Thursday, September 30, 2010

NT75 Day 18: Luke 10-13

There are stories that Jesus tells that haunt me.  They haunt me for me and they haunt me for those around me.  I read one of them today (12.16-21).  The guy who built the barns had everything going for him.  His life was prospering (probably because he prayed like Jabez or got one of the TV preachers' books).  His bank account was growing.  His assets were expanding.  His charts were all going up and to the right.

The one thing he didn't have was readiness.  He wasn't ready when death came.  He wasn't ready to give an account for his life, and his "accounts" couldn't help him in that moment.  I'm all for people prospering and growing wealth.  I'm also all for them using their assets to "be rich toward God" so they're ready.  And I'm not talking (only) about giving to the church - I'm talking about a life of generosity that breaks greed and readies us for the life to come.

Short entry today, but a potent question:  no matter what I have, am I ready when I die?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

NT75 Day 17: Luke 7-9

I appreciate the fact that John doubted.  What I mean is that here is the forerunner of the Messiah, the one taking up Elijah's prophetic mantle, the one filled with the Spirit from the womb of his mom, and a doubter.  His circumstances strained his faith.  I'm like that.  I get it.  So I appreciate his doubt.

John was in prison.  He was lonely and frustrated and wondering about why bad things happen to good people.  But deeper in his gut, wrenching at the heart of the prophet, was the question of if he had been wrong.  It's one thing to sit in prison as a prophet - you actually kind of expect it (or if you don't you should).  Bad things happen to those who speak for God.  Martyrdom is the most popular end.  It comes with the calling.

But this question haunted him.  What if he was wrong about Jesus?  What if he had pointed people to an unMessiah?  What if he had blurred the message?  It's one thing to die as a prophet of God.  It's a whole different thing to be wrong as one.

And I think that's where the questions come.  And I appreciate the answer from Jesus.  Because when asked, Jesus didn't give a verbal answer first.  He healed a lot of folks.  Then he told John's friends to tell John what they had seen.  I think if we're honest in our doubt, honest with God about it, and still seeking to honor Him in it, God's general inclination is to strengthen our faith by letting us see what we need to see to keep believing.

But that's just me thinking thoughts...

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

NT75 Day 16: Luke 4-6 and Testament Tuesday!

Jesus grabs the scroll and finds Isaiah.  Then He drops the bomb on the hearers:  today, this prophecy about the Messiah is fulfilled in your hearing.  Two things strike me about that.

First, Jesus was quite confident in who He was.  Some people in academia paint Him as a backwoods manic on a path of self-discovery.  That's simply not the portrayal of Him in the Scriptures.  He's clear on who He is:  "Today this is fulfilled in your hearing."  That means, "I'm the guy this is talking about."  No self-discovery there.  No doubts.  No identity crisis.  No question remains.

Second, look at the content that describes Jesus' ministry.
  • It begins with the Spirit as all ministry on the earth should.  We cannot assemble enough talent or enough sweat to advance the Kingdom - that's the Spirit's work.  
  • Right out of the box is proclamation:  "Good News to the Poor!"  I don't know that it's literal poor only as some have taken it, since He's not only talking about literal captives, blind or oppressed.  But proclamation is the beginning.
  • More proclamation:  "Liberty to the captives!"  Those enslaved can be set free by the Messiah.
  • Even more proclamation:  "Recovery of sight to the blind."  People who used not to see can begin to see.  We see this quite literally through the healing ministry of Jesus and more spiritually as people's spiritual eyes get opened and they see Him for who He is.
  • Demonstration:  to actually liberate the oppressed.  Words are not enough.  Action is required.
  • Proclamation:  God's in favor of you!
And when the rest of Luke unfolds, that's exactly what we see.

And here's the testimony part:  more and more I am seeing that the Gospel is more than I've ever known it to be.  I grew up at a church that preached Gospel = forgiveness.  I need forgiveness, no doubt.  I also need holiness, wisdom, peace, help.  And I need it across the different playing fields of life.  What's more, I think that this Gospel is the only Gospel that really makes disciples, people who follow Jesus.

But that's just me thinking thoughts.

Monday, September 27, 2010

NT75 Day 15: Luke 1-3

When I got up to walk the dog this morning and spend some time praying, it was cool outside.  Wonderfully cool.  North wind.  65 degrees.  Big bright moon.  And how appropriate on the first cooler morning of the fall that I crack open the Bible and read the Christmas narrative.

Zechariah and Mary each encountered an angel.  Zechariah and Mary each had a message from the Lord to them about their forthcoming kids.  Those babies both came and did so in perfect time.  However, that's where the similarities end.

Zechariah questioned the angel from doubt.  "How can these things be...?"  Mary questioned from faith:  "How will this be, since I am a virgin?" (1.34).  Even Elizabeth commented about her faith and willingness to trust what God had said to her (v.45).  Zechariah was struck mute until John was born and circumcised.  Mary got to sing a song.

There is a way to question God that's filled with faith and seeks understanding but doesn't dishonor Him.  There's a way to deal with Him honestly and authentically that allows greater intimacy.  There's even a way to bring unbelief to the relationship that is an act of faith (Mark 9.24).

