Friday, March 29, 2013

The Two Thieves on the Cross

Today, I think of the two thieves who died with Jesus. Both represent the Old Adam, one repentant, one not. Adam is sometimes spoken of in the hymns as having stolen the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. He wished to cross a threshold, moving out of primordial innocence into his own grasping of something new: personal experience with the contours of good and evil. His theft of this fruit was an invitation to evil to enter human history, as well as a rejection of human dependence upon his Creator--fellowship with God was not enough for Adam, so he took something that did not belong to him, trading communion with God for his own will.

On Golgotha, we see a reversal in two ways. First, Christ is the obedient Second Adam. By saying "Thy will be done," he rescued the willful first Adam and his descendants from the death that came from his primordial sin. 

Secondly, we see in the Good Thief an example of the proper response. He no longer takes what is not his, but simply asks the Lord to remember him. Here we see a reversal of the sinful attitude of man, who takes his own life and the things of creation--including wealth, land, power, and possessions--for granted, as if they really belonged to him as an eternal birthright. 

But the new man, the man in Christ, like the Good Thief, realizes he has nothing left, that he is spiritually impoverished and naked, with no end in sight other than the death that awaits all mortal flesh. Seeing his need, like the Prodigal Son, he turns to Christ, and asks, "Please, remember me," calling him Lord. The thief invites the Lord. And the Lord invites him back with a promise: "Today, you will be with me in Paradise." The Father welcomes Adam back home. The road is now open, and Easter marks the opening of the doors to the Feast.

"Remember me, O Lord, when you come into your kingdom." May that always be our prayer to our good and merciful Lord, and may Easter joy enlighten us all. - James Kushiner, Fellowship of St. James

The Connection Between The Spirit and Jesus in Regeneration

I want to make a crucial connection between being born again by the Spirit and having eternal life through faith in Jesus. What we have seen so far is that what happens in the new birth is a supernatural work by the Holy Spirit to bring spiritual life into being where it did not exist. Jesus says it again in John 6:63: “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all.” But the Gospel of John makes something else clear as well: Jesus himself is the life that the Holy Spirit gives. Or we could say: The spiritual life that he gives, he only gives in connection with Jesus. Union with Jesus is where we experience supernatural, spiritual life. Jesus said in John 14:6, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” In John 6:35, he said, “I am the bread of life.” And in John 20:31, the apostle says, “These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (Italics mine). -John Piper, Finally Alive, 31-32.

Signs and Wonders and the New Birth

Being a continuist, one who believes that all the gifts of the Spirit are active today, I sometiems hear that if God did miracles there would be revival.  Yet Jesus was probably the greatest miracle worker and still many rejected him!  

Seeing signs and wonders, and being amazed at them, and giving the miracle-worker credit for them that he is from God, saves nobody. This is one of the great dangers of signs and wonders: You don’t need a new heart to be amazed at them. The old, fallen human nature is all that’s needed to be amazed at signs and wonders. And the old, fallen human nature is willing to say that the miracle-worker is from God. The devil himself knows that Jesus is the Son of God and works miracles (Mark 1:24). No, Nicodemus, seeing Jesus as a miracle-worker sent from God is not the key to the kingdom of God. “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” - John Piper, Finally Alive, p. 30.  

Why Regeneration is Unsettling

 I am aware that these chapters will be unsettling to many— just as the words of Jesus are unsettling to us again and again, if we take them seriously. There are at least three reasons for this.
First, Jesus’ teaching about the new birth confronts us with our hopeless spiritual and moral and legal condition apart from God’s regenerating grace. Before the new birth happens to us, we are spiritually dead; we are morally selfish and rebellious; and we are legally guilty before God’s law and under his wrath. When Jesus tells us that we must be born again, he is telling us that our present condition is hopelessly unresponsive, corrupt, and guilty. Apart from amazing grace in our lives, we don’t like to hear this assessment of ourselves, so it is unsettling when Jesus tells us that we must be born again.
Second, teaching about the new birth is unsettling because it refers to something that is done to us, not something we do. John 1:13 emphasizes this. It refers to the children of God as those “who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” God causes the new birth; we don’t. Peter stresses the same thing: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again” (1 Pet. 1:3).
We do not cause the new birth. God causes the new birth. Any spiritually good thing that we do is a result of the new birth, not a cause of the new birth. This means that the new birth is taken out of our hands. It is not in our control. And so it confronts us with our helplessness and our absolute dependence on Someone outside ourselves. This is unsettling. We are told that we won’t see the kingdom of God if we’re not born again. And we’re told that we can’t make ourselves to be born again.
The third reason Jesus’ teaching about the new birth is unsettling, therefore, is that it confronts us with the absolute freedom of God. Apart from God, we are spiritually dead in our selfishness and rebellion. We are by nature children of wrath (Eph. 2:3). Our rebellion is so deep that we cannot detect or desire the glory of Christ in the gospel (2 Cor. 4:4). Therefore, if we are going to be born again, it will rely decisively and ultimately on God. His decision to make us alive will not be a response to what we as spiritual corpses do, but what we do will be a response to his making us alive. For most people, at least at first, this is unsettling. -John Piper, Finally Alive, p. 26-27.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

In discerning what is true from what is false it is best to focus more attention on what is genuine than what is counterfeit. It would be tempting to train people to identify what is fraudulent by focusing a great amount of time on what is false. However, because falsehood is always changing, it is more beneficial to focus on what is unchanging. Knowing and identifying what is false can be done best by knowing and understanding what is true. A person who studies and understands what is true is necessarily equipping himself to discern what is false.  - Tim Challies, The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment, p. 142.

Did God Die on the Cross?

I read a troubling sentence in an otherwise good book this week, Raised With Christ by Adrian Warnock.

