Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Book Review: For These Tough Times

No one can turn a phrase like Max Lucado, which may explain why he is one of the best-selling Christian authors in the nation. In his preaching and his writing, Lucado tells a story, creates a metaphor, and multiplies his adjectives to make sure that his point comes across. I so appreciate the emotive style in his writing, not just because it sucks the reader into his thoughts, but because it moves the reader at a deeper level.

Lucado's newest work is a short 75-page reflection on how our faith in Christ helps us during the darkest hours of life - whether that is situational (losing a job or facing a health crisis) or it is permanent (losing a loved one). In each chapter, Lucado treats classic Christian arguments for how a good God can fit in a world with unspeakable evil, but he does it in a very pastoral way - with great illustrations and compelling stories.

Lucado covers topics such as God's everlasting love for us, the power of prayer to change terrible circumstances, the ultimate triumph of good over evil, listening to God during times of pain, forgiving rather than getting evil, and keeping our eyes on God in everything we endure. The thread that ties each chapter together is the cross of Christ. The cross shows us how good can overcome evil, how God is in charge even in our darkest hour, how the Father truly loves us regardless of what we feel at any certain time, and how Jesus understands our pain.

I appreciate Lucado's pastoral heart and his skill with the English language. I would highly recommend you read this book if you are in the midst of a dark hour, and that you pass on this little book to others who are struggling with their faith as they live through tough times.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Abstinence Pledges

As someone who participated in True Love Waits as a teenageer and led many True Love Waits commitment ceremonies as a youth pastor, I was intrigued by this article today in the Washington Post. These studies come out every 3 to 6 months it seems and all contradict each other, but I still like to read the latest.

Monday, December 29, 2008

God answers prayer...

Our leaders really prayed hard for our Christmas-Eve services on last Wednesday night. It was a very different service for us (like it was last year) because a lot of our young families are out of town for the holidays, but many other of our regular attenders bring their family and friends. We are still praising God for what He did...

1) 477 in attendance between our two services.

2) 16 first-time decisions to trust Christ.

I can't wait to see all that God does in 2009 in our church and in our city. I'm sure having fun during this season of ministry...

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Book Review: What in the world is going on?

"What in the world is going on?" is a summary of Dr. David Jeremiah's teaching on biblical prophecy and current events from a dispensational perspective. From all the alliteration and parallel construction, it is obvious that Dr. Jeremiah put together 10 sermons that he preached on this topic and compiled them in book form for this publication. To be completely transparent before I review his work, you need to know that I am a fellow graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary and a committed dispensationalist in my view of Scripture and eschatology. With all that in mind, let's talk about Dr. Jeremiah's latest book...

First, let's review what really works in this book. Dr. Jeremiah, because he writes not just from an academic perspective, but a pastoral perspective, is conscious in each chapter to discuss the practical applications of his eschatological views. I agree with Dr. Jeremiah's conviction that biblical prophecy has huge implications for the daily life of the Christian believer, and he does a great job of taking time at the end of each chapter to discuss what his theological views mean for everyday life.

Another positive in this book is Dr. Jeremiah's faith in the truthfulness of Scripture. Even if you disagree with his hermeneutic or his interpretation of modern events in light of biblical prophecy, you leave the book with the strong sense that Dr. Jeremiah believe every word of the Bible to be trustworthy. His strong faith encourages the reader to have a higher view of the Word - always a good mark in my opinion.

With regards to the individual chapters, I felt like his discussion about Israel and his discussion about Islam were the most helpful. The unique place that dispensationalism holds in evangelical theology is related to its view that God is not done with the nation of Israel, but that He will completely fulfill his promises to them when Jesus returns to the earth. Dr. Jeremiah is definitely in that stream of teaching (a lot of the book feels like an updated version of Dr. Walvoord's writings), and he does a good job of helping the reader understand how the nation of Israel fits into end-time prophecies. After the chapter on Israel, the chapter on Islam was the most powerful in my mind - maybe because it contained the most new information to me. The startling detail about the nature of Islamic teaching always makes me pause and say a prayer for Muslims around the world.

