Saturday, October 19, 2013

On John MacArthur and Joel Osteen

Okay, so maybe putting those two guys in the same heading is a bit much, but bear with me for a minute.

Christian leadership sites have been buzzing this week with the latest from John MacArthur.  He is doing something he has grown quite comfortable with of late.  Criticizing Christians whom he disagrees with, putting them all together in a box, and declaring them heathen.  Okay, so maybe it isn't that bad, but it's close.  

This tends to be a bit of a trend with him.  I'm not going to go into it too much.  Suffice to say that this time it is with the charismatic movement, which certainly has some things I personally disagree with, and has need of depth.  You can do some looking around, and check it out for yourself.

My concern is a general one.  MacArthur, who is a leading voice in Christianity on many things, often comes out against whatever it is he doesn't like.  If you don't agree with him, he tends to be a bit rude, and even has a tendency to to question whether you really take the Bible as it should be taken.  Understand I've never seen him in person, and probably never will.  But I've read his books, heard him in debates, and listened to his sermons from time to time.  

Among other things, you aren't a very good Christian (if you're a Christian at all) if...
     - You like modern worship music, and don't sing the old hymns
     - You enjoy reading many modern authors (Rick Warren, John Eldredge just to name a couple)
     - You don't believe in a literal, six day creation
     - You aren't a pre-tribulation, pre-millennial
     - You believe in infant baptism

I could go on and on.  You can figure most of this out by reading is blog, listening to his sermons, or whatever.  It isn't that hard to find out.  Just don't waste too much time.  There is a lot better content out there.  

So what does this have to do with Joel Osteen?  Osteen is exactly the opposite of MacArthur in many ways.  Where MacArthur is very exclusive (very few are "good" Christians, if Christians at all), Osteen is very inclusive (you're pretty much a Christian no matter what).  Where one is overly harsh, the other is overly pleasant.  

Sometimes those who are the most unlike each other end up having one thing in common; consequence.  

The consequence here is simple.  Neither is portraying Jesus well.  Through both you get one side of Jesus, but it is skewed badly.  

Sure, at times Jesus was very exclusive.  He did say, after all, that He is the Way to the Father.  There is no other way.  

Jesus was also very inclusive at times.  He allowed the former prostitute to hang out with He and His disciples, and Jesus Himself spent a lot of time with the down and out, the worst of the world.

Did Jesus condemn a lot of what was said through teachers of his day?  Of course, and there is still need of that today.  John MacArthur, though, tends to do this with just about anyone who doesn't fit into his particular brand of Christianity, which is much more narrow than even the narrow road of following Jesus.  

My concern is that as these two men get a lot of play time, people look at them to represent Christianity, and they are both doing so poorly.  Jesus wasn't afraid to call out sin, and to set people on the right path.  He also was inclusive enough to have the religious of the day speak very badly of Him.  

This all being said, I do believe both these men mean the best for their respective audiences.  I also happen to believe that those audiences could find things of much more value to their lives elsewhere.  

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Coffee Shop Conversations

This book was not what I was expecting.

I'm not sure what I was expecting, I guess.  The book is over 200 pages long, and I was expecting it to be filled with stories and ideas about sharing your faith in a more natural way.  Sharing it in such a way that people will listen.

And it is that.  Don't misunderstand.   The authors, Dale and Jonalyn Fincher, spend a lot of time telling their stories.  They talk about their successes, and they talk about their failures.  In fact, they are brutally honest about both, which is pretty hard to read at times!  It can make you cringe, especially when you realize that they aren't just talking about themselves, but also about you.  They do a wonderful job showing how to have great conversations with people from all different backgrounds and beliefs.  The stories are great.

While doing this, they talk about different methods of sharing our faith.  They give questions you can ask, ways to help you more naturally bring Jesus into conversations, and show you how people might respond when you bring up different subjects.

It's just that it's more than that.  Way more than that.   Their first section is all about spiritual small talk, but as they move on, it becomes less about how I talk, and more about how I think.  They examine what we believe, and how that drastically affects the way we share the gospel.

Their third section was particularly striking.  They talk about things we make too much out of (creation/evolution, hell, etc), and things we don't make enough of (loving gay people and how we are often hypocritical).  These were helpful.  Mind you, there were some things I didn't necessarily agree with them on, but I'm convinced yet again that our conversations are much more important than we think.

Of course, most of us don't want conversations.  We just want to tell people what we believe, and therefore what they should believe as well.  They say "Sometimes we forget we're inviting people to Jesus and not to our brand of Christianity."  Ouch.

Anyway, I heartily recommend this book.  If you're looking for a book which will help you share your faith, this could very well be the one for you.  It isn't about methods, but about people, perceptions and the daily call to live like Jesus.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The End of Conflict

I've just finished "The End of Conflict" by Andy Johnson.  This was a book I looked forward to reading, and I wasn't disappointed.  In my opinion, the area of conflict, and how we should deal with it as Christians, is not dealt with very well in the Church today.  It is either ignored, or spoken of in ways which are far less Biblical than we would like to think.

The book begins with the beginning, as Johnson brings us to creation, the world without conflict, and the God who is the God of Shalom.  These chapters are fascinating, as we begin to see some conflict in the Bible that we might be more comfortable glossing over.  In particular, we see how God dealt with conflict in many ways.  This suggests that perhaps we aren't to deal with conflict the same way in every situation.  

Then the author deals with the question of conflict, and what it is.  I wouldn't have thought this was important to discuss, but as I read through the chapters on conflict, I was convinced otherwise.  Not only have we misunderstood God and His relationship to conflict, but we have often misunderstood conflict itself.  We say that conflict is a result of personalities, situations, etc., rather than saying it like it is; conflict is a result of sin.  His end definition of conflict is this:

"A conflict is the presence of a broken relationship that has resulted form the commission of sinful actions growing out of inordinate or sinful desires on the part of one party, the offender, against the other, the offended."  

Want to see how he gets there?  Read the book!

The next section deals with the topic of forgiveness.  This is an area that we often go wrong, but if we are building on the foundation that Johnson has laid, we naturally move to a more Biblically grounded concept of forgiveness.  There are some really important questions answered in this section.  Does God forgive sin which isn't confessed?  Is forgiveness conditional?  How much should our forgiveness reflect Gods?  

The final section is also intriguing.  What do we do when those who have sinned against us refuse to do anything about it?  What do we do when they don't confess?  How are we to respond, both inwardly and outwardly?  These are not easy questions, so he doesn't move quickly through the answers.  Instead, we see some careful consideration of different passages which deal with just this.  

All in all, a great book.  I recommend it for every Christian.  In particular, I believe church leaders need to hone in on this idea of conflict resolution, and how we should deal with it both Scripturally and hopefully effectively.  

