Monday, November 30, 2015

And the Free Book Winners Are...

I love handing out free stuff. Since these books are mine to give away, that makes it easy.

The three winners of Simple Church: Unity Within Diversity are Vaughn B., Patrick P., and Tom T. Congratulations gentlemen and thanks for playing!

I hope you all find the book to be both encouraging and challenging. You will read various perspectives on church life. All the contributors do not agree with each other on all issues. However, we do all agree that God designed His church to function in a simple manner that is far different from what we see in the institution. God has given us both the Holy Spirit and the bible to guide our paths. When we allow the Spirit to direct the church and we follow what we see in scripture, the body of Christ can operate in a way that is magnificent. Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

I'm Giving Away Three Free Copies of Simple Church: Unity Within Diversity

Although it's difficult for me to believe, it has been nearly a year since Simple Church: Unity Within Diversity was published. I suppose the older you get the faster time seems to go. Now that I'm half way to 90 time simply flies. Regardless, I'd like to do something fun to mark the 365 days since the book hit the market. Therefore, I'm giving away three free copies.

If you would like to be considered for a free copy all you need to do is send me an email with your name, mailing address, and reason why you want the book. Maybe you would just like to read it. Maybe you want to give it to a friend. Maybe you desire to use it as a Christmas present for that family member who just doesn't understand simple church stuff. The list goes on and on.

My email address is Shoot me a short message with the three above items (name, address, and reason), and you'll be entered. I will announce the winners on Monday the 30th of this month. Stay tuned!

Friday, November 20, 2015

We Must Not Sacrifice the Truth for the Sake of Unity

The church is this country is largely in disarray. One of the primary reasons for this is its turning away from the truth in the name of unity.

If you've read this blog for a while, you know that I'm actually a proponent for unity within the body of Christ. In part because of this I acted as editor of Simple Church: Unity Within Diversity.  Since Jesus Christ is for the unity of his church, I'm for the unity of his church. It's that simple.

A massive problem within the church today is that some local bodies have sacrificed gospel truth for the sake of unity. Numerous denominations (see the Episcopal Church, the PC-USA, and the UCC for examples) have either watered down or outright rejected biblical teachings on the truth of the good news. They desire togetherness over truth. They are full of unregenerate people who see no need for repentance and faith. The cross is an offense to them.

Other bodies of believers, while not rejecting the gospel itself, have caved in on other issues. The two most common are women pastors and homosexuality. These folks have given in to secular culture, letting outside political pressures make decisions for those inside the church. This is all done in the name of unity. I call it cowardice.

Christianity is a belief system based in facts. It is true. Facts and truth are not popular today since they are so offensive to so many. Political correctness wages a constant war against any metanarratives, crying and whining about anything resembling absolute truth. Because of this, many who claim to follow Jesus have turned from the truth.

Despite this cultural nonsense, truth and facts stand the test of time. We learn these facts primarily in one place: the bible. Truth is a stream that runs throughout the pages of scripture. Psalm 86:11 says, "Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name." Psalm 119:160 tells us, "The sum of your word is truth, and every one of your righteous rules endures forever." Later in this book we read, "The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth" (Ps. 145:18).

In Proverbs 12:19 we learn, "Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue is but for a moment."

What about the New Testament? Did those writers care about the truth? Let's see if we can find any examples:

"So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, 'If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free'" (John 8:31-32).

"Jesus said to him, 'I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me'" (John 14:6).

"You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth?" (Gal. 5:7).

"Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ" (Eph. 4:15).

"Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth" (I John 3:18).

Truth does not change. God's facts do not change. In order for us to embrace Jesus Christ, we must embrace his truth and facts. Even while society wars against the very idea of truth, we must stand firm. We cannot bend either to increase perceived unity within the body or to coddle a politically correct Thought Police.

I will admit that the church, at least in this country, has a tendency to divide over some nit picky and/or stupid issues. Many reasons Christians separate are of no consequence. This needs to stop. However, what also must stop is the sacrificing of truth, especially gospel truth, for the sake of unity. The consequences of this failure are eternal.

In John 18:38, Pilate famously asked our Lord, "What is truth?" Our society is asking that same question today. However, it is not seeking an answer but rather making the massive (and ironic) truth claim that truth itself does not exist. We must reject this notion. Salvation depends upon it.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Positive Acts Series Summary

The book of Acts is a great gift to the body of Christ. We learn a tremendous amount about how the Holy Spirit works through Christians to accomplish God's purposes. We see both the good and the bad. We can apply much of it directly to our lives.