Not everything about the book is a home-run, however. Though I agree with Dr. Jeremiah's theology, his book is a good reminder of the danger of getting too specific in identifying the players, the motives, and the dates of end-time prophecy. Every dispensationalist in the 1940's was sure that Hitler was the Antichrist and that the end was near. Every book about the end-times over the last 20 years has had a section about oil and the impact that the energy markets will have on the end times. Dr. Jeremiah devotes a whole chapter to this topic, and I'm sure when he wrote it in May-June and oil was $140 a barrel, it made total sense to him. Of course, oil is now back to $40 a barrel and his insights don't seem that prescient.

My point here is simply to say that our theological beliefs need to be informed by historical awareness. Every generation looks for signs of the times, as they should, but the point I think from Jesus' generalized teachings is that we should be ready all the time, knowing that His return could come at any point. When teachers attempt to identify the countries that will attack Israel and the place that the Antichrist comes from, I believe they are speaking more specifically than the Scriptures. Dr. Jeremiah uses prophecies from Ezekiel and Daniel to speak to end-time players and the sequences of events. The problem with doing that (in my humble opinion) is that we are reading our 21st century worldview into an ancient document (with a 6th century BC worldview). If the end comes tomorrow, Dr. Jeremiah may end up being a genius. But history is full of prophecy readers who were sure they were close to the end, proclaimed it boldly, yet were terribly wrong. Do we want to hang our credibility as Christians on our ability to predict the end-times?

I personally don't. I want to be very humble in my handling of biblical prophecy, and teach it and preach it in light of how many before me have been so wrong. This doesn't mean that we can't have a conviction about what Scripture is teaching; it just means we need to be extremely careful lest we speak with more specificity than the Bible itself.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Austin Downtown Churches

Read this interesting article in yesterday's Austin paper about church-growth in the downtown area.

President Bush Ducking Shoes

I don't know if you saw this, but it is awesome. More impressive than the shoe-throwing was President Bush ducking both of them...

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Making Vision Stick

I read a short little book last night called Making Vision Stick by Andy Stanley, the pastor at Northpoint Community Church in Atlanta. This 75-page book gives Stanley's insights on how to make sure that the vision of an organization is remembered and owned by everyone. Here are a few of his insights and how I see them working in the Hill Country Bible Church.

(1) State the vision simply. Our vision as a church is very simply - to see every man, woman, and child in Greater Austin have the chance to experience the life-changing reality of Jesus Christ because they hear the gospel from the lips of someone at a Hill Country Bible Church. Though our statement is long, it is one sentence and uses language that is common in our church culture. The main phrase that we throw around a ton is every man, woman, and child. We are committed to seeing every person in our city get personally introduced to Jesus Christ.

(2) Cast the vision convincingly. We try to share the details of our vision with our congregation at least twice during the year. We always have "vision Sunday" where we talk about what it means to be a church who takes the mission that Jesus gave the church seriously. We always spend time in Acts 1:8 and share our part in reaching every man, woman, and child. Stanley says to cast the vision convincingly we need to a) define the problem - I could do better here to help our congregation own the lostness of our city, b) offer a solution - for us it is using our lives and our voices to personally share the gospel, and c) present a reason - hopefully the urgency of sharing the gospel comes through in our belief that Christ could return at any time.

(3) Repeat the vision regularly. As I mentioned before, we share the vision corporately at least twice a year, but we could do more to make sure that our vision is discussed at the small-group level and in one-to-one discipleship. Stanley is right that it is not enough for the main communicator to share the vision from the pulpit, the vision must be discused regularly in other venues (elder meetings, staff meetings, retreats, small groups, etc.).

(4) Celebrate the vision systematically. Are we celebrating as a congregation whenever people are exposed to the gospel through personal communication and then experience the life-changing reality of Jesus Christ. We are doing a good job of this during advent this year by having couples share their testimony as we light the candles each week. But we could do more - we could start more of our meetings by celebrating wins that support our vision and spending less time on trivial issues. This is a very important reminder for me.

(5) Embrace the vision personally. Barie and I are here on this one; even with four kids, we are interested in giving our time and energy away in order to connect with others in our neighborhood and our city so that we can share the gospel of Jesus Christ with them. We have been blessed to see some fruit from that over the last 2 years, and we pray we will see even more. But beyond that, we so believe in this vision that we are giving our lives to invest financially and personally in what God is calling us to do. I hope others see in us that we are personally interested in seeing every person get exposed to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

You can use this grid for any organization. It is helpful to remember the importance of vision.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Demonstration of Grace

You probably heard about the family that has suffered great loss because of the crash of the military jet in California. I received this report today about the Korean man's response who had lost his family. This is grace...