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Wanting God Isn't Enough

I'm in the middle of reading "I became a Christian and all I got was this lousy t-shirt" by Vince Antonucci.  That is a really long title.  I heard the author speak at a conference I attended last summer, and really enjoyed him.  His past is more than a little colored, and he isn't your normal pastor.  Yet this book and the message I heard that day tell me this; Vince Antonucci is passionate about his relationship with God, and spreading that passion to others.

One of the chapters in the book is called "Hungry", in which Antonucci discusses the need to hunger for God, and what that hunger feels like.  He describes it in different ways, which I won't get into.  A lot of what you find in this chapter you can find in other books as well, though maybe not with the flow and humor in this book.

What really struck me started about half-way through the chapter.  In it, he says this:

"We assume that wanting it is enough, that being hungry for God will automatically lead to being filled with God.  But the more I think about that, the more I realize how strange an idea this really is.  I mean, we can't just want to be in good shape physically and it automatically happens.  We can't just want to get good grades in school and it automatically happens.  We can't just want to have a great relationship with our spouse and it automatically happens.  Everything important in life takes some work, some discipline, so why should it be any different with God?  Yes, we need to want it, we need to be hungry.  But being hungry is not enough."  

Now, this may seem pretty obvious, and I guess it is.  But as I've led, pastored and grown myself through the years, I can testify to this; wanting something is different than pursuing it.  God doesn't say He will bless those who want Him.  He says he will bless those who pursue Him.  In Jeremiah's prophecy, God states "You will seek Me and find me.  When you seek me with all your heart."  This is not a hunger alone, but a hunger which leads to pursuing.

The Apostle Paul also recognizes this, telling us he is "pressing on" toward the goal of Jesus Christ.  He doesn't simply hunger.  While hunger is important, we have to remember that this is only the first step toward getting more of God.  We are going to actually have to do something about that hunger.

Antonucci ends this section by saying this:

"I'm hungry for God, but going from being hungry to being full would take blocking out some time and really spending it with him reading my Bible, or maybe it would take getting into a small group at church, or reading a book about prayer.  And I'm not willing, or I'm lazy, or it's just that I have a lot of other things to do, and so I'm starving spiritually.  I'm disappointed with my Christian life, and I'm blaming it on God."

So are you hungry?  What are you going to do about it?  

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Time to talk about homosexuality

I know, I know.  Some people are pretty tired of talking about homosexuality, so even the title of this blog is off-putting.  Oh well.  I don't say it is time to talk about it because it hasn't been discussed, but because in conservative circles, we have tended to shy away from actually talking about it.  We say things like "homosexuality is a sin", and consider that the end of the discussion.

But is it fair to end the discussion that way?  I don't think so.

I'm not going to give a lot of my thoughts here, but I've had several things come across my desk these last couple of weeks which I thought were great conversations.  Some of the people I disagree with, others I agree with.

The first is a video with Rob Bell debating with Andrew Wilson.  This is only a portion of the debate, but it is worth watching.  Bell bothers me a lot in this video.  He suggests, when asked about the truth of Scripture, that truth isn't the most important question, but instead "what works."  That is a dangerous place to take a debate when discussing what God thinks about an issue.

The second is a series of questions and answers given at Woodland Hills Church.  The questions are answered by Gregory Boyd, one of my favorite authors, and Paul Eddy.  There is a lot here, and some other good questions and answers.  What is interesting is that there are three different services in which spend time answering questions, and in each of them there is some type of question dealing with homosexuality and the church.  I tend to really like and appreciate their approach to this question.

Finally, this is an interview given on a Moody radio station to Dale and Jonalyn Fincher.  This is less about our approach to the theology, and more about our approach to the person.  What's interesting about this is that Moody ended up taking the interview down from their website.  You'll notice the link isn't to their website, but to another.

I would encourage you, if you have time, to watch/listen to these.  They present different sides, but all are willing to have the conversation.  This, to me, is the important thing.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Preaching Jesus

I've had some interesting discussions of late about how we preach Jesus, particularly from the Old Testament.  There are two general sides to the debate.  

On one side of the debate, some suggest that every sermon we preach needs to be about Jesus.  So even when we are preaching Old Testament passages which make no reference to Him, we should still make sure the sermon is, in the end, about Jesus.

On the other hand, I recently attended some classes on Old Testament preaching, and the man giving the talks approached it from the opposite angle, saying that we should preach the text, and not feel like we needed to force Jesus into the message.

This left me thinking about my own preaching, and how I preach from the Old Testament.  I tend to lean toward the second view, but to be honest it sure sounds more spiritual to preach Jesus from every text.  Because I have been thinking about it, an ongoing series on Ed Stetzer's blog are helping me gain some perspective.  Let me give you some of the highlights, and I would encourage you, whether you are a preacher or not, to give these a look.  They aren't only about how we preach the Bible, but also about how we should read and study it on a personal level.

From the first post, there were a couple of things which really stuck out.  A little over half-way down the post, the author of this particular post says this:

"While it is hermeneutically irresponsible to say that all Old Testament texts have a Christocentric meaning or point to Christ, it is true that all play a significant role in God's great redemptive plan that leads to and climaxes in Christ."

This seems to provide some balance.  Instead of saying that all passages are about Jesus, he is suggesting that all the Old Testament is part of the plan which culminates in Jesus.  That is much different, and I think a wiser way to look at the text.

Then a little later, he says this:

"Christ-centered preaching may obscure the intent of the original author and in so doing may actually reflect a low view of Scripture." 

This, to me, is the danger.  I always want to be true to the text which I'm preaching, not fit something into it that I really want to say!  That is always a temptation for any preacher anyway, so avoiding the temptation is helpful.

The danger here is that not only are we not being faithful to the text, but by obscuring the original intent of the author, we are in danger of suggesting that our understanding of the text is greater than that of the author.  And by the way, if the Bible was truly inspired by the Holy Spirit, and He was okay with not making Christ the center of every passage in the Bible, it is certainly disingenuous for me to suggest that I should do it.

Anyway, the second post is also up, so let me show you a couple more quotes.

"Authoritative interpretation will focus first on the message of any given text, and once this is established reflect on its place and significance in the broader revelatory scheme that climaxes in Jesus. Not all First Testament texts point to Christ, but all texts reveal something about God or humanity or the universe that is necessary ultimately to understand the work of Christ."

Again, this is about being true to the text.  We can preach things which aren't specifically about Jesus which still speak of the need for Him, or show us His divine character as we find Him in the New Testament.  But how is that presented?  Well, first we go with what the text is actually saying.  That is a must.  

One more.  This author also addresses how we talk about people whom we consider to be "types" of Jesus. I have not always done well here.  I felt a little corrected!

