Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Serving Without Star Power

At www.christianstandard.com/articledisplay.asp?id=1112, Jim Herbst has written an article about persevering in compassion despite the lack of attention and resources. It's obvious that the man has been involved in urban ministry. This article is well worth reading.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Why I'm Not Emergent

I'm not an Emergent Christian.

Part of my reason for being non-Emergent is social. I'm simply not cool, hip, or fly. I don't even try to be. I do not dye my hair different colors. (I'm a guy. I have never dyed my hair. The frost on top is 100% natural.) I don't hang out in coffee shops or pubs, because I don't care for the taste of coffee or alcohol. I don't know half the names of the famous people I see on the TV or movie screens. Furthermore, I get bored of engaging in a "conversation" (the Emergent word for "argument") with someone who either does not believe in the existence of truth or does not believe it can be known. What's the point? Why do people who do not even believe in the existence of truth argue? Are they trying to convince me of their "truth" that truth does not exist? It's even more annoying when they use the Bible that they don't believe is trustworthy. Talk about being "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing" (as Shakespeare would say).

However, I do have a few things in common with Emergents.

1. I am not interested in being enslaved to legalism. I was forced out of a legalistic church about 15 years ago, and I have no interest in returning to such a system.

2. I am interested in social issues like poverty, racism, and human trafficking.

3. I agree with the need to be involved in a community (church).

4. I appreciate the emphasis on living like Jesus.

While I have a few things in common with Emergents, I do not fit in with their movement. This is why:

1. I believe that truth exists and can be known...not exhaustively, but adequately.

2. I believe that God has revealed his message to us in the Scriptures in a manner that can be comprehended.

3. I believe in the existence of right and wrong.

4. I believe in biblical inerrancy.

5. While I join with Emergents in confronting problems like poverty and racism, I will not ignore the sinfulness of homosexuality and unnecessary abortions. It's cool for Emergents to confront social problems from a liberal perspective, but they tent to shy away from doing the same from a conservative perspective.

6. I believe in the reality of heaven and hell. I don't believe they should be ignored or dismissed.

7. I don't believe the point of the Christian's journey is the journey itself. The point is the destination: the new heavens and new earth in the presence of God.

8. I believe that sound doctrine leads to sound faith, sound thinking, and sound living.

9. I believe in following Jesus as the only way to get to the Father.

10. I believe that the Christian's journey has a beginning point: a faith in Christ that prompts one to follow him in repentance, baptism, and a life committed to honoring him.

11. I believe that the death and resurrection of Christ is the heart of the gospel, rather than his ethical teachings (as important as they are). Since I fail in living up to his ethical teachings, I need the hope of forgiveness, grace, and new life empowered by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Being a "red letter Christian" is inadequate for imperfect people like me.

As a disclaimer, I know that some Emergents will agree with me on some of my points.

For a good review of the Emergent Movement, please check out Why We're Not Emergent (By Two Guys Who Should Be) by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck. It is available in bookstores and at amazon.com.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Little Girl

I listen to country music on the radio. For the past few months, I have been hearing The Little Girl, a beautiful song by John Michael Montgomery. Every day, the positive and negative aspects of this song are being played out in the lives of real people. These are the lyrics from www.cowboylyrics.com:

Her parents never took the young girl to church
Never spoke of His name
Never read her His word
Two non-believers walking lost in this world
Took their baby girl with them
What a sad little girl

Her daddy drank all day and mommy did drugs
Never wanted to play
Or give kisses and hugs
She'd watch the TV and sit there on the couch
While her mom fell asleep
And her daddy went out

And the drinking and the fighting
just got worse every night
Behind their couch she'd be hiding
Oh what a sad little life
And like it always does, the bad just got worse
With every slap and every curse
Until her daddy in a drunk rage one night
Used a gun on her mom and then took his life

And some people from the city took the girl far away
To a new mom and a new dad
kisses and hugs everyday
Her first day of Sunday school the teacher walked in
And a small little girl
Stared at a picture of Him

She said I know that man up there on that cross
I don't know His name
But I know He got off
Cause He was there in my old house
and held me close to His side
As I hid there behind our couch
The night that my parents died

Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Best Christmas Gift

These are my notes for next Sunday's Bible class.

How often have you seen powerful people give up their power when they have not needed to? The CEOs of the Big Three American auto makers recently offered to work for one dollar a year, but it was an effort to save their companies from complete collapse. If they could not convince the federal government to give them loans, they could have lost everything. Several years ago, Richard Nixon resigned the presidency of the United States, but it was an effort to avoid the shame of being thrown out of office and possible time in prison. He felt like he had no choice.

For the past month, we have been looking at the character of people involved in the Christmas accounts. We have looked at Joseph, Mary, and Herod. This week, we will examine the character of the most important person involved: Jesus. We will be looking at someone of great humility and compassion who was willing to become a sacrifice for the sake of others.

While examining Jesus' humility, we will be looking at a characteristic that is difficult to imitate or even to appreciate. Even in Christian circles, we don't tend to like losing power or prestige. We resist humility, because we know that others will not respond well to us when we don't possess sufficient power or prestige. We know it, because we tend to act the same way.

Years ago, a minister was serving as a well-respected preacher for a local church. He was a successful preacher who was gaining a good reputation as an effective speaker and leader. When he attended conferences, other preachers respected him and included him in their circle of friends as a peer.

However, the preacher saw a great need among the youth of the church. He felt led to give up his pulpit and become a youth minister. Suddenly, he became practically invisible when he attended Christian conferences. He had given up power and prestige for others. He had acted like Christ, but even Christian leaders failed to recognize it. He had lost their respect and been excluded from their peer group.

In Christ, we see someone who was willing to step down from the glory of deity in order to meet the needs of people. The apostle Paul wrote,

"Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.

And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death--
even death on a cross" (Philippians 2:5-8).

Jesus willingly limited his power, presence, and prestige. He became the embryo and fetus carried by Mary. He became the boy carried to Egypt and back to Israel by Joseph. He became the man disgraced on the cross for our sins. He showed us what it looks like to be humble.

In his humility, Christ also demonstrated his compassion. He was willing to walk among us and to face life as we do. He was willing to share our experiences as a man.

Common experiences build bonds of compassion.

Because of my experiences, I know what it's like to want a child but not have one. I understand the frustrations of infertile couples. I know about the monthly disappointments and expensive treatments that can last for years. I understand the depression that comes after you have given up on the medical experts. I know about the mourning you go through for the biological child you will never have. I understand the anxiety of going through the adoption process. Questions race through your mind. Will the social worker approve of us and our home? Will birthparents choose us? If so, when will we be chosen? Why were we not chosen? What's wrong with us? I also know the joy of adoption. I know what it feels like to finally receive your child. Without my experience, I could have an intellectual compassion for infertile and adoptive families, but it would not quite be the same. Through experience, the compassion is deeper and more personal.

The same is true for Jesus. Now God knows at a deeply personal level what it means to be human.

The Bible states, "For this reason (Jesus) had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might turn aside God's wrath, taking away the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted" (Hebrews 2:17-18).

Christ knows what it is like to be tempted. He knows the power of temptation, and he understands our weaknesses. It took everything he had to live a sinless life. He resisted temptation to the point of sweating blood. He has deep compassion for us, because he knows why we fail.

Because he went through the temptations and punishment for our sins (even though he never sinned), he is able to help us. He gives us hope because of his resurrection. He has sent the Holy Spirit to help us until he returns to make everything right. Someday, because of Christ, we will live in resurrected bodies and enjoy life as God always intended in the new heavens and new earth.

Sometimes we may fail to recognize the significance of the Christmas narratives. We may not see the importance of God becoming man and sharing our life experiences as a human being.

Several years ago, I was in a Bible class with a man who denied that Jesus Christ had come in the flesh. He insisted that Christ was a purely spiritual being who merely looked like he had flesh, blood, and bones. I became increasingly agitated. Finally, I had to speak up. I said, "The Bible says, 'Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist' (2 John 7). Are you sure you want to go there?" He finally stopped talking and started considering why the apostle John would write so strongly against his beliefs.

