Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Serving Without Star Power

At, 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

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

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:

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

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

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
Lonely or
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 Thankfully, Albert Mohler has responded with a good analysis of the article, showing the inconsistencies and inadequacies of the attack, at

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 ( 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 ( 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 In an online exclusive, an inner-city church in San Antonio is featured at 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