In this short blog series I've looked at various positive situations in Acts. My desire was two-fold. First, I simply wanted to write about positive things. Second, I love the book of Acts. It's really that simple. My hope is that you have benefited from it. I've included all of the posts below:

Positive Acts
Positive Acts - A Promise with Orders
Positive Acts - Wham!
Positive Acts - Some Sweet Fellowship
Positive Acts - Praying With the Right Priorities
Positive Acts - Not A Needy Person Among Them
Positive Acts - It Pleased the Whole Gathering
Positive Acts - For Gentiles, Too!
Positive Acts - Mission Matters, Race Doesn't
Positive Acts - Now That's How To Do It!
Positive Acts - A Little Help
Positive Acts - On Fleeing Naked and Wounded
Positive Acts - Gathered Together to Break Bread
Positive Acts - Hospitality Anyone?

Monday, November 16, 2015

Linking: Ten Serious Problems With Jesus Calling

A few years ago I came across a copy of Jesus Calling, Sarah Young's extremely popular devotional book. After I read a few pages I thought, "Yuck." I set the book down and never picked it up again. While I knew something was wrong with Jesus Calling, I didn't bother giving it much more thought. In light of how well this book and others in the series are selling, maybe I should have. The reason is that Young's books are having a significant impact upon the church in at least the USA.

Tim Challies has penned a helpful piece entitled Ten Serious Problems With Jesus Calling that discusses why this book is such a disaster. Tim's post helped me think more clearly through the issues at stake. It is worth the read.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Positive Acts - Hospitality Anyone?

"And from there we made a circuit and arrived at Rhegium. And after one day a south wind sprang up, and on the second day we came to Puteoli. There we found brothers and were invited to stay with them for seven days. And so we came to Rome. And the brothers there, when they heard about us, came as far as the Forum of Appius and Three Taverns to meet us. On seeing them, Paul thanked God and took courage" (Acts 28:13-15).

Hospitality is a lost art within the church. This probably has to do with the way our culture has changed over the past fifty years or so. While folks used to sit out on the front porch, they now generally spend time secluded on the back patio or inside in front of the T.V. People just do not get together as much as they used to. This cultural change has impacted the way the church interacts internally. Hospitality in general is not what it once was.

In Acts 28 we see hospitable believers. Paul was on his voyage to Rome. After much struggle, including a shipwreck, Paul had almost arrived. This is the setting when we read 28:13-15. Paul's team had come to Puteoli. They were likely in need of help. They met some Christians for the first time. What did these believers do? They allowed Paul and his friends to stay with them for a week. That is impressive. I wonder if I would be willing to take strangers, even if they were brothers, into my house for a full week with no time to prepare for them.

After this, Paul's group headed to Rome. Believers there came to meet Paul. Luke tells us that Paul "thanked God and took courage." Under the circumstances Paul would most likely have this response because he knew these brothers would offer assistance. We can surmise that these Romans acted much like the brothers in Puteoli had. They offered some form of hospitality.

We should learn much from these early believers. Even with no advance notice they provided for brothers in need, opening up their homes to them. For someone like me this is a great challenge. How would I respond in a similar situation? How would you?

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Linking: "The Celebrity Pastor Factory"

Skye Jethani has written a bold article entitled The Celebrity Pastor Factory. The author discusses the way in which publishing companies have an unhealthy influence on the rise of certain pastors to positions of celebrity within the church.

The money quote:

In summary, the rise and fall of any celebrity pastor is merely a symptom of an underlying malady within American evangelicalism. Why are there now so many celebrity pastors? Because they generate a lot of revenue for the Evangelical Industrial Complex. Why do these pastors fall with such regularity? Because the Evangelical Industrial Complex uses a business standard rather than a biblical standard when deciding which leaders to promote.

Throughout the piece the author explains how what he refers to as the Evangelical Industrial Complex drives the growing trend that is celebrity pastors. At the conclusion of the article he offers three suggestions for what we can do about this mess.

I encourage you to read Jethani's post. He has a perspective on this subject that I had not previously read.

(HT: Challies)

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Positive Acts - Gathered Together to Break Bread

This post is a continuation of my series Positive Acts.

Why does the church get together? Is it for "worship," as much of the American church believes today? No, it is not. Rather, the bible tells us that the body of Christ comes together for edification. I Corinthians 14:26 says, "What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up" (ESV).

One key method the church uses to bring about mutual edification is the Lord's Supper. I'm not referring to the typical funeral-like ceremony held by institutional churches. Rather, I'm talking about what we see in scripture: a joyful and full meal in which the church family has a great time. In Acts 20 this is what we see in Troas.

Paul was passing through town. He got together with his friends. They were meeting that night for a specific purpose. Luke writes in 20:7, "On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight." They gathered to break bread. As they ate together, Paul talked with them. He likely told them all about the many things God was doing through him and his companions while they were traveling about Asia and Greece.

God wants his people to gather. He also wants them to gather for the right reason. Worship is a 24/7 exercise. The church comes together not specifically for worship, but for edification. One primary means of edification is the Lord's Supper.

If we do not know why God wants his body to gather, then how can we ever accomplish what our Lord desires through our meetings?

