Friday, July 30, 2010


When someone is hurting, minister presence before precepts.

If you can imagine the worst possible scenario for your life, as unpleasant a thought as that might be, it will help understand this blog entry.  For some it might be death of a spouse or child.  For some it might be the call from the doctor saying it's cancer or terminal or over.  For others it's the boss' call with a pink slip and too-short severance offer and a thousand questions about how bills are going to get paid.

With that in mind, here are some affirmations that could be offered, based on the frame.  I use all of these, depending on the situation, for ministry and encouragement.  I hope this helps.

God hasn't changed.  He's still merciful and gracious to the hurting.  He's still just and righteous for the offended.  He's still sovereign over the questioning.  He's still the healer of the doubled-over.  He's still a safe strong tower for the fleeing.

This isn't how it's supposed to be.  Cancer wasn't God's original intention.  Injustice isn't God's plan.  Fatal car wrecks don't fit God's original design.  Betrayal shouldn't happen.  Devastation isn't "natural," in the best sense of that word.  Nothing works like it's supposed to work.  This kind of thinking allows us to enter into their suffering with sympathy and even empathy because we live in the same broken world too.  Words of comfort like, "I'm so sorry" and emotions that agree with their indignity, frustration, sadness, or shock are appropriate.

God knows what it's like.  Because the Savior suffered, He knows what it's like when you suffer.  You don't have a Great High Priest who is unsympathetic with your plight.  Because He's been through everything that you have and even worse, He can provide whatever help you need to get through it.  On a ministry note, a great encouragement to the suffering (when appropriate, not before) is to talk to God about it.  He can handle their honesty and actually finds it refreshing.  Should they be angry with Him, it's okay for them to tell Him that.  He's never done anything wrong to them such that they should be angry with Him, but if they are it's best for them to tell Him.

God's disposition toward you hasn't shifted.  Because eternal life of both the quantity and quality variety is still God's agenda, we can minister with confidence that His attitude toward the hurting is the same.  Jesus purchased that eternal life for all who have confidence in Him.  Should God's disposition toward His purchased one change, it would say that Jesus' sacrifice wasn't really sufficient.  Some people, when suffering or shocked, think that God got mad at them and sent this affliction.  Others mistake consequences of the Law of Sowing and Reaping as God's anger.  But no matter, God feels the same way about them as He did the day before they got the phone call.

A final note:  please don't take these affirmations as license to brutalize someone with bumper sticker sayings while they're crying.  Saying God works everything out to someone just might get you decked by a right hook, and rightly so.  Be sensitive.  Minister presence before precepts.  The framework is designed to give boundaries and a starting place to paint the portrait of God and ministry that needs to be painted for the hurting's sake, for Jesus' sake, and for the Kingdom.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Frame Pt 4

Eternal Life is a present relationship with God and a confidence in His bringing a reckoning to all that's unjust in the world.

This is the frame I use to answer the questions I get that start with, "Why would God...?"  I get those a lot.  When I do and I have a moment to explain my response, I give them the four pieces of this frame before dealing with the particular question.  Granted, people can reject the frame or the answer that comes because of it, but I don't have a better way of helping them understand life today and life forever and how they both work if not by this framework.  Today, I'll take the fourth piece of the frame and give a brief explanation of it.  I titled it Eternal Life.

When I talk about Eternal Life, don't think about clouds and angels and harps and halos.  That's a cultural misconception of heaven and has nothing in common with the biblical depiction of Eternal Life.  Let me try to quickly define it and provide the application to the "Why God?" question.

First, Eternal Life, according to Jesus in John 17.3, is relationship with God.  By implication, then, everyone who lives in right relationship to God through confidence in Jesus Christ is experiencing eternal life right now, today, in this moment.  Eternal Life isn't just a quantity of life - a life that goes on and on.  It's also a quality of life - life in the eternal realm because God has granted it.  Death, then, is a portal through which we step while we keep living (which is why Jesus would say things like those who trust Him never taste death).

Second, Eternal Life is also life as it's meant to be.  We weren't created to live 78 years.  We were created to live forever.  But we don't and can't because of the world we live in, wrecked with sin and its effects.  The Bible teaches that Jesus will return at a day of the Father's choosing to do at least two things.  He will come to claim His own and take them to be with Him.  He will also set everything else right.

So there you have it:  relationship and reckoning.

How do those two things help us deal with the "Why God?" questions we face in life?  We trusted Him to make us right with Him.  The relational aspect also prompts us to trust Him for the other things in life. If not, we find ourselves trusting Him for the big thing(s) but not for the smaller ones.  That makes no sense and might say something about our actual level of trust.

Because Jesus is going to set everything right, I can relinquish my right to vengeance and look forward to when God executes the reckoning.  I may do so with groaning, like when my friend gets cancer.  I may do so with tears, like when death claims a loved one.  I may do so with anger, like when a divorce comes despite our best efforts to reclaim a marriage.  But I can look forward.

