Black activists feel abused by the Democrats

Have you seen this? The Democrats have had a stranglehold on black voters for years, which doesn’t make a lot of sense since the Entitlement state has done so much damage to black families and communities. This result was inevitable. In 2008, Democrats controlled the House, the Senate, and the Presidency, with the most liberal president in a generation, who also happened to be black. If there was ever an opportunity to showcase a liberal Utopian vision, this was it.

And this is the result.

Power vs. Weakness

Jesus once said to the Apostle Paul that “my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). This principle is the central paradox of the Christian faith: God’s power works through human weakness. Paul goes on to say, “therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”

Yet at the same time, the Bible repeatedly asserts that human beings have real authority over all creation (Gen 1:28), in marriage (Eph 5:22-24), in parenting (Eph 6:1-4), in government (Rom 13:1-8), over demonic spirits (Luke 10:20), and in the church (Heb 13:17). Exercising authority is exercising power, yet we are simultaneously called to a life of weakness. How can this be?

Definitions are important, and in this case we need to understand what weakness means. Weakness is not the same as being passive, a push-over, timid, indecisive, ignorant, or unprepared. Many people fall into the trap of thinking that sitting around and doing nothing is what God wants them to do. This is not the weakness Jesus calls us to but rather putting God to the test. God calls his people to be people who exercise authority by taking bold and courageous action. We are simultaneously called to power and weakness. The weakness Christ calls us to is trusting God to work through our deficiencies. It is taking action with an utter dependence on God’s power to work through you.

In other words, Jesus taught Paul that true effectiveness in ministry is not derived from human wisdom or human power, but rather on God’s wisdom and power (1 Cor 1:18-25). God reminded Paul of his utter dependence on Him by weakening him physically in some way (Paul called it a thorn in his flesh). Yet God still told Paul to continue preaching, studying, preparing, working, traveling, disciplining, and writing. Paul put forth maximum effort, but his ultimate trust was not in his own abilities, but a deeper trust in God’s power to work through him.

I once knew a Christian missionary who decided that his fundraising strategy would be to sit in his room for a month and pray and trust God to provide. This sounds holy, spiritual and filled with faith, but it was his hyper-spiritualized way to avoid his fear of picking up the phone and putting in the hard work of support raising. Needless to say, he never reported to the mission field.

For many Christians, this verse can become an excuse for sitting on the sidelines and not doing anything while holding the spiritual trump card of “trusting God.” That’s not God’s power through weakness, that’s just laziness. God’s power through weakness is trusting God through your fears, your doubts, your insecurities, your failures, and your ignorance — and yet still taking bold action, trusting that even though you’re weak God will do something for his glory through you.

How will you trust God, in spite of your weaknesses, fears and failures, to still take bold action and believe Him to work through you?

The Bible’s Instruction Manual for Parents

A few weeks ago at my church, I concluded a preaching series called Father Hunger. This series was about how God is the true Father and all Fatherhood is a reflection of his ultimate love and authority.

The final sermon of the series (The Father’s Legacy) focused on how dads need to do more than merely protect and provide for their kids, but instill a biblical worldview in their hearts (Deut 6:4-9). In Ephesians 6:4, Paul says “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (ESV).”

The word for “discipline” here is important. It means much more than merely keeping kids in line through various disciplinary methods. The Greek word here is “paideia,” which does not have direct English counterpart. It is also translated “training” in the NIV and “nurture” in the KJV. To bring up a child in the paideia of the Lord is to instill in him or her a biblical worldview; not merely a few Bible stories, some rules, and some memory verses, but to help children see everything through a biblical understanding of things.

The Bible presents us with a complete understanding of everything: our origins (Creation), what’s gone wrong with the world (Fall), what God has done to address sin in the world (Redemption), and where all this is headed (Judgement/New Creation). God’s purposes are integral to everything and it is important for Christians to see everything through the lens of God’s work in the world.

