Wednesday, February 29, 2012

What Comes to Mind?

Chris Castaldo interview:  Dimensions of Gospel Truth: Interview with Tullian Tchividjian

Have you ever taken time to sit down and reflect on what comes into your mind when you consider Jesus? It's rather amazing how many hours we can spend in church ministry without giving serious thought to the question. Since our view of Jesus Christ shapes our faith, and our faith (or lack thereof) inevitably forms our identity, we would do well to give it thought. As A. W. Tozer famously put it The Knowledge of the Holy, "What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us."
Many of us struggle to acquire a biblically informed view of God. Our challenge is not simply seeing through a dark glass; we also have the problem of looking in the wrong direction. In this interview, I talk with Tullian Tchividjian about some of the central ideas that should cross our minds when we hear the word gospel.

Down One of Two Roads

Mark Batterson post:  Territorialism

I think territorialism is one of the greatest deterrents to revival.  Here’s my definition: territorialism is caring more about your kingdom than God’s kingdom.  Plain and simple.  It’s selfish spirituality.  It’s caring more about your reputation than God’s reputation. Too many pastors fall into the comparison trap, but that always leads down one of two roads: the road to pride or the road to jealousy.
A few years ago, the Lord convicted me that it was easier for me to pray for a church that wasfour states away than a church that was four blocks away.  I repented.  Then I startedbuilding relationships with pastors in the DC area.  If we’re going to experience revival we’ve got to have relationship!
I’m praying for revival in our nation’s capital, but I don’t care if it starts with us or some other church. Why? Because there is only one Church with a capital C. I just want in on whatever God does.
One of the things we’re doing during Lent to build relationship with local churches is inviting some pastor friends to come and lead our staff devotions.  We want to hear their story, hear their heart for our city.  So excited to host Dennis and Donna Pisani from Capital City Church this week.  Lora and I count it a privilege to call them friends. So grateful we get to pastor in the same city!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A Revelation Book

Tullian Tchividjian post:  Reading the Stories and Missing the Story

It’s possible to read the Bible, study the Bible, and memorize large portions of the Bible, while missing the whole point of the Bible. It’s entirely possible, in other words, to read the stories and miss the Story.
This is what happened to the two disciples walking on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24.
They were dejected, down, and despairing because the one they had put all their hope in had just been executed. They heard “rumors” that he was missing from the grave but, as far as they knew, these were unsubstantiated claims. As they were walking and talking Jesus came up and walked with them “but they were kept from recognizing him.” Jesus asked them, “What are you two talking about? Why are you so sad?” Looking strangely at this stranger, they asked, “Where have you been? Don’t you know what’s just happened? It’s the talk of the town.” They went on to explain that the one they were banking on to restore Israel to it’s national and political prominence had just been put to death. Their hopes had been dashed, their dreams shattered.
Jesus looked at them and said, “Do you not read your Bibles?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself (Luke 24:27). Jesus showed them that if they had understood what the Old Testament was really about, they wouldn’t have been so shocked by the things that had happened. They knew their Bible’s, but they missed Jesus.
Luke 24:21 tells us what they thought the Bible was about. They read it as if it was fundamentally about their glory–Jesus was coming to restore their prominence, position, and power.
We make the same mistake.
As I mentioned in my last post, we often read the Bible as if it were fundamentally about us: our improvement, our life, our triumph, our victory. And as a result we treat it like a book of timeless principles that will give us our best life now if we simply apply those principles. We treat it, in other words, like it’s a heaven-sent self-help manual. But by looking at the Bible as if it were fundamentally about us, we totally miss Jesus–like the two on the road to Emmaus. In fact, unless we go to the Bible to see Jesus and his work for us, even our devout Bible reading can become fuel for our own narcissistic self-improvement plans.
So, if we read the Bible asking first, “What would Jesus do?” instead of asking “What has Jesus done” we’ll miss the good news that alone can set us free.
As I’ve said before, the overwhelming focus of the Bible is not the work of the redeemed but the work of the Redeemer. The Bible is not first a recipe book for Christian living, but a revelation book of Christ who is the answer to our unchristian living. Scripture, in other words, is the portrait of Jesus. It’s a picture of who he is and what he’s done. The Bible tells one story and points to one figure: it tells the story of how God rescues a broken world and points to Christ who accomplishes this. The OT predicts God’s rescuer; the NT presents God’s rescuer. In all of its pages and throughout all of its stories, the Word of the Lord reveals the Lord of the Word. The plot line of the Bible, in other words, is Jesus-centered. He is the Hero of the Story.
Even though it’s a children’s Bible, The Jesus Storybook Bible is, in my opinion, one of the best resources available to help both children and adults see the Jesus-centered story line of the Bible.
In the Introduction of that book, author Sally Lloyd-Jones rightly explains what the Bible isnot before she beautifully explains what the Bible is. She writes:
Now, some people think the Bible is a book of rules, telling you what you should and shouldn’t do. The Bible certainly does have some rules in it. They show you how life works best. But the Bible isn’t mainly about you and what you should be doing. It’s about God and what he has done.
Other people think the Bible is a book of heroes, showing you people you should copy. The Bible does have some heroes in it, but (as you’ll soon find out) most of the people in the Bible aren’t heroes at all. They make some big mistakes (sometimes on purpose), they get afraid and run away. At times, they’re downright mean.
No, the Bible isn’t a book of rules, or a book of heroes. The Bible is most of all a Story. It’s an adventure story about a young Hero who comes from a far country to win back his lost treasure. It’s a love story about a brave Prince who leaves his palace, his throne–everything–to rescue the ones he loves. It’s like the most wonderful of fairy tales that has come true in real life!
You see, the best thing about this Story is…it’s true.
There are lots of stories in the Bible, but all the stories are telling one Big Story. The Story of how God loves his children and comes to rescue them.
It takes the whole Bible to tell this Story. And at the center of the Story, there is a baby. Every story in the Bible whispers his name. He is like the missing piece in the puzzle-the piece that makes all the other pieces fit together, and suddenly you can see a beautiful picture.
For an amazing article by Sally on the need to teach children that the Bible is not about them, go here.