, California
(CNN) -- A Korean immigrant who lost his wife, two children and mother-in-law when a Marine Corps jet slammed into the family's house said Tuesday he did not blame the pilot, who ejected and survived.

"Please pray for him not to suffer from this accident," a distraught Dong Yun Yoon told reporters gathered near the site of Monday's crash of an F/A-18D jet in San Diego's University City community.

"He is one of our treasures for the country," Yoon said in accented English punctuated by long pauses while he tried to maintain his composure.

"I don't blame him. I don't have any hard feelings. I know he did everything he could," said Yoon, flanked by members of San Diego's Korean community, relatives and members from the family's church.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Bible for Blackberry or iPhone

I personally don't have a blackberry or an iPhone, but almost everyone I know does have one.

I saw today that Life Church has completed their Bible application for both formats. Download here:



Plans & People

Quote for the day:

“Men are God’s method. The church is looking for better methods; God is looking for better men… What the church needs today is not more or better machinery, not new organizations or more and novel methods, but men whom the Holy Spirit can use – men of prayer, men mighty in prayer. The Holy Spirit does not come on machinery, but on men. He does not anoint plans, but men – men of prayer…

The training of the Twelve was the great, difficult and enduring work of Christ… It is not great talents or great learning or great preachers that God needs, but men great in holiness, great in faith, great in love, great in fidelity, great for God – men always preaching by holy sermons in the pulpit, by holy lives out of it. These can mold a generation for God.”

E.M. Bounds

Monday, December 08, 2008

Reading Again

I have struggled to get back into my routine with reading again after being in the hospital, and the pace at work has kept me from reading as much as I usually do at the office. But I did have a few hours to read through Timothy Keller's new book, The Prodigal God. You may remember that I read Dr. Keller's first book, The Reason for God, earlier this year while we were on vacation in May. As I mentioned in a earlier blog posting, Dr. Keller's first book is on eof the best apologetics books I've ever read. I was so encouraged by reading it that we gathered five neighborhood couples together in our backyard to read through it with us and dicuss its impact on our thinking.

So, when Keller released his second book, The Prodigal God, I quickly ordered a copy. Keller's heart for the gospel is so clear in this book, and as was evident in his first book, he enjoys a firm command of the English language and utilizes clear, lucid thinking in putting his ideas together. He is truly a joy to read.

In this work, Keller writes about the heart of the gospel from the angle of the story of the prodigal son from Luke 15. Instead of emphasizing the younger son, however, as is normally done, Keller writes that Jesus' original intent was to shock his listeners in his description of the heart of the Father, who quickly welcomes back the younger brother and invites the older brother to come in and celebrate with Him. This is a "prodigal" love - extravagant, over-the-top - hence the name of the book. Keller makes a great argument that the real target of this story is not the younger brothers of the world, but the older brothers of the world - those who believe that their self-righteousness is sufficient to have earned them God's favor.

In reality, the gospel message is that all people (regardless of the conformity of their ethical behavior to the law) need the life-changing grace of the Father. We all need to be converted from the inside out, and this only happens when we see our need for a Savior (which generally is a difficult step for us when we see ourselves are righteous people who have made good decisions throughout our lives). In this, Keller helps to remind us that the gospel is good news because it is so different from religion. Religion (of all stripes) teaches us to live well and keep the rules, and then we will enjoy the blessing and favor of God. The gospel of Jesus, however, shows us that God loves us in Christ before we do anything to serve or love Him. He moves toward us in grace, and we live for Him in response to this amazingly undeserved compassion at work in our hearts.

Keller goes on to argue that our main struggle as Christians is that we have not truly understood the depths of the gospel message. He argues that even if we have believed it so that we can go to heaven, most of us do not live daily in such a way that acknowledges that we have been captured by God's grace. We get into the rut of thinking that God's grace is sufficient for my eternal salvation, but not for my complete transformation. All this does is add religion to the gospel, creating many Christians who live as "older brothers," condemning others for not living as they have, believing in their hearts that somehow they have come to deserve the Father's love.

How incredible and life-changing is the message that Jesus the Christ came to earth, lived a perfect life, died a undeserving death, rose again from the chains of the grave, and ascended to heaven so that I could become a son of His Father. May He in His grace help me not become an older brother but to remember my daily need for His mercy and compassion.