Friday, December 14, 2012

Unbearable News: Evil Is Still Around

Today, I heard via social media about an elementary school shooting in Connecticut and that many 5 year olds and teachers had been killed while at school.  I immediately searched on the internet only to find pictures of men and women, mommies and daddies, that look like the many mommies and daddies that I know, with looks of terror in their eyes wondering whether or not they would ever talk to their child again.

Details are still coming out.  But it seems that an evil and wicked man decided to kill his mother, staff workers and little children in a fit of anger and rage.  The gun control talks will flare up and die down once again, and the question of "why" will once again flood the nation and even the world.  We will look for answers and we will fall short again.

I read one Pastor's tweet that said, "Evil" and "Wicked" are words that we must keep in our vocabulary.  I can't agree more.  As I write, my heart is broken, anger stirs inside of me, and I cringe at the brokenness of the world that we live in.  Humanity has tried desperately to be good.  We don't want to call anything evil or wicked these days.  We live in a pluralistic culture that subscribes to a philosophy that is completely unsustainable.  Our philosophy that all roads lead to heaven, that all gods are good gods, that all religions or belief systems are equal, that all people are born with a good spark in them, that each of our thoughts no matter how inferior they are in their thinking to other thoughts are important, that everything we have to say is important, is a philosophy straight from the pits of hell.  Not all thoughts are equal.  Not all philosophy is equal.  Certainly not all gods stand on equal ground.  Some ideas are righteous and others are not.  Evil and wicked must stay in our vocabulary because without them we don't understand the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ and our need for Jesus Christ.

I remember when President George W. Bush called terroristic nations the "axis of evil."  The response was mixed.  It sounded strange for a modern day President to accuse anyone of being "evil."  Some still make fun of that declaration to this day.  But the truth of the matter is that days like today show us that evil is very much alive in our world today.  There are wicked men and women who do wicked things.  Today, a wicked and evil man committed a wicked and evil act.  There is no other way to dress it up.  It is senseless and diabolical.

All roads do not lead to heaven.  Pluralism cannot be sustained in a world where evil and wickedness exist.  A world full of humanity can never extinguish evil.  A world redeemed by Jesus is the only world where wickedness has no place.  So wickedness and evil will remain until Jesus, who wept with us, comes back, reconciles this world, destroys all that is evil and keeps all that is good.  Today is a day where I want Jesus to come back as King more than ever.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Giving Thanks for the President

So the election is over.  For many, their dreams are literally shattered, their anxiety has increased and fear will continue to rule their lives.  Fear of immorality.  Fear of debt.  Fear of the government.  I believe that on election nights in America if you listen hard enough you can hear the sounds of idols crashing down.  It seems that for a time, many will put their hope and their dreams and their worship into an idea, an ideal, a country, a leader, a man.  Let me ask a question - what does your dream country look like?

 Have you put your hope in moral reform and "Christian values?"  Would your mission be complete or even on target if your candidate (Mormon or not) had been elected and cleaned up the streets, cleaned up the debt, and cleaned up the moral fabric of our great country?  Do you think that God's rule depends upon the election of a candidate?  Dr. Michael Horton writes, "What would things look like if Satan really took control of a city? Over half a century ago, Presbyterian minister Donald Grey Barnhouse offered his own scenario in his weekly sermon that was also broadcast nationwide on CBS radio. Barnhouse speculated that if Satan took over Philadelphia (the city where Barnhouse pastored), all of the bars would be closed, pornography banished, and pristine streets would be filled with tidy pedestrians who smiled at each other. There would be no swearing. The children would say, “Yes, sir” and “No ma’am,” and the churches would be full every Sunday . . . where Christ is not preached."  It doesn't matter if our country is morally sound if Christ is not preached.  I really, honestly and whole-heartily believe that if just as many Christians were captured by the Gospel as they are by their favorite news station that the Gospel would be explosive.

I am quite certain that many Christians would agree that the Gospel is the most important issue.  But I wonder if our rhetoric, our discussions and debates and our passions really reflect the importance of Christ preached above all things.  I recently heard a pastor say that we are all intrinsically evangelists.  We love to talk about the things that we are passionate about.  We say things like, "I just saw the greatest movie ever!  You must see it!"  "I went to the best restaurant in the world!  You must go there!"  "My political party has all of the answers and will keep our country from being ruled by demons, barbarians and Satan himself!  You must vote for him!"  We are all heralding news.  The news we are called to herald is not that a president can keep us from harm, but that Jesus Christ was harmed even unto death in order to keep us from eternal harm.  Does your dream country include the Gospel going out to all people and changing hearts and lives?

Second, do you believe that God is truly sovereign.  And I don't mean the kind of belief that says, "I know God is sovereign but I am angry, fearful, and unwilling to let go of my idols!"  I mean a real understanding that electoral maps, political rhetoric and parties have no bearing on whether or not God is ruling.  A President, a Senator, a Representative, a state comptroller, regardless of political affiliation or even doctrine and faith does not determine whether or not God is in control or ruling the world that God created.  One who believes God is sovereign has peace and joy and is motivated by the Gospel.  God still rules on the first Wednesday of November in America of every election cycle.  The person that God appointed is in office.  If God's candidate did not win then God is not God.  If you believe God is sovereign then you can pray for the person that God has placed in authority over you.  

In his first letter to his young pastor friend Timothy, Paul wrote, "First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for ALL people, for kings and ALL who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, GODLY and DIGNIFIED in every way. This is good, and it is PLEASING in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time."

Paul must have written this while under a good Christian leader right?  No. Paul wrote these words, inspired by the Holy Spirit, while Nero was in control.  This was the same Nero who tied Christians to streets poles and lit them on fire to light Rome's streets at night.  This was the same Nero who was a product of incest and involved in incest.  This was the same Nero who had most of his family killed out of fear.  This was the same Nero who had Rome burnt to the ground.  This was the same Nero who ruled over an empire where babies were routinely aborted, men kept boy slaves, marriage was in the toilet, immigrants weren't sneaking in but at war with the Empire, taxation was oppressive and you could be murdered in an arena along with your children for not calling Caesar god.   What does this mean for us?

First, you must pray for President Barack Obama and every elected official.  God has placed them in authority.  His will was not overturned by the will of the American people.

Second, you must intercede for President Barack Obama and every elected official.  Ask God to give him wisdom and to bless Him as He rules.  Do you trust God enough that He can work all things together for His glory and purpose?

Third, you must thank God for President Barack Obama (to the sound of evangelical republican boos everywhere).  Read the Scripture again.  Thank God for the leader that He has placed over this country.  I do not agree with many of our President's positions or many of the leaders of this country.  And yet Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit says I must give thanks.  Giving thanks for someone you disagree with can only come when you are at peace.  Peace only comes through Jesus Christ.  You cannot follow this command if your heart has not been radically changed by the Gospel.

Why must we do these things even if we voted a different way?  So that you can live a peaceful and quiet life and that you might be godly and dignified in every way.  Every way?  Yes!  Even on facebook, and twitter and at the family dinner table.  Why is this so important to be godly even in political discussion?  Why is it so important to pray for men and women that you do not agree with at the deepest levels? Why must you thank God for the men and women you wish to never hear from again?

First it is good and pleasing to Jesus Christ.  Isn't that enough of an answer?  And the reason it is pleasing to Jesus Christ is because you have been called to something greater than political rhetoric.  You have been called to be an ambassador not of an elephant or a donkey, but an ambassador of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  It is simple, when we spew hatred and disrespect, we shut people down to the truth of who Jesus is and what he has done.  When we are worshiping someone other than Jesus and then try to preach Jesus, people can read us like a badly written book.  They see through the thin plot line.  

Second, there is one God, and one mediator between God and man.  That is Christ Jesus - not any elected official, dictator or ruler.  If you really believe that there is one mediator between God and men, then you will have no problem praying for, interceding for and thanking God for the leaders He has placed over us.

I am not a political man.  I don't believe that the change we need will ever come from laws - laws may restrain human sin but it will never save anyone.  I love our country.  I love that I can preach the Gospel freely.  I love the concept of democracy.  But what I hope drives me and what I hope to share with you is the good news that there is one God in control and that we have access to God through Jesus Christ. This is good news indeed.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Cross Did Not Change God

This past week, in my sermon, I mentioned the Covenant of Redemption.  This covenant was made between the three persons of the Trinity - God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.  The Father agreed to elect his people, the Son agreed to be the redeemer, and the Spirit agreed to apply redemption.  God planned this from the beginning.  However, some of us might think that Jesus' death on the cross changed the way God felt about us.  Not so.  God has always pursued His people with an everlasting love.  I ran across the following words from A.W. Tozer during my personal devotion and I thought it complimented the sermon from this past week.  I hope you find these words comforting and know that God has always loved you - nothing can or has ever changed His love for you.

