Monday, July 27, 2009

Investment Advice

I recently picked up this little book on investing at the library after seeing it at B&N and wanting to read it. I talk investing a lot with my dad and was interested in Solin's insight on investing. Solin has put together a very simple strategy for keeping up with the market and not losing money to overactive money managers. His main premise is that most money managers (who oversee mutual funds) do worse than the overall market when compared over long periods of time, and they charge you fees to do it. In light of this observation, Solin advises the normal investor to simply choose a combination of index-funds that fit their tolerance for risk - more in stocks when they can handle larger market swings and more in bonds when they need more stability.

For the young investor (like me at age 30), Solin would argue for a higher-risk combination of stock index funds (from Fidelity or Vanguard which charge very low fees for these types of index funds) and bond funds. For me, he would recommend 60% in a US stock index fund, 20% in an international index fund, and 20% in a US bond fund. Solin's arguments make sense and his data is well presented.

My biggest problem is trying to make the case for his position when looking at the last ten years (which has been a flat time for the market - way up during the first 7 years and way down the last 3 - so that the index-fund investor would have broken even). Fidelity actually has a fund that approximates the combination of index funds that Solin recommends - it is called Fidelity's four-in-one fund (FFNOX). This fund has done better than the market over the last ten years, so it works according to plan. It's expense ratio is low - 0.22% - and it has averaged 0.21% per year over the last ten years. So, while the S&P500 has averaged -2.22% over the last 10 years, Solin's recommendation would have had us breaking even over the last ten years. While this is okay, is this really good?

At the same time, Fidelity's Low Price Stock Fund (FLPSX) - one of the so-called overactive managed funds that Solin decries - has averaged a return of 8.43% per year over the last ten years. While it does have a higher expense ratio (0.99%) than index-funds, it has done considerably better than the market over the last ten years. Maybe this is one of those few exceptions that outperforms the S&P 500 over long periods of time, but right now it is looking better to me. And while I know that past performance does not guarantee future performance, the numbers are interesting.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Ministry Convictions

This Sunday we are going to briefly mention our church's convictions about ministry involvement. Here are our five commitments:

1) Ministry to others can only be sustained when it flows out of a healthy personal relationship with Christ.

2) Every believer in Christ has a spiritual gift that God intended them to use to help the body of Christ mature.

3) Jesus modeled service to others, so as His followers we should serve others.

4) Commitment to service is a catalyst for spiritual growth.

5) God has entrusted our church with the sacred stewardship of the next generation.

I'll touch on these quickly during service on Sunday.

Any thoughts on these?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Spurgeon on The Call

How do you know that you are called to gospel ministry as your vocation?

Spurgeon attempts this answer in his Lectures to My Students:

1) An intense, all-absorbing desire for the work, a thoughtful one that continues with us.

2) An aptness to teach and some measure of the other qualities needful for the office of a public instructor.

3) A measure of conversion-work going on under his efforts.

4) Preaching that is acceptable to the people of God.

5) The call endures through hard times.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Sunday Night Thoughts...

Wow - what a tremendous week we've just had! A few thoughts rolling around in my head...

1) God answers prayer! Excited to know that both Kristina Hedges and Joel Caldwell are home recovering this weekend after both having some complications after the kidney transplant. Keep praying for them!

2) The gospel changes lives! We had 295 visitor-kids from the community come to our Kids-Clubs this year (not counting our kids) and 17 kids trusted Christ for the first time.

3) We have the best people anywhere! Our church-members worked so hard all week to love on our community with the love of Christ. And our teenagers kept the energy up all week as well - great job guys!

4) Cross-cultural ministry is awesome! We are learning so much about loving the Hispanic community in Round Rock and welcoming them into our congregation with open arms. We need to do much more to work on issues like poverty, language-education, and immigration - but always with the gospel at the center of what we do.

5) God is stretching us! I love the fact that God does not leave us where we are, but continues to refine us through new vision and new challenges. I see all of our people growing so much as we follow Christ.

6) What's next? My eyes are wide open, excited to see what God will do in the next six months. Sure feels like He is up to something big right now. I hope we continue to stay sensitive to Him and out of His way.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Spiritual Warfare

I said Sunday from the pulpit that we could really expect to experience spiritual warfare this week as we took the gospel into the community of Round Rock through out Kids Clubs ministry. Someone approached me after church and asked a really good question...