A teaching that eliminates Jesus' humanity cuts the heart out of the gospel. It eliminates his humility, undermines his compassion, and denies his sacrifice on our behalf. That's what makes the Christmas story so important.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Conversation with Santa Claus


This is Christopher's actual conversation with Santa Claus:
Santa: What's your name, young man?
Christopher: Christopher.
Santa: Christopher, what would you like for Christmas?
Christopher: A Scooby Doo video game, a teddy bear, and a live turkey.
Santa: A live turkey? Why do you want a live turkey?
Christopher: Because I want to teach it to dance.
(Honestly, why else would someone want a live turkey?)

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Men of God

"An elder must be blameless, the husband of but one wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. Since an overseer is entrusted with God's work, he must be blameless--not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it" (Titus 1:6-9).

For some time, I have recognized that Paul's description of elders should be characteristic of Christian men in general. When I find well-written articles and books about the qualities of an elder, I can't wait to read them for whatever insight I can find in them.

For the last two weeks, the Christian Standard has published articles which are worth reading on this subject. The two-part series is one of the best I have read on the qualities of elders. The articles may be read at:

www.christianstandard.com/articledisplay.asp?id=1098
and
www.christianstandard.com/articledisplay.asp?id=1103.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Shamefully Good Living

President-elect Barack Obama has chosen Rick Warren to pray at his inauguration next month. On NPR this morning, I heard Mr. Warren described as "controversial" and "outrageous" because he considers homosexuality and unnecessary abortions to be sinful. He was attacked for believing the Bible.

Over the years, Rick Warren and the Saddleback Church have led the way in caring for AIDS victims, promoting adoption, and helping orphans. He has been a proponent of treating those with whom he disagrees with civility and honor. Mr. Warren and the Saddleback Church have tried to be faithful to biblical faith in Christ while showing kindness and compassion to the people around them, even if some of those people were their enemies.

Now, he is maligned as a hateful nut.

This is a common burden for Christians. How many times have we heard...

~Christians care about babies before they are born, but couldn't care less afterward?
~Christians are right-wing, racist homophobes?
~or some other similar accusation?

How should we respond when we are attacked in such ways?

First, we must not allow social intimidation to force us to back down from loyalty to Christ and his standards. It's better to look bad while standing with Christ than to look good apart from him. He is more important than our popularity.

Then, we need to live in such a manner that those who slander us will be embarrassed. The apostle Paul wrote, "In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us" (Titus 2:7-8). The apostle Peter echoed Paul's instructions when he wrote, "Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. 'Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.' But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander" (1 Peter 3:13-16). We need to be living such genuinely good, kind, and generous lives that such slander will look foolish and petty. It's our best defense against unwarranted attacks of this nature.

(For another good perspective on this controversy, please see Albert Mohler's comments at www.albertmohler.com/blog_read.php?id=3023.)

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Reasons to Love Jesus: #3 Propitiation

"This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as the one who would turn aside his wrath, taking away sin through faith in his blood" (Romans 3:22-25a).

The doctrine of propitiation is a key doctrine of the Bible, because it is essential to the definition of Christ's mission. The word propitiation is rarely used today, but it is an offering with the purpose of appeasing the wrath of God and taking away sin. The apostle Paul described Jesus' work on the cross as a propitiation when he wrote, "You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him!" (Romans 5:6-9).

In Christ as a propitiation, we see a God who was properly angry at us. We deserved his wrath. We had violated our relationship with him as people made in his image. We had insulted our Creator by going our own way. We had sinned by committing acts of selfishness and evil. Our situation was hopeless, because we had no defense.

However, although God was angry with us, he also loved us. He knew that we deserved the full force of his wrath, but he also knew that we could not handle it. He is a God of wrath, but he is also a God of compassion and love. So he decided to appease his own justified wrath. On the cross, Jesus Christ took the wrath. He became our propitiation and our saving grace.

Because the Son of God took the punishment for our sins, we do not need to walk in condemnation. We can live freely, without the burden of guilt and shame. When we place our confidence in him as our propitiation, we enjoy the benefits of his sacrifice.

And that's just one more reason to love Jesus.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Another Reason to Anticipate Heaven

"Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away" (Revelation 21:1-4).

Twenty years ago, I was a junior at Oklahoma Christian University who was majoring in education and minoring in social studies. During that time, I studied under one of the greatest men I have ever known: Dr. John Thompson. I always enjoyed his classes. In his class on the American Presidency, he would rile up the students (who were mostly Republicans) by always referring to FDR as "The Great Franklin Delano Roosevelt," with a twinkle in his eyes and a smile on his face. He would speak with passion on the topics of W.E.B. Du Bois and other early African American leaders. His laughter was as contagious as his kindness. I spent hours between classes in his office discussing everything from history to politics to our common faith in Christ. He never complained about the time I wasted; in fact, he seemed to enjoy our conversations as much as I did.

Yesterday, I received an e-mail from Oklahoma Christian informing me that Dr. Thompson had passed away. He was a great man...a legend. His presence with Christ now is one more reason to anticipate heaven. We will meet again someday to share the laughter and joy forever.

See more about Dr. John Thompson at http://blogs.oc.edu/ee/index.php?/ocnews/oc_family_mourns_passing_of_dr_john_thompson/.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Sins of Insecurity

These are my notes for tomorrow's Bible class.

Did you see the latest Batman movie, The Dark Knight, last summer? In the movie, the Joker does his best to destroy Gotham City by creating such a strong feeling of fear among the citizens that they would turn on each other and start harming each other. He wanted the people to kill each other. He created chaotic situations in which people were tempted to kill others in order to either save their own lives or to save their loved ones. In effect, the Joker played the role of Satan. Like the Joker in The Dark Knight, Satan manipulates circumstances to produce confusion, fear, and anger in our lives so that we are tempted to do wrong in order to cope with life. He did it with Job. He does it with us, too.

What does this have to do with our series on the Christmas narratives? Over the past two weeks, we have looked into the characters of Joseph and Mary. They were two of the heroes of human history. When times were tough, they rose to the occasion. They trusted in God and followed his instructions. Today, we will examine one of humanity's failures. In King Herod, we will see a man who was driven by fear and anger, a man who abused the Scriptures for selfish purposes, and a man who resorted to cruelty when he lost control of his circumstances. He was an easy target for demonic manipulation. By examining his failures, I hope to prepare us to meet the challenges in our lives. If we can see our vulnerabilities as we look at Herod's, hopefully we will be able to work on strengthening our character so that we can face temptations successfully.

Let's read Matthew 2:1-20 to set the context of our character study of King Herod.

First, we need to see that King Herod was driven by fear and anger. He was a powerful but insecure man; and that made him dangerous. When he became king, he executed over 40 priests who had opposed his ascension to the throne. In 29 BC, he executed one of his wives because he suspected her of plotting against him. In 7 BC, he executed two of his sons for the same reason. As he was dying, King Herod ordered several of Jerusalem's prominent men to be arrested. He instructed that they be executed as soon as he died so that all of Jerusalem would mourn on the day of his death. (Those orders were ignored, and Jerusalem did not mourn his death.) Even as he was dying, he ordered a third son be put to death. King Herod lived in fear and anger his whole life. He lived in insanity because of it.

When we adopt a lifestyle of fear and anger, we are putting ourselves in a vulnerable position. With little effort, we can become a destructive force in others' lives--and even in our own. Psalm 37:8 warns,

"Cease from anger and forsake wrath;
Do not fret; it leads only to evildoing" (New American Standard Bible).

If we live as angry and worried people, we set ourselves up to do evil. Through his recovery ministry here at the Contact Church, Todd Box has taught us about the acronym H.A.L.T. When we are
Hungry
Angry
Lonely or
Tired,
we are most vulnerable to falling into our sinful patterns and addictions. When we are anxious and angry, we are ready to sin. Some of us may fall to drunkenness or drugs, some to gossip, some to sexual immorality, some to theft, some to unkindness, some to rudeness or to another sin. All of us are vulnerable to some kind of sin.

