Thursday, December 31, 2009

What Jesus Receives (Part 2)

So how did you do with your gift determinations this Christmas?  In the previous post, I mention the ways that we tend, whether intentionally or not, to place value judgments on others as we decide if we will give a gift at all, and if so, how nice of a gift.  And, when it comes to Jesus, although He deserves our worship and our very best of everything—like what the lady in Mark’s Gospel, chapter 14, gives Him—often He receives from us far less.  It says something about how much we value Him.  Certainly I don’t intend to allegorize the chapter (or any of Mark’s Gospel account).  These events really happened.  And yet we can’t help but notice that there are parallels in our own lives.

In contrast to what the lady gives Him, chapter 14 continues with several negative pictures of what He receives.  As Jesus re-enters the city, the time has come for the Passover meal.  He asks His followers, who had become His friends, to set up the dinner.  During the Passover dinner, Jesus foretells that one of them will soon betray Him.  As they all deny that they would do this to Him, most of us who also follow Him agree that we would never betray Him and walk away.  However, later in the same chapter, we watch as Judas does this very thing.  Again I think to myself, I could never do that!  But then I have to ask, in the way that I sometimes ignore Him, sometimes seemingly selling Him out, am I not committing what we might call a practical betrayal?  It might not seem as bad as what Judas did (after all, Luke 22.3 says he was driven by Satan at this point), but if I act like I’m not a follower of His, if I sell Him out, I’m practically betraying Him.  And if so, I fail miserably at giving Jesus what He deserves.

The next negative picture comes immediately after dinner.  Jesus tells His friends that they will fall away.  In fact, one will specifically deny Him.  Once again, each one says it won’t be him.  I’m sure I would have said much the same.  Peter asserts with no uncertainty that it will not be him.  However, before long, as the events of the night unfold, we watch as Peter puts his foot in his mouth three times before morning breaks, and on hearing the rooster crow, begins to cry as he realizes what he has done.  It’s easy to criticize Peter.  He almost always says the wrong thing.  But if I look carefully at Peter’s actions, here and elsewhere, all too often I see myself.  If someone threatens me, I pray I don’t openly deny Christ like Peter did.  But how often must I be denying Him when I fail to take a stand for Him?  Is this not practical denial before a watching world?  We Christians are hypocrites when we say we are followers yet fail to live for Him.  I hope I never verbally deny Jesus; but I need to work harder at not committing a practical denial of Jesus.  He has accepted me, and would deserve praise even if He hadn’t.

Finally is a negative picture that I can relate to even more than the others.  Knowing what is about to befall Him in an arrest, accusations, beatings, and even death, Jesus takes His friends to a garden to pray.  He takes the three apparent leaders, who have been closest to Him throughout His travels and ministry, and asks them to pray near Him.  He goes away a little further and prays—through so much anguish that He sweats and eventually bleeds.  He comes back to see that His close friends, His trainees, have all fallen asleep.  He understands that they are exhausted—so is He.  But He is only asking them to pray with Him; He will end up dying for them.  Placing proverbial salt in the wound, this cycles through two more iterations.  After finding them asleep the third time, He tells them that it’s “enough,” and then waits for Judas to come over to betray Him.  The disciples’ lethargy at first seems mind-boggling to us.  After all, by this point they should have understood at least a little of what was about to take place.  And yet when I see their sleep, I confess my own practical lethargy.  Instead of being inspired by the goodness of God in Christ on our behalf, I seem to have fallen asleep.  He asks me to do such minor things, but figuratively speaking I can’t stay awake long enough to do them.  In so doing I miss giving Him what He deserves.

The story of course continues.  After His death and resurrection, Jesus receives a small fraction of the glory due Him.  One day, He will receive the full praise He deserves.  This season has once again reminded me of the great gift and sacrifice that Jesus has made for us.  However, I’m learning that what Jesus currently receives from me is sometimes not a blessing to Him.  As we begin this new calendar year, my hope and prayer is that I would give Jesus the honor that is due Him.  It’s what He deserves.

Merry Christmas, and I hope you have a happy and blessed 2010.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

What Jesus Receives (Part 1)

Do you place an upper-limit cap on how much you are willing to give certain people this time of year?

We just saw a scene from a film where the main joke is that the gift giver at a family gathering doesn’t realize that a gift cap has been set.  So he hands out his boxes completely confident that the recipients will enjoy his prized gifts.  Even after finding out that a cap was supposed to have been followed, he is secure in thinking that they will be thankful and happy, since the gifts are expensive.  The contrasts of his gifts with others’ gifts soon give the kids complexes and eventually set off a family fight.  In our extended family, especially among siblings, we often set a spending cap, but we all agree on it ahead of time!

Vast amounts of time and energy are spent this time each year in hope of determining who receives what.  Isn’t it an interesting game we Americans play when it comes to making these determinations?  Sadly it often degenerates into thinking through how close you are to a certain relative or coworker, in order to decide if he or she should receive a card, or maybe a gift, or maybe a really expensive gift.  Often the decisions made are quite arbitrary, and it’s easy to quickly lose sight of the reasons that are supposed to be behind giving a gift.

What if you and I only ever received what we deserved?  Would you receive nice things?  Would you receive nothing?  Would you actually receive something bad, as result of what you earned?

I couldn’t help but see some connections with these thoughts in Scripture, and thought I would share here what I did in my LIFE Bible study community.  We are in an ongoing study through the Gospel according to Mark, and we have reached the week that immediately preceded Jesus’ death and resurrection.  Earlier that week, Jesus had entered Jerusalem to celebratory shouts of “Hosanna!”  But His outlook, humanly speaking, would soon take a turn for the worse.  As chapter 14 begins, we see some religious leaders plotting His demise, which Jesus has predicted three times by this point in the Gospel account.  And then in what should be a joyful, reflective time at Jewish Passover, we see an amazing contrast in what Jesus receives, as opposed to what He deserves.