"The cross did not change God. “I the LORD do not change” (Malachi 3:6). The work of Christ on the cross did not influence God to love us, did not increase that love by one degree, did not open any fount of grace or mercy in His heart. He had loved us from old eternity and needed nothing to stimulate that love. The cross is not responsible for God’s love; rather it was His love which conceived the cross as the one method by which we could be saved.
God felt no different toward us after Christ had died for us, for in the mind of God Christ had already died before the foundation of the world. God never saw us except through atonement. The human race could not have existed one day in its fallen state had not Christ spread His mantle of atonement over it. And this He did in eternal purpose long ages before they led Him out to die on the hill above Jerusalem. All God’s dealings with man have been conditioned upon the cross.
Much unworthy thinking has been done about the cross, and a lot of injurious teaching has resulted. The idea that Christ rushed in breathless to catch the upraised arm of God ready to descend in fury upon us is not drawn from the Bible. It has arisen from the necessary limitations of human speech in attempting to set forth the fathomless mystery of atonement.
Neither is the picture of Christ going out trembling to the cross to appease the wrath of God in accordance with the truth. The Scriptures never represent the Persons of the Trinity as opposed to or in disagreement with each other. The Holy Three have ever been and will forever be one in essence, in love, in purpose.
We have been redeemed not by one Person of the Trinity putting Himself against another but by the three Persons working in the ancient and glorious harmony of the Godhead."

Tozer, A. W. (2005). The radical cross : Living the passion of Christ (118–119). Camp Hill, PA: WingSpread.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Chick Fil A, Causes, Politics and the Gospel

I don't know about you, but I am pretty weary. I am weary from all of the rhetoric, the causes, the hatred, the politics, the same old, same old coming from all sides of any debate, and especially experts who aren't really experts. I am probably guilty of some of the rhetoric on social networking in my own little corner of the world. When I write, I try to think through things and wait until I have something that I think is worth hearing. As everyone knows, a Christian man who owns a fast food chain recently said that he likes marriage the way the God of the Bible says He likes marriage. It's plain and simple. He did not say he hates gay people. He did not say that he would not serve gay people. He said that he personally believes that gay marriage is a sin and not God's plan for marriage. By the way, as I understand it, the man was asked a simple question about what he believes. He answered honestly at great risk to himself. He is to be commended no matter what side of the debate you land on.
Here it is plain and simple, gay marriage and homosexuality, according to the God of the Bible, are sinful. Both the Old and New Testament say that homosexuality is wrong and sinful. Yes, the Old Testament also says that eating shellfish is wrong - in Leviticus. If you want to go there, we can. Jesus, who is God by the way, said that all foods are declared clean and so he, God, brought a new way of doing things. Peter had a vision from God in the New Testament about food as well in which God, just in case Peter had missed it when Jesus walked the earth, told Peter to eat any food he wanted. So your shellfish law argument is just theological throw up. However, God did not provide any disciple with a vision concerning homosexuality - just the opposite. That is why Paul declares it an abomination. That is why Jesus defines marriage as between a man and a woman - yes that Jesus - reinforces God's creation mandate and tells us under no uncertain terms that God wants men and women together in marriage - one man, one woman. Period. I have numerous conversations with gay people, gay friends, and so on, and the sane ones all agree that this is what the Bible says. They choose not to believe it. Mr. Chick Fil A has chosen to believe it and hold to it. Praise God someone still has intestinal fortitude. Now before you Christian straight politically conservative people get all excited, remember that God also calls gossips an abomination. He groups them in with murderers, gluttons, liars, thieves and the like. I have been in church my whole life and church's are full of loose lipped liars, gluttons, thieves, homosexuals, adulterers and murderers (by Jesus' definition). Many of you have gotten very excited that there is finally a big business that agrees with your convictions about the Scriptures. I must admit, it is encouraging. But isn't it enough that the God of the Bible already agrees with you? Shouldn't your passion be the same day in a day out? Not if it is driven by a cause rather than the Gospel. The response has been obviously overwhelming. I saw one Chick Fil A off of a main road where I live that looked like the Beatles had been reincarnated and were performing a roof top concert. Lots of people were joining the cause. Meanwhile, lots of people supporting gay marriage are also joining their cause. Everyone is lining up behind their favorite Mormon and favorite professing Christian President so that they can wage a moral war. Every four years we get excited about the cause and a new Messiah. We get excited about politics and change and hope. Yet we continue to live nominal lives where Jesus doesn't make much of a difference. But what about the Gospel. One of the main things I hear from gay people is that Christians love to pile on the rhetoric when it comes to homosexuality. Many of these pastors are struggling with their own secret and public sins. They see hypocrisy. We join up on a political side, we talk of legislating morality, and meanwhile we forget that Jesus said, when given the perfect opportunity, "My Kingdom is not of this world." Do you know what that says in the original Greek? "My Kingdom is not of this world." In other words, when answering Pilate and facing death, Jesus said, "Your politics are not my cause. My cause is the Kingdom of God." The Kingdom of God is about repentance and faith. That is the cause of the Christian. What do you expect a non-believing person to believe about marriage? They can believe anything they want because they have no moral guide or law. What do you expect a nation to legislate that is not founded on the Gospel? What do you expect from them? The job of the Christian is to tell the entire world about Jesus and teach them everything we have been taught. We are to call them to faith in Jesus, repentance unto life and to be baptized. We are then called to disciple them and show them Jesus. The Holy Spirit does the changing work. What if our government legislates morality? Do you know what President George W. Bush said when asked about his view on abortion? He said, "You cannot legislate the heart." In effect he said that hearts had to change and then and only then would the law change. Isn't that the truth? Think about slavery. Slavery didn't change in England until hearts were changed. Slavery didn't change in the U.S. until hearts were changed. There is still extreme prejudice because hearts haven't changed in some parts of the country and world. It is about heart change. What changes hearts? The Gospel changes hearts. "I am not ashamed of the Gospel for it is the power of God to save." Christians aren't called to a cause we are called to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Do we actually trust that God changes people when we preach? Paul said that the foolishness of preaching is God's method of change - real heart change. And by preaching I don't solely mean what I do for an hour on Sunday mornings. Preaching is the job of anyone who is a witness to the power of the Gospel. I can't imagine what kind of effectiveness the church would have if they were just as excited about a crushed savior on a cross, who rose again and is reigning now as they are about a CEO's statement on gay marriage. Can you imagine? I know there are other issues in this whole Chick Fil A ordeal and the response of the media. There is hypocrisy all around. When a conservative person says what he believes, he is ultimately crushed for it. We talk of freedom of speech and religious freedom yet those liberties seem to be slipping away. I would suggest that the liberty of conviction is slipping away. There is room for concern and humble debate on these issues. But is your passion a cause, or is it the Gospel. And might I ask what have we done with our religious freedom up unto this point? For years and years, Christians have been able to say what they want when they want without much of a firestorm. Maybe our freedom has silenced us? I know the issue is complex and I can't address it perfectly in a blog. But I do pray for the church and for those outside the church - I pray we will not be ashamed of the Gospel for it is the power of God to save those inside the church and outside the church.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Why Jesus is All That Matters

The following words have been borrowed from my personal study this morning.  It is too good not to share and better said than anything I could write today.  Many people often wonder how a loving God could condemn some and save others.  This question is a result of a misunderstanding of the holiness and love of God.  Out of God's holiness comes perfect justice.  Out of God's love comes perfect mercy.  A.W. Tozer explains this concept for us today.  I pray this will draw you to Christ the way it has drawn me.  Enjoy.

"Jesus Christ is God, and all I’ve said about God describes Christ. He is unitary. He has taken on Himself the nature of man, but God the Eternal Word, who was before man and who created man, is a unitary being and there is no dividing of His substance. And so that Holy One suffered, and His suffering in His own blood for us was three things. It was infinite, almighty and perfect.

Infinite means without bound and without limit, shoreless, bottomless, topless forever and ever, without any possible measure or limitation. And so the suffering of Jesus and the atonement He made on that cross under that darkening sky was infinite in its power.

It was not only infinite but almighty. It’s possible for good men to “almost” do something or to “almost” be something. That is the fix people get in because they are people. But Almighty God is never “almost” anything. God is always exactly what He is. He is the Almighty One. Isaac Watts said about His dying on the cross, “God the mighty Maker died for man the creature’s sin.” And when God the Almighty Maker died, all the power there is was in that atonement. You never can over-state the efficaciousness of the atonement. You never can exaggerate the power of the cross.

And God is not only infinite and almighty but perfect. The atonement in Jesus Christ’s blood is perfect; there isn’t anything that can be added to it. It is spotless, impeccable, flawless. It is perfect as God is perfect. So Anselm’s question, “How dost Thou spare the wicked if Thou art just?” is answered from the effect of Christ’s passion. That holy suffering there on the cross and that resurrection from the dead cancels our sins and abrogates our sentence.

Where and how did we get that sentence? We got it by the application of justice to a moral situation. No matter how nice and refined and lovely you think you are, you are a moral situation—you have been, you still are, you will be. And when God confronted you, God’s justice confronted a moral situation and found you unequal, found inequity, found iniquity.