A few years ago, I was going through some health problems. They were not serious, but I didn't know it. I had no idea what I was facing, so I became anxious and somewhat angry. I took off a day from my job to see my doctor. Of course, he could not tell me anything specific. He had to make an appointment for me to see a specialist a few weeks later. I went back to work the next day with even more anxiety. When my substitute approached me to tell me about the job, I responded sharply and without a hint of kindness. Even worse, she had said nothing to provoke me. She was simply trying to prepare me for what I might face that day. As she teared up, I recognized how poorly I had treated her and apologized immediately. I was totally to blame. I was living in fear and anger, and it was hurting the people around me as well as myself.

Instead, I should have been following the instructions of Psalm 37. I should not have been worrying. I should have been concentrating on trusting God and doing good to others. If I had, I would not have damaged a relationship with a co-worker even for a few minutes. If Herod had trusted in God and devoted himself to doing good, his legacy would have been completely different. He would have stood out as a healthy and solid man of God. He would have been a biblical hero. Instead, Herod is known as a paranoid murderer.

Next, I would like to consider Herod's misuse of the Scriptures. He did not approach the Bible to get closer to God or to conform to his standards and will. He used the Bible for selfish purposes. He called on the biblical scholars of his day to find out where the expected Messiah would be born. He didn't want to worship or honor the baby. He wanted biblical information so that he could eliminate the competition.

Several years ago, a young man came to me for marriage advice after his wife kicked him out of the house. The problem was: he had a habit of committing adultery. His wife needed some relief. Now he was upset. He told me, "She claims to be a Christian, but she won't forgive me. I told her that the Bible commands her to forgive me, but she won't listen." I couldn't believe my ears. I had to tell him that it wasn't his place to preach to her about her need to forgive. He needed to change himself. He needed to commit to being faithful to his wife, apologize for the wrongs he had done to her and their children, prove his trustworthiness, and give his wife time. She might forgive him, but he could not demand it from her. He was interested in the Bible as long as he could misuse it for his own selfish purpose.

Our challenge is to approach the Bible honestly. We cannot approach it like Herod and my friend did. God knows our hearts and cannot be fooled.

Finally, the last characteristic of Herod that I would like to examine today is his cruel selfishness. He didn't really care about other people. He had goals. If anyone got in his way of achieving them, their lives were in danger. A couple of dozen dead infants and toddlers did not matter to him as long as he was able to retain his throne.

Our challenge is to be Herod's opposite. While he was cruel and selfish, we need to be kind and selfless. We must not allow our goals and obligations to get in the way of expressing concern for other people. On the day after Thanksgiving a few weeks ago, a Wal-Mart employee in New York was trampled to death by shoppers who were goal-oriented rather than people-oriented. Nobody stopped to help the victim. They had goals in mind. They could not be bothered by someone in need. I don't want to be like that. Sometimes goals, ambitions, and schedules need to be set aside in order to care for people. In that way, we can be the antithesis of King Herod.

We can be different than Herod. We can trust in God, devote ourselves to doing good, read the Bible honestly, and care about people around us. When we do, we will be living as God always intended. We will be able to face temptations successfully.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Lessons in Urban Ministry

Last night, Joel (Big O) taught a class at the Park Plaza Church. Joel is one of our ministers in the Contact Church. He joined the staff about a year and a half ago.

During the class, Big O mentioned a change in his perspective since entering the urban ministry. When he originally joined the Contact Church, he assumed that his mission was to alleviate poverty and to help move people out of poverty. Since then, he has come to the understanding that his mission is to help people to be Christians in whatever circumstances they face. In other words, he helps people to place their faith in Jesus even when they can't find a job. He helps them to find peace in God when they live in public housing and cannot afford a car to get to a job. He realizes that no matter what the circumstances may be, people need to trust in Christ and follow him more than anything else.

Joel's story of his change in perspective reminded me of what happened to me when I first became involved in the urban ministry. It changed my perspective, also. I had the idea that we would be a little soft on biblical teaching while emphasizing feeding and clothing the poor. I had a seeker-sensitive mindset, fearing that people would be offended by a direct presentation of Christ's gospel. I also thought that people would be turned away by teaching biblical ethics. Ron and Frank showed me that I was wrong. We meet a lot of physical needs among the poor of Tulsa, but we see many people who are looking for God and God's directions for living. They are wanting much more than food, clothing, and shelter. Merely feeding and clothing them (without providing solid biblical teaching and genuine friendship) would be a disservice to them and to Christ.

Urban ministry can change one's preconceptions. No doubt about it.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Family Photos (December 2008)

Our family at the Contact Church last Sunday. Christopher led the congregation in Jesus Loves Me last Sunday morning. During our prayer and praise time, he told the church, "I'm thankful that Christ is coming back!"

After worship services, we went ice skating in downtown Tulsa. Christopher and I are in the picture above. Janet and Christopher are in the picture below.



Monday, December 08, 2008

A Defense of Biblical Christianity

"In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil men and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy 3:12-17).

In defending homosexuality, Newsweek magazine has attempted to launch an intellectual attack on biblical Christianity at www.newsweek.com/id/172653. Thankfully, Albert Mohler has responded with a good analysis of the article, showing the inconsistencies and inadequacies of the attack, at www.albertmohler.com/blog_read.php?id=2881.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

The Social Implications of Sound Doctrine

Recently, I found a fascinating article from the Wall Street Journal which was published in August (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB121944811327665223.html). In it, the author writes about Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in southern California. Here is an excerpt:

"In Africa, (Rick Warren's) plan has been to use churches to promote literacy, economic growth and public health. Short-term visits from American churchgoers serve to train church leaders. But there are also less tangible tasks--cultural problems--which Mr. Warren believes churches can address better than governments or nongovernmental organizations. For instance, we need 'to teach men and boys to respect women and children.' No amount of AIDS education is going to help if women are being raped by men in their villages. 'And that is my job as a pastor. No government can do that.'"

I was reminded of Paul's instructions to Titus. "You must teach what is in accord with sound doctrine. Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance...Similarly, encourage the young men to be self-controlled. In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us" (Titus 2:1-2, 6-8).

When we take the teachings of the Lord seriously, we can make a positive impact on our social environment. Our challenge is to embrace sound doctrine, allow it to shape our thinking so that we have sound minds, and then to live sound lives of faith in Christ.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

The Sentimental Saint

These are my notes for tomorrow's Bible class:

What moments in raising your children do you treasure? I asked Janet that question, and she said that Christopher's first steps would be her answer.

I also have some special moments with Christopher that I treasure. I remember one day when I was parking my car in the garage after a long day of work. Janet opened the door to the garage with Christopher in her arms. For the first time in his young life, he broke into a huge smile as he saw me get out of the car. I also remember one evening in our living room. Christopher was not walking or talking yet. I must have done something hilarious because he just sat on the floor laughing and shaking uncontrollably as he looked at me. Finally, I treasure the evening I was holding Christopher in my lap when he looked up at me and said, "Daddy, if you were a baby, I would adopt you." I can't imagine a better way for my little boy to tell me, "I love you."

If you have treasured memories of raising your children, you have some insight into the character of Mary, the mother of Jesus. The Bible tells us that Mary treasured her memories of Jesus' childhood, too (Luke 2:51).

This week, we will continue to look at the character of some of the people involved in the Christmas accounts. Last week, we examined Joseph. Today, we will look at Mary.

First, we will look at Mary's unusually strong faith. Let's read Luke 1:5-38. As we read it, please pay attention to the subtle--but significant--differences in the ways Zechariah and Mary reacted to the angel's messages from God.

When Zechariah was told that he and Elizabeth would become the parents of John the Baptist, he asked, "How can I be sure of this?" He doubted God's word.

When Mary was told that she would become the mother of Jesus, she asked, "How will this be?" She did not doubt the message from God. She simply wanted to know how it would happen.

The contrast shows us that God is displeased when we do not believe his word, but he is pleased when we trust him despite our lack of understanding.

I have many questions about God's word. For example, I do not really understand how the biblical doctrines of predestination and free will fit together. Just when I think I have it figured out, I come across a verse that does not fit into my understanding. Then I have to start over in trying to fit the pieces together again.

