Monday, July 30, 2012

Fighting Temptation like Tim Tebow

On Tim Tebow...

Ever since I was old enough to hold my head upright on my own, I've always been just a one-sport fan. Even as a little kid, football has been my game of choice and—as a Denver native—the Broncos and Buffaloes were my first love. So I was thrilled that arguably the best quarterback ever to play the game recently got picked up by Denver. So excited, in fact, that I've toyed with making Peyton Manning t-shirts that simply say "Elway who?". (I get a cut if you make them and get rich). But I was bummed that Tim Tebow went to the Jets in the process. I admit, Tebowmania was alive and well in my house last fall. I was doubly pleased that he seemed to be a level-headed and outspoken Christian (those two don't come together as often as I'd like in the public forum).

He's also outspoken about his virginity, which made him a prime candidate for what happened a couple months ago (I know, I know, "Real current, Jared"). A website that makes a profit by facilitating affairs offered a reward of one million dollars if anyone could get Tebow to lose his virginity before marriage—or prove that it had already happened.

My first response when I heard the news about the bounty this website had offered—which site shall remain nameless—was "Poor Tim! As if any guy needs more temptation, especially someone that famous!" But as I thought about it a little more, I decided it might actually be advantageous to know that behind every tempting beauty stands an entity that is only plotting your very painful (and very public) demise.

So my reaction shifted quickly from "Poor Tim!" to "Lucky Tim!". After all, he's now been warned and can prepare for temptation ahead of time with the truth that there is a plot for his downfall hidden inside the temptation.

On the rest of us...

It was then that I was reminded of a couple verses:
    Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.
(1 Peter 5:8 ESV)
    Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.
(Ephesians 6:11 ESV)
    But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.
(James 1:14-15 ESV)
 And I realized something. We have all been warned and can prepare for temptation with the truth that there is a plot for our downfall hidden inside the temptation. Your pet sin may not be lust. It may be anger, jealousy, or pride. You name it. And despite what some preachers may tell you, Satan may not personally be orchestrating each of your tempting moments. Usually our own sinful nature is perfectly suited to the task. But these two are in collusion. We don't have to divide out which temptations are from our own flesh and which are from the devil. We just need to fight them with the weapons available to us through the gospel and Scripture.

So we all need to be fighting temptation like Tim Tebow. And no, I don't mean putting verses on eye black beneath your eyes. I mean being on your guard like there's a bounty on your head. I mean availing yourself of the weapons of the gospel, of the truth, and of grace. I mean walking through your day with the awareness that there is a malicious entity out there actively plotting your downfall. Because, well, there is.

This article is a repost of a post that first ran on Breaking Free, the blog for Covenant Eyes Internet Accountability and Filtering software.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

New to the Christians In Context blog?

Christians In Context is a gospel-centered collective of writers, pastors, teachers, musicians, hotel shuttle drivers . . . you get the idea. We are united in our belief in the historic good news of Jesus' life, death, burial and resurrection to purchase a people for God from every tribe and tongue and nation, and the implications and applications it has on all our lives. While you will find some of the standard blog fare here (book reviews, links we like, etc.), our original content will largely focus on three main themes: gospel preparation, gospel presentation, and gospel application. We've shared some of our favorite posts from each to get you started!

Gospel Preparation
By this we mean apologetics, pre-evangelism, and the dismantling of defeater beliefs. Our aim is to remove every offense but the gospel. Ultimately we strive to open the way and lay the groundwork for a clear and compelling presentation of the good news of Jesus Christ and leave the results up to God.

Five Reasons Why a Thoughtful Person Would Start Their Religious Quest With Christianity
Fear God?
God Isn't Fair

Gospel Presentation
We want our presentation of the gospel to be biblically faithful, historically grounded, and culturally relevant. Clarity and honesty are our main goals here.

Jeremiah 29:11 According To the Gospel
Law Vs. Grace by D.L. Moody
The Reason For the Season
The Solution to God's Justice and Love Towards Man

Gospel Application
The implications of the gospel are multifaceted and limitless. It impacts how we approach everything from our churches to our culture, from work life to home life, from public policy to personal sanctification. We desire to be Christians bringing the gospel to bear in every context.

The Gospel and Lent: A Reformer's Reasoning
God as Father, and we His children
3 Ways the Gospel Should Influence Leaving a Tip
The Sex Challenge Evangelicals Never Give (but Scripture Does)

And if you want other ways to connect with us, you can also find us on:

Friday, July 27, 2012

When Do We Set Aside Our Rights?

We live in a culture that tells us that we had better seize our rights or we will get trampled. We are bombarded with messages that tell us stand up and seize what is yours. Meek is weak. 

Several weeks ago, when track and field runner stopped to help a fallen competitor finish the race (video) people's views were divided. Many people felt like she did the decent human thing. But there were some that felt like she had done the wrong thing because she didn't seize the obvious advantage. Some felt it should have been survival of the fittest.

There are times in life when the advantage and triumph is ours to seize. There are times when we have the right to something. But do you ever consider giving up our rights for the sake of others? Do you ever consider setting aside a position or advantage that is rightfully yours so that others might be served?

It is interesting that when it came to paying his own temple tax Jesus had this approach.

In Matthew, Jesus tells us that because he is the Son, he is exempt from paying the temple tax.
Matthew 17:25 He said, “Yes.” And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth collect customs or poll-tax, from their sons or from strangers?” 
The obvious answer is that taxes are not collect from sons of the king but from strangers.

So Jesus, who is greater than the temple and who is the Son of the King (i.e. God) is completely exempt from the temple tax. It is his right not to submit to the temple tax. It does not bind him in any way.