Best Not To Assume

Kevin DeYoung post:  Don't Assume

It may be the best known Bible verse in our culture: “Judge not, that you be not judged” (Matt. 7:1).
As one of our society’s most popular verses, it is also one of the most misunderstood. Too many people, non-Christian and Christian, take Jesus’ words to be a blanket rejection of all moral evaluation. But given that Jesus alludes to his opponents as dogs and pigs five verses later, it’s safe to think Jesus wasn’t condemning every kind of judgment. We see from the rest of the Gospel that Matthew 7:1 is not inconsistent with strong criticisms, negative statements, church discipline, and warnings about hell. Judgmentalism is not the same as making ethical and doctrinal demands or believing others to be wrong.
And yet, after all the necessary qualifications, we must not mute this important command. As sinners, we are apt to assume the worst about people. We are eager to find favorable comparisons that make ourselves look good at the expense of others. We are quick to size people up and think we have them figured them out. But I have learned over the years–both as the giver and receiver of judgmental assumptions–that it’s best not to assume.
Don’t assume you know all the facts after hearing one side of the story.
Don’t assume the person is guilty just because strong charges are made against him.
Don’t assume you understand a blogger’s heart after reading one post.
Don’t assume that famous author, preacher, athlete, politician, or local celebrity won’t read what you write and don’t assume they won’t care what you say.
Don’t assume the divorced person is to blame for the divorce.
Don’t assume the single mom isn’t following Jesus.
Don’t assume the guy from the Mission is less of a man or less of a Christian.
Don’t assume the pastor looking for work is a bad pastor.
Don’t assume the church that struggles or fails is a bad church.
Don’t assume you’d be a better mom.
Don’t assume bad kids are the result of bad parents.
Don’t assume your parents are clueless.
Don’t assume everyone should drop everything to attend to your needs, and don’t assume no one will.
Don’t assume the rich are ungenerous.
Don’t assume the poor are lazy.
Don’t assume you know what they are all like after meeting one or two of their kind.
Don’t assume you should read between the lines.
Don’t assume you have interpreted the emotions of the email correctly.
Don’t assume everyone has forgotten about you.
Don’t assume they meant to leave you off the list.
Don’t assume everyone else has a charmed life.
Don’t assume a bad day makes her a bad friend.
Don’t assume the repentance isn’t genuine.
Don’t assume the forgiveness isn’t sincere.
Don’t assume God can’t change you.
Don’t assume God can’t love you.
Don’t assume God can’t love them.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Humbling Ourselves