The truth is: It's okay when we don't know everything, but it's unacceptable to distrust the word of God. Like Mary, we can seek answers without dishonoring God. We can follow her example of believing God even when we don't completely understand how he will do what he has promised.

The next admirable characteristic of Mary was her humility. Let's read Luke 1:39-55. Notice how she sees herself in a humble position. At the same time, she recognizes the awesome qualities of God. She sees herself at the mercy of an incredibly powerful God who (thankfully) helps those who are humble and in need. He pays attention to people who take him seriously. When Jesus blessed the poor in spirit (Matthew 5), could he have had his mother in mind as he said those words?

Humility doesn't come easily, does it? When everything is going our way--when we are getting along with our families and friends, when we do not feel any aches or pains, when we are able to pay our bills--it's easy to think that we deserve our good circumstances. "I work hard. I'm a decent guy. I go to church. I'm just getting what I deserve." When I think like that, I'm not even close to the humility seen in Mary.

What about when everything is going wrong? When I'm in an ongoing conflict with a co-worker? When my car breaks down and I can't afford to fix it? When I need surgery? "I can't believe this is happening to me. I don't deserve this. This is not right. This should not be happening to me." Again, I'm being arrogant. I'm not imitating Mary's humility.

Like Mary, I need to recognize that it's not about me. She did not whine about the problems associated with being Jesus' mother. She did not complain about gaining a bad reputation for being pregnant before marriage. Mary didn't even brag about being the only woman chosen to be the mother of God's Son. Her focus was on God instead of herself. That's the secret of humility: not thinking about myself--thinking about God. Mary is a great example of a humble woman.

Finally, Mary was a servant. When the angel told her about her future as the mother of God's Son, she responded, "I am the Lord's servant." She was willing to serve God in any way needed.

A few weeks ago, Sarah Logsdon (http://urbanlogfamily.blogspot.com) honored the teachers of our young children's classes with public recognition and gifts from the church. She mentioned that Katie and Janet (my wife) stood out because of their willingness to do anything she asked them to do for the children. They were always willing to teach a class and serve the children of the church. Katie and Janet stood out because of their servant hearts. (Actually, the same could be said about Sarah, but since she was presenting the honors, nobody had the opportunity to say it about her.)

God is looking for people like Mary. He wants all of us to become like Mary in our faith, our humility, and our service. Mary was a special saint, but her character was never intended to be unique. We need to imitate it in our lives.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Urban Ministries in the Christian Chronicle

The Christian Chronicle features two urban ministries among the Churches of Christ in this month's edition. The Dry Bones ministry in Denver is featured at www.christianchronicle.org/article2158629~Forging_friendships_with_homeless_key_at_Dry_Bones_Denver. In an online exclusive, an inner-city church in San Antonio is featured at www.christianchronicle.org/article2158627~Sharing_Jesus_with_San_Antonio%27s_inner_city. Both articles are worth reading.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

The ESV Study Bible


I bought the new ESV (English Standard Version) Study Bible last week. It looks like a very good addition to my library. Here are a few recommendations from some highly respected Bible teachers:
"The ESV is a dream come true for me. The rightful heir to a great line of historic translations, it provides the continuity and modern accuracy I longed for. Now the scope and theological faithfulness of the ESV Study Bible study notes is breathtaking. Oh how precious is the written Word of God." ~ John Piper, pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, MN
"The ESV Study Bible is the most important resource that has been given to the emerging generation of Bible students and teachers." ~ Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church, Seattle, WA
"The ESV Study Bible is an invaluable and inexhaustible resource. I especially love the way the notes and articles highlight the great redemptive story and 'connect the dots' between the various portions and themes of Scripture. Full of rich insight, scholarly yet accessible--I am deeply grateful for this magnificent work." ~ Nancy Leigh DeMoss, author, host of Revive Our Hearts radio program
"The ESV Study Bible is a gift to God's people everywhere. Building on the finest biblical text available, the study notes are solidly evangelical and totally practical. Every serious student, teacher, and communicator of the Bible will want a copy of this magnificent edition of God's Word." ~Jack Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church, Plano, TX
"The definitive clarity and beauty of the ESV Study Bible is extraordinary. In a world where words are distorted to mean anything, it is wonderful to have complete confidence in the reliability and truth of the Bible--so clearly and persuasively demonstrated by the world-class team of Bible scholars and teachers. For everyone who wants to understand God's Word in a deeper way, the ESV Study Bible is an outstanding resource. I will be an avid user!" ~ Joni Eareckson Tada, founder of JAF International Disability Center, Agoura Hills, CA
From what I have read so far, it looks like the endorsements are deserved. It appears to be a solid translation with very good study notes.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

All I Really Want

These are the lyrics of Steven Curtis Chapman's song All I Really Want:

Well I don't know if you remember me or not
I'm one of the kids they brought in from the home
I was the red-haired boy in an old green flannel shirt
You may not have seen me - I was standing off alone
I didn't come and talk to you, 'cause that's never worked before
And you'll prob'ly never see this letter anyway
But just in case there's something you can do to help me out
I'll ask you one more time

All I really want for Christmas
Is someone to tuck me in
A shoulder to cry on if I lose
Shoulders to ride on if I win
There's so much I could ask for
But there's just one thing I need
All I really want for Christmas is a family

Well I guess I should go ahead and tell you now
If it's really true about that list you have
Somehow I always seem to end up in a fight
But I'm really trying hard not to be bad
But maybe if I had a brother or a dad to wrestle with
Well, maybe they could teach me how to get along
And from everything I've heard
Sounds like the greatest gift on earth would be a mom

All I really want for Christmas
Is someone to tuck me in
A shoulder to cry on if I lose
Shoulders to ride on if I win
There's so much I could ask for
But there's just one thing I need
All I really want for Christmas

Is someone who'll be there
To sing me "Happy Birthday"
For the next 100 years
And it's OK if they're not perfect
Well, even if they're a little broken, that's alright
'Cause so am I

Well, I guess I should go
It's almost time for bed
And maybe next time I write you
I'll be at home

'Cause all I really want for Christmas
Is someone to tuck me in
Tell me I'll never be alone
Someone whose love will never end
Of all that I could ask for
Well, there's just one thing I need
All I really want for Christmas
All I really want for Christmas is a family

Just a family

That's all I really need

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Quiet Righteousness

These are my notes for tomorrow's Sunday school class:

Can one person make a difference in our world? We live in a world with overwhelming problems.

~One hundred million children live on the streets of the world's cities, a world of drugs, crime, and abuse.
~Physical and sexual abuse damage over 625 million of the world's children.
~It is estimated that almost 6 million children fall prey to pedophiles every year.
~Three hundred thousand boys and girls have been forcibly made into child soldiers.
~Twelve million people fled their countries because of wars, disasters, and environmental collapse in 2003. Another 24 million people had to leave their homes for the same reasons, but stayed within their countries. The vast majority were women and children.
~Forty million people are infected with AIDS.
~Fifteen million children under the age of 15 have lost their parents to AIDS. By next year, the number is expected to double. (Get Your Hands Dirty, edited by Doug Priest and Nicole Cesare, pp. 62-68)

As we consider the Christmas narratives over the next few weeks, we will be looking at rather ordinary men and women who made a difference in their world by being faithful to God and his calling on their lives. They also faced overwhelming problems.

~In the Roman Empire, a child was not accepted into the family until the father accepted him or her. If not accepted, the child would be abandoned. Unless they were found by people who would raise them to be exploited as slaves or prostitutes, they would die of exposure to the weather or wild animals.
~The majority of the Roman Empire's population lived as slaves. If they escaped, they could be executed legally by their owners.
~The rulers were evil, paranoid, and cruel.
~The common people were at the mercy of people who had little understanding of mercy, and even less appreciation for it.

In such a world, we could easily become discouraged and give up. We do not have the knowledge, the wealth, or the influence to solve all the world's problems.

Neither did Joseph, the husband of Mary and the man who would help her bring up Jesus as a Son.

But he did make a difference. And he did it in a quiet and unassuming way.

In fact, as hard as you may look, you will never find one word spoken by Joseph in the Bible. He may have been a quiet man, but he filled a significant role in events that have affected all of us.