Yet Jesus sets aside his right and pays the tax.
Matthew 17:27 “However, so that we do not offend them, go to the sea and throw in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for you and Me.” 

What?! How many times does Jesus show a willingness to offend the religious Pharisees of the day? He often confronts them. He rebukes them. He even provokes them because he speaks plain and simply truths. Jesus is more than a mere revolutionary or shock-jock looking to offend just because he can. For those who like Jesus as a contrarian and revel in the power of the his confrontations as he 'sticks-it-to-the-man' we should ponder his humility here. Ponder how and why he avoids offense.

Jesus shows us that he does not go about provoking people for provocations sake. He did not revel in offending just to 'put people in their place.' His focus is the coming cross. So he avoids provocation and offense here. This is not his time and this is not his battle. We could all learn from this.

Consider: the Son was fully in his right to refuse to pay the tax to the temple. Yet whose interests is he thinking of here? What kind of meekness is he showing? There is a divine wisdom here in not provoking, even though if they got upset with him for their lack of knowing him as the Son it would have been their fault.

JESUS FORGOES HIS RIGHT! How unlike human nature. We assume that if we have a right we must exercise it--and if we do not we are weak. But that is precisely the humility and meekness Jesus shows.

This passage is not really about our duty to pay taxes. Paying taxes really is our duty. We submit to the state because God put the state in authority (Rom. 13)--we don’t get an exemption. This passage is about someone (Jesus) who has an exemption--but sets it aside.

1. Next time you are fully within your rights to gain something, take advantage of something or be exempt from something--will you consider foregoing your rights for others?

2. How can we follow Jesus example by living at peace with people and avoiding unnecessarily offending?

3. Is there some area of your life God is calling you to forego a right you have in order to serve others for the sake of the gospel.

The best way to diagnose the area you need to deal with is ask yourself what is the area or situation in life that you are saying, “I don’t need this stress.” “I am tired of putting up with _____.” “It’s not worth it.” “I don’t know why I bother.”  --you feel like you’ve put yourself out there, sacrificed for the cause, made the effort, but you’ve been disrespected, rebuffed or treated unfairly.

Maybe its at a job, in a relationship or friendship, maybe it is with your church, or maybe you are at a stage of life where you figured you are "owed" a little bit of rest--like retirement. Maybe you really have been wronged or put under undo pressure. You have a right for relief or a right not to 'pay the dues' in a particular area. But is God calling you to this precisely because it will involve self-sacrifice on your part. Did you ever consider: does God want to make me more Christlike in character by my staying in the situation? 

The only reason Jesus pays the temple tax is so people would not get offended. Sometimes the only reason we have in forgoing our rights is to avoid offending someone. Sometimes we sacrifice because we are seeking peace at all costs. Sometimes we are seeking to adorn God and the gospel rather than exercise our own rights.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

3 Reasons You Should Like Us On Facebook

I am writing this post for everyone who enjoys Christians In Context but has never left a comment before. I write this post for anyone who has had something they've wanted to share with us but found it too complicated. I write this post for everyone who thinks we're just a bunch of wizards behind a curtain pulling levers and blowing smoke.

We'd be honored for you to like us on Facebook. Here's three reasons why you should:

1. Facebook is two-directional. We here at CIC really love getting to do what we do here on the blog. But the blog format is really best suited for one-directional information sharing. We can share all our favorite links, posts, and information from everything we're reading and learning, but you don't get much of a chance. Facebook, on the other hand, makes it just as easy for you to share with us as it is for us to share with you. So take this as our invitation to you to share with us what you're reading, enjoying, doing. Who knows, it may just end up on the blog!

2. Facebook is conversational. Yes, I know you can leave a comment at the end of our posts. But speaking as not just the writer of a blog but also the reader of many, I will say from personal experience that Facebook just seems to be streamlined for a back-and-forth conversation in a way that comments at the end of the post simply aren't. So if I have the option of leaving a comment at the end of a blog post or leaving that same comment on a blogger's Facebook page, I prefer Facebook every time.

3. Facebook is relational. If you've ever felt like the blog is just a bit too impersonal, come join us on Facebook. I know, we've all got profile pages on the blog, but we rarely know much (if anything) about the people we're talking to. With Facebook, we can better know our audience and better cater to the people who are reading, not just the ones we imagine are reading. Also, if you're like me, even when you want to share a blog post, you share it on Facebook. This way the content is already on your news feed and it's as simple as clicking "share".

So if we've made any sort of a compelling case, we hope you'll like us on Facebook.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Jesus loves the Samburu of Kenya

We drove down the dirt road for 10 minutes and stopped at the edge of the trees. Climbing out of the Land Cruiser, the 12 of us peered into the darkness, wondering how far into the woods we would go. A few of us had flashlights, and they swung with every stride, their nervous movement matching our uncertain steps. One of the men whispered to me, “We are being led into a place we don’t know by warriors. Warriors we’ve just met a few hours ago.” I nodded, my mind playing with the thought that we really didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into. After a five-minute walk, we came to a clearing. We followed our guides a few more yards and stood there, not sure what would happen next, awed by the eerie quietness and darkness that enveloped us.

They came from the bushes. We could not see them. They carried no lights, and their dark clothing and ebony skin kept them hidden. Standing in a semi-circle in front of us, the men, women and children waited for the leader to speak. He greeted them in their language and invited one of the women to begin a song. She sang out in a loud, clear voice, and was answered by all the members of the tribe standing around her. They sang like this, call and response, for more than 10 minutes, in a language that itself is melodic. We tried to sing with them, picking up phrases that were repeated, and jumping with them as they sang. When the songs were done, the leader introduced our team and asked our leader to give a greeting. Scott spoke a sentence at a time in English, waiting for our guide to translate each one. He thanked them for coming out to meet with us and then introduced me.