Although his divine nature shared in the experience of the agony of death and separation from the Father, only his body was placed in the tomb (p. 33)

If he is saying that God or the divine nature of Christ died when Jesus died on the cross then that means the eternal Tri-une God experienced death and separation and disruption of perfect fellowship.  In other words, in my mind the very nature of God is destroyed.  I quickly did an internet search to confirm my suspicions.  Here is what I found from RC Sproul:

We also believe that Jesus Christ died on the cross. If we say that God died on the cross, and if by that we mean that the divine nature perished, we have stepped over the edge into serious heresy. In fact, two such heresies related to this problem arose in the early centuries of the church: theopassianism and patripassianism. The first of these, theopassianism, teaches that God Himself suffered death on the cross. Patripassianism indicates that the Father suffered vicariously through the suffering of His Son. Both of these heresies were roundly rejected by the church for the very reason that they categorically deny the very character and nature of God, including His immutability. There is no change in the substantive nature or character of God at any time.

You can see the whole article by Sproul here.  The article is a short excerpt from his book, The Truth of the Cross, which is a free download until April 30. 

By Necessity the New Birth Brings Transformation

Much is at stake in seeing the new birth in true biblical proportions. Heaven and hell are at stake—and a church in the world now that acts more like Jesus and less like the culture around it.
Which brings us back to where we started, namely, the claim that born again Christians have lifestyles of worldliness and sin that are indistinguishable from the unregenerate. I don’t think so. 1 John 5:4: “Everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world— our faith.” But my conviction is not rosy news for the church. It implies that there are millions of church attenders who are not born again.
Nevertheless, in spite of this conviction, I will distance myself from perfectionism. In other words, I don’t think that the new birth makes us perfect in this life. Sin remains, and the fight of faith is a daily necessity. Some unbelievers look like better people than some believers. But that is because some pretty bad people have been born again, and the process of transformation is not always as fast as we would like.
It’s also because there are unregenerate people who for all kinds of genetic and social reasons conform to an outward morality while being God-indifferent or God-hostile on the inside. God sees the line between the regenerate and the unregenerate perfectly. We don’t. But there is such a line, and those who have been born again are being changed, even if slowly, from one degree of humility and love to the next.
This matters. It matters for eternity, and it matters for the glory of Christ in this life. If people are to enter finally into the kingdom of God (John 3:3), and if the church is to let her light shine on earth that people may give glory to God (Matt. 5:16), then the new birth must be experienced. -John Piper, Finally Alive, p.21.

5 Steps to Get Beyond Sacred Cows In the Church

Sacred CowI wish I had known about this early on in my ministry experience   A helpful  post by Thom S. Rainer.  
Many years ago I was serving as pastor of a church where I was an avid supporter of door-to-door outreach. But I struggled with leading people to be involved in the ministry. We kept decent records, so I got the old “outreach cards” for the previous year. My brief research shocked me.
I estimated that we had invested nearly 1,500 hours of our members’ time in this ministry during the past year. The apparent result of our ministry had resulted in, at best, two Christian families joining our church. If you assume a workday of eight hours, our members had worked 187 full days with no evangelistic fruit.
The Encounter
When I presented my research to a leader in the church and suggested we look at other alternatives, he raised his voice almost to a scream: “But we have always done it that way. And ten years ago we saw dozens of people become Christians through this ministry every year. We’re not about to change!” When I asked what we should do about the 1,500 hours of apparently fruitless ministry, he said we should try to increase the number to 3,000 hours.
The Memory
Don’t get me wrong. Your church may have great success in door-to-door outreach. My purpose in writing this article is not to pass judgment on a methodology. My purpose is to ask the question: Are organizational memories, commonly known as sacred cows, hindering our effectiveness for the gospel?
In my church there were great memories of this method of outreach. The thought of looking to other more effective alternatives almost seemed to violate some sacred principle. Interestingly, some of the most vociferous opponents of change were those who no longer participated in the ministry.
The Honesty
Fortunately, we were able to get beyond the emotions to have an honest and frank discussion about the ministry. I brought together leaders from both sides of the issue. We discovered two main reasons our ministry was running into roadblocks that it did not have ten years earlier. First, many of the neighborhoods had transitioned from Deep South transplants to Northern transplants. The latter group was not culturally acclimated to people “just dropping by.” Second, about one-third of the residents were in gated communities, a significant increase from ten years earlier.
We came away from that meeting with a few changes that kept us outwardly focused without the frustration of the old methodology. The critics did not disappear immediately, but we were able to deal with them without major disruption.
The Principles
Organizational memory in our church had the potential of hindering our gospel effectiveness. The initial frustrated response to the problem was to double our ineffective efforts from 1,500 hours a year to 3,000 hours. But we did move beyond this issue. The changes were not without pain though. Here are the five steps we took to move beyond organizational memory.
  1. We involved key leaders on both sides of the issue. Several people had emotional ties to our ministry. It was good for those on each side of this issue to hear the other perspective.
  2. We asked if we could accomplish our goals with more effective means. Even some of the greatest detractors recognized that the means had become an end. We concluded that our true goal was not to maintain a program, but to share the gospel and our church with our neighbors.
  3. We paired leaders from opposite sides for an hour to present possible alternatives.This exercise was immensely valuable. It got all of us thinking about the true goal rather than the preservation of an ineffective program.
  4. We left with an intentional decision to move forward with two pilot ministries. We declared neither new ministry to be sacrosanct, but decided to test them for a predetermined period of six months. We also agreed to return as a group in six months to evaluate our progress or lack of progress.
  5. We recognized as a group that we would still have critics for eliminating the old ministry. Our goal was not to eliminate criticism, but to minimize it and to deal with the critics in a Christ-like manner.
On the one hand, I would evaluate our process as a success. We were able to deal effectively with the sacred cow that was hindering our progress. On the other hand, our replacement ministries were only slightly more effective than their predecessor ministry. At the end of six months, some were wondering if we made a mistake by doing away with the old ministry.
Leading a church to change is rarely a smooth road. It is often three steps forward and two steps backward. But the process we took became very helpful in my leadership in future churches and other organizations.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Three Reasons It is Important to Know what it Means to be Born Again