Let's read a couple of passages about Joseph as we consider his role in Christ's story and his character: Matthew 1:18-25; 2:13-23.

In Matthew 1:19, Joseph is called "a righteous man." In other words, he was a man who lived in a right relationship with God and with other people. If we are to make a genuine and lasting difference in this world like Joseph did, we will need to be righteous, too. We will need to live in a right relationship with God and others.

If you look back in your life at the people who have made a positive impact for God on you personally, you will probably remember someone who was righteous. I remember the man who baptized me. I was attending the Plainview Church of Christ in Catoosa as a teenager. It was a small congregation with a history of preachers who did not strike me as being very righteous, as I understand the meaning of righteousness today. They seemed to be rather hard to get along with. But then John Hurn, a high school science teacher, came to our church as our part-time preacher. During those years, he and his wife changed the atmosphere of the congregation. He would smile and laugh. He would listen when you had a problem or concern. He would visit members at home, at work, and in the hospital. He would preach the Bible faithfully and love the people he was preaching to. He once told me, "I want to be conservative in my doctrine and liberal in my love." And he was. I had never been exposed to a preacher like him, and it made a profound impact on my life...so much so that he baptized me after a couple of years.

That was the kind of righteousness we see in Joseph, the kind of righteousness that takes God seriously and treats people properly.

Joseph was a man who paid attention to God's word. You will notice that every time he received a message from God by the angel, Joseph believed it and obeyed it. That's the kind of faith that makes a difference in the world.

If we are to make a difference, we will need to be listening to God's word, too. We will need to be involved in hearing the message of the Bible, whether by reading it every day or listening to it on CD or in some other way.

Then, like Joseph, we need to believe it. Our faith must be grounded in the promises of God. If we doubt God and his word, we will not be able to persevere when difficulties arise. Joseph faced difficult decisions, but he believed the word of God every time it was revealed to him. And because he believed, he made the right decisions.

He obeyed God based on his faith in God's word. We need to do the same if we are going to overcome the challenges of life. If we listen to God's word telling us to turn away from our sins, we need to obey. If we hear God telling us to stop cussing, gossiping, looking at pornography, or lying, we need to obey. If we hear God calling us to give up our old lives, be baptized, and live new lives for him, we need to obey. If we hear God telling us to care for a widow, forgive someone who has hurt us, mentor a child without a parent, or visit a co-worker in the hospital, we need to obey. It's an obedient faith in God that makes a difference in this world. That's why Joseph made a difference in his world.

Joseph also made a difference because he had a generous spirit. When he found out about Mary's pregnancy, he could have called for her death. It was perfectly legal. But his generous spirit would not allow him to do it, no matter how deeply he had been hurt and embarrassed by the news. When Jesus was born, Joseph could have rejected him. He knew that Jesus was not his biological son. But Joseph's generosity prompted him to care for the boy as any decent father would.

We need the generous spirit of Joseph in order to make a difference in our world, too. People around us are facing difficult circumstances and are vulnerable. They need our help rather than our judgment. If you are like me, you have seen a few co-workers rightfully fired for drug abuse, stealing, or some other violation of the rules or law. During those times, they have been vulnerable. They have known that they had done wrong and possibly ruined their careers (if not their lives). Those are the times when they need a phone call or a personal visit from a Christian who is willing to help. It may be the last thing they expect, but they will never forget someone who cares about them during a crisis. It could make a difference for eternity.

Finally, Joseph made a difference because he was a responsible and brave man. He risked his reputation by staying with Mary. People must have wondered whether he had gotten Mary pregnant. If so, he would not have been seen as righteous by his neighbors, no matter how good a man he actually was. But he was willing to embrace a bad reputation in order to care for his wife and her child. In fact, he was willing to risk his life to protect them from a bloodthirsty king who wanted Jesus dead.

As Jim Roberts has taught us, we need courage like Joseph's in order to make a difference. We need to be responsible even when it makes us look bad, even when we could face harm. Men, this is a special challenge for us. We are responsible for loving and protecting our wives and children in selfless ways, just like Joseph did. We need to be looking out for danger and doing our best to guide our families through it. This could mean signing up for a health insurance policy for our families, reading a devotional or biblical passage at the dinner table instead of watching the Simpsons (or the news or sports or whatever else may be on) in front of the TV while we eat, or a number of other things. Whatever our circumstances, we need to exert the courage to be responsible in our spheres of influence.

It's no wonder that the Bible calls Joseph "a righteous man." He was the perfect man to fill the role of a father for Jesus while he was on Earth. We can learn a lot from him, and in some ways, be like him today. If we do that, our world will be a better place.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A Challenging Story

I read this story in the latest edition of One Body magazine:

"Dad (Don DeWelt) was holding the audience in the palm of his hand as he told them a fascinating story of how he had met a wealthy man on a flight into Joplin. It seems that this businessman was a dedicated Christian who was anxious to use his resources for the sake of the kingdom.

"The auditorium became as still as a tomb as my father went on to say that this newly discovered friend and brother had made an incredible offer. Dad had been sharing with this brother his own passion for the lost and how he wished he could motivate people to care more about people who needed to know Jesus. Then came the bombshell. This wealthy and now convicted believer said that he would be willing to pay any Christian the sum of $1,000 for every person that they would lead to the Lord during the next twelve months. All they had to do was report in to my dad with the specifics and the money was theirs! As this information was relayed to the audience, the attention level began to reach record levels! In fact, though a very young man at the time, I was even paying attention.

"Try to imagine what happened next as my father followed up by stating that he had simply said to the businessman that he was sure that no one would be interested! His reasoning? He told him that he was certain no real Christian would do for money (I think he said 'filthy lucre') what they would not do on their own for the pure love of the Lord!

"The audience had stopped breathing! Then with a masterful smile, he simply added, 'Now, I just made that whole story up to see if you were listening!' After a split second, the audience broke into laughter, although there were many nervous sidelong glances" (Chris DeWelt, One Body, Fall 2008, Volume 25, Number 4, page 21, "Don DeWelt and Motivation to Reach the Lost").

"For Christ's love compels us..." (2 Corinthians 5:14).

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The National Missionary Convention Part 2

"Should I not be concerned about that great city?" (Jonah 4:11b)

Janet, Christopher, and I returned to the National Missionary Convention this morning for a session on urban ministry. Dave Smith, an urban minister in New York City, presented a workshop on the importance of reaching the major urban areas of the world.

We had expected an emphasis on the kind of work being done by the Contact Church of Christ in Tulsa, an emphasis on reaching the urban poor. Dave Smith touched on that topic, but his emphasis focused on reaching the immigrants and the influential.

He noted that most immigrants come to the major cities in order to find work. As they move in, they are more receptive to Christians who are willing to help them and who are willing to share their faith with them. Many immigrants work in the major cities of America and then return to their homelands. If they were to become followers of Jesus Christ, many of them could carry the message of Christ back to countries closed to American missionaries. By reaching the cities, we can reach the world.

Mr. Smith also talked about the importance of reaching out to the educated, influential, and wealthy in the cities. If the people on Wall Street were guided more by the biblical ethics of concern for others, integrity, and the glory of God, would the world be facing the current economic turmoil? What if people in the arts were touched by the gospel? Would the theater, movies, music, and television more frequently be redemptive rather than degrading? Despite their apparent self-sufficiency, the wealthy and influential need Christ as much as anyone.

Dave Smith did a great job of encouraging Christians to open their eyes to the possibilities of reaching people in the major cities of our country and the world.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The National Missionary Convention

"He said to them, 'Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation" (Mark 16:15).

Janet and I spent the morning at the National Missionary Convention of the independent Christian Churches, which is in Tulsa for the first time since 2001. We spent the morning in the first worship session with Mark Moore of Ozark Christian College speaking. Dr. Moore presented an academic sermon about Jesus' first public appearance as a celebrity preacher in his hometown synagogue. He gave some basic background information about historical biblical criticism and the Qumran community in an effort to better understand the context of the account and the emphasis of Jesus' message on that occasion.