The Samburu people of Kenya are a tribe of shepherds who keep cows, mainly, but also sheep, goats and camels. Like their close kin, the Maasai, the Samburu believe that all the cattle on earth belong to them. They live in round huts made of sticks, mud and cow dung, in groups of five to 10 families. Since most of the Samburu cannot read, they learn through storytelling. This is why they had gathered on a Wednesday night with a group of 12 American Christians: They had come to worship God and hear his stories.

I stepped up and began to speak about the God I know through the person of Jesus Christ. I told them the story from Luke 13, where Jesus called a woman out of the crowd at the synagogue. She had been bent over for 18 years, unable to stand up straight. He told her that the bondage she suffered was now broken. This was likely a woman that everyone knew, but nobody noticed. They passed her on the way in, but she stayed outside, marginalized by her infirmity. Until the day that Jesus came.

I told the Samburu that Jesus laid his hands on her, and “immediately she was made straight, and glorified God.” That is the Gospel, I told them. Jesus saw her when she could not raise herself to look at him. Jesus called her, spoke the word to her, touched her and made her a new person. “He can do the same for you.”

We stood in the dark with tribesmen and women 8,000 miles away to proclaim that the light of the world is Jesus Christ. He loved the woman who was bound by sin. He loves the Samburu just as much.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

KIDNAPPED: By Opinions

We love being praised.  We love compliments.  We’re kidnapped by it sometimes.  I love hearing how smart I am.  I love hearing how well I write or speak.  I love being complimented.  Right now you are thinking, “this guy is arrogant”.  Be honest though.  You like it too.  It isn’t bad to want compliments.  It isn’t bad to care about what others think…It’s really the way God made us.
In The Beginning
In the beginning God creates.  Genesis 1 gives us the creation account and within it one word is repeated over and over again.  The word: Good.
  • God makes light…it’s good.
  • God makes land…it’s good.
  • God makes vegetation…it’s good.
  • God makes the sun and the moon…it’s good.
  • God makes sea creatures and birds…it’s good.
  • God makes land animals…it’s good.
After He creates those things He (God the Father) has a conversation with the Holy Spirit and Jesus:
[26] Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”(Genesis 1.26)
So man is created and after man is created God says something different over all of creation.
[31] And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
(Genesis 1:31 ESV)
After God creates us in His own image then and ONLY then does God pronounce everything as VERY GOOD.  I think that this where every human from the Fall until man is trying to attain.  Every person born is seeking this kind of approval.  The problem is that due to the Fall man looks for this in the face of everybody else, BUT God.
We want to hear so desperately that we are good.  We want to know that we are visible and valued.  We want:
  • Our significant other to think we are the best
  • Our boss to recognize our talents and know that we are priceless to the organization
  • Our coach to give us a game ball
  • To hear that we are handsome (or pretty)
  • To hear that we are smart
We want to hear that we are good.  We want to hear that we are VERY GOOD.  We seek it in others and when we get it we feel great for a week, a day, an hour, or a minute.  It feels good to be praised.  But then we need it again and again and again.  We are praise addicts seeking it wherever we can get it…except from the one place that matters.

The Problem
I know what you are thinking, “So we should care more about what God thinks than what people think”.

That’s not my point today.

The big issue is that God can’t lie.  Since the Fall He hasn’t been able to look at mankind and say VERY GOOD.  In fact He’s been forced to say just the opposite.

[18] No one is good except God alone.(Mark 10:18b)
Do you see the dilemma?  We CRAVE to be told we’re good.  We seek it in sources that aren’t eternal.  We need to seek it in places that are eternal, but God can’t lie and so He can’t say that we are good.  So how can we hear “VERY GOOD” from a source that actually matters?
[21] For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
(2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV)
How do we hear “VERY GOOD”?  We trade our lives for Jesus’ life.  We take His sacrifice for sin so that when God looks at us He says, “My Child you are VERY GOOD”.
Christ is all,

Monday, July 23, 2012

3 Ways the Gospel Should Influence Leaving a Tip

I've worked in the service industry longer than I have in the church (at least as far as payroll is concerned). I am currently still bi-vocational and work part-time at my church and full-time as a shuttle driver for a hotel here in Omaha. I am paid below minimum wage, so tipping is an expected part of my income by my employers.

I've experienced good tippers and bad ones, but the most memorable ones were those whom I knew were Christians and yet tipped like they were Pharisees (All law, no grace. Bare minimum, no generosity. This means, for a "courtesy shuttle service", no tip). Particularly painful to me have been the large groups of Christians who occasionally take over the hotel for an event and the entire group tips poorly, because I know I'm not the only one who's tempted to form an opinion of these Christians by their tipping. I've even found myself apologizing to co-workers on behalf of other Christians and trying to use the opportunity as a springboard into presenting the gospel. Believe me, that's a tough sell (perhaps I'll write a post on that in the near future). But for now, I want share some guidelines I formed for myself after serving just such Christians.

1. Your tip should reflect Christian generosity. God's generosity towards us should affect the bank account, every Christian knows that. But there is perhaps no better test on how great a hold the idol of mammon still has on us than how we tip. Disagree? "What about giving to the church and charities?", you ask. But both of those we do with our "Christian hat" on, when we give to such things we are acting out of our Christian sensibilities. When you tip, however, I bet you're all business. Right down to the penny (or rounded to the dollar if your lazy or bad at math). My brothers, this should not be!

2. Your tip should demonstrate grace—not law. If there's a problem with my meal, the last thing I do is take it out of the tip. I want to give the server every chance to make up what could be honest mistakes or problems out of their control. To begin subtracting from the tip before giving the server an opportunity to make it right reflects the heart of a hard-nosed legalist, not a heart stricken by grace.