A quote from Miroslav Volf, a Croatian who teaches at Yale Divinity might help conclude:

My thesis is that the practice of non-violence requires a belief in divine vengeance…My thesis will be unpopular with man in the West…But imagine speaking to people (as I have) whose cities and villages have been first plundered, then burned, and leveled to the ground, whose daughters and sisters have been raped, whose fathers and brothers have had their throats slit…Your point to them–we should not retaliate? Why not? I say–the only means of prohibiting violence by us is to insist that violence is only legitimate when it comes from God…Violence thrives today, secretly nourished by the belief that God refuses to take the sword…It takes the quiet of a suburb for the birth of the thesis that human nonviolence is a result of a God who refuses to judge. In a scorched land–soaked in the blood of the innocent, the idea will invariably die, like other pleasant captivities of the liberal mind…if God were NOT angry at injustice and deception and did NOT make a final end of violence, that God would not be worthy of our worship.

I disagree with his stance against non-violence as a necessity, but I do appreciate His overall point:  God is going to set the world right and so it frees us to do the things Jesus said and trust Him for justice.  I recognize that sometimes we are the instrument of justice, but that's really His choice to us use, not our choice to enforce it.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Frame Pt 3

When suffering, Presence often trumps Answers.  God always offers the first without always providing the second.

This is the frame I use to answer the questions I get that start with, "Why would God...?"  I get those a lot.  When I do and I have a moment to explain my response, I give them the four pieces of this frame before dealing with the particular question.  Granted, people can reject the frame or the answer that comes because of it, but I don't have a better way of helping them understand life today and life forever and how they both work if not by this framework.  Today, I'll take the third piece of the frame and give a brief explanation of it.  I titled it Sacrificial Rescue.

We love movies where sacrifice wins the day, the girl, the war, the fight.  Think about Saving Private Ryan or BraveHeart or Schindler's List or any of a number of other movies.  Part of the reason I think that theme is universal in its appeal is the need that we all have in common.  Our broken world is interrupted by the personal God who comes on a rescue mission, a rescue we desperately need.

Jesus Christ is the Rescuer.  He came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19.10) but couldn't do so by breaking people out of jail.  It's not that kind of rescue.  He is the Capt. Miller (Tom Hanks in SPR) in the story who sacrifices His life for the sake of someone else.  But it's more than that too.

He doesn't rescue us in spite of the brokenness of the world - remember, we're the cause of it.  He rescues us precisely because the world is broken.  He Himself becomes a part of the brokenness through coming as a man.  But more than that, He takes the brokenness on Himself and lets it crush Him.  This is what happened at the cross.

On the cross, Jesus sacrificed Himself to rescue us.  We stand under the just condemnation of God because of our rebellion.  But Jesus took the condemnation, dying on the cross in our place.  When we are united to Jesus Christ through faith, God counts His death as ours and attributes His standing as ours.  This is what Martin Luther calls the Great Exchange, wherein Jesus took our sin and stood in our place in order that we might have His righteousness and stand with Him before God.

If you've been around church, you've probably heard that story before.  But the question remains of how this piece helps us understand why bad things happen.  Part of the answer lies in the method of rescue.  Jesus understood brokenness and suffering.  God is not immune or deaf.  Jesus Christ is not a religious figurine - He is a faithful and empathetic savior who knows what it means to suffer.

So even if you don't get all the answers you may want, you at least have someone with you in the suffering.  And presence often trumps information, especially when struggling.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Here's my column for the Midweek Memo to our church family.  If you have questions about Bible translations, leave a comment here and we can discuss it.

Dear Church Family,

I get asked from time to time what Bible translation I use. I use and recommend the English Standard Version (ESV) and have since it came out in 2001. When I’m reading from the ESV, your particular translation may not read quite the same way - which is confusing at times. There are translations that focus on what the original Hebrew and Greek texts say: New American Standard, ESV, New King James - in order of the most literal. There are others that focus on what those texts mean: NIV, New Living Translation, The Message. The Message is a paraphrase and thus the most interpreted - the others are translations.

I preached from the New American Standard for years, but found the English in it to be clunky. The ESV smoothed out the wording a little bit while holding to the literal translation. For full disclosure, I’m currently reading through the Bible in a year in the New Living Translation, though I continue to study and preach from the ESV.

No matter the translation of your Bible, if you don’t spend time in it you won’t grow spiritually. Bottom line: thank God for His Word, then go read it.

Kingdom... Trent

Frame Pt 2

In a busted world, there is hope even amidst the brokenness. 

Okay, so here's my frame again.  I guess technically it's mine, as I've never seen it anywhere else, but any Truth contained therein is God's.

This is the frame I use to answer the questions I get that start with, "Why would God...?"  I get those a lot.  When I do and I have a moment to explain my response, I give them the four pieces of this frame before dealing with the particular question.  Granted, people can reject the frame or the answer that comes because of it, but I don't have a better way of helping them understand life today and life forever and how they both work if not by this framework.  Today, I'll take the second piece of the frame and give a brief explanation of it.

All of life has to be understood inside this frame.  You get the canvas to paint your life, but its limits are set by these four truths.  The second is the truth of the Broken World.

Sometimes I even start with this one.  It's the easiest to prove because everyone, and I do mean everyone, has a recent, painful experience with the brokenness of the world.  You can see it in headlines.  You can hear it in coffee conversations.  You can taste it in the bitter words that sometimes flow from the broken lives.  