Afterwards, we attended a workshop led by Stephanie Reed and her co-workers from Rapha House, a ministry in Cambodia which rehabilitates young women and girls who have been rescued from slave labor and sex slavery. Rapha works closely with International Justice Mission and local authorities who rescue the girls from the brothels. The workshop focused on the need to incorporate the pursuit of justice into missionary efforts. Some people need more than food, clothing, housing, and biblical teaching; they need to be rescued from those who are oppressing them.

Then, we looked through the area with booths from several domestic and international ministries. Janet bought t-shirts from Rapha House for all of us. Each shirt says, "Freedom Fighter: Stop Human Trafficking." (More information about Rapha House can be found at www.raphahouse.org and www.freedomforgirls.org.)

We are not sure whether we will return for the convention later this weekend, but it was another good experience. The convention runs through Sunday morning at the Tulsa Convention Center. You can find out more at www.nationalmissionaryconvention.org.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Dad, Why Do We Always Talk About God at Church?

This was our conversation tonight as I gave Christopher his bath:

"Dad, why do we always talk about God at church?"

"Well, because everything is about God."

"Even you?"

"Even me."

"Even me?"

"Even you."

"Even my toys?"

"Even your toys."

"(Jesus) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. 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 and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross" (Colossians 1:15-20).

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Prime Directive, the Great Commission, and the Great Commandments

"Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 'Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?'

"Jesus replied: '"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind." This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: "Love your neighbor as yourself." All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments'" (Matthew 22:34-40).

"Then Jesus came to them and said, 'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age'" (Matthew 28:18-20).

In the Star Trek universe, Starfleet's prime directive restricted its members. The crew of each starship was prohibited from interfering with the cultural values held by alien worlds. Inevitably, the prime directive was violated when the crew of the Enterprise would encounter an alien race enslaving or killing others who were weaker. The crew agonized for a few minutes about violating the prime directive, but they nearly always took action when others were being abused and oppressed. Despite giving lip service to pluralism and moral relativism, deep down, the heroes of the Star Trek series usually knew right from wrong; they could not refrain from trying to relieve injustice.

I am tempted to follow the prime directive. In many ways, life is easier when I don't get involved in solving problems or confronting wrongdoing.

As a Christian, however, I can't afford the luxury of intentional non-involvement. I am called to help people. I can't accept the pluralistic values and moral relativism of Star Trek's prime directive, as appealing as it may be. I have been commissioned to love God with total devotion, love people as I love myself, and reach the world with Christ's message. I cannot live by the values of Star Trek's prime directive and accomplish anything God really values.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Reasons to Love Jesus: #2 He Challenges Racism

"When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, 'Will you give me a drink?' (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)

"The Samaritan woman said to him, 'You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?' (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)" (John 4:7-9).

Jesus did not mind violating cultural standards. He did not mind breaking stereotypes. He was more concerned about people than meeting social expectations.

Last week, I heard about a family trying to adopt a boy from Belarus, a part of the former Soviet Union known as "white Russia." When the judge presiding over the case learned that the family already had children from Africa, he denied the adoption. He would not allow a boy from his country to join a family with children of different races. His attitude was the antithesis of Christ's attitude. The judge was more concerned about his cultural norms than the child's needs.

Jesus challenges racism. In doing so, he adds to the reasons to love him.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Parable of the Lost Contact Lenses

"Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Does she not light a lamp, sweep the house and search until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.' In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents" (Luke 15:8-10).

I gained a better appreciation of this parable from Jesus about 3 years ago. Janet, Christopher, and I were on vacation in Memphis, Tennessee. One afternoon, we decided to go swimming in our hotel's swimming pool.

Unfortunately, Janet forgot to take out her contact lenses. When she opened her eyes under the water, they were lost. For the next 45 minutes, Janet held Christopher (who was 2 years old at the time), while I went over every inch of the bottom of the swimming pool several times. We were 500 miles from home. Janet did not want to spend the next several days blind. She did not want to travel home without being able to see anything except blurry images. We were desperate to find those contacts! Finally, after the last contact was found (without damage), we rejoiced like the woman in Jesus' parable. We rejoiced like God and the angels when a sinner repents and turns to God.

The experience helped us to see how much value God places in people. As valuable as the contact lenses were to us, people are even more treasured by God. When we are saved, he parties. When anyone is saved, he parties. That's how much God loves people.

Courage and Confidence

Since I'm at home trying to recover from a stomach virus, I have a little more time to read and write today. So I would like to share a couple of articles this morning.

First, Tim Woodroof has written an excellent piece titled A Time for Courage for the Lookout Magazine. Here is an excerpt:

"If we are not very careful, we will find a way to practice a Christianity that requires no courage. A 'get along' brand of Christianity. A Christianity that involves no boldness, no daring. It is possible to so civilize faith, domesticate it, that its characteristic trait becomes politeness rather than courage, being nice rather than being brave. Armed with such a faith, we need never say 'No' to the world or cause offense or take a stand.

"And yet we are living in times that cry out for courageous faith, for the kind of bravery that causes us to live against the culture, to value things our culture does not cherish, to stand up for matters that matter to God. God has not called us to be pleasant. He has called us to be faithful. And there are times when faithfulness demands courage of us.

"So this week, choose courage. Risk a friendship by speaking about faith. Break a rule for compassion's sake. Have the broken and hurting and neglected stand up and then stand beside them. It's what Jesus would do. Brave Jesus."

The entire article can be found at www.lookoutmag.com/articles/culture.asp?id=1466.

In our local newspaper, syndicated business columnist Harvey Mackay has written "Self-Doubt Can be a Motivator to Success." He demonstrates how humility and confidence work together. Here is an excerpt:

"Never confuse confidence with arrogance.

"Confidence allows you to proceed with some reason to believe you will succeed. Arrogance prevents you from examining your decisions, and is almost always a recipe for disaster."

The entire article can be found at www.tulsaworld.com/business/article.aspx?articleID=20081116_46_E6_WillSm845240.

I hope you enjoy the articles.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Will God Unleash Judgment Against America?

In the past, I would have answered with a definite no. For some reason, I believed...

1. God only judged the Israelites.
2. God only judged societies in the Old Testament. In the New Testament era, God limited his judgment to individuals.

I was wrong both times.

While reading the first two chapters of Amos, I noticed that God judged both the Israelites and the pagan societies around them. Israel was held to a higher standard because of its special relationship with God, but other nations were also judged based on how they treated their fellow human beings.

Later, while reading through Revelation, I noticed that Babylon faced God's wrath for its selfishness and blatant violations of basic human dignity (Revelation 18). Realizing that the destruction of Babylon fell fully within the New Testament era, I understood the obvious truth: God still judges societies. He remains involved and in control.

In order to avoid societal destruction, our laws, customs, and actions must respect the needs of people. Otherwise, the collapse of the nation cannot be avoided.

The Cry of the Orphan

"Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world" (James 1:27).

Next week, my favorite radio program will devote a week to covering one of my favorite topics. FamilyLife Today will feature its third annual Cry of the Orphan Week. Each day will be devoted to how Christians can help the orphans of the world. More information concerning broadcast stations and times (as well as podcasts) may be found at www.familylife.com. Please check out these broadcasts. You will not be disappointed.

More information about caring for orphans can be found at www.hopefororphans.com. Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Reasons to Love Jesus: #1 He Cares About Losers

With this post, I hope to start an occasional--but never ending--series about why I love Jesus.

On one occasion, Jesus met a lost and lonely woman at a well in Samaria (John 4). She was a broken woman, having been married five times. We don't know how each marriage ended. Perhaps a few ended in her husbands' deaths. Maybe others ended in divorce.

Whatever the circumstances may have been, she was not married to the man with whom she was now living. Did she think that by not marrying him, she could protect herself from further heartache when the relationship eventually ceased? Did she not truly trust the man? Did he not trust her? Why were they not married?

Why did she go to the well alone? Did other women shun her because of her history with men? Had she broken their trust? Had they hurt her to the point that life was easier alone than with friends?

We cannot know the answers to such questions, but I can imagine a woman who felt like a failure...a loser in life. I've been there. I was a failure who had sinned and could not find forgiveness. I never felt more like a loser than when I received my Bachelor's Degree in education, but could not bring myself to apply for a teaching position. I felt like a loser when I was 24 years old, single, and without a prospective date--much less a potential wife. I felt like a failure when, after 9 years of marriage and trying to have children, I was still without a child.