What should I be on guard for in spiritual warfare? How would I know that the Enemy is working against me?

This is a question we all wonder about, and it forced me to articulate what exactly we must be on guard against. The Bible is clear that we have a real Enemy, who is not an equal to God, but is a powerful spiritual being who works against the people of God. The Bible says that Enemy is known as Satan, which means accuser. In other words, his name alone tells us that he works to accuse believers and drown them in guilt. The gospel works to free us from sin and guilt, but the enemy works to lead us into sin and guilt. He tempts us with lies on the way toward sin (which feeds our natural sinful inclinations) and then buries us with guilt after we sin. The Bible reminds us that he is a liar and cannot tell the truth - that Satan works to distort God's Word (as he did to Adam and Eve) and convince us that the temporary pleasure of sin is better than the eternal pleasure of obedience to God.

In the context of our missionary work this week, I think spiritual attack will show up in a few practical ways. One is discouragement - if God has commanded us to take the message of Christ to the world, then we can count on the enemy to work against that goal. I believe he primarily works through seeding discord and disunity in the church body and discouraging the people of God. If you find yourself fighting discouragement and discord, you can be sure that you are in the middle of spiritual warfare. The enemy will use critical comments from others (who don't mean to discourage) to work against our motivation to serve God. Guard your heart against discouragement.

Second, I believe another tool of the enemy is deception. As I said above, the enemy loves to deceive God's people into believing lies about God and about others. Many times the enemy tends to use our circumstances to convince us that God is not good or that God is not who the Bible teaches Him to be. In other words, we have to be on guard against the temptation to ignore the clear teaching of Scripture and follow our gut. The Bible says that our hearts are deceitful above all else (Jer 17.9) and the enemy will work with our deceitful hearts. When you find yourself questioning God's character and His commands, you can be sure that you are in the middle of spiritual warfare.

Third, the enemy uses the time-tested technique of seduction. He simply tempts God's people to sin (disobey) and turn away from God's ways. The seduction of the enemy again works with our own sinful desires so that his ways are hard to discern. However, the Bible is clear that Satan works to make sin more appealing than it is and obedience harder than it is. We must stay on guard for the temptations to sin that the enemy will surely send our way. When you find ourselves taking shortcuts with your integrity and ignoring the standards of God, you can be sure that you are in the middle of spiritual warfare.

While it is helpful to know how our enemy works, it is more important to believe that Christ is in us through His Spirit, leading us to victory over the power and presence of sin in our lives. The Bible reminds us that He who is in us is greater than he who is in the world (1 john 4.4). So, remember that our enemy is a defeated enemy, who still submits to the authority of God (job 1) and will one day be cast into the lake of fire (rev 20.7-10). Let's continue to fight the good fight of faith and keep our eyes on Christ. The Bible promises that if we will resist the devil, He will flee from us (james 4.7). Keep hope.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Terrible Tragedy

I just received word today that Caleb Koke, the 17-year old son of the pastor of Shoreline Christian Center in Austin, was killed in a car accident last night. Apparently, he was driving home at 3:00am from an event and fell asleep and crashed into a tree. Shoreline is a great church in the Austin area which is making a huge impact for the kingdom of God. The pastor and his family are well respected in the Christian community in Austin. This is a terrible tragedy and so much harder because pastor Robert Coke just lost his father in a boating accident last week. Here is the information from the church's website.

Please keep this family in your prayers tonight as they grieve the loss of their son. You can see the official news report from the Austin paper on their website. People are posting comments for the family both on the church's website and on the Statesman's website. Great reminder for us all to hug our kids very tightly tonight - tomorrow is never guaranteed, is it? Our love and prayers go out to the Koke family tonight. May God shower them with grace and comfort in this dark hour.

Kids Clubs Day 2

Douglas is shooting and posting some great video from our clubs this week. Here's the video posted today...

An update on Day 2 from Hill Country Bible on Vimeo.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Good Question on Authority

I preached yesterday on Mark 1:21-45, where the Gospel of Mark establishes the authority of Jesus over law, demons, sickness, customs, and cultures. Jesus is portrayed in one of his typical ministry days, traveling to preach and teach about the Kingdom of God and healing people as He goes. I made the case yesterday that this passage was primarily teaching us about the ultimate authority of Jesus and the way He used this authority. He used His authority to serve those under Him, not oppress or control them. I challenged everyone to think about submission to Jesus in real terms (how is my attitude toward His commands?) and to think about their own authority as a stewardship issue (temporarily granted to me as a gift from Jesus) that we will be held accountable for. I got the following question from the comment-cards yesterday:

If you choose to willfully submit to God does that mean your heart has to be in it? Doesn't God honor and respect and bless the submission & possibly change your heart to match the obedience?