Take God at His Word and give your life to Him.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Sermon Notes from 9.26.10

Here are the sermon notes from Sunday, 9.26.10.  We had a great time looking at the story of Jesus' transfiguration in Mark 9.  I was hoping we'd have the clarity of seeing God's glory and it satisfying our souls and transforming our lives.  I know I want to live that way.  As always, you can find these notes in PDF and the sermon audio at

Jesus Unfiltered
Mark 9.2-13

We have not, to this point, seen the glory of God like we see it here.
  • The Creation, Exodus, and Temple scenes give us glimpses.
  • The resurrection and revelation are only places we see it more clearly.
He’s not who we want Him to be – He is who He says and shows He is.
  • Plastic Jesus
  • Halo Jesus
  • American Jesus
  • Coffee Cup Jesus
  • Oprah Jesus
  • Hipster Jesus
Seeing His glory is the only hope for satisfaction of our souls.
  • Beauty – capturing our affection.
  • Messiah – calling out our allegiance.
  • Father – meeting our desire for a paternal blessing.
In Christ we have the Father’s delight (Gal. 4.4-7)

Seeing His glory is the only hope for the transformation of our lives.
  • We see Him primarily with our minds as we listen to Him.
  • We see His glory clearly in His death and resurrection.
  • The source of our transformation is the Spirit using the Scriptures.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

NT75 Day 13: Hebrews 11-13

I had an interesting email exchange this week.  A friend of mine is looking to move from an associate pastor position to the senior pastor position in another church.  He was asking me about how it was, what my experience had been in my almost 4 years at Heritage Park, and what kind of "job satisfaction" (for lack of a better term) I was experiencing.  After making a few reflections about my life, I told him that my job wasn't fun but that I got up every morning and looked forward to going to work.

And that e-conversation was what I was reminded of when I read 13.17.  I recognize the unbelievable responsibility of shepherding people and watching over their spiritual well-being.  I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I will stand before God and give an account for the how, what and why of my decisions and actions.  Every time I stand to preach, I know that it is the aroma of Christ released from the Scriptures that will be death for some and life for others (2 Cor. 2).  And that doesn't even include the actual leadership of an organization with budgets and buildings and so forth.  I get the gravity of it all.

But there is great joy.  I think about all the cool things we've seen God do in and through our church.  I think about the people who have joined and had their lives turned around by Christ.  I think of the laughter we've shared with (and at!) one another.  I think about the memorable moments, poignant seconds and minutes that we don't forget.  I think about the prayers we've shared, the meals we've shared, and the worship we've given to God together.

And that leads me to the previous two verses.  In those, the author helps us see true worship.  He frames the verses with the word sacrifice.  First observation:  if worship doesn't cost you something, you're probably not worshipping since you're not declaring the worth of God through your sacrifice.  Second observation:  worship has some components that we need to recognize.

Component #1:  the fruit of our lips.  We need to set our affections on God and let them come out in our words in prayers and songs and "Yes!" and so forth.  That's pretty easy to do when you put words on a screen.  But the question is do they come from your heart?

Component #2:  doing good.  We also worship when we do good in Jesus' name outside the walls, confines, relational circles, and general comfort of what we call the church.  Serving, blessing, giving, loving, caring, praying - all ways to do good.

Component #3:  sharing.  This is apparently internally focused on the church.  There's a sense in which we say to one another, "Whatever you need, I've got your back."  It's our commitment to one another to do family as a church.

Worship is all of these.  I wonder where I'm weakest or leaving one out.

But that's just me thinking thoughts...

Friday, September 24, 2010

NT75 Day 12: Hebrews 7-10

One of the things I saw this morning in the numerous comparisons between OT stuff and Jesus was the powerful and complete nature of Jesus' sacrifice.  One quick instance...

In the OT, priests stood ministering daily and making sacrifices for others and themselves (10.11).  Jesus, however is seated at the right hand of God after offering a single sacrifice for sin - but not for Himself since He was perfect, but for those who are sinners (v.12).  That's complete.

As a result, He waits patiently until the enemies are made a footstool.  And for us, we are perfected by His sacrifice as we are sanctified.  That's powerful.  I know I've blogged this before, but here again is an instance when the work of Jesus as seen in the Gospel is our means of sanctification and perfection.  The undergirding principle of that is that we DO NOT move away from the Gospel as we grow in Christ but further into the Gospel as we grow.

He's better.  Enough said.

But that's just me thinking thoughts...

Thursday, September 23, 2010

NT75 Day 11: Hebrews 4-6

There are some of my favorite phrases in the entire NT in these chapters.  Jesus is a sympathetic high priest, we are called to enter God's rest, and move on to solid food, the kind for the mature.  I think probably my favorite phrase in these three chapters is in 6.19, where the author speaks of a "sure and steadfast anchor of the soul."  

I love that phrase because of the solidity of it.  My soul, at times even though I'm a "professional Christian" and leader of other Christians, is stormy.  My boat gets rocked.  My tolerance, patience, faith, hope, love, self-control, emotions, perseverance, and life go up and down, blown here and there.  What do I need in that moment?  An anchor, sure and steadfast.

And God has provided one in Jesus.  The promised one, given by an oath and guaranteed by His character since He cannot lie, has come and given His life as a ransom for many.  And, wonderfully, He's taking all refugees.  

But what about Hebrews 6?

Just a note for those who wonder about that confusing little passage at the front of Hebrews 6.  It appears from the words in v.4-8 that a person can lose their salvation, their relationship to God.  I don't want to go into a lot of detail here and would be willing to have some email traffic with those who want to discuss it further, but let me say that I think it's a warning passage.  What I mean by that is because I understand Hebrews to be a sermon (before a written document), we have to keep in mind that the author can be saying these things to warn the congregation.  What would he be warning them about?  Primarily, the warning is to those who are in the congregation but not in the congregation.  They're physically taking part but not spiritually taking part.  Those who sit in church services but have no spiritual connection, yet think they are in good shape because of the room they're in.  And inevitably, when persecution or temptation gets too great, they fall away and do not repent.  He does a similar warning in chapters 3 and 10.  Although it probably sounds foreign to American Evangelical ears, warnings are a part of the Bible and need to be heard and heeded.  If you have questions, email me.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

NT75 Day 10: Hebrews 1-3

Twice in this book we are told that Jesus experienced suffering and temptation as we do and, therefore, He's not immune or distant from the pain or hurt or frustration or disappointment or wish-it-were-otherwise feelings we experience.

In today's reading as well as tomorrow's, we see that Christ is a "merciful and faithful high priest" (2.17, cf. 4.14-15) who is able and willing to "help those who are being tempted."  So whatever you're in, you're not alone.

An interesting note on trial and temptation.  One person actually stopped by my office this week to ask me about this.  The NT was originally written in the Greek language, so sometimes words can come across as different that might be more similar than they are in the English.  For instance, temptation and trial are the same word in the Greek.  Temptation and trial are both good translations for the word, depending on context, so don't get mad at your Bible.