Jesus, however, did not see a loser. Sure, he saw a sinner. He saw someone who was lost and lonely, but he did not see a loser. He saw someone who needed some attention. He saw someone who needed care. He saw someone who needed help. He saw someone who needed a Savior.

Jesus changed the woman's life. He revealed his identity to her. He gave her a purpose and a sense of dignity. She became the person who led her village to Christ.

Jesus changed my life, too. He forgave me of my sins. He provided me with a good job. He gave me an outstanding wife and a terrific son. He gave me purpose and a sense of dignity, too. He gave me a life I could not have imagined.

Why do I love Jesus? Because he cares about losers like me!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Wrestling Lessons

"For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places" (Ephesians 6:12, New King James Version).

Our son Christopher started wrestling last week. It's a new experience for all of us.

So far, we are learning two major lessons.

First, wrestling takes preparation. It takes conditioning. Christopher has never worked so hard physically. He is getting in shape and learning the rules. Every day, he walks away better prepared to face an opponent.

Second, passive wrestlers do not win. Christopher is beginning to learn that he needs to be assertive to win. When taken down, he needs to fight to get back up. He cannot relax and expect to defeat an opponent.

In many ways, successful Christian living mimics successful wrestling.

Christians need preparation. We need to study the Bible and pray. We need coaching from those who have experience. We need to know the rules of the game of life. If we are disciplined and motivated, we are better prepared to face the enemy.

We also need to be assertive. We cannot win battles by being passive. When taken down, we need to fight to get back up. We fight with the weapons and Spirit of God; but in order to win, we must fight. We cannot surrender and expect to defeat our opponent.

Let's approach life prepared to take on the challenges!

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Progess Against Human Trafficking in the USA

Earlier this year, I posted a story about Craigslist and its involvement in human trafficking (see http://adisciplesthoughts.blogspot.com/2008/02/hating-evil.html).

Today, I want to share some good news about Craigslist from USA Today:

"Craigslist promises prostitution purge

"The website Craigslist pledged Thursday to crack down on ads for prostitution, part of an agreement forged with state attorneys general across the nation. Under the agreement, anyone who posts an 'erotic services' ad will be required to provide a working phone number and pay a fee with a valid credit card. The website will provide that information to law enforcement if subpoenaed.

"Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster said the deal will allow legitimate escort services to continue advertising, while discouraging companies conducting illegal business. Craigslist, which posts 30 million ads every month, also will begin using new search technology to help authorities find missing children and victims of human trafficking, Buckmaster said" (USA Today, November 7, 2008, page 3A).

Friday, November 07, 2008

What Do Pro-Life Christians Do Now?

As everyone knows, Senator Barack Obama has been elected to the presidency of the United States of America. He is committed to enacting the Freedom of Choice Act, a piece of legislation that would nullify 35 years of modest pro-life political victories. Parental involvement laws would be nullified. Restrictions on government funding of abortions would be nullified. Informed consent laws would be nullified. Partial-birth abortions would be legal again. Doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and hospitals would not be protected by laws designed to keep them from being forced to participate in abortions against their conscience. In addition, President-elect Obama is committed to appointing pro-abortion judges to all levels of the federal courts.

As bad as that may be, it gets even worse. Americans elected a very strong pro-abortion Congress.

In addition, voters in South Dakota rejected an initiative petition which would have banned abortions except in cases of rape, incest, and serious threats to the mother's health. In Colorado, voters rejected a proposal to define conception as the point at which life begins. In California, voters rejected a law requiring parental notification before a minor could undergo an abortion procedure.

The pro-life position was soundly defeated across the nation. Americans spoke clearly. They do not want the government to protect their pre-born children.

So what do pro-life Christians do now?

First, we refuse to give up. If we abandon this fight, more lives will be lost and more hearts will grow calloused. If we continue the effort to save lives, a few will be saved, even if we lose major battles.

Next, we pray for a change of heart. What would happen if President Obama recognized his negligence and took responsibility to protect pre-born children? The course of history could change.

Then, we must attempt to preserve every victory possible. Our political priority must be to stop the Freedom of Choice Act from becoming law.

Finally, we need to do the harder work. We cannot be content to complain and condemn. We cannot be content to be involved in the politics of the issue. We must be involved personally in the lives of the people who need help. This may take different forms, such as...

*Being willing to open our homes to homeless pregnant girls
*Adopting a child
*Volunteering at a pro-life pregnancy resource center or adoption agency
*Listening to and counseling our children and their friends as they make decisions about their lives
*Helping a pro-life urban ministry

However we choose to make a difference, we must become servants, not merely critics.

Will we regain lost ground? Will we preserve our gains? I cannot say. But even if we are destined to lose, let's lose with honor, courage, and integrity. The pro-life cause is noble and just. Win or lose, we cannot quit. Compassion forces us to keep trying. Lives are at stake.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Leadership Lessons from the Elections

"The world belongs to the enthusiast who keeps his cool" (Sign outside a United Methodist Church in Jenks, Oklahoma).

As a husband, father, and Bible teacher, I have some leadership responsibilities. As such, I look for ways to improve as a leader. As I have paid attention to the elections this year, I have noticed an interesting contrast in a couple of the candidates that could help me as I seek to lead my family and others in a better manner.

President-elect Barack Obama never lost his cool during the campaign. He never became flustered. He never appeared irritable. He may have been surprised, but he never panicked. As a result, when crises came, he instilled confidence in his supporters. He infected them with his sense of confidence. They felt prepared to handle anything, because he seemed to be so strong.

On the other hand, Governor Sarah Palin appeared defensive and insecure, especially when questioned by the media. When Katie Couric asked her a simple question about the magazines she reads, Governor Palin seemed strangely evasive and defensive. Even her staunchest supporters were at a loss to explain her behavior. As a result, they became defensive and insecure. As they sensed her weakness, they became weak and unstable.

This observation has tremendous implications for anyone in any position of leadership, but I want to apply it to the family. In order to have a strong family, I need to be stable and self-controlled. If I give in to irritability, anxiety, and a defensive mindset, I become an unhealthy influence on those who depend on me. We, as a family, will be positioned for failure. If I approach challenges with a sense of confidence and self-control, I become a healthy influence,
and my family is positioned to succeed.

The same could be said for an employer, manager, elder, deacon, minister, coach, teacher, or a leader in another field.

Good leaders remain calm and self-controlled as they confront problems and issues. When they do, they inspire the confidence others need to tackle those problems and issues together with them.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

A Challenge to Men

"Yale sociologist Stephen B. Clark says flatly, 'Men have a natural tendency to avoid social responsibility.' Without a vibrant, spiritual solution, this pattern of passivity grows effortlessly. It is now more and more prevalent in American men, and it is breeding death to our culture.

"Families cry out for men who will do more than 'tune out' when they come home from work. Kids want dads who are involved, dads who provide moral and spiritual direction, dads who are affirming and life-giving. Women want men who will protect them, not use them. Society needs men who will stand for moral absolutes. But we must stop and ask, 'Where are these men?' And, 'What will become of our families in their absence?'" (Robert Lewis, Raising a Modern-Day Knight: A Father's Role in Guiding His Son to Authentic Manhood, p. 53).

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Why Did Sinners Eat with Jesus?

"When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the 'sinners' and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: 'Why does he eat with tax collectors and 'sinners'?" (Mark 2:16).

As interesting as the Pharisees' question was, I would rather know: Why did sinners eat with Jesus? We know that he ate with them because he loved them, wanted to connect with them, and wanted to save them from their sins. But what drew them to him? Why would they want to be with him?

After all, Jesus Christ was not exactly a morally compromising man. His standards were higher than anything they had ever heard. He not only condemned wrong actions, he condemned wrong motives and attitudes. No one on earth held to as strict a standard as did Jesus.

