Friday, February 27, 2009

Young Guns

It seems like we grow up slower these days. Now of course some folks do not, due to tragedies (parents die and the oldest sibling takes care of the younger ones). But by and large, we seem to grow up slower. Young adults are marrying later, having kids later (and there is nothing inherently wrong with this I don't think-I'm in this category). Yet sometimes this attitude carries over to the expectations young folks have for themselves, and of course the expectations leadership has for them.

That's why I think it is so imperative that we do all that we can to fight against an attitude that says, "When I get older, I'll do this or that." Why not do something great for Jesus' Kingdom at a young age?

Mark Driscoll, reflecting on Paul's admonition to Timothy "don't let anyone look down upon you because you are young.," lists some great examples of younger folks used greatly by Jesus to further His Kingdom. The point is not simply to challenge young folks, but to challenge all folks to start thinking about how they can be used by God now, and not later.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

I'm down on Brazil

About every other Herald article I write, someone contacts me via my blog, email, or church phone number. I always enjoy hearing from folks who've identified with, been touched by, or simply thought some more about what I've written.

Immediately after the article came out, a woman called and left a Voice Mail at the church. Apparently her grandson, who lives in Bradenton is going through just what
David Goldman is going through. His Brazilian wife took their daughter to Brazil and said, "I'm never coming back."

I talked to this woman for about 15 minutes and found out some details that saddened me even more. A minister in Brazil told another family member that this form of "kidnapping" actually happens a lot in Brazil. American babies are "in" over there.

Anyhow, she told me her grandson is a Christian. So he does know Someone who suffered the loss of His own child. It would be great though, if these two men (he and Goldman) could meet. How deep the fellowship these two could potentially have!

Sharks feeling the pinch too

In today's economy, everyone is feeling the pinch. Man and beast alike, and I'm not talking about pets. Even sharks have fallen "prey" to the economic downturn. Yep, shark attacks were down this past year, and it looks as if the economy is to blame. Check out this study put out by a University of Florida researcher. The only question is, how will they respond to the economic stimulus package?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Exchange Scenes

We had another discussion on The Reason For God this past Sunday in our Christian Ed. In chapter 12, Keller goes into some detail (although he does admit there is much more he doesn't elaborate on) on the need for the cross.

Many in his circles, which may or may not be those in your circles, have a problem with a loving God requiring a bloody sacrifice. And the sacrifice of His Son on top of that? Why couldn't he just forgive us if we're sorry?

Instead of simply stating immediately that God is also fully Holy, which He is, Keller begins with the common ground of love. In other words, "Since you already believe that God is a loving God, let me show you how the only way to really be loving (forgive sins/reconcile people) is the cross.

The chapter beautifully fleshes out how forgiveness always requires suffering for the one offering forgiveness, and that real love involves a costly exchange.

The loving costly exchange has been depicted in movies and literature throughout the years. One example Keller mentions is the exchange scene in Tale of Two Cities. We spent a few moments thinking of some examples as in Gone Baby Gone, Man on Fire. But one thing we noticed was that most of these exchange scenes involved a "bad" or normal person giving themselves for someone who was innocent.

It wasn't until after our discussion that we came up with a few examples of a "good" person giving him/herself for an unworthy guilty person. Gone in 60 Seconds depicts a semi-reformed car thief willing to give his life for an undeserving and ungrateful brother. That's getting closer.

My personal favorite exchange scene-though it is hard to take-is To End All Wars, where an innocent man gives himself up to die in the place of a murderer. These kind of exchanges more closely parallel the exchange of the cross, where Christ died for people who were at the time his enemies (Romans 5:8).

Can you think of any more exchange scenes that depict a "good" guy giving himself for a "bad" /guilty guy or gal? These are fewer in number for obvious reasons, but I'd love to know more out there. Please comment if you have any which come to mind.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Herald Article: A father's heartbreaking love for his son

Here's my latest Bradenton Herald Article. After some shoddy Herald editing jobs recently, Randy and I are getting the point: we need to do the editing ourselves. That's fine. Point well taken.

This one looks just like I intended it to look, with the exception of some extra periods here and there. So for those of who you don't read the Bradenton Herald, or who skip the Faith and Values section (although its pretty tough to skip when you see my goofy picture-it really is goofy, more than usual-on the top of the column), you may want to click
here to read it.

Friday, February 20, 2009

"Lost" in Spanish

Last night Amy and I sat down to watch the T.V. show "Lost." We've been a little confused lately about what's been going on in the show. Each episode seems to bring up more questions than answers. Last night only accelerated our confusion. Here's why.