But the world wasn't designed in a busted state.  Every major philosophical effort and religious dogma wrestles with the question of evil in the world.  That simply proves my earlier point:  brokenness is easily verified.  I think the Bible contains the best answer - the one that makes the most sense, has made the most sense for a long time, and points to a way out.

The Bible teaches two basic things about Creation.  First of all, the Personal God who made it actually made it good.  I'm not up for a debate on how He made it.  That debate is really quite boring to me.  I am up for the fact that He made it and made it good.  He got to the end of His process and declared it to be very good.

The second thing the Bible teaches us about Creation is that it was marred and mangled in the Fall of Mankind.  When our first parents, Adam and Eve, were deceived and then fell, one of the results was that sin entered the world, not just the human heart.  All of it was subjected to the same futility and perversion.  Thus cancer (which is a perversion of healthy cells) is a result of the Fall.  Natural disasters are evidences of the earth groaning and longing to be set free from its bondage so it can honor God (cf. Romans 8.20ff).  Our relationship to God, to one another, to the physical world, and to the spiritual world were all stained with sin.  Everything is busted.

Why do bad things happen in this world?  Why does BP cut corners and cause and eco-disaster?  Why do the execs on Wall Street take millions in bonuses while fleecing the government and their customers and their employees?  Why do government officials wrap themselves in scandals of every kind?  Why does a mother from the DFW Metroplex kill her autistic child and then call 911?  Why does an earthquake kill thousands and displace over a million in Haiti?  Why does a TV "evangelist" then blame said earthquake on a rumor, thus slandering Jesus as well as His people?

Because the world is broken.

But the Personal God who made it and called it good was and is not content to leave it that way.  Which is why there is a third piece to the frame.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Frame, Pt 1

There is a Personal God who is very real and knowable.  This is the beginning of everything.

Allow me to introduce my frame.

This is the frame I use to answer the questions I get that start with, "Why would God...?"  I get those a lot.  When I do and I have a moment to explain my response, I give them the four pieces of this frame before dealing with the particular question.  Granted, people can reject the frame or the answer that comes because of it, but I don't have a better way of helping them understand life today and life forever and how they both work if not by this framework.  Today, I'll take the first piece of the frame and give a brief explanation of it.

All of life has to be understood inside this frame.  You get the canvas to paint your life, but its limits are set by these four truths.  The first is the truth of the Personal God.

The Personal God, as I am describing Him, is the God of the Bible.  He is relational in His nature - being one and also three, what theology calls Trinitarian.  He is a God who relates to His creation, speaking it into existence and ruling it even now by the Word of His Power.  Thus, He has not spun it into being and left it to go on its own according to the laws we have or will yet discover.  His crowning work of Creation was humanity, who are described as made in the image of God.  That means we have the capacity to see God as He is and enjoy Him for who He is and reflect Him to others.  That's the basics of the theology.

But there's more.  This God who created you and me also burns with white-hot passion, longing for us to know Him.  He is desirous to show Himself to us consistently and clearly.  He sings over us joyfully.  He knows our every move and thought and word.  In the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, God is there with us.  And His heartbeat in all of those moments, all of those places, all of those circumstances is to be seen and known and enjoyed.

For clarity, this is no mere intellectual exercise.  This is the grasp of God by faith, an exercise of the soul.

It all begins here.  The whole world began with a Personal God.  Everything in the world (including understanding and wisdom) begins there too.

This is foundational:  God knows and can be known.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Sermon Notes from 7.25.10

Here are the sermon notes from Sunday, 7.25.10, on Mark 6.14-29.  Resisting the temptations from the church staff to title the sermon something macabre, I focused on the necessity of speaking the truth to culture.  You can find the audio at, though it might be delayed a few days in getting up on the web and iTunes since our webmaster is on a mission trip in the UK.  May God grant us the grace to hear and obey.

Love the Truth
Mark 6.14-29

There is a culture that is desperately in need of the Truth even though it rejects the Truth.

Herod loved Pleasure
  • He embodied the credo:  if it feels good, do it.
  • Part of the Problem:  the need for ever-increasing pleasure to feel good.
  • Anyone can move from “I want” to “I need” to “I’m entitled to,” especially those with power or clout.

Herod loved Status
  • He had exposure without examination – there was no intention of changing.
  • He threw a party for himself so others would come and celebrate him.

Herod loved Approval
  • The applause of the crowd affected him more than the sorrow he felt.
  • This kind of sorrow is worldly and leads to death (2 Cor. 7.10).
  • The need for approval and brutality are often companions.

John loved the Truth.  How do we know?

Clarifying Perspective
  • John was clear on who he was and who God is.

Enduring Suffering
  • No one suffers for something they know to be a lie.
  • No one endures in suffering if they are not convinced of the Truth.
  • John’s moral claims are challenged today by those who protect and promote immorality, punishing those who speak against it.

Legitimate Link
  • Herod knew John’s life and words to be authentic.
  • Herod feared John because of the accompanying authority.