Because He found iniquity there, God sentenced you to die. Everybody has been or is under the sentence of death. I wonder how people can be so jolly under the sentence of death. “The soul who sins is the one who will die” (Ezekiel 18:20). When justice confronts a moral situation in a man, woman, young person or anybody morally responsible, then either it justifies or condemns that person. That’s how we got that sentence.

Let me point out that when God in His justice sentences the sinner to die, He does not quarrel with the mercy of God; He does not quarrel with the kindness of God; He does not quarrel with His compassion or pity, for they are all attributes of a unitary God, and they cannot quarrel with each other. All the attributes of God concur in a man’s death sentence. The very angels in heaven cried out and said,

      “You are just in these judgments,
      you who are and who were, the Holy One,
      because you have so judged;…”
      “Yes, Lord God Almighty,
      true and just are your judgments.”
         (Revelation 16:5, 7)

You’ll never find in heaven a group of holy beings finding fault with the way God conducts His foreign policy. God Almighty is conducting His world, and every moral creature says, “True and just are your judgments.… Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne” (Revelation 16:7, Psalm 89:14). When God sends a man to die, mercy and pity and compassion and wisdom and power concur—everything that’s intelligent in God concurs in the sentence.

But oh, the mystery and wonder of the atonement! The soul that avails itself of that atonement, that throws itself out on that atonement, the moral situation has changed. God has not changed! Jesus Christ did not die to change God; Jesus Christ died to change a moral situation. When God’s justice confronts an unprotected sinner that justice sentences him to die. And all of God concurs in the sentence! But when Christ, who is God, went onto the tree and died there in infinite agony, in a plethora of suffering, this great God suffered more than they suffer in hell. He suffered all that they could suffer in hell. He suffered with the agony of God, for everything that God does, He does with all that He is. When God suffered for you, my friend, God suffered to change your moral situation.

The man who throws himself on the mercy of God has had the moral situation changed. God doesn’t say, “Well, we’ll excuse this fellow. He’s made his decision, and we’ll forgive him. He’s gone into the prayer room, so we’ll pardon him. He’s going to join the church; we’ll overlook his sin.” No! When God looks at an atoned-for sinner He doesn’t see the same moral situation that He sees when He looks at a sinner who still loves his sin. When God looks at a sinner who still loves his sin and rejects the mystery of the atonement, justice condemns him to die. When God looks at a sinner who has accepted the blood of the everlasting covenant, justice sentences him to live. And God is just in doing both things.

When God justifies a sinner everything in God is on the sinner’s side. All the attributes of God are on the sinner’s side. It isn’t that mercy is pleading for the sinner and justice is trying to beat him to death, as we preachers sometimes make it sound. All of God does all that God does. When God looks at a sinner and sees him there unatoned for (he won’t accept the atonement; he thinks it doesn’t apply to him), the moral situation is such that justice says he must die. And when God looks at the atoned-for sinner, who in faith knows he’s atoned for and has accepted it, justice says he must live! The unjust sinner can no more go to heaven than the justified sinner can go to hell. Oh friends, why are we so still? Why are we so quiet? We ought to rejoice and thank God with all our might!

I say it again: Justice is on the side of the returning sinner. First John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” Justice is over on our side now because the mystery of the agony of God on the cross has changed our moral situation. So justice looks and sees equality, not inequity, and we are justified. That’s what justification means.

Do I believe in justification by faith? Oh, my brother, do I believe in it! David believed in it and wrote it into Psalm 32. It was later quoted by one of the prophets. It was picked up by Paul and written into Galatians and Romans. It was lost for awhile and relegated to the dust bin and then brought out again to the forefront and taught by Luther and the Moravians and the Wesleys and the Presbyterians. “Justification by faith”—we stand on it today.

When we talk about justification, it isn’t just a text to manipulate. We ought to see who God is and see why these things are true. We’re justified by faith because the agony of God on the cross changed the moral situation. We are that moral situation. It didn’t change God at all. The idea that the cross wiped the angry scowl off the face of God and He began grudgingly to smile is a pagan concept and not Christian.
God is one. Not only is there only one God, but that one God is unitary, one with Himself, indivisible. And the mercy of God is simply God being merciful. And the justice of God is simply God being just. And the love of God is simply God loving. And the compassion of God is simply God being compassionate. It’s not something that runs out of God—it’s something God is!"

Taken from, Tozer, A. W. (2005). The radical cross : Living the passion of Christ (6–10). Camp Hill, PA: WingSpread.

Friday, July 6, 2012

19 Years Gone By

Today I rode my bike 44 miles round trip to pay a visit to my brother Mark's grave in Wilmington, Delaware.  It was hot as hell and not the easiest ride with wind in my face.  But I finally made it.  I sort of just decided to take the trip and figured it might become something I do every July 6th as a tradition.

It was just as hot today as it was in 1993 when we buried my 16 year old younger brother.  As I pulled into Gracelawn Memorial Park some of the memories came flooding back.  I remembered pulling into that same park 19 years ago in a limousine that MBNA Bank had rented for us (Mark and I were both employees annoying people with telemarketing calls).  Our family was stuffed into the limousine and we laughed on the way to the grave site.  I remember pulling up and the car fell silent.  The door opened, the heat came rushing in and it was like I was suffocating.  For some reason I remember the walk to the grave and coffin being so much longer than it actually is.  It seemed like our waiting friends and family were miles and miles away.

Honestly, I don't think I had ever been to a burial before in my life.  Watching my dad struggle through the Psalms, the benediction and a chorus song was my first experience at a grave site.  It was horrible.  It was a tiny piece of hell.  I didn't cry much and I don't remember why.  I was just overwhelmed.  We didn't stay long.  It was fast - very fast.

I have visited my brothers grave several times over the past 19 years.  Every single time I go I come away with the same feeling and thought - there is nothing for me there.  Today, those words were ringing in my ears as I walked the same walk we walked 19 years ago.  I placed my bike up against a tree and walked out to Mark's grave marker.  It looks the same as it has for 19 years only with a bit of aging but there is nothing for me there.  It made me think of the women who went to visit Jesus' grave on the first Easter morning.  What were they looking for?  What did they think they would find?  They were going because tradition and custom demanded that they go.  They expected to find a beaten and bloodied dead man.  They expected to find Mary's son, the itinerant preacher turned failed messiah wrapped in grave clothes.

Instead, they were the first ones to hear the earth shattering, history changing, universe shaping news, "Why do you look for the living among the dead?"  I think that is why we go to grave sites.  We go because we want to remember the living.  But why do we look for living among the dead?  But wait, isn't my brother dead?  Aren't I going to visit the dead among the dead?  Yes and no.  Already and not yet.

Mark did die.  There is no mistaking this awful truth.  He was 16 and he should be 35.  He should have been playing music with me tonight.  He should have a little extra weight, a beautiful wife and children.  He should. But he isn't.  He died.  However, because he believed what he believed, because he knew Jesus was Savior, because he knew his sins were forgiven, because he gave his life to Jesus, when he took his last breath in that car, he met Jesus.  He is alive.  He is absent from the body but he is present with Christ.  He is with Jesus and like Jesus.  Why do I look for the living among the dead?

I am not trying to cheapen the sting of death.  But I am trying to live by the promise that death's sting has been crushed.  Jesus has destroyed the grave.  Even so, death is still death, we live in a period of already and not yet and so that is why there have been 19 years of grief.  I miss my brother Mark.  More than that I hate how my mom and dad have to live wondering why and what if?  But they also taught me in the midst of their grief to live in the already and not yet.

Time has gone by very quickly.  I don't hurt the way I used to.  I wonder why and what if but the bigger question now is "When?"  When will God make all of this right?  When will God wipe away the tears, crush the cancers, destroy evil once and for all and reign victorious over a new heaven and new earth?  For me it is not a question of "Will He?"  it is a question of "When Will He?"  That is why I can ride 44 miles to my brothers grave on a hot July afternoon and leave with confidence knowing that there is no reason to look for the living among the dead.  Jesus is coming back.  Bank on it.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The God Particle and the Easter Bunny

The news is out that scientists have discovered "the God Particle."  This particle, as theorized by some in the scientific community, has given us some insight into the origins of our world and the universe.  One article from yahoo news says, "Fermilab Staff Scientist Robert Roser says the Higgs boson is a particle that attracts other particles, and explains how matter has mass.  This gives clues to how planets, and ultimately life, is formed.  But he points out his colleagues at CERN were careful to say they found a "Higgs-like" object, but not the Higgs boson itself."  In other words, contrary to public belief, the "God particle" known as the Higgs boson has not been found.  And that is why I am writing today.

Before I get to my main point let me say that I love science.  I love how small science can make humanity feel.  It is humbling to see a picture of space from the eye of the Hubble Telescope.  When we understand that there are trillions of stars and many trillions more that we will never see I am immediately humbled.  Science continues to draw me to the Creator.  Many Christians might be afraid of science but I am not.  I love it and I love what comes from it.  I am however saddened that when humans discover something great they immediately look for ways to disprove the existence of God.  The God Particle, astronomy, physics, biology, and all of the sciences prove that God has done something wonderful - create.