The key word in the question is the word "willfully." This is an attitude of the heart. While we may desire to sin and disobey God, we choose to submit to His commands with a willful heart. When I give my kids instructions for them to obey, I can tell whether they are willing to follow what I am asking OR if they are doing what I ask just because they are afraid of discipline. I can tell if the obedience is willful or not. I think the same is true with God. While I, as a parent, am glad when my kids obey (whatever their motive), I am most blessed by them when they obey with a joyful heart. The difference is not the obedience (which is the same), but the motive behind the obedience. One kind is driven by guilt and fear, the other by joy and trust.

While obedience pleases God, the Scriptures continue to point out to us that God wants our hearts - He wants us to trust Him and trust that what He has commanded is good for us. Obedience without a pure heart has the potential to turn us into Pharisees, where the outside of the cup is clean, but the inside is dark and hard toward the ways of God. This is why we must continue to search our heart. Hebrews 11:6 says that without faith it is impossible to please God. David says in Psalm 51:16-17 that God does not delight in empty sacrifices, but in a "broken and contrite heart." In other words, we don't want to end up in the place where we are on the receiving end of Jesus' words from Isaiah 29:13 which say that we are drawing near to God with our words, but we are far from Him with our hearts.

I agree in principle that we should obey even when we don't understand and even when our heart is not fully in it. But we should quickly ask the Lord to change our hearts, lest we become religious people who look holy on the outside, but are really only hiding our deceitful hearts.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Sunday Evening Thoughts

Sitting here at home at the end of a great Sunday, excited by the following...

1) We had another first-time decision to trust Christ today at church - very cool.
2) We seem to be hitting our stride again after moving the Summit church-plant core team out of ministry this spring. The Summit core-team has been visiting other churches the last few weeks, so we have started to get a feel for what it will really feel like in September when they launch. I have honestly been nervous, but God is so faithful in sending us great new families who are plugging in to the life of our church very quickly. It is truly amazing to watch God work in that way - a reminder of His faithfulness and our need to be open-handed with all that God gives us.
3) The worship was awesome this morning - great sound, good songs, meaningful time together in prayer before church. I also love it when we take communion - seems to really help us keep the cross at the center of our church-life together.
4) We had concert of prayer this evening outdoors, and it was hot! As with everything we are doing with Rock the Rock this year, we are changing our church's paradigm for summer outreach. We have decided to love on our city, especially those parts that are closest to the YMCA and least reached by the churches in our community. I thought the prayer-walk was significant.
5) As I'm challenged to think about ministering to the Spanish-speaking community in Round Rock, I'm also impressed that we need to help those with a Catholic background to understand the gospel as personal trust in the living Christ. How to do this respectfully but also truthfully seems to be the issue. I'm thinking sometime in the spring about doing a series on doctrine and I would like to do some teaching on the Catholic and Protestant views of justification.
6) We have an awesome team of leaders and an awesome church. I am constantly amazed at our people and their willingness to serve others in the name of Christ. I think we had over 100 people out tonight at the YMCA soccer fields for concert of prayer - wow. What is God going to do this week in response to our prayers and the faithful service of so many? I can't wait to hear.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Book Notes: The Big Idea

Another one of the books I read during my study-break was Dave Ferguson's The Big Idea. Dave is the lead pastor at Community Christian Church in the Chicago, Illinois area. He also writes a great blog that I follow regularly. This book is primarily about how the church can make a bigger impact in people's lives by slimming everything down to one main message per weekend. The team at their church then works to get children's ministry, student ministry, small-groups, worship ministry, and preaching all making the same point each week. Ferguson makes the claim that this multiplies impact throughout the families in the church.