Speaking Out
  • John spoke the Truth consistently, whenever he had an audience.
  • Some will reject it outright.
  • Some will grow from it (Eph. 4.15).
  • Some will develop an appetite because of it.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Spiritual Diagnostics

There are some objective ways to test your relationship with God - He was kind and wise enough not to have it all subjective.

Let me begin by stating the obvious (or the should-be-obvious):  relationships have a lot of subjective elements in them.  This is certainly true in my relationship to God.  As a pastor, I get quite a bit of the "I just don't feel very close to God" conversations.  While I can't help a person feel closer to God, I can help them put into practice disciplines that will help them actually and truly grow closer to God.

One more clarification:  when we talk about "closer to God," we're not talking about distance.  God is no nearer or farther from any one point in the universe than He is any other point.  It all exists in Him and He is omnipresent.  This "distance" is more about our interactive experience with Him and the appropriate objective and subjective things that come out of that interaction.

So, with that in mind, let me outlay a few objective questions you can ask yourself to diagnose yourself and your "closeness" to God.  God knew we couldn't pull off this diagnosis on our own so He gave us some outside input.  I'll pull these right from the red-letter part of the Gospels...

Is your allegiance to God above yourself, your relationships, and your possessions?  (Luke 14.25-33)  How would you measure this?  By assuming God would ask you to do the most radical thing, and measuring your inclination toward it.  Move to Africa?  Forgive your parent?  Surrender to ministry?

Does the Good News of Jesus come out of your mouth often and naturally?  (Matthew 4.19)  If Jesus calls us, He promises to make us fishers of men.  These are not people who lure people in but who catch others up in something larger than any of them.  In coffee shops and Kroger, driveways and dance recitals - you share not because you plan to, but because that's what's in your heart and comes out (cf. Matt. 12.34).

Do you enjoy God's Word?  (John 8.31-32)  When you open it, do you revel in its Truth, somehow express gratitude for the conviction it brings, commit to obeying it because you know it lays out the way of real freedom?  When you don't intake it, do you miss it like you miss food when you skip lunch?

Do you hate sin?  (Mark 8.34-37)  When you see it in yourself and in culture, does something rise up in you that wants to kill it?  When you repent, do you do so with sadness?  Do you ask God for wisdom as to how to put it out of your life?

Does your spending reflect your confession?  (Matthew 6.24)  When it says the treasure is where the heart is, that's a real, clarifying, diagnostic question for us.  Do my spending priorities reflect Kingdom priorities?  Do I give a tithe (10% of my earned income) to my local church and do so gladly?  When other needs come up, do I pray about them first or see what's in my checkbook first?  And for all wondering, paying your bills and doing so on time is a huge part of your spending reflecting your confession.  Being out of work is one thing.  Being a poor steward is another.

Do you long for Jesus to return?  (Mark 13.34-37)  Even though it'd be as rough as anything we've ever known beforehand, even though it will bring persecution and trouble, even though it would mean the eternal end for some, do you want Jesus to return to set things right?  When you see sin and sickness and senselessness, does it prompt a prayer that asks Him to make it soon?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Speak the Truth

If you love the truth and those around you, you will speak in such a way to connect them.

Ephesians 4.15 is often quoted and rarely applied.  It says, "Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into Him who is the head, even Christ."

To be someone who loves the truth, both personified in Jesus Christ and propositional in the Scriptures, I have to be willing to speak the truth and do it in love.  That certainly presumes I have to know the truth in order to speak it.  It also means I have to align myself with it so I'm not a hypocrite - I will not have the moral authority necessary to speak the truth if I'm not allied to it, even if I live it imperfectly.

It also means that I believe that truth-speaking is a loving thing, not a harsh railing against things I see wrong in the world.  If I love someone, I will tell them the truth.  And telling someone the truth in the way they can hear it is also loving.  You can imagine me telling you the house is on fire in French, but you don't speak French.  I'm telling you the truth, but there's no chance of you receiving it.  While running the risk of making an idol of contextualization, I think that's true on a spiritual and moral front too - we have to speak in a way that we're heard.

Last thought:  without this discipline of truth-speaking, we will not grow up into who we are made to be in Christ.  It is a necessary exercise, though difficult at times, that helps us mature.

So, question (to you and me both):  is there someone to whom you need to speak the truth today?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Neighborhood Conversations

There's a sobriety and peace that comes with pondering God on judgment day.

I love our neighborhood.  One of the many reasons was exampled last night, where from 5-8:30, lots of neighbors and their kids were in our front yard watching the kids play on the water slide and visiting on my driveway.  For those of you who aren't from Texas, "visiting" is a verb used to describe sitting, talking, debating, laughing, wondering, questioning, sitting and talking (did I mention sitting and talking?).

This conversation came up last night:  politics as exemplified in the healthcare bill and what's going to happen in November as a result of it.  After some healthy, rousing, generally red-state-leaning discussion, one of my neighbors asked me if I believed in the conspiracy of the "death panels" that have been reported in some of the right-leaning media.  Here was the essence of my response:

I don't think there's going to be guys in dark suits with sunglasses sitting in a room with a "death is decreed" stamp in blood-red ink.  But it seems, by necessity, that there will be someone(s) somewhere who will say, "Yes" or, "No" to treatment and thus ultimately whether a person gets a life-saving procedure or medicine.  In that sense, I guess there will be those decisions made.  (I think that doctors make those decisions every day - and I would hope doctors will be the ones to continue to make medical decisions for patients.)