Mark Batterson post:  Holy Experiment

During these forty days when we’re circling II Chronicles 7:14. I want to share what God is doing in my spirit as candidly as I can.
I’m really approaching the 7:14 experiment as just that: a holy experiment.  What if we approached our spirituality like a scientist who does experiments?  Granted, there is a mystical element to it.  But what if we tested the promises of God? I’m not talking about “testing God.”  I’m talking about a testing that derives from trust. You test because you trust.  During these forty days we’re putting 7:14 to the test.  What would happen if wegenuinely humbled ourselves and hit our knees everyday?  I intend to find out.
Now let me be honest. Day one was discouraging.  I flew down to Baton Rouge to speak and I felt tired, I felt distracted, I felt very little anointing. I can’t really explain it.  But on the plane ride back it was like the Holy Spirit said, “Did you think this would be that easy?”  We want to sow and reap instantaneously.  We want to plant the seed and harvest it on the same day.  No. If it was easy we wouldn’t even appreciate it.  We’d probably mishandle the anointing, mishandle the blessing.  This isn’t about what God does on day one, day ten, or even day forty. It’s about establishing a humility habit. We’re going to stop, drop, and pray. We’re going to hit our knees everyday!  Our MO isn’t ASAP–as soon as possible. Our MO isALAT–as long as it takes.
Humbling ourselves is the process of dying to self, dying to sin. And dying to self is anything but easyIt’s the hardest thing you’ll ever do. And it’s painful.  But if you press in, press on, press through you’ll look back and marvel at who you are and who you were. Your old selfish and sinful self will become a stranger.  You’ll look back and say, “Who was I?”  You won’t even feel like the same person.
I feel like I’m having contractions in prayer. Not sure how else to describe it.  It’s like the Holy Spirit is birthing something new in me.  I’m not even sure what to name it.  But I know that whatever it is it will bring new life.  He’s plowing new soil in my heart.  He’s planting new seeds.  And there will be a harvest of newness.  Will it require some pruning? Absolutely!  Butold things have to die if you want new things to come to life.   Old habits give way to new habits. Old thoughts give way to new thoughts.  Old routines give way to new routines.  Old songs give way to new songs.  Old mercies give way to new mercies. It’s a new day. It’s a new normal.

Daily War

John Piper post:  Lent or No Lent, Life is War

Lent or no Lent, not doing some things you feel like doing is the daily pattern for the disciples of Jesus. Yes, daily. “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23).
In the resurrection there will be no self-denial because none of our desires will be sinful or foolish. Till then we have sinful and foolish desires daily. Hence, “Let him deny himself and take up his cross daily.”

What Paul Says

This is so essential in Christian living that Paul made it part of his one-time sermon to Felix (“he reasoned about righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment,” Acts 24:25); he made it part of the fruit of the Spirit (“faithfulness, gentleness, self-control,” Galatians 5:23); he made it part of the qualifications for overseers (“self-controlled, upright, holy, anddisciplined,” Titus 1:8).
And he gave us a taste of the sort of thing he meant: “But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry” (1 Corinthians 7:9). So he means there are times for denying some of the desires we have for sex.
It’s the sort of thing that athletes do. “Every athlete exercises self-control in all things” (1 Corinthians 9:25). Paul had very little trust in the desires his body threw at him daily: “I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:27). That’s an innocuous translation. Literally: “I give my body a black eye (hupopiazō) and make it a slave (doulagōgō).”

