Monday, February 24, 2014

5 Parting Shots From James 5

1. The words you use to respond to suffering or success are a reflection of your heart. Is your heart full of yourself? Do these experiences cause you to turn to God?

2. You can always choose to speak positively.

3. Setting ourselves apart for God's service is extremely difficult but extraordinarily important.

4. If you want to know what God's plan is for you, pay attention to how He answers your prayer.

5. Confession without repentance is like a Twinkie without the cream filling. It looks good on the surface but it's really just sticky and hollow.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

5 Reasons You Should Be More Generous

You can always give without loving, but you can never love without giving.  ~Amy Carmichael

1. God’s creation was GENEROUS. Instead of just creating a functional, mechanical world; He gave us an amazingly creative, colorful, complex yet simple world. The variety and beauty of creation is a constant reminder of God’s GENEROSITY.

2. The most beloved characters in the history of the world are those who were viewed as GENEROUS by their contemporaries.

3. The hero of every story is the one who GIVES AWAY for the good of others.

4. The best meal is one that is prepared by a GENEROUS chef (delicious is important, but useless if you only get two bites)

5. The single greatest act of all time was the GENEROUS gift of life, given to us by God through His Son, Jesus.

Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will repay him for his deed. 
- Proverbs 19:17

Saturday, February 22, 2014

5 Guidelines for Healthy Disagreement

Have you ever found yourself in a discussion with someone who refuses to listen or have a civil conversation? It doesn't matter if they are right or wrong, they don't convince anyone because of the manner in which they debate.

Sometimes we need to disagree with people. When those moments arrive, consider these 5 Guidelines for Healthy Disagreement:

1. Be Gentle, not harsh.

2. Listen well before you formulate your answer.

3. Weigh your answer, don’t immediately gush.

4. Give answers that reflect Scripture.

5. Don’t endlessly debate with a fool.

These guidelines came as the result of studying this topic in Proverbs. Below are some of the verses that helped inform these thoughts:

Proverbs 1:28 - “Then they will call to me but I will not answer; they will look for me but will not find me.

Proverbs 15:1 - A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

Proverbs 15:28 - The heart of the righteous weighs its answers, but the mouth of the wicked gushes evil.

Proverbs 18:13 - He who answers before listening— that is his folly and his shame.

Proverbs 18:23 - A poor man pleads for mercy, but a rich man answers harshly.

Proverbs 21:13 - If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out and not be answered.

Proverbs 22:21 - teaching you true and reliable words, so that you can give sound answers to him who sent you?

Proverbs 24:26 - An honest answer is like a kiss on the lips.

Proverbs 26:4 - Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be like him yourself.

Proverbs 26:5 - Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes.

Proverbs 26:16 - The sluggard is wiser in his own eyes than seven men who answer discreetly.

Proverbs 27:11 - Be wise, my son, and bring joy to my heart; then I can answer anyone who treats me with contempt.

Reading these verses is a challenge to me regarding my own skills in answering graciously. Especially after preaching about seasoning my “truth” tendencies with grace, I’m aware that this is an area I need to keep developing. I’ll continue working on answering THIS way, I hope you will to. Below are a few nuggets of wisdom I gleaned from these great verses:

Monday, February 17, 2014

9 Character Traits of God Worth Remembering

On Sunday, we talked about James' statement that God is "compassionate" and "merciful". Of course, He is also much more than that! Check out these thoughts from a prayer in Nehemiah 9 which remind us of several more of God's character traits. While you patiently wait for God to act on your behalf, use these to remind yourself that He is indeed compassionate, merciful and much more!

God is sovereign -- "You alone are the LORD"

God is faithful -- "You have kept your promise because you are righteous"

God is a savior -- "You divided the sea before them, so that they passed through it on dry ground, but you hurled their pursuers into the depths, like a stone into mighty waters."

God is a provider -- "In their hunger, you gave them bread from heaven, and in their thirst you brought them water from the rock"

God is forgiving -- "But they, our forefathers, became arrogant and stiff-necked, and did not obey your commands...But you are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love."

God is compassionate -- "Because of your great compassion, you did not abandon them in the desert."

God is generous -- "You made their sons as numerous as the stars in the sky, and you brought them into the land that you told their fathers to enter and possess."

God is long-suffering -- "But when they were oppressed they cried out to you. From heaven you heard them and in your great compassion you gave them deliverers, who rescued them from the hand of their enemies."