"If we preach Joshua as a type of Christ, we minimize the role and work of Jesus and obscure the message of the book of Joshua. Jesus is not a second Joshua; Joshua was his agent! Jesus is YHWH who commissioned Joshua to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land and hand the land into their hands."

There is danger here, and I hope we see what it is.  God help us to read, study and preach Scripture as it is intended to be read!

There was another really interesting point in this second article about the idea that we tend to think of Jesus as the Messiah or Christ, but forget that Scripture also tells us something very important about Him.  He is not only the deliverer, but is God Himself in the flesh.  So while we can see in the Old Testament pictures of Jesus, we also need to remember that Jesus is the God of the Old Testament, so we see God on the move.  That is the wonderful story of Scripture; it is the ongoing plan of redemption.  

Someone said this: "The New Testament is the Old Testament revealed and the Old Testament is the New Testament concealed."  I don't buy it.  

There is much more in those articles, and as these are out of context, you'll certainly get more from going and reading them in whole.  Also, the series will be continuing, so I hope we read it together!  

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

A Friend in Need...

I'm reading through the book of Job right now in my personal quiet times.  I'm not sure if you've ever read it, so let me give you a quick synopsis.

Job is a righteous man, who honors God in his life and through his sacrifices.  God has blessed him with a large family and many other things.  He is financially secure, to say that least.  One day Satan finds himself in the presence of God, and God starts bragging about Job.  True story.

And the LORD said to Satan, 
“Have you considered my servant Job, 
that there is none like him on the earth, 
a blameless and upright man, 
who fears God and turns away from evil?”

This always surprises me a little.  Can you imagine God bragging about you?  Anyway, Satan isn't impressed, and assures God that if Job didn't have so much, he would turn his back on God.  Basically, he only loves God for what he's getting in return.

Long story short, Satan is given allowance by God to take all of Job's possessions away.  Satan does so, destroying Job's family, livelihood and health.  What is Job to do?  The only one left to comfort him is his wife, who tells him to curse God and die.  Okay, maybe not the greatest way to comfort someone.

The majority of this book is filled with Job and his friends having dialogue.  Their names are Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar.  They come to Job and assure him that if all of these things are happening, it must be because there is some sin which Job is trying to hide from God, and all of this is a result of punishment.  Job assures them this isn't true, but they don't believe him.

The thing I wanted to point out is that his friends actually meant well.  They weren't performing very well, but in this story we are assured they meant the best for their friend.  In chapter two it says this: "And when they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him.  And they raised their voices and wept, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads toward heaven.  And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was great."

I point this out because I think there are a couple of lessons we can learn, from both sides of this suffering.

First, if you are going to console a friend, you might want to spend some time asking questions before you offer solutions.  These friends didn't know the situation, and apparently didn't know God too well either.  So their assumptions were in fact dangerous and hurtful to Job.

Secondly, if you are going through a tough time in your life, and you have friends say things which are hurtful, remember that they may have your best in mind, even if it seems they spend most of the time putting their foot in their mouth.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Mercy for a Killer

I was reading the story of Cain and Abel this morning, and was struck again by the way the story teaches us about the mercy of God.  Let me give you some of the high points.

Cain and Abel go to God with their sacrifices.  Cain is a farmer, and brings food "from the ground."  Abel is a shepherd, and brings God the "firstborn from his flock."  God accepts Abel's offering, but not Cain's.  We don't really know for sure why this is the case.  It probably had something to do with the offering itself, though in the end, it was the heart of Cain which was against God.  Remember that God commanded sacrifices from the ground years later, and many times we see this as acceptable.  The difference had to have been Cain's heart.

The proof is in Cain's reaction.  At this point he could have done two things.  First, he could have asked God why his sacrifice wasn't accepted.  The other thing he could have done is search his own heart to see if there was something within himself that needed work.  Instead, "Cain was very angry."

God, in His mercy, comes to Cain.  "If you do well, won't your sacrifice be accepted?"  This question from God is an important one.  It isn't that God has rejected Cain outright.  In fact, there is the opportunity in this for Cain to receive God's mercy.  God will accept what Cain offers if Cain will offer it in a proper way.

God then warns Cain.  Now, we all know what Cain is going to do, but Cain at this point had not killed his brother.  So God warns him.  "Sin is crouching at your door."  This is a stern warning from God to watch the temptation to act in his anger.

Cain kills his brother anyway.

Read that carefully.  Warned by God, Cain ignores the warning and takes his anger out on his brother.  He was in the wrong, but instead of bearing the weight of his guilt, he took it out on his brother.  Abel, though he had done nothing wrong, was murdered.  Cain, though warned by God, kills his brother.

Then comes the really merciful part of the story.  This is a part of the story that we sometimes forget, and when I was younger, I didn't really understand it.  God sends Cain away from where he was to be a wanderer.  That I get.  Cain, though, is worried.  Look at what he says to God.

"My punishment is greater than I can bear.  
Behold, you have driven me today away from the ground, 
and from your face I shall be hidden. 
I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, 
and whoever finds me will kill me."

I remember reading this when I was younger and wondering what his complaint was.  Sure, he might get killed, but isn't that what he deserves?  I mean, he kills his brother, and then thinks God should protect him?  What's amazingly merciful, is that this is exactly what God does.  God protects Cain, even though Cain had rejected Him.

Then the LORD said to him, “Not so! 
If anyone kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.” 
And the LORD put a mark on Cain, lest any who found him should attack him.

This is the mercy of God at work, and I have found it to be true in my life as well.  I try to remind myself and my congregation that God, in His grace and mercy, saved me from all the sin in my past.  It is even greater when you think that God, in His grace and mercy, saved me though He knew I would fail Him many more times after He saved me.  

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! 
In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope 
through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 
and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade— kept in heaven for you, 
who through faith are shielded by God’s power 
until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.
 - I Peter 1:3-5.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Sermon Prep

This is an excerpt from the book "Killing Cockroaches" by Tony Morgan. This particular portion was written by David Foster, and is important reminder to me about the amount of time I down preparing my sermons. At times I can feel a little guilty for how much time I dedicate to sermon prep. This helped me. I thought I would give it to you in full, and provide some commentary through it of my own thoughts.  My comments will all be in orange.  Enjoy!

My "killing cockroaches" story has to do with the issue of preparation. (If you want to know about the "killing cockroaches" comments are about, you'll have to read the book!) My life's calling as a writer and a speaker means I live in a world of words and ideas. This requires lots and lots of time in research and preparation in how to communicate your idea effectively.

I operate on one key principle-great speaking comes from the overflow of preparation. Before you can move others, you must first be moved. And that requires many hours of concentrated time, being still in one place thinking great thoughts! (Okay, maybe not all great.  But thoughts anyway!)