However, the first picture is a positive one, showing what He actually deserves.  While still in the neighboring small town of Bethany before going back into the city, Jesus is seated at a dinner table with friends.  As was common for the day, they are reclining on the floor around a low table.  A lady comes to Him with a container of expensive ointment which she subsequently breaks open, and pours over the head of Jesus, which is an ancient sign of dear respect.  Instead of praising her apparently loving sacrifice, the men around her start to criticize her.  They tell her that her logic is flawed: instead of anointing Jesus, she could have sold the costly ointment and given the proceeds to the poor.  Jesus defends the lady’s sacrifice, saying that she is wise since He will only be with them a short time, and then announces that the story of her sacrifice will be told for years to come (which is what I’m doing right now).  According to Jesus’ defense of her actions, she appeared to know exactly what she was doing, and why.  Jesus was receiving the glory He actually deserved.

I want my offering of my life to Jesus to be as sacrificial.  But the One who truly deserves praise often does not receive it.  All too often, I look more like the next few pictures from Mark 14, which aren’t so attractive.  More to come.

Catching Up

Wow, the illness I mentioned in earlier posts really knocked me out for several days, which put me behind at work, as well as these year-in-review posts.  For anyone who read the first few, thank you.  I obviously have had to revise my efforts at daily December posts, but there are a few more items from this year that have left a lasting, positive mark that I will share here.  I simply wanted to explain where I’ve been.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Year in Review 2009: SimChurch Preview

Tonight’s post will be extra short, as my sickness recovery took a retreat, and I’m not feeling well at all this evening.

My light and temporary illness causes me to think even more about the Chandler family.  I’m still praying for Matt Chandler, lead pastor at The Village Church near Dallas, Texas, who underwent surgery today to remove a significant portion of the right frontal lobe of his brain after a seizure last week prompted several tests.  His faith and resolve, reflected in a statement posted this morning before surgery, is powerful.  I encourage you to read it.

As for the year in review part, tonight’s post looks forward into December for a book I plan to read.  My attention was caught recently by a book title released in October, and was further heightened when I looked at the author’s name and I realized I know him!

SimChurch cover Although I haven’t read it yet, this month I plan to take up SimChurch: Being the Church in the Virtual World, published by Zondervan.  Douglas Estes is an old friend from church and seminary, who now pastors and teaches in California.  We actually ran into Douglas and his family recently at park here (back towards the Eastern shores), when they were in town to visit their extended family.  I’ll write more about the book and Estes later, but you know this volume has to have some cred when his doctoral thesis from the University of Nottingham, UK, was titled, The Temporal Mechanics of the Fourth Gospel: A Theory of Hermeneutical Relativity in the Gospel of John (Brill, 2008).

Again, more on this later.  For now, after some rest I have to go brush up on my temporal mechanics.

[This is the fourth in a series, based on a blog challenge.]

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Year in Review 2009: Tweeting Congressmen

Since about midnight almost 24 hours ago I have been quite sick.  Chills, aches, fever.  I missed work and our staff Christmas dinner.  No fun.  But I’m on the mend.

Today, when not sleeping off my illness, I tried to think of the best article from the year.  Although I’m in the habit of reading lots of articles, most are from news websites about politics, society, culture.  Not usually the kind of magazine analysis that might make for a more memorable article.  However, for some reason I very randomly remembered a piece from early in the year.  We certainly would not call it the year’s best article, but it spoke volumes about how media—specifically SoMe—is changing the way we live.

The February article in the Washington Post was titled, “A Tale of 140 Characters, Plus the Ones in Congress.”  It was in regard to how, and how many, U.S. Senators and Representatives used Twitter during President Obama’s first address to Congress.  One Congressmen, during the address, tweeted:

“Aggie basketball game is about to start on espn2 for those of you that aren't going to bother watching pelosi smirk for the next hour.”

Entries like the above prompted Post reporter Dana Milbank to write:

“At a time of national emergency, when America needs the focused attention of contemplative and reflective lawmakers, they are dispatching rapid-fire thoughts in 140 characters or less.”

Since the article is archived, I only found the limited quotes above.  If you would like, you can pay ProQuest/WaPo for access to archives in plans that range from $3.95 to $29.95.  Another sign of the times, I guess.

I opted to go with the free preview.

[This is the third in a series, based on a Blog Challenge.]

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Year in Review 2009: Ray’s Pizza

The Bell #best09 Blog Challenge prompt for the day is to share a good restaurant moment from this year.  I had a restaurant moment just today with my friend Matt.  Jason’s Deli.  Half a Club Royale and a cup of Spicy Seafood Gumbo.  It was a good restaurant moment.

Come to think of it, any time I get to eat out is a good restaurant moment.

But one restaurant event that I thought might be blog-worthy comes from May of this year.  I’m quite certain I will write more about my parents’ adventure in coming days, but the basic idea is that during the week of Mother’s Day, my wife and I took my parents to New York City and Washington, D.C.  My parents had never been to NYC, and my mom had not been to D.C. either.  The trip was so much fun, and a blessing in many ways, but again, I will write more about it in short order.

For tonight, though, I will share a pic from one particular restaurant moment that I had forgotten about.  Here’s the scene.  We’re dragging my aging parents through NYC, taking the subway instead of walking whenever possible, and taking elevators to the subway whenever possible.  However, despite our best efforts to keep Mom and Dad from much physical exertion, getting around to all the NYC sites takes some energy.  It was time to eat, and we wanted some great pizza, so we stopped into Ray’s Pizza on 7th Avenue, just north of Times Square.