We started the DVR (probably the best invention in the history of the world, or at least top 10) and saw the conclusion of the last episode (it always records about 2-3 minutes early). One of the new characters said something to the "bad" guy in Spanish. I thought, "Wow, I don't remember her speaking Spanish last time."

Then the commercial came. Then the new episode started. In Spanish. All of it. I'm really not sure how it happened, because we don't have any sort of language change capability. So needless to say, we're even more "lost" now than we were before. Watching it in Spanish didn't help.

This is probably how the gospel sounds to those whose eyes have yet to be opened. The gospel is like another language all together: everything is the very opposite of what one would expect (grace not merit, sacrificing to find joy, communal not strictly individualistic, etc....). Therefore the verbal proclamation of the gospel really needs to be accompanied by prayer from you and from others. Without the Spirit "translating" the message to the heart, the message will fall on "deaf" ears.

Now prayer is not a substitute for verbally sharing the gospel with our friends, families, neighbors, it is like a wing on a plane. Obviously we know what happens when a plane only has one wing.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Connar and the Bondage of the Will

Some folks would love to espouse how free they are. They are "free thinkers," may enjoy "free love," and don't want to sacrifice the "freedom" of not having to answer to anyone or any authority like the bible, or some sort of biblical accountability structure like elders. They believe they are completely free.

However, as our friend Bob Dylan sang, "You gotta serve somebody." We will always serve someone: ourselves, others approval, or God. So we will be a servant to someone. The question is who will we serve? Someone who has given himself for us (Gal 2:20) or someone selfish like ourselves?

I want to illustrate that folks claiming to so free really belie such freedom and show they are instead enslaved to their own desires.

In this video, you will see Connar leave one area of play only to go to another area to knock down a "tower" of cups. He HAS to do this. Every time he sees us set up cups, he HAS to come and knock them down. Now he does choose to do so. There is nothing outside him that makes him come to such cups. He is not coerced or even persuaded. He just sees them and HAS to act.

But is he really free? I would say he is responsible for his own choice to come. But if he HAS to come to the cups (this is the only choice he has ever made and will continue to make until something greater captures his heart), is he not in bondage to his own desires and will? I'm just borrowing from Martin Luther's terminology.

So he is free in some sense, but also a slave in another sense. I think most people who would say they are free are really just a slave to their own desires and trapped in bondage to their own will.

It will take SOMEONE outside to come in and do something in their hearts in order to break this bondage. Then they will inevitably freely choose Christ, because they can see how wonderful He is. That's what some folks have called "Irresistible Grace."

It is not just a "didactic" video. It is quite a cute one, if I do say so myself.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Monster from Lost and a screen saver

Last night we awoke to the sounds of Connar doing his "semi-cry." But that's not all we heard. There was a strange sound like air blowing out of an air tunnel mixed with a long sustained shriek.

We couldn't tell where it was coming from and it would only last about 5 seconds. It happened about every five minutes.

To be perfectly honest, it sounded like that smoke monster thing from the show "Lost." That show isn't based on a true story or anything, but let's just say we were "concerned." At about 3:30 am, we realized it was not in fact any sort of smoke monster, but the new laptop. Apparently the screen saver is on "audio-monster mode" or something. Instead of a picture, it just makes ghastly noises and shrieks.

After that we could rest soundly knowing that Connar, Amy, and I were safe from monsters (at least that one). Moral of the story: close all laptops at night unless you know they don't have some sort of audible screen saver.

Friday, February 13, 2009

"Me" Church

This is a funny video about a sad truth of selfishness and consumer mentality in the church. It was presented to me at the last two church planting conferences. There is nothing in specific which prompted this post, but I think it is always a good reminder that our hearts (especially mine) are prone to think selfishly. In addition, it's quite humorous and well done, and definitely worth your minute and twenty seconds.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Believing like Jesus did before doing like Jesus did

Every few Thursday mornings, I have the opportunity to lead a small group of 10th grade boys at Bradenton Christian School. Sometimes it really feels like work, and sometimes it feels play. Today was play-day.

We receive some sort of devotional to go through with the kids. The devotional is very well thought out and asks good application and diagnostic questions.

This week's devotion dealt with Jesus washing the disciples feet in John 13 from a more heavily behavioristic grid, methinks.

The point was that serving others is the way we demonstrate love. Great point and we need that constant reminder. The only problem was that the brief passage did not include verse 3:

"Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God"

Jesus believed he already had dignity and he would soon be glorified, so he was able to humble himself and wash dirty, nasty, stinky feet.
He wasn't doing something to get dignity; he believed He had it, and would experience the fullness of it again soon.

Some of the kids answers were tantamount to "be like Jesus." And in their defense, Jesus does say he is setting an example that they should do for one another (13:14). But there is a right belief that must precede action, otherwise we are putting the cart before the horse and hoping to move forward. It won't work and you could be bit in the butt.

