Friday, April 27, 2012

 May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for ball endurance and patience with joy. (Col 1:9 ESV)
 This is in the middle of Paul's prayer for the Colossian Church, Paul is praying that they be strengthened with all power according to his glorious might.  He is emphasizing our desperate need and the plentiful resources of God's power that is available to us.  All power is emphatic or emphasized; strengthened is a compound word that also has power in it.  The three words describe the power needed and power provided.  It is spiritual power that comes from outside ourselves because we do not have the resources within to muster the strength to walk in a manner pleasing to God.  Neither salvation nor sanctification are self help projects but are the work of God.  We are so desperate for Gods power.  We are like men dying of thirst in the desert unless he gets a drink to quench his thirst, relieve his parched lips and mouth, and most of all replenish his dehydrated body.  Without that water he will die.  Without God's power in our daily lives we will die spiritually.  Here is a great quote by Warren Wiersbe:
We usually think of God’s glorious power being revealed in great feats of daring—the Israelites crossing the Red Sea, David leading a victorious army, or Paul raising the dead. But the emphasis here is on Christian character: patience, longsuffering, joyfulness, and thanksgiving. The inner victories of the soul are just as great, if not greater, than the public victories recorded in the annals of history.  

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?  (Jeremiah 17:9 ESV)
This passage tells us many things but one thing it tells us is that we never get to the bottom of our sinfulness!  It is deeper than we can fathom.  If you think you have seen the depth of your own sinfulness, there is more, much more.  But God does not leave us here.  He provides the remedy to our deep and desperate sinfulness.  It is found in 1 Peter 1:3:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. (1 Peter 1:3 ESV)
The depth of sour sinfulness leaves us helpless and hopeless to save ourselves.  Salvation is not a self help program.  It is not a work of man but a work of God.  According to his great mercy, he caused us to be born again.  Who is he?  It is God the Father.  That is the reason Peter explodes with worship and exaltation . . . Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!  We do not, we cannot save ourselves!  Salvation is the great work of mercy toward pitiful creatures who are bound up in their sin, unable to free themselves.  We are so bound up in our sin we do not realize it is bondage but as our freedom to be ourselves, to do what we want!  Peter says God the Father caused us to be born again.  He caused it, he initiated it just as a human father and human mother initiate and creates life. 
This week, celebrate the wonderful truth that God is your Father because he cause us to be born again, he created new life in us so that we respond in faith.  Faith is the fruit of being born again, regenerated, by God.  That is the reason he is your Father!  

Thursday, April 19, 2012

300 Leaders: Bob Roberts on becoming engaged in God’s world on God’s mission

Bob Roberts is a very successful leader who is human, knows his own frailties, and has good things to say.  Here is a summary of a an encouraging message he did at a leadership conference for Missions Frontiers.
You can watch the video of this talk from 300 leaders here and read my notes below:
The whole world is connecting. Bob spoke of his joy at being in Jubilee Church and meeting Tope Koleoso, a leader of a multicultural church. Such connections help us learn. For example, Bob has found interacting with Muslims has helped him strengthen his thinking eg on the Trinity.
Bob spoke of his beliefs about and encounter with The Holy Spirit. He learnt of the Spirit through David Wilkerson who attended the same church as him. He explained how recently he had found it hilarious that when he was laying hands on people in his church many spoke in tongues though he hasn’t. The Spirit is precious to him.
The Globalisation of the Church means we must learn from others.
Bob explained he stumbled on the World. Don’t just think of “missions”. Many of us see the world but we don’t get it. We have Christian tribes and stay disconnected. But God is holding us accountable.
Bob believes the Bible. Believes in the Trinity. Believes no one is saved except through Jesus. He wants the gospel to be spread.
“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Matt 6:33. No more important verse than that.
What does it mean to seek the kingdom?
Bob explained he tended to think that the sermon on the mount was  unattainable goal. Didn’t think of it as a Christian manifesto. But the Apostles said “imitate me”. Bob tells planters have no business doing so until they can say that. We need people who are transformed. Living the sermon. You can grow a church without God if gifted and skilled in marketing, leadership techniques. It’s not really about building a big auditorium and filling the seats. God has called us to take the people he sends us to the ends of the earth. We talk about numbers. Meanwhile divorce is rampant, greed grips the people of God and the people are not changed.
2000 mega churches of more than 2000 in the USA now but there’re fewer people in church. Mega chunch is not the answer. Not that he doesn’t like it. But if you are a mega church then you should be seeing more lives transformed and sending many people out to mission.
People approach church in a consumeristic way. Churches are seen as a provider of goods and services. We have to stop thinking like pastors and think like missionaries. A pastor asks how is the church going. A missionary asks how is my city doing?
Bob told his story of how when the church stalled at around 350 people and had a ministerial crisis.
God spoke to him and asked “Bob, when is Jesus going to be enough for you?”
He got out his Bible and began to read the sermon on the mount. Jesus redefines the ten commandments, speaks of salt and light. What would it look like if I really lived this? God began to break him. How do I get to live like that? We need the Holy Spirit to live that way. We need to be obsessed with the Kingdom.
Stopped thinking like a pastor and started thinking like a missionary. No longer focused on growing his own church but extending the kingdom.
For three years taught the sermon on the mount and kingdom. Bob recommends Dallas Willard’s book to help in this journey back to the teaching of the man we worship as God.
The kingdom is in you, the temple in you. Christianity can grow in any nation.
The beauty of the gospel is it functions in every culture. God doesn’t have a one size fits all. There is variety in what he does.
A godly mentor , Leighton Ford (brother in law to Billy Graham) got ahold of Bob and said “I want you to finish well.” Got a group of them together. During this phase of his life he realised finally that everyone is messed up. There are those who admit it and those who don’t.
Kingdom in kingdom out. Transformation is not about the preacher and the church, but about the disciple and the society. The seed of the gospel when planted in a person should transform that person. But also the community. How does the seed get in?
Some core things we better get. Word mission is not really a biblical word. The word kingdom is used again and again, mission not so much. What is it?
  • Multiplication of churches
  • Living sermon on mount
  • Move from missions to kingdom
Pilgrims gives but are also reviewing. Missionaries go and only give. We are in fact children of God who need to receive and give from all things.
There are no boundaries. The first truly global thing that shaped the face of the earth was the birth of the Church.
Christianity spread through ordinary believers. Eg the persecuted Christians who scattered to Antioch and shared the gospel.
Paul and Barnabas followed the Spirit. Paul was a systematic theologian but went wherever the Spirit leads.
No such thing as here and the. World is global. We don’t get global.  God is already working all over the world. Jesus is present everywhere.
Sometimes people have revelations of Jesus even without meeting believers. God does his work of saving with or without you. Be reformed. But not  lazy reformed. God called us to share. Not to witness out of guilt.
Missions is recognising God has put me  here and following divine moments. Live the gospel wherever you are. Be radically transformed.
The Gospel of the Kingdom, is that salvation is the staring point not the endpoint. Kingdom is about God doing something beyond your ability to get it done.
Kingdom is transformation reconciliation and mobilization.
Great commission is not about merely getting the gospel out. Whole of Matthew defines what a disciple is. Great commission starts in Genesis with Abrahams call. God loves all nations, including Ishmael.
It is not just about getting people into heaven but getting heaven onto earth.
Stop thinking missions think about the rule and reign of God.
Explosive church growth usually starts with massive transformation in individuals.
We can start churches but this is not enough if they are not kingdom places. We think that it’s all about praying a prayer. The question is who is God. People pray the sinners prayer,then have to explain the trinity. The kingdom is more than accepting Christ.
Every disciple is s church planter. Model is not learn grow and go. It’s hear and obey. How do you ever know you are mature? All we need is to recognize his voice and follow him. Prayer becomes critical. Holy Spirit is who you need. Receiving the Holy Spirit is critical.
We need a kingdom culture. Need am interactive relationship with God and each other. Challenging one another. Using your job to make a difference for God. We did not first define the idea of disciple without understanding the world.
Bob had tried to be a missionary three times and got rejected. Couldn’t let it go. Holy Spirit asked him “what if the church were the missionary?” the first question mentioned earlier had changed him, now this changed his view of the church. He realized we have taken the great commission and made it a job description for a few people. What would it look like if all members were missionaries? Focus on a spot, and use their jobs.
What if God has a different way of doing missions now but we are still thinking William Carey? Someone suggested they focused on Vietnam. Bob replied its a closed country. But now he realises there no such thing as a closed country only stupid evangelism and wise evangelism.
People are not usually turned of by the gospel, they are turned off by us! Get people to use their jobs.
There are different domains in society. Reconciliation of all things. Col 1. When we start doing things about poverty the world will notice. God put the world together.
Collaboration of the whole body. Need the domains to collaborate. Convergence of domains. Sending of the whole church. Becoming friends with gatekeepers, friends with the unbelievers. The whole world is open. About whole body of Christ. Go in the front door. God can use you if you are willing to take a risk. Doesn’t want us to be shy about who we are.
Don’t segment ourselves and isolate from world. Salt and light.
Follow Jesus on CNN. Wherever hell is breaking out God is calling the church to do something.
Serve not to convert, but serve because you have been converted.
You don’t have to pimp the gospel the Holy Spirit is quite capable.
World is connected. Get on the grid of the world. Church functions to connect the world. Help believers in other parts of the world.
Bob says “I support the Jews but I also support the Palestinians because God loves them both.”