My dad’s health is worse than my mom’s, but you wouldn’t know it from this photo.  I quickly snapped it on my phone, and my mom gave me permission to post it.

Dad and Mom at Ray's Pizza

Part of Mom and Dad’s Big NYC Adventure.  Gotta love it. :)

Year in Review 2009

Last night I hurriedly completed an entry that probably didn’t make much sense to anyone who loosely follows what I ever-so-loosely write.  So let me explain.

One of our friends, Jenn, who is now a newlywed Cali gal, tweeted about Gwen Bell and her Best of 2009 Blog Challenge.  While I had not heard of Gwen, I thought this looked like an interesting global call to keyboards everywhere.  Gwen gives prompts for each day of December to post about the most memorable and #best09 happenings.

As I tried to quickly type up my short post for December 1, my sweet wife had the chutzpah (read with sarcasm) to ask me if there were any other dudes taking the blog challenge: “Is it primarily girls?” she asked.  I wasn’t sure what to think next: Was she just being facetious, or was she questioning my manhood?  Since I am still unsure of the answer to my question, I would like to use this post to affirm my manly goals in this series.

I have always been intrigued by the annual year-in-review-type shows that grace our television networks, especially “news” networks, this time of year.  Even before Thanksgiving had arrived, I saw an ad for a documentary that will replay the year’s top stories.  And I used to be unduly critical of shows that talk about the year’s best when we still have 1/12 of the year remaining.  I felt it could set low expectations of Decembers everywhere.  But now I see the benefits of remembering.

So, for a blog poser like me, this challenge gives the opportunity to share a year in review—to revisit all those things I should have posted throughout the year.  Let’s just say I’ll be taking the blog challenge in order to catch up from procrastination, which is very manly, and will make my wife very proud of her man.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Year in Review 2009: Kauai Trip

Although I have no idea who Gwen Bell is (please, no offense, Gwen) ;), on the tweeted idea of our dear friend Jenn, I am accepting The Best of 2009 Blog Challenge.  You can watch for #best09.  More about that later.  I also have no idea how many days in December I will complete this, but since I have exactly five minutes left to complete today’s challenge idea, I need to make a quick entry.

Today’s idea is for the best trip of 2009.  I was blessed to have a few trips to choose from, but a free trip (courtesy of my sister-in-law Melissa) to Kauai, Hawaii has to top the list.  It’s hard to top Hawaii; it’s hard to beat free.

I’ll post pics later, but I don’t want to miss today’s deadline. :)

Monday, November 16, 2009

Marriages, and More Marriages

I have been marrying couples for a few years, and I usually have two or three weddings per year.  However, this year I have had the privilege of officiating the marriage ceremony of several couples.

It has been such a blessing to partner with these couples in their progress towards marriage.  In our premarital sessions, we have the opportunity for honest conversations about the real issues of life, and how marriage is intended to work.  God’s plan for marriage was designed to reflect His relationship with His people, which is why the institution is so important.  I’ve written briefly about marriage here, here, and here.

We’ll be praying for these sweet couples!

Peter and Meredith
Peter and Meredith
December 28, 2008 (not quite this year)
Dave and Tricia
Dave and Tricia
March 28, 2009
Phil and Brandi
Phil and Brandi
May 2, 2009
Tyler and Erin
Tyler and Erin
June 27, 2009
Billy and Bethany
Billy and Bethany
July 11, 2009
Brian and Michelle
Brian and Michelle
October 23, 2009
Brian and Christine
Brian and Christine
October 31, 2009

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Ten Years: From S1 to FLC and Beyond

In early August, I celebrated 10 years of teaching the same Bible study class at my church.  We began together as Singles 1 (S1), but later dropped the S descriptions, and the general plan was to start using teachers’ last names.  We decided that choosing a new name would help in building a new class identity, and ended up calling the group the Foundations LIFE Class (FLC), a place where young single adults can set the foundations upon which to build the rest of their lives.

Not only did a 10-year anniversary remind me how old I am, but far more importantly, it was a reminder that life is short, and that opportunities to serve God by serving others are too important to take lightly.  I thank God for the privilege of growing alongside this wonderful group of young adults!

Meeting in groups

This was taken this past Sunday, one of the rare times we meet in groups during class time.

Meeting in groups

Groups again.

2008 Kickoff Lunch

Although we have FLC folks at our home regularly, I could not find a recent shot, so this is from our annual kickoff lunch from about one year ago.

2009 Fall Retreat

Here’s the whole gang at our annual fall retreat in October.  What a blessing!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Boston Market Closes for Lunch

I was planning to get lunch today from Boston Market, but was unable to do so, as you can see below.  I have to say, this is the most interesting business model for a restaurant I’ve ever seen.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Reaching Eight

A couple of days before our wedding anniversary at the beginning of this month, my wife and I were blessed to use a gift certificate we had been holding for a nice occasion.  An anniversary seemed nice enough to us.  We went to an exceptional restaurant where we enjoyed excellent steaks.  Our server was a friendly guy who took great care of us.  He knew we were there for a special event, and asked if it was our anniversary.

“Yes, number eight!” I said, with enthusiasm.

“Well, congratulations!” he replied.  “At least you made it past seven—that’s the hard one, they say.”

Presumably, our new friend was referring to the proverbial seven-year itch, a term popularized by a 1950s Broadway play and later Hollywood film, that even ends up being an apparent premise for scholarly psychological research.  (However, I should note that Wikipedia states that the seven-year itch may refer to scabies, a parasitic skin infection.)  According to conventional (non)wisdom, around the seventh year of marriage, it is common for married folk to start “itching,” looking around to see what else is out there, since all the newness has worn off their current model.  Sadly, many couples reach the so-called itch stage far earlier than the seven-year mark, and still others decide to call it quits after 30 years.  In both cases, and all points in between, the results are heartbreaking.

