, don't read their comics.  You've been warned!




Thursday, July 19, 2012

Separation of Church and State

In case you don't know, I'm a devout Christian and pastor.  I love God with all my heart, and seek to serve Him with my life.  I'm also proud to be an American.  I'm thankful for a nation which was founded on Christian principles, and for the men and women who have sacrificed so much to give me the freedom I have to worship God.  My politics tend toward the conservative, with some liberal touches here and there.


I say these things because what I'm about to say might get me in trouble with some, but I feel it needs to be said.  In addition to all of these things, I love history, and feel like perhaps a little history lesson is in order concerning the separation of church and state.  This is a phrase thrown around a lot, on both sides of politics and religion.  Those who want nothing to do with religion say this means the church needs to stay out of government.  Those who are staunchly religious say this means the government needs to stay out our church. Then there are loud claims made from them saying the phrase isn't found in the constitution.  Fair enough.  They aren't wrong.  It isn't in the constitution, and I know my history well enough to know the phrase originated with a letter from Benjamin Franklin.


However, we must not forget that we have amendments to the constitution.  The first amendment (adopted in 1791) says this: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or of the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."  

So what are we to make?  Let's give a little history.  It's very important to know that many of the founders of our country, as well as those who came here from England and other countries, were fleeing persecution.  They were coming from countries where you had one option if you wanted to be considered a citizen, and that just happened to be whatever religion was the established religion of your own country.  So when the Pilgrims came over, and the founding fathers began to establish laws, they were very concerned that America didn't have laws which outlawed those who were of different faiths.


Many of the founding fathers were Christians, faithfully serving God with their lives.  They therefore established this country on Christian principles.  They didn't, though, establish the country as a "Christian nation".  That is impossible, for Christ makes it abundantly clear that His Kingdom is not of this world.  It is a spiritual Kingdom, and knows no boundaries.  (For more on this, I recommend Gregory Boyd's book "The Myth of a Christian Nation.  You can find it on Amazon.)


One Christian principle which is essential to our faith is that of choice.  I can no more make you become a Christian than I can make you a duck.  So they established freedom of religion, and therefore the separation of church and state, so we could discover God for ourselves, and then make a choice to follow Him.


We seem to have forgotten this in today's world.  I was reading an article about some folks in Tennessee who were trying to keep some Muslims from opening a Mosque, saying that Islam wasn't a "true religion."  You can read more on that here.  We must remember that not only is the act of these Christians against the standards set by the founding fathers, it is also against the standards established and lived by Christ.  He never tried to force people into the Kingdom of God.  As a matter of fact, it seemed at times that He went out of His way to make it harder.


So what are we to do when some Muslims open a Mosque down the road?  What should we do when it seems that the laws of our nation are no longer reflecting the Christian principles they once did?  What are we to do when abortion becomes so rampant in our nation that we are killing babies daily by the thousands?


The Biblical answer may not be the popular one, but it does seem to actually make more of a difference in the long run.  The answer is to live like Jesus.  The Jesus who wasn't afraid to call out the wrong, but also the one who loved sinners enough to lay His life down for them.  If we want to turn this ship around, it isn't going to take laws, but love.  It isn't going to be about making others see our point of view, but instead to make Jesus famous.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Recommended Books

Those who know me know I love to read, so I thought I would let you know some of my favorites.  I'll update from time to time.  Some of them I've done reviews for in the past (and perhaps will do more in the future), so I've provided links to those.

General Christian

Crazy Love - Francis Chan
Waking the Dead - John Eldredge
The Barbarian Way - Erwin McManusAbsolute Surrender - Andrew Murray
Why Revival Tarries - Leonard Ravenhill
The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience - Ronald Sider (Review)
The Hole in Our Gospel - Richard Stearns
The Knowledge of the Holy - A. W. TozerA Plain Account of Christian Perfection - John Wesley


Apologetic

Letters From a Skeptic - Gregory Boyd
What's So Great About Christianity - Dinesh D'Souza (Review)
The Case for Christ - Lee Strobel


Theology

God at War - Gregory Boyd
Created for Community - Stanley Grenz
Arminian Theology - Roger Olson
The Mosaic of Christian Belief - Roger Olson
Outward Sign and Inward Grace - Rob Staples