If we are going to touch the world
1. Move from interfaith to multifaith. Interfaith says we are all going to heaven. We can’t compromise our faith. Jesus is the only way. Let’s all be honest.  Other people of faith will respect that! Tell the Muslims etc to tell us what they believe too.
2. From isolation to integration.
3. From complex tribal theology to core global theology.  We need books that help non-experts to understand
4. From speaking and criticizing other tribes to challenging your own tribe
5. From competition of religion to collaboration with people then we get to talk about the gospel
6. From on a focus on religious leaders to a focus on engagement
The Kingdom is our context
Stop being so religious.

As Titanic sank, he pleaded, 'believe in the Lord Jesus!'

TAYLORS, S.C. (BP) -- It has been 100 years since Titanic, the greatest ship of its time, sank on its maiden voyage, killing more than 1,500 passengers. The "unsinkable ship" had done just that, and on the tragedy's centennial we stand captivated by the story. Many movies, documentaries and books have familiarized us with some of the passengers, such as entrepreneur John Jacob Astor IV or the "Unsinkable" Molly Brown. Yet one of the supreme stories of the Titanic involves a heroic pastor and his passion to save lives and souls.

When pastor and preacher John Harper and six year old daughter boarded the Titanic it was for the privilege of preaching at one of the greatest churches in America, Moody Church in Chicago, named for its famous founder Dwight L. Moody. The church was anxiously awaiting his arrival not only because of the pending services, but to meet their next pastor, as Harper planned to accept their invitation. Harper was known as an engaging preacher and had pastored two churches in Glasgow and London. His preaching style was suited for an evangelist as testified by the words of another local pastor. "He was a great open-air preacher and could always command large and appreciative audiences. ... He could deal with all kinds of interrupters, his great and intelligent grasp of Bible truths enabling him to successfully combat all assailants."

When the Titanic hit the iceberg, Harper successfully led his daughter to a lifeboat. Being a widower he may have been allowed to join her but instead forsook his own rescue, choosing to provide the masses with one more chance to know Christ. Harper ran person to person, passionately telling others about Christ. As the water began to submerge the "unsinkable" ship, Harper was heard shouting, "women, children, and the unsaved into the lifeboats." Rebuffed by a certain man at the offer of salvation Harper gave him his own life vest, saying, "you need this more than I do." Up until the last moment on the ship Harper pleaded with people to give their lives to Jesus.

John Harper
The ship disappeared beneath the deep frigid waters leaving hundreds floundering in its wake with no realistic chance for rescue. Harper struggled through hyperthermia to swim to as many people as he could, still sharing the Gospel. Harper evidentially would lose his battle with hypothermia but not before giving many people one last glorious Gospel witness.

Four years after the tragedy at a Titanic survivor's meeting in Ontario, Canada, one survivor recounted his interaction with Harper in the middle of the icy waters of the Atlantic. He testified he was clinging to ship debris when Harper swam up to him, twice challenging him with a biblical invitation to "believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved." He rejected the offer once. Yet given the second chance and with miles of water beneath his feet, the man gave his life to Christ. Then as Harper succumbed to his watery grave, this new believer was rescued by a returning lifeboat. As he concluded his remarks at the Ontario meeting of survivors he simply stated, "I am the last convert of John Harper."

When the Titanic set sail there were delineations of three classes of passengers. Yet immediately after the tragedy, the White Star Line in Liverpool, England placed a board outside its office with only two classes of passengers reading, KNOWN TO BE SAVED and KNOWN TO BE LOST. The owners of the Titanic had simply reaffirmed what John Harper already knew. There are people who know Christ and will spend eternity with God in heaven and many others who will not.

For us, 100 years after the Titanic, may we be as zealous as Harper was with every opportunity to share Christ with the perishing.
Douglas W. Mize is minister of evangelism and discipleship at Taylors (S.C.) First Baptist Church. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook ( and in your email (

Against Transactional Sanctification

Yet another good article on works based religion that perpetually creeps into our lives from Gospel Centered Discipleship.  I meet with a lot of people – that comes with the calling to be a pastor. So I spend a good amount of time in coffee shops and restaurants, talking about the gospel and how it interfaces with our lives.  As I meet with folks, I tend to find myself having the same conversation a lot. Multiple times a week. It’s not the exact same conversation - the names and details are different - but the bottom line doesn’t change. The thing they struggle with is really familiar because it’s the same thing I struggle with every single day. (And I wouldn’t be surprised if maybe you do too…)
Here it is: I tend to view my relationship with God as a series of transactions. We could call this “Transactional Sanctification.”
Think about the last time you went shopping - for groceries, batteries for the remote, a sweet iPhone that just got replaced with an even sweeter one… whatever.  It probably went down something like this: You drove to the store, found the items you wanted, walked up to the counter, and the salesperson rang them up.  After getting your total, you pulled out your card/cash/checkbook, transferred money from your account to theirs, they gave you part of their inventory, and you went home.  (Unless you didn’t have enough cash or your card was declined - in which case you went home empty-handed and embarrassed.)  Repeat as needed.
It’s amazing how much we tend to view God like that.  I do things for God, God does things for me.  I don’t do the right things for God, God doesn’t do things for me.  Now, most of us wouldn’t say it anything like that – but it’s at the core of how we think.  If we’ve been around church long enough, we’ve learned to use the language of grace, but most of us are still trying to figure out how to dance to its rhythm.
Let me give you an example. Awhile back, I was meeting with a guy from our church over breakfast.  We talked about how he was feeling distant from his wife and how things have been pretty chaotic in his business.  Immediately, he follows up by explaining he hasn’t been praying very much, not to mention the fact that he drank a little too much on a fishing trip last weekend.  After thinking for a minute, he looks at me and says, “I guess it makes sense.”
You see the formula there, right?  Life – consistent prayer + getting drunk = God not giving me peace at work or at home. Now, of course obedience and prayer are important, but could it be that work is crazy just because it is?  Could it be that his wife is just going through a lot at her own job, and when you combine his work stress and hers it makes for a pretty rough stretch at home?
Let’s try another example – this one is for all of us pastors.  I was reading about a church recently that has experienced unbelievable numeric growth over the past few years.  The church is only a couple years old and has several thousand people attending worship.  In a recent conversation about this particular church, I listened to two other pastors talking about why this church has grown so quickly.  The answer given?  ”I’ve heard that (Name of Pastor from Growing Church) spends a ridiculous amount of time in prayer.  That guy is with Jesus A LOT, and Jesus shows up in their church.”
Now, I have no doubt that this particular pastor loves Jesus with all his heart and spends tons of time with him.  But did you catch the formula?  Pastor who loves Jesus + spends lots of time in prayer = God blesses their church with tons of people attending.  You do something for God, then God does stuff for you.
Here’s the problem – it doesn’t work that way.  Think about all the pastors whose churches aren’t exploding with attendance growth.  What do they hear in the above conversation?  ”I guess if I just pray more maybe my church will grow too.  Maybe the reason we’re not seeing similar results is because I haven’t been committed enough to Jesus.  Maybe I need to REALLY get serious about prayer – maybe then God will bless our church.”  (I won’t tell you how many times I’ve had that very conversation with myself – in my head and in my journal.)
Transactional sanctification always leads to despair – when you don’t see the results you want, it’s obviously because you didn’t pay a high enough price.  If you would only try harder, not screw up so much, and have more faith like all those other people who it seems to be working for, then maybe God would bless you.
As I meet with people, I remind them (and myself) that we are completely loved, accepted, and perfect in Jesus.  God is a transactional God, but the transaction has already been completed – at the cost of the very life of Jesus. There is nothing more I can add to it or take away from it. My standing with God is secure – regardless of the “success” of my ministry, family, or career. Can you imagine the freedom and peace that would come if we could truly live out this belief?