So, then, where do we begin? The starting point is the gospel of Jesus Christ, where we all see that salvation is a matter of God’s gracious work to transform us by the cross and not our moral effort. But certainly, the gospel does not exclude morality, the gospel empowers morality. Within the framework of God’s saving work in the hearts of children, they also learn God’s character and how to live life through good training on Christian morality.

The first seven chapters of Proverbs is like an instruction manual for parents, showing the various topics of discussion and instruction that parents can instill in their children. These chapters ring continually with this and similar refrains, “hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching (1:8).” Several times through these chapters, the phrase “my son” appears and introduces a new topic.

I’ve made a list of the various topics from these verses to get a sense for the sort of instruction that is needed to give children a biblical worldview. This is not a comprehensive list of everything to teach children, but can give parents direction in where to begin.

Important practical life lessons

  1. Honor father and mother by listening to and obeying their counsel (1:8).
  2. Have good friendships who will be a good influence (1:10).
  3. Get along with others and avoid violence (1:11).
  4. Do not resist discipline but learn from it (3:11-12).
  5. Show justice and fairness to others  (3:27).
  6. Always tell the truth (3:28).
  7. Do not plan to do harm to someone else (3:29)
  8. Keep your focus on what’s most important (4:25).
  9. Settle financial disputes quickly before they turn ugly (6:1-5).
  10. Work hard to provide for yourself and your family (6:6-11).

Important lessons in sexual morality

  1. Don’t listen to a seductive woman (5:3).
  2. Don’t put yourself in situations where you’ll be tempted towards sexual immorality (5:8).
  3. The consequences of sin are painful and long lasting (5:9-14).
  4. Find sexual fulfillment (and lots of it!) in your wife (5:15-19).
  5. Don’t entertain sexual fantasies and lust (6:24-35).
  6. Guard yourself against all forms of temptation (7:1-21).
  7. Sexual sin is extremely destructive (7:21-23).

A good practice for parents would be to read through Proverbs 1-7 over and over and allow these verses to help instill a biblical worldview in your own heart so you can pass them down to your children.

Thoughts on my 40th birthday

I turn 40 today.

That means, 40 years ago I was doing this. I’m the one in the diaper.

My original birthday

My 30’s have evaporated in a fog and now they’re gone. I remember being a kid and having my parents’ friends over at my house for someone’s 40th birthday party. Black balloons. Over-the-hill hats. “That seems like a lifetime away,” I thought to myself. No, only about 30 years away, as it turns out.

As I saw this day approaching, like watching a ominous clouds hovering in a dark sky, I thought I’d be curled up into a ball and spending the day binging on junk food, watching Meryl Streep movies, and crying myself to sleep. So far, that hasn’t happened, but I did enjoy watching Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure on Netflix yesterday.

Strangely, I feel great. Better than I would have thought I would feel, now that I’ve been breathing air for four decades. I do still have bouts of depression from time to time, but God has blessed me immeasurably. My wife, Laura, and I have been married for 15 years. We have four beautiful children together, and I love being the lead pastor of Christ the King Church. There’s much to be thankful for.

IMG_2206
My four kids (and one of our neighbors who hangs out with us all the time)

I suppose each decade of my life has a theme. I spent my 20’s trying to figure out who I was and the sort of person I wanted to be. I worked at a bunch of different jobs, clawed my way out of debt, married up to the most amazing woman, and decided to go into ministry.

In my 30’s I settled into a few distinct roles and focused on them. I became a father for the first time at age 30. I went to seminary, worked in college ministry, helped plant Fellowship Church in Louisville, and moved to Cincinnati at the age of 34 to start Christ the King Church. I’ve now settled into the work that I expect I’ll spend the rest of my life doing: being a missionary to Cincinnati by planting more churches in this city.

William Borden was a dedicated Christian missionary to China. After he died, these words were discovered written into the back of his Bible: “No reserve. No retreat. No regrets.”