Sounds simple-except when you realize that year after year the number one fear people have is speaking before a crowd. For me, the fear of speaking in front of a crowd isn't so great as it is speaking before a crowd unprepared. (Believe it or not, this is one of my most frequent "nightmares" - standing before a congregation unprepared.  I know that sounds crazy, but I literally have bad dreams about not being ready to preach when it comes time to do so.) Therefore, I must spend hours and hours alone in my office in front of a computer, reading, studying, cross-referencing, researching, looking for illustrations, adding, deleting--all pointing toward one particular moment in which I will speak or write. I was taught that you need one hour of preparation for every minute you speak. That means if you speak for forty minutes, you prepare forty hours. (I actually prepare half of that.  I average one hour of preparation time for every two minutes hours I preach.  I preach around 35-40 minutes, and spend 14-15 hours preparing) 

Now here's my problem. I'm a guy of action and I live in a world of buzzers, bells, chimes, and alarms. They exist for one real reason-to get me moving! I like them because I love doing things. I live to be involved in conversations. When things are going on, I want to know about them. I want to do things that have an immediate payoff. But here's my dilemma: I get more immediate gratification "chasing the cockroaches" of my everyday interest or distraction. Hurry makes it easier to justify not preparing. (I know a lot of preachers who are so "busy" they don't spend the time they need to on the essentials, yet this was exactly the danger which caused the apostles in Acts to avoid doing work others could do.)

The truth is, preparation is hard, lonely work. It takes terrible inner discipline. It requires as much discipline to sit down, study and prepare as it does to be actively attending meetings or dashing off to lunch, all of which feed the need for immediate gratification. So a lot of guys like me who speak for God week after week, year in and year out, face the urge to procrastinate on preparation because we want to be the guys who do a lot of really important stuff with our time. Then we cheat on our preparation time and justify it by tending to all the small emergencies around us that make us feel significant.

If I'm going to be great at what I alone can do for my movement, I must guard my prayer and preparation time like money in the bank. Too many are in the habit of "winging it," thinking other people won't notice. But they do. (Yes, they do) We diminish our effectiveness by chasing a thousand little distractions. And who pays the price? The people craving an inspiring, insightful, and transformational message. So rather than preaching with power and conviction, we end up just recounting our "cockroach killing" stories, hoping our lame excuses will make up for our chronic neglect of doing the one thing only we could have done the past six days - prepare! (This is the challenge for myself an other pastors.  By not spending enough time preparing, I'm actually shortchanging the people I'm supposed to be serving.)

Who among us hasn't been on the receiving end of a boring speaker who was too busy chasing the urgent to invest the time to be interesting. (I hope none of you are thinking about me right now...though I've delivered my share of boring sermons.) Talent can only take you so far. Preparation is what separates a good speaker from the truly great ones. Let other people out all the little fires and chase the little foxes. If you are going to slay giants on Sunday, you must resist against the forces that distract, dissipate, and disappoint.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Transformational Discipleship

I've just finished Transformational Discipleship by Eric Geiger, Michael Kelley and Philip Nation.  I had been looking forward to reading it since I heard about it, and it didn't disappoint.  I would recommend it for pastors and leaders, as well as any Christian who is concerned with being a better disciple.  That pretty much should be all Christians, right?

Anyway, the authors start out by introducing us to the concept of transformational discipleship.  They point out that everyone is a disciple of something or someone, and that not all discipleship produces transformation.  It might change things on the outside, but inward transformation requires being a disciple of Jesus.  It isn't about knowledge, though that is important (and even part of the process of transformation), and it isn't about behavior modification, though our actions will change as we are transformed.

They have created an image they call the "transformational sweet spot", converging Truth, Posture and Leadership.  You should read the book and find out more.  How we discover and live in truth, grow with a proper understanding of who we are in Christ, and how we lead and are led are all things you'll find as you read through this book.

One of the areas I especially liked was when they reminded me of the importance of communicating that our discipleship is a result of our identity.  Who we are in Christ is why we love God, love people and reach out to the world.  While I certainly speak of this often, I don't know that I do it nearly often enough.

Another area I'll mention quickly has to do with the idea of creating leaders.  As a pastor, I'm not proactive enough in creating leaders.  Too often my temptation is to wait to see who reveals leadership tendencies, and help them become leaders.  I don't think this is good enough.

I will continue to process the book.  There is a lot there, and it has left me challenged.  As I prepare for leading the church I pastor into the future, there are a lot of these concepts I will be mulling over and applying to the way I lead.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

God in the Darkness

My wife and I have been going through some rough times lately.  Actually, we are still in the middle of some of that now.  She was pregnant, and we lost the baby.  It has caused some pretty serious pain, as both a husband and a father.  I know I'm not the only one to have gone through this; not by a long shot.  Actually, one of the things which has surprised me as we've gone through the grieving process is how many have approached us and said they have gone through the same thing.

So I'm not trying to herald myself as some sort of martyr.  It's just been hard.  If you've been there, you know.  If you haven't, there is likely some other tragedy which has happened in your life, and while you don't understand this particular pain, pain itself is not foreign to you.

As we've moved through this, we have discovered something wonderful; our faith in God has not shaken.  I have written on pain many times in the past, and how evil is not a reflection of God or His character.  One of those posts, with links to a couple more, is here, if you're interested.  What I have noticed is that the theology of God which I have held is no less true in the darkness than it is in the light.

Let me sum up a few thoughts on this.

First, evil, pain, death and darkness are not reflections of the character of God.  God is love.  He does not want these things.  They are a reflection of all that is ungodly in the world.

Secondly, God does not always get what He wants.  He does not want these things, but out of His love He created both men and angels with free will, and while we have a great deal of power we can use for good, God has seen fit to give us the freedom to use that same power for evil.  That is true free will.

Secondly, death is a result of sin in the world, and this will one day be put to an end.  This is a day I long for.    It is in this which I put my hope, even when things are going all haywire around me.

Thirdly, God is not distant in my pain, but is near.  He walks with me through the valley of the shadow of death, and while evil might be around me, I will not fear.

These things cause me to love God more, and to have even more faith in Him.  I'm glad, for the record, that God doesn't control all events.  I'm glad He didn't take my baby.

God is good, all the time.  For this, I'm thankful.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Gay Marriage and the Bible

I have a real quandary.  I've kept myself out of the gay marriage debate in public for a few different reasons.

First, there are a lot of people out there who are smarter than me.  Let's be honest.  If you want really good quality arguments on either side of this debate, there are a lot of really smart people speaking out on it.  I'm not one of those.

Secondly, there are a lot of people out there who are dumber than me.  Again, honesty is important.  There are people raging on both sides of this debate who only want to shout louder than those on the other side.  If they've done that, they feel like they've won, regardless of whether or not they've given any decent arguments, or even listened to those on the other side.