Of course, it has take their church years to get to the place where every part of the organization can work together. But one of the great challenges I took away from Ferguson's book was to do sermon writing and planning earlier - work ahead! This sounds easy, but it is not common among teaching pastors. Ferguson's group does some things I think are strange in sermon-planning (group-preparation) and some things I don't agree with philosophically (topically-driven 4-6 week sermon series), but they do great work in getting their work done far in advance. This in turn helps the creative people on their team to have time to supplement the message with additional communication elements. I really enjoyed this work and appreciate their impact for the kingdom - also a great church-planting church (started the New Thing Network). Here's a summary of The Big Idea:
  • Ferguson’s main theme is that people are overloaded with too much information throughout their daily life, and that this process continues at church, where many small ideas are communicated through unaligned ministries. He advocates aligning ministries and messages into one Big Idea every weekend that focused on application of biblical principles, not just communication of biblical truth.
  • One big question is whether the different ministry areas of the church that are overseen by different ministry leaders/staff are all heading the same direction and aligned in their purpose – are we helping or hurting families by our efforts?
  • Ferguson advocates that small-groups use discussion guides built on the sermon each week and gives the following five reasons for this alignment:
  1. Increases likelihood of application of biblical principles
  2. Diminishes people’s fears of leading a small group
  3. Eliminates the question, “what do we study next?”
  4. Makes the group another venue to communicate vision
  5. Increases the quality of the small group experience
  • The benefits of the Big Idea process each week:

  1. Less energy and better product
  2. New ideas and good ideas (brainstorming weeks ahead, critiquing weekly)
  3. Cross-generational in appeal
  4. Targeted and reproducible curriculum
  5. Planned and spontaneous creativity
  6. More believers and more maturity (obedience)

  • Ferguson argues for starting Basic (with just the weekend service, planning far ahead), then adding additional components as possible (different ministry areas), then collaborate with church-plants on planning series**.
  • CCC’s team does a 12-month ministry plan for Big Ideas, starting with a huge brainstorming session to generate 3-6 week series ideas. Then, a small group of decision makers meet to set the Big-Idea calendar for the next 12-months. This group spends time praying together, talking through the flow of the calendar, talking through the various topical series, then putting the Big Ideas on the calendar. After the 12-month calendar is complete, the teaching pastor puts together a weekly Big Idea summary sheet to lead the creative team in their planning.
  • CCC’s timeline to pull off creativity around their Big Ideas:
  1. 10-13 weeks out: Big Idea graph sent to each department
  2. 9 weeks out: Big Idea creative planning meeting
  3. 5 weeks out: Big Idea reality check (can we pull this off?)
  4. 3 weeks out: Big Idea teaching team meeting & study-guide production
  5. 2 weeks out: Sermon Manuscript 1.0 and media completed
  6. 1 week out: Final run-through with all resources in place

  • The impact of the creative-planning process will work best with three elements: advanced planning that gives the creative people time to work, proximity to each other as staff (they work in offices with no walls), parameters for the creative elements (do they help or distract from the Big Idea?
  • For a good creative-team meeting, creative songs, video ideas, and sketch ideas need to be brainstormed before the meeting, everyone needs to lay down their egos so that the best ideas can be selected, the team needs to work through the graph overview from the teaching pastor, then use active brainstorming to generate ideas. Select good ideas, then put together the service order – don’t get stuck in a rut of dong the same things over and over again!
  • CCC uses a teaching-team approach where they generate most of the teaching material in a teaching-team meeting (105 minutes), then the teaching pastor for that week takes the next two to revise the manuscript to its final form.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Kidney Transplant Day

Today is a big day in the life of two families that are a part of our congregation. Matt and Kristina Hedges have been fighting a long health battle with Kristina's type-1 diabetes over the last several years. Kristina has spent several week-long stays in the hospital due to complications from her diabetes. She is getting good care here in Austin, but she is still walking a major uphill climb.

Recently, due to her struggle with high blood sugar, her kidneys gave out and she had to begin dialysis. These treatments are long and difficult, and she has been going three-times a week for her dialysis over the last couple of months. During this time, they began praying for Kristina to be able to get a kidney transplant to change her quality of life for the future.

As word went out in our congregation for help and prayers, Joel Caldwell felt God leading her to be willing to give up one of her kidneys for Kristina. Joel (and her husband Scott) spent time praying and asking God for soft hearts to His will. The Caldwell's have three kids - one teenage daughter and two younger sons. After listening to God, this family felt like it was definitely God's desire for them to sacrifice for Kristina's health and future.