But—and this is a huge "but"—nothing models gospel grace like a generous tip even after a server has blown it, been made aware of it, and was unable or failed to "make it right". I know this is a hard pill to swallow for many of you (myself included), but why should the tip be the last thing to be impacted by the grace that has been poured out on us? I've talked to Christians who will simply gush about the grace of Christ towards us . . . and then not think twice about leaving a terrible tip for terrible service. Why reinforce the system of law by which the whole world runs when we have the resources of grace to draw from?

3. Your tip should embody the gospel. I know, I know. "Embody the gospel? In a tip?!" But if the gospel really is the all-encompassing reality that it is, then it should affect every area of our lives, and every area of our lives can reflect it. When Christians tip, we should not only give more than expected (point 1), and give more than deserved (point 2), your tip should be a tangible outgrowth of the grace and generosity you yourself have received as not just an undeserving but ill-deserving sinner. We have all performed below what was expected of us and even in direct rebellion against the one we were made to serve. And yet the gospel is that God gave out of his riches both generously beyond what we could have hoped for and graciously beyond what we ever could have earned. And if God has given out his endless and bottomless generosity on our behalf, we have that same treasury to draw from. The gospel allows us to release our vice-grip on earthly riches and instead use it as a tool for the gospel.

Bonus point: Don't leave a gospel tract unless you've done points 1-3. So maybe gospel tracts aren't your thing (they probably aren't unless your 40 or older). My church encourages members to take our pens with them and leave them around. I have business cards with all the church info on it. But if you have anything you like to leave in the name of evangelism, don't leave it unless you are tipping out of generosity, grace, and the gospel. To leave a gospel tract with an average or poor tip is unattractive at best. To leave a gospel tract instead of a tip is downright detrimental. That's like saying, "You need this and I know it. I need this and I don't know it." If your tip doesn't grow out of the gospel message of grace and generosity, then your tract probably won't communicate it.

Can't afford to tip this way? Then, as one in the service industry, I would suggest one of two things. Either eat at fast/casual restaurants where you place your order at a counter and no tip is expected, or dine out in such a way that no one knows your a Christian (i.e. no prayer, no "Jesus talk", no books at the table with crosses on the front). I think you know which option I would suggest.

Feedback: Have you ever worked in the service industry? I intentionally avoided actually talking amounts or percentages. What do you think is a good tip? Do you think a gospel tract left with the tip is ever effective?

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Surpassing Worth of Ice Cream?

Yesterday, a friend of mine posted something on Facebook that I couldn’t believe.  It wasn’t some revelatory news about her.  It wasn’t something that was inappropriate in anyway (just the opposite actually).  It wasn’t something that would astound the masses, but it overwhelmed me.
What was it?
Blue Bell is now making a Key Lime Pie ice cream!  I LOVE Key Lime Pie.  There have been multiple times in my life where I have bought a key lime pie and over the course of a few days (or hours; and there was what that one time it was just minutes) devoured the whole thing.  I love the tang.  I love the texture.  I love the taste.  Additionally, who doesn’t LOVE ice cream (probably just Communists and Nazis I’d expect)?  Not to mention that Blue Bell is the BEST mass-produced ice cream in the world.
After my friend posted that she had found it, I quickly tagged my wife in the comment and told her that we NEEDED some.  We NEEDED it (I don’t use that word lightly).  She said she’d get it.  When I got home the first place I went, after kissing my kids and my wife, was the freezer.  It wasn’t there… Calmly and as nonchalant as possible I asked Allie, “Did you get that ice cream that we mentioned on Facebook today”.
The reply, “Yes, it’s in the outside freezer.  I got two of them.”
Crisis averted…I mean put these things together:
Key Lime + Ice Cream + Blue Bell = BLISS!
Last night I had a big bowl…it was a party in my mouth and everyone was invited.  This was like the holy grail of ice cream for me.  I found the greatest ice cream ever.  I’d trade all other ice creams for this ice cream.
It made me think and then pray and then write this blog…
Matthew 13:44-46
[44] “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
[45] “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls,
[46] who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.
Ice cream is just ice cream.  I’d trade all other ice creams for Blue Bell Key Lime Pie ice cream.  It was fantastic.  It wasn’t eternal.  It wasn’t worth everything I own.  It wasn’t worth everything in my life.  It wasn’t worth my life.  It was just ice cream.
God’s Kingdom is worth everything.  It’s worth all the stuff, money, and things I’ve accumulated over my life.  It’s worth everything in my life: my friends, my job, my reputation, my energy, my power and my family.  It’s worth all of my life.  All of it needs to be released for the “surpassing worth of knowing Jesus” (Philippians 3.8).
What I Mean
When we’ve really found Jesus (or been found by Him) we start to realize that everything else is worthless in comparison to Him.  All other philosophies, self help ideas, and religious traditions are worthless in comparison to what He offers.  All of our pursuits for money, power, and sex are worthless in comparison to the pursuit of Him.  All of our stuff is worthless in comparison to what He offers.
He is worth it all.
Jesus is all.
Christ is all,
Jason Crandall

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Whatever fills you, controls you

Once as a teenager, I went on a double date with my cousin. Halfway through the date, I found out the girl I was with had an insanely jealous boyfriend named Marty. He was also big, she said. “And,” she added, “He has a nasty temper.” I figured that to be a deadly combination, so I filed that information away, reminding myself to avoid this boyfriend of hers at all costs. We were driving home later that night when all of a sudden my cousin said, “Uh-oh.”