Monday, November 9, 2015

Linking: "Three Ways Christians Can Be Like Jesus Amidst a More Polarized Culture"

Ed Stetzer has written an excellent article entitled Three Ways Christians Can Be Like Jesus Amidst a More Polarized Culture. The author discusses research data that shows the increasing polarization of America. He then asks and answers the question, "How do we, as Christians, live in this new polarized reality?" His answer focuses on living like Jesus Christ. I encourage you to read it.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Finished the Race

The marathon is over. After months of training, the big event has come and gone. Although I have mixed emotions about this, it is certainly nice to have accomplished my goals. This morning before the race I hoped to: 1) finish, 2) have fun, 3) not walk, and 4) finish in less than four hours. All goals met!

The complicating factor this morning was the heat and humidity. It was an unseasonably hot day here in Savannah. The high temperature hit 86 degrees, with humidity above 90 percent. It was rough. I drank water and Gatorade like a fiend. Because of the weather conditions the race organizers made the wise decision to shorten the race. I ended up running about 24 miles total. Oh well.

One runner actually died today, but I do not know if the heat played a part. That's a good reminder that these long runs are serious events.

Back in February I set this race as a concrete goal to motivate me to lose weight. It worked. The weight is off and the race is complete. Now it's time to rest and relax my aching muscles.

I thank God for providing me with this opportunity. In many ways the marathon was a culmination of a significant life change: becoming healthy physically.

(That's me to the left post-race wearing my finisher's jacket and bling.)


This morning I finally run in the Savannah Rock 'n' Roll Marathon. I greatly appreciate your prayers for both safety and endurance. Sometime after the race, when coherence returns, I'll post an update. Thanks for the support!

Friday, November 6, 2015

Jesus Christ Is at the Center. Let's Live Like It.

Jesus Christ is at the center of creation in general and the church in particular. This is an objective reality. At the most basic level it is both true and truth.

Paul tells us:

He (Jesus Christ) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities — all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1:15-20)

As followers of Jesus, we face the challenge each day of living out a Christ-centered reality. He has, after all, given us great gifts and also made radical claims upon our lives. We happily submit to his Lordship over salvation. However, in the day-to-day comings and goings of life we may fail to live as though Christ is in fact where he is - at the center.

On a day by day basis what are some of the things that we can and should be doing to display the fact of Jesus' position at the center of our existence?

The joyful answer is that God has not made this complicated for us. We do not have to wonder what his expectations are. The only difficult part lies in carrying them out.

Below are seven simple yet profound things we can do to show the world that Jesus Christ is the center point our our lives:

1. Obey Christ's commands. This one is not generally popular, but it shows that we are his disciples.

2. Encourage other believers to obey Jesus' commands. All disciples of our Lord will obey him (if imperfectly).

3. Love others sacrificially. This one hurts sometimes, especially when we do not receive love in return.

4. Accept suffering as normal. While this point won't surprise many believers around the globe, it continues to shock us residents of the good ole USA.

5. Give generously. Jesus owns it all; let's allow it to flow freely through our fingers to those in need.

6. Make disciples. Closely related to number two above, Jesus expects us to help his followers mature.

7. Encourage an active church. Rejecting passivity, let's exhort other believers to actively follow after Jesus in every area of life.

The above is a fairly basic list. We could add twenty more to it without much difficulty. The problem is that the church here in America is weak in even these seven. Let's do our part to show that Jesus sits at the very hub of our existence by carrying these out. The church has to start somewhere.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

4 Days to Go!

The marathon is getting close. Very close.

I have to admit that I am extremely excited about this. For those of you who are not runners, the idea of plodding along for 26.2 miles may seem horrible. For some odd reason, it sounds wonderful to me. Regardless, I'm very much looking forward to it. For one thing, the Savannah Rock 'n' Roll Marathon is a big event. About 18,000 runners are scheduled to participate. That many runners in one place means lots of people who love to run!

As a bonus to all this, Rascal Flatts will perform a free concert immediately after the race. Sweet.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Linking: Doubling Up At Church – Filling Our Week With Extra Programs Because Sunday Isn’t Meeting Our Spiritual Needs

A few years ago Kathleen Ward wrote an excellent, short post that happens to have a long title: Doubling Up At Church – Filling Our Week With Extra Programs Because Sunday Isn’t Meeting Our Spiritual Needs. I highly encourage you to read it.

Kathleen points out that many churches are becoming increasingly busy because the folks desire community but aren't getting it on Sundays. The shape of the Sunday ceremony, pews and all, keeps the body from truly being together. This in turn forces increased meetings during the week just to be able to fellowship.

The Sunday form is the problem.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Linking: Is the Reformation Over?

Does justification by faith alone matter anymore? Is the Reformation over?

R.C. Sproul provides excellent answers to these questions as he deals with the critical topic of justification. Sproul is correct in saying that justification by faith alone is a core attribute of the biblical gospel. He points out how the Roman Catholic Church has steadfastly rejected the notion that faith is enough for salvation. Please read the post. It is relatively short and worth your time.

(HT: Arthur)