Thirdly, I'm not clear on some of the questions concerning this.  For instance, what about equal rights?  I'm concerned with that.  I think those who have chosen to live a lifestyle I think is sinful still have rights.  So how do I balance that with my beliefs concerning whether that action is correct?  When it comes to abortion, there is the matter of a life to talk about.  In this issue...well, I'm not going there because I think there are legitimate and fair questions to be asked that I don't know the answer to.

These things being said, I do feel like I can weigh in on it from this angle; if you want to argue that gay marriage is a good thing, please leave the Bible out of it.

I mean, really and seriously, leave God out of the debate.  Scripture is clear on this subject, and there is really no reason to wonder.  It's not just in the Old Testament either, so stop shouting "Yeah, it's wrong like pork and tattoos!"  Whatever.  These are called "straw arguments."  They have no merit.  You can bring up the passages in the Old Testament, questioning whether I eat shellfish all you want, but it doesn't actually help your case.  It just proves that you have little, if any, idea of how we should interpret Scripture.  By the way, I don't eat shellfish, but that has less to do with my religious beliefs than it does with my taste buds.  I also don't have any tattoos, but I do love bacon!

It's okay that you don't know how to interpret Scripture, by the way.  I'm a pastor, and I've been trained, and am paid, to know how to do this (though, again, there are people a lot better at it than I am.  This is why I'm okay with the fact that I still have questions).  I don't expect everyone to be an expert.  I just wish people didn't work so hard to prove that they don't know what they're talking about.

So here's the deal.  I won't try to prove creation using Einstein's theory of relativity (because I would have no idea how to do such a thing, and I'm pretty sure there is no bearing), if you will stop using the Bible to defend homosexual relationships.  You can't do it, as it just isn't in there.

Instead, use the arguments that I'm no going to ignore.  Let's talk about it from a social or justice viewpoint.  Then, I think, we can have a rational and forward thinking discussion.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Is that in the Bible?

Probably not.

Okay, it might be.  But probably not.

There seem to be a lot of experts on the Bible out there.  They are everywhere.  They love to tell you things like, "Don't judge me!  The Bible says you can't tell me that what I'm doing is wrong."  Or "All sins are the same in the eyes of God."  One that probable gets said more than others is "This was God's will" when it maybe wasn't.

I was thinking the other day that we need a "Snopes" for Christians.  You know, a website that tells you whether something really is in the Bible.  Just a true/false list will be fine.  Something like this...

God helps those who help themselves - False

Do all you can, and leave the rest to God - False

God hates gay people - False

God defines marriage as between one man and one woman - True

Bad things happen to everyone - True

Then, as I thought about it some more, I realized we do have that.  Actually, it isn't a website, though it is on a lot of websites.  It's really a book.  You know...the Bible.  The problem is that we have Christians with one of two problems.

1. They believe what they want to believe.  You know the ones.  They don't really need a verse.  They just need someone to tell them something is in the Bible, and if it sounds good, than they accept it.  And when I say "sounds good", I mean it sounds like something they really want to be true.  So they accept something as from God simply based on their desire.  They are, in effect, creating God in their image.

2. They are lazy.  They don't take the time to look anything up.  Put quotation marks on something, and it must be true!  Name a book of the Bible, or throw Jesus in the sentence, and suddenly it's truth.  Authors, preachers and bloggers can get away with saying just about anything, and claiming it as gospel, because most people won't take the time to check for themselves.

As Christians, we have a responsibility   We are called to search out truth, and then to live it.  We all need to spend more time in Scripture, constantly asking God to correct the things we believe which aren't of Him, and to teach us new truths.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Forcing sinners to act like saints

Too often in America we would sure like those outside the Church to act like saints.  We even want to make laws about it!  Prayer in school, the 10 Commandments in courthouses.  "In God We Trust" on our currency.  Well, you get the idea.  But lets be honest.  Those things have been part of America since it was founded, and it doesn't appear to have helped a whole lot.

Now don't misunderstand.  I wish people did all pray to God, in and out of school.  I wish that those who walked into the courthouses would be convicted for the ways they've broken the commandments of God.  And I wish we did indeed trust God.  Unfortunately, that is the reality we live in.  

So what are we to do?  If you ask many Christians in America, the answer is to make these things laws.  Make prayer happen in school.  Pass legislation to force people who don't believe in God to act like they do.    But they aren't.  And these aren't the types of things which will convince them to follow God.  

If we would remember our history, the history of our nation, we would recognize that the thing which brought us over here in the first place was religious freedom.  Shouldn't we allow people in our own country the same rights our ancestors fought and died for?  

Most Christians have the line down "love the sinner, hate the sin."  The problem is that we will love the sinner as long as he gives up his sin, but otherwise, we are going to have to spend most of our time around him pointing out how bad he is.  

So what should we do?  Do we ignore sin?  Or do we just pay attention to certain sins?  (Interestingly enough, there are a lot of Christians who want to make drunkenness against the law, but not so many who want us to make laws about obesity, though the Bible is clear on that one too.)  What is the balance between speaking out against false teaching, but still loving those who are trapped by the deceit of Satan?  

I think the Biblical approach is also the approach of Christ.  Jesus readily identified the sins of the people around him, even going so far as to tell the woman caught in adultery to "go and sin no more."  He corrected false teaching, called out the hypocrites, and cleaned up the temple.  The message of Jesus started with those who called themselves believers, and extended to those who made no such claim.  Jesus didn't only condemn the religious, nor did He only condemn the sinners.  Jesus was an impartial judge of truth.

This should be what we do as well.  The difference, though, is in the goal of our actions.  What are we actually trying to accomplish?  If it is conformity to our way of thinking, than we are not acting like Jesus.  If it is confession and repentance, than we are acting like Jesus.  Loving the sinner and hating the sin will happen when we acknowledge wrong behavior not to get the person to conform, but to confess.  Not to get people to change their ways, but to allow God to change their hearts.  

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Rob Bell and Marriage

If you haven't heard about Rob Bell coming out in support of gay marriage, you probably don't have any Christian friends or look at any Christian websites.  A couple of weeks ago he came out in typical Bell fashion, talking a lot but saying very little.  Then, to clarify his position, and the reason why he thinks Christians should support gay marriage, Bell produced this video.  Feel free to check it out for yourself.

This isn't the first time he has come out on issues which stray far from orthodoxy.  His book "Love Wins" explores the doctrine of hell.  This is admittedly a difficult subject, and perhaps it would do us all well to examine what we think about it.  Bells views, however, are far from anything Scriptural.  I read the book, and wrote a review of it, if you would care to read it.

My concern with Bell in both of these, and with many Christians, is they are constantly trying to figure out what "works" in the world today.  The concern isn't truth, or what Scripture says.  He declares that God "makes some" people gay.