I shocked them with this statement, though:  even though I disagree with the bill and its policies, I'm reasonably okay with it.  That's because I know people who take on that responsibility and have to sit in those rooms and make those calls are people who will one day give an account to the Judge of the Universe for the decisions they made.  That's true of BP execs, Jeffrey Skilling, AIG leadership, banking officers, and lots of others in leadership.  And that Judge can better sort it out and make sure there's justice than any congressional subpoena and hearings ever could.

It's both sobering and peaceful.  It doesn't release me from my responsibility to do what's right, stand for the truth, speak up, serve well, and generally influence the culture for the sake of the Kingdom.  But the bedrock is the accountability that will come - an accountability that is for me too, which is why I can't just sit back and let it all go to hell in a hand basket.

But that's just me thinking thoughts...

I couldn't let this topic go without saying the following:  Each individual person will give an account to God for how they lived while on His earth.  The only right way to be related to Him is through trusting His Son Jesus Christ who died on a cross as a sacrifice for sin and was raised from the dead to give forgiveness and life to anyone and everyone who puts confidence in Him.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Nice Sentiment

If Jesus is sentimental to me, He's not consequential to me.

When I think of the sentimental, I think of the things or experiences in life that are nice, sweet, cute, kind.  I think of the Christmas morning when I got the GI Joe army base.  I think of Hallmark cards.  I think of little kids singing songs down the hall from my office.  Sentimental.

I'll grant that there are other definitions and understandings of sentimentality, but this one in particular seems spiritually dangerous.  Why?  Because Jesus is none of those things - nice, sweet, cute, cuddly, etc.  He's not a stuffed animal.  He's not a fun little moment.  He's not the guy in the portrait on the wall of the 3rd grade Sunday School classroom - the one with the flowing hair and off-stage lighting.

The problem with that kind of Jesus is we outgrow Him.  He ends up on the shelf of our lives with all the other sentimental stuff, collecting dust and fun to remember at times (like Easter and Christmas).  Nothing on that shelf impacts my life today.  Sentimental = inconsequential.

But if Jesus Christ is Lord of lords, the One True God, Living Water, Bread of Life, the Crucified and Risen Savior, Ascended and Reigning Sovereign over the universe, and Returning Conquerer and Judge, then that changes everything.  That Jesus matters.  That Jesus matters for life eternal as well as life today.  That Jesus changes everything.

But that's just me thinking thoughts...

Monday, July 19, 2010

Who does the Chains?

Cultural chains, no matter the culture, still need to be broken by Jesus for a person to find life.

In this last series of some thoughts on the Mark 5.1-20 story, I wanted to look briefly at the unchaining of the man.  Jesus had liberated him from what really bound him, the demons.  Broken shackles were strewn on the ground, signs of a life-gone-by.

Who had put the chains there?  The culture did.  They kicked him out of town.  They deemed him too dangerous.  They forced him to the place of the dead.  They attempted on multiple fronts and multiple times to bind him.  Neither conformity nor health was found in the chains.

That's a message to followers of Jesus Christ.  I think we ought to be involved in the political process.  I think we ought to vote, campaign, win elections, legislate, govern, judge and work through the political processes of our country to do what we can to reflect God's vision for life and values for life.  But in doing so, the balancing factor for all of that effort is the picture of the chains lying on the ground.  We have to have them lest we get too trusting in the political process to bring the Kingdom of God.  All 435 representatives, 100 senators, 9 justices, and the whole Executive Branch could be evangelical followers of Jesus and the Kingdom of God still wouldn't come in America.

Before you say, "Of course not.  That's just silly," think about evangelical political engagement over the past three decades.  And if you're still not convinced, let me ask you this:  why are evangelicals today more identified as a voting bloc with 2-3 key issues (abortion and homosexuality, in particular) rather than people stained by the cross of Jesus Christ who love others like He did?

The issue at hand is chains.  Culture (whether evangelical or pagan) binds.  We can legislate morality, but can't force people to be moral.  We can implement ethical practices but can't cause people to be ethical in their business dealings, research, etc.  Indeed, laws are meant to constrain.  That's right and good.  But the Kingdom comes in the human heart, not in societal laws.

That's why, for all the culture-transforming we could do from a political level, the individual neighbor, friend, family member and coworker would still need to be liberated from their chains, transformed at the level of the heart, and changed into the kind of person who will gladly be ethical, moral, holy, righteous, just, merciful, forgiving and loving because the King said that's the best way to live.

But that's just me thinking thoughts...

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Sermon Notes from Sunday 7.18.10

Here are the sermon notes from Sunday's sermon.  You can find the sermon audio here: or on the podcast via iTunes.  May God grant the clarity and power to His Word that changes lives.  Amen.

Jesus gets Dissed
Mark 6.1-13

Why do they take offense?
  • Content (v.2) – what He teaches is more than philosophy or pleasantries.
  • Prejudice (v.2) – no one from His kind makes a prophet or teacher.
  • Familiarity (v.3) – thinking you know Him and knowing Him are not the same. 