If there’s a particular theme I’d like to have for my 40’s, I’d take it from Micah 6:8: “do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with [my] God.” I want to focus on the things that are most important, not necessarily the things that are most urgent. And I want to live it with all my might. I want to enjoy the people and the work God has given me and serve Him faithfully until the end.

I don’t feel old. But old is coming whether I want it to or not. So I want to make every day count.

I can’t help being pensive around such a milestone. Four decades of life on this earth. Blessings too numerous to count. I’m thankful to God, my wife, my children, the rest of my family, and my church for all the ways my life has been enriched by all of you. I am truly and deeply blessed.

Another voice

I started this blog about 8 years ago in 2006 while I was in seminary and working for CRU at the University of Louisville. When you’re in a ministry vortex like that, you’ve got a lot of thoughts and opinions that need to get worked out and this blog was my venue.

But then, four children and a church plant happened. Life got crazy and blogging took a back burner for a long time. Since then, many other gifted writers, pastors, and theologians have started excellent blogs and I didn’t sense a burning need to add anything to the online discussions. There were simply too many other more pressing priorities that demanded my attention.

Recently, however, I have sensed a desire to publish my thoughts on theology, church ministry, and current events from time to time because God has given me a platform as a pastor and ministry leader in Cincinnati. Sometimes ideas presented in sermons need further development and this will be the venue for that.

So welcome back to this blog, it’s been a while. But hopefully adding another voice will be fruitful and not simply be more noise.

23 Life Changing Rock Solid Promises of Scripture

Paul argues in Galatians 4 that Christians are the true Sons of Abraham because we share the faith of Abraham. God made promise to Abraham to bless the entire world through his offspring. Abraham didn’t know the whole story; he trusted God for the revelation God had given him at that time.

But now, in Christ, we are able to see all the full grandeur of God’s redemptive promise that he initiated through Abraham. We share the faith of Abraham, but we cling to better promises (Hebrews 8:6), built on a better sacrifice (Hebrews 9:23), and provides for us a better possession (Hebrews 10:34) as we await a better life (Hebrews 11:35) and a better destiny (Hebrews 11:16).

This following list is the content of that better promise provided for us by Jesus Christ. God’s promise to Abraham was a shadow of the things to come; but here are 23 life-changing, rock solid promises of the New Testament that we have to hope in.

  1. God loves you (Galatians 2:20).
  2. God chose you before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4).
  3. God knows you and you know God (Galatians 4:9).
  4. God has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing (Ephesians 1:3).
  5. God set his affection on you and adopted you into his family (Ephesians 1:5).
  6. God is Our Father (Matthew 6:9).
  7. God has redeemed us from all sin: all past sin, present sin, and future sin (Ephesians 1:7).
  8. God is also sanctifying us from sin (Ephesians 1:4; 1 Corinthians 6:11).
  9. God has united all of us together as a family; we are members of one another (Ephesians 2:14, 4:25).
  10. God has made us together the temple of his Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16).
  11. God has given us direct access to him; we can boldly come before Him (Hebrews 4:16).
  12. God will never condemn you because Jesus was condemned for you (Romans 8:1).
  13. God will never leave you; he will never forsake you (Hebrews 13:5).
  14. God has given you his Holy Spirit as a guarantee that he will bring his promise to final fulfillment (Ephesians 1:14).
  15. God works all things together for your highest good and his highest glory (Romans 8:28).
  16. God has created you for good works; you are his workmanship (Ephesians 2:10).
  17. God has set you free to pursue a radical life of love and service to God and others (Galatians 5:13-14).
  18. God will complete the good work he started in you; he will never give up on you (Philippians 1:6).
  19. God’s hand of discipline on us may be painful at times, but he loves us enough to correct us (Hebrews 12:6-8).
  20. God has made you a citizen of heaven (Philippians 3:20) and he is preparing a place for you there (John 14:2).
  21. God will greet you in death, because death is not the end, nor is it something to dread, because “to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21-26).
  22. God has crushed the power of death through Jesus Christ; death is swallowed up in victory (1 Corinthians 15:54).
  23. God has planned all this from the beginning, for “from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” (Romans 11:36)

Thirteen Ways to Diagnose Fear of Man

In last Sunday’s sermon, we talked about thirteen different ways to identify Fear of Man in your life. I drew heavily upon this list and also added some of my own.