I’m blessed with the privilege and challenge of officiating weddings and providing and requiring premarital counseling for the couples I marry.  Some couples think they pretty much know how relationships work, and others fear they have no clue.  The truth is usually somewhere in the middle.  Most folks know enough to get started, but they usually cannot possibly realize before their big day all that will be required in the continual growth process called marriage.

This month as we have reached eight years of marriage, I’ve been able to revisit the work in progress that makes our marriage something that we pray honors God and is a blessing to us and others.  Even after eight years, I’m still learning, almost weekly, what it takes to build a solid marriage.  I expect I’ll still be learning when we’ve reached 28, or 48 years.

I could write a book already, but here briefly is what I am continually learning.

Love.  Sometimes in Christian teaching or books (or blogs), discussion of what love is very quickly turns to a description of the distinctions between a worldly kind of love, and a godly one.  Although the distinctions are important, I don’t aim to do that here.  Volumes have been written on love—defining it, helping us to apply it, and so forth.  I simply want to state that my wife needs my love—all kinds of love.  Spiritually, physically, emotionally.  She needs to know that I am hers.  And she needs to feel it.  We all know that love expressed is far more than a feeling—it is a covenant.  But love received must be both known and felt.

Paul the Apostle writes, concerning church relationships but certainly true in marriage also:

Let love be without hypocrisy.  Romans 12.9 (NASB)

Patience.  I often tell young couples that the things that they find as cute little quirks about their spouse-to-be will most likely eventually become the very things they cannot stand later in marriage.  That is, of course, because we tend to overlook or even defend those practices when young love (a.k.a. immature infatuation) is driving the situation.  Later, it will take great patience and realistic expectations to overlook differences.  And true patience is realized when we actually appreciate the differences, just not in the naive way we did when we were younger.  When this works the way it is intended, our spouses will complete us, compliment us, at times compensate for us, and be a companion to us.

Again Paul writes that we should live:

…with patience, bearing with one another in love… 
Ephesians 4.2 (ESV)

Gentleness.  A few years ago, I thought my wife was easily hurt.  Turns out, I was just a punk.  Stemming from frustration due to my impatience (see above), I was easily irritated and apparently let her know it.  She has done the same with me.  And yet, the more we progress in character, the more we learn that love and patience require gentleness.  She needs to sense that I am for her by the way that I respond to all that goes on during our weeks.  If ultimately minor problems—either self-inflicted by one of us or handed to us by outside circumstances—cause me to treat her with any kind of negative attitude, she immediately knows it and is understandably hurt.  My job and privilege is to show kindness and gentleness in every circumstance so that through loving patience, she knows and feels my love.

In this regard, Paul modeled the way:

But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children.  1 Thessalonians 2.7 (NASB)

In a nutshell, these are among the top marital lessons that I have been learning, and will continue to learn, with increasing clarity.  I’m not there yet, and neither is my wife.  But we both are committed to growing in grace, and that is why the gospel of Christ is so important.

Simply put, our marriage could never become what God has intended if it weren’t for the continual, progressing work of grace through His gospel.  God is so good.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Dimensions of the Atonement of Christ

As a follow up to the previous post, and in an effort to again publish some notes from my class, here is a concise list of what happens in Christ’s atonement for us.  Although not exhaustive, these items represent the basics of Christian thought on what takes place in the penal substitution view (see previous post) of the atonement of Christ.

1. The need for a sacrifice

God cannot simply overlook man’s sin, nor can He just forgive man without requiring that payment be made or punishment be given for sin.

2. The payment of a penalty

This is done in order to regain favor with, or even appease, God.  His anger against sin, or wrath, can be satisfied only by the execution of His justice.

3. The substitution of Jesus (for us)

The atonement is a sacrifice offered in place of the sinner.  Thus the sacrifice bears the sinner’s guilt.

4. The application of righteousness

God has taken away the guilt of believers, but He has also imputed to them the righteousness of Christ.

5. The reconciliation of a relationship

Although apart from Christ we had been God’s enemies because of sin, now with Christ we have been reconciled and have new life.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Understanding the Atonement

What follows are some of the views or theories of the atonement that developed over the centuries.  The list is not exhaustive.  Only the penal substitution view (#6 below) carefully follows the teaching of Scripture.  The other theories/views either are or lead to heresy, and have been instrumental in the starting of sects or cults.

This information can be found in many good systematic theologies.  I am publishing the summary here as an easy reference for the folks in my Bible study class, but hopefully others can benefit as well.  In many ways, tracing the development of these views of the atonement can help one appreciate the deep value of what Christ accomplished for those who trust in Him.

1. Ransom to Satan Theory

  • Definition: Christ’s death was a ransom paid to Satan to purchase captive man from Satan’s control
  • Claimed as support: Matthew 20.28; Mark 10.45; 1 Corinthians 6.20
  • Condition of man prior to Christ’s work: In bondage to Satan
  • View results: Christ’s death brought God’s victory over Satan, thus it purchased man’s redemption and freedom from bondage to Satan

2. Dramatic Theory

  • Definition: Christ is victorious in a divine and cosmic conflict of good vs. evil and wins man’s release from bondage
  • Claimed as support: Matthew 20.28; Mark 10.45; 1 Corinthians 15.51-57
  • Condition of man prior to Christ’s work: In bondage to evil
  • View results: Christ’s death brought God’s victory over Satan and evil, thus it purchased man’s redemption and reconciliation from its bondage to evil

3. Example Theory

  • Definition: Christ’s death provided an example of faith and obedience to inspire man to be faithful and obedient—to live a good life
  • Claimed as support: 1 Peter 2.21; 1 John 2.6
  • Condition of man prior to Christ’s work: Spiritually alive and capable of good effort (according to Pelagius)
  • View results: Christ’s life and death was the perfect example of faith and obedience, thus it brought inspiration to live well