What is the Response?
  • Dishonor (v.4) – even among His own.
  • Distance (v.5) – few came to Him, most stayed away.
  • Disbelief (v.6) – not the same as doubt.

The message is scandalous and only received by faith (Heb. 11.6).

What does He do?
  • He sends missionaries to the culture (v.6-7).
  • He sends them with authority (v.7).
  • He calls for their commitment on God (8-9).
  • He calls for their commitment to the recipients (v.10-11).
  • He relays the message through them:  repent (v.12).

Friday, July 16, 2010

Jesus and Culture

Culture may kick Him out, but they can't get rid of Christ.

One of the bits I love about the Mark 5.1-20 story is Jesus' interaction with the crowd.  They simply don't know what to do with the scene at hand - a changed man, some dead pigs, a wild story, and an itinerant preacher from across the lake.  "Uhm.  Can you leave?  Just leave!"

And He does.  There's something about that.  They don't want Him so He leaves.  He gets in the boat, seemingly waving to the crowd.

But He doesn't leave, not really.  The former demoniac wanted to go back to Capernaum with Him but Jesus didn't permit that.  He sent the man back into the area, back to the culture which asked Jesus to leave, back to the people who had ostracized the liberated man, back to "normal."

But nothing was normal.  The man was forever changed.  Mercy had exploded in his life.  And Jesus, the liberator, sent him back to tell others about it.  The culture was done with Jesus, but He wasn't done with it.  He sent a missionary back to it.

He still does.

Thursday, July 15, 2010


It is not because we're helpless that Jesus rescues us.  It is because He is that kind of God.

Quick note:  for those who follow the blog and noted that I didn't post yesterday, my apologies.  My day filled up quickly and was over before I blinked.  I did miss blogging, which I guess is a good sign.

A couple of Sundays ago I preached on Mark 5.1-20, the liberation of the Gerasene demoniac.  I just can't let that story go and so I'm going to be putting some thoughts down here over the next few days.

Some people think about themselves before God as helpless and worthy of God's pity.  "Worthy of pity" is an interesting phrase.  If you're worthy, is it pity?  Can you merit God's mercy?  My argument is that it's not because we're helpless that Jesus rescues us.  In fact, we're helpless because of the sin and wickedness in our lives.

The Bible describes us this way:  dead in sin, following the course of this world, allied to the enemy of God, indulging desires that are not from Him, and justly and rightly declared children of wrath (Ephesians 2.1-3).   Oprah will not tell you such.  But she doesn't love you enough to tell you the truth.  Frankly, there are pastors who will not tell you such.  They lack the same love.  But God loves you and me enough to tell us the truth.  We are sinners by nature and choice and justly under condemnation because of it.  We do not merit mercy.  We are not worthy of pity.  And certainly, we cannot help ourselves.

But God did - and God does.  The guy in Mark 5 was possessed with a legion of demons.  He was a pagan, idolater, and not a nice fellow.  Jesus steps in to liberate Him, not because of who the possessed man is but because of who Jesus is.  Salvation comes because Jesus comes on the scene.  Nothing merited.  Nothing warranted.  Out of the blue.

And that is what the Bible calls grace.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

One Year

Gotcha Day:  the anniversary of receiving an adopted child into a family.  7.13.09 - Gotcha Day for the Hendersons!

365 days ago, we walked around the corner of the civil affairs building in Chongqing, China.  Sitting on a couch holding the pillow we had sent over was our daughter.  Replaying the tape in my mind is almost overwhelming.  Our family has changed.  Her life has changed.  My life has changed.

Happy Gotcha Day to our youngest!  My wife did an incredible entry for Gotcha Day that blessed me when I saw it last night (it was supposed to be a surprise for me, but I accidentally spoiled it).  Link here:  4uruthie.

Russell Moore says that adoption is the Gospel and mission.  Roughly quoting J.I. Packer, "We understand the Gospel as well as we understand adoption."  That's absolutely been true for me - I am more profoundly grateful for God's movement in my life, drawing me into His family by His grace, making me His both legally and relationally through the cross.  But it's also mission, in the sense that we carry forth that message in words and action - declaring the Good News and demonstrating it through "true religion" (James 1.27).

For anyone and everyone who's ever thought about it:  if God allows you, I'd say go for it.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Sermon Notes from Sunday 7.11.10

Here are the sermon notes from Sunday, 11 July 2010.  This sermon, like the one from 4 July, was more touring through a story than teaching it.  In these cases, the stories are powerful enough to speak for themselves.  I tried to point out stuff along the way through the text.  You'll be able to get the audio as soon as it's up (normally by Tuesday) at

Jesus Does Wholeness
Mark 5.21-43

Anyone is welcome to come to Jesus.
  • Upstanding citizens come and meet Jesus.
  • Unclean outcasts come and meet Jesus.
  • When you come, be ready for transformation (v.29).
  • When you come, be ready for truth (v.33-34).
  • When you come, be ready for trials (v.35-36).