“What’s the problem?” I asked, thinking maybe we were running out of gas. “Don’t look now,” he said, “but Marty is right on our tail.” I looked anyway and saw a car about two inches from our bumper, and we were doing 60 miles per hour on the interstate.

Now, up until this point, I had only done one thing I regretted, and that was to go out with this girl in the first place. But now, I became a willing participant in a series of stupid mistakes. May I say to any teens who happen to be reading this: “Don’t try this at home … or on the interstate.” My cousin floored the car, a 1972 Camaro Z28, and we took off like a rocket. We were going more than 90 with Marty right on our tail, and it is only by the grace of God, gentle readers, that I am here to tell the story. We finally reached our exit, careened onto the ramp, and headed for my cousin’s house. Marty was only seconds behind us. My cousin realized we weren’t going to outrun him, so he said something like, “Good luck, Mark” as we screamed into his driveway on two wheels. I was shaking with adrenalin and fear, and could hear the words “big … nasty temper … insanely jealous” reverberating in my skull. My legs felt like jelly and my mouth was dry as dust.
About that time my cousin slammed on the brakes in his carport, and I managed to fall out of the car to face my attacker, who was leaping from his car as it slid to a stop in the driveway.

Now, you have to realize that at this time in my life I had not yet had my growth spurt. In fact, I still haven’t had it, but I was a skinny 16-year-old then, only about 5 feet 6 inches tall and maybe 110 pounds soaking wet. As I recall it, Marty seemed to tower over me by at least a foot. But what I remember most of all was the purple rage that consumed him. He was so filled with wrath that he had no control of his body. He couldn’t swing his fists because his anger controlled them. He couldn’t speak, but sputtered and spat, because the anger had his tongue. As he stumbled toward me I bent over, and he pounded me on my back. The blows were nothing, dissipated by the rage that shook Marty like a rag doll.

I saw something that day I will never forget. Whatever fills you controls you, whether it is wine, anger, lust, or greed. That’s why the Bible says, “Make no friendship with an angry man, and with a furious man do not go.” And, “Don’t get drunk with wine, which leads to reckless actions, but be filled with the Spirit.”

After the dust cleared and the rage subsided that day, Marty and I had a friendly exchange. He gave me my life back, and I gave him his girlfriend. Seemed like the right thing at the time.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Only hours left on our latest giveaway!

Last chance! the drawing closes at midnight EST. 

This time around we're giving away three books to one lucky person:
  • Dallas and the Spitfire - Ted Kluck & Dallas Jahncke (Bethany House)
  • Reborn on the Fourth of July - Logan Mehl-Laituri (InterVarsity Press)
  • A Traveler's Guide to the Kingdom - James Emery White (InterVarsity Press)

Do study Bibles hamper good Bible study?

Jen Wilken has written a helpful post over at The Gospel Coalition titled "Recalculating: How Study Bibles Can Limit Bible Study". The set-up is worthwhile, so I suggest you read the whole post, but here's her conclusion:
So what is the right use for a study Bible? I would suggest the following:
  • Don't throw it away, just put it away. Keep your study Bible on the shelf when you read. Get a Bible with only cross-references to use as your primary copy. Investigate cross-references to help you comprehend and interpret.
  • Treat study Bible notes as what they are: commentary, and brief commentary at that. Remember that they are man's words, subject to bias and error. Read them respectfully but critically.
  • Consult multiple sources. Study notes should be a starting point for further inquiry, not a terminus. Once you have read for personal understanding in a note-free Bible, consult not just one but several study Bibles and commentaries from trusted sources. Look for consensus and disagreement among them.
  • Ask the Holy Spirit for insight. Humbly ask the Spirit to reveal truth to your heart and mind as you read for understanding on your own, and as you compare your own discoveries to those of trusted commentators. Even if you find you have drawn the wrong conclusion from a text, you are more likely to remember the better conclusion because you have worked hard to discover it.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Gift or Giver, Which Do You Want?

The other day my wife came in the door from grocery shopping.  She did our twice a month run for food, toiletries, and diapers (we buy diapers in BULK).  While she was gone my oldest, Drew (4 years old), asked over and over again where mommy was (she had left to go shopping during his nap).  I assured him that mommy was shopping and would return soon.  He said over and over again, “I miss mommy” (he’s very dramatic sometimes).
Finally, when she came in the door she told Drew that she had gotten him Toy Story shampoo.  From that moment on he was focused.  He had to find the Toy Story shampoo in the flock of bags.  He didn’t think another second about his mom (and definitely not his dad).  He was focused on what mommy brought home for him, not mommy.
Mark 3.7-9
[7] Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the sea, and a great crowd followed, from Galilee and Judea [8] and Jerusalem and Idumea and from beyond the Jordan and from around Tyre and Sidon. When the great crowd heard all that he was doing, they came to him. [9] And he told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, lest they crush him, 
Do you see what the people were doing? There were huge crowds following Jesus from every corner of Israel.  They were coming out of the woodwork to see Jesus.  They wanted to be near Him, they wanted just to touch Him for a second.  Why?
Mark 3.10
[10] for he had healed many, so that all who had diseases pressed around him to touch him. 
The people pressed in on Jesus so much so that Jesus wanted a boat so that they couldn’t crush him.  They pressed Him to get near to Him.  They wanted to be close to Him.  But they didn’t want Him…they wanted what He could give to them.  They didn’t want the person of Jesus, they wanted the healing that He could give.  They didn’t want His face and what He was teaching, they wanted their lame healed, their sicknesses taken away, and their demons cast out.  They didn’t want Him.
Can You Identify?
I’d like to be very pious right now and say that this is NEVER me, but I can’t…I do the same thing.  If I’m really honest, I get caught up in what Jesus can do for me and what I “need” Him to do for me. My walk with God looks more like a bunch of Justin Bieber groupies pining for an autograph rather than seeking God’s face to know Him and make Him known.  I imagine I’m not the only one out there.
An (Embarrassing) Exercise:
  • Take out a sheet of paper or open a document.
  • Make a list of your most recent prayer requests or things you “need” God to do for you.  Be honest, no one sees this but you and God.
  • Look the list over:
    • Is it stuff for you that would make you happier?
    • Is it asking to know Him more?
Do you feel like a Jesus groupie or a Jesus follower?  At the end of my list I’d have to write groupie.  I don’t want to be that though.  I want to be a follower who is about KNOWING Jesus not just trying to get stuff from Him.
There isn’t anything wrong with pouring out your needs and desires to God. He wants you to, but if that’s all you do then you are missing the point.  You are being a 4 year old who is looking for Toy Story shampoo.  I don’t want to love the Toy Story shampoo, I want to love the person who brings me the Toy Story shampoo.
What about you?
Christ is all,