4. Moral Influence Theory

  • Definition: Christ’s death demonstrated God’s love, which causes man’s heart to see God’s goodness and to repent
  • Claimed as support: Romans 5.8; 2 Corinthians 5.17-19
  • Condition of man prior to Christ’s work: He has a sickness in his soul and needs to be, as it were, revived
  • View results: Christ’s death demonstrated God’s love toward man, thus man is moved to accept God’s forgiveness

5. Governmental Theory

  • Definition: Christ’s death demonstrates God’s high regard for His law and His hatred toward sin, and Christ’s death would offer an acceptable rationale to forgive sin
  • Claimed as support: Psalm 2, Psalm 5; Isaiah 42.21
  • Condition of man prior to Christ’s work: A violator of God’s moral law
  • View results: Christ’s death was a substitute for the penalty of sin, thus it is legal for God to forgive those who accept Christ as their substitute

6. Penal Substitution Theory

  • Definition: Christ’s death was a substitutionary sacrifice that satisfied the demands of God’s justice and wrath upon sin, paying the penalty of man’s sin while man receives the blessing of Christ’s righteousness
  • Claimed as support: John 11.50-52; Romans 5.8-9; Titus 2.14; 1 Peter 3.18
  • Condition of man prior to Christ’s work: Totally depraved and incapable of doing good or earning God’s favor
  • View results: Christ through His death bore the penalty of sin in man’s place, thus, as a gift, man is granted repentance and faith, and can accept Christ’s substitution as payment for man’s sin, which brings forgiveness, imputes righteousness, and reconciles man to God

Friday, June 5, 2009

Advance Conference: Day Two

The second day of the Advance Conference at the DPAC in Durham was perhaps even more convicting than the first. Ed Stetzer, J.D. Greear, Eric Mason, Mark Driscoll, and John Piper spoke to the nearly full house of pastors, staff members and everyone else who could attend.

For now, I simply wanted to note here that the audio versions of some of the sessions are already available at the Desiring God blog site.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Advance Conference: Day One

It's been quite a while since I've had time to write, as I have been transitioning into a new role on staff. Perhaps I'll make time to write more about that in coming days. For now, I merely wanted to mention that today was the first day of the Advance Conference in Durham.

Mark Driscoll, Tyler Jones, Bryan Chapell, and Matt Chandler each spoke about what the church is and what must happen if the church is to resurge and become what God intended it to be. My prayer is that we would be nothing less than what God desires, and that He would move us to that end.

I am publishing this post in hopes of it forcing me to write summary thoughts later. :)

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

David Horner: Principles and Lessons Learned

Last night I attended the SendRDU Church Planting Forum at The Summit Church.  As mentioned here previously, my pastor David Horner spoke on the topic of "The Church that Will Outlive You: Planting a Church that Will Last."  He started Providence in 1978 and has led the church for over 30 years, so he has the requisite experience to talk to planters about a church's longevity and consistency.  More info, and potentially the forthcoming ability to listen to or download the audio of the event, is available at the SendRDU website.  You can find out more about David at the Providence site.

David Horner

David Horner

Amy and Matt Morgan

Amy and Matt Morgan

Mike Hall and Blake Hickman 

Mike Hall and Blake Hickman

Not pictured: Nick Roark and George Tissiere, who apparently chose not to sit at Matt's front-and-center table. ☺

Monday, April 6, 2009

SendRDU Forum with David Horner

Last minute, but wanted to broadcast this opportunity for tomorrow evening, Tuesday, April 7, for everyone in the Triangle area.  David Horner, my pastor (and boss), will be speaking about churches that last at a church planting forum at The Summit Church.  From the SendRDU website:

Church Planting Forum - April 7th

David Horner
The Church that Will Outlive You: Planting a Church that Will Last

Tuesday, April 7th, 7-8:30 pm
The Summit Church, Brier Creek Campus (map & directions)

SendRDU
SendRDU is a network of churches in RDU partnering together to equip leaders to plant gospel-centered churches in RDU, North Carolina, North America, and cities around the world.

Our monthly Church Planting Forums are designed to equip leaders to apply church planting principles to ministry.

Upcoming Forums: May 5th - J.D. Greear will speak at Providence

About the Speaker
David Horner is the founding pastor of Providence Baptist Church, and he has served as the senior pastor ever since. A native of Graham, NC, he received a Bachelor of Arts from Wake Forest University and holds a Master of Divinity from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He has authored three books, including Firmly Rooted, Faithfully Growing,  and Dad’s Words of Wisdom. Most recently he wrote, A Practical Guide for Life and Ministry, which offers help for people in ministry who are trying to maintain a biblical balance in their lives.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Exponential 09

Wanted to mention this great opportunity: the upcoming Exponential Conference in Orlando, FL.  The conference is also, or perhaps formerly, known as the National New Church Conference.  This year, instead of focusing primarily on the science and practice of church planting, the organizers hope to emphasize the art and movement aspect of starting new churches.  Click the banner below for more info.

2009 National New Church Conference

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Mindful of Heaven

It seems that, in popular culture, the idea of the "End" or of heaven has always prompted some interesting responses.  But Doomsday in 2012?

"Fueled by a crop of books, Web sites with countdown clocks, and claims about ancient timekeepers, interest is growing in what some see as the dawn of a new era, and others as an expiration date for Earth: December 21, 2012."

After recently seeing the above quote and reading the entire piece on CNN.com regarding some people's concerns about the end of the world in 2012, I was reminded of some thoughts I shared last year in speaking about heaven.  This article is a very abbreviated version of a message titled "Are We Ready Now?" regarding the Christian perspective of heaven.