Bill Streger serves as the Lead Pastor of Kaleo Church, an Acts 29 Network church in Houston, TX. Born and raised in Houston, he attended Houston Baptist University and is currently pursuing his M.Div. from Reformed Baptist Seminary. Bill is a husband to Shannon, daddy to Mirabelle and Levi, and a life-long Houston Rockets fan. Twitter @billstreger

Why Arminianism Doesn't Sell

This is an interesting blog from Credo House, here.  Interesting observation on Calvinists, Arminians and Leadership!

Comments 92 Comments I made an observation recently that may be completely off base, or it may just betray the reality of the tight Evangelical circles in which I travel most of the time. Either way, here it is:
Calvinists have  a corner on theologically-themed conferences. Arminians have apologetically-themed conferences. Leadership conferences don’t do theology.
Is this true? It seems true from my standpoint. Think about the major conferences out there that are theological in nature: Desiring God, Together for the Gospel, The Gospel Coalition, and Ligonier Ministries. All of them fill churches and arenas with thousands of people. Passion fills the air as speakers talk about theological issues in the church. John Piper, Don Carson, R.C. Sproul, John MacArthur, Albert Mohler, Tim Keller, and the like are invited to speak. Diversity runs deep in these theology conferences. Dispensationalist and Covenant Theologians, paedobaptists and credo baptists, charismatics and non-charismatics, and premillenialists and amillenialists are all represented. However, it is hard to find an Arminian invited to (much less putting together) such engagements. Why? I don’t know, but I suspect that it is because Arminianism, as a theological distinctive, just does not preach. Don’t get me wrong. I did not say that Arminians can’t preach. They most certainly can. And I did not say that Arminianism is not true (This is not the question on the table). It is simply that the distinctives of Arminianism do not sell in such settings. Evangelicals love to hear about the sovereignty of God, the glory of God in suffering, the security of God’s grace, the providence of God over missions, and yes, even the utter depravity of man. This stuff preaches. This stuff sells tickets.
For the Arminian to put together a distinctive conference, things would be a bit less provocative. Things like “The Responsibility of Man in Suffering,” “Man’s Role in Salvation,” or “The Insecurity of Salvation” won’t preach too well. Think about how hard it is for a Calvinist to try to plug in a token Arminian at a general theology conference. On what subject do you let them speak? “Roger Olson, I would like you to come to our conference and speak on . . . (papers ruffling) . . . ummm  . . . (papers ruffling more) . . . Do you do anything in apologetics (except suffering)?”
Of course, there was the John 3:16 conference, which was Arminian. But that was not a general theology conference. It was a specific conference which amounted to a polemic against Calvinism. During the conference, the speakers simply countered all five points of Calvinism. This is symptomatic of so much of the Arminian distinctives with regard to their message. Much of the time Arminianism is simply seen as “Against Calvinism,” whereas Calvinism is more affirmatively focused on the sovereignty of God. Even the latest books published on the subject betray such a reality: For Calvinism by Michael Horton and Against Calvinism by Roger Olson.  I think one can find this same general approach in the theological blogosphere. Calvinists have something they are for, while Arminians are always on the defensive, fighting what they are against. Finally, as far as I know, the John 3:16 conference only happened once (in 2008). That it, or anything like it, has not been renewed or rebooted may serve to prove my observation.
Now, apologetics seems to be a different story. Not only to do you have Arminians filling the pulpit when it comes to defending the faith, they seem to dominate. William Lane Craig, J.P. Moreland, Paul Copan, Norman Geisler, and Gary Habermas are all on the roster. It is “Team Biola.” This is not to say that Calvinists don’t do apologetics.  However, they normally do so in a less “evidentialist” style that just won’t teach. Have you ever tried to teach people to defend the faith using presuppositional and transcendental arguments? Enough said. The simple observation I am making is that apologetics is heavily dominated by Arminians today. However, I don’t think there is anything distinctive about Arminianism which would make them more equipped to hold apologetics conferences. Perhaps, the focus on the free will of man makes the whole apologetics enterprise more necessary and effective in Arminianism.  Theoretically, Calvinists, because of their compatibleness (holding the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man in tension), could teach evidentiary apologetics just as truly as an Arminian. ”Did Christ Rise from the Grave?”, “Who is Jesus?”, “Is God a Moral Monster?”, or “Responding to the New Atheists” are all topics on which Calvinists and Arminians could teach together without sacrificing their theological integrity. There may be some distinction with a topic such as “If God is Real, Why is There Evil?” But that is the only apologetic issue which I think could be an exception in this group of topics.
Leadership conferences, on the other hand, are normally very diverse. Why? In all probability, they are not very theological in nature. Stirring passion about finishing strong, leading by serving, and preparing a sermon does not require any theological commitment one way or another. However, if the leadership conference turns on men’s issues or women’s issues, the complementarian/egalitarian elephant enters the room. And, generally speaking, most complementarians are Calvinist and most egalitarians are Arminian.
That said, these observations are not timeless. They are what I see today. I think they represent the chicken or the egg question (I don’t know which comes first) to the resurgence of Calvinism in the pews today. My hypothesis is that Calvinism preaches better than Arminianism. In a confused world of suffering and pain, we want to know that God has it under control, not man. Calvinism instigates more of a dramatic change in theology than does Arminianism. We are more naturally inclined toward the Arminian idea of free will and God’s sovereignty. People normally don’t “become” Arminians. But nearly all Calvinists can tell of a passionate “conversion” experience as to how Calvinism dramatically changed their way of thinking about God. This creates incredible passion. Therefore, we invite Calvinists only to these theology conferences (even when the organization, itself, claims to be more broadly Evangelical). And people leave with a full heart. On the other hand, when we want to fight against the New Atheists, we do not need to discriminate against the finer points of theology too much. Therefore, we invite either Arminian or Calvinist apologists.
 I have been talking about  about our identity in Christ, gift righteousness and works righteousness.  Here is a counselor sainy essentially the same thing but talking it from the way our minds work.   You can read his blog here.
The noetic effect of sin means our thinking can be stinking at times.
Man, born in the image of God, fell into sin.
His fall broke the purity and clarity of the mind God gave him.
He became a walking dichotomy:
God’s creation, but distorted in every way.
One of the ways he became distorted was in his mind.
Part of what alienation from God means is our minds are not right.
Just because a person may know who God is, it does not mean his thinking is inline with God. The worst case we see of this in Scripture are the demons (James 2:19). Having knowledge of God does not guarantee right thinking, which should lead to right faith (Romans 10:17).
Even after we become regenerated and are made right with God, our thinking will still lag behind. Part of the idea implied in progressive sanctification is our thinking will become more and more inline with how God thinks. The implication is our thinking is still not completely right.
For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. – Romans 1:23 (ESV)