But consider:  each temptation is a trial to test your character, whether you will love God more than the apple on the tree, the carrot on the stick, the lover who's beckoning, the image on the screen, the growth of your bank account, etc.  Is God really the "surpassing value" (see Phil. 3.7ff) of your life?  That's the question that our response to temptation answers.

But also, each trial is a temptation.  Sometimes the doctor calls with the news you didn't want (as he did to us yesterday) and the temptation is to go all Job's wife and just curse God and die.  Sometimes the "why" questions don't get answered and the temptation is to think God unwise and uncaring and become apathetic toward Him.  Sometimes the relationship isn't working out like you wished and the temptation is to surrender your morals, your goodness, your common sense, or your decency to manipulate or manage the other person into staying.

Jesus isn't unfamiliar with any of this.  Even He was tempted to give it up right before the victory:  "Father, if there's any way that this cup can pass from me..."

You're never alone, even in temptation and trial.


Just a quick intro to Hebrews.  It's a unique document in the New Testament for a couple of reasons.

First, it was probably a sermon before it was a letter.  That's why it starts the way that it does and doesn't really have greetings, etc., on either end like you see in most of the other New Testament letters.

Second, it uses a lot of comparisons to explain life with Christ.  Christ is compared to angels, Moses, an OT high priest and the mysterious Melchizedek.  His work on the cross is likened to entering the temple to make sacrifice for sin and, more generally, the whole OT sacrificial system.  Because you see a lot of comparisons, you'll also see a lot of OT references to specific Scriptures and more general events.

It's a great little book showing how Christ is superior over everything, especially that which has come before in the people's relationship to God.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

NT75 Day 9: Galatians 4-6 and Testament Tuesday!

I have a tendency.  You probably share it too, or if you don't then you should have a blog and write about your relationship with God.  I'll subscribe immediately.

My tendency:  to think that when things are going great, God must like me and be ready to use me and think I'm a fabulous follower and son.  The corollary to that, of course, is that when things aren't going great God doesn't like me, isn't going to use me, and thinks I stink like pig's slop.

But Paul preached the Gospel to the Galatians because of an ailment.  When I go to the doctor's office, I don't think about preaching the Gospel.  I think about how much God hates me right now since I'm sick.  I might be overstating my case a little bit, but think about your response to trial:  is it opportunity or curse?

Why did Paul have a bodily ailment (4.13), possibly an eye issue (4.15)?  Isn't he the apostle who healed many, who even raised a guy from the dead (Acts 20)?  Can't he even have the faith to see God heal himself?  Why doesn't God just heal him?

Because there are times when our weakness speaks louder than our strength.  Paul even boasted in the weakness he had, using it as a defense against his accusers (6.17).  In our weakness, God gets more glory.  In our weakness, God is seen as stronger.  In our weakness, God is not overshadowed by His gifts or spokesmen.  Sometimes, God allows us to stay weak so we can be more useful to Him.  The question is whether we take the opportunity to minister or just gripe.

Which leads me to my Testament Tuesday portion.  We're waiting today to hear from the doctor on results from the MRI for our oldest last week.  Ginny has lots of details here.  But no matter what the doctor says or how God might work a miracle in the future (medically or supernaturally, we'll take it any way He gives it), God is using and working in our son.  Ginny chatted with someone last night who described him as a joy.  Another person walked up to me Sunday night and told me how much he appreciated my son's servant heart.  Another talked about how insightful and intuitive he is.  I'm grateful for a God who makes much of Himself in our weakness, giving the weakness purpose and usefulness.

God is at work, despite and, at times, within our weakness.  I'll keep my eyes out for opportunities.

For more info on Testament Tuesdays, click the graphic above or see my wife's blog.  Join in and participate!

Monday, September 20, 2010

NT75 Day 8: Galatians 1-3

Without understanding a little context, Galatians can be a little confusing and irritating.  Paul, after all, actually curses at people in this little gem of a letter (twice!  1.8-9).  So what was going on?

Galatia was a region of modern Turkey where Paul had planted churches.  Many of the Jews in those churches had mistaken the Gospel for a new version of Judaism.  So their Gospel went something like this:

Jesus + Law + Circumcision = Eternal Life

Paul's problem with this, and it should be our problem too, is that nothing can be added to the message of the Gospel of Jesus.  He's not who we want Him to be, He is who He is, He said what He said, He did what He did.  Paul makes the argument throughout Galatians that the Gospel is:

Jesus = Eternal Life

You can't add anything to Christ, otherwise His work was insufficient.  He died on the cross but it wasn't enough to satisfy the breach between God and humanity.  So, summarizing, Paul argues that "so we have also have believed in Christ Jesus in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified" (2.16).

That really is Good News.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Sermon Notes from 9.19.10

Here are the sermon notes from today's sermon.  I preached on Jesus' clarifying the nature of life with Him, ingesting both the content of His message as well as His call to commitment from Mark 8.31-38.  To view the notes in PDF and get the sermon audio, visit

Can You See Him?
Mark 8.31-9.1

Content (v.31-32)
  • Suffering & Rejection – experiencing the physical and relational fracture in Creation.
  • Death – dying voluntarily as a payment for sin.
  • Resurrection – rising victoriously as powerful King.

Commitment (v.34)
  • Because the content is true, we commit to Him.
  • We go deeper into the content of the Gospel as we follow Jesus – we do not move on from it.
  • He calls for commitment from everyone, not just a few.
  • Discipleship isn’t a second step in the Christian life – it is the Christian life.

Motivation (v.35-38)
  • Investment – why give yourself to something that’s guaranteed to fail?
  • Purpose – what does the world offer that really and truly satisfies?
  • Exclusivity – is there nothing else I can do?
  • Judgment – will I stand when all is done?