There are three reasons I want you who are Christians to know what happened to you when you were born again.
  1. When you are truly born again and grow in the grace and knowledge of what the Lord has done for you, your fellowship with God will be sweet, and your assurance that he is your Father will be deep. I want that for you.
  2. If you know what really happened to you in your new birth, you will treasure God and his Spirit and his Son and his word more highly than you ever have. In this, Christ will be glorified.
  3. In the process of believers discovering what really happened to them, the seriousness and the supernatural nature of conversion will rise and that, I pray, will serve a more general awakening of authenticity in the Christian church so that religious hypocrisy will diminish and the world will see real love and sacrifice and courage in the service of Christ.   John Piper, Finally Alive, p. 18.

8 Simple Ways to Pour Into Leaders

Windshield Time
A Helpful article by Brandon Cox.  Leadership development should be near the top of any pastors list of priorities behind preaching.  If you are not working with present and future leaders, you are shooting yourself in the foot and doing a disservice to the kingdom.

In the American church, we tend to think of leadership development as a classroom and curriculum-based process, but Jesus had a better idea: spend time with people. Jesus allowed His life to rub off on His chosen leaders and to pour His wisdom into them, and we can do the same. Sometimes it’s a matter of spotting the natural opportunities that come along while at other times, its an intentionally-planned conversation.
Here are some simple ways to make leadership development a part of your life…
  1. Schedule three to five informal meetings per week – coffee, lunch, etc. – with people into whom you want to invest.
  2. Take potential leaders on trips with you. I’ve heard great leaders talk about the mentoring power of never traveling alone. MyWorship Pastor calls it “windshield time.”
  3. If you’re a Pastor, take a partner as you do pastoral care – hospital visits, etc. Just the time in the car on the way is a great opportunity.
  4. Buy and send books to leaders. I’ve received and given books that have shaped who I am.
  5. Check in with a phone call. Have a list of potential leaders into whom you’re pouring, and randomly call them once a month or so.
  6. Convene conversations. Gather leaders who aspire to be involved in the things you’ve spent your life doing and let them connect with each other.
  7. Listen. Pouring into leaders doesn’t mean doing all the talking. It often means lending an ear in a tough moment.
  8. Connect leaders to other leaders. It’s powerful when we say, “here’s a friend of mine you need to connect with.”
I can’t begin to thank God enough for the leaders He has placed in my life as mentors, friends, and coaches. I’m sometimes blown away by the graciousness of those who will pour into me.
What are you doing to pour into other leaders?  See whole article here.

A 4-Step Process for Making Better Decisions

I am always looking at the decision making process of those I am seeking to disciple and mentor as I often see that many of us make short sighted decisions without consulting those God has placed around us. "Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety (Pro 11:14; see also Pro 15:22). Here is excerpt of a blog by Michael Hyatt on a new book he is enthusiastic about, Decisive.

Human beings are notoriously bad at making decisions. We seem to struggle with this in both our personal and professional lives.

For example:

  • Forty-one percent of first marriages end in divorce.
  • Forty-four percent of lawyers would not recommend a career in law to young people.
  • Eighty-three percent of corporate mergers and acquisitions fail to create any value for shareholders.

According to bestselling authors Chip Heath and Dan Heath, “When it comes to making decisions, it’s clear that our brains are flawed instruments.” Whether we rely on complex analysis or gut reactions, the results are about the same.

Unfortunately, merely being aware of these shortcomings doesn’t fix the problem, any more than knowing that we are nearsighted helps us to see. The real question is: How can we do better?

That’s why the Heath brothers wrote their new book, Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work. I spent this last weekend reading it.

First, we have to understand the problem. The authors point out the “four villains” when it comes to making decisions:

  1. We have too narrow of focus. We are guilty of “spotlight thinking.” We focus on the obvious and visible. We miss important facts outside our immediate view.
  2. We fall into confirmation bias. We develop a quick belief about something and then seek out information that confirms that belief.
  3. We get caught in short-term emotion. We are too emotionally connected to the decision and struggle with being appropriately detached.
  4. We are guilty of overconfidence. We assume that we know more than we actually do know and jump to conclusions, thinking we can accurately predict the future.

The great value of the book is that it lays out a decision-making process that can be used in any situation.

Rest of the article can be found here..