Noetic effect means poor thinking

The noetic effect of sin means our minds were darkened, futile, and foolish. Paul knew this, as we see in the text above. We also see him giving us some practical advice in Philippians 4:8–laying out a format to help us change our thinking.
Most Christians know their thinking is off. I’m not sure how aware they are of the depth of wrong thinking and/or how to correct wrong thinking. The goal for them–and me too–is to correct poor Bible knowledge and application.
The more precise you are with your theology and its application, the more holy you can be, the more sound you will think, and the more harmony you will experience with others.
While right knowledge and the application of the right knowledge is not everything, it is a big thing. Our faith is altered and corrected in proportion to how we think about God and His Word.
In a typical counseling session part of my job is to help a person correct poor biblical thinking. They may know God, but they are usually not aware of how their thinking has been altered by various negative shaping influences.
I’m not only talking about the foundational shaping influence of not being born again–their previous condition before regeneration, but many other shaping influences which have shaped their minds before and after salvation.
The most obvious influence are the person’s parents. Other influences are their genetic capacities and competencies like IQ. Also, almost all the people I counsel have had some kind of former religious experience. Sadly, this is one of the most powerful and negative effects on a person who struggles with poor theological thinking.
On our poll page you can look at a list of shaping influences and “vote” on the one you believe has been the greatest influence in your life. I’m not altogether thinking about a positive experience. Whether negative or positive, I’m curious to see what has been the primary shaping influence in your life.

Believing, but not really believing

One of the most powerful shaping influences is fear. Fear is the most oft-repeated appeal in the Word of God. Our Father does not want us to fear anymore. He knows we’re all susceptible to fear in many ways.
One of the more common ways a person fears, at least at some point of their spiritual journey with God, is their confidence in God’s Word regarding their salvation. Almost all of us have doubted whether we were genuinely saved.
This is because our hearts were darkened, futile, and foolish. Then God saved us. Even as children of God our minds were not perfected. We were mentally lagging behind in our understanding of the perfect righteousness we received from Christ.
Part of the lagging behind typically means we wonder or even doubt whether God really did save us. In such cases our thinking needs to be changed and brought inline with the Word of God, the new authority over our minds.
I have created a fictional case study below, though I could apply it to scores of people I have counseled, about a person who doubted his salvation. His name is Kelly. In addition to doubting, he came to me struggling with depression and discouragement.
The more we talked the more I realized these were symptoms and not the real thing. Underneath is behavioral responses of depression was a heart of fear. But that was not the bottom of it either.
With more questions and extended conversations, it became apparent Kelly had a culprit that motivated his fear. Kelly was an unbelieving believer (Mark 9:24). Kelly was not completely sure God was satisfied with him, based on the perfect works of Jesus Christ.

Shaped by an approval drive

Kelly came from a legalistic religious culture. It was a fear-based culture of do’s and don’ts, lists, and rules. He practiced his religion with a genuine love for God, but he never could shake this poor theological premise of law keeping.
His religious experience was layered on top of a poor relationship with his daddy. Kelly’s dad was quiet in speech, passive in action, but never withheld his displeasure in his son when he felt Kelly needed correction.
Basically, Kelly interacted with his dad very little, unless he messed up. Then he “got fussed at.” Experiencing love, grace, mercy, and appreciation from another human being was a foreign idea for Kelly.
He brought that kind of thinking into his religious experience–his rule-based religious experience. As you might suspect, being part of a religious movement that placed high marks on performance was perfect for Kelly.
Though his dad never would appreciate him for his behavior, his religious culture did. This is where Kelly excelled. Kelly received a steady diet of rules and regulations through the preaching, which he digested and imitated with zeal.
The more rules he obeyed, the more he felt appreciated. He was told which Bible to read, what kinds of clothes to wear, what types of music to listen to, what places were acceptable to go, what books were permissible to read, and what churches were approved to attend.
He loved it. It worked. He was right with God and man. All he had to do was “hit the marks,” as he put it. Kelly’s religion was ready-made for a person who had a strong desire to please.

The internal awkwardness

He was a quick study. He figured out the ropes and became a top-notch performer in his religious circle–but something was missing. On the inside, Kelly knew his thinking was off.
As he read verses about how his relationship with God was not based upon his works, he became confused. Though his religious culture affirmed a non-works, all of grace teaching, it was clear to him what he did or did not do really mattered. He told me,
How could my works not matter to God when they were the basis for having a relationship with my religious friends?
If I watched the wrong movie or listened to the wrong music or went to the wrong church, my approval rating among my friends tanked.
Without seeking to understand me or help me, they judged me and began to distance themselves from me.
If I did conform, I could enter back into their good graces. If I did not, I was shunned because they said I was a dangerous influence to their friends.
It is so hard to understand. Does God grade me this way? My friends were like my dad. I began to think God was this way too.
It was not long before Kelly’s relationship with God grew cold. In time he chucked his religion altogether and began living a licentious lifestyle. His former religious friends did what he expected them to do: they judged him and then separated from him.
In their minds they were justified in their response to him because they warned him his behavior would lead to sinful living. They affirmed Kelly’s poor thinking–obedience was the path to acceptance.

A crisis in faith

What his friends did not understand was their religion assisted Kelly toward his crisis in faith. In Kelly’s mind his father, religion, friends, and God were all the same: right behavior was a condition for relationship.
  • His dad made it clear: right behavior is a condition for relationship.
  • His religion made it clear: right behavior is a condition for relationship.
  • He assumed in his mind God would only love him if he behaved a certain way.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. – Ephesians 2:8-9 (ESV)
By the time Kelly came to me he was spiritually distant, as well as angry and cynical. God was marginalized in his mind. Trust was not a possibility. It was a trifecta of rejection: religion, family, and God–all based on his performance.
Kelly was depressed and discouraged. He had lost hope. We spent hours hammering out a new theology. Though he came to me outwardly distant, it became apparent early on he wanted help. He was in search of the true and living God. He needed a change of mind.

Mind mapping salvation

(See Attachment: Philippians 4:8)
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. – Philippians 4:8 (ESV)
I wanted Kelly to have a mind change regarding his acceptance by God. I wanted him to see it was not based on his behavior, but on the behavior of the Son of God.
Kelly’s behavior would never merit a proper and pleasing relationship with the Father, but Christ’s behavior would do that perfectly. I wanted Kelly to properly understand the Gospel.[1]
During one of our counseling sessions I began to map out Philippians 4:8 for Kelly. I wanted him to practically see how to move from bad thinking to biblical thinking. You can actually follow this process with any bad thought you have. Here are the steps I mapped out for Kelly:
Thoughts – What is your unbiblical thought? What is it about your thinking that needs a biblical adjustment? Write it down on a piece of paper. This is represented on the far left of the mind map–the blue oval that has the words My Thoughts written in it.
The particular thought I’m interacting with in this mind map is in the green rectangular box–The thought I am having is whether I’m a Christian or not. You can run any wrong thought through the Philippians 4:8 filter.
Filter – Once you have established the thought you want to change, you now have to see if it fits any of Paul’s six categories: Is it true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, and/or commendable?
An unbiblical thought will not make it through this grid. Therefore, in order to press your thought all the way through to the far right of the mind map–Now I can think on it–you’re going to have to adjust your thinking according to the Word of God
Scripture - For Kelly I had to find verses that were true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, and commendable regarding this idea of salvation. His thought of losing his salvation was none of these ideas Paul is teaching us.
As you can see I pulled seventeen verses or passages that spoke to this idea of being saved, getting saved, how to be saved, who saves you, and what is required to be saved.
All of the verses affirmed you cannot lose your salvation, it was not based on a person’s works, but was a total reliance on the works of another. Because Scripture is our authority through which we filter our thoughts–see the black box at the top of the mind map–Kelly had a new way of thinking.
All of the verses were either true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, or commendable. This kind of biblical thinking was a far cry from how Kelly had been thinking.
Excellent and worthy - Based on the authority of God’s Word, Kelly had something to think on that was excellent and worthy of praise. This is represented in the mind map by the two black ovals on the right side of the page.
Think - As you can see, Kelly moved from the left side of the page with his wrong thinking. He began to push through the Philippians 4:8 grid and as he did, his thinking began to adjust according to God’s Word.
By the time he made it to the right side of the page, his thoughts had changed from how they had been shaped because of the fall, bad parenting, and poor religion, to a new kind of shaping by the Word of God.
He repented of his stinking thinking and began to think like an informed biblicist. You can do this too. If you’re not familiar with God’s Word, it may serve you to find someone who is, so they can help you adjust whatever in your thinking needs adjusting.
If you are comfortable enough to do this alone, then go for it. My only appeal would be for you to share how God is changing your thinking. Also feel free to print this mind map and this article so you can interact with both more effectively.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Make Sure You Tell A Story