God is patient -- "And when they cried out to you again, you heard from heaven, and in your compassion you delivered them time after time."

God is merciful -- "in your great mercy you did not put an end to them or abandon them, for you are a gracious and merciful God."

If you read Nehemiah 9, you can match up each of the above attributes with one paragraph of the recorded prayer.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

10 Pieces of Advice for Every Young Person (and old person!)

I came across these tonight. They are from my study of 2 Timothy a few years ago when I was preparing for a Family Camp at Barakel.  They seem to be fairly relevant for today…

  • Don’t ever be ashamed of doing the right thing.
  • Don’t ever be ashamed of doing the thing God gifted you to do.
  • Don’t ever grow tired of doing the thing God gifted you to do.
  • Be very ashamed of following the wrong pursuits.
  • Be very ashamed of following the wrong people.
  • Finish the race.
  • When you are absolutely positive about who you are, it is no longer embarrassing to act like yourself.
  • If you are not content to let people think you are wrong, you will embarrass yourself by pursuing silly arguments.
  • Embarrassment for Christ’s sake is far better than popularity for my own sake.
  • A Christ-centered life will never bring me shame.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Just Sit Down and Let Jesus Do His Thing!

"Have the people sit down" (John 10:6)

This was Jesus' response to the disciples doubts about Christ's ability to feed the crowd.

Jesus had told his disciples to find enough food for more than 5,000 people who had come to hear Him teach. Andrew had found a small amount of food, but wasn't sure it would do much. The disciple's were stressed that they could never find enough food to feed everyone.

Jesus' simple response to have everyone sit down was all that was necessary.

Sometimes, we're so busy running around that we don't allow Jesus to do his thing. We are, like the disciples, doing everything we can do to "make things happen", but we don't realize that things will happen when HE MAKES THEM HAPPEN!

This command is a good reminder to us that it is good sometimes to simply sit and be patient.

Take some time to just sit down and allow God to do His work in you.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Learning Patience from Aaron Rodgers

Patience is a big theme in the Bible. We touched on it last Sunday, and we'll focus more on it this week. I wrote this nearly six years ago. Brett Favre was still a Packer. Turns out things worked out okay for that "discount double check" guy...

My advice for Aaron Rodgers?

Poison Brett Favre's food.

Just kidding.

I feel for Aaron. I really do. It would appear that the Green Bay Packer organization has made a decision that it is time for Rodgers to step up and replace Brett Favre. He's been waiting for this day patiently since he was drafted several years ago. After being a highly touted college QB, he's quietly taken the back-seat, watching, learning, waiting until it was his turn to shine. The coach and team executives have made it clear that the future rests in his hands, but it's been a long time coming.

Finally this year, Favre retired and Aaron prepared to take the reigns. Now it looks like he may have to wait again... and even if he doesn't, he's going to have the enormous pressure of justifying the team's decision to pass (pun intended) on another season of Brett.

Never mind that maybe Rodgers is better. Never mind that Favre is on the down-side of his career. Never mind that maybe the Packers as a team will be better with Rodgers running the show. Never mind how unfair it will be to compare Rodgers' 2008 season with Favre's career, perhaps the Packers know that Favre doesn't have enough left in the tank. Never mind all that. The simple fact is that this guy has waited patiently for something that was promised to him, and now just when it was within his grasp, he might have to wait some more.

My advice? Remember King David. He was anointed (like Rodgers) to be the future king, but had to wait years. While he waited he was chased around the wilderness by the sitting king who wanted him dead. When it finally looked like he was going to be king, he had to wait seven more years for Saul's son to lose the throne (and his head).

In the end, though, David's patience paid off. He eventually became known as the greatest king Israel ever knew. His throne was established forever.

I might be wrong on this, but I think Aaron Rodgers has a great career ahead of him. I think that the Packers know this and that is why they are okay not having a washed up Brett Favre anymore. But it may turn out that Aaron Rodgers has to wait one more year, and if he does he should look to the example of David.

And so should we.

We're all waiting for something (although sometimes the things we are waiting for are not necessarily the "right" things). While waiting, we would do ourselves a great favor to learn the patience of David. Those who cannot be patient, will become frustrated.

"But wait!" you say. "I am not like King David or like Aaron Rodgers. They've both been promised something, and so waiting is easy for them. It isn't so easy for me to wait, I don't even know if God is going to give me the thing I'm waiting for."