The Christian Experience

This is normal, daily, Christian warfare. Only saints delight in the law of God at their depths. Here is how they talk: “I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind” (Romans 7:21–23).
A war indeed. Daily. “The desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do” (Galatians 5:17).
And make no mistake, sexual desires are not our most deadly desires that need daily denial. Anger, resentment, fear of man, discouragement (yes), self-pity, self-promotion, hardness, envy, moodiness, sulking, indifference to suffering, laziness, boredom, passiveness, lack of praise, lack of joy in Jesus, disinterest in others, etc. These need daily killing (Romans 8:13).
Is this Christian Hedonism? Yes. Why does Paul live like a self-disciplined athlete? Simple: Greater joy. “Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable” (1 Corinthians 9:25).

Friday, February 24, 2012

Fighting Poverty

Kevin DeYoung post:  Help for the Poor that Really Helps

The latest issue of Christianity Today is on effective ways to fight poverty. It’s an important topic and I’m glad CT is talking about it. I was especially intrigued by the article “Cost-Effective Compassion: The 10 Most Popular Strategies for Helping the Poor” by Bruce Wydick.
Christians can too easily settle for good intentions. We usually support programs that make us feelgood without considering whether they actually dogood. We need to be smarter about actually thinking through which poverty strategies are most effective. “To answer this question” Wydick writes, “I polled top development economists who specialize in analyzing development programs. I asked them to rate, from 0 to 10, some of the most common poverty interventions to which ordinary people donate their money, in terms of impact and cost-effectiveness per donated dollar.”
These were the results:
1. Get clean water to rural villages (Rating: 8.3)
2. Fund de-worming treatments for children (Rating: 7.8)
3. Provide mosquito nets (Rating: 7.3)
4. Sponsor a child (Rating: 6.9)
5. Give wood-burning stoves (Rating: 6.0)
6. Give a micro-finance loan (Rating 4.2)
7. Fund reparative surgeries (Rating: 3.9)
8. Donate a farm animal (Rating 3.8)
9. Drink fair-trade coffee (Rating. 1.9)
10. Give a kid a laptop (1.8)
No doubt, some experts and donors will disagree with these rankings, but at least this gives a starting place for discussion and should encourage careful evaluation. Read the whole article and think through these issues for yourself. Sometimes helpinng the poor is not as simple as drinking a different coffee.
For more information onn effective mercy minstry check out When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert and Toxic Charity by Robert Lupton. Remember, more important than feeling good–as an individual, a church, or a government–is that we give in such a way as to do good.

Rejoice In One Another

Ray Ortlund post:  Gospel sociology

“As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight.”  Psalm 16:3
As for the saints in the land.  They are in Christ.  That is what distinguishes them.  It is all they need to be distinguished.  Not their own talents or attainments, but what God has done.  God has set them apart to himself.  It changes everything.
They are the excellent ones.  There is much to admire in every Christian.  Just start asking questions.  About thirty seconds into the conversation, the excellence will become obvious.  Rather than rate them, grade them, scrutinize them, to see if they are up at our level, rather than say, “Well, they aren’t perfect,” which is condescending and insulting and irrelevant, gospel eyes choose to observe the many excellencies divinely invested in another Christian.
In whom is all my delight.  This the final step.  It is personal.  It is emotional.  It is wholehearted.  It is so bold that it might be misconstrued as idolatry (“all my delight”).  But the gospel allows for no aloofness, no “wait and see” attitude, no standoffishness.  We move toward one another with intense joy.
The world doesn’t think this way.  We must think this way.  The gospel demands it and provides it.
If we will rejoice in one another for the Lord’s sake, we might live down Anne Rice’s assessment that “Christians have lost credibility in America as people who know how to love.”
Nothing is more urgently needed, in my opinion.

Treasures in Heaven

Ed Stetzer:  Thursday Is For Thinkers:  Kelly Minter

Please welcome Kelly Minter to the blog. Kelly is the author of Nehemiah, an outstanding, new small-group study for women. Having the opportunity to share with women from the stage is a passion of Kelly's, whether it's teaching from scripture, leading worship, or simply singing her songs with her guitar. Her desire is to see women make the connection between the pages of Scripture and their very real, and often hurting, lives. I'm excited to have her share about a recent trip she took to Brazil.

Be sure to comment below. Kelly will be stopping by the blog today and to answer questions and interact in the comments.