Calling (v.34)
  • Deny Yourself – this is not denying something to yourself but choosing the surpassing value of Christ.
  • Take Up Your Cross – this is not a modest adjustment for an admirer but a consistent pattern for the disciple.
  • Follow Me – this is not a convoy of experience seekers but a prescribed path with Him as our example.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

NT75 Day 6: Matthew 23-28

There's just so much here.

Consider the two failures of the two men who were close to Jesus.  On the one hand, Judas betrayed Him for money.  On the other hand, Peter betrayed Him for safety.  Both felt sorry, Judas so much so that he gave his prize money back.  Peter wept bitterly.  I wonder if that made the difference in his spiritual future. He wept over his sin.

Just earlier we read about those being ashamed of Jesus in the coming age will be surprised by His shame of them.  But Peter repented, weeping bitterly.  Tears mattered.  And restoration came, with ministry as a founder of the church soon on its heels.

No matter who you are, no matter what you've done, Jesus takes the broken lives of those who have betrayed Him (which is all of us) and come to Him.  He receives us and makes us whole.

Friday, September 17, 2010

NT75 Day 5: Matthew 17-22

There are times when I feel bold before the Lord.  I pray in great faith for great things.  I sense and know that God is going to do something, sometimes even what He's going to do.  I preach and minister with strong unction.  I prayer-walk the rows before our Sunday gathering and anticipate how He's going to change people's lives.

And then there are other times.

There are times when I didn't get enough sleep and my emotions are on edge and it's hard for mind to focus.  There are times when I come to God, again, to confess that sin, again.  There are times when I've not parented in love or responded to my wife in something less than a Christlike manner.  There are times in an attempt to be funny that my sarcasm or something else has ended up wounding.  And there are times when I'm just selfish and think I'm entitled to go my own way.

And in those moments, I am glad that Jesus lets little children to come to Him (Matthew 19.14).  Because in those moments I feel so small.  I'm rarely innocent, but I am small.  I'm glad He receives small people posing as grown-ups.  And I'm glad He still desires to give the Kingdom to knuckleheads like me.

But that's just me thinking thoughts...

A Post-Blog Note:  I just got word that our NT75 app is in for iPhones and iPod Touches.  Find it in the AppStore.  Need a link?  Here's one!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

NT75 Day 4: Matthew 13-16

"He who has ears, let him hear."

That's what stood out to me today.  Jesus repeats it, so it's worth listening to - listening to an exhortation about listening.  And it's a good warning.

If you have ears and can physically intake the sound of His words, then you need to spiritually intake the content of His words.  Otherwise you walk around like a person who looked in the mirror and walked away forgetting what he looked like, continuing in ongoing self-deception (James 1).  You become the person who has all knowledge but not love (1 Cor. 8.1, 13.1-3).  Scripturally smart but spiritually small.  Head-knowledge without life-knowledge.  Facts without experience.

Which do you need think the world needs more of today?  And what do you need to apply in order to be that person?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

NT75 Day 3: Matthew 8-12

In a day when we live with a (sometimes rightful) suspicion of authority and a historical inclination toward rebellion, submission to authority is basically a foreign concept.  We submit to speed limits because we don't want a ticket, to taxes because we have to pay, and airport security because we need to get to where we're going.  Hardly any submission is voluntarily and it seems that none is done with joy.

But here is this centurion, a commander of a cadre of hardened, tough, Roman soldiers.  He probably ate his steak rare, drank Guinness, snacked on beef jerky, and listened to Metallica Black.  Nothing about this guy seems like he's the submission-to-authority type.  But he was.

He told Jesus that He knew how authority worked and demonstrated it with his faith:  "Just say the word and the issue is done."  Jesus said He hadn't seen faith in Israel like this, meaning the people who should've known better were too proud and too independent.  But in their pride and independence, they also missed the authority of the Kingdom coming into their lives.

So here is where it boils down for me:  if I want to be a person of authority, I must be under authority.  Submitting brings authority, which is as backwards to our world as greatness from servanthood, the last being first, and so forth.  

Where does this begin?  It begins with submitting to the authorities we can see, because we can't submit to the Authority you can't see if you can't submit to the authority you can.

But that's just me thinking thoughts...

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

NT75 Day 2: Matthew 5-7 (and Testament Tuesday)

This portion of the Scripture is famously called the Sermon on the Mount.  When you read its contents, you will recognize ethical imperatives that have held people captive (in discussion, if not behavior) since Jesus spoke it.  I actually preached through this masterpiece a few years ago, taking 37 weeks to do it.  It really is that good!

A few things struck me as I re-read it this morning.

First, the comprehensive nature of this teaching is stunning.  Jesus deals with some of the big questions of philosophy which have been asked for millennia.  What is actually real?  That which is called the Kingdom of God, His reign.  Who is well off?  Those who are in that Kingdom.  Who is a good person?  The one who has internal righteousness, not just external acts of righteousness.  On and on we could go, but suffice it to say Jesus is God, and He's smart too.

Second, the passage ends with the crowd being stunned.  They'd never heard someone teach like this.  They might have heard snippets or pointers, but never anything like this.  This is how biblical teaching is supposed to be:  with authority and awe.

Third, the assumption of my participation in the spiritual disciplines.  Never did Jesus say, "If you give...if you pray...if you fast."  He assumed we would:  "When you give...when you pray...when you fast."  If Jesus assumed it would be true, then He certainly knows that giving, praying and fasting is a better way to live than not giving, not praying and not fasting.

Lastly, there is a foreign righteousness that comes to us from outside of us.  The most important verse in Matthew 5, maybe in the whole book of Matthew, is v.20.  Unless our righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, we don't get the Kingdom.  That righteousness cannot be bound up in rules and appearances as it was with the Pharisees.  It is ours through trust in Jesus, resulting in authenticity and transformation.

Last comment:  my wife (blog here) has started this thing called Testament Tuesday.  This is my testimony about this particular portion of Scripture.  Once it began to unfold in my life, the message of Jesus and indeed the whole NT has opened to me in a way that I've never been able to get over.  I'm grateful for these three chapters and a book called The Divine Conspiracy which shaped my thinking on it.  I don't buy every jot and tittle of the book, but its thrust has changed my life to be more like Jesus.