You want a promise? Try this:

being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

That's a better guarantee than Aaron Rodgers has. Whatever the good work God is doing in your life, he's going to finished. So that painful waiting you're experiencing is a result of being unfinished. The solution is not to try to finish yourself, but rather to be patient, to pay careful attention to what God is doing in your life, and to allow him to do his finishing work. He promises to complete it.

And if you need to be reassured, read 1 Samuel 16 - 2 Samuel 5. Consider what David had to endure while waiting for God to do his finishing work, and realize you probably don't have it as bad as you think.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Walking Dead is the Story of Us All

The Walking Dead is back!

For nearly four seasons the show about animated corpses who pursue only their most basic needs has ruled the cable airways.

This show is not for children. It is also not for those with a weak composition... But there is something in the Walking Dead that is worth considering...

We are all walking dead. Romans tells us that every person is dead in their sins, unable to pursue righteousness, slaves to our most base passions and desires. We are, in a sense spiritual zombies. We live and walk and talk, but we are most certainly dead.

But God, who is rich in mercy, has made us alive. Just as He breathed life into Adam and named Him "man", He has breathed life into us and named us "new man". No longer are we spiritual corpses, we have been clothed in righteousness and made heirs to the kingdom. We have been given the Spirit and the ability to desire and pursue that which is wholesome and right.

How does this happen? How are the dead raised to life? Through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. He is in the business of re-animating the spiritual zombies. He gives NEW LIFE!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Killing Jesus - Should Christian's Read It?

Bill O'Reilly is not the first person I would turn to for a theological exposition on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. However, his recent book, Killing Jesus, has soared to the top of the charts (#4 on New York Time's list as I am writing); so I felt it was probably worth a read.

Since I've spent a great deal of time on the road recently, I purchased the audible audio version and listened to the book (narrated by Mr. O'Reilly himself!). Perhaps the greatest compliment I can pay the book is to say that my son Liam enjoyed listening to it. As we loaded the car for an hours drive home, he asked if we were going to listen to more of the Jesus book. "It's pretty interesting" he said. If a freshman boy finds your writing "interesting", you've at least accomplished something.

I have a firm policy that I don't finish books which I'm not enjoying or which are not beneficial. I would rather start a new book that has potential than waste time finishing a book which has underperformed. I finished Killing Jesus. Even though, I knew how the story was going to end, O'Reilly's approach kept me engaged and I found myself enjoying his version of the greatest story ever told.

I was most pleased that O'Reilly used the biblical Gospels as source documents for his book. He clearly relied on many other sources as well, including all the Roman, Greek and Jewish authors which typically find their way into the writings of those seeking the "historical Jesus." However, O'Reilly blends these writings with the writings of the Gospels in a way that gives credence to the Gospels as a reliable source. In my opinion, this is the element of his book that makes it unique and worth the read.

O'Reilly does skirt around most of  Jesus' miracles (perhaps a necessity for anyone hoping to have their writings accepted as good "history"). His discussions of Lazarus include little mention of the resurrection, although he alludes to Lazarus' belief that he "owes Jesus his life." However, he acknowledges that the disciples certainly believed that Jesus' miracles were real; and he does nothing to suggest Jesus didn't perform miracles. When it comes to the greatest miracle of all, the resurrection, O'Reilly leaves it to the reader to decide, although, he does so in a way which Christians will appreciate.

I can't give this book my highest recommendation, simply because at times O'Reilly's description of the Roman sexual depravity is too nuanced and details. At one point, I had to fast forward because I felt the material was inappropriate for my son (and perhaps for me as well). Apart from that, I think this is one of the better attempts I have seen at describing the "historical Jesus."

Check it out.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Was Jesus God?

The Son of God movie will open in theaters February 28. Producer Roma Downey says this about the movie, “We hope audiences leave theaters feeling they know Jesus more and also that they are reminded of how deeply he loved us,” she said. “This is a big, epic sweeping film — an exciting movie and sometimes a tense movie with intense drama and real danger.”

Beginning in March, my teaching series will correspond to this movie as I'll be addressing "The Truth About the Son of God." I'm looking forward to this series in which I'll discuss the reliability of the Gospels, the significance of Jesus' teachings and why the resurrection matters. For now, I'll be occasionally posting some tidbits which introduce the topic...

Did the men who wrote the Bible believe that Jesus was actually God?

In the decades immediately following Jesus' ascension, it was a foregone conclusion among his followers that He was God. However, just as we don't randomly insert theological propositions into our letters and emails, the authors of the early books and letters which make up the New Testament didn't just insert creedal statements about the deity of Christ. They assumed it was understood by everyone.