Pastoral/Leadership

And - Hugh Halter and Matt Smay
On the Verge - Alan Hirsch and Dave Ferguson (Review)
Courageous Leadership - Bill Hybels
They Call Me Pastor - H. B. London and Neil Wiseman
The Present Future - Reggie McNeal (Review)
The Peacemaking Pastor - Alfred Poirer


Church History

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy - Eric Metaxas (Review)
Christianity's Dangerous Idea - Alister McGrath
The Story of Christian Theology - Roger Olson
Sounds from Heaven - Colin and Mary Peckham

Fiction

Pilgrim's Progress - John Bunyan
Adam - Ted Dekker
The Circle Trilogy - Ted Dekker
Odd Thomas - Dean Koontz
The Chronicles of Narnia - C. S. Lewis
Till We Have Faces - C. S. Lewis
This Present Darkness - Frank Peretti
The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Crying Wolf over Persecution

You've probably seen the story.  A man in Arizona is "jailed for holding a Bible study" in his home.  Fox News broke this story to us this week.  You can watch their video here.  The story from their view point is that this was a man, in his own living room, who is holding a Bible study.  Now he is arrested and persecuted because of his faith.

But is this the whole story?  Actually, it is far from the whole story.  Relevant magazine posted a story today which sheds some more light on this story.  You can read their story here.  I have several major issues with this story, and how it is getting twisted to make it sound worse than it is.

Let's begin with the claim that he isn't actually breaking the law.  As it turns out, the man is not only breaking zoning laws, but also tax laws.  He wants the government laws to work in his favor when he can keep the money, but not when he needs to pay up.  This is a legal issue, and in case we forget, we are called to submit to the governing authorities.  They are not asking too much.  They simply want him to obey the laws which are in place.

And by the way, this isn't in his living room.  It is in a building out in the back of his house, where they have seating for 140 people, and meetings there three times a week with up to 80 people.  The area he lives in isn't designed for that, nor is the building.  It is a danger to those who are inside, and those who live in the community.

If this man would simply obey the law, he could have church.  If he wants Bible studies in his home, that is okay too.  But this wasn't a Bible study.  This was church, with a pulpit, offering and all.  Crying wolf only hurts the image of Christians today, and does nothing for the cause of Christ.  

My biggest gripe, though, is the claim of being persecuted.  We in America need to stop this complaining.  There are countries where you cannot even claim to be a Christian, let alone talk about Jesus, without being martyred.  There are countries where, when you get baptized into the Church, you are forever cut off from your family.  Even in some of the areas of the world with "lesser" persecution, you can be one, just don't speak about it in public.  We are not persecuted in this country.

In addition, this is an insult to those who are actually undergoing persecution.  There is the recent story of the pastor in Iran jailed for his faith, and concern for many all over the world who are dying.  Just a couple of weeks ago, two churches near the Somali border were attacked, and 17 Christians were gunned down.

Fellow Christians, please speak up loudly for the persecuted Christians of the world.  We must raise our voices, and lift our prayers to the heavens for those who suffer for what they believe.  For those, however, who are claiming persecution, but living in violation to the Word of God and reasonable civil laws, we must be careful to not defend.


Monday, July 16, 2012

The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience

I thought maybe it would be a good idea to review some books that I've read in the past, particularly ones which I've enjoyed and have helped me a lot.  Today I want to give you a brief introduction to "The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience" by Ronald Sider.  I first came across Ron Sider in an article in Relevant Magazine which was an "open letter" to this generation.  You can find the first part of that article here, with the rest just a click away.  They are very much worth a read.   This book challenged me a great deal, and it gives us a lot to think about.  Because it's a small book, it doesn't take long to read, but it still manages to challenge the reader enough to be particularly difficult.

The subtitle of the book, "why are Christians living just like the rest of the world?" perhaps gives us an indication of why this would be so difficult.  This question is dissected right away in the first chapter, as Sider gives us the statistics to show why those who claim the name of Christ in America are living just like everyone else.  Looking at wealth/poverty, divorce, racism, abuse and more, Sider shows us how we are indeed living just like the world.

He goes on in the second chapter to talk about the Biblical Vision.  What does the Bible say we should look like?  This, after all, should be our driving force.  It turns out we are to look different from the world, but not just a little bit.  We are to look vastly different.  We are to "bear much fruit" and understand that those born of God won't "continue to sin".  These are calls found throughout Scripture, and need to be taken seriously.