What happens with stories like the God particle is that the general public will not investigate before they propagate.  They will read quick headlines, tweets, facebook statuses and a listen to a few jokes about how stupid God is and how cool science is from the likes of Bill Maher and they will assemble all of this into one giant fact - the God particle means there is no God.  But we will fail to realize that our conclusion that God is dead is based on non-facts.  Right now all that has been proven is that there is no God - particle.  We have looked and we have not yet found it.

All of the sudden scientific rules (which many don't understand or take into consideration) will be forgotten and bloggers and facebook trolls will begin to argue from idiocy rather than intelligent discussion.  For example, the "God particle" is not called the "God particle" by serious scientists.  Second, the particle has not been found and there is only theory rather than real scientific evidence that it actually exists.  Third, even if the particle does exist, and I think it would be cool if they do discover it, it does not disprove the existence of God or His creation of the world.  It only tells us more about how God got things done.  But somehow, we will hold onto catch phrases, comedy routines and what our most intelligent facebook friend said about the God particle rather than what the truth actually is.

When I was younger my parents would hide an Easter Egg basket on Easter Sunday morning and each of my brothers and sister would search for the basket as my mom and dad would chant "colder" or "warmer" depending on how close we were to finding the basket.  Obviously, the closer we got the "hotter" the chant would become.  When we found the basket we hugged our mom and dad and thanked them.  Never did we imagine that an actual Easter bunny came into our house and left a basket full of Reeses Cups.

Science is like an Easter Egg hunt in my humble opinion.  We are looking for answers and we are delighted when we find answers.  However, when we discover something incredible we act like children who believe that an actual Easter bunny left the eggs for us rather than our parents.  Scientists have been looking for this God particle for years and have spent millions of dollars and countless hours hard at work.  You can almost hear God saying, "Warmer, warmer, hot, hot, hot!"  as the scientists came closer and closer to discovery.  But now that we have found something significant we begin to give credit to ourselves, to chance, to fate and to chaos - the Easter bunny - rather than God.

Romans 1 tells us that we are in the sinful habit of giving credit where credit is not due.  Our sinful nature causes us to look at creation and attribute it to something else or someone else other than God.  That is exactly where science has gone wrong.  Science should be about discovering what God has done and how He has done it.  Instead we are out to prove that our parents would never leave us a basket full of candy because the Easter bunny makes more sense.

Tonight I will go home after a long day at work.  I will hang out with my family.  I will play music with our band.  I will lay down in my bed and eventually turn on the Science Channel before falling asleep.  I will go to sleep knowing that I am pretty insignificant but that God has done something wonderful.  I have lived another day on a planet that continues to orbit and rotate around a sun that continues to feed life.  I will give Him thanks that He didn't leave anything up to chance.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Jesus and Gay Marriage

This past week, President Barack Obama revealed in an interview that he personally believes that the U.S Government should allow gay marriage.  He confessed that this was a personal journey and that it had taken time for him to arrive at his conclusion.  Personally, I am not shocked by President Obama's revelation.  I am also not shocked that gay marriage is such a hot topic in our country and around the world.  However, what disturbed me most about our President's interview was how he invoked the name of Jesus in order to seemingly back up his claim.

The problem with Obama's statement doesn't have so much to do with his declaration in support of gay marriage (who didn't know that was coming?) as it does with his theological statements. Let me make this clear - Jesus and our President are not in agreement on gay marriage.  Jesus' view on marriage is stated clearly in the Scriptures - it is between a man and woman. Many would argue that all Jesus cares about is love.  It is true that Jesus desires we would love one another but he makes sure to define that love because he knows how desperate and evil our hearts can become. Jesus defines what he means by loving one another by first starting with the Greatest Commandment - Love God. The love we are to have for our neighbor is defined by the first command. That is why after giving us the first and greatest commandment to love God he says, "and the second is like it - love your neighbor as yourself." True love begins with "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, strength." Our love for God and His commands defines our love for one another. God defines Himself, not us.

So if we are to love God we should look at what He says about cultural issues. God has made it clear in His Word that homosexuality is wrong - regardless of our feelings on the matter, how we think we are born, or what our natural proclivities are. God also tells us not to trust our feelings on the matter and to forget following our heart. Our hearts are deceitful above all things. If our President and others are going to quote "the Golden Rule" then they must allow Jesus his presupposition that our love for God defines our love for one another. In other words if you don't love God as God defines himself then your love for others is distorted - which is why so many can justify their sin under the guise that Obama uses (The Golden Rule).  

Jesus, on his numerous teachings about marriage defines it as between a man and a woman. I say all that to say that if we are going to bring Jesus into the argument, then Obama and any professing Christian has no moral ground to stand on to justify gay marriage. Plain and simple - take it or leave it. If we want to invoke the Scriptures as President Obama has done then we must deal with the Scriptures alone on the issue. Obama is trying to have it both ways. And that is my main problem with his statement. He is trying to justify his decision by using Scripture. It just can't be done. 

If you are a follower of Jesus than you cannot agree with the decision Obama has made. I have gay friends who understand this very clearly and it is a big struggle for them. They know what the Bible says about their choices. One of my friends who is a practicing homosexual recently wrote to me, “I would agree that you can't defend gay marriage with Scripture. ..So, yeah, if Obama is using Jesus to defend his views, then I can see why churches would get upset.”  My friend does not try to cover up their choices with justifications and platitudes about what they want Jesus to say. They know what Jesus says, they know what the Law and Prophets say and they choose to live in rebellion against God. I have more respect for those who know that their behavior is in opposition to the Christian faith and admit it and are still able to be my friend and care for me just as I do for them. We don't live in this pretend relationship that all is good. We have opposing viewpoints but still love one another.

Obama has tried to associate Jesus’ teaching with his own decisions concerning gay marriage.  My main problem with his statement is that he tries to justify his personal and political beliefs with Scripture. In this case, it just can't be done. I would rather him say, "I know that the Bible teaches that homosexuality is a sin. I know that the Bible teaches that marriage is between a man and a woman. I just don't agree with the Bible on this issue so I am going with what I believe, not with what God says is truth." I think it would take more intestinal fortitude for him to say that he is in disagreement with the Bible rather than try and straddle both lines. His personal beliefs don't line up with Scripture regardless of whether or not they line up with the Constitution. I don't think that he is to force Christian values on the U.S. but he also cannot call non-Christian values, "Christian". That is my problem with his speech. What he has said, and the decision he has made is in no-way Christian or in line with the Scriptures. President Obama, like so many of us, is trying to make something fit into an unscriptural view of God and call it Christian. His decision is thoroughly in rebellion with what God has declared in the Bible - President or not.

(Portions of this post have been adapted from a facebook conversation I had with many others concerning President Barack Obama's decision to announce he is pro-gay marriage.)

Monday, May 7, 2012


"Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, who sin is covered.  
Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no inquity,"

During one of my spring breaks while in college I took a road trip with two of my buddies to the Outer Banks of North Carolina for a surf trip.  Just a few days into the trip I decided that I wanted a new surf board.  I didn't have the funds to purchase a new surf board.  The trip I was on had been paid for by my parents so that I could get away for a little bit.  My dad had given me his Mastercard to use in case of emergencies.  Something inside of me was able to somehow justify a new surfboard as an emergency.  So I spent 650.00 on my dad's card to pick up my new board and board bag and a few accessories.  It was a sweet board.  It had the WRV symbol and fire and flames emblazoned all over it.  I can't possibly tell you what I was thinking when I handed the cashier my dad's GM Gold Card.  I honestly don't remember how I could have been so foolish.  I didn't have permission to purchase this board.  I didn't have the cash to purchase the board.  I was on a trip that had been paid for by my parents out of the goodness of their hearts and love for me.  Why not abuse their grace?

I can't remember if I told my dad that I purchased the board or if he had to confront me.  But when he did find out we set up a payment plan so that  could pay my debt back. The problem was that I had other debts from other foolish spending.  I was sporadic with repayment to say the least.  I was able to pay the debt down by a few dollars every month.  My dad should have taken the money out of my hide.  He could have thrown me out of the house.  He could have made me work the debt off.  He could have made me earn what I had spent plus interest.  He could have held that fact over my head that I had abused his trust and the gift of an expense paid vacation.  But he didn't do any of this.  Instead, he forgave me.

My dad didn't just forgive me in spirit.  He paid for my debt.  One day he gave me a card.  When I opened the card I saw a few hand written words which simply said,

"From the man in whose house you are livin'
Do not fear, thy debt is forgiven!"

I don't think I was able to fully register what my dad was saying upon reading these words.  If I am honest, I probably had forgotten that I owed my dad the money because I had other debts that were pressing.  When I realized what my dad had done, the weight of my own sin against him weighed down on me.  But when I looked up my dad was smiling - I knew I had been given a great gift.  