Now understand that I'm not talking about legalizing gay marriage in America.  That isn't what Bell is talking about either.  He is addressing what Christians are supposed to believe is righteous and holy.  Unfortunately, what he believes is right is far removed from Scripture.

I don't say these things simply to attack this, though this is certainly an issue in the forefront of people's minds today.  My concern, as ever, is our approach to what is right, and how we deal with the Bible.  Scripture, and the truth within it, do not conform to the standards of the world.  Instead, we are supposed to speak boldly the truth, no matter how much people don't care for the truths we present.

D. L. Moody said this: “The best way to show that a stick is crooked is not to argue about it or to spend time denouncing it, but to lay a straight stick alongside it.”

Our goal should be to always seek truth, and if perhaps we need to reexamine issues, I don't have a problem with that.  I believe that reexamining what we believe is healthy and necessary.  The question is, how will we examine truth?  And if we discover that Scripture is clear, what choice will we make?  Will we ignore truth, or will we stand for what is right?

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Gods at War

I recently read "Gods at War" by Kyle Idleman, preparing for a group study I'll be leading.  The subtitle is "Defeating the idols that battle for your heart."  This is not a book for those who are willing to stay trapped in their walks with God.  In fact, it is quite the opposite.  If you want to be challenged to examine your heart and priorities, this is the book for you.  Idleman cuts right to the heart of things, with his no-nonsense approach.  He approaches this in a loving but straightforward manner, desiring to see us set free from the things which keep us from loving God with all our hearts.

The book is set up in four sections.  In the first section, Kyle sets the groundwork for the rest of the book.  He points out that idolatry is indeed an issue today's world, even though we don't bow down to statues.  He talks of out these things battle for our heart, for our passions.  In chapter 3 he talks about the idea that God is a jealous God, not willing to give up the heart of man, but will fight for our hearts.  Speaking of the jealousy of God, he says "It's overwhelming to realize that the Lord God loves us this way."  Idleman shows us how much God loves us, and how this drives His actions toward us.

The next three sections all deal with what he calls the three "temples" in which the gods are located.  These are temples of pleasure, power and love.  In the temple of pleasure we find food, sex and entertainment.  Now, understand again that Idleman pulls no punches.  He is trying to show us specific examples of how we may be worshiping these things.  So at times, it gets more than a little convicting.  There are many people who are trapped by these things, and you can tell by your life whether it is true of you.  Your actions will indeed speak to your heart.

The second temple, of power, holds the gods of success, money and achievement.  Many today in America are trapped by these gods, and I love that Idleman deals with the obvious ones, but also some of those which aren't quite obvious.  Sure, we get the business man and woman who live for their careers.  But what about the people who only feel like they have really made it when their house is clean, or they have accomplished some task to perfection?  These are also idols.

The final temple is the temple of love, and in this one Idleman deals with the gods of romance, family and me.  In my opinion, this is probably the most difficult section for most people.  As a pastor I have often counseled people who struggle with idolizing their families and relationships.  Then they wonder why their relationship with God isn't growing.  This section pulls that in, along with marriages and worshiping self.  This was a very challenging section to the book.

One of my favorite lines comes from this last section.  Idleman says "God isn't simply a way to get to heaven; heaven is a way to get to God."  Why do we serve God?  Is it so we can get to Heaven, or get to God?  That is an important question.

At the end of every chapter, Idleman has some questions to ask ourselves, helping us do a little self-examination.  I love this quote which he has in each of these sections.  "Idols are defeated not by being removed, but by being replaced."  I hope and pray that all who read this book search their hearts, identify their idols and replace them with Jesus Christ

Monday, March 4, 2013

The History Channel presents The Bible

As I sat and watched The Bible last night on the History Channel, I was excited.  Yes, yes, I know there were some inaccuracies.  I know it was supposed to be a ram, not a sheep.  And I know Sarah wasn't supposed to be there.  I get that they did some things during the 2 hours which gave the Bible more drama, though that's a bit of a funny statement.  The Bible doesn't seem to be lacking drama!

But there were some strong messages which came through.  The power of God was put on display for the world to see.  Whether it was in Creation, the Flood, the Plagues, or the drowning of Egypt's army, it was clearly evident.  As Moses cries out that Pharaoh is not God, but only the God of Israel.  This was a powerful message.

Perhaps the most powerful message was when Abraham was going up the hill, and straight from the text in Genesis, says to Isaac, "The Lord will provide a sacrifice."  Powerful, to say that least.

Also evident was the faith of God's people, and those who lacked faith.  Then we got to see the consequences of both.  The faith of Noah, Abraham, Moses and Aaron was there for all to see.

I guess what really excites me is that there is more coming.  We will eventually get to the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus.  This is the message we all need to see again and again.  I hope many are watching, and many find themselves capture by the love of God.

So aren't we missing the point?  Shouldn't we be excited that there are some in the entertainment industry who want to present the Bible to the nation in a fresh way?  At times Christians are the worse for criticizing those who are striving to do their best.  Shouldn't we be the ones encouraging, blessing and supporting this program?  I mean, we complain all the time about the junk on our television.  Now there is something worth celebrating, and we nitpick it to death.

Was it perfect?  Of course not.  Will I watch it again next week?  Absolutely.  All in all, I loved it, recommend it, and look forward to next Sunday as we take the next steps in the story of God working among men.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Overcoming Adversity

As we were spending some time in prayer this morning at church, the passages read really hit home.  One of them was from Nehemiah 4.  The wall is beginning to be rebuilt by this point, and the people are moving along quite well.  Nehemiah has them positioned strategically throughout the city, working hard to complete the work.  However, chapter four begins this way: "Now when Sanballat heard that we were building the wall, he was angry and greatly enraged, and he jeered at the Jews."

In the midst of victory, there was opposition.  This opposition took the form of words first, as Sanballat and Tobiah began to mock the Jews.  They called the walls "heaps of rubble", and declared that even if only a fox were to walk on the wall, he would break it down.

This hit home because often when we find ourselves moving forward in the will of God, adversity will present itself.  At the beginning, this will often come in the form of attempted discouragement.

You can't do it.

It's too hard.

Give up before you look like the fool.

Even if you complete the task, it will all fall apart later.

These words, unfortunately, are often the attack of Satan.  Sure, he uses people.  Sometimes those people even profess to be followers of Christ.  Most people when they see something which looks impossible want to give up, but that is not our call.  We are called to press forward.

Nehemiah knows what to do.  In verse 4 we see the words "Hear, O God".  Then, in verse 6, "So we built the wall."  He offers the enemy to God, and continues the work.  They didn't allow the jeering to stop them.  They didn't slow down their efforts.  They moved forward.