Mark Beeson  

From a new leadership blog I am following, Tony Morgan Live.  Needless to say, I am working on story telling!
I spent about nine years being mentored by Mark Beeson at Granger Community Church. In that time, we never had formal one-on-one mentoring sessions, but I was constantly observing how he lived life and led the church. I learned a lot in that season that still shapes who I am today.
I remember one time as I was getting ready to share a few announcements in one of our services, Mark was standing beside me. As I was preparing to go up on the platform, Mark leaned over to me and told me to “Make sure you tell a story.”
If you know Mark, you know that he’s a very gifted story-teller. I am not. I have to discipline myself to do that. I’m naturally more about the information. I’m good at details. What Mark understood, though, was that people would tune me out if I just gave them information. The only way they would engage is if I shared a story.

Jesus told stories.

Jesus, of course, modeled this. He was constantly sharing stories. They’re referred to as parables in the Bible. One day, his disciples were kind of perplexed with the way Jesus was communicating. I bet they were details guys like me. It appears they were frustrated that Jesus wasn’t teaching verse by verse. Because they weren’t hearing the teaching they expected, they asked Jesus about it.
“Later, when Jesus was alone with the twelve disciples and with the others who were gathered around, they asked him what the parables meant. He replied, “You are permitted to understand the secret of the Kingdom of God. But I use parables for everything I say to outsiders.” (Mark 4-10-11, NLT)
It turns out that Mark was telling me the same thing Jesus told the disciples. If you want people to engage the truth, you have to tell a story. This is especially important for people who are “outsiders” — those who we hope will take a next step toward Christ.
  • If you want people to connect with your vision, tell a story.
  • If you want people to engage in worship, tell a story.
  • If you want people to understand the truth found in Scripture, tell a story.
  • If you want people to give financially, tell a story.
  • If you want people to take their next step toward Christ, tell a story.

Are you sharing stories?

Here’s what I believe about the Church today: We’re good at sharing information, but we are poor at telling stories. We see stories being told in culture all around us, but in the church we’ve lost the art. It’s not our focus. Here are a few questions to help you assess your ministry in this area:
  • Is your Sunday service more focused on sharing information or telling stories?
  • Is your weekly program more focused on sharing information or telling stories?
  • Is your website more focused on sharing information or telling stories?
  • Are your small groups or Sunday school classes more focused on sharing information or telling stories?
Are you praying people will take their next step toward Jesus? If so, make sure you tell a story.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

12 Ways to Know If You Are a Leader

Another blog from Michael Hyatt, who who writes excellent material on intentional leadership here.  You’ve heard it at conferences. You’ve read it in books. Everyone is a leader. Do you believe this? I don’t.
A Group of Business People in a Meeting - Photo courtesy of Š, Image #12479982
While everyone has the potential to be a leader, most never take up the mantle. They are content to let others take the risk and do the work.

Several years ago, I read a post by Tony Morgan called “10 Easy Ways to Know You’re Not a Leader.” I took that list, and then inverted and expanded it.
Here are twelve ways to know if you are a leader:
  1. You long to make a difference.
  2. You’re discontent and dissatisfied with the status quo.
  3. You’re not waiting on a bigger staff or more resources to accomplish your vision.
  4. Your dreams are so big they seem impossible.
  5. You acknowledge what is but inevitably ask, “What could be?
  6. You realize that you don’t have to be in charge to have significant influence.
  7. You refuse to blame others for your circumstances and take responsibility for finding solutions.
  8. You foster unity by bringing people together and encouraging dialogue.
  9. You are quick to say, “I messed up. Here’s what I am going to do to fix the problem I created.”
  10. You value relationships more than tasks.
  11. You walk your talk—not perfectly but sincerely and intentionally.
  12. You are a learner. You read, listen to podcasts, attend conferences, and ask other leaders lots of questions.
If this sounds like you, congratulations. You are a leader—or well on your way to becoming one. Leadership is not about experience, education, or talent. It’s about the choosing to lead. That’s where it begins.

10 Easy Ways to Know You’re Not a Leader

Found this on Tony Morgan live,  here

I’ve been watching people a lot recently. Some in person. Some on TV. I’ve been looking for signs of leadership. You need to know, I’m surrounded by great leaders. Because of that, I know what leadership looks like. You also need to know that I fall in the group that believes God has gifted some to be leaders. Which means some have gifts that don’t include leadership. And, that’s a good thing. We need a great mix of gifts to have an impact in ministry or in any organization. It would be bad if we only had leaders.

As I’ve been watching for leaders to emerge these last several weeks, though, I’ve noticed that there are several types of people. Some are genuine leaders. Some are in leadership positions, but they aren’t really leaders. Some aren’t in a leadership position but think they should be. All of this has got me thinking about leadership, and, well, signs that indicate you’re not really a leader. You may be able to help me add and subtract from this list. Here are the:

10 Easy Ways to Know You’re Not a Leader

  • You’re waiting on a bigger staff and more money to accomplish your vision.
  • You think you need to be in charge to have influence.
  • You’re content.
  • You tend to foster division instead of generating a helpful dialogue.
  • You think you need to say something to be heard.
  • You find it easier to blame others for your circumstances than to take responsibility for solutions.
  • It’s been some time since you said, “I messed up.”
  • You’re driven by the task instead of the relationships and the vision.
  • Your dreams are so small, people think they can be achieved.
  • No one is following you.

Like I said, there are probably others that you can add to the list to improve it. Maybe you can help me do that. Let’s be on the lookout for leaders. What sets them apart?