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Book Review: Liberating Ministry from Success Syndrome

This is an excellent book to read. It has been around since 1987 and reprinted many times. For me it just came yesterday, I started glancing through it, then reading it. I soon found that I could not put it down. I finished it in one day. This book is golden. It is one of those rare books that I dare say it is one that every pastor should read.

If you are in ministry you know well the discouragement it can bring. This book challenges you to take God's view of what success is. It both will lift your soul and challenge you in all the right ways.

Success can be an idol in our culture, most especially in ministry. It is a cruel enslaving master. After Kent and Barbara Hughes spend a few chapters describing their 'dark night of the soul,' in ministry were they felt like failures we are lead on a journey of what caused them to recover and how they learned God's measures of true success. Kent Hughes describes seven measures: (1) Faithfulness; (2) Serving; (3) Loving; (4) Believing; (5) Prayer; (6) Holiness; and (7) Attitude. Each of these is dealt with in a chapter. Then there are five chapters of encouragement (1) from God; (2) from 'the Call] [to ministry]; (3) from the Ordinary; (4) from Fellow Workers; and (5) from the future heavenly reward.

Every pastor can identify with the experiences described in this book but every pastor needs to read the wisdom and instruction from the Hughes.

If you are a lay leader or elder at your church, you should read this book as well. It will give you insight into pastors stresses but it will also give you the tools to ask: "is my measure of success for my pastor the same as God's measures?" 

There is also a helpful chapter for pastor's wives and another chapter for church members. 

This book should not only be read by current pastors, future pastors, pastor's wives but also church members so that they understand a bit of the stress of ministry. They will learn how to evaluate the success of ministry from God's eyes rather than human standards.

I can't recommend this book enough. Five out of five stars.

Excerpt 1:
"Think of it [prayer] this way: our lives are like photographic plates, and prayer is like a time exposure to God. As we expose ourselves to God for a half hour, an hour, perhaps two hours a day, his image is imprinted more and more upon us. More and more we absorb the image of his character, his love, his wisdom, his way of dealing with life and people. As servants of Christ, that is what we need and that is what we receive from him." (pp.72-73)

Excerpt 2:
"Paul summarized the secret of his ministry by referring to the ancient custom of hiding priceless treasure in common earthen, clay pots beneath the earth. The "treasure" was the gospel, and the "jars of clay," a penetrating metaphor for frail humanity. Thus the glorious gospel is committed to common, frail human beings--so that the immensity of the power may be seen as God's and not man's! Clearly then, an awareness of one's weakness, one's ordinariness, can be an asset in the gospel ministry, for such an awareness may more easily depend upon the power of God. Conversely, it can be a disadvantage to be extraordinarily gifted, because one can be tempted to rely upon natural gifts to achieve supernatural ends.
There have been many preachers who, because they were so naturally gifted, never came to be the preachers they could have been. Their reliance upon their natural eloquence fostered a regrettable independence from God in respect to prayer and preparation...Being an ordinary Andrew [the apostle] is not a disadvantage in serving God. It can even serve as the basis for profound dependence upon him and yield extraordinary usefulness in ministry." (pp.137-137)

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Church membership matters

A supply preacher for a small-town Texas church came in early on Sundays, preached a sermon to the congregation and then left after lunch. One Sunday, he arrived earlier than usual, so he sat down at a local doughnut shop, opened his Bible and went over his sermon notes. A man sitting down at the counter said, “You a preacher or something?” “Yes,” he replied, “I preach at the Christian church here in town.” The man got excited and said, “Hey, I’m a member of that church.” The church was small and the supply preacher knew all the regulars, so he said, “I’ve been preaching there for about three months and I’ve never seen you there.” The other fella gave the preacher a strange look and answered, “I said I was a member of that church. I never said I was fanatical about it!”

Ok, so here’s the question: Would you feel like your hands were fanatics if you woke up every day and they were still attached? How about your feet? Would you think your liver was over-the-edge “too committed” if it stayed in place and did its job, day in and day out? How about your eyeballs?

If you answered no to all of those questions, then you are still in your right mind. It has not left you. So, get this. The church is compared to the human body in the Bible. Paul uses a metaphor to compare each individual member of the church to an individual body part: an eye, a foot, an ear, a hand, even a head. (Which gives us assurance that he is speaking in this chapter, 1 Corinthians 12, about the local church body, not the universal church, for which there is one head: Jesus.)

Here’s the point, three of them in fact. One, we need to be connected to one another in the church just like the feet need to be connected to the body. Connected feet stay healthy; disconnected feet die. The body needs the feet, also, to do its work effectively. The body cannot do all that it is designed to do when one of its members is not able to carry its weight, so to speak. In the same way, the church needs its members to be there, be committed, and do what they have been uniquely gifted by God to do.