#1. You frequently think about what other people are thinking about you.

#2. You long to be noticed more than you long to be godly.

#3. You get angry if you are ever publicly contradicted.

#4. You flatter other people with words in order to be liked by them.

#5. You rarely confront sin in others directly.

#6. You think about what’s politically correct more than what’s biblically correct.

#7. You love to cite your own accomplishments.

#8. You have a hard time saying what you really think, which prevents you from getting close to people.

#9. You prematurely terminate conflicts by yielding, withdrawing, or changing the subject.

#10. You frequently put yourself down in order to get other people to give you encouragement.

#11. You have a hard time saying “no” even when you should.

#12. You  fear that conflict in a relationship signals that the relationship is ending.

#13. You use texting or email as a preferred means of confrontation.

These are all indicators that some degree of Fear of Man is going on in your life.

Is this Gossip?

Two Kinds of Gossip

There are two ways to gossip. We can gossip with things we say or with things we listen to other people say. Both are participating in gossip.

But the Bible does not forbid talking about other people. There are numerous instances in the New Testament where people are called out by name because their sin has affected other people and those actions were reported to church leaders. A great example is Philippians 4, where a conflict between Euodia and Syntyche was permanently canonized in scripture because someone talked to Paul about it.

So we need some way to diagnose our words and our motives in order to gain wisdom about what gossip is. The questions below reveal that most of the things we say about other people are harmful rather than helpful.

Gossip through Speaking

  • Will I help or hurt the person’s character by repeating this information?
  • If I talk about this, am I doing unto others what I desire to be done unto me?
  • Even if the information is true, am I improving the situation by talking about it?
  • Will anyone be edified if I repeat this information?
  • What is my motive for telling it? Am I really seeking to build or destroy?
  • Is the information true? Is there any basis for it? Is it rumor or innuendo?
  • Is the information about something which the other person has repented of? (if so, leave it alone).
  • Am I promoting unity by talking about this?

Gossip through Listening

  • Am I enabling the sin of gossip in another person by giving audience to them?
  • Will I feel better towards the one being talked about by hearing what is spread by a gossiper?
  • Am I assisting the character of the person speaking to me by allowing them to talk about this?
  • Am I convinced that the person speaking to me truly desires unity and love for the other person they are talking about?
  • Has the person speaking to me already approached the one being spoken about?
  • Even if they have, does that excuse this conversation?
  • Who is being drawn more to Christ as a result of this conversation?

Proverbs 18:19 warns, “A brother offended is more unyielding than a strong city, and quarreling is like the bars of a castle.” If you are speaking gossip or listening to gossip then you are fortifying walls of distrust in other people.

Don’t do that.

(This post is connected to the Christ the King Church series on the biblical book of James called Wisdom. You can download the sermon “Taming the Tongue” here.

 

One of the hardest verses in the Bible

There is an apparent contradiction between two verses in the Bible.

James says, “A person is justified by works and not by faith alone” (James 2:24).

Paul says, “One is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (Romans 3:28).

Although they appear contradictory on the surface, a closer examination of how James and Paul are using words shows that they are talking about two different things.

Both James and Paul (and Jesus, for that matter!) argue forcefully that saving faith will always result in a changed life; a life that is characterized by good works. But Paul and James are referring to two different things when they use the word “justified.” Paul uses the word “justified” to refer to the declaration of a person’s initial pardon at the moment of his conversion. James uses the word “justified” to refer to the final accounting of a person’s life before God on the last day.

James argues that any faith that does not produce good works is only a superficial faith. It is not real. It is a “dead” faith (James 2:14), he even says a faith that doesn’t produce good works is demonic (James 2:19). James is not saying, however, that we need to perform good works in order to be saved. The kind of faith that actually saves us is a faith that changes us and produces spiritual fruit in our lives.