Anyone can be made whole by Jesus.
  • Those who want the show may get it but miss Him (v.37)
  • Those who posture and pose miss Him (v.38-40).
  • His Word always plays a part in wholeness (v.41).
  • His Work is verifiably real and inspires awe (v.42-43).

Friday, July 9, 2010

Ministry Paralysis (?)

Seeing a great need and meeting it - that's what we call ministry.  God led the way when He saw us and met us.

Today marks the anniversary of getting on an airplane at o-dark-thirty for Chicago, then Shanghai, then Beijing to adopt our little girl.  We have been asked at multiple times and in multiple ways why we decided to adopt and adopt from China.  The "why adopt" question is a longer answer.  The "why China" is a shorter one.

China has millions of orphans due to their one-child policy.  We looked at the world, realized we couldn't do it all but could do something (the Starfish Principle).  China seemed to be the biggest place of need and so that's where we went.

Ministry to neighborhoods, families, orphans, churches, Haiti, homeless people, and any and every other group you could possibly imagine is often like that.  Some get paralyzed by the need.  I've felt that way before.  But the Enemy wins if we stay paralyzed.  Getting engaged in ministry in that moment is about picking a place where you sense greatest need and going for it.  God supplies opportunities, resources, spiritual and physical strength, perspective, ideas, wisdom, and power.  Stepping out in faith for ministry's sake, we find that there's grace for ministry's sake too.

God's already modeled this for us.  He looked at us in our great need, separated from Him and without hope in the world.  He was not paralyzed by our sin and rebellion, but stepped in, through Jesus, to rescue us and reconcile us by His mercy.  Amen.

Now we carry that same ministry of reconciliation to the world around us.  Don't be paralyzed.  Take a step in a direction and see what God does.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

5 Great Books

Disciplining ourselves for godliness isn't just commanded, it's a good idea - leading us to transformation.

I love books.  I read quite a few of them each year.  My goal used to be to read 50-100 every year.  Ever since our kids have gotten older and more active, I don't read quite as much as I used to read.  But I'm still on track to crack 40 this year and am glad for it.  I actually consider reading extra-biblical material a spiritual discipline for me.  I'm enriched by them and enjoy interacting with all sorts.  I'm currently finishing a couple of books, one of which has been particularly fascinating (Guyland by Michael Kimmel).

I got an email yesterday from a former church member who asked for the best books I've read.  We've had that conversation before but he couldn't remember what they were.  There have been 5 extra-biblical books that have particularly and uniquely shaped my life.  Here they are, in no particular order of importance, with comments about why they were so shaping.

The God You Can Know by Dan DeHaan - I encountered this book in college when a mentor recommended it to me.  It is the first book I read that helped me understand the relationship between a passionate God and His pursued people.  Proof positive that a book can be simple and potent.

Knowing God by J.I. Packer - Packer is a veritable grandfather of the faith to evangelicals of our day.  He's wise and kind and still at it after years of ministry, teaching, and following Jesus.  This book is a classic for understanding who God is and how we relate to Him.  It reads like a systematic theology by someone who really loves the person of God.  There are so many quotes in there that are memorable that you could write a book just with the snippets.  I recommend it because it shows that theology and doxology are interwoven - you can't do one without the other.

The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer - Tozer is known as a 20th century prophet with good reason.  His writings are just as relevant today as when he wrote them 50-60 years ago.  Tozer's reminder to me is that God isn't meant to be studied as much as experienced and enjoyed.  It's such a good book that we're reading it together right now as a church staff.

Desiring God by John Piper - As the current father-figure for the reformed movement, particularly among younger reformed folks, Piper calls us to take the God-given drive for satisfaction and glut that desire on God.  His argument (in my restatement):  our God-given passion for satisfaction and our God-given purpose for glorifying Him are not at odds nor parallel, but one pursuit.  He says it this way:  "God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him."  It'll make you think but it's worth every page.

The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard - A philosophy professor from USC who loves God?  Sure.  This is the third book in a spirituality trilogy written by Willard and, in my opinion, his most powerful (the other two are Hearing God and Spirit of the Disciplines).  It is a theological and spiritual reflection on the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 5-7 known as the Sermon on the Mount.  I learned from this book a truth that keeps expressing itself in my life and ministry, that the Kingdom of God is a present reality that God will ultimately and finally fulfill.  I don't agree with every little jot and tittle here, but the driving point is unbelievably powerful and Good News.  At 400 pages, it's not for the faint of heart (or brain), but it is worth the effort of reading, re-reading, and re-reading again.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Such an Incredible Week (1 year later...)

Looking back on God's grace often gives us the spiritual courage and strength to move forward.

This week marks one of the craziest of my life (+1 year).  In 2009, we were in the throes of adopting our daughter from China.  We had waited (and waited and waited and waited) longer than anyone at our agency knew what to do with and as a result were about to pull our hair out.  For those unfamiliar with the process, there is a 4-step process once you've been matched with a child.  Our wait from step one to step four is the wait I'm referring to, the interminably long wait.

My wife told me we ought to pray for a July 3rd miracle.  We did.  God delivered.  But the office was closed for the July 4th holiday!  Just as a side note, when you pray for dates, check your holidays.  All weekend we fretted and prayed for God to intervene again.  On Monday, we got confirmation that we could travel but it looked like it was going to be three more long weeks.  We asked God and our agency if we could go with the group leaving on 7.9.09, the day we asked being 7.6.09.