Point two, the body is in this together, for good or for bad. The Bible says, “And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it.” Don’t believe it? Smash your thumb with a hammer this afternoon, you know, just as a biblical experiment. See if the whole body doesn’t suffer along with it. See if the whole body doesn’t stay awake half the night with the thumb. It is the same with the church. When one member is suffering, either because of willful and unrepentant sin, or because of trials and tragedy, the whole body is affected. That’s when the body also does some of its most important work, to heal the offending or the suffering member. That’s where point three comes in.

The members of the body care for one another, just like your right hand acts in kindness toward your left foot by removing a splinter. The local church cares for its own. The church also reaches out to those who are not connected and invites them to meet the head, Jesus, and then to join the local body.

Church membership matters. You don’t have to be fanatical about it. But you do need to get connected.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Book Review: A Shot of Faith to the Head by Mitch Stokes, PhD

Every year there's a book that comes across my desk of which I have little or no expectation but ends up being one of my favorite books of the year.  In 2009, it was Notes From the Tilt-A-Whirl by N.D. Wilson (you can buy it here). In 2010, it was Marks of the Messenger by J. Mack Stiles (buy here). In 2011, it was A Meal With Jesus by Tim Chester (buy here) and Red Like Blood by Joe Coffey and Bob Bevington (buy here).

Without a doubt, the strongest contender for the title so far this year is A Shot of Faith to the Head by Mitch Stokes, PhD. While I had heard nothing about the book (or the author, for that matter) before receiving it, once I had picked it up and started in, I couldn't put it down.

"Finally," I thought to myself as I read, "someone who's matching the atheists not only on the level of arguments (which many good Christians apologists have done), but also on the level of wit, sarcasm and biting intellect." After all, if the New Atheists have done anything well, they have so ridiculed the supposed anti-intellectualism of Christianity that even smart Christians feel they must compromise or live a contradiction. Stokes has now begun to level the playing field and not only show that we have reason on our side, but that the New Atheists should be ashamed of their scathing condescension and perhaps consider their own contradictions for once.

If I may give a spoiler by way of summarizing the book, A Shot of Faith to the Head broadly covers three areas: rationality, design, and absolute (moral) standards. Stokes shows how the atheist depends on one or more of these ideas every time they present their arguments, yet all three of these ideas have no grounding in the atheist's world, only in the theist's. As Stokes concludes:
"The notions of design, rationality, and absolute standards cannot exist in a naturalistic world, the world of the atheists. Without absolute standards—of which there must be many—their worldview would entirely collapse.

"And this poses a serious problem for any atheist who claims that belief in God is irrational. In fact, it takes the legs right out from under such a claim. If there is no designer, then there is no proper function, and therefore there is no such thing as irrationality. But then there’s no such thing as rationality either. There’s only a sterile, impersonal “desert landscape. Beliefs are neither rational nor irrational. They just are."
 This book was a delight to read and an honor to recommend.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Recommended for: Apologists, philosophers, anyone challenged or threatened by the ideas of the New Atheists

This book was a free review copy provided by Thomas Nelson. 

Saturday, July 7, 2012

We're overdue for another giveaway!

Lately I've had far more books on my "To Read" shelf than I've had time for. And more books than time is an equation that adds up to "free books" for our readers. (If you would like that broken down into a formula, I believe the proper form would be "books > time = giveaway")

This time around we're giving away three books to one lucky person:
  • Dallas and the Spitfire - Ted Kluck & Dallas Jahncke (Bethany House)
  • Reborn on the Fourth of July - Logan Mehl-Laituri (InterVarsity Press)
  • A Traveler's Guide to the Kingdom - James Emery White (InterVarsity Press)

Be sure to subscribe via RSS feed, Reader, or email so you don't miss any of our giveaways! (I hear there's some good content once in a while too.) You can enter using the PunchTab app below. RSS readers will need to click through to the post to see the widget. We will not use or share your email for solicitation purposes or contact you once the giveaway is over.

As always, our sincerest gratitude to all the publishers who are generous enough to work with blogs and all the little people! Special thanks this time around to Bethany House and InterVarsity Press. Without you, we'd have nothing to review, have nothing to give away, and be dumb as rocks.


Friday, July 6, 2012

Is the Church Today Dying?

Do you believe that Jesus' plan for the world today is the church? Far too many evangelicals today think far too little of the church. It is quite common today for people to interpret Jesus more like an anti-establishment 1960s radical who just liked to 'stick it to the man' than actually paying attention to the Jesus of the gospels. So people with a chip on their shoulder will tell people "love Jesus and leave the church."

WWJD? "We'll he'd call you to leave the church" is the answer we hear. After all Jesus is toughest on the religious Pharisees.

Here's the problem: Jesus promised to build the church. Those loyal to Jesus should not be trying to tear it down. I would even suggest if you run into someone tearing down the church, seriously consider: "how loyal are they to Jesus?" If someone was verbally bashing my wife, I wouldn't consider them my friend.

Of course, the church isn't perfect--that's the point of Scripture: Jesus has to clean His bride. We can be a poor representative of Jesus. But Jesus did promise to leave an organization in place of His absence. This is not to discount his promise to send the Holy Spirit, but the Holy Spirit would come upon the people of God. He would form a body of Christ by uniting people to Christ. The Holy Spirit is the divine cleaner working on God's people to apply the death and resurrection of Jesus. 

Jesus' message on earth was to preach the kingdom of God. Upon His death and resurrection, the Kingdom is ushered in and inaugurated. He now has all authority in heaven and on earth--it is authority He bears and exercises in His humanity. What does Jesus do in His absence? Well he is the mediator at the right hand of the Father. He stands for his people. 