We have to believe like Jesus (the the content is slightly different, since we weren't seated in the heavenly realms before coming to Earth), but Paul does tell us that somehow, even now, Christ has "seated us with him in the heavenly places (Ephesians 2:6)." We already possess the dignity we often seek by making others serve us. Therefore, if we truly believe like Jesus, we then can do like Jesus.

Some of the kids, who were quite garrulous, became quiet. One answered, "I've never heard it explained like that before." Hearing that was worth the price of admission. Work seemed like play.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A-Rod's Apology

If you listen to Sports Talk radio at all, you're aware that Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez admitted using performance enhancing drugs after the results of a 2003 drug test proved it. In an interview with Katie Curic, he had blatantly lied about not using them or even being tempted to use them in baseball.

Most fans are not accepting his apology. I heard an interesting "take" from one radio host who was really disgusted with his "apology." He had two comments I found quite helpful-and I added another-in "exegeting" A-Rod's "apology."

1.) Blame Game
A-Rod blamed his use of performance enhancing drugs on feeling the pressure of his 252 million dollar contract in Texas. Apparently playing in front of fans in New York who don't consider him a "real" Yankee doesn't bring as much pressure now? This host wanted to hear A-Rod say something to the effect of, "I wanted to hit more home runs and be better than everyone else." So many folks, including me, find it easier to blame others in some subtle way (the pressure from others) than to truly own our junk. I think he simply wanted to perform at a higher level. Isn't that the reason all athletes take roids? Can't they just say that?

2.) Particulars
There really wasn't anything specifically he really apologized for. He didn't even say "steroids." It was very generic. I think this talk show host wanted something a little more like the Westminster Confession 15.5

"Men ought not to content themselves with a general repentance, but it is every man's duty to endeavour to repent of his particular sins particularly."

3.) The Truth
In a relativistic world, it does seem many folks (at least many sports fans) really do want to know the truth, and expect the truth from others. They are in a sense "owed" the truth and are outraged when it is withheld from them. Now when it comes to telling the truth themselves, well that is a different story. But from others, the truth still matters because we're made in the image of God and He cares about the truth.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

A Deutero Isaiah?

At first thought, it would appear that basketball legend (well at least while he was playing and shortly after retiring; everything he's touched since then has gone the way of the typewriter) Isaiah Thomas has gone back to school and is turning heads at the University of Washington.

But some common sense would tell you that it is possible two people can have the same names, and in fact be two different people. Though this was hard for some folks in a small town in South Carolina to imagine (in their defense, you just don't see this in town's populated by only 10,000 folks), it really isn't that hard to believe if you think about it. These are in fact two totally different unrelated Isaiah Thomas'.

One might think, "Oh, Isaiah (the freshmen) Thomas must have had a Dad who was a big Detroit Piston's fan." Nope, very much the opposite is the case. In fact, his father is a huge L.A. Lakers fan. But he lost a bet back when the Pistons were playing the Lakers in the NBA finals; the Lakers got swept. Now he would have to name is son Isaiah (his last name was already "Thomas" so no change required there), the star player for the Pistons.

Getting a barbed wire tatoo around your biceps thinks that's a bad idea. Sports Talk show host Jim Rome felt the father should have taken the punishment himself for his stupid actions. He should have changed his own name. Why make the kid pay for it? Seems like a case of the sins of the father coming down on the children.

Fortunately Jesus interrupts the cycle and saves me not simply from my sin, but the sin of my father, and first father Adam. My generational debt before God has been canceled. Fortunately.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Widow Joy

A few weeks ago, Amy and I visited one of the widows in our church (this by the way is my Grandma-all the "widow" pictures on google images were way freaky looking). We did it because God tells us that He cares about such people and visiting them is a non-negotiable (James 1). More specifically each community group takes responsibility to watch over a widow or two so that none fall through the cracks, and I hadn't been doing the greatest job as a leader. We spent about 45 minutes talking and listening-more listening than talking-and had an absolute blast. She blessed us just as much as we blessed her. Amy, Connar, and I will definitely be back.

So what's my point? I can't fix stuff. Another church member has provided that kind of support for her; he's the man. But I can listen, and I have a wonderful wife and a really cute kid, so I try to put my best feet forward. Giving of yourself and time, even it's something as simple as visiting a widow or fixing her stuff, can provide more joy than anything else you do. Perhaps more joy than bringing in a big redfish-though I hope to do that again soon....

Thursday, February 5, 2009

A Sainter

We've been discussing Tim Keller's The Reason for God in our Christian Ed hour after church. The last two weeks we've explored the personal and communal evidences of the effects of sin.