Why Theology Matters to Musicians

Bob Kauflin is a great musician, worship leader, and theologian.  Those three combined qualities are rare and under appreciated in worship ministry.  I found this post here.
BOOKSThis post is based on a message I gave at the Christian Musician Summit in 2008.
When Christian musicians get together, we tend to assume we all have our theology down and we can focus on honing our chops, discovering new gear, and improving our techniques and methodologies. Or maybe we think that theology isn’t that important. Whatever the reason, I wanted to make clear that even at the Christian Musician Summit, theology matters.
Theology is literally the “study of God,” particularly as he has revealed himself in Scripture. It includes not only studying the Bible, but understanding how the different parts of the Bible fit together. Christian musicians need to know theology. But before I explain why, here are four potential objections people might have.
1. People just argue about theology.
Yes. Partly because we’re sinful. But mostly because there are some truths that are worth defending and
2. Theology just makes life complicated.
It depends on what you mean by complicated. If you think that knowing how to play your instrument makes it complicated, then yes, theology makes life complicated. Theology doesn’t make like complicated. It actually makes life simpler. It protects us from reading verses out of context or reading only our favorite passages. Theology tells us what words like glory, gospel, salvation, and love mean. Theology helps us understand what we’re actually doing every Sunday. What complicates life is not theology but ignorance of theology.
3. Studying theology makes people proud.
It shouldn’t. The better we know God, the humbler we should be. The more we should  realize that what we know will always be dwarfed by what we don’t know.
4. We’ll never know it all anyway.
Just because we can’t know everything about God, doesn’t mean we can’t know some things truly. God has revealed himself to us in his word and given us his Spirit so that we can know him.
Here are three reasons why theology should matter to Christian musicians.
1. You’re already a theologian.
Every Christian, musical or otherwise, is already a theologian. The question is, are you a good theologian or a bad one? We’re good theologians if what we say and think about God lines up with what Scripture says and affirms. We’re bad theologians if our view of God is vague, or if we think God doesn’t really mind sin, or is we see Jesus as a good example and not a Savior, or if we our god is too small to overcome evil or too big to care about us.
2. God reveals himself primarily through words, not music. 
Because we’ve encountered God profoundly during times of musical worship, we can wrongly start assuming that words restrict the Spirit, while music enables us to experience God in fresh and powerful ways. If God had wanted us to know him primarily through music, the Bible would be a soundtrack, not a book. Music affects and helps us in many ways, but it doesn’t replace truth about God. By itself, music can never help us understand the meaning of God’s self-existence, the nature of the Incarnation, or Christ’s substitutionary atonement. Simply put, truth outlasts tunes.
3. Being good theologians makes us better musicians.
  • Theology teaches us what music is meant to do.
  • Theology teaches us that worship is more than music.
  • Theology teaches us that Jesus is better than music.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Ways We Hide or Deflect our Sin and the only Solution

Oh how sin is so deceitful.  One way this is expressed in how we minimize it in our lives.  Helpful post from the Good Book Blog.

The starting point of the Christian life (conversion) comes when we first become aware of the gap between God’s holiness and our sinfulness. At conversion we trust and hope in Jesus who has accomplished what we ourselves could never do: He has bridged the gap between our sinfulness and God’s holiness.

At the point of conversion, however, we have a very limited view of God’s holiness and of our sin. The more we grow in the Christian life, the more we grow in both our awareness of God’s holiness and of our brokenness and sinfulness. It is not that God is becoming more holy or that we are becoming more sinful, rather an awareness of both is growing.
As an understanding of sin and of God’s holiness grows, something else also grows: an appreciation and love for Jesus. His mediation, His sacrifice, His righteousness, and His gracious work on my behalf become increasingly sweet and powerful. The cross looms larger and more central in the Christian life as we rejoice in the Savior who died upon it.
But here’s the rub. Because sanctification—growth in holiness or transformation—doesn’t work quite as neatly as we’d like, because of the indwelling sin that remains in us, we have an ongoing tendency to minimize the gospel or “shrink the cross.” This happens when we either (a) minimize God’s perfect holiness, thinking of Him as something less than His Word declares Him to be, or (b) elevate our own righteousness, thinking of ourselves as better than we actually are. The cross becomes smaller and Christ’s importance in our lives is diminished.
Because we forget to walk in step with the gospel—especially as Christians—we have a tendency to minimize our brokenness and sin. Here are a few ways believers often hide or deflect sin:
I find it difficult to receive feedback about weaknesses or sin. When confronted, my tendency is to explain things away, talk about my successes, or justify my decisions. As a result, people are hesitant to approach me and I rarely have conversations about difficult things in my life.
I strive to keep up appearances and maintain a respectable image. My behavior, to some degree, is driven by what I think others think of me. I also do not like to think reflectively about my life. As a result, not many people know the real me. (I may not even know the real me.)
I tend to conceal as much as I can about my life, especially the “bad stuff.” This is different from faking, in that faking is about impressing. Hiding is more about shame. I don’t think people will accept or love the real me.
I tend to think (and talk) more highly of myself than I ought. I make things (good and bad) out to be much bigger than they are (usually to get attention). As a result, things often get more attention than they deserve and have a way of making me stressed or anxious.
I am quick to blame others for sin or circumstances. I have a difficult time “owning” my contributions to sin or conflict. There is an element of pride that assumes it’s not my fault and/or an element of fear of rejection if it is my fault.
I tend to give little weight to sin or circumstances in my life, as if they are “normal” or “not that bad.” As a result, things often don’t get the attention they deserve. They have a way of mounting up to the point of being overwhelming (these categories come from World Harvest Mission's, Gospel-Centered Life material).
To counteract our sinful tendency to shrink the gospel, we must constantly nourish our minds on the truth of Scripture. We need to know, see, and savor the holy, righteous character of God. And we need to identify, admit, and feel the depth of our brokenness and sinfulness. These are the two legs a Christian walks on—faith (God’s holiness) and repentance (admitting our sin).  Walking in both lead to a life marked by transforming joy, hope, and love.
Growing in the gospel means seeing more of God’s holiness and more of our sin. And because of what Jesus has done for us on the cross, we need not fear seeing God as He really is or admitting how broken we really are. Our hope is not in our own goodness, nor in the vain expectation that God will compromise His standards and “grade on a curve.” Rather, we rest in Jesus as our perfect Redeemer—the One who is “our righteousness, holiness and redemption” (1 Cor. 1:30). The gospel is the key to enduring transformation.

by Darian Lockett; see article here.