So - today is the day. We have been praying for weeks for this surgery and today it has finally come. We met the two families (and their extended families) this morning at the hospital at 9:00AM for prayer. The operation is being completed at St. David's North Austin Medical Center (on Mopac and Parmer). Joel has already gone into pre-op and will go into surgery first to remove one of her kidneys. Then, Kristina will go into surgery around noon to receive Joel's kidney. Pray for both surgeries, the doctors who will do the operations, for Kristina's body to receive the new kidney without rejection, and for no infections to begin due to surgery.

We have all been moved by Joel's loving sacrifice for another family. Thank you, Joel, for showing us the love of Christ at work in your life and what it means to really give yourself away to another person. Your devotion to Christ is a testimony to His greatness and His work in your life. Thanks for having such a compassionate heart - we are all learning from watching your example.

Updates today can be found on Matt Hedges' facebook - just request to be his friend and follow along.

Update @ 9:35PM: fixed the link above for the right Matt Hedges. Also, everyone is out of surgery and doing well this evening - keep up the prayers!

Monday, July 06, 2009

City Community Church

One of the newest churches in our association is City Community Church - thought you might like to see this news clip about their unique ministry in downtown Austin. Keep it up guys!

Mark 1:2-20 (The Call to Follow)

I preached yesterday on the call to follow Christ from Mark 1:2-20, the second sermon in our series called Disciple. If you missed service yesterday for the holiday weekend, you can catch the message on our website. Here are some of my notes on the text that I covered yesterday in my message:

Mark 1:2-8: God sends John the Baptist to announce Jesus’ coming.

· Vs. 2-3 are combination of two passages from the OT that were Messianic in nature:

Malachi 3:1 (Read) – the messenger prepares the way for God, coming to His people

Isaiah 40:3 (Read) – in the context of God’s comfort to Israel, all about preparation

· The OT prophecies inform us that John’s role is to prepare the people of Israel for their coming Messiah (thus making a statement about Jesus’ identity). Vs. 3 introduces a key word for this passage – the desert (eremo in Greek)

· Vs. 4-8 tells us about John’s ministry, characterized by two activities – (1) baptizing, and (2) preaching repentance, both in the desert region (same Greek word). John’s ministry primarily challenged people to repent of sin in preparation for the Messiah. The baptism of John was connected to repentance (metanoias), a changing of mind – in line with the kingdom of God and prepared for the coming King.

· His distinct appearance marked John in the line of Elijah (read 2 Kings 1:8) by his appearance and by his message (read Malachi 4:5-6) – this is the forerunner!

· His primary message was to point to Jesus (a greater baptism comes from a greater baptizer, moving from water to the Holy Spirit). Josephus tells us that John’s following was large, but he understood his purpose – announce the supremacy of Jesus.

Mark 1:9-13: God declares Jesus’ identity and sends Him to be tested.

· Mark tells us that this “greater one” came out of Nazareth (how?) and that he was baptized in the Jordan by John. This baptism was not to demonstrate repentance, but to demonstrate acceptance of the Father’s mission – parallel with Father’s approval.

· Vs. 10 uses an interesting word in Greek to show that heaven was torn open (skizo) showing the dramatic revelation happening hear which is parallel with another powerful moment in Mark (read 15:8) where reconciliation to God was accomplished

· In vs. 11, the Father affirms the identity of Jesus as His Son (back to vs. 1), reinforcing to the reader the special divine nature of this man from Nazareth.

· Interesting that the Spirit sends Jesus into the desert (the place in Israel’s history where God meets them powerfully) – he was there forty days (to connect with their history), and he was tempted by Satan (though Mark doesn’t give us details, we know about what kind of Messiah He was going to be – do it on human terms or divine terms).

· Both John and the rest of the Trinity point to Jesus – the most important question (who is Jesus?) is plainly answered & demands something of the reader.

Mark 1:14-20: Jesus comes preaching the good news and calling disciples.

· After Jesus is identified and tested, He begins his public ministry. We get a note about John’s path to prison (laid out in more detail in Mark 6), thus beginning the pattern of the book of Mark – called out by God, preaches, delivered up, then martyred.

· Jesus proclaims (kerusson) – same word for John in verse 4 – the gospel. What is the good news? The Kingdom of God is near (this phrase has been the source of much debate) – which I take to mean that the rule/reign of God (which is eternal and universal) has come near to the people in the advent of Christ. Already and not yet.