Consider it this way: if a person goes through the spiritual motions of “getting saved” but is not moved to care for people in need, be more generous, experience some degree of joy and thankfulness in Christ, then what good is that kind of faith? Sobering question.

But James is not the only one who says these sorts of things. The Apostle Paul wrote similar things in the book of Titus. He says that some people “profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work” (Titus 1:6). He calls them “empty talkers” in Titus 1:10. People whose faith is nothing more than a religious accessory to round out the image of a balanced life. In Titus 3:8, Paul tells another Pastor, Timothy, this: “I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believe in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people.”

Perhaps the most striking words come from Jesus himself, who said “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits (Matthew 7:19).”

James cites two examples to make his case: Abraham (Jew) and Rahab (Gentile). Both of them believed in God’s saving power, and they demonstrated their faith by incredible acts of faith. In Genesis 22, Abraham believed so strongly in God’s promise to provide him with a family, he was willing to allow his own son to die because he believed that God could even raise the dead. Rahab, who was a Gentile prostitute believed God to save her by putting her own life at risk to protect two of God’s people.

James cites these acts of faith to show that true, saving faith is lived out in every day life. When James says that “Abraham was justified by works” in James 2:21, he is saying that Abraham’s works proved in the end that his initial, saving faith was real. God did not justify Abraham because Abraham did some great work. Rather, Abraham’s faith in God was proven genuine by his works.

Consider this. Suppose a man is arrested and placed on trial for burglary. In the course of the trial, this man is able to present clear evidence that he was innocent of the crime, and he was acquitted by the judge. The man could say that the verdict justified him because he was an innocent man. But the judge could say the evidence justified him because the evidence proved he was actually innocent. The man sees his justification in terms of his actual innocence of a crime. The judge sees his justification as having been proven by evidence.

The same is true for James and Paul. Paul sees our “justification” as a declaration that God views us innocent and perfect in Christ and given new life. James sees our “justification” as the evidence of that new life demonstrated by our good works.

Thus James and Paul do not contradict each other. They are both describing different things using the same word. And both James and Paul agree that we are saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ, and that faith changes us and produces good works in us.

Simple Advice for Bible Reading in 2012

I have read through the Bible several times over the past few years and have found a couple of things helpful.

1. Use a Reading Guide to track your progress.

Pretty much all you need to know can be found right here. Here is the plan that I like to use.

2. Choose a readable translation.

Here’s a good rule of thumb: Bible reading is different from Bible study. My favorite translation for Bible study is the ESV. But when I’m trying to read large chunks of Bible at once I like to use other translations that are easier to read. Here are a few good ones: New International Version (NIV), New LIving Translation (NLT), Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB).

I use the ESV for preaching, but I’m going to be reading the NLT for my personal Bible reading time this year.

3. You won’t understand everything. It’s easy to breeze through Genesis and then get bogged down once you get to a bunch of laws about food and genealogies. That’s OK. Keep pressing on through the tough parts and don’t get discouraged.

Some Christians get spooked when they read the Old Testament because it seems to them like God is harsh or even unloving at times. When you get to these parts of the Bible and you wonder, “why did God tell his people to kill those other people?,” remember that God’s character is most fully displayed in Jesus Christ, who gave his life for his people rather than taking life from others. When you see something in the Old Testament that gives you pause, be reassured that God’s full plan of redemption is life giving and centers on Jesus.

4. Budget enough time. You can’t do this in 15 minutes a day. It’ll take about 30 minutes a day or more, but it will be worth it!

5. Don’t be legalistic about keeping pace. If you have to miss a few days, don’t worry about it. If you miss a week or two, don’t worry about it. Just use the checkboxes to track your progress and don’t quit just because you’re not keeping track with the dates.

Ok, I hope this helps. Happy Bible reading in 2012!