In addition, Jesus was known to challenge those who wanted to get close to him. He told one man that the man should not be concerned about burying his father. He challenged a rich young man who was interested in following him by telling him that if he really wanted eternal life, he needed to give away everything he owned. He warned people that they would be persecuted--and very possibly killed--for following him. He referred to a non-Jewish woman as a dog...to her face. He considered his closest friends to be mentally slow. He even called one of them "Satan" in a moment of disagreement. Jesus did not exactly make it easy to be a disciple.

Finally, why would sinners want to hang out with someone who preached about hell so often? In the entire Bible, nobody spoke about hell and the final judgment more than Jesus Christ did.

Jesus seemed to be the last person on earth with whom sinners would enjoy spending time, but contrary to all expectations, they came to him by the thousands. They wanted to be in his presence. They loved him. When he finally started a church, it was a megachurch on the first day of its existence. What can explain his appeal to sinners?

First, I believe, Jesus loved people. He was willing to help those in need. He was willing to defend those who were being abused. He was willing to confront the abusers. He was willing to die for people. It's hard to resist people who love you.

Jesus was also authentic. He was honest. He never tried to deceive anyone about who he was or what he expected. He never tried to be someone else. He was secure in his identity. It's difficult to resist authentic and secure people who love you. They are like magnets, attracting people who need honesty, security, and love in their lives.

In addition, Jesus presented a message with substance to it. He did not insult people with messages designed to simply make people feel good about themselves. He told people about the deep-seated sins within them. He warned them of the consequences. He informed them about God's standards. He let them know about God's love for them. He told them how much God wanted to be with them forever. He called for them to trust in him and to turn from their sins. He did not present a message of legalistic requirements or material prosperity. He presented a message of love, faith, repentance, responsibility, and grace. When an authentic, secure, and loving man's words are characterized as words of substance, people are drawn to him. Who would not want to listen to such a man?

Of course, the list could go on and on. But if I had the opportunity to eat dinner with Jesus Christ, I would want to be there, too. Wouldn't you?

Saturday, November 01, 2008

The Power of Seeking a Consistent Christian Lifestyle

"Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up" (Galatians 6:9).

Last year, while visiting family members in Arkansas, we heard their minister Jackie Chesnutt make a powerful point in a sermon that Sunday morning. He asked the congregation, "How would you like to be able to donate $5,000 to an orphanage?" Jackie explained that he knew that few members of the church could make such a large one-time contribution. However, he told the story of a member of the congregation who had donated $25 a month for over 20 years to a Christian charity. He never could have made a large one-time donation, but his small donations over a number of years added up to a large sum of money. Jackie was illustrating the impact of our small but consistent good deeds for the sake of Christ in the world.

Jackie's story gives hope to those of us who may never be able to accomplish anything close to what we would like to do. I may never be able to give a $5,000 donation to an adoption agency, but I can give some money every month. I cannot match Bill Gates' donations to alleviate global poverty, but I can sponsor a child in the Dominican Republic for a few dollars every month. I may not be able to fill stadiums around the world with people eager to hear me talk about Jesus, but I can put in a good word for him on my job (or even on my blog). I may not be able to reverse the divorce rate in America, but I can love my wife. I may not be able to prevent every case of child abuse or neglect in the world, but I can love my son.

I can't do everything I would like to do, but by the grace of God, I can do something. I simply need to persevere. Eventually, I hope to see a positive cumulative effect from consistently seeking to honor Christ and love people.

(Please check out Jackie Chesnutt's blog in my blog roll. You will find consistent encouragement in your walk with God.)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Ideas for Christians Who Want to Help Orphans

"Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world" (James 1:27).

World Magazine contains an interesting article this week about churches that provide matching funds and no-interest loans to families who want to adopt. It may be read at www.worldmag.com/articles/14558.

Jenna Marie Howard of World Orphans left a comment on my blog this afternoon at http://adisciplesthoughts.blogspot.com/2008/09/influencing-powerful-on-behalf-of-weak.html. She works for a group that helps churches provide homes for orphans in countries that have been devastated by the AIDS crisis, famine, war or other factors that have left the communities with large numbers of orphans. Churches may be interested in using the services of World Orphans at http://www.worldorphans.org/.

Finally, I can recommend Christian Services of Oklahoma (http://www.christian-adoption.org/) for families wanting to adopt children. The cost is about half the normal cost of an adoption because Christians from Churches of Christ donate enough money to keep expenses down. We used Christian Services of Oklahoma during our adoption process.

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A Proper Perspective on Voting

"What I mean, brothers, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they had none; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away" (1 Corinthians 7:29-31).

Next week, I plan on voting for pro-life candidates across the board. As usual, some of my candidates will likely win and some will likely lose. How should I respond?

John Piper offers this advice based on 1 Corinthians 7:29-31: "So it is with voting. We should do it. But only as if we were not doing it. Its outcomes do not give us the greatest joy when they go our way, and they do not demoralize us when they don't. Political life is for making much of Christ whether the world falls apart of holds together...This world matters. But it is not ultimate. It is the stage for living in such a way to show that this world is not our God, but that Christ is our God. It is the stage for using the world to show that Christ is more precious than the world.

"So it is with voting. We do not withdraw. We are involved--but as if not involved. Politics does not have ultimate weight for us. It is one more stage for acting out the truth that Christ, and not politics, is supreme."

The entire article is available at www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/TasteAndSee/ByDate/2008/3347_Let_Christians_Vote_As_Though_They_Were_Not_Voting/.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Importance of Biblical Inerrancy

"All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness" (2 Timothy 3:16).

Recently, ACU Press has been publishing material challenging the inerrancy of the Bible. It has created some controversy since ACU Press is associated with Churches of Christ, a group of churches normally respectful of the Bible. Some church members have wondered why this is an issue. I recognize that most of my readers may not be members of Churches of Christ, but since this is a fundamental issue, it's important for anyone who follows Jesus Christ. It's an issue essential to the Christian faith.

In the Contact Church of Christ, we have a class for prospective members who are interested in learning about Christ, the church, and the Bible. In one of our sessions, we introduce participants to the essentials we believe. On page 22 of our workbook, we teach, "The Bible is God's Word to us. It was written by human authors, under the supernatural guidance of the Holy Spirit. It is the supreme source of truth for Christian beliefs and living. Because it is inspired by God, it is the truth without any mixture of error."

Why would we teach such a thing? Why does it matter? Can't I follow Jesus without believing the Bible?

It's important for many reasons, but one reason especially stands out: it's a matter of trust. As the Bible states, "Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ" (Romans 10:17). If we don't believe the biblical message, we don't believe Christ. We do not trust him. We do not truly believe in him, since we do not trust his word. The Christian's faith is built upon believing the promises of God which are contained within the Bible. If we act without faith, we are simply going through the motions. We are living by ritual and habit, rather than by faith in the God who can be trusted.

Therefore, this is a position worth defending. It is an essential ingredient to developing a solid, healthy, and vibrant faith in Jesus Christ.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Not Quite Committed


(If you have trouble reading it, please click on the comic strip for a larger version.)

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Real McCoy

"And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him" (Colossians 3:17).

While reading USA Today earlier this week, I came across a column about Tim Tebow's choice for the Heisman trophy. As last year's winner, Mr. Tebow has a vote in this year's contest. Since Tim Tebow is well known for his devotion to Christ, I was interested in his vote and the reasons behind it.

Tim Tebow will be voting for University of Texas quarterback Colt McCoy this year because of his accomplishments on the football field as well as his demonstrated Christian character. (For Tim Tebow, character counts as much as athleticism.)

As an Oklahoman, I knew little about Colt McCoy. We are not big fans of the University of Texas north of the Red River, of course. So I searched the Internet for more information about Colt McCoy, and found a great article about him at http://rivals.yahoo.com/ncaa/football/news?slug=jn-mccoy101708&prov=yhoo&type=lgns.

After reading the article, I understood Tim Tebow's endorsement of Colt McCoy for the Heisman trophy. I also began to hope that Mr. McCoy would be drafted by the Indianapolis Colts so that he could play for Coach Tony Dungy in the NFL. I believe they would enjoy working with each other. Besides, wouldn't it be appropriate that Colt McCoy play for the Indianapolis Colts, my favorite NFL team?