This made the enemy mad.  It always does when we refuse to give in to discouragement.  So then Sanballat and Tobiah go another route.  They decide they need to marshal an army and attack.  Verse 9 gives us the response of the Jews: "And we prayed to our God and set a guard as protection against them day and night."  They do the two things we should all do; pray and prepare.  They again offer their enemies to God, and are watchful.  They trust God, and continue the work.

We read until verse 14, where Nehemiah stand before the people with an important lesson.  "Do not be afraid of them.  Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes."  The battles we face, the wars we fight, the temptations we struggle with, the victories so hard to achieve; we need to remember that we fight these not only for ourselves, but for those around us.  The Jews needed to remember that though they were building this wall for themselves, it was also for brothers, sons, daughters, wives and homes.  Victory was going to have a lasting impact.  So what should they do?  "Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome."

Perhaps you are facing some of the same things I am right now.  God calling us forward, but people around shouting discouraging words.  What should we do?  It was in our benedictory reading.

"Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.  Be sober-minded; be watchful.  Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.  Resist him, firm in your faith."  

Monday, February 25, 2013

Suffering for the Church

I am preaching on Colossians 1:24-29 this week, and verse 24 really struck me.

"Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church." - Colossians 1:24.

As I was studying through this passage, the commentary by William Barclay really draws out some profound insights.  Let me share a little bit.

"Paul begins this passage with a daring thought.  He thinks of the sufferings through which he is passing as completing the sufferings of Jesus Christ himself.  Jesus died to save his Church, but the Church must be upbuilt and extended; it must be kept strong and pure and true; therefore, anyone who serves the Church by widening her borders, establishing her faith, saving her from errors, is doing the work of Christ.  And if such service involved suffering and sacrifice, that affliction is filling up and sharing the very suffering of Christ.  To suffer in the service of Christ is not a penalty, but a privilege, for it is sharing in His work."

I hope this gets your mind working like it did mine!  Are we willing to suffer for the Church?  Are we willing to join Christ even in this way?  This may be one of the more difficult things for Christians today to grasp; that at times God wants us to suffer for there we get to join Christ in the most difficult aspect of His service.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Best Marriage Advice I Can Give

Marriage can be very difficult at times, and anyone who has been married for longer than a week will tell you the same thing.  It just is.  This year my wife and I will be celebrating our 10th Anniversary.  I'm pretty excited about the last 10 years, and even more excited about the 10, 20, 30...well, you get the idea.

Let me tell you, my marriage is fantastic.  I know it from the inside out, obviously, and I've never seen another marriage which I would compare.  Most of this has to do with having a wife who is extremely gracious, forgiving and patient.  Frankly, I feel sorry for other married men for having to settle for less than the best.

My best marriage advice has, for us, worked well.  I'm not saying there haven't been bumps along the road, but they have always drawn us closer together, not further apart.  So this is my advice: Focus on Jesus.  In my life, my wife is the second most important person, and she wouldn't have it any other way.  I am the second more important person in her life, and that is how I want it as well.  Our top priority is Jesus Christ.

In Scripture Husbands and Wives are given some commands, like "Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for it."  Then it tells wives to "submit to your husbands", even to respect them.  Let me assure you of something; our marriage isn't this good because my wife always earns my love, and it certainly has nothing to do with me earning her respect or submission.  I have failed many times in the last 10 years, as has my wife.  There have been times when loving her was difficult, and when respecting me would have been impossible, but for this one thing; we don't love and respect because the other deserves it.  We do it because God told us to, and He comes first in our lives.

Many times people struggle with this, but I believe this is a strain not in their marriage, but in their relationship with God.  If I love God with all my heart, mind, soul and strength, I will love my wife whether she deserves it or not, because loving my wife is an act of worship to God!  That is the long and short of it.  So when I don't love my wife the way I should, I am failing in my worship to God.  Now, maybe she did something she shouldn't have, said something hurtful, or didn't respect me the way she was supposed to.  But my love for my wife has nothing to do with that, and has everything to do with God.

Therefore, when I don't love my wife as I've been commanded, I am committing idolatry.  I have chosen to worship self rather than God.  As hard as that may seem, it is the truth.  A tough truth, but truth nonetheless.

So my advice?  Love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength.  Put your marriage into that framework, and see what God can do for you and your marriage.  