But that's just me thinking thoughts...

Monday, September 13, 2010

NT75 Day 1: Matthew 1-4

I saw something this morning as I read the temptation of Jesus in Matthew 4.  Two things struck me...

First, the Enemy will strike, tempt, cajole, condemn, or accuse in the place where I am weakest.  Jesus had just finished a 40-day fast.  Sometimes I have trouble fasting for one day.  For those I know who have fasted for long times (21 days and longer), they talk about the weakness they feel.  Jesus certainly felt the same.  And the Enemy comes and the first temptation:  you want some fresh bread?  Bread has that aroma thing working for it.  Even though it's quiet in the house, I can almost smell fresh bread just because I'm typing about it.  So a question to ponder for you and me today:  where do we consider ourselves weakest?  Craving the approval of others?  Illicitly lusting over another?  Greedily coveting what you see in the neighbor's possession?  Enjoying the angry feeling over the smallest slight?  Perpetually self-justifying what you're doing even though your conscience bothers you?  Whatever you identify, know that the Enemy will come knocking there first.

Second, in the weakest of weak moments, Jesus was convinced that God was enough.  He refuted the Enemy with a quotation from Deuteronomy about being fed by God's Word.  One of the great confessions you can make before, during, and after temptation is that God is enough.  You make it beforehand because you want your mind to be conditioned toward it.  You make it during because that's one way you fight temptation - by focusing on God and His sufficiency.  You make it after in testimony to yourself and others so that you glorify Him for His work in your life.

May God help us all live today with His sufficiency in view.  Amen.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

NT75 Challenge Reading Plan

Here is the full reading list for the NT75 Challenge.  Please feel free to link this post to anyone and everyone you desire.  To link to the post (and not just the blog), click on the title of this post, then copy the address in your browser.

Also, for any just jumping on board here, you might want to take a minute and read the posts below about "how to read your NT."  I tried to include some background info and practical things that might help.

Week of 9/13
  • Matthew 1-4 
  • Matt 5-7 
  • Matt 8-12 
  • Matt 13-16 
  • Matt 17-22 
  • Matt 23-28
Week of 9/20
  • Galatians 1-3 
  • Gal 4-6 
  • Hebrews 1-3 
  • Heb 4-6
  • Heb 7-10 
  • Heb 11-13
Week of 9/27
  • Luke 1-3 
  • Luke 4-6 
  • Luke 7-9 
  • Luke 10-13 
  • Luke 14-18 
  • Luke 19-24
Week of 10/4
  • Acts 1-4 
  • Acts 5-8 
  • Acts 9-13 
  • Acts 14-18 
  • Acts 19-23 
  • Acts 24-28
Week of 10/11
  • 1 Corinthians 1-4 
  • 1 Cor 5-7 1 
  • Cor 8-11 1 
  • Cor 12-16
  • 2 Cor 1-4 
  • 2 Cor 5-9
Week of 10/18
  • 2 Cor 10-13 
  • Ephesians 1-3 
  • Ephesians 4-6 
  • Philippians 
  • Colossians 
  • James
Week of 10/25
  • Mark 1-4 
  • Mark 5-8 
  • Mark 9-13 
  • Mark 14-16 
  • 1 Peter
  • 2 Peter
Week of 11/1
  • 1 John
  • 2-3 John, Jude, Philemon 
  • 1 Timothy 1-3 
  • 1 Timothy 4-6 
  • 2 Timothy 
  • Titus
Week of 11/8
  • John 1-3 
  • John 4-6 
  • John 7-10 
  • John 11-12 
  • John 13-17 
  • John 18-21
Week of 11/15
  • Romans 1-4 
  • Romans 5-8 
  • Romans 9-11 
  • Romans 12-16 
  • 1 Thessalonians 
  • 2 Thessalonians
Week of 11/22
  • Revelation 1-5 
  • Rev 6-9 
  • Rev 10-14 
  • Rev 15-18
  • Rev 19-22

Sermon Notes from Sunday 9.12.10

Here are the sermon notes from the sermon on 9.12.10.  We keep hammering the theme that Jesus isn't who we want Him to be, He is who He is.  In this case, He's the one who calls for our commitment to Him.  I didn't get through all these notes in the sermon, so next week will look somewhat the same.  You can find these notes in PDF format and sermon audio at  May God give us the grace to have eyes to see and ears to hear.  Amen.

Can You See Him?
Mark 8.22-9.1

Some see Him but not clearly.

Some confess Him but don’t know what they’re saying.

  • Suffering & Rejection – experiencing the physical and relational fracture in Creation.
  • Murdered – dying voluntarily as a payment for sin.
  • Resurrected – rising victoriously as powerful King.

  • Because the content is true, we commit to Him – we are free to follow Jesus.
  • We go deeper into the content of the Gospel as we follow Jesus – we do not move on from it.  
  • He calls for commitment from everyone, not just a few.
  • Discipleship isn’t a second step in the Christian life – it is the Christian life.

Content of Commitment (v.34)
  • Deny Yourself – this is not denying something to yourself but choosing the surpassing value of Christ. 
  • Take Up Your Cross – this is not a modest adjustment for an admirer but a consistent pattern for the disciple.
  • Follow Me – this is not a convoy of experience seekers but a prescribed path with Him as our example.

“Because of” Rationale
  • There is no life apart from Him (v.35)  
  • There is no possession of greater value than Him (v.36-37)
  • There is no shame in confessing Him (v.38)

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Remembering 9/11 and Thinking about What Matters

Hard to believe it's been 9 years since the azure blue was sliced by fireballs, black smoke, and shattered lives.  We sang this on Sunday and I've been singing it every day since.  It's a good reminder for what ultimately matters.

My favorite lines:

The flames shall not hurt thee I only design thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.  I love the beauty and tenderness and goodness of God in the midst of trial.