My dad was telling me that he had me covered.  I didn't deserve to be covered, but because of his great love for me he covered me. My dad never again spoke of the debt.  He never asked me to "remember that time."  He simply didn't count what had been owed to him.  

Our sin against God is much greater - infinitely greater.  We do our very best to diminish our sin.  We say that our sin is not greater than our neighbor.  We compare ourselves to cruel men and women throughout history and think that we stand up pretty well and that God will simply overlook our sins because we just aren't that evil.  But we are sinful.  We are full of evil intent and action and yet God offers to not count our iniquity and sin against us.  He has covered us by the blood of Jesus Christ.  What does God ask of us?  To confess our sins, repent of our sins, and trust that He will not hold them against us because we have been bought with a price by His grace.  

When we try to hide our sin, manage our sin, excuse our sin or pay for our sin on our own we end up wasting away.  We cannot be our own savior.  The Psalmist knew this when he wrote, "For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away."  Don't waste away.  Don't allow sin to tear you up from the inside out.  Don't allow sin to crush you.  Jesus has crushed your sin.  

The Psalmist writes, "I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, 'I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,' and you forgave the iniquity of my sin."  There is nothing you have done, said, or thought that God is not able to forgive.  I want to encourage you not to live under the religious burden of trying to fix yourself.  We owe a great debt and yet God has offered to pay that debt.  When you first read the words of the Psalmist, that God has you covered, you may not realize the amazing depth of God's grace.  But look to God, His greatness, His holiness, His transcendence and you will see just how great His gift of forgiveness is.  

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Things Left Unsaid

"An infinite God can give all of Himself to each of His children. He does not distribute Himself that each may have a part, but to each one He gives all of Himself as fully as if there were no others."  A. W. Tozer

There is only so much of me to go around.  There is only so much of you to go around.  You cannot be a perfect friend.  You cannot be a perfect mom.  You cannot be a perfect father.  You cannot perform your job with perfection.  

This is not so with God.  God is infinite in his power, wisdom, holiness, justice, goodness and truth.  You cannot stop God.  You cannot hide from God - the world has died trying.  God is not like a father who only has so much time and energy to give to each of his children.  Because God is infinite, each of His children receive all of God.  Isn't this good news?  How many times have you begged for the attention of others and leave with only misery, hurt or disappointment?  God neither asks you to beg for His affection nor does He leave you in misery.  He pursues us and gives us all that He is.  

Today there will not be enough hours in the day to do all that you would like to do.  Eventually your body will give in to sleep and you will need rest.  Today you will fail again.  You will not be able to spend as much time with your kids that you would like.  You will not be able to fulfill your commitment that you made with every intention of coming through.  Things will be left unsaid.  Tasks will be left incomplete.  

There is one promise that I can make and keep.  About four times a year we hold a membership class at our church for prospective members.  There is one promise that I make and keep in each of those classes - I will fail.  I will miss an appointment.  I will be late.  I will do my best and it won't be enough.  I will not be there when I should be.  I will say stupid things from the pulpit that only I have to live with for any length of time.  I will cause some to leave the church.  I am not Jesus and I promise to fail, not to have enough, not to have the answer, not to have the right thing to say.  But I also promise that I will do everything I can under grace and by a work of the Holy Spirit to point every person to Christ Jesus who is infinite in his glory, power, grace, forgiveness and love.  

Just like God, because he is God, Jesus gave all of himself.  He did not tithe his blood.  He did not pour out a portion of his blood.  He did not bring a partial redemption.  He didn't make promises he couldn't keep.  The reason he did not fail is because he is fully God and fully man.  Jesus does not ask us to do the best job we can and that he will meet us half way.  He asks us to come to the end of ourselves and to rest all that we are, all that we have done and all of our hopes and dreams in him.  When we come to the end of ourselves we begin to see just how infinite God is and that He has given us all of Him.  

Jesus did not leave anything undone.  He did not leave things unsaid.  In his final breath Jesus declared that all was finished on our behalf.  Now, as a result of the finished work of Christ, and the infinite nature of God, each person who comes to faith in Jesus gets all of God and their work will be and is completed in Jesus.  Who are you resting in today?  Your finite ability or the infinite God of the Universe who has promised all of Himself to you?  

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

A Legacy of Pornography?

This past week I preached a sermon from the Real Marriage series called, "The Porn Path."  It wasn't an easy subject.  In preparation, I had to read accounts of men and women who have destroyed many parts of their lives, their marriages and even their children's lives because they were addicted to pornography or allowed sexual sin to take root in their lives.  

I know that many of you are trying to crush this addiction.  By the grace of God you are have victory every single day.  Others of you have not come under conviction and believe that a porn addiction, as long as it remains secret, will not hurt anyone.  But what you don't realize is that porn does hurt people.  It hurts God, spouses, children, sex slaves and porn workers.  Additionally, it hurts you.  Porn creates a false reality and grid from which you view sexuality.  For those who are struggling through this addiction I would like to offer some encouragement and instruction with this question - what legacy do you want to leave? 

Pornography offers a great time for the time being.  There is no question that for many, porn offers pleasure.  It is exciting to think that a beautiful person is ready for sex and ready to give it whenever asked.  Not only are they ready but if they aren't willing, they can be made willing.  You can satisfy whatever craving you have by typing your desire into a search bar.  And for a few moments you become the most powerful person in the world.  Isn't this what Satan has promised since the beginning?  He promised, "You can be like God!"  Isn't pleasure what the adulteress promises us in Proverbs 5-7?  And yet God tells us that this path leads down to rot in our bones and death.  When you are struggling with whether or not to give into the temptation to be like God and to worship the idols of porn ask yourself what kind of legacy you want to leave.  Ask yourself why you are here.

If you are here for immediate and instantaneous pleasure then you will be tempted to give in to your idol once again.  If you exist for a series of experiences that offer as much pleasure as possible for the time being then you will be tempted by your idol again and again.  If the here and now is what matters then you will give into your idol and be crushed by your idol once again.  

Our sinful lusts and addictions become a question of legacy - what is our mission and purpose?  In one pastor's account of his addiction to pornography and strip joints he asks the question, "Why are we here? Are we on earth primarily to experience pleasure, to have fun? If so, Christianity, with its offer of a cross and sacrificial love and concern for the weak and the poor, seems pretty thin. If we are here for no real reason, why go through all the bother of trying to connect glandular desire with lofty goals like intimacy and marriage?  Or are we here on a mission? Are we indeed creatures who will best find fulfillment by living up to the demands of the Creator? If the latter, then the thrills offered by the easy lie of pornography will not permanently satisfy. Indulgence is not an option for me, and neither is repression. I have only one option: to seek God with all my heart, so that God may continue his process of healing and bring me to sexual fulfillment—at home, with my wife, where I belong."

I recently heard of a prominent man's funeral where legacy was on display.  He was a successful business man and admired both in his local community and throughout our region.  He was a man who loved Jesus Christ and allowed the Gospel to drive his generosity and his life.  At his memorial service it was impressive to see his many children, grandchildren and great grandchildren lining up to remember this man.  He left a legacy.  His name continues on through the lives of his wife, children, his children's children, and his children's children children.  What will your legacy be?  Will it be a path of selfish pleasure that last's for a time?  Or will your legacy be heard of for generations?  It all depends on your mission.  If your mission is self-seeking then you have no hope of leaving a lasting legacy.  If your mission and purpose is to glorify God then your legacy will be lasting.  

I want to encourage those of you who are struggling with sexual addiction.  Many churches have not done a very good job walking by your side.  Regardless of how you may have been theologically mistreated, I want you to know that Jesus became even your sin, died even your death, and promises to crush your sin by a work of God's grace through the power of His Holy Spirit in your life.  You are on a journey.  This journey involves the dying of the old person every day and the transformation into the new creation that you are in Jesus Christ if you have come to faith in Jesus.  I want to leave you with these words from a pastor who struggled with porn addiction so that you will know there is hope:

"I now view my pilgrimage differently. I believe God was with me at each stage of my struggle with lust. It wasn’t that I had to climb toward a state of repentance to earn God’s approval; that would be a religion of works. Rather, God was present with me even as I fled from him. At the moment when I was most aware of my own inadequacy and failure, at that moment I was probably closest to God. That is a religion of grace."

Sunday, April 1, 2012

New Rules: Popcorn At the Movies

A bit of a disclaimer.  This is just for fun.  Just a little piece of life where there is a bit of comedy.  I find lots of things funny.  Human beings are funny.  We have all been created with a sense of humor by a God with a sense of humor.  If you don't believe me, spend some time at a movie theater and watch and listen--but not just to the movie--watch and listen to people.

Usually, I am pretty serious on here but I thought I would bring some levity to the blog for a night.  Yesterday, Laura and I were able to go check out "Hunger Games" at our local movie theater.  It was Friday night so we know what to expect.  Lots of people with all kinds of different ideas as to how they should act in public.  There were two 14 year old teenagers making out before the lights even went down (Their aisle remained clear in a pretty packed theater).  There were a ton of tween girls who pretty much blew the suspense for every scene as they would react just a few seconds before anything actually happened.  I knew when characters were going to die, kiss, scare you and kick the bucket.  And then there were the popcorn eaters.