It is not difficult to discern their opinion on this issue from a simple reading of their letters. Their strong belief that Jesus was God comes through clearly as you read their greetings, poems, and instructions.

  • Paul started nearly every one of his letters with the words, "Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." At the very least, he is insinuating some level of equality between God and Jesus. In the first chapter of Colossians, Paul identifies Jesus (not God) as the creator. Such a statement is a clear insinuation that the essence of Jesus is the same as the essence of God. In the following verses he states that Jesus is the fullness of God. It would be hard to not understand this as Jesus being God.
  • An even stronger Pauline statement regarding the deity of Christ comes in Philippians 2. In a piece of poetry, Paul clearly states that Jesus was, in very nature, God.
  • James, like Paul, opened his letter by alluding to an identifiable similarity between Jesus and God. He referred to himself as the "servant of God and the Lord Jesus Christ." Remember, James was Jesus' brother. He knew Jesus like very few did, he grew up with him. And he was still willing to view him on the same level as he did God. James' brother Jude makes a similar reference in the opening of his epistle.
  • The author of Hebrews cites similar thoughts to Colossians 1, when identifying Jesus as the creator and the exact representation of the Father.

While the earliest written books and letter make allusions to the author's belief that Jesus was God, the letters written later in the first century make even more clear statements regarding the deity of Christ. This likely has to do with the increased proliferation of various cults and heresies such as gnosticism.

  • 2 Peter 1 refers to Jesus as "God and Savior".
  • In his first epistle, John clearly states that the defining criteria for all teachers is what they believe about Jesus. 
  • In the final book of the new testament, John describes the scene in heaven where Jesus is worshiped by those singing, "holy, holy, holy is the Lord GOD Almighty."

Did the writers of the new testament believe that Jesus was God?

Yes, all of them, unequivocably.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

13 Books Every Christian Should Read

Every so often people ask me to recommend books to them. I know you haven't asked, but since you're here; I have a recommendation... Here are 13 books I think every Christian should read. They cover a wide variety of topics with a little added emphasis on the church, because, hey... you can't be a follower of Christ without the church!

1. The Bible. I know, that's a "duh", but you have to start somewhere.

2. Foundations of the Christian Faith by James M. Boice. This as good a theology book as is out there. It's readable, solid, and doesn't need to be ingested at once. You can break it up a little. It also won't be the last time Boice makes this list.

3. The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz. Not a Christian author and not a Christian book. But every Christian needs to come to grips with the type of individualism and materialism that is KILLING their souls. This book facilitates that!

4. The Radical Reformission by Mark Driscoll. This is a different Mark Driscoll than the one you know. This was young, humble, energetic Mark... before Mark was a big name. Even though Driscoll continues to churn out books every month, I still think this is some of his best work.

5. The Emerging Church by Dan Kimball. It's hard to believe a book written in 2003 can be dated already, but this one is. "Emerging" and "Emergent" have come to mean drastically different things than they did when Dan wrote this. But it's still a great book to help anyone understand cultural shifts (not trends) and how they impact the chuch.

6. Renewing Your Mind in a Mindless World by James Boice. Fantastic book based on Romans. Life-Changing if you let it.

7. The Three Big Questions for a Frantic Family by Patrick Lencioni. This is the only "leadership" type book you'll find on here because it's actually practical. In the West, we need to learn the value of slowing down and doing things on purpose, not just to do them. This book helps.

8. The Search to Belong by Joe Myers. This book will help you think about "biblical community" in a whole new way.

9. Nine Marks of a Healthy Church by Mark Dever. Sounds like a pastor's book, and it is. But non-pastors should read it to. Even if you don't completely agree with all nine marks (I don't), Dever's biblical application regarding the church will enrich you.

10. Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. Classic.

11. Christ's Call to Discipleship by James Boice. Yup, this is the third Boice book on the list. He's just that good.

12. The Stranger on the Road to Emmaus by John Cross. This is a great book for anyone who is trying to wrap their head around the big story of the Bible. Easily readable for ANYONE.

13. Outflow by Steve Sjogren. This is such a good book that I hate for it to be last on the list... So think of it as 13th of ALL books! It is a book of story telling and simplicity that will rattle your cage about living missionally!