The Defamation of the Term Born Again

I read Finally Alive by John Piper when it first came out in 2009 but am reviewing it for my Easter sermon this week, as I study 1 Peter 1:3-5.  It is an excellent treatise of a biblical theology of regeneration or being born again.  He correctly diagnoses the disease that plagues the church, an inadequate understanding of our moral corruption, what theologians call total depravity, then outlines the prescription, a biblical understanding of regeneration as the work of God, not the work of man.  The book is available as a free download.
But not everyone today is jealous to esteem this miracle for the wonder that it is. If you go to research groups online, you can read things like this: “Born Again Christians Just as Likely to Divorce as Are Non-Christians.” The same kind of statistics are given by Ron Sider in his book The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience: Why Are Christians Living Just Like the Rest of the World? (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2005) and by Mark Regnerus in his book Forbidden Fruit: Sex and Religion in the Lives of American Teenagers (Oxford University Press, 2007).
What matters most for our concern in this book is the way the term born again is being used. In particular, the Barna Group, a Christian research firm, has used it in reporting their findings. In the report titled “Born Again Christians Just as Likely to Divorce as Are Non-Christians,” Barna uses the word evangelicals interchangeably with born again and reports that:

  •  Only nine percent of evangelicals tithe.
  •  Of 12,000 teenagers who took the pledge to wait for marriage, 80 percent had sex outside    marriage in the next seven years.
  •  Twenty-six percent of traditional evangelicals do not think premarital sex is wrong.
  •  White evangelicals are more likely than Catholics and mainline Protestants to object to having black neighbors.

In other words, the broadly defined evangelical church as a whole in America and the West in general is apparently not very unlike the world. It goes to church on Sunday and has a veneer of religion, but its religion is basically an add-on to the same way of life the world lives, not a transforming power.
I want to say loud and clear that when the Barna Group uses the term born again to describe American church-goers whose lives are indistinguishable from the world, and who sin as much as the world, and sacrifice for others as little as the world, and embrace injustice as readily as the world, and covet things as greedily as the world, and enjoy God-ignoring entertainment as enthusiastically as the world—when the term born again is used to describe these professing Christians, the Barna Group is making a profound mistake. It is using the biblical term born again in a way that would make it unrecognizable by Jesus and the biblical writers.
Here is the way the researchers defined born again in their research:“Born again Christians” were defined in these surveys as people who said they have made “a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today” and who also indicated they believe that when they die they will go to Heaven because they had confessed their sins and had accepted Jesus Christ as their savior. Respondents were not asked to describe themselves as “born again.”
Being classified as “born again” is not dependent upon church or denominational affiliation or involvement. In other words, in this research the term born again refers to people who say things. They say, “I have a personal commitment to Jesus Christ. It’s important to me.” They say, “I believe that
I will go to Heaven when I die. I have confessed my sins and accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior.” Then the Barna Group takes them at their word, ascribes to them the infinitely important
reality of the new birth, and then slanders that precious biblical reality by saying that regenerate hearts have no more victory over sin than unregenerate hearts.
I’m not saying their research is wrong. It appears to be appallingly right. I am not saying that the church is not as worldly as they say it is. I am saying that the writers of the New Testament think in exactly the opposite direction about being born again. Instead of moving from a profession of faith, to the label born again, to the worldliness of these so-called born again people, to the conclusion that the new birth does not radically change people, the New Testament moves in the other direction.
It moves from the absolute certainty that the new birth radically changes people, to the observation that many professing Christians are indeed (as the Barna Group says) not radically changed, to the conclusion that they are not born again. The New Testament, unlike the Barna Group, does not defile the new birth with the worldliness of unregenerate, professing Christians.
For example, one of the main points of the First Epistle of John is to drive home this very truth:

  •  1 John 2:29: “If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him.”
  •  1 John 3:9: “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God.”
  •  1 John 4:7: “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.”
  •  1 John 5:4: “Everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.”
  •  1 John 5:18: “We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him.”

We will come back to texts like these in the chapters to come. There are many questions to answer, and we will distance ourselves plainly from perfectionism and deal realistically with the failures of genuine Christians. But for now, is it not true that these statements appear to be written with the very claims of the Barna Group in mind? Are Augustine, Lewis, Barna, and the Bible these texts not addressed to the false claim that born again people are morally indistinguishable from the world? The Bible is profoundly aware of such people in the church. That is one reason why 1 John was written. But instead of following the Barna Group, the Bible says that the research is not finding that born again people are permeated with worldliness; the research is finding that the church is permeated by people who are not born again (italics mine). John Piper, Finally Alive, pgs. 12-14

Questions for Sleepy and Nominal Christians

Always thoughtful and engaging by Tim Keller.

I recently gave a talk on revival, and I want to share some thoughts from it. It’s difficult to find the right word for what we mean when we talk about revival. “Renewal” is almost too soft a word, and “revival” has too many dated connotations nowadays. But the older definition of revival is helpful. It refers to a time when the ordinary operations of the Holy Spirit—not signs and wonders, but the conviction of sin, conversion, assurance of salvation and a sense of the reality of Jesus Christ on the heart—are intensified, so that you see growth in the quality of the faith in the people in your church, and a great growth in numbers and conversions as well.
In a revival, sleepy Christians wake up, nominal Christians get converted, and non-Christians get reached. A sleepy Christian may believe they’re a Christian, but they don’t have a real sense of God’s holiness, their own sin, or the depth of his grace. They may be a moralist or a relativist, or living inconsistent lives.
Nominal Christians may be going to church, but have never really been convicted of sin or received salvation personally. When sleepy and nominal Christians get revived, attractive and bold in their witness, people who would never have believed before begin to get converted.
So how do you wake up sleepy Christians and convert nominal Christians? Let me give you what I would call my modernized American versions of the kinds of questions I would ask people if I was trying to get them to really think about whether or not they know Christ. These questions are adapted from The Experience Meeting by William Williams, based on the Welsh revivals during the Great
Awakening. He would ask people to share about these types of questions in small group settings each week:
How real has God been to your heart this week? How clear and vivid is your assurance and certainty of God’s forgiveness and fatherly love? To what degree is that real to you right now?
Are you having any particular seasons of delight in God? Do you really sense his presence in your life, sense him giving you his love?
Have you been finding Scripture to be alive and active? Instead of just being a book, do you feel like Scripture is coming after you?
Are you finding certain biblical promises extremely precious and encouraging? Which ones?
Are you finding God’s challenging you or calling you to something through the Word? In what ways?
Are you finding God’s grace more glorious and moving now than you have in the past? Are you conscious of a growing sense of the evil of your heart, and in response, a growing dependence on and grasp of the preciousness of the mercy of God?
Put together, that is a growing understanding of grace.