Our agency didn't really want to ask, but did.  They don't hear until the next morning.  I'm sitting at my computer answering emails at 8:30am on 7.7.09 when the call came that we could go two days later.  So, with two days to buy plane tickets and pull it together, off we went to China for our daughter.

All throughout, God's faithfulness was on display.  Four (my mom and stepdad went with us) tickets to China on two days notice?  No problem (and they were about $1600 each).  Childcare arranged and ready for our two boys, who weren't going because of Swine Flu?  Handled.  Banks having clean bills to carry over?  Yep.  Hearts going from breaking to rejoicing?  God did it.  Cool stuff.

I tell that story to encourage anyone and everyone that remembering is a great discipline.  Looking back on what God has done evokes courage and strength.  Remembering the cross of Christ evokes gratitude, joy, peace.  Is there anything you need to look back on today, be refreshed by the Spirit's work?

And for all who would enjoy it, our story (and all the emotions with it) can be found on our family blog under the first-half of 2009 posts.  Link here:  4uruthie.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Sermon Notes from Sunday 7.4.10

Here are the sermon notes from Sunday, 4 July 2010.  As always, you can find the sermon audio at (we might be a day or so late because of the holiday).

Jesus, Demons and Pigs
Mark 5.1-20

Jesus Liberates the Individual
  • There is no natural solution to the man’s problem (v.3-4).
  • His life was marked by disruption and destruction (v.5).
  • His only hope:  supernatural deliverance (v.6).
  • Jesus takes on the real issue and deals with it (v.7-13).

Jesus Invades Culture
  • Fear comes because they do not understand and cannot control transformation (v.15-16).
  • Every culture, without a prevailing crisis, will drift toward deism.
  • Deism is a refusal to give thanks for blessings and accomplishments.
  • Deism is a removal of accountability for actions and attitudes.
  • Response:  “Go Home” or Fortress?
  • Response:  “Tell” or Privatize?
  • Response:  “Tell” or Legislate?
  • Culture can remove Christ, but He still invades it through those He saves.
  • We declare our delight in every area of life – and this area matters most.

Friday, July 2, 2010

The Value of a Long Dinner

Quality time happens in the midst of quantity time, which makes for healthier relationships.

We have a thing going this summer at church called Supper for Six.  The idea is to get six adults in the room together (with or without kids) three times over the course of the summer and share a meal, no agenda for the conversation, etc.  We intentionally grouped unlike couples to spread some of the familiarity around in the relational network we call church.  We had our first group meeting last night - burgers at our house, with kids.

The burgers were fine.  The weather stank.  My team lost at Cranium.  We talked a lot, laughed a lot, watched kids play and run and wrestle.  The last guest arrived at 6:40.  The last guest left at 10:00.  Good times.

I remember the guy who did our premarital counseling telling us that quality time happens in the midst of quantity time.  It's absolutely true in our marriage.  I know it's true in our parenting.  And it sure seems to be true in church.  Our hanging out with another family with 3 kids, a single gal, and a single mom with her 3 teens was quality time.  But it only happened because we committed the quantity together.  I'm looking forward to the next gathering, not because I have a male-driven need to redeem my board game record (I promise).

Slow down.  Turn off the phone.  Put kids to bed early.  Put kids to bed late after a long movie-and-popcorn night.  Shut off the internet.  Quantity time takes some sacrifice, for sure.  I don't know where that lands with you, but it's a fresh reminder for me today - I even hear my youngest whispering about a book of which I think I'll join in the reading.

But that's just me thinking thoughts...

Thursday, July 1, 2010

100th Post

Idolatry in the human heart is as varied in form as the individuals who populate the planet.  But it has a singular solution:  the cross of Jesus Christ.

Think about this:  there are 6.something billion people on the planet (who counted them all?).  Not one person's DNA is exactly the same as another (identical twins excepted, of course).  Not one looks exactly the same.  And no one carries within them the same exact expression of the uniting problem of humanity, sin.

Some are adulterers and lusters.  Some are angry and violent.  Some are cold and conniving.  Some are greedy and wicked.  Some are murderers.  Some are liars.  Some are cowards.  Some are hypocrites.  All are sinful.

The sin within the human heart comes from the exaltation of that which is secondary to the primary.  It's when money, pleasure, desire, emotions, possessions, status, power, and all sorts of other things trump God in our allegiance and affection.  This is idolatry in its simplest form, though no wooden, stone or metal figure occupies our worship.  Out of this idolatry flows evil and unrighteousness in its various expressions.

What do we do with all of this heinousness?  We must funnel every bit of it in our hearts to the cross of Christ and encourage others to do the same.  There, idolatry is destroyed, the sin is paid for, and righteousness is given to us.  It's clear why Paul says we must crucify what's within us (Rom 6.6ff, Gal. 2.20, et al).

I'm learning this myself (and remind myself often of it):  the Gospel is the starting point of Christianity and we go deeper into it rather than starting there and moving on from it.  Amen.