Thursday, May 28, 2009

Defining the Struggle for Holiness

In my quiet time lately, I've been reading in the book of Joshua, and I've been spending time slowly reading through Jerry Bridges' classic on the pursuit of holiness. Bridges' clarity and style are so friendly, yet so challenging. You feel like Bridges is sitting with you across a cup of coffee at Starbucks, speaking to you as a caring mentor, yet pegging you right between the eyes with biblical observations that cut to the heart.

One of Bridges' greatest insights is how the contemporary church (and therefore most contemporary pastors) speaks about sin. Bridges correctly analyzes our approach to sin as those decisions, thoughts, etc. that hinder us from being the person God wants us to be - in other words, sin and holiness become caught up in victory and defeat language. Am I being all that I can be (victorious living) or am I allowing sin to leave me in defeat?

The problem with this view of sin is that it redefines sin around me instead of God. The reason sin is so devastating and deadly is not that it keeps from realizing my potential, but because it offends a Holy God. Sin should be important to us not because we care about self-realization and self-maximization, but because we care about offending the holiness of God, about disobeying the law of God.

The question needs to change from "Am I living victoriously?" to "Am I living obediently?" God should be the object of our devotion, not ourselves.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Not Allowing Email to Control Your Life

One part of my life that increasingly drives me crazy is email. Email is great for communication, but terrible for sucking time out of a otherwise wonderful day. One project I've had on my radar for a long time was to get my email under control.

Using Matt Perman's strategy for email, I can now say that my inbox is down to zero and my Outlook is running much smoother. Check out his ideas on how to more efficiently manage email and see if it doesn't save you some time and some heartburn.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Leap of Doubt #2 - The Church is Messed Up

We finished Leap of Doubt, our six-week series on reasons for faith, last Sunday (5/17). We saw God do some great things during the series - we had 21 first time decisions during the series - 12 adults and 9 kids overall. I believe that happened because we prayed hard for those who came, we were clear with the gospel every week, we created a safe environment to answer questions, and our people were faithful to invite those in their sphere of influence. I'm thankful to God for all that He has done. Now begins the work of making sure we help those who have started their journey with Christ to become strong and grounded in their faith - fun stuff!

The second topic we discussed during the series was the injustices committed by the church throughout history and even during our generation. Churches and church leaders have been responsible for terribly immoral acts throughout time, and this makes some question the truthfulness of the Christian gospel. For some the issue is intellectual, but for many it is personal and emotional - they have personally been negatively impacted by those who claim the name of Jesus Christ. Here's a quick overview of how I approached the topic:

1) As the church, we have to own our sin, not ignore it. The first step involves church leaders admitting where the church has not matched up to the teachings of the Bible or the heart of Jesus Christ.

2) Recognize the Biblical framework helps us understand this issue. The Bible teaches us that people are evil, which would explain why the church is full of broken people who still sin. The Bible also teaches us that people use religion to hide their evil intentions and acts from others. Religion is a deadly cover that makes us feel better about ourselves, but doesn't change our status before the Lord.

3) We all need the gospel - those inside the church and those outside the church. Only the gospel deals with our deepest problem - a heart that rebels against God and exalts ourselves as the ones in charge. Only the gospel reconciles us to our Father forever.

CS Lewis says it best when he talks about this objection and how it fails to help us in any way relate to God:

“If what you want is an argument against Christianity…you can easily find some stupid and unsatisfactory Christian and say… ‘So there’s your boasted new man! Give me the old kind.’ But if once you have begun to see that Christianity is on other grounds probable, you will know in your heart that this is only evading the issue. What can you ever really know of other people’s souls – of their temptations, their opportunities, their struggles? One soul in the whole creation you do know: and it is the only one whose fate is placed in your hands. If there is a God, you are, in a sense, alone with Him. You cannot put Him off with speculations about your next-door neighbors or memories of what you have read in books. What will all the chatter and hearsay count when the anesthetic fog we call ‘nature’ or ‘the real world’ fades away and the Divine Presence in which you have always stood becomes palpable, immediate, and unavoidable?”

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Book Review: Freedom From Fear (5/5)

I haven't reviewed a book in a while, partly because life is busy (especially now that baseball season is going strong), partly because I've been reading another very long book. I don't typically review all the ministry books I read, though I may start doing more of that in the future, but I do like to review the historical nonfiction books I read. The latest, which I just finished today, was another mammoth historical work from the Oxford History of the United States. Coming in at 900 pages, David Kennedy's work is an impressive treatment of a pivotal time in the life of our country. His book, Freedom from Fear, records our nation's journey through the Great Depression and World War II. These experiences defined the lives of my grandparents, and shaped the world that my parents grew up in.