But with the inauguration of the Kingdom, he builds the church. The Kingdom produces citizens and the citizens gather together. In their gathering, God sets up an order and means by which to administer the church with elders and deacons (see the pastoral epistles). Hence, despite the negative connotations some draw from this: the church is an organization.

In the New Testament as a whole Jesus' plan is to build the church. The church is equipped with gifts for the service of the body and its ministry. But it is ultimately Jesus who builds the church. The church is not a temporary plan until Jesus can return. It is thee plan. He will build the church with such power that death itself will not defeat the church.

Let's take a look at what Jesus says in Matthew 16:18: “I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.

‘Gates of Hades’ is a way of translating an rare OT phrase: ‘the gates of Sheol’. Death is personified as a power. The realm of the dead or the grave is describe as sheol. So metaphorically it has gates that close around people, locking them in death. Just like Jonah describes cords of death/sheol entangling him.
Isaiah 38:10 I said, “In the middle of my life; I am to enter the gates of Sheol; I am to be deprived of the rest of my years.”  
Psalm 9:13 Be gracious to me, O Lord; See my affliction from those who hate me, You who lift me up from the gates of death, 

I'm a Star Trek fan. In the movie Star Trek Generations, the villain Dr. Soran (played by Malcom MacDowell) says the following about time: “It's like a predator; it's stalking you. Oh, you can try and outrun it with doctors, medicines, new technologies but in the end, time is going to hunt you down... and make the kill. ” 

We would say this is a good picture of death. Death is an enemy. It advances, it destroys. It is a predatory. Yet we are told... death cannot stalk and overpower the church.

Our incredible hope is realized as the church is resurrected over death.
1 Corinthians 15:54 But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory. 55 “O death, where is your victory? O  death, where is your sting?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; 57 but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 

Jesus gives the victory to His church. In every age God is growing the church.

Are you worried? Do you lack confidence in what God can do in and through the church? Are you worried about your local church? Do you say to yourself--can God do that here?

Today we are bombarded with arguments that the church must change or die. Secularists tell us the church's doctrines are old and stodgy. Prophets arising within the church proclaim we must embark on new forms, methods and actions or the church will be left behind. Change or die is the message. Yet all this is nothing new. Every generation has had prophets of doom telling us the church will not survive this generation. We call them heretics. 

The church has always and will alway have its critics. People has always been saying “leave the Church, love Jesus.” It is the problem in 1 John all the way to today. What age has the church as a whole not been under assault or struggles? Look at Revelation 2-3. But here the church is called to repent and go back to Jesus. He promises restoration.

The church, as a whole, will not be destroyed. Even if your local church closes up shop, the church universal will live from now until eternity. If the church is stomped out or crushed in one area or town, God will not fail to raise it up somewhere. Jesus will always be building His church. It's His plan but it's also His promise to us. 

In every age God keeps converting people, raising up churches. Why? Because that resurrection power is active now in our midst as God raises sinners from the dead. Our hope is the resurrection. Gates of hades --death itself cannot advance against us. Just as death could not hold back Jesus, so also death cannot hold down the body of Christ which is united to Jesus.

What do you think: do evangelicals have a strong or weak doctrine of the church? How can we make the church better?

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Liberty--not judgment--for all

When was the last time you asked the butcher if the particular piece of beef you were looking to purchase had been sacrificed to idols? It’s been a long time for me. Since, well, forever. But that is the illustration Paul uses in Romans 14, when he is instructing the believers in Rome about how they are to love those who don’t agree. Some in the church believed it was fine to eat meat sacrificed to idols. Others believed it was a sin for them to eat such meat. Paul makes it clear that this issue falls squarely in the middle of the big pile of “non-essentials” that we as Christians sometimes argue over, and even break fellowship over, but should not do so. Our big pile of non-essentials today might include, for example, the question about whether it is acceptable for Christians to listen to secular music. For some, that would be a problem and their conviction is to never do it. How do you respond to someone on this issue if you disagree?

First, Paul says to accept one another, but not so you can quarrel with them. In other words, don’t embrace a brother who disagrees with you just so you can mount your argument and “put him in his place.” No, accept him where he is and leave it up to the Lord to change his heart and mind on the issue — or yours — if the Lord wants to do so.

Second, do not judge your brother on non-essentials. Which of you would enter a place of business, call an employee over to you, and say, “Why are you wearing those clothes? You shouldn’t be wearing that.” He might respond, “Uhh, because I work here, and this is what we are told to wear.” Paul asks, “Who are you to judge another’s servant?” Especially when the “another” is the Lord. Sometimes we feel compelled to correct someone on a nonessential issue because we somehow feel responsible to make sure they get it right. Eric Alexander said, “I will not have to answer (before God) for the position my brother may have held, but I will have to answer for the position I took on the position that he held.” That should make us all tremble.

Third, Paul says, “Let each be fully convinced in his own mind.” We are each called to seek the Lord and study his word to find our convictions about these non-essentials, knowing that they may change as we grow and mature in Christ. Paul was convinced in his own mind that he could eat any meat with no problem at all.

Paul had worked this out through his study of the Scriptures and had come to a freedom there. But he also knew that other sincere believers had not come to that place and were fully convinced in their own minds that they could not eat meat. So, Paul went on to say that his brother was more important than Paul’s freedom. In other words, the law of liberty is to always be controlled by the law of love. My brother is more important than my freedom. When someone says, “I can do anything I want. I can eat anything, drink anything, watch anything, read anything, because I am free,” that brother is possibly not walking in liberty controlled by love, but his liberty has become license.

When it comes to the essentials, Christians unite. When it comes to the non-essentials, Christians are called to give liberty — not judgment — to all.