So what is a pop culture perspective on heaven?  Take a look at some excerpts of what Joel Stein, Los Angeles Times opinion columnist, had to say about heaven in 2007.

"I have a bad habit of annoying Christians.  Partly it's because I don't believe in Jesus, and partly it's because Jesus keeps letting me write columns about how I don't believe in Jesus.

Angel with harp "Last March, after some campaigning, I got Starbucks to put a quote from me on the their paper cups.  It said: 'Heaven is totally overrated.  It seems boring.  Clouds, listening to people play the harp.  It should be somewhere you can't wait to go, like a luxury hotel.  Maybe blue skies and soft music were enough to keep people in line in the 17th century, but heaven has to step it up a bit.  They're basically getting by because they only have to be better than hell.' ...

"I wasn't surprised that I got a lot of angry e-mails and letters.  But I was surprised that a stranger cared enough to send me the book Heaven by Randy C. Alcorn.  In the next few months, four other people sent me the same book—one of them inscribed to me and autographed. ...

"The book is 533 pages long, so I decided to just call Alcorn at his ministry in Oregon.  He's one of the foremost non-dead experts on heaven, having also written 50 Days of Heaven, In Light of Eternity: Perspectives on Heaven and Heaven for Kids.  Alcorn said that a few outraged people had shown him my Venti cup.  It made him laugh.  'Not because I thought it was silly, but because I believed it, in essence,' he said.  'Hey, I agree.  The Christian church has communicated an extremely boring view of heaven.  I think it's wrongheaded and flat unbiblical.' ..."

From Joel Stein, Los Angeles Times opinion column, December 21, 2007

The problem is that we Christians have contributed to, or perhaps even helped to create, these flippant ideas about heaven and the afterlife.  The problem, simply put, is the trivialization of heaven and hell.

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Followers of Christ believe that heaven exists and that it should affect how we live.  So what does a heavenly perspective mean as I live my life?  How do I begin to see today in view of the future?  How should our church community respond in light of what the future holds?  These are important questions that should come to mind, and we must honestly answer them if we hope in the reward of heaven.

Ultimately, what we are asking is: What would it be like if we in the church were all truly mindful of heaven—if our thoughts were filled with heaven?

As I searched the Scriptures to review what actions we should be taking in light of the future, over and over again I was reminded of the connection Scripture makes between the "Day of the Lord" and the actions we should take because of it.

In the Scriptures, in 2 Peter 3.10-18, we are told that the day of the Lord will mark dire consequences for those who do not know God, but wonderful blessings for those who not only know Him but eagerly await His return.  While we wait, however, our minds should be filled with thoughts of heaven, which then drive us to action.  In this Bible text, we are given five specific paths of action when we are mindful of heaven.

1. Being mindful of heaven keeps us eagerly anticipating our home (see 2 Peter 3.10-13).

Part of the joy of going to a great destination is the excitement that builds along the way.  This eager anticipation is true about heaven.  For those of us who trust in Christ and long to see Him face to face, there is great anticipation and delight, and there is no earthly happiness that can compare.  This is true for all who just "can't wait" to see Him.

For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ...  Philippians 3.20 (NASB)

So for fellow followers of Christ, let's ask ourselves: Does the thought of heaven ever bring tears to our eyes, or even laughter to our faces?  Do we really even want to go there?

2. Being mindful of heaven keeps us diligently maturing our character (see 2 Peter 3.11, 14).

My son's steady process of maturity never ceases to amaze me.  With each passing week, I watch as his little mind expands in its ability to understand simple concepts—ones that older children and adults take for granted.  There are concepts regarding heaven that we cannot possibly understand now.  But as we fill our minds with thoughts of heaven, much like a child we begin to mature, and progressively we then desire to keep growing.  This progress in Christlike character is the result of the grace of God at work in us, while we wait for His return.  It makes us want to live upright lives because God is holy, and He wants us to be like Him in this regard.

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.  Titus 2.11-14 (NASB)

How much have you grown in your understanding of the Lord in the past five years?  What are you doing on a consistent basis to maintain progress in Christlike character?

3. Being mindful of heaven keeps us faithfully maintaining the truth (see 2 Peter 3.15-18).

In our day, it has become in vogue for an individual to have a self-determined set of ideas he or she calls truth.  The concept that there is no universal, objective standard of truth is a postmodern idea that has only gained momentum in the past few years.  But we who believe the Scriptures believe that God has offered us the greatest treasure in the gift of Jesus.  And instead of allowing cultural shifts to determine who Jesus is, and what truth is, we must lovingly and patiently preserve, protect, and proclaim the truth that God has revealed about Himself.

For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.  2 Timothy 4.3-4 (NASB)

Christian friends, do you know the Scriptures well enough to be able to personally distinguish between truth and error?  When you hear error, how active are you—in patience and gentleness—to challenge those who oppose?

4. Being mindful of heaven keeps us patiently sharing the gospel (see 2 Peter 3.9, 15).

This point flows from the previous one.  If we truly believe that knowing God through Christ is the greatest treasure, we will want to share it.  Even when it will involve disputes and debates, if we care about others, we will care about their beliefs.  Too many Christians I know would rather "leave others behind" simply because of the opposition nonbelievers may initiate.  That attitude is absolutely un-Christian.  If God is patiently waiting as the text above describes, then how can we grow impatient?  Simply put, if we believe the Scriptures teach that nonbelievers will be separated from God forever, then we ought to care about them.  And how we communicate the gospel makes a huge difference.

Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders [nonbelievers], making the most of the opportunity.  Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.  Colossians 4.5-6 (NASB)

...but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame.  1 Peter 3.15-16 (NASB)

How much do you really care about those who are dying apart from Christ?  What intentional, proactive difference can you make in your routine this week to share the gospel with someone you know?