Monday, February 3, 2014

The Two Questions Bill Nye and Ken Ham Need to Answer Tomorrow Night

Tomorrow night, Bill Nye the Science Guy will debate Ken Ham (Abraham Lincoln look-a-like) on the merits of Creationism as a scientific pursuit. "Is creation a viable model of origins?" will be the primary proposition of the debate. Tickets to see this event live sold out within an hour, but you can watch the debate live at The debate is scheduled to begin at 7pm (EST) and I believe and will also be carrying the debate live.

I am fascinated by the scientific community's response to this event. I would have assumed most scientists would relish an opportunity like this. I thought that people who believe they have the facts on their side would be excited to expose the alleged foolishness of Ken Ham's young earth creationism. I was wrong. Generally speaking, the scientific community is opposed to this debate and believes it to be a terrible idea.

Over the weekend, I have read article after article in which respected scientists voice their disapproval of this debate. Some are aggressively on the attack, making statements such as, "This debate is being held at the Creation Museum itself and this will ensure that the brain-dead creationist zombies come out in droves..." or "Creationists have no rules, their dishonesty stops nowhere. Nye will attempt to use proper science and reason to bring down Ham, but Ham will care little for any facts or evidence and will stick to nonsense and will feed on audience ignorance" (source: here). Others are less offensive, and simply argue that this is not a good idea for evolutionary science, "The conventional wisdom among evolutionary biologists is that they have much more to lose than to gain from Tuesday's face-off in Kentucky" (source: here)

The consensus does seem to be that true scientists should not engage in debates about creation, because this is a "settled" issue. Of course, this consensus is only held by those who espouse evolution as the only possible explanation for our universe's origins. These scientists are convinced that anyone who believes creation is a viable explanation of the universe's existence has simply not wrestled long enough with the facts.

This is, of course, the old "The only reason you don't agree with me is because you aren't smart enough to understand my argument" fallacy. It is illogical and arrogant.

I may or may not watch this debate. I am assuming very few people will reconsider their positions after watching it. I also am assuming very few new arguments will surface. I hope I'm wrong. I hope it is a helpful debate which allows people to have a healthy engagement with the issues. I think this could be possible, if each participant is willing to take a different-than-expected approach.

Will Bill Nye acknowledge his presuppositions?

The inauguration of our universe cannot truly be studied using the scientific method. The origin of the universe cannot be reproduced, nor was it observed. Therefore, any theory of origins must include some degree of assumption. Attributing the inception of the universe to "natural processes" requires the  assumption that certain physical processes have remained exactly the same for billions of years, while also assuming that certain biological processes have been randomly altered during the same time frame. Further, these assumed biological mutations cannot be proven as no scientifically verifiable data exists of these events.

Most scientists claim to be unbiased and to assume nothing. The truth is that all scientists, regardless of which side of  the origins debate on which they fall, begin with some assumptions. Their work always reflects those assumptions. Will Bill Nye be willing to acknowledge these assumptions and is he capable of making his argument from the foundation of his assumptions?

Will Ken Ham debate the right question?

Ham is an avowed proponent (as are many capable, intelligent, scientifically-minded Christians), of a literal six day creation. Unfortunately, sometimes his view of a very young earth leads him to over-emphasize the wrong questions in this debate.

Christians are divided as to how Genesis 1-2 should be read. However, this is really an in-house discussion which is less scientific and more hermeneutic and philosophical. Whether Genesis teaches a literal six day creation or whether it is a non-scientific, non-literal poem describing the creative act should be discussed in churches, small groups and over coffee.  One's view of this issue does impact their understanding of sin, of God's sovereignty, of man's nature, and more.

But it's not the debate which Ken Ham should have with Bill Nye.

Ken Ham needs to debate a far simpler question, "Is there a creator?"

More specifically, does the evidence suggest that the universe was more likely set in motion by an intelligent being or random forces?

I hope these men can have a profitable discussion. My guess is that they will not. I imagine they will both hit their talking points, they will further entrench the firmly-held beliefs of their followers, and they will both claim victory. But, perhaps I'll be wrong.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Starbucks and The Wisdom of James

"You can learn a lot more from listening than you can from talking. Find someone with whom you don't agree in the slightest and ask them to explain themselves at length. Then take a seat, shut your mouth, and don't argue back. It's physically impossible to listen with your mouth open."

-- John Moe, Radio host and author of Conservatize Me, From Starbucks cup #280

"My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry..."

-- James, Brother of Jesus and pastor in Jerusalem, From James 1:19

Saturday, February 1, 2014