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Gospel Transformation vs. Moral Reformation

With the emphasis of our church on discipleship, have started following this site, because of its resources on discipleship.  I talk a lot about the difference between works righteousness and gift righteousness; moralism and genuine gospel transformation.  This is a good piece on the same topic.  I am a bit uncomfortable with gratitude as the motive for obedience as this can be viewed and twisted into moralism. Kaleo Church has recently joined the historical and universal church by plunging into the great book of Acts. As we’ve looked week after week at the vast release of energy that empowered the early church I purposely chose a word, which to me, seems to best describe what we’re attempting here in San Diego.
We’ve been using the word ‘transformission’ regularly over these last few weeks. I want to describe what we’re thinking.
1. Gospel transformation is different from moral reformation. It is absolutely possible, and even common, for newer and older Christians to assume that to believe the gospel means you’ve become a moral/pious person. I’m certainly not suggesting that moral piety does not result from gospel transformation, but moral piety doesn’t need gospel transformation to occur, nor does it ensure that a deep heart transformation has taken place.
I know quite a few ‘moral’ atheists, Mormons, Jews, and a others who outwardly make Christians appear immoral. Moral reformation is not ultimately the goal of the Christian. The goal of the Christian is a love for God, which can only come from a transformed heart by grace. When moral reformation is the fuel and goal, the heart will seize like an engine without oil. The human heart is made to run on grace not legalism.
Gospel transformation both creates and causes obedience from the heart. The gospel works from the inside-out. Moral reformation creates insecurity and hypocritical criticism of others in part because we’re attempting to win God’s favor through performance. Moral reformation works from the outside-in.
Moral reformation says “believe in Christ, obey God’s law, have favor with God,” but gospel transformation says “believe in Christ, have favor with God, and obey out of gratitude.” Never the twain shall meet. These two are not simply different forms of the same religion, but different religions entirely. God’s infinite worth and favor are not easily bought by finite, self-righteous deeds. The only hope for a changed life is a changed heart – one that learns to beat in the rhythm of grace.
       Moral reformation brings death and decay whereas gospel transformation brings life and health.
2. Gospel transformation is not a cul-de-sac. There is a tendency for us to become morbidly introspective when we begin to look at the functional messiahs and idols of our heart. As we learn how to preach the gospel to ourselves and to one another, it becomes obvious that this deep introspection can immobilize us with analysis paralysis. We begin to question every deed we do, every word we say, every thought we think, and soon realize that we have very few pure motives and even fewer altruistic deeds. Without the gospel bringing us up the slope of faith (to see that our failures must lead us to faith in Christ who did not fail), we end up in deep repentance, which does not turn into renewed faith. Repentance and faith are two sides of the same coin. To turn from sin means we’re now turning to something else in faith. It does not mean that you see the sin and repent of your motives or deeds only to stay stuck in inactivity for the sake of true repentance. True repentance is the turning of our hearts and minds away from what displeases God to what pleases Him, namely Christ our Lord.
Without the joy of looking to Christ in faith, we have not truly experienced the joy repentance brings.
My main concern is that gospel transformation – without leading us to joy in Christ and the desire for others to delight in Christ - is not true transformation. Why does God forgive us of our sins? - is it so we can stay isolated and alone? No, God forgives us so we can live as Kingdom citizens giving a preview to the world of what it looks like to be a child of the Father living with a new identity. We are freed from our sin to have communion with God - to be sent into the world. If communion with God does not cause our hearts to break for those He’s made, we are only using God as a currency to purchase things we want (peace, security, hope, joy, mended relationships, etc.). This is not what God has planned for our world. God sent His Son into this world on a mission to reclaim all things for Himself. He desires to redeem all marred, lost, and broken souls. We are, after all, created in His image, and we need to be about our Father’s business - not our own. This means we must seek after that which brings God pleasure and is aligned with His will. Every day God allows the clock to tick on in patience as He delays consummation for the purpose of bringing in the full number of His own. God’s loving patience gives us another day to seek after the lost on His behalf.
If gospel transformation does not cause us to be courageously freed on mission, we are missing something in the gospel. The gospel is “good news” not good advice, not good deeds shown by good people. Of course the gospel must be shown in deed, and of course the gospel informs our lives, but it is news to be spoken, taught, declared, and proclaimed. This can happen in a variety of ways, but it means that the good news must keep moving in and through us, empowering change in the lives of others.
Gospel transformation should really be called gospel “transformission” because it is the heart changed by grace and set loose into the world for the sake of the lost on behalf of our God. We must be the church in the world for the world. If not, the gospel has been relegated to a personal “get out of hell free” card as the rest of God’s creation groans under the burden and agony of sin. Gospel transformission shows us that the gospel is not finished with us but is moving. It is dynamic and not static. It is public and powerful. Not private and impotent.
So, when thinking through what it means to be changed by the gospel, it’s important that we have our eyes on God and the ways He’s working through us to redeem the world. This will orient our thoughts, feels, and acts. Transformissional living keeps all three flowing in an interdependent way. Without a gospel that transforms our hearts to be loosed on mission, we are missing out on the joy of living God’s story, which is the only story we should seek.

David Fairchild was the co-founder and preaching elder of Kaleo Church and now serves as the Lead Pastor of Mars Hill West Seattle in San Diego as well as a founding member of  The GCM Collective.

The Depth of the Atonement

"No one of the theories of the atonement states all the truth nor, indeed, do all of them together. The bottom of this ocean of truth has never been sounded by any man’s plumb-line. There is more in the death of Christ for all of us than any of us has been able to fathom…. However, one must say that substitution is an essential element in any real atonement" (A. T. Robertson, The Minister and His Greek New Testament, 40–41).

Saturday, April 7, 2012

When God Disrupts Your Plans

From Rick Thomas at
Jason was a blessed man.
He had the world by the tail.
He was tall, dark, handsome, and intelligent. He was physically fit and his parents had a lot of money.
He did not look for a college to attend. They came looking for him.
He had what others dreamed of having.
If there was a thread hanging out of Jason’s $75 shirt, it was this: he knew everything I just said about him and his head was swollen by his self-esteem.
It is one thing to be great, but an odious thing to know you are great and to live in an arrogant response to that knowledge.
He was a walking contradiction.
While many people envied him, there was another contingent who felt sorry for him.
He had gotten too big for his britches.
Though no one would say it, they knew his day was coming. It was just a matter of time.
I suspect that most people reading this are in that majority of people who are just average–not like Jason. Everybody can’t be Michael Jordan. For every star, there are 10,000 average people–like you and me.
Though you might not see the analogy, you and I are similar to Jason. We are tempted to be too big for our britches. We might not be Mt. Everest, but we still have our own elevated view of ourselves. Wouldn’t you agree?
If we compared ourselves to someone like MJ, we would feel insignificant, but those are not the kinds of comparisons we generally make when we think about ourselves. Our more common default are lesser comparisons that allow us to have a high estimation of ourselves. This is what makes Jason and the rest of us the same.

Our God is a disrupting God

This is also where God does all of us a big favor. He allows disruptions into our lives to remind us that we are not great, but rather small and needy. To whatever degree we become too big for our britches, our loving heavenly Father shows up with a reminder. You can probably think of many of these reminders in your life.
He has done this throughout the Bible and church history. This was the simple point at the tower scene of Babel. The boys got too big for their britches, with what began as a small idea, it soon turned into a schema to reach as high as heaven (Genesis 11:4).
God looked down on their selfish ambition and knew the most loving thing He could do for them was to disrupt their plans. Have you ever had your plans disrupted? When they were disrupted, how did you think about what was happening to you?
A man with a God-centered perspective on life is always looking to God first when his plans do not go according to his expectations. He is a man who holds his plans loosely, knowing the high King of heaven may want to assert Himself.
And if He does assert Himself into the plans of His creation, the God-centered man understands and humbly seeks to perceive what the Father is up to. This was the point James was making in his book, when he gave us those humble and helpful words, “If the Lord wills.”
Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. – James 4:15-16 (ESV)

Thorn intervention is a mercy

Whenever we become doggedly determined to do it our way and there are no other options–from our lofty perch, we are more than likely inviting the King of heaven to intervene into our lives. It would be His mercy to do so, as well as a blessing to us.
One of His greatest disciples was a gifted man who needed God’s disrupting intervention in his life. Paul, like us, probably did not see it that way. He was rolling along, hearing from God, evangelizing the world, blogging every day, and getting things done. He was a gifted man.
But Paul had this problem. He had a propensity to be proud. God had blessed him with many gifts, abilities, and experiences. Some of the experiences Paul had with his Father were a few other-worldly revelations (2 Corinthians 12:4). As you know, with any gift or blessing from the Father there is a responsibility to hold those gifts humbly.
As you also know, with any gift or blessing from the Father there is a temptation to forget where the gift came from and what its intended use should be (2 Corinthians 12:7). This was the problem with Jason. He had forgotten God or maybe he really didn’t care about God. Either way, God was not preeminent in his thoughts.
His temptation, and ours too, is to use God’s gifts in ways that promote ourselves rather than making His name great. That was also the temptation with Paul: God blessed and Paul was tempted to exalt himself rather than God.
Therefore, God in His mercy to Paul, gave him a thorn in the flesh as a way to humble him. Paul did not like what God did to him and thought it best to tell the Father about it. He asked the Father three times to remove the thorn that was disrupting his life.
God essentially said, “No.” And then He went on to explain to his supplicating friend that His grace was sufficient for his trial. I was not shocked that God sent a disrupting thorn into Paul’s life. I also was not shocked that Paul prayed to get it removed. And it was not a surprise to hear God say, “No” to the request.
All of these things have happened to me:
  1. I have been proud.
  2. God sent a thorn into my life.
  3. I prayed for the thorn to be removed.
  4. God said, “No.”