Jungle Pastors

I recently returned from the Amazon River in Brazil, my fifth trip there in 3 years. My stomach is a little off to put it politely and I'm recovering from some sort of cold and cough, the strain you pick up from children who are hacking and whose lungs grumble when they breathe.
But what choice do you have, really, than to swoop up a baby girl in your arms who's wearing a VBS Statue of Liberty hat, whose mouth has the stick of a Dum Dum hanging out of it sideways? Germs are part of the price of admission, and those infectious children charge me every time.
I tell you this so you can read this blog post in the context of me being a little sick, worn and weepy. If there's melodrama, you'll know why.
One of my favorite parts about visiting the Amazon with Ray of Hope (a local, on the ground ministry) is spending time with the jungle pastors. I know, it's not what I would have initially thought either. When a place boasts of gorgeous children, vibrant women, exotic fruits, tropical animal life, sunsets that gleam off the rippling river, who knew the jungle pastors would steal the show? (Well, not over the kids and women, but you know what I mean.)
I've had the privilege of interviewing about 30 so far, and when I say interview, what I really mean is I sit there and say something like, "Ready, go..." and then they talk through an interpreter about all the miracles God has done in their lives. Pastor after pastor, story after story; it's like a hit parade of God's faithfulness. These men look as much like the book of Acts as Stephen, Paul, or Peter; They've challenged the furthest edges of my theology without having any idea: "What, you mean God's never filled up your boat with fuel when you've run out in the middle of the river?"
They don't just speak of visions and supernatural happenings, but also of their afflictions - without this piece I may be given to skepticism. Truly they live out both halves of Philippians 3:10, the power of Christ's resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings.
Pastor Francisco Simas particularly stood out to me this year. His face is attractive and dark with loose curls of hair that sweep across his forehead. He recounted the call on his life to leave the city of Manaus and move with his wife to the jungle. His spirit is tender beyond words.
The call came 23 years ago but the tears streamed down his face like it had come that day. He earnestly recounted the agony of knowing he had been called, while his wife, Maria, had already suffered so much in the jungle she vowed never to return. Pastor Simas prayed for God to touch his wife's heart. After all, if he'd been called surely she would be too. While dabbing his forehead - it's hot in the jungle - Pastor Simas looked up and said, "After 2 weeks, God spoke to my wife and she was ready to go." His eyes smiled at the retelling.
The first village he and his wife tended hated and mocked them furiously. There were only 8 believers when they arrived, and apparently even the Christians had their prickly sides too. Imagine that.
Francisco and Maria came with no money and were without a home, forced to string their hammocks up in open areas. Their hammocks were repeatedly stolen, or strangers would just crawl into them at night, refusing to move even when challenged. Pastor Simas' voice thinned as he remembered how he and his wife had to sleep on the jungle floor a few times during those first tortuous years in the jungle. I will never forget him saying, "But God told us to live in the middle of these people and to keep loving them. Just keep loving them."
2 years later Francisco and Maria left that village with 182 people in the church. "To the Glory of God", Pastor Simas said. Everything about him told you he meant it.
As Francisco recounted his years in the ministry, you could feel his call to the jungle was no fly-by-night whim. You can't do 23 years of jungle on whims. I wish I had time to tell his entire story, but 13 bouts of malaria and a team from America that helped him build his first church building.
Francisco and Maria are living out the Christian life in a way I have rarely encountered. Their road is steep and their lot is heavy, but their joy is contagious, inspiring, and worthy of pursuit. Speaking with them has given me much to ponder upon my return.
I pretty much went from conversing with people who'd slept on the jungle ground for the sake of Jesus on one night, to flipping on my flat screen television and watching snippets of the Grammys the next - airplanes make this sort of whiplash possible. I'm not taking a thing away from some of the most laudable singers and songwriters we know, it's just that after sitting with heroic and sacrificial saints whose names most of the world will never know, I laid on my couch wondering if we have it just a bit backwards.
"But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal." Matthew 6:20.
Pastor Francisco and Maria Simas understand this verse in a way I envy. I don't know how it will work in heaven, but if I ever hear an angel say, "And the award goes to...", I'm pretty sure I'll hear their names.