The third chapter is, in my opinion, the best in the book.  Here Sider compares and contrasts cheap grace with the whole gospel.  He begins with this quote from Peter Gillquist; "All the evangelism in the world from a church that is not herself holy and righteous will not be worth a hill of beans in world-changing power."  Indeed, you can reach the lost, but if it not with the gospel, they are still lost.  We must live the whole gospel, and not just the convenient parts of it.

The fourth chapter explores the question of whether we will conform to the world or will we be the church.  Unfortunately, many churches and Christians have chosen to look like the world.  Some use it as an excuse to evangelize better, and some are just lazy.  Some, unfortunately, do so because of false teaching they are hearing in the pulpit.  The more we act like the world, the less likely they are to conform to Christ.  This truth cannot be debated.  Not only will they not be changed, but we are not being the Church.  We cannot be a "royal priesthood" and act like the world.

The final chapter is about the rays of hope.  They are not many, but there are some.  In my personal estimation, the rays of hope are to be found, but we must be careful to nurture them, and not destroy them.

All in all, a very good book.  I would recommend it to anyone, and am thankful for the dramatic affect it has had on my life.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

When not to risk

The title of my blog is "A Faith that Risks", taken from a quote from one of my favorite authors, Leonard Ravenhill.  He talks about having a faith that "risks", and that we need more of that today.  I believe He is correct.  We need believers and churches which are anxious to step out of the boat and take risks for the sake of the Kingdom.  But at the same time, there are times risk is not only unnecessary, but dangerous.  So what are some reasons we shouldn't take risks?  Let me give you three quick reasons.

First, we shouldn't take risks because someone else is doing it.  I have not been called to live someone else's life, and because of that, there are risks others will take for God that I will not be asked to take.  For some reason only Daniel, not his three counterparts, was the only one thrown into the den of lions.  Meanwhile, it was Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego who were thrown into the furnace, and not Daniel.  Why?  We don't really know, but let me assure you that taking a risk because someone else does can get you into a lot of trouble.

Secondly, we shouldn't take risks so we can look good.  It has been my observation that this is pretty normal in the church today.  We give a little more, do a little more, and extend what resources God has given us (time, talent, treasure) too far.  This isn't necessarily because God has asked us to, but because others will think we are "spiritual" if we do.  Taking risks to look good for others might work for a time, but when it becomes apparent, and there's a good chance it will, that your risks are selfish in nature, you will be seen for what you are; a hypocrite.

Thirdly, we shouldn't take risks to prove our faith.  I think this is the most common mistake when it comes to risk taking.  I have fallen into this trap myself, and not only did I fail, but it really cost me.  When you do things to prove your faith, and then your faith isn't vindicated, what are you left with?  In my case, it was a lot of questions and piles of bills I couldn't pay.  (God delivered, by the way, but not until I had learned a pretty valuable lesson...and payed off some of those bills!)  We are tempted to prove our faith to ourselves, our friends and family members, and those in our church.

So when should we take risks?  In short, we take risks because God has led us to do so, to bring Him glory, and to prove Him.  These are in direct contrast to the reasons we don't take risks.  Any risk of faith I take must be primarily vertical, because of God and for God.

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Mission of the Church


I rarely get a chance to see movies in the theater.  I was lucky enough to get a chance to see the new Mission Impossible movie a few months ago with some siblings.  I thoroughly enjoyed the movie; and consider it the best of the series so far.  One of the key lines to every one of the movies is the line "This is your mission, should you choose to accept it!"  Then comes the dangerous mission for Cruise and his band of misfits to join together so they can come out victorious and make another movie.  I look forward to the next installment!

Anyway, I fear that many Christians take this same approach to the mission we have been given.  We think that God is saying "This is your mission, should you choose to accept it."  The problem is that this isn't really a choice.  Either you are a follower of Christ, or you're not.  There is no middle ground, and once you have chosen to follow Him, you have chosen to be part of His mission.  The great commission, in case you don't know, is to go "into all the nations" and "make disciples".

I will admit that there are similarities to the missions of the movies.  It can be dangerous.  It's a risk to take something into the world which they may reject.  It can also seem impossible.  The problem is that because of the danger, many bow out, thinking they can be a follower of Jesus without actually following Him into the world.