The theater is an interesting place.  When the lights go out, people somehow forget that there are other people sitting around them.  The cinema is a place where we all enter into each others living rooms and we give everyone a taste of how we act at home.  This can be pretty frustrating if you're hoping for the same experience you would have in just 4-5 months once the movie comes out on DVD in the comfort of your own home.

I have a strategy when I enter into a theater.  I want to find a place where no one obnoxious is going to sit behind me.  Most of the time this category of people would include people on first dates or thereabout, groups of teenage girls, groups of teenage boys, families with small children who seem like they are too young to be lawfully allowed at the movie, talkative people and, I hate to say this and mean no disrespect--people with food.  They are all pretty poor movie partners--but people with food, well, they take the cake.

Yesterday, I chose our seats carefully.  We were walking in right behind a group of tween girls who were dressed up like the characters from the Hunger Games.  We would not be sitting behind them.  There were a couple of single girls who were philosophizing about what they did and did not like about the books, we would not sit behind or near them.  While thinking through my strategy, I decided to take a gamble. There was a block of empty seats.  Perhaps if we chose to sit there we might be able to stay far enough away from the dreaded popcorn eaters.  It was not to be.  Just before the movie began, a middle-aged man with a giant bag of buttered popcorn came in and took the one seat that was left right behind us.  The Hunger Games began--and so did the movie.

As the movie began I could hear him and his blasted bag of popcorn.  He would reach in to that loud paper bag, rustle it around, dig for a piece with butter and then stuff it in his mouth.  Then the chewing would begin.  One piece after another.  Worst of all--he was eating one piece at a time.  Laura looked at me with knowing eyes.  "I don't even hear it, just pay attention to the movie," she said.  "I'm trying."  I waited.  And waited.  For some reason, this guy would stop eating during the loud parts of the movie.  As soon as the movie settled down he was back at it.   He would dig around for a few more pieces of larded up popcorn during the quiet spots.  Meanwhile, the nice senior citizen sitting next to me decided to begin commenting on the movie with his sweet wife.  It was as if I had turned on the DVD special feature for, "Non-Director, Non-Fan, Non-Cast, I-Brought-My-Granddaughter And Have No Idea What This Is About Commentary" track.

I began to look around the theater. There were 6-8 seats down near the front of the stadium seat section where no one was sitting.  Those seats were calling my name louder and louder as the popcorn eater kept chomping on one piece after another--he sounded like Pac-Man.  Chomp-chew-chew-chew-chew-chew.  Rustle-rustle.  Chomp-chew-chew-chew-chew.  Rustle-rustle.  Chomp-chew-chew-chew chew....Aghhhhh!  I had enough.  I told Laura that I would be leaving the theater to fill up our soda and that when I returned I would be sitting up front and that she should join me.  When I returned we enjoyed the rest of the real Hunger Games without commentary or surround sound saliva, lip-smacking, teeth chomping, paper bag movie popcorn champ.  The tween girls were still giving away each and every part with their anticipatory response but that was a small price to pay.

It got me thinking.  How can we all sit in a theater and not annoy the heck out of each other while eating food?  Maybe if we just followed a few basic rules.

1.  Pick your spots.  Eat during the loud parts of a movie.  Don't wait for the moving and emotional parts.  If there is no music playing loudly and no explosions, than don't eat your popcorn.  Hearing the rustling of a butter filled bag in the middle of a funeral scene sort of kills the moment.  

2.  Don't be a rustler.  Your bag is loud.  Don't dig for only the buttered pieces and don't try to be quiet.  Get your hand in and out of the bag as quickly as possible.  Trying to be quiet and taking your time just doesn't work.  You're like the person in church who tries to slowly unwrap their piece of hard candy.  Just get it over with.  Stick your buttery hand into your great batch of 12 Big Mac equivalent popcorn and do it quickly.  Don't prolong the torture.

3.  Don't lure the rest of us into false hope.  Don't stop eating your popcorn only to pick it back up again 20 minutes later.  You gave us false hope.  Don't give us false hope.

4.  You're not a cow.  Chew with your mouth closed.

5.  Don't fill your bag up again.  I know the cinema lures you into a 12.00 popcorn with the promise of a refill--but you never should have bought the 12.00 popcorn in the first place and you and your date definitely should not have finished the bag!  You don't win when you get to the bottom--you just feel gross.  

Alright, well, I am sure that I could come up with a few other rules for the movies such as,

1.  Really.  Don't text.
2.  If her father was here and saw what you were doing the Hunger Games cannon would go off (i.e. you'd be dead--just in case you don't know what the Hunger Games canon means).
3.  We can hear you talking even when you're whispering.
4.  Yes, this seat is taken even if it isn't taken.  It's taken.  Leave some room between us.
5.  Your kid is too young.  Parental Guidance doesn't mean that you need guidance on why your kid shouldn't see this movie.  It means your 5 year old shouldn't be here--spend the money on a babysitter and don't buy the popcorn.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

You Cannot Marry the Right Person

Stanely Hauerwas, a Duke Ethics professor, infamously said,
Destructive to marriage is the self-fulfillment ethic that assumes marriage and the family are primarily institutions of personal fulfillment, necessary for us to become “whole” and happy. The assumption is that there is someone just right for us to marry and that if we look closely enough we will find the right person. This moral assumption overlooks a crucial aspect to marriage. It fails to appreciate the fact that we always marry the wrong person. We never know whom we marry; we just think we do. Or even if we first marry the right person, just give it a while and he or she will change. For marriage, being [the enormous thing it is] means we are not the same person after we have entered it. The primary problem is . . . learning how to love and care for the stranger to whom you find yourself married.
No groom in their right mind would ever propose to his bride to be in this manner.  I can't imagine sitting on the beach with my wife almost 13 years ago and saying, "Look, I know you aren't the right person.  Well, no one is.  And since no one is the right person for me, I have decided that I would like to marry you."  I am pretty sure my life would have turned out differently if I had ventured off into that territory.  The truth is that when I asked my incredible bride to marry me on that beach I knew that she was the one for me.  I couldn't wait to start our life together.  But the professor is right.  Marriage teaches you in time that Stanely understands human nature.  No one can marry the right person--at least not defined by our definition.

One you put two human beings together in the closeness and intimacy of marriage, good and bad things are bound to happen.  I had no idea who I was marrying on June 10, 2000.  Laura had no idea who she was marrying.  If it is possible I had my best foot forward on June 10.  I thought Laura had pulled out all the stops on our first date--but this was different.  She was stunning.  Her dress.  Her hair.  Her body.  Her glow.  She was an angel indeed.  Our life was playing out with a soundtrack and a live studio audience.  And yet, we were strangers.  We are all strangers on our wedding day.  Even those who think that living together somehow makes them familiar bedfellows.  It's a lie.  Satan is the master of lies after all.  Marriage changes everything.

What happens is that marriage reveals who you are and what you are.  I recently heard a pastor speak about a spouse as an irritant.  He didn't mean it in the way that you might think.  He compared a spouse to a grain of sand.  A grain of sand in our eye produces tears and frustration.  A grain of sand in an oyster produces a pearl. The sand brings out the natural properties of the oyster and the eye.  The sun melts butter and yet it hardens clay.  It is the same sun that brings out different properties in butter and clay.  A spouse in the context of marriage brings out the person that we actually are.  We don't change so much as we are revealed.

Marriage truly is learning to love the stranger that you married.  You can't remain strangers forever.  The best marriages are those that are intimate on every level--sexual, emotional, physical, psychological, and spiritually.  If you want intimacy you have to let the stranger in.  On our wedding day I eventually had to take the tuxedo off.  Laura's wedding gown had to be hung up in the closet.  Eventually we couldn't hide any longer.  Strangers had to become great friends.  Great friends became an intimate husband and wife.

I didn't marry the right person.  I am not the right person for Laura.  Why?  Because we live in a fallen and broken world with fallen and broken people.  I can't begin to guess the depth of sin in my heart.  But I also can't begin to guess the depth of God's grace that covers a multitude of sin.  Diving into God's grace is what draws Laura and I together.  God's grace allows two strangers to remove the masks, the makeup, the wedding clothes, and everything else that we try to hide behind.  There is no shame behind the mask because we know our sin has been paid for.  We both strive to live in a Gospel centered marriage.  We are never able to hold a grudge or our rights over the other when we look through the lens of the Gospel.  Jesus paid for the garbage that I have brought into the relationship.  Jesus paid for my pride and sin.  If I can be forgiven I can certainly forgive my wife.  Jesus makes the wrong person right.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Enjoying Real Marriage

The church where I am the main preaching pastor, Stone's Throw, is in the middle of a series called, "Real Marriage."  It is based off of the ideas in a book written by Mark Driscoll and his wife Grace Driscoll who are leading Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Washington.  Real Marriage received a lot of press and continues to minister to many people.  Our church has benefited greatly from "Real Marriage."