5. Being mindful of heaven keeps us urgently contemplating the end (see 2 Peter 3.3-4, 10, 17).

The pervasive idea underlying these verses of Scripture is urgency.  Whatever we plan to do before the end comes, we should do it now.  Our lives are short, and there is no guarantee of tomorrow.

...and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.  Hebrews 10.24-25 (NASB)

Is there any sense of urgency to the changes you know you need to make in your life?  What if Christ actually returned tomorrow?  Is there anything you would want to do first?  Is there anyone you would want to talk to first?

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I have a bad habit.  Well actually, probably several, but one that matters for this discussion.  When I travel, I take an unusually long time to pack and prepare.  I tend to wait until the evening before the departure and then stay up into the wee hours of the night thinking about everything that might happen during the trip.  Part of that is the healthy, eager anticipation described in #1 above.  But honestly, the primary aspect is that I know something is coming, but procrastinate.  There is no excuse.  It has been on my calendar for weeks or months, and I could have prepared much more efficiently.  Instead, it's as though the trip takes me by surprise, I'm unprepared, and I'm far less effective in my wasted opportunities.

Heaven will be like this for some of us.  We know it's coming, but we live like it's not.

When we're prepared, and truly mindful of the real heaven where there are "pleasures forever" (not the boring pop-culture version), note the positive influence we could have even on those who disregard heaven, in the conclusion of Stein's remarks.  Remember what he said?  He was "surprised that a stranger cared enough to send me the book."  He closes this way:

"I called Shelly Migliaccio, who'd sent me the autographed book.  ...'I was thinking it was sad that you looked at heaven that way.  I wanted you to know about the heaven I know about and I look forward to go to,' she told me over the phone.  'Life here on Earth can be so trying sometimes, and I just anticipate it.'  In Migliaccio's heaven, the colors are more brilliant, we all have jobs we love, we are free of the lies and horrible stuff she sees on the news.  And, at least for the little while we were on the phone, I believed in Migliaccio's heaven too."

I have to keep asking myself, would I have merely rolled my eyes at post-Christian culture, or would I have responded in the same heavenly-minded way that Shelly Migliaccio did, making a loving impact for the glory of God?

Monday, January 19, 2009

A New President

On the eve of the inauguration of our 44th president, Barack Obama, there are a couple of observations that I would like to share.

First, although I would much prefer that Obama were far more socially conservative, it is of huge significance that our nation has elected our first African-American president.  To have a black American chosen as our chief executive and commander-in-chief makes such a clear statement about the positive progress Americans have made in the path to racial reconciliation.  There is much progress still to be made, but for now we celebrate the simple yet momentous fact that the color of one's skin can no longer keep him from the highest public office in the land.  Again, although it should be no surprise that I believe that genuine reconciliation can only come through Christ (reconciliation with God, and then with man), still, today marks an important milestone in our nation's history, and for that we can be thankful.  So let's note today's huge progress, and pray for the ultimate reconciliation to take place in the hearts of our people.

Second, I have some considerations for all my Christian friends.  Since Obama's election, I have heard some of the crudest and nastiest remarks from some of my friends who claim the name of Christ.  It deeply saddens me to know that while a nonbelieving world is watching, some have considered it more important to disrespect an elected official than to represent Christ well.  Some of the statements are so bad that I could not reproduce them here.

So let me take this opportunity to remind all my peeps, my Christian brothers and sisters, what the King (Jesus) has to say in the Scriptures about how we should treat our governmental leaders, regardless of whether you like them or not.

1. Pray for them.  Scripture cannot be clearer:

I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.  1 Timothy 2.1-2 (NIV)

2. Honor them.  The general idea cannot be missed:

Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.  Honor everyone.  Love the brotherhood.  Fear God.  Honor the emperor.  1 Peter 2.16-17 (ESV)

3. Submit to them.  When the Bible talks about subjection and submission, it means, well, subjection and submission.  So unless the governing authorities tell us to do something that opposes the principles of Scripture, we are to submit:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.  For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.  Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.  Romans 13.1-2 (ESV)

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right.  1 Peter 2.13-14 (NASB)

For the Lord's sake (according to the Apostle Peter), do what is right.  Pray for Obama, honor him as president, and submit to the authority granted him.  In so doing, you will be a blessing, and you will be blessed.

Monday, January 5, 2009

New Year's Preparations

As 2008 turned to 2009, I had a random thought pass through my mind.  I remembered the second time I was allowed to preach during a worship service at the church where I served several years ago.  Prior to that, my pastor had asked me to preach, but I had been serving as an interim youth pastor, and when one of our special student ministry days came, I guess he felt he "had" to let me preach that night [smile].

This second opportunity came at the end of the year, on a Sunday evening just before New Year's Eve, and later I joked that letting me have a go at it again towards the end of the holiday period couldn't do too much damage.  Not surprisingly, I spoke on the change of year: moving beyond the past...going forward into the future.  Quite an original idea.

I thought it was a lousy sermon.  Not exactly good biblical exposition.  But the principles were sound.  And at the time it was what God was teaching me, and I thought I should share it with everyone.

So, random as it sounds, the thoughts from that second sermon of mine—from circa 12 years ago—came to mind as we rang in 2009 this week.  I think I need to re-learn those lessons, and I'm publishing them here in case you need to re-learn them, too.

Copy of IMG_7964 It has always intrigued me how people handle the perceived changes that coincide with a new year.  Usually the changes are merely perceptions, since the new year will most likely not bring any radical changes.  But perhaps the unique feature of watching December turn to January is the proverbial turning of a page.  It is the closing of one chapter in order to begin another.  It reminds us of the cycle of life inherent in the seasons, and with it comes the hope of a genuinely new day.  But we humans deal with New Year's Day in interesting ways.