This marks the third book in the Oxford series that I've read (the other two covering the pre-Civil War era and the Civil War). I have thoroughly enjoyed all three. While I have read history books all my life, many of them have been biographies of great leaders and figures. This series has given me the broadest overview of these time periods and helped me put many different pieces together in my mind that have previously existed as unrelated events. For example, I've read McCollough's great biography of Harry Truman and Ambrose's treatment of D-Day and other military works on World War II. But Kennedy's book put those events and those people in their historical context for me. Likewise, we heard and read much about the Great Depression over the last two years as we have tried to figure out how our current economic downturn compares. But only after reading Kennedy's work do I understand how the Depression fit into its historical context - the decade of the 20s, the presidencies of Hoover and Roosevelt.

With the passing of my grandmother last week, I was reminded again how we are losing our connection with those who lived through these years. Mimi was born in 1917 and married in 1936, starting her family during the Great Depression and living in her prime during the World War II years. Kennedy's book is history to me, but was life to her. I'm sad that we are losing a connection with these events as Mimi's generation passes from the scene. At the same time, however, we should be especially thankful for those who went before us and forged the world today as we know it. While there is still much suffering and evil in the world, as Americans we are still enjoying the fruit of freedom that was purchsed with the blood of many during World War II.

It seems fitting not just to recommend this book to each of you to look over, but also to remind you as we approach Memorial Day this Monday to thank God for those who paid the ultimate price that we can be secure and free.

Friday, May 22, 2009

An Interesting 10 Days

I've had a very-different last 10 days. A quick overview with some initial thoughts...

My grandmother passed away last Tuesday. I traveled to Gladewater in East Texas on Sunday night to be with my family and lead the funeral service for Mimi on Monday morning. My grandmother was 92 years old, and while it is always emotionally difficult to lose someone you love, we were all grateful that she died without a long period of suffering and pain. She got sick two weeks ago, had some internal issues going on, then her kidneys gave out quickly and went to be with Jesus. The funeral was hard, but God was faithful to give me grace for the moment. It is always good to see all the family, but regretful that everyone only gets together when something tragic happens. Mimi was an awesome lady, and we had fun celebrating her life and remembering what she taught each of us.

We baptized 35 people in the San Gabriel River on Sunday night. The weather was perfect, the river looked great, and around 200 people came out to the river Sunday night to watch baptism from the banks of the river. We had 12 adults and 23 kids getting baptized. It was a tremendous time of connecting with our church family and remembering that God is changing lives all around us. I was so thankful for the great night of celebrating the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ to change lives forever. God was good to us that night at the river.

I turned 30 years old on Monday
. The day of the funeral for my grandmother was also my 30th birthday. Already in a reflective mood because of doing a funeral, I was more reflective than normal when crossing the threshold from my 20s to my 30s. Looking back over my 20s, I realize that life is short - the whole decade went so fast, but it also included so much that defines my life now - college, marriage, ministry, seminary, kids, church-planting. I'm wondering out loud what I might want to do with my next ten years. What will I be thinking about when I'm 40?

I had my 9th wedding anniversary on Wednesday. My anniversary and wedding are two days apart, and this week I was able to celebrate 9 years of marriage to the love of my life, Barie Sue. We have had an awesome 9 years together, and I am looking forward to many, many more years together. I work with lots of couples that have marriage problems, so I know how truly blessed I am to be married to someone that I enjoy so much. Barie is my best friend, an incredible wife and mom. Barie does her best to keep me young and enjoying life, and she always makes me laugh. She wrote a sweet letter to me on her blog, which is just more proof that I've got her completely fooled. ;-)

The RRISD school board opened two schools at their meeting last night. As many of you know, I've been working with the Round Rock ISD school board for over a year on the issue of allowing churches to rent their facilities on Sundays. Their policy has been hurting the ability of new churches to come and get started in Round Rock, and we've been praying that the district would reverse this policy. We spoke late at the RRISD board meeting last night, and the board voted to open two middle schools for use during the next school year. One of those middle schools is right in the target area of our church plant, so we are thankful to God for opening that door for our new church-plant to walk through.

These last 10 days have been a blur, but I'm reminded that God is author of our stories. I am thankful to Him for keeping me above water over the last two weeks.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Year of Destiny?

After two walk-off wins in the last two games and a quick surge to the top of the AL West, the Rangers have us wondering if this is their year. We'll know better after this three-game series with the favored Angels this weekend in Arlington. But right now, it seems like this team is special. Check out this video of Chris Davis' walk-off homerun tonight.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

I'm An Uncle!

My only sister, Karen, gave birth to her first son, Evan Mitchell, this past Friday, May 1st at 12:15AM. Evan weighed 6lbs, 6oz and has been in NICU for a few days to help him recover from a tough delivery-process. Karen had to have some blood-pressure medication that had some lingering effects on Evan, but the news today is that momma and baby are doing much better and may even go home tomorrow. Here's a picture of this newest edition to the family...

Evan - welcome to the world, little nephew. May love and peace and God's grace cover you all your days...