I'll never no never no never forsake.  I love the 3x repetition of that.  Never, no never, no never forsake.  No room left for doubt.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Reading Your New Testament - Wrap-Up

There have been a lot of conversations and interviews and op/ed pieces and blogs and commentaries about Pastor Terry Jones and his willingness to burn copies of the Koran, the holy book of Islam.  Several in the Christian blogosphere have weighed in on why folks weren't more upset when the US Army, at the behest of Afghanis, burned a bunch of servicemen's and other donated Bibles (stories here and here).  But with everything that has come to light, we can say that Pastor Jones is a nutcase in over his head with no judicious way to get out.  Watching his interview on GMA this morning, I actually felt slightly sorry for the wingnut.  Slightly.  My friend Tommy said it well:  there's a difference between legality and propriety.  And while I'm at it, can someone say out loud that violent acts in response to stupid acts are just as stupid?  Why don't we rally in the streets when an American flag is burned in Pakistan?  Enough of that...

What is a holy book?  It's a book full of holy words, right?  That's what separates the Bible from Moby Dick or something of the like.  But it's the message that is holy, not the literal pages or ink or gilding on the page edges.  Some people treat the paper, glue and leather like they themselves are independently holy.

So with that in perspective, I offer the following suggestions for reading the NT in 75 Days Challenge:

1.  Grab a pen and write in your Bible.  I know some take offense at that because it's dishonoring to the holy book (see above, please).  But I think you ought to have pen in hand and write questions, comments, and thoughts that come to you as you read.

2.  Grab a pen and draw in your Bible.  When you look at my personal ESV Bible that I study from, I have circles and lines all around the passages I have studied.  Words that get repeated get circled and often are connected with a line.  That helps me to visually see things that I might not see otherwise and this will certainly be true in the 3-5 chapters that we'll be reading together.  For those familiar with Precept studies, I would suggest you NOT mark every word like you would in your Precept study but instead just the words that pop out of the text to you because of their repetition, etc.

3.  Grab a pen and write on a notecard.  Out of the 3-5 chapters you'll read in a day, take one thing and try to do it.  The difference between the guy whose house crumbled and the guy whose house who stood was whether or not they obeyed what was said (Matthew 7.24-27).  Take that notecard and the one thing you're going to try to obey and stick it in your pocket on the way out the door to work or wherever you're headed.

4.  Read before you feed.  Before you get up and have breakfast or whatever substitutes for breakfast at your house, take the time to read.  I'm guessing it's a 10-15 minute exercise for most folks.  So set your alarm a few minutes earlier, start the coffee earlier, and enjoy the meal set before you in the Scriptures.  If you read before you feed, you won't forget to read and it will probably have greater impact in shaping your day.

5.  Come back to it in the evening with your family or a friend.  Bring it up at dinner or at bedtime.  Talk about it over lunch with your coworker.  If married, let that be the conversation that lulls you into sleep - CSI isn't all that important anyway.  Come back to it often throughout the day.

I can't wait to see how God shapes us all.  We have people from all over the country (quite literally coast to coast) fired up about this and participating with us.  I'm ready for Monday!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Reading Your New Testament - Letters

Outside of 6 or 7 books in the New Testament (NT), its content is basically letters to churches, sometimes called epistles.  Most of those were written by Paul the Apostle, which includes all the letters ending in -ans along with both Timothy letters and Titus (those three often referred to as the pastoral epistles) and Philemon.

A few thoughts on reading those letters...

First, they are letters.  They have a context both historically and personally.  Some address problems, some personalities, some have other purposes.  But they're letters.  If you got a hand-written letter in the mail,  you wouldn't start on page two or only read page four.  We have a tendency to treat the epistles like that:  we find our favorite parts and read them over and over and over again, never setting those favorite parts in their contexts.  Don't do that.  Read the whole letter and see how God is speaking.

Second, as both a challenge and an interpreting tool, you can ask the letter what was going on such that God through the author needed to say that to them.  In seminary, we called this "mirror reading," because we're trying to know what's happening by one part of the conversation - much like sitting next to a person on the phone and by their responses trying to guess what the conversation partner is saying on the other end of the line.  It's sometimes harder to do than others, but it's a good exercise.

Third, because most of the letters were written to churches, don't only apply it personally.  You need to apply it personally, don't get me wrong.  But not just personally - apply it to your church.  Where are the things you're reading visible in your church and where do they need to be visible?  What's your role in that?  How does that change how you pray for your church and its leadership?

Lastly, if you have a hard time understanding a portion of a letter, why someone would say what they said, how you're supposed to translate it to the 21st century, or where to turn so you can understand it better, don't get frustrated.  As a pastor, there are still portions of the Scripture that I don't have a firm grasp on.  Two thoughts:  (1) that doesn't limit its authority over my life because it's still God's Word even though I don't get it and (2) that doesn't mean that I'll never get it, so I should stay humble and keep studying, applying it the best I know how in the now.

Monday's coming and we'll kick off.  I can't wait to see what God does.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Reading Your New Testament - Gospels and History

The first five books of the New Testament (NT) are historical by nature.  This helps in understanding them but it doesn't provide the full picture.  Each of the four authors wrote with a particular purpose and audience in mind and, just as you and I would, tailored the message to that purpose and audience.

Matthew wrote essentially to Jewish folks, which is why you see a lot of Scripture quotations from the Old Testament (OT) in his Gospel.  He formulates those with X happened so that the Scripture "quotation from OT here" might be fulfilled.  Centered around five major discourses, the book is heavy on teaching.  The most famous of those discourses is Jesus' Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7.

Mark is the shortest Gospel account and probably the earliest.  Mark drew most of his material from Peter's recollection.  It's a very fast-paced account of the life, ministry, teaching, death and resurrection of Jesus.  Mark's favorite phrase is "and immediately..."  He doesn't use that as a time-delineator but more as a literary device to keep the story moving along, not unlike an excited teen telling his buddy about the football game on Friday:  "And then...and then...and then...etc."  There's a bit of controversy over the ending of Mark.  I addressed it briefly in this sermon and so will save further discussion for now, but you're  welcome to email me with questions.