I am not what some might call a "topical preacher."  It is not in my wheelhouse.  However, this is a topical series on a crucial topic for our culture--marriage, love, sex and friendship.  Each week I have had to pray over the material, search the Scriptures and apply them to specific topics.  I love to preach exegetically--meaning I like to preach the Bible by book, chapter and verse.  Real Marriage has been a real challenge to me in many ways but a great blessing in many more ways.  It is has been a real joy so far.  I knew that our church and our community needed to hear the message of "Real Marriage."  Marriage is based on the Gospel and is primarily a friendship between husband and wife.  This series has been such a blessing to me personally in my own marriage to my wife Laura and also a blessing as I have been able to watch as God transforms relationships into Gospel-centered relationships.

As a result of Real Marriage I have been able to meet a ton of new people at Stone's Throw.  Some of those new people are now in the process of receiving marriage counseling and premarital counseling.  Others have joined Community Groups as they plug in further to the life and mission of Stone's Throw.  It has been humbling to watch as husbands have renewed their vows to their wives, wives have repented of deep-seeded sin, single people have adjusted their expectations, and long-time married people have ministered to and been ministered to many others in the church.  I believe that God is doing a mighty work at Stone's Throw Church.

But what makes this series great is that it is about Jesus.  It is not a gimmick to grow the church.  It is not about "being relevant" or cool.  It is not about repackaging the Bible.  It is all about Jesus--plain and simple.  Jesus makes it possible for us to have a God-honoring marriage.  He brings healing where there was no hope.  He brings grace where there was only bitterness.  I know this because I have seen it personally.  My hope for the remainder of the series is that each person who hears the message will be able to see Jesus clearly.

Even as I am writing, I am preparing the final message of the first half of the series, "Taking Out The Trash" where we will learn what it means to argue righteously.  The second half of the series will mostly take a look at sexuality within the context of marriage and why God created sex as a gift for marriage.  Yeah--I could use your prayer!  The Church has always been a little weird about sex.  I am hoping to change that a bit.  If you haven't been around or were thinking about checking out what God is doing at Stone's Throw--now is the time!

Today, I received a bunch of notes about the past couple of weeks of sermons.  I just wanted to express how thankful I am for such great material from the Driscoll's and Mars Hill Church, and how grateful I am for a church in Middletown, Delaware that is truly seeking to make the fame of Jesus known in their community.  I am enjoying this.

If you want to check out sermon clips, full sermon audio or video, you can do so for free by clicking on our podcast links to the right on my blog or by checking out

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Men Need a Warplan

This past week, I preached directly to the men of our church on the subject of their role in marriage.  As our church moves through an 11 week series on marriage I have heard many stories from men as God speaks through His Word and changes their lives.  A lot men's lives are a big mess.  Single guys.  Married Guys.  Divorced guys.  Young guys.  Old guys.  They want to change and allow Jesus to be preeminent in their lives but they all have one resource that is quite limited and they can never seem to get enough of--time.  What they are missing is not more time but a war plan.  

in 2009 we began to lay down plans for a new church.  My wife and I had just returned from India with our new baby daughter Siddhi.  6 weeks prior, my wife had given birth to our fifth child.  I was busy making plans for a new church while we were trying to hold the family together.  I spent a lot of time coming up with a war plan and battle plans for the new church.  I knew where we would head, how we would get there, and why were headed there.  We planned out sermon series, community groups, strategy, leadership development, budgets and everything else that comes along with starting a new church.  We had to work through the unique problems of becoming a spin off church from a larger church.  We came up with ways to implant a new culture into the new church.  I was hard at work.  Meanwhile, my family needed help.  

One night, my wife and I sat down and it hit me--our family needed a war plan.  I had spent countless hours and energy on a war plan for the church and yet I was leaving my family's time and future up to the whims of randomness and playing it by ear.  What I found is that all of time was easily filled by work and rest without ever considering the goals and vision I had for my family.  It was time for a war plan. 

Laura and I sat down together and we talked about and wrote out the goals and vision we had for our family.  We talked about our relationship and our children.  We spoke honestly about time management and concerns that we had. For instance, Laura was able to effectively and lovingly demonstrate to me that I was addicted to my iPhone.  We also realized that our dates were inconsistent.  Our time with the kids was plentiful but it was not directed by goals and needed direction. After talking and praying through some of our convictions we took action.  I believe this is where most men will fail through this sermon series I am preaching.  Men are often convicted about change but never take any action.  God calls us to take action when we are convicted.  

First, we sat down with calendar in hand and planned out how we wanted each week to look, each month to look and what the year should look like.  We included as much information as we already had available to us and collaborated.  

Second, we planned out our date nights. There are goals and there is reality.  We were shooting for every week on Saturday.  We made plans with babysitters for many of those nights and have been pretty consistent.  Some of our dates end up at home and others end up at the movies with a late dinner.  The point is, we would connect at least weekly with just the two of us.  

Third, we planned out a weekly family night.  Our family night would be on Wednesday.  Family night consists of the entire family eating dinner together and doing somethings special together.  We also worship together, read the Bible together and take a mid-week break.  Our family nights have included board games, video games, special make-your-own dessert nights and more.  Once a month we have allowance night on Family Night.  This is where our children are paid according to their chore chart.  They can choose to spend their money or save their money for the night.  That has been an awesome time to teach our kids about stewardship.  

Fourth, we turned our pains into plans.  We examined the year before and we made changes.  We are going to do this every year.  If Christmas went bad the year before, we will evaluate it and change it.  If family vacation was too short or too long we will evaluate and change it.  If we grew tired the year before because of a misplaced time away, we evaluate and change it.  

By the end of our war plan we had a calender that was up to date, met our goals and our vision for our family and has been a general rule of practice for us.  

In war, there is always change and you have to adapt.  Laura and I have had to adapt from time to time.  But we always come back to the war plan.  We measure how we are doing up against our war plan.  The war plan has enabled us to move forward in our marriage and in our relationship to our kids.

Men spend a lot of time on their goals and vision and plan for their career.  But perhaps it's time to take a close look at your family and your marriage.  What does your war plan look like?  

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

How Simple Will Your Funeral Be?

Today was one of the most painful days in my life.  My heart breaks for a family who is no longer whole on this earth.  I know that I feel emotionally and spiritually wrung out.  I cannot imagine what my brothers and sisters are going through.  But I want to share something while it is clearly on my mind and imprinted on my heart.  

The past couple of days, yes even the past couple of weeks, have been an extraordinary journey for me and for the church where I am pastor.  I have shared in my blog some of what has happened over the past few days as our friend and brother, Joseph Feeley went home to be with Jesus.  He was an extraordinary young 23-year-old man who battled hard against cancer for just over 2 years.  I had the honor and privilege of sharing in some moments with the Feeley family and with Joseph.  Last night, I was given the opportunity to share the Gospel with many people because of Joseph's testimony.  At the service to celebrate his life and testimony we sang to Jesus, prayed, wept, laughed, and heard the many stories that made Joseph so special and unique.  I was asked by his family to bring the night to a close with a Gospel message.  I can honestly say that the entire service was one of the most, if not the most, worshipful nights of my life.  There were moments of spontaneous standing ovations, applause, laughter and shouts of "Amen!"  Why?  How could a funeral be so moving?

Many people in attendance have already shared with me and with others that the service was very special.  Many thanked me and the other speakers and the family for such a beautiful service.  But thanking me is sort of like thanking the mailman for some good news that you received in the mail.  I do not mean to demean anyone who shared.  What was said, was said beautifully and was gospel-centered.  My response has simply been, "Joseph made our job simple."  I do not mean to say that the service was easy.  It was the most difficult night for so many.  However, Joseph made it simple because he was faithful to Jesus--plain and simple.  He was faithful before his cancer and until the very end.  Joseph was faithful.  He lived an incredibly full life for a 23 year old man.  I am saddened that the world will not be able to see what another 70 years would have brought with Joseph still here.  I am heart-broken for his family.  But in 23 years, Joseph made it easy on those who were to speak about his life.

The family, friends, coaches and pastor did not have to stretch the truth at his funeral.  They did not have to search long and hard for a few highlights.  In fact, it was more difficult to pick which highlights and which accomplishments, and which conversations and memories to use because there were so many.  I will always treasure sitting with his family and talking about the very funny things that Joseph said, the major accomplishments he made, the faith he had in Jesus, and the love he had for his family and his Lord.  Joseph made things very simple for his family and friends to plan what they would say at his funeral.  We did not have to struggle to inject the Gospel or Jesus into his life.  He talked it and walked it.  Plain and simple.  Joseph--a 23 years young man--left a legacy.