Proper response to thorn therapy

This has been a normal process in my life. However, the thing that did shock me was Paul’s response to God’s unwillingness to take the thorn back. The very next thing we see Paul doing is appropriating God’s grace into his life (2 Corinthians 12:9). That, my friends, is shocking.
Seemingly without hesitation, Paul stopped his triune request for a change of circumstance and got on with God’s plan–with the addition of a thorn in his flesh. This is where Paul and I are different. I’m not that quick to accept disruptions, whether great or small.
And that is my question to you: how long does it normally take you to (1) discern the disruption in your life, (2) turn your thoughts to God, (3) appropriate His grace in your life, (4) and move on according to the new change of plans? Okay, that one question was actually four–and I’m not done.
When you are in a situation that is not going to change, or is not changing at a pace that is satisfactory to your expectations, how long does it take you to adjust to a God-centered perspective? Another way of asking the question is, “How long does it take you to stop complaining, whining, grumbling, or blaming?”
For when I am weak, then I am strong. – 2 Corinthians 12:10 (ESV)
If you are like me, prone to stumble at the first sign of trouble, then the place to begin calibrating your mind is with the Gospel. That is what Paul did. Do you remember what he told the Corinthians in chapter one of the first letter?
He told them that the Gospel appeared to be weak and foolish to the Jews and to the Gentiles. Do you remember that? He then went on to say that the Gospel was actually the power and wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:18-25).
What initially appeared to be profoundly disappointing and weak to all those who observed it–the death of Christ–was actually the power and wisdom of God. That is what God’s Gospel is.
Can you see the Gospel connection between what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 and what he was saying in 2 Corinthians 12:1-10? He is applying what he wrote about the Gospel–it appears weak and foolish–to his personal struggle. Paul’s thorn, from the perspective of the world, appeared to be weak.
To the God-centered man, he sees the Gospel differently–it is the wisdom and power of God. Therefore, he sees his situational challenges, like Paul, as having the possibility of displaying the power and wisdom of God.

God will not compete with you

The key for us is not to yield to the temptation of trying to live in our own power, while neglecting God’s power. He will not compete with us. Our friend Jason can choose to live in his own strength and God may let him do that, though He would not let Paul do that.
Rather than letting Paul live and behave under his own power, God weakened him by a thorn so that He could pour His power in and out of this humbled man. This is how God works. He works through broken things like a crucified Savior or a man with a thorn in his flesh.
It does not work in God’s economy to have competing strengths, e.g. Paul’s strength vs. God’s strength–or your strength vs. God’s strength. One of those strengths has to give way to the other.
Paul initially found strength through his pride–gifts, talents, abilities, and that put him in opposition to God’s strength (James 4:6). Therefore, God knew the kindest thing He could do for His servant was to weaken him so His strength could be perfected through Paul’s weakness.
By weakening Paul, there were no competing strengths–Paul was a broken man. The only strong person still standing was God. Paul was humbled and God was exalted. Paul’s condition, like Christ’s condition while hanging on Adam’s tree, appeared to be foolish, weak, and a stumbling block.
It was not. It was God’s wisdom and God’s strength working through a vessel that was turned loose on the Gentile world. It was an unbeatable combination. Paul supplied the empty vessel and God filled it up with His power and off they went to turn the world upside down.

What about you?

Can you connect the Gospel to your personal discomfort? If not, then let’s start small: there you are at a traffic light. You are being hindered by about 3.5 seconds. It’s your turn to push through the intersection, but the rear end of another car is momentarily altering your plans for the day.
In that crucial moment in your life you honk your horn to let the guy know he is disrupting your world. How long did it take you to go weak so God’s strength and power could be manifested through you?
In that moment does your wife or children see your humility–weakness–as you patiently wait on the Lord to let you through that intersection?
Let’s turn the heat up a bit more: your wife disappoints you again. Rather than showing you the respect the world knows you have earned and deserve, she disrespects you in front of others.
How long does it take you to go weak in order for God’s power to take over the situation? Or do you choose to trot out your strength by angrily letting your wife know how she offended your reputation–your high self-esteem?
Let’s do one more–taking it up another notch: you just received the phone call that no one ever wants to receive. You are to see the doctor at 8AM tomorrow. The news is that you have an aggressive cancer that will more than likely take your life.
While you go through several bouts of anguish and maybe even anger, you are growing in your awareness that sovereign God has amazing grace for your illness. You acknowledge your weakness and His strength. You humbly begin the process of appropriating His grace.
In time, your fears begin to be displaced. The power of God is working through you. God’s name is being put on display. You are being affected by His grace and others are coming to see God in ways they never saw Him before.

Your shalom will be disrupted

Friends, we live in a shalom-disrupting world. That is the way of sin. Nothing is neat or forever in this life. Will you ask the Father to give you the grace He gave Paul so you can be fortified at the traffic lights of your life…as well as your larger disruptions of shalom?
  1. Ask the Father to close the gap between the time you experience bad news and your appropriation of His grace to the bad news.
  2. Ask the Father to help you realign your thinking back to the Gospel.
It was the foolishness and weakness of the Gospel that tripped up the Savior’s friends, as well as His enemies. Don’t let what God is doing in your life cause you to stumble too.
Remember how the weak Gospel radically altered you when you were born from above. Believe that He can radically use you in your weakness today–for your good and His glory. Truly, that is the only way He will use you; so don’t resist the weakening process that He is working into your life.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Significance of the Resurrection

"God did not make himself known through a system of teaching nor a theology nor a book, but through a series of events recorded in the Bible. The coming of Jesus of Nazareth was the climax of this series of redemptive events; and his resurrection is the event that validates all that came before . . .  If Christ is not risen from the dead, the long course of God’s redemptive acts to save his people ends in a dead-end street, in a tomb. If the resurrection of Christ is not reality, then we have no assurance that God is the living God, for death has the last word. Faith is futile because the object of that faith has not vindicated himself as the Lord of life. Christian faith is then incarcerated in the tomb along with the final and highest self-revelation of God in Christ--if Christ is indeed dead.”  George Ladd, Theology of New Testament, p. 354.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

For the Christian, nothing less than the presence of the Spirit is enough to explain the marvelous changes worked in human lives. Call it grace; call it providence; call it the result of Bible study ... just so we understand that in and behind any or all the instruments is the presence and work of the Spirit who seeks and finds and transforms. -- Jim McGuiggan

Wanna Be Happy?