Luke writes to Gentiles, meaning non-Jewish folks.  He works hard on historical evidence and accuracy in his representation of God's Son, Jesus the Christ.  He also, notably, includes significant interaction of Jesus with women, raising their status in society.  One famous story from Luke's is the story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15.  Lastly, his Gospel is filled with Holy Spirit talk and action.  That fits perfectly with his account of the early church in Acts, from the Spirit being poured out on the huddled believers in Jerusalem to the Spirit extending the church throughout the Roman empire.

John's Gospel is probably the last one written and written with Greek readers in mind.  There are lots of specific miracles (signs) done in John's Gospel that point to Jesus' identity.  There are also long conversations with folks like Nicodemus the Pharisee (ch. 3) and a socially rejected woman at a well (ch. 4).  The most famous verse in the Bible is in John (3.16, in case you were wondering).  The shortest verse is also in John (11.35, where Jesus weeps over his friend's death and the accompanying sadness of the family).  A long teaching to Jesus' disciples is found in 13-16, with Jesus' longest prayer recorded in 17.  John writes with the purpose of seeing people come to believe in Jesus for life (20.31).

In reading these, you get the most when you open yourself up to their message:  that Jesus is the unique Son of God and those who come to Him in faith are those who experience real life.  Reading for any other reason can make you scripturally smarter but spiritually smaller.  But they're great for reading with families and friends, because they're amazing stories with incredible characters involved.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Reading Your New Testament - Introduction

In light of the New Testament in 75 Days Challenge starting less than a week from now, I thought I'd post some thoughts over the next few days as to how you can make the most of this challenge.  Some are fairly unfamiliar with the New Testament Scriptures (often abbreviated as NT), so let me make some introductions.

The NT was written in the mid to late first century AD, covering about 50 or so years of history.  For those who struggle with dates, something along the lines of 45-95 AD (depending on who you ask).  It is comprised of 27 books authored by God, inspiring 9 humans.  Its books comprise historiographies of Jesus most often called Gospels, a history book, several letters to groups and individuals, a sermon, and a piece of apocalyptic literature (the book of Revelation).

Many wonder about its reliability, asking the question can we trust its revelation of God to us?  The overwhelming answer is yes.  The textual evidence that it was faithfully and clearly and accurately reproduced far outweighs any other piece of literature in Antiquity and even through the Middle Ages.  In other words, since they didn't have Xerox or Kinkos, they had to copy it by hand and did so with great care and amazing accuracy.  You can google "New Testament Reliability" and come up with papers like this one that give historical evidence of God's preservation of His Word for the coming generations.

The bigger question, though, is how you and I will interact with it.  If we pick it up, read it, walk away from it without any intention of doing it, we'll find ourselves biblically smarter but spiritually smaller.  So in the midst of the reading, seek to obey it or find out how to obey it.  You won't regret that.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Theology of Work on the Day Celebrating Workers

On Labor Day weekend, it seems appropriate to blog for a moment about work.  I say this as I listen to the neighborhood lawn care guys mowing, edging, and blowing so they don't get behind this week in their HOA-determined rotation.  I appreciate the fact that there are people all over the United States working on Labor Day, some of whom are there not by choice but necessity in order to keep jobs that feed families.

Paul says in Colossians 3.23, "Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men."  That verse comes in the context of other employer-employee principles found in the master-slave passages of the NT.  For those whose hair on the back of their necks just stood up, please note that while not a direct correlation, the best analogy we can find for those passages is the employer-employee relationship.  For more information, see this link to the commentary on Colossians and Philemon by my seminary prof, David Garland.

As to the passage, let me encourage you to look at three things.

First, look at the inclusiveness of this:  whatever you do.  That means serve as a pastor, physical therapist, photographer, yard guy, salesman, policeman, lawyer, garbageman, doctor, nurse, receptionist, clerk, pharmacist, or rocket scientist (and all in between).  There are quite literally hundreds of thousands of things that can be done to honor Christ in the workforce.  Martin Luther taught that even the milkmaid (the lowest of occupations in the 1500's) loves her neighbor by collecting milk.  And Luther again:  as long as what you do can be done in love for God and neighbor, it is an honorable occupation.  Amen.

Second, look at the intensity of this:  work heartily, or from the heart.  From the inner core of who you are, work.  Don't read "heart" and think "emotions" or "affections."  The biblical heart is the deepest part of the human nature.  Work from there.  There is a passion and unction and perseverance that dwells in the heart which is to show up in our work.  Even in the dullest or most trying times, work hard and well.

Third, the motivation:  as for the Lord and not for men.  Why do you work hard, from the heart when it's tough and dry and no fun?  Because you're not working primarily for you, me, your company, your stockholders, your coworkers, your contractors, or anyone else.  You're working for the Lord.  And it is from the Lord that you will receive reward (v.24).

So happy Labor Day everyone.  Labor well for Jesus' sake.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Sermon Notes from Sunday 9.5.10

Here are the sermon notes from this Sunday, September 5th.  In examining the first half of Mark 8, we looked at motivation and how we can be free to live with God, which I termed "Because Of People."  As always, you can find these notes in PDF format as well as sermon audio at  May God give us the grace and courage it takes to live authentically before Him.

God Sighs (Part 2)
Mark 8.1-21

Religion is the place people run to be respected when they refuse to be real.

Jesus Sighs at Religion (v.11-13)
  • In the heart of the Pharisees was the question of what God could do for them.
  • They related to God so that He would do as they wished. 
  • So That People don’t become giving people, praying people, serving people.
  • Dire consequences result for So That People.

Why do we live as So That People?
  • We don’t know God’s provision and power (v.1-10). 
  • We don’t deal with the idols of our hearts (v.14-16).
  • We don’t understand God’s message (v.17-21).

The Gospel frees us to live as Because of People instead of So That People – not motivated by what God will do for us but by what He already has done for us.

Friday, September 3, 2010

What are you entitled to?

What are you entitled to?