How simple will your funeral planning be for those who are left to plan?  Do your choices today make it hard on your family and friends to celebrate your life?  Will they have to stretch the truth?  Will your service be full of platitudes or Gospel truth?  I have had to plan funerals where the only message I could bring was hope for the living and not the deceased.  I had to steer clear of the eternal reality of the person whose body was lying in the casket.  I could not offer honest hope for the one who did not know Jesus.  I could only plead with those left on earth to place their faith in Jesus.  This was not so with Joseph.  What about you?  How simple of a job will you leave your friends and family with when it comes time to plan a celebration of your life?  Maybe, as a result of last night, you may need to reverse engineer your life.  What will your service look like?  What do you want it to look like?  You see, this life, these choices, what you say, how you speak, what you do, who you love, what you love and who you worship will all matter in the end.

I hope that one day, when it is my turn to meet Jesus, that my funeral will be like the one I attended last night.  I pray that my family and friends will walk away with hope even though they are broken.  I hope that it will be simple for them to see Jesus in my life.  I hope that they will not have to search long and hard for a few bright spots.  I know that I am not saved by works or what I do in this life.  But I do know that what I do in this life is a testimony to the truth of the Gospel.

Joseph, one day I will thank you for making it easy to tell people about Jesus under such excruciating circumstances.  Where Satan wants death, there is only life and a legacy to speak of--a legacy of the Gospel.  I also know for a fact that there are many others who plan to thank you.  Through your testimony they have come to know Jesus as Savior.  Number 7 is safe at home.  See you again brother.

Monday, March 5, 2012

A Divine Appointment With Joseph

Sometime about a year ago the Lord led me to spend some time praying with and for specific people on a Sunday morning at Stone's Throw Church.  I announced to the congregation that I would be standing in the back throughout our worship time and that I would be available to pray for those who were sick or in need.  This is not something that I do every Sunday.  I believe that God had a special appointment for me that day.  I was to meet Joseph Feeley.

I had heard about Joseph from his friends and from the Christian community in Delaware.  He was 22 year's old and battling for his life against an aggressive form of cancer.  Joseph was an unbelievable athlete.  He excelled in baseball, cross country, golf and pretty much whatever else he tried.  He was a winner.  He was well-liked by his community and friends and family.  I had never met Joseph.  I had only seen pictures of him at his healthiest.  But this Sunday morning, Joseph and I had a divine appointment.

As I was standing there in the back of the sanctuary, Joseph made his way to me and asked if I could pray for him.  He had lost his hair due to his treatment.  I did not recognize him and so I asked, "How can I pray for you today brother?"  He said, "I have cancer."  Realizing that I was meeting a special young man I asked, "Are you Joseph Feeley?"  He smiled, "Yes."  I put my hands on him and he put his hands on my shoulders and we began to pray.  This was a divine appointment and I'd like to tell you why.

Joseph began to attend Stone's Throw when he was able to.  Joseph and I would talk with each other following some of the services.  I would pray for him.  He would share some of his struggles and victories with me.  I tried to soak in every minute.  We asked God for victory and for healing--no we begged God.  Eventually, we held a benefit concert with the Stone's Throw Band to try and help the Feeley family in any way that we could.  That night, was the single greatest musical/worshipful experience I have ever had.  We fought alongside of Joseph.  We prayed that he would win.

Now, tonight, I have been asked by his family to deliver the good news of Jesus Christ to his friends and family and the community.  I have been asked because of the pastoral relationship that Joseph and I established since that divine appointment.   There were many Sunday's when Joseph was a source of great encouragement to me as I watched him physically battle while I preached Jesus.   My relationship with Joseph was short but divine.  Because Joseph stepped out in faithfulness to have a pastor that he hardly knew to pray for him, I will be preaching Jesus as we look back on the testimony of Jesus Christ through the life of Joseph tonight.

I want to thank Joseph for the way in which he exemplified Jesus.  I want to thank him for the way in which he fought this earthly battle.  I want to thank Joseph for allowing me to pray with him and for him and for letting me into his battle.  If it were not for Joseph's faithfulness, I may not be preaching Jesus tonight as we look back at Joseph's life.

I would rather not be preaching Jesus under these circumstances.  I would rather be holding a celebration concert with God's people and with Joseph physically in attendance.  I would rather of heard of miraculous healing and restoration.  I would like to be able to thank Joseph in person.  One of the last things I said to Joseph was that I would see him again, "One way or the other, I will see you again brother."  I will have to wait to thank him and when I do, it will be in person.  I look forward to the day when I and all those who have come to faith in Christ because of his testimony will be able to thank him.  That Sunday was a divine appointment.  For many, their divine appointment is tonight.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Knowing About God In The Christian Ghetto

An Actual Christian Ghetto T-Shirt Design
In seminary and while living my life in the Christian Ghetto I learned a lot of knowledge about God.  I went to a Christian high school.  I went to church at least two days a week.  I am thankful for all of these experiences.  I spent a bunch of time with a bunch of Christians and learned a bunch of things about God.  We went on retreats together, bought cheesy Christian T-Shirts (that we didn't think were cheesy), listened to bad Christian Music (when we really want to listen to the real Def Leppard and not the "Christian" Def Leppard), and tried to hide everything we did from our parents, youth leaders, and Christian school teachers (we were mostly successful).

In the Christian Ghetto I also learned how to talk like a Christian and act like a Christian.  I knew right from wrong according to the Scriptures.  I knew that Jesus was Lord and Savior and that he died on the cross for my sins. But something was missing and I knew it.  In the Christian Ghetto the line between believer and unbeliever is invisible.  Parents and children made big assumptions about the eternal destiny of so many.  These assumptions are deadly.  The line between knowing about God and of God is almost imperceptible.  Many people in the Christian Ghetto know about God but they do not know God.

Recently, I was speaking with a long time friend who has lived in the Christian Ghetto along side of me.  When they were younger they had been involved in a tragedy that had changed their life forever.  Only recently have they begun to struggle with the repercussions of that horrific time in their life.  They are asking all of the same questions we would ask when peril comes our way--"If God is so good why did this happen to me?"  In the middle of their struggle and through conversations with me, it has became pretty clear that my friend does not have a real understanding of the Gospel and how it applies in their life.  They know the story but they don't know of the story.  They know about God but they don't know God.  Their tragedy has called the question.  They don't really know of Jesus though they know much about Jesus.  I believe that my friend's tragedy might have actually saved my friend's life rather than destroy it.  Because of this tragedy, my friend's deadly assumptions have been brought to light.  They lived in the Christian community but never knew Jesus.  

You see, in my context of the Christian Ghetto, knowing about God was often sufficient.  But there were much bigger pursuits--girls, sports, money, college, music, girls, money, music, popularity, girls, money, music and feeling good during the annual spiritual renewal week for all the girls and boys who were looking to score at the first available opportunity between retreat sessions.  In this context God was no big deal.  Knowing of God was not the great objective.  We were taught that God is most important but it never really panned out that way in real life for many of us.

J. Packer writes, "What makes life worthwhile is having a big enough objective, something which catches our imagination and lays hold of our allegiance; and this the Christian has in a way that no other person has. For what higher, more exalted, and more compelling goal can there be than to know God?"

When I was younger I could think of many more exalted and more compelling goals than knowing God.  Today, I still struggle with having bigger objectives than knowing God.  But what can be greater than God?  What in my life can replace God?  Many of us make great and terrible assumptions about God.  We assume too much.  We assume that our knowledge about God is sufficient.  But you must have a knowledge of God not just a knowledge about God.  Packer states the difference, "We can state the gospel clearly; we can smell unsound doctrine a mile away. If asked how one may know God, we can at once produce the right formula: that we come to know God through Jesus Christ the Lord, in virtue of his cross and mediation, on the basis of his word of promise, by the power of the Holy Spirit, via a personal exercise of faith. Yet the gaiety, goodness, and unfetteredness of spirit which are the marks of those who have known God are rare among us—rarer, perhaps, than they are in some other Christian circles where, by comparison, evangelical truth is less clearly and fully known. Here, too, it would seem that the last may prove to be first, and the first last. A little knowledge of God is worth more than a great deal of knowledge about him."

If you know of God and just about Him then:

First, your thoughts will be about God.  We have a lot of thoughts each day.  How many thoughts are dwelling on who God is and what He has done?  Many Christians are quick to share their knowledge about God, their theology and their opinions but their thoughts are not held captive to the glorious nature of God.  Your thoughts and not just your facts should be about God.

Second, you will be bold and talk about Jesus.  There are a lot of wimps in the church.  I'm going to side with the atheist Penn Jillette--if you actually believe that God is who He says He is, you'll stop wimping out and you will step up and tell people about Jesus.

Third, you'll stop your complaining and grumbling and find contentment in God.  Sheesh.  The church has been full of grumblers and complainers.  I happen to be in a church where the Gospel is going forth and so there isn't a lot of time to grumble and complain. When people do begin to get wilderness-Israelitish on us, we call them out.  When the church isn't bold for Jesus and thoughtful about Jesus they have much more time to complain because they are bored.  It is impossible to have knowledge of God and to continue as a grumbler.

Are your thoughts about God?  Are you bold in Christ?  Are you content with knowing God as the greatest objective in this life?