23 Lessons Coffee Taught Me About Reaching the Unchurched

Gimme A Hand
Besides leaving God out of most of the equation, these 23 lessons are helpful for church leaders to evaluate how they minister to the churched, the unchurched, and the dechurched! By Brian Dodd at
I am an anomaly in America culture.  At 47 years old, I have never had a cup of coffee until I attended a Coffee Cupping last week.  Coffee Cupping is similar to a wine tasting in that you smell the aromas, identify flavors, test texture, and then drink different types of coffee.
It is not because of religious reasons that I have not had a cup of coffee.  I simply do not enjoy hot drinks.  Like many people who have no religious background, I have no coffee background.  I was truly an outsider in this group of about 15 people at the event.
Within moments I began to realize that many people with no church background likely process their church experience in the same fashion I, with no coffee background, was experiencing the coffee cupping.
With that said, the following are 23 lessons coffee cupping taught me about reaching the unchurched.  Make sure you read the last two.
  • The room was perfectly laid for the cupping when we arrived.  They were expecting us and made sure the environment would be to our liking.  Pastors and church leaders, are you facilities set up in a way that communicates to unchurched people that you are expecting them?
  • The barista and his assistant were engaging and very friendly.  They were likable which made me interested in hearing what they had to say.
  • The barista then told us early that “coffee is easy to mess up.”  So is the Sunday experience for people with no church background.
  • We sampled three different types of unidentified coffee.  People who are seeking a church home will likely sample many different churches.
  • The barista also said, “We’re in an educational time.  We want you to know what you’re tasting.”  Do you as a church give those with no religious background the time, space, and opportunity to become educated in your church and faith?  Are they allowed to know what they are tasting?
  • Since I have no coffee background, I only went because a friend invited me.
  • The people in their 20′s were more passionately engaged in the experience than us over the age of 40.
  • Of the approximately 15 people involved in the cupping, some were very thorough in their process.  Some went through it fast.  Some talked about it with others.  Some people came across as coffee experts.  Everyone will process your church experience in their own way.
  • As someone with no coffee background, all three coffees smelled the same to me – STRONG.
  • A friend of mine said after smelling the coffees, “I got nothing.”  I wondered how many people with no church background will say that after Easter Sunday.
  • Stirring too much messes up the experience.  There is a process after foaming called the break.  This is when the foam crusts at the top of the cup.  You are simply supposed to lightly break it with a spoon releasing a wonderful aroma.  By stirring too much, it prevents you from enjoying the scent.  Embrace simplicity.
  • Everyone viewed the smells and tastes of coffee through their own experience.
  • When people could not properly identify a smell or taste, the barista/leader would guide them through the process.
  • When it came time for the actual tasting, the barista said, “If you over think, you’ll choke.”  To those who are unchurched, we simply need to for them to enjoy the service, take away one big idea, and most importantly, come back the next week.
  • Coffee has an aftertaste.  We were also told that the coffees taste better when things cool down.  I wonder what the unchurched says about our services two days after things cool down.
  • The enthusiasm of experienced coffee drinkers comes of as weird to us with no coffee background.
  • The biggest selling coffee to the general public was the least popular among coffee enthusiasts.  There is MAJOR application here to church leaders.
  • Coffee enthusiasts, who represent a missional community, made fun of the mainstream Starbucks and Brazilian coffee beans.
  • We were told espresso is a machine, not a coffee.  Therefore, this business dropped the name “espresso” from all their brands thus increasing overall sales.  It may be time to drop all denominational names.
  • To both the coffee enthusiasts as well as those with no coffee background, everyone wanted sustainability in their products.  Everyone wants something that lasts and matters.
  • Passion can be a detractor.  To those with no coffee background, I do not want a 30 minute discussion on the difference between a Brazilian bean and a Peruvian bean.  Just give me the coffee.
And now the BIG TWO learnings every pastor and church leader should take away:
  • The barista said, “How you get the seed determines the taste.”  Pastors and church leaders, anything you provide to those with no church background will have a bitter taste if it does not have a Biblical foundation.  It is the Word of God that changes a human life.
  • As a person with no coffee background, I was giving coffee just one chance.  I could not tell the difference between any of the coffees.  I could not smell anything that wasn’t strong.  And most importantly, I did not like the taste.  I am going back to my cold drinks.
It frightens me but also gives me an incredible sense of urgency knowing that tomorrow morning, Sunday March 24th there will be thousands of people with no church background who are going to give church just one chance.  I wonder if they will come back next week or return to their current lifestyle.
See article here.