· Why is this good news? Because the holy, eternal God of Israel has revealed Himself to be completely righteous, thus justly offended and wrathful toward our sin. Without God’s intervening hand, we are in trouble – in Jesus’ coming, we have good news to share – God has taken on Himself the penalty for our sin, He has come to us.

· Jesus’ message: repent (same as John’s) and believe in this good news (pisteuo) – more about trusting than intellectual assent.

· Vs. 16-20 records Jesus’ calling of his first disciples. Immediately after beginning his preaching ministry, he calls, “Come, follow me.” Notice the repetition of the phrase “follow” in vs. 17, 18, and 20. The repeated phrase jumps out in the Greek kai euthus Also important that the disciples must leave something behind (one his nets – the profession – the other his father – the family) in order to obey the call of Jesus. meaning (and immediately) or (without delay) to describe their obedience.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Reminded this weekend...

...that we are so blessed to live in this country and enjoy the freedoms that were purchased by those who went before us. On this fourth of July weekend, I'm thankful for the men and women who started this experiment called America and built it upon high ideals that they didn't even live up to at first. But the trajectory they started us on has led to the country we enjoy today. I read a lot of American history, and though we have done some terrible things along the way, we have continued to strive toward building a better country for all. And we have been defended by brave soldiers who have sacrificed everything on our behalf.

Say a prayer tonight for our neighbor, Harry Jackson, who just arrived in Iraq for a six-month tour of duty. His wife (Jennifer) and their two boys live one street over from us. Knowing their story makes this fourth of July a little more sweet and brings the sacrifice of our military families a little closer to home. Thanks so much for all you do to keep our families safe.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Movie Notes: The Changeling

Last night, Barie and I finished our date by picking up some chips and queso at Chuy's to bring home and renting The Changeling (we had a free rental at Red Box). All we had heard about the movie was that it was the true story of a lady in the early 20th century whose son had been kidnapped. Boy, did we have a lot to learn.

This movie is the one of the most gut-wrenching movies I've ever seen (and I've seen a few). The story is gripping and well-acted throughout, but also incredibly disturbing. This film wants to make you throw up at parts and throw things at the screen during others - and all of this is magnified because you can't believe the whole time that the story is true. The narrative starts with Christine Collins' son (Walter) being abducted and the rest of the movie is her attempts to get the LAPD to help her find her son. They bring back another boy who is not her son, then treat her with utter contempt because she questions their conclusions. The 2-hour, 20 minute movie takes several unexpected turns along the way and reminds the Christian viewer why he believes in total depravity.

As a theologian, I was fascinated by this film's look into the dark parts of the human soul. As a parent, I would not recommend it unless you want to be freaked out about the crazies out there who might abduct your children. If you are already paranoid about your kids' safety, this film will not help.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Rediscovering the Library

After work yesterday, I walked down to the Round Rock Library to look for the next book in the Oxford History of the United States. I've read three in the series and wanted to keep going. But they are not cheap to buy. Barie recently signed us up for a membership at the RR Library (we have to pay a small membership fee to borrow books because we don't technically live in the city) because she wanted to get books for the kids to read. As a smart mom, she's always looking for stuff for the boys to do indoors during these incredible hot summer days. So, I borrowed our library card and went down to the library.

The RR Library is not huge, but has a good selection of history books (stuff I like to read). Sure enough, I was able to find my book, and I've been enjoying it today. Who new something as old-school as the library could bring such joy?! Maybe I will be hanging out there more and save some money.

Of course, I am tracking a pastor's library for sale in northern California. The family is only asking $400 for over 2000 books in the library. The problem is getting it to Round Rock. All the options I'm looking at are more expensive to ship than to buy the books. Oh well, it may be best that I don't get these 2000 books. ;)

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Book Notes: Supremacy of God in Preaching

I decided to pick up and read back through John Piper's book on the supremacy of God in preaching. The short book (109 pages) is the print edition of several lectures that Piper gave on the issue of keep God Himself front and center in all that we preach. I really appreciated His reminder that the deepest need of every human being is for their Maker. That as biblical preachers, we are called to proclaim the greatest and wonder of God, first because it is true, and second because it is needed.

God is the greatest being in the universe, and the preacher stands alone against the tidal wave of cultural pressure to elevate everything else other than God to the throne of our hearts. But everything else we pursue will leave us wanting more because it is ultimately idolatry - reducing the grandeur of God by replacing God with some menial substitute. Thanks, Dr. Piper, for the reminder that the proclamation of God's greatest, goodness, and glory are the primary call of the preacher.