The lad leading our discussion asked us how we think the folks around us view their own human nature. Do they view themselves as naturally good? Are they like John Locke and believe we are a blank slate, and neutral until outside influences move us to lean more toward good or evil? Or do they see themselves as naturally prone to evil (original sin)? Do they view themselves as sinners or as simply good people?

These are good questions to think through. If you don't know how someone would answer, you probably don't know them well enough to effectively contextualize the gospel. As I write this, I'm realizing how I really need to get to know folks more deeply. At an individual level, I definitely need to spend time asking better questions and listening more.

But on a general level, what I've seen people espouse about their relation to status before God is this: they believe themselves neither a sinner nor a saint. Instead it's more of a hybrid. Kind of like a "sainter." They're not perfect, but neither are they bad enough to label themselves a sinner and need a bloody death on a cross to save them.

Unfortunately there is no hybrid third category of "sainter" and we all need the cross just as much as the one next door or next continent. But the good news of the gospel is that Christians are the same time sinners and saints (declared righteous before God). Either we are a sinner and saint, or we are simply a sinner. There is no "sainter."

Ghana, baby, Ghana

I got back from a 4 day long church planting conference in Orlando last Friday. It was a great opportunity to get some training, see a few familiar faces, and to network with some other like minded people. There were folks from nearly 20 different denominations, 37 states, and one dude was even from Ghana.

His name was Prosper (but he wasn't about Health and Wealth) and he spoke about the work of church planting in his own country, and how they were using the same materials. Since I hate generic impersonal prayers (I can only pray generically for so long before I just quit), I asked him how we could pray for him.

Amy and I pray every Saturday night for persecuted Christians and those scattered throughout parts of the world we often neglect to think about. But sometimes our prayer time can become generic like "please protect believers from persecution" (well not that generic, because I"m a bit more creative, but close to that). I can only keep that up so long.

I was expecting him to give me some info on persecution, but he really informed me of the more realistic Islamic threat. In Ghana, Christians are free to preach the gospel and assemble. At the same time, Muslims have been coming in from the North (not Yankees, their north) and have been witnessing Christians switching to the "dark side."

None of these conversions happen due to persecution but rather to temptation. Let me explain. Christian women have been faced with hard choices. Either have little or no money and wonder who will take care of you, or become a second, third, or fourth wife of a wealthy Muslim.
In additions, Muslims will build wells and give money to folks in order to build mosques there. Gotta love those guys.

The security that comes from money has been the major idol in their land. We're so wealthy here in America, that we can hold on to the same idol but keep going to church. Thus the idol is a little less obvious here in the States, but certainly just as prevalent and every bit as dangerous. That and polygamy isn't exactly legal here.

Anyhow, in case you were wondering how you could pray SPECIFICALLY for Ghana, or Africa in general, this one is "on the house."

Monday, February 2, 2009

Geoff and Jeff's 62nd Annual Super Bowl Fish Fry

There were some big pre-Super Bowl parties this year. Some athletes, play-mates, entertainers, and musicians hosted 500 dollar a head (for the cheapest ones) shindigs. But no party had the A-listers like Jeff and Geoff's 62 Annual Super Bowl Fish Fry.

Having to participate in youth Super Bowl parties the last several years, I was unable to throw one myself. Until this year. A fishing buddy of mine approached me about doing some sort of fish fry Super bowl Party at my house because his apartment was too small.

Let me get this straight. You'll help me recruit others to come to my house to eat fish and watch football? A no-brainer. I live for hospitality.

So he and I invited some of our paddle-fishing forum buddies. There were about 7 or so kayak fisherman, plus a friend from my church (had to be a fisherman). That number, like Jesus feeding of the 5000, does not include women and children. Some brought wives, kids, and a girlfriend.

My co-host Jeff was an ex-cook (or should I say former-he still cooks?), so I put him in charge of frying the fish. All of the trout and redfish were harvested by one person since everyone else had trouble catching keeper sized trout. I stuck to frying french fries and hush puppies.

Even though it was B.Y.O.B., no one got out of hand and everyone had a good time. Connar didn't want the party to end because some of the kids entertained him the whole time.

Of course the down side of a fish-fry is that we woke up to the smell of fried fish this morning. Yet by the afternoon we were fully cleaned up and mostly "fish free" until we heated up the left-overs. All in all, an awesome night. All had a good time. All knew I was a pastor. Hopefully all left with a better picture of Christianity. Hopefully one day Jesus, the great party crasher, will crash theirs.

I totally recommend taking a step of faith and hosting one of these parties yourself. Or like my friend Jeff did to me, recommend a friend to take the step and co-host one.

Click on the pictures to get a better look at the party. Definitely click on the one with Connar and the fried shrimp.