Perhaps the most obvious ones are those who make new year's resolutions.  These are the folks who are determined not to remain in the same old habits.  You probably know someone who has resolved to lose weight, stop smoking, quit being lazy, cease gossiping, etc.  Maybe you are that person.  Frankly, I think those who make new year's resolutions may be getting a bad rap.  Sure, perhaps they should have been doing something already about whatever they wanted to change, but at least they recognize the problem and want to do something about it.

120px-Black-eyed-pea-close Then there are those who have new year's traditions.  Now, clearly many folks love to go to New Year's Eve parties and ring in the new year, sharing the event with someone they love.  But there are also those who have to have a specific meal on New Year's Day.  For some in the American South, if on January 1 you don't have ham, black-eyed peas, collard greens, and beets, you haven't had New Year's Day.

Still others can't wait to read about new year's predictions.  Amazingly, you can apparently find these every January in your grocer's newsstand or check-out aisle, as the tabloids publish what the "experts" say will take place in the new year.  What will Jeanne say about the stars (Hollywood and astrological) this year?

However, the first day of January often does have a therapeutic effect on humanity.  The truth is that God is always ready to bring positive change in our lives, but the problem is that we are often unprepared for the changes God wants to make.  So how do we prayerfully make new year's preparations?

I encourage you to read the story in Acts regarding the Apostle Peter's rescue from prison (imprisoned simply because the king didn't like the Christian church).  Acts 12.1-19 speaks of the miraculous and yet the everyday work of God, and the literal and symbolic nature of the story is refreshing.  The narrative relates, with detail and even humor, the release of one man from his bondage.  I don't think it's a stretch to say that implicitly, allegorically, it reminds us about being prepared for our release—into the newness and the changes God wants to make in our lives.

We would be wise to follow what God said to Peter through the statements of the angel.  Following the metaphor, we need to heed the statements to be released into the change God desires.

1. "Get up!"

The first statement to Peter is to "Get up quickly" (v. 7).  Now, this might have seemed humorous to Peter had the angel not hit him to wake him.  To see how ironic Peter might have viewed this statement, consider how carefully he had been bound.  The story says that he had been handed over to four squadrons (quaternions) of soldiers (v. 4).  That's four groups of four—16 men were guarding him.  Even if they were rotating in shifts, that's quite a bit of overkill for one man.  When Peter was told to get up, he was sleeping between two of the guards, bound by two chains, and more guards were outside the cell (v. 6).  If I had been in this position, I would have at the very least hesitated at getting up.  But notice that God did the supernatural: on the command to get up, his chains fell off.  From what the angel told him to do next, it appears that he got up.

All too often, I feel like saying that I can't get past something—that I am too bound by the circumstances to actually get up.  At times the situations in which we find ourselves seem insurmountable.  We think them to be impossible.  But when God says to get up, he provides the means to do it.  Perhaps the circumstances of this year have some saying, "I don't have the will to get up.  I can't do it."

With people it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.  Mark 10.27 (NASB)

That verse in Mark pertains to the salvation of those who don't think they need it because they are rich in this life.  But the principle of God being able to do anything He pleases is clear.  God wants you to live in the full, new life that He provides and that will glorify Him.  So whatever difficulties have bound us in 2008, God has the capacity to overcome them, according to whatever His plan may be.

…[God] is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think…  Ephesians 3.20 (NASB)

So trust Him.  And get up.

2. "Get ready!"

The next statement to Peter is to "Get dressed and put on your sandals" (v. 8).  Again, Peter might have balked here except he had just seen his chains supernaturally unlock.  But notice that he shows no hesitation: he immediately dressed and put on sandals.  He had seen the work of God, and was ready to trust Him more.

How many times have I seen the work of God, and yet still balked when I am uncertain of the outcome?  I sense I am not alone.  And yet God patiently waits for us to trust Him more fully.  The problem for many of us is that although we have seen God work in the past, we are grossly unprepared to see Him do so again.  Although all things are possible with God, sometimes because of our unbelief He chooses not to remain working in or among us:

And He could do no miracle there except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them.  And He wondered at their unbelief.  Mark 6.5-6 (NASB)

Our unprepared state reveals that we have failed to "put on" that which will prepare us for His plan.

You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.  Ephesians 4.22-24 (NIV)

So trust Him.  And get ready.

3. "Get going!"

The last statement to Peter is "Wrap your cloak around you and follow me" (v. 8).  Peter clearly recognized the hand of God at work, he was obedient to ready himself, and he was prepared to go a step further—he was following the messenger.  The language used is interesting in that it says he was prepared to continuously follow him, except that the angel soon vanished.

I've never seen an angel, but I have seen the work of God.  I've never heard the voice of God, but I have clearly sensed His leading.  The problem comes when I do not follow Him in faith.  When God makes His direction clear, our job is to follow.  Continuously.

There are times when God desires that we sit still before Him to learn of Him and be satisfied in Him.  And then there are times when God says to get going.  I've always loved what the "two men in white clothing" said as onlookers watched Jesus ascend into the sky.  Jesus had just told them, amid their questions of the coming kingdom, not to go anywhere but to "wait for what the Father had promised."  It's as though He was saying, "Don't just do something; stand there!"  But then when they were staring at the ascension, they were asked:

Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? 
Acts 1.11 (NASB)

Now as they were staring at the sky, they were essentially told, "Don't just stand there; do something!  Get going!"

When we feel we are bound and can't go on, we are reminded of all that God has done on our behalf.  His unfathomable love for His people should drive us.  The Apostle Paul put it well:

For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.  And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. 
2 Corinthians 5.14-15 (NIV)

So trust Him.  And get going.

In these early days of 2009, I'm re-learning to make the kinds of new year's preparations that will continue to release me from the bonds of the past and allow me to follow Him into the future.