Others do go out, but they think that in order to be successful, they have to have the latest gadgets or trends.  But that never really does the job.  We have that in America, and the church here is failing.  In other countries where they don't have these things, numbers are growing by the thousands every single day.  Why?  Because it's not the latest things which drive the mission of God, but God Himself.  (insert corny "Mission Possible: Holy Ghost Protocol" here)

In his book "The Forgotten Ways", Alan Hirsch tells us that the early church in a period of 210 years, grew from around 25,000 to 200,000,000.  That is a lot of growth, and they did it without so many of the things we take for granted.  They didn't have buildings for the most part, because for much of that time it was illegal to be a Christian.  They didn't have structure, and they didn't have the New Testament.  They would have had portions, but that was really it.  They didn't have seminaries to train their leaders, and they didn't have worship teams and overhead projection.  Interestingly enough, they even made it harder for you to join the church than most of us would even dream of today.

So what did they have?  They had the Holy Spirit, and they had the commission of Christ.  They took those things and went out.  This is our call today.  Let us not wait until we are trained or educated enough, but call on God's Spirit and move out in obedience.

Friday, May 25, 2012

What Is a Church?

"Wherever we see the Word of God purely preached and heard, and the sacraments administered according to Christ's institution, there, it is not to be doubted, a church of God exists." - John Calvin

At Launch Conference this past week I heard one of the speakers make reference to this quote, suggesting that this really isn't what a church must be.  The thought was that this really doesn't represent who Jesus is.  And, as I posted earlier this week, knowing who Jesus is becomes essential for us defining what church is supposed to be.  Our Christology defines our Missiology which then in turn defines our Ecclesiology.  Because this is true, a church must be much more than a place with has the Word and Sacraments.

But what was Calvin actually trying to accomplish?  It's amazing when we begin to study history the amazing impact Calvin had on the church.  I would argue that his impact rivals that of Luther because of his concern over helping the people find an identity outside of the Roman Catholic Church.  The RC's had been not just the religious identity, but the complete identity of so many people for generations, and now that they were leaving them, it was hard to know where to go.  This is where Calvin stepped in.  While I don't always appreciate his theology, it's hard to deny the impact he made on the Church as a whole.

I say this because it is easy to look back at this quote, and others like it, and say that Calvin had it wrong.  Perhaps he did, and there should have been more added to this statement.  On the other hand, getting critical of those who were striving to steer a ship on the right course while plugging all the holes is probably not the wisest thing to do.

So what is a church?  This, then, becomes the question.  If Jesus is the image we are meant to reflect, and the church He was building the one we are to look like, this should point us in the right direction.  It is Jesus we must look to in order to define who we are.


And what about this one?  Jesus goes to places no one will go in order to reach the people no one else will reach.  These are the stories which tell us who He was.  












We find Jesus washing the feet of the Disciples, serving those who came to be with Him.  Are we serving those who come in our doors?  Are we loving them this way?









This, then, is what we should look like.  Too often we are defined by our beauty, but Jesus was defined by His stripes.  It was by His wounds we are healed.  His willingness to suffer like this was based on His love. Do we love this way? Are we willing to be wounded and bleeding on behalf of those who are lost?

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Who is Jesus? The ultimate question.

The second speaker at Launch Conference was Alan Hirsch.  Alan is a thinker and a provoker.  I say that in the best way possible!  He provokes people to think and reevaluate the direction they are living and leading.  I have found his writings and teachings both educational and challenging.  If you want to learn more about him, you can check out his website here.

I won't write in completion about what he said.  If you are interested, you can find a lot of his teachings online, on iTunes and so forth.  However, one of the things which struck me from this first session was a statement I have heard him speak about before, but bears repeating.  Our Christology (what Scripture teaches us about Jesus) should determine our Missiology (what Scripture says about the mission of Jesus followers) which should then in turn determine our Ecclesiology (how we "do" church).  It looks something like this;

Christology-->Missiology-->Ecclesiology.

When we get this backwards, or even switched around a little, we are in dangerous territory.  In other words, we should never ask "How can we do church better".  Instead, we should ask ourselves what Jesus taught and while on earth, and then examine how we can better reflect him.  Hirsch said "There's something terribly wrong about not reflecting the name of the Person whom we claim."  That, my friends, is truth.

If Jesus is indeed the founder of my faith, my church and my salvation, I must be sure to actually make Him my foundation.  Alan calls this "Re-founding the Church".