Why You Should Read Fiction

Fiction can sometimes, like Nathan the prophet’s story of the ewe lamb, awaken parts of us that we have calloused over, due to ignorance or laziness or inattention or sin. One night, in the car on my way home, I was talking by telephone to my eighty-six year-old grandmother. She was telling me a story about the last time she saw my grandfather alive. She told me about feeling the coldness of his feet as she changed his socks in his hospital bed, about how his eyes were focused on her, though he couldn’t speak. She talked about how, when the nurses told her she had to leave, she kissed him, told him she loved him, and that she could feel him watching her as she left the room, for the last time. I knew she had lost my grandfather. I know that people die. I know “Husbands love your wives” (Ephesians 5).

But that story awakened something in me. It prompted me to hold my wife with a special tenderness when I walked in the door. I had imagined what it would be like to say goodbye to her in that way, and, suddenly, all the daily pressures of kids and bills and house repairs and travel just seemed to fit in a bigger context. Fiction often does the same thing. When I read Tolstoy’s Death of Ivan Illych, I gain an imaginative sympathy with something I might avoid in the busyness of life: what it’s actually like to die. When I read Wendell Berry’s stories of Henry County, Kentucky, I can gain insight on what it would be like to face losing a family farm in the Great Depression. This fiction gives a richer, bigger vision of human life.

What’s more is that fiction is, I think, very helpful for those who are called to preach and teach (which, at least in terms of bearing witness to Christ is true of all of us). Fiction helps the Christian to learn to speak in ways that can navigate between the boring abstract and the irrelevant mundane. It also enables you to learn insights about human nature. I’ve never had a problem with drug addiction. I can’t imagine why on earth anyone would take meth. Reading stories of life in Eastern Kentucky and about the motivations behind a meth addict can teach me to address those things biblically, and to see where I have similar idolatry that would be just as incomprehensible to someone else.
Read the rest

Monday, March 25, 2013

Our First Right: Religious Liberty

Here are four interesting observations by a bishop and scholar who was also past commissioner with the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.  

Religious faith and practice are cornerstones of the American experience. It’s worth recalling that James Madison, John Adams, Charles Carroll, John Jay, George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson—in fact, nearly all the American Founders—saw religious faith as vital to the life of a free people. They believed that liberty and happiness grow organically out of virtue. And virtue needs grounding in religious faith.
Freedom of religion is more than freedom of worship. The right to worship is a necessary but not a sufficient part of religious liberty. For most religious believers, and certainly for Christians, faith requires community. It begins in worship, but it also demands preaching, teaching, and service; in other words, active engagement with society. Faith is always personal but never private. And it involves more than prayer at home and Mass on Sunday—although these things are vitally important. Real faith always bears fruit in public witness and public action. Otherwise it’s just empty words.
Threats against religious freedom in our country are not imaginary or overstated. They’re happening right now. They’re immediate, serious, and real. Last year religious liberty advocates won a significant and appropriate Supreme Court victory in the 9-0 Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC decision. But what was stunning even to the justices in that case was the disregard for traditional constitutional understandings of religious freedom shown by the government’s arguments against the Lutheran church and school.
From the beginning, believers—alone and in communities—have shaped American history simply by trying to live their faith in the world. We need to realize that America’s founding documents assume an implicitly religious anthropology—an idea of human nature, nature’s God, and natural rights—that many of our leaders no longer really share.
Charles J. Chaput, a Capuchin Franciscan, is the archbishop of Philadelphia and the author of Render Unto Caesar.

Read the whole article here..

Saturday, March 23, 2013


Another example of short sighted decisions that makes matters worse  I especailly like this quote from Nancy Pelosi, "we had to pass the law to find out what is in it!"

This week, the New York Times highlighted the impact of the upcoming implementation of the healthcare bill known as the "Affordable" Healthcare Act. The newspaper highlighted the story of Baked in the Sun, a California baker with 95 employees. 

As it turns out, implementing the healthcare law could end up costing the company more than 65% of its net profits.

Baked in the Sun earns about $8 million in annual revenue, but in a competitive market, with heavy taxes and regulations in California, margins are so tight for bakeries that they end up with a total net profit of about about $200,000, or 2.5%. Given that the company has more than 50 employees, its owners must offer health insurance to every employee, or pay a fine for failure to comply when the new law kicks in.

The bill? Pay $108,000 per year and $10,000 in overhead in order to comply. Or pay the fine for each worker, a total of $130,000. Either way, there goes more than half of the company's profits.

Of course, this is just the unintended consequence of how Washington does business. 

The reality is that Congress pushed through a monstrosity of a bill that was so full of economic consequences, and no one paid any attention. Only 25 percent of Congressmen has any background in economics, which means that, typically, intentions trump logic when it comes to public policy. 

But it's not just the businesses that are suffering. A new congressional study says Obamacare has, in fact, increased the average family premium by $3,000 - and that's before the most costly requirements of the law take effect next year. Premiums are set to skyrocket all around the country, with millions of new people being added to the rolls, and the risk of less healthy patients being spread across the pool. Add in the fact that younger, healthier patients will likely pay the fines instead of paying outrageous annual premiums, and the end result will be higher costs for anyone who complies with the government mandate.

Below is a list of the expected increases in premiums over the next few years by state:

As Nancy Pelosi one said, "We had to pass the law to find out what is in it." Turns out it led to higher taxes and higher premiums - and it is already expected to lead to a massive exodus of doctors from the American healthcare market, which will drastically impact the quality of and access to healthcare.

Of course, California is already out in front of this doctor shortage issue. They addressed the issue by redefining what a doctor actually is... 

We'll talk about that next week. But we're curious if there are any small business owners or company leaders that are currently wrestling with how you're going to implement the healthcare bill. Have your premiums gone up? What alternatives do you propose to our current healthcare system? Let us know.