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Mind of Christ

Kinlaw’s book, The Mind of Christ, is a well written book on the inward work Christ needs to do in every Christian, particularly our minds.  Though a short book, it is nonetheless a worthy read. 
Kinlaw begins the book by stating that all can have this work, as it is a work of God, and not man.  In chapter 1 he calls it the “forgotten theme” of the Bible, and begins with the Old Testament, paying particular attention to Abraham.  He tells us that we are to have the mind of Christ, which is the opposite of the mind of the world, or the “carnal” mind, which is opposed to the work of God.
He continues in chapter 2 talking about Abraham’s righteousness, pointing out that Abraham’s righteousness is not based on believing what is right, desiring what is right, or even in doing what is right.  The inward is what matters to God, not the outward.  The title of the chapter is an important question which he attempts to answer here: “Doing Right or Being Righteous?”  He points out that Abraham did what was right according to the law, but still was not righteous.
In chapter 3 Kinlaw begins to take us into the New Testament with a journey through the gospel of John.  In this chapter his intent is to introduce us to Christ, and points out the four-fold presentation of Jesus given to us in John’s gospel.  Jesus is presented as the rejectable King, the humble King, the servant King and the self-sacrificing King.  He tells us that if we are going to get the Mind of Christ, we must start with understanding who Christ is, as well as His life’s purpose.
Chapter 4 continues the journey in the gospels, this time turning to Mark.  Here, instead of focusing on Christ, the attention is turned to us, and the Disciples in particular.  We must not only understand who Christ is, but who we are.  Going through the gospel of Mark, particularly the second half of the gospel, Kinlaw points out the desperate need the Disciples had for the Holy Spirit.  Despite Jesus’ teaching and living with them, they still displayed the carnality of the world.  The key, we are told, is Jesus’ comment to Peter: “You do not think as God thinks.”
Chapter 5 is all about the spiritual life versus the carnal life.  Here we are taken to Romans 8.  He discusses the tug-of-war in believers who haven’t had this infilling of the Spirit’s power.  The carnal life, Paul tells us, will lead us to death, while the life of Christ through the Spirit is true life.  The need of every believer is to be entirely transformed by the power of the Spirit, giving themselves over to the will of God.  This must be a complete surrender to God. 
In chapter 6 we are taken to I Corinthians, where Paul is telling the believers what they are, or ought to be; “saints” and “holy” are the terms Paul uses.  The problem which is pointed out is that while the Corinthian church has begun the journey of redemption, they have not completed it.  Their carnal spirits are coming out in their attitudes of jealousy, their quarreling, and their immorality.  They are on their way to what God has in store for them, but have not yet reached it.  Kinlaw again uses the example of the Apostles, who lived and served with Christ, yet still needed the Holy Spirit.  It was Pentecost which turned them around. 
In this chapter we are given John Wesley’s path of redemption, which is important to the entire book.  This idea of having the mind of Christ, and being completely transformed, needs to be put into a logical order so that the reader knows it’s not something for a few, but for all.  It is God’s plan of holiness for every believer.  Kinlaw does a good job of pointing this out.  “There’s nothing defective with our conversion experience, but conversion only starts us on the path of further insight into the real nature of our relationship with God.  As we mature in the Christian life, we realize more keenly our dependence on God for everything that we do.” (pg. 95)
Our last stop in the New Testament in found in chapter 7, as we are taken to the book of Philippians.  Kinlaw points out that in this book is found one of the key verses concerning having the mind of Christ.  “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.”  He points out four negative characteristics of the carnal mind which Paul points out in Philippians; self-interest, vain conceit, grumbling and questioning.  These are the things which separate the mind of Christ from the mind of the world.  The mind of Christ is sacrificial, and that is what we need to be as well.  We need to be willing to give complete control to God, sacrificing all for Him as He did for us.  This is what will give us the mind of Christ.
In chapter 8 Kinlaw takes us right back to where the journey began; Christ.  Understanding now that it is the will of God that every believer take this journey, we read about the “Arm of the Lord,” which came to intercede; to bring the sinner and grace together.  As that was Christ’s aim, so it is ours.  If we are going to be able to live as Christ did, the focus needs to be on His willingness to sacrifice all.  The burden which He carried for the lost needs to also burden us. 
All in all, I thought it was a useful book.  Kinlaw does a good job of taking us repeatedly to Scripture, pointing out that struggling with the carnal nature is normal for believers, but it isn’t the end here in this world.  In the seventh chapter, he points out something which is important to this study; if we say only in the next world can we know true victory by having the mind of Christ, we are wasting it.  “In another world, such a life would be far less valuable than it is here.” (104)  Not only is this important to the study, but should show us what this is all about.  The point of having the mind of Christ is for us to fulfill the work of Christ.  We cannot do this without His burden and willingness to sacrifice.  Those things are entirely against everything in our nature.  So, if we are going to do His work, we must have His mind.  We must do our work in His power and wisdom.  Only then can we be successful in our endeavors to be an intercessor. 
If I were to say anything negative about the book, it would simply be that while Kinlaw points out that having the mind of Christ will make us more like Him, He doesn’t go into a lot of detail.  While he does do a good job of giving us illustrations from people’s lives, such as Amy Carmichael and Josef Tson, we still aren’t taken to how it will show in our own lives, apart from sacrifice and intercession. He spends a lot of time telling us what we shouldn’t be, and not as much time telling us what it looks like when we experience the mind of Christ.  It is hinted at, but never really spoken of in any great detail.  Mind you, this is probably not something easily explored in such a small book, and probably wasn’t his aim anyway. 
This book would be good for both pastors and laymen alike.  While I enjoyed the book myself, there was little that I haven’t read elsewhere.  That being said, it is probably one of the better books on this for those who don’t do as much reading, as it is simple, precise and a very easy read.  

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Movements that Changed the World

Recently I finished a book recommended to me called "Movements that Changed the World" by Steve Addison.  I thought it would be good to write a quick review here.  I really enjoyed the book, and found it gave me a lot of insight into the future of our church.  We are looking to plant a church in the near future, and this gave us some good insights into how we can go about doing this in the most effective way possible.

The sub-title to the book is "Five Keys to Spreading the Gospel."  These five keys are
                      - White hot faith
                      - Commitment to a cause
                      - Contagious relationships
                      - Rapid mobilization
                      - Adaptive methods

The author uses Scripture and history to show us how these things have been effective for the history of the church.  I love the fact that he uses so much history, such as Saint Patrick and the Moravians.  What I especially loved, considering my own church context, was his use of John Wesley and Francis Asbury.

The other thing about this is that the author doesn't just use history, but Scripture, showing how not only how these things are taught in the Bbile, but how they are worked out in the life of Jesus.

I recommend this book for church leaders as well as lay people.  It really isn't a "leadership" book as much as it is a book meant to give us the tools we need to move the church forward.

One other great thing about this book is the fact that at the end of the book, there is an opportunity to go deeper.  It has a book study in the back, going though each of these five keys with questions good for either individuals or groups.  Most books want you to buy both the book and the study, but here they are one and the same!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Justification - What is it?

I was recently part of a class where the discussion was all about the doctrine of justification, and how the Catholics and Protestants see it differently.  For this discussion they had a Catholic theologian as well as a Protestant one.  To be frank, I disagreed with both of them.  Let me explain.

The Catholic stated that justification was the act of God declaring us to be righteous once we had believed in God, repented of our sins and began to live a righteous life.  Once this happens, God declares us righteous.  The Protestant was quick to point out that this was, in his view, a "works" salvation.

His response was that God calls us righteous, not because of our walk, but because of Jesus' righteousness.  In other words, we are declared justified, or right in the eyes of God, not because of what we have done, but because of what Jesus has done on our behalf.  The Catholic was quick to point out that God was therefore calling someone righteous who wasn't.  For this, this was an issue.

I agreed with the Protestant that the Catholic view represented above sounds too much like Pelagianism, the idea that we work for our salvation.  However, I also agreed with the Catholic's critique of the Protestant.  Will God truly call someone righteous who is not?

This is why I land somewhere in the middle, though perhaps it is in actuality far from both.  I believe that when God brings a sinner from the world of darkness and adopts the person into His family, He is declared righteous.  This isn't, though, because God "sees Jesus' righteousness" instead of our unrighteousness, but that Jesus righteousness is imparted into us.  This is still not a works salvation, because God gives me the righteousness of Christ.  I am inwardly regenerated, and made into a new creation.  Neither, though, is it that God declares me to be something which I am not.  I am indeed righteous, as the work of Christ on the Cross and through the Resurrection has been worked out in my heart.

This was something I stated in the class.  Then, a few weeks later, I was reading "John Wesley's Concept of Perfection" by Leo George Cox, and came across this.

“Yet though these two works are distinct [justification and sanctification], God does not justify any whom He does not sanctify.  God is not deceived in those He declares to be righteous, for He does not account them to be otherwise than they are.  The consequence is that God does not justify any except whom He sanctifies, at least initially, with the result that one who is declared righteous actually is made righteous at the same time, although the two acts of God are different works.”  Leo George Cox

This sums up my thinking on the matter, and gives me an even greater appreciation for what Jesus has done for me and in me.  What an awesome God we serve!