What this does is make the need to study the life of Christ that much more important for church leaders, such as myself.  Is my Christology wrong?  Because if it is, I am most definitely leading the wrong way.  He brought up the letter to the church in Laodicea, in which Christ says "I stand at the door and knock."  We find Jesus in this letter standing outside of a church trying to get in.  This should make me ask an important question concerning Faith Country Chapel: Is Jesus on the outside trying to get in?  And if He is, who/what are we worshiping and serving?

Monday, May 21, 2012

Who are we reaching?


"Are we out to reach people?  Or are we out to reach lost people?"  This question, asked by Vince Antonucci, grabbed me.  I was at Launch Conference, a conference centered around church planting, but actually much more, and Vince was the first speaker.  His blog says this about Vince: "I have that typical story, told too many times: Guy grows up in home with Jewish mother and gambling addict father, guy becomes a Christian in college by trying to prove the Bible isn’t true, guy leaves career in law to become a pastor, guy starts church in Virginia Beach that grows from four people to hundreds, guy leaves church in Virginia Beach to move to Las Vegas to start Verve, a church for people who work on and live around the Vegas Strip."  You can find his blog here.  Looking it over quickly, as I hadn't heard of him before this last weekend, I especially liked this blog post.  He is a man who calls us to a higher way of living, without compromise.  

The question about whether we are out to reach people or lost people is an important one for churches, and therefore pastors, to ask.  I thought it would be good for me to ask this question of myself.  Who am I trying to reach?  Who are we trying to reach?  It's not that people who are already followers of Jesus don't need a place for fellowship and discipleship.  That wasn't what he was saying, and certainly not my thoughts either.  But there were some startling statistics which he gave.  The one which really stood out was this: In no county in America are there more Christians than there were 30 years ago.  That's right.  Even though there are about 90,000,000 more people living in America, there has been a steady drop of those claiming to be followers of Jesus.

So what is needed for the church is not to search for more people.  This often is just people who go from one church to another.  Some churches in America are getting larger, while others are dying away.  There needs to be something done.  That is where the Church comes in.  Not a church, by the way, but the Church.  We must go out as missionaries into our work places, our communities and into our families and reach the lost, calling them to the Father in the name of Jesus and the power of the Spirit.  



Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Missional Renaissance


I wanted to write about “The Present Future” because I was working on Reggie McNeal’s follow-up book, “Missional Renaissance.”  If you have read and enjoyed “The Present Future”, I recommend this one as well.  The first book left me with a lot of questions, which this one helped to answer.

The subtitle of the book really spells out where McNeal is going to take us in this book: “Changing the Scorecard for the Church”.  Knowing there will be questions of “how” from leaders, he shows us how we can change the direction the church is going by changing the scorecard.  As he says throughout the book, people will do what gets celebrated.  So this book is written with that in mind.

The beauty of it for me is that it is written with leaders of traditional churches in mind, which is important if it’s going to do much good in today’s world.  I, for one, need help in figuring out just how to move a traditional church into becoming more missional.  This book gave me a lot to chew on and think about.  Once again I found myself reading with a notebook beside me, where I would often find myself writing down questions and ideas the book brought to my attention.

I find myself thinking differently these days.  I’m thankful for books like this one which have helped me to do so.  

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Present Future

I read “The Present Future” by Reggie McNeal last year about this time, and have never reviewed it here. Let me say first that this book still is with me. I loved reading it, and it challenged me in a big way. It’s a very easy read, as McNeal writes in a very conversational way, and doesn’t use too many big words! Let me say a couple of things I really liked, and one I think the author could have done better.


 First, any time we are challenged, I think it’s a good thing. McNeal challenges many presuppositions about church; both in what we do and why we do them. I think every church leader should read it for this alone. Whether you come away agreeing with that he says…well, that may not happen. However, it’s worth the challenge.


 Another thing I really liked is that McNeal frames a lot of the book in questions. He’s not writing in order to give answers, but to help the reader think for himself. This caused me many times to put the book down and think through some things. 


The one thing I think he could have done better in the book, which he does in his speaking engagements, is be sure to point out the balance which needs to be drawn between being “incarnational” (much of the book) and “attractional” (which is ignored almost completely).

 All in all, this is probably the leadership book which has most challenged my ministry when I read it, and continues to challenge me today.