Lack of Fiscal Responsibility

A U.S. government document released on February 14 reveals the receipt from the Hotel Intercontinental Paris Le Grand for $585,000.50 when the Vice President recently visited France. Another contract, released yesterday, reveals that the U.S. government spent $459,388.65 for five nights at the Hyatt Regency London for Biden and his entourage during a different trip. Biden's team required "approximately 136 hotel rooms for 893 room nights," which puts the average cost per room at about $500 per night. Not a bad little stay on the taxpayer dime. - Money Map Report

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Recovering the Missional Passion of the Church

It seems that ministry, by its very nature, seems to relentlessly drift away from mission yet I think mission must be the heartbeat and epicenter of the ministry of and driving force of the church.  Another article I found on; Ed Stetzer is a good thinker.

MissionsIn order for the church to recover its missional passion, we must reclaim our lost sense of the awesome, overarching glory of God’s mission. Most Christians do not deny the orthodox doctrines of Scripture. We grasp the fact that God has revealed himself to us as Lord and King. But to borrow the words of author David Wells, the modern church has been “caged” by a diminishing of who God really is.
We have turned to a God we can use rather than a God we must obey; we have turned to a God who will fulfill our need rather than a God before whom we must surrender our rights to ourselves. He is a God for us, for our satisfaction– not because we have learned to think of him in this way through Christ but because we have learned to think of him this way through the marketplace. Everything is for us, for our pleasure, for our satisfaction, and we have come to assume that it must be so in the church as well.
We have shrunk God down to our size. We have limited the scope of his mission in our minds. We have unwittingly bought into the idea that progress is more important than redemption.
And this is chiefly why our zeal for evangelism and the gospel has been undermined– not because we don’t care, not because we don’t know what to do. We have simply replaced God’s purpose for the world with our own purpose for the world. Even when we serve and help and give and share, we too often do it from a sense of obligation or a desire to impress. We have become a church steered by many different motivations but all too rarely by a singular desire to glorify God. Wells is right: “We will not be able to recover the vision and understanding of God’s grandeur until we recover an understanding of ourselves as creatures who have been made to know such grandeur.”
The message that emanates from the life and work of the apostle Paul, who was without argument the most productive missionary in the history of the church, is that we cannot hope to be either faithful or effective in kingdom service while being overly concerned about our own needs.
On two occasions he called himself an “ambassador.” That’s a pretty important job. Where I grew up in New York, those were the people who didn’t have to pay parking tickets. They mattered. And Paul said, “We are ambassadors for Christ” (2 Cor. 5:20). Yet the only other time we read him referring to himself by that title, he said he was an “ambassador in chains” (Eph. 6:20). Yes, he was an ambassador– just as we are– yet that ambassadorial role, representing King Jesus, did not mean Paul was without hardship.
No one survives the harsh, abusive treatment he endured without living for something bigger than himself. We might assume, then, Paul was simply that devoted to the people he was called to serve. His compassion for them, his selfless interest in them, his desire that they experience the fruit of the gospel– all of these must have come together to make him an unstoppable force.
Well, yes, Paul was devoted to the churches and the people who comprised them. He possessed an uncommon zeal to see others convinced of gospel truth and redeemed through God’s eternal mercy and grace. But it wasn’t concern for his neighbors that ultimately motivated Paul to such extremes of spiritual exertion and sacrifice. It was Jesus’ love that “compelled” him (2 Cor. 5:14). “To live is Christ,” he said (Phil. 1:21).
And we, too– if we wish to be faithful to our calling– must live supremely for the glory of God and what he is doing through his Son in our world.
If we are not on this mission, then we must ask ourselves what we’re doing here. Are we just working to make the church a more acceptable place to our friends and neighbors? Are we looking for a nice place to socialize on Wednesday nights? Are we turning spiritual cranks and pulleys because we think the church is supposed to do those things, because we feel better about ourselves when we do them?
The only thing that really matters is this: our God has a mission. That’s why he sent Jesus here on subversive terms. And that’s why he established the church– churches like yours and churches like mine– to join him on mission to reestablish his glory over all creation.
This is why God has given his church the “keys of the kingdom of heaven,” so that “whatever you bind on earth is already bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth is already loosed in heaven” (Matt. 16:19). To people in the world who live chained to the notion that their desired ambitions can be achieved on earth, the church possesses their liberating answer. They are no longer forced to exist in the bondage of living from experience to experience. For some this “bondage” takes the form of workout gyms, corner offices, organic food stores, and all the apparent trappings of success. But for others it means gambling losses, broken relationships, wasted opportunities, prescription drug abuse. For many it’s a roller-coaster mix between the two, a frantic navigation of highs and lows. And for all it’s a life that leads away from ultimate purpose and permanence.
Through the gospel those individuals who are “bound” in spiritual darkness can be “loosed” from what has held them captive– redeemed from their slavery. God’s plan for overthrowing the devil’s dominion, freeing its hostages, and advancing Christ’s kingdom is for the church to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ in both word and deed. That’s how he pursues his plan of bringing all creation under his authority and deriving glory for himself in the process.
May this be the purpose behind all our subversion.
When we grasp the enormity of this calling and our role within it, we will begin trusting the Spirit to empower us to engage the lost, serve the hurting, and live “sent lives” as Christian believers united in kingdom purpose. We will live out the difference that Jesus makes in our hearts not because people expect it but because it shows what our God can accomplish. We will talk with others about the power of the gospel not just because they’re lost but because our Lord and King is glorified in finding them.
Begin your plan of action there, and get ready to see what happens around you when God starts making progress.
Adapted from Subversive Kingdom (2012, B&H Publishing Group)
You can order Subversive Kingdom through LifeWay or Amazon. There is also a video curriculum available for small groups and bible study classes.