Just started following Rick Thomas, a Christian counselor, whose thinking is bilbically grounded.  His blog is here.  Helpful blog on giving.
Show me a happy person.
Are they generous?
Show me a discontented person?
Are they selfish?
There is a circular Bible logic that goes like this:
God loves happy givers and if God is loving on a giver, then the giver is happy.
It does not matter where you jump into that circular sentence, all of the words connect: God-Love-Happy-Giver.
There is a reason for this: when we give generously we are living out who we are in Christ–we are being like God.
Because God is a generous giver, as the Gospel implies, it only makes sense that Christians want to be generous too.
Being generous is more than giving your money away.
It is giving your life away.
That is the Gospel. Jesus Christ gave His life away. Happiness comes when we model the self-sacrifice of the Savior by giving our lives away.
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. – 2 Corinthians 8:9 (ESV)
How generous are you? How do you proactively think about and plan to give your life away? Here is a short list of things generous people giveaway:
  • They give their money away.
  • They give their love away.
  • They give their encouragement away.
  • They give their Christian example away.
  • They give their joy away.
  • They give their kind words away.
  • They give their time away.
  • They give their homes away (hospitality).
The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. – 2 Corinthians 9:6-7 (ESV)

Flow through

In our business we use the term flow through to describe a process of being a middle man or distributor of what is given to us. For example, each Friday evening we go to our local Panera Bread (sandwich shop) and pick up all of their leftover bread.
Last year we picked up over $30,000 (retail value) of bread products. We bring the bread home, separate it out on our dining room table, and distribute it to various entities such as:
  • Our friends at the local car wash.
  • The gas attendant at Costco.
  • Our mail carrier.
  • Our sanitation workers.
  • The kind folks who serve us at our bank.
  • Over 200 needy families who are struggling in various ways.
The reason for our bread distribution is multi-faceted:
  • We do it because we can.
  • We do it to model the generosity of our Savior.
  • We do it to put the Gospel on display in as many places as possible.
  • We do it to model the giving of time, effort, and bread to our children.
  • We do it to feed those who need God’s kindness through the provision of food.
This bread is an example of what flow through means. Someone gives to us and we in turn give to others. We’re merely the coupler or the connector who joins the giver (Panera) with the receiver (those in need).
We trust Panera Bread, that they will give us bread each Friday evening. Panera Bread trusts us to do what we said we would do–give it away. This is analogous to the Christian life.
  • You trust God, that He will provide for you (Matthew 6:33).
  • God trusts you, that you will giveaway what He gives to you (Luke 6:38).
This is not a sentimental hollywood pay-it-forward notion. This is about incarnating the Savior before a dying world who need fresh examples of what the Gospel is all about. It is about receiving in order to give so the name of God can be made famous.

God loves generous givers

The Father is asking you to trust Him by giving your life away. If you trust Him this way, He will bless you. This is a promise. If you obey Him, He will bless you–not so you can have more for yourself, but so you will have more to giveaway.
Will you trust Him by sharing what He has given to you? God’s love is expressed through generous people. This is the flow through principle. It is how the love of God is spread. It is how the Gospel goes forth.
These promises are not about the prosperity gospel, but about God blessing us so we can bless others. You give a lot. He gives a lot. It’s not about personal gain. You are flow through. He gives so you can give.
What are you giving away? Your time, money, wisdom, care, joy? What are you exporting to others? …to your spouse? …to your children? …to your church? …to your neighborhood? …to your world?
God gives to generous givers so they will have more to export to others. Christians are in the import/export business. We bring it in so we can give it out. This has always been the case:
Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the LORD your God that he has given you. – Deuteronomy 16:17 (ESV)
Honor the LORD with your wealth and with the first fruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine. – Proverbs 3:9-10 (ESV)
One gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want. – Proverbs 11:24 (ESV)
Whoever has a bountiful eye will be blessed, for he shares his bread with the poor. – Proverbs 22:9 (ESV)
Whoever gives to the poor will not want, but he who hides his eyes will get many a curse. – Proverbs 28:27 (ESV)
Bring the full tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. – Malachi 3:10 (ESV)
Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you. – Luke 6:38 (ESV)
God loves to be generous to cheerful and generous givers. He blesses generosity by personally enriching you so you can meet the needs of others so they will glorify Him. Test yourself:
  1. Do you give generously?
  2. Do you give willingly?
  3. Do you give cheerfully?
  4. Do you give carefully?
  5. Do you give in a premeditative way?

Do not be anxious…it’s the Gospel

Did you know that God cares more about you than about birds (Matthew 6:26)? No, really…did you know this? If so, let me ask you this question: do you become anxious about giving? Is there a low-level fear factor going on in your heart when it comes to giving?
If so, then you may be aware that God cares more about you than birds, but you don’t believe it at the functional level of your mind. It is one thing to know something, but another thing to practice it. Bible knowledge only has value when it becomes a practice in our lives.
Will you trust God in the matter of giving yourself and your things away for the glory of His name? Don’t be anxious about your life. God cares more for you than the birds that fly over your head. Live like sons and daughters of your heavenly Father. Trust Him.
  1. God faithfully gives to those who faithfully give.
  2. Your generous giving will reach people.
  3. It is through your giving that God is glorified.
Let me ask you this: what is your first thought when it comes to giving? (1) What will it cost me? (2) How will it help others? If you’re thinking like a Gospel-man or a Gospel-woman, then your eye is on what your giving will do, not what it will cost.
As far as God is concerned, giving is not about the money given, but about helping people in need. Giving is the clearest way we can model the Gospel in our lives and when we do this, God is irrepressibly put on display.

And you benefit too

In Philippians we learn about a man who gave His all for the good of others and in the end, He was highly exalted because of His generous giving.
Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. – Philippians 2:9-11 (ESV)
Quite simply, this is how the Gospel works. I’ve already quoted Luke 6:38 earlier:  “For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” But you say, “I don’t give in order to get.”
That’s fine, but that does not stop God for blessing you for your generosity toward others. You might not jump into the air just so you can come back down to the ground, but that does not matter. If you jump into the air, you will come back to the ground. It’s a law.
If you give, you will receive. It is a promise from God. I’m glad that you’re trying to be humble about your generosity, but the fact remains that God loves a generous giver and if you are generous, then expect the love of God to shower you.
This is just how it works. One of the sadder commentaries about selfish people is that they spend their entire lives trying to satisfy themselves and never come to understand this basic Bible truth: if you give, you will get.
I tell selfish husbands this all the time. Yes, all the time. I try to explain to them that if they would give kindness, words, love, affection, repentance, confession, forgiveness, or the other cheek to their wives, that they will get what they want.
What do they want? They want a loving wife who respects them. It’s as easy as pie: you give and it will be given back to you. It’s not complicated folks. Trust God. Give your life away and watch God bless you in ways you could have never imagined.

Plan to receive from God

If your motive is to give your life away then you will be a happy person. If your motive is to get, then you will never be satisfied. The Gospel is not unidirectional, as though all you do is give. The generous giver is lavished upon by the Lord–the giver becomes a receiver. But you must remember the order: you give first and then you receive.
Christ gave and then Christ received. Two people were blessed–Christ and others, but the divine order was to give before you receive. I like the way Paul said it in Philippians. Other than Christ, he was one of the most outrageous and generous givers in the Bible.
Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. – Philippians 4:11-13 (ESV)
The secret to happiness is to give your life away. The secret to misery is to hoard what has been given to you, while seeking more ways to gain more, for self-serving and self-promoting purposes.
You will be more blessed if you choose to give rather than choose to receive (Acts 20:35). The reason for this is because God loves a generous giver. In what ways do you need to be more generous in your giving?
  • Do you need to give more money away?
  • Do you need to give more time away?
  • Do you need to give more repentance away?
  • Do you need to give more forgiveness away?
  • Do you need to give more wisdom away?
What is it that you are holding onto because you’re afraid to let it go? Whatever that is, I appeal to you to become a cheerful giver. Lay it down for the glory of God and the benefit of others. Do you want to be happy? There is only one way: you must give up your life in the specific way in which God is speaking to you right now.
For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. – Mark 10:45 (ESV)
Why are you living? What is your purpose in life? Do you wanna be happy? The Gospel man is here to serve others. Blessed is the man who chooses to generously give his life away.