Book Notes: Respectable Sins

Another book I read on my study-break was Jerry Bridges newest work called Respectable Sins. Bridges wrote his most recent book in response to what he discerns to be the troubling pattern of the evangelical church becoming so preoccupied with gross, immoral sin in our culture, that we fail to honestly and deliberately deal with the “small” sins in our own lives and hearts. This book is written to call the church of Jesus Christ to live like the saints we are in Christ, especially in the areas where we tend to give ourselves and others in the church a pass.

Bridges argues that the reason we create a class of sins that are acceptable to us in the Christian church is because we use comparative holiness as our standard (and so see ourselves as not as bad as the culture at large), because we don’t realize that even our acceptable sins can create devastation in our lives, and because we do not see all sin as rebellion against God, but only about poor personal choices.

Here is the list of respectable sins that Bridges addresses in this book, his definition of each one, and some of his thoughts on dealing with each one. I personally was most convicted by my failure in the area of impatience, irritability, and envy. I am prayerfully repenting of these traits in my life.

· Ungodliness – living life each moment of each day without consideration of God, the root of all other sin-areas, because a conscious recognition of God would keep us from many other sins. What areas do we live without regard for God or His ways?

· Anxiety & Frustration – the opposite of trusting in God, this sin demonstrates that I do not trust God or His ability to care for me or others. Frustration involves being upset or angry at whatever or whoever is blocking our plans. What is God doing?

· Discontentment – unhappiness from circumstances or situations that are beyond my control which can quickly lead to bitterness or resentment toward others. We must move beyond resignation of our circumstances to acceptance.

· Unthankfulness – not recognizing God as the source of every gift in life, especially the awesome gift of our eternal salvation and new life. Failure to regularly give thanks to God is sinful – we are commanded to give thanks in all circumstances.

· Pride – specifically manifests itself in believers as self-righteousness (especially in those of us who teach others), arrogance of a doctrinal system, the pride of achieving (failure to recognize God as source), an independent spirit (not teachable, submissive)

· Selfishness – being self-focused (rather than others-focused) in our interests, in our use of time, in our use of money; these result with inconsiderateness of others; this is easy to see in others, hard to see in ourselves

· Lack of Self-Control – a governance or prudent control of one’s desires, cravings, impulses, emotions, and passions – saying no when we should say no – moderation in legitimate areas, restraint in sinful areas. We need self-control especially in eating & drinking, our temper, and personal finances, our use of the computer, etc.

· Impatience and Irritability – strong sense of annoyance at the unintentional faults and failures of others, usually expressed verbally to humiliate the other person – irritability describes the frequency of my impatience.

· Anger – strong feeling of displeasure, antagonism that is usually accompanied by sinful emotions, words, or actions that hurt others. Righteous anger focuses on God and is always self-controlled, never causes a loss of temper or retaliation. We need to root out the cause of our anger – usually our pride, selfishness, or desires. We need to especially repent of anger toward God, which accuses God of wrongdoing.

· Anger’s Offspring – anger not dealt with can lead to resentment, to bitterness, even to long-term enmity and hostility toward another person. To stop this process, anger must be turned over to God’s sovereignty, we should pray for love to grow in our hearts toward others, should learn to forgive others as God forgives us. We use the sinful actions of others to justify the sinful anger in our lives.

· Judgmentalism – imposing our convictions on everyone else and implying that our opinions on issues are the truth for everyone – putting myself in the place of God in other people’s lives, can eventually develop into a permanent critical spirit.

· Envy & Jealousy – the painful and oftentimes resentful awareness of an advantage enjoyed by someone else; tends be focused on those with whom we most closely identify in areas that we value most. Mostly driven by our view of others as rivals, not as brothers or sisters in Christ that we need to support and encourage.

· Sins of the Tongue – any speech that tends to tear down another person – either someone we are talking about or someone we are talking to – is sinful speech – can include lying, slander, critical speech, harsh words, insults, sarcasm, and ridicule.

· Worldliness – being attached to, engrossed in, or preoccupied with the things of this temporal life; this leads us to be worldly in our use of our money (spending according to the world’s standard), worldly in our sexual standards (dress, watch, read, think), worldly in our allegiances (idolatry) to temporal priorities.