I know you're not supposed to end sentences with a preposition, but, grammar aside, it's a crucial question. Entitlement is a huge issue in the lives of those with whom I do ministry and in our culture in general.  Suburbia is full of it.  The ministry landscape of American Evangelicalism is too.

Are you entitled to an easy life?  Are you entitled to enough money - the "enough" getting defined by you?  Are you entitled to a healthy body or healthy kids?  Are you entitled to the newest and latest (hello iPhone 4)?  Are you entitled to kids who don't whine?  Are you entitled to a spouse who knows your every thought?  Are you entitled to enough sleep?  Are you entitled to people believing your every word because you're a preacher (hello, Ergun Caner)?  Are you entitled to hurricanes missing your town or earthquakes happening elsewhere?

At the heart of these kinds of entitlement attitudes is the belief that God owes me something.  I've done a good job at not yelling at my kids, so I deserve healthy kids.  I go to church, so I should get a promotion.  I do ________ well, so I should get ________ in return.  It's "so-that" relating to God:  I'm doing X so that God will do Y for me.  It's also everything but Gospel.

There are certainly blessings that come our way because we live according to the revealed wisdom of God.  But we balance that with the reality of our broken and busted world where sin and suffering and death are still our foes, defeated foes through Christ but still present.

But that's just me thinking thoughts...

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Rolling out the NT in 75 Days Challenge

I cannot tell you how personally excited I am about the NT in 75 Days Challenge.  No really, I can't.  I'm not even going to try.  But I will try to explain it in words here so that you can jump in with us.

The What

It's not very hard to explain, actually.  We as a church are challenging one another and you to read through the New Testament in a 75-day period this fall.  We will begin September 13th, reading every Monday through Saturday and leaving Sunday for reflection and any catch-up that might need to happen.

Some other helpful information...

You'll be reading, on average, about 4 chapters per day.

For those with an iPhone or an iPod Touch, we have an app sent to Apple for approval that we should have available next week.  I saw the beta version last night and it's cool.  Props to Mike W.

We have cards available in the Welcome Center with the reading list on them.  We'll also publish it on the front page of our website.  You can also email me directly and I'll send you a PDF (my email is trent at heritage park dot org - I wrote that out so spammers don't scan blogger and send me more junk).

The adventure will end the week of Thanksgiving.

The How

One of the things that is going to make this so profitable is having the opportunity to share with others what you're seeing.  It will also help keep you accountable.  To that end, we'll be discussing it for a few minutes in Sunday School classes and small groups.

Parents:  have a discussion each night at the dinner table or on the drive home about what you personally have seen.  For parents of teens and preteens, EXPECT them to participate and then discuss for 5 minutes what they see.  For parents of smaller kids, pick a verse, story, paragraph, or some portion and tell your children what it means.  You don't have to be a teacher and, honestly, your smaller kids aren't going to listen more than about 3 minutes.

Spouses:  encourage one another in the readings and then drift off to sleep after a brief discussion of what you've read.

Men:  you should lead your families in the above.  Step up and man up.

If you need some help on thoughts, I'll be blogging each day about the text and just a thought from it.  You can also check out my wife's awesome idea, Testament Tuesdays.  You can even participate or encourage others in the blogosphere to do so.

But what if you miss?  You probably will, honestly.  But that doesn't mean you stop.  Just pick up and keep reading.  You can catch up on the Sunday following.  Don't let the Enemy, who hates the Truth of God's Word, keep you from it with accusation, guilt and condemnation.

The Why

Some have wondered about this, so let me try to put a rationale out there.

First, no spiritual growth happens apart from God's Word.  Period.  End of Story.  Every step and stride made in the spiritual life with Jesus draws its strength from the Scriptures.

Second, we anticipate that having a concentrated and corporate time to do this will yield a synergy that will be far beyond just the sum of the individual parts.  I have no idea what that's going to look like in November.  But I am believing it will happen.

Third, reading larger portions of the Scriptures help us with bigger picture issues.  We often see how God repeats themes throughout chapters or how stories tie together.  For instance, in last week's sermon text, Jesus sighed at the brokenness of the world.  In this week's text, Jesus sighs at the hardness of the hearts of the Pharisees.  You might miss that connection if you didn't read Mark 7 and 8 together.

Last, taking a challenge like this honors God and His Word.  We're for both.

So jump in with us.  We can't wait to see what all God does.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

I worry about some of my YRR friends...

Collin Hansen wrote a great little book detailing the rise of the popularity of Reformed theology among the younger generation of evangelicals called Young, Restless, and Reformed.  It's a fascinating account of those who fit into that category and those who have influenced them.

But I'm worried about folks who fall into that category.  There's a scary propensity in them (and in all of us, I know) to idolize those they follow or that which they believe or both.  It reminds me of something...

I appeal to you brothers, by the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree though not necessarily about every jot and tittle, every application, every ministry model, every tertiary point, every Bible translation, every worthwhile conference, every podcast, or every option for children's church, but that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and same judgment.  For it is quite obvious on blogs and comment sections of blogs and T4G conferences that there is quarreling among you, my brothers.  What is obvious (to everyone who doesn't absolutely agree with you on every point) is that some of you claim you follow Piper, some are Ligonierists, some drink with Chandler and Driscoll while others abstain with Mohler, some continue with Mahaney while others cease with MacArthur, but at least none are Rick Warren.  Some sit on the sidelines and smugly claim to follow Jesus, which is hard to do when you're not actually doing anything that He did...Instead, let us remember that Christ didn't send the Gospel into the world to convince them of Calvin's best 4 or 5 or 6 or 7 points, depending on how you read it.  He sent the Gospel into the world through untrustworthy folks like us that it might truly be the power of God unto salvation for all who believe.  (my adaptation of 1 Cor. 1.10-17)

Let's follow Jesus.  I don't mean that in some amorphous, spineless manner.  I mean let's say what He said and do what He did.  Let's become like Him.  Above all, let's worship Him, not some theological system which, when worshipped, makes bigger brains but smaller lives.