Monthly Archives: September, 2011

Courageous–A Movie Worth Your Attention

Once again, Alex and Stephen Kendrick have produced a movie deserving of your attention!  I saw Courageous earlier today and I was not dissatisfied.  If you are looking for an engaging story without the unnecessary profanity and sexuality, head to your local theater.  If you believe the movie industry should produce more quality films like Courageous (or their previous projects Facing the Giants and Fireproof), join us–and millions like us–by making a statement on this opening weekend!

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Celebrating Sanctified Sobriety

“Such were some of you”

That is a line from the text of our pastor’s sermon on Sunday.  Here’s the passage:

“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you…”   (1 Cor. 6:9-11a).

Thankfully, Jodi cannot relate to this particular list of rather visible sins (though you could make the argument that covetousness and idolatry are mainly matters of the heart).  For His glory, God protected Jodi from many of the “big sins” that individuals like myself committed on a regular basis.  The term which stood out to me this Sunday was “drunkards.”  If I was anything prior to being transformed by God, it was that.  Allow me to share the story.

Like many of you, I grew up in a world where drunkenness was the norm, rather than the exception.  Getting drunk on the weekend was a passionate activity for adults and teens alike.  Consequently, I found myself consuming massive amounts of alcohol as a teenager.   After high school, however, I became more serious in my attempt to escape reality (or alleviate what I considered to be suffering–my loneliness).  That summer–1984–I was employed by a screen printing company in Wisconsin.  Once I had saved enough money for a down payment on a Jeep, I purchased the vehicle and moved back home (I had previously moved in with my brother so that I could ride a bike to the factory).  That’s when I began visiting the bar after work (2nd shift).  It didn’t take long before I was going to the bar almost every night.  And–as you might expect–I was getting drunk.  To make matters worse, I was also driving.  By God’s grace, I was not an obnoxious drunk, and I never drove over the speed limit (though I probably could have easily killed someone with my seriously hampered ability to react). 

Then came a night which would change my life.

After driving home drunk yet again, I lay down on the living room couch to sleep (Dad had recently installed our first air conditioner–a window unit).  Before I drifted off to sleep, my Mom came out and shared her fears for my safety as she shed tears.  Then, much to my shock, my Dad came out and put a blanket on me.  Needless to say, I was deeply touched by their concern.

I knew that something had to change.

I decided to make that change.

I determined to leave Wisconsin.

In a few short months, I moved to Texas to live with my sister.  That’s where I was informed where the pot at the end of the rainbow was located.  I never found it.  What I found were a couple of dead-end jobs.  I moved from one to another and then was unexpectedly fired.  Not knowing what to do, I turned again to alcohol.  I got drunk.  When I awoke from my stupor, all I could think about was joining the Army.  And that is exactly what I did.  In a week, I was headed to basic training at Ft. Lost-in-the-Woods (Ft. Leonard Wood, MO). 

That’s when I changed.

More accurately, that’s when God changed me.  Allow me to quote 1 Corinthians 6:11 now in its entirety:

“Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.”

Therein is described the miraculous events which changed my life forever.  Did you notice the three verbs?  I was washed.  I was sanctified.  I was justified.  All by the triune God (you did catch the mention of God, the Spirit and the Lord Jesus Christ?)!  In other words, God did for me what I could not, nor would not, do for myself.  He purified me, forgiving me of all my sins–including drunkenness.  He made me holy and set me apart for His great purposes and my great benefit.  He declared me righteous by imputing to me the righteousness of His one and only Son, Jesus Christ.

My story was a concrete example of the famous hymn Amazing Grace which, by the way, was written by a transformed drunkard named John Newton! 

As you can imagine, I was once again filled with gratitude on Sunday as I contemplated the change God made in me for His glory and my good–my temporal and eternal good.  Although those who know me well would describe me as someone who still has a lot of changing to do, I know without question that I am not what I once was.  To God be the glory!

Thanks, Pastor Wayne, for the reminder!

Zambia–The Butterfly-Shaped Country with my attention

I recently finished reading The Land and People of Zambia by Eliza T. Dresang (J.B. Lippincott Company, 1975).  It’s a bit dated but still a very interesting read. 

How much do you know about the butterfly-shaped country?

Honestly, I’m not sure I even knew of its existence prior to my meeting Dr. Ken Turnbull at our church several years ago.  That’s also when I learned of the vision of seeing a God-centered, people-blessing, Africa-impacting college begun in Zambia.  Today, that vision is transforming into a reality.  African Christian University (see the link above) is a dream, a hope and a prayer with traction.  Thanks to God using men like Ken Turnbull and Conrad Mbewe within Zambia, and supportive individuals in the states, a nation rich with history and resources could soon be the home to a university which could impact much of the African continent for the glory of God.

At this point, you might be wondering about my involvement.  Why do I seem to care about something literally on the other side of the globe?  I’ve never set foot in Zambia (though I’d love to do so in 2011 should you send me).  I’ve never met anyone from the nation.  I do not feel particularly called to foreign missions.  So–why am I interested in this project, this ministry?  One word.  God.  He led me to my initial interest in ACU (African Christian University), and God was behind ACU asking me to serve on the ACU-USA board.  As a result of that commitment, I have faithfully prayed, asking the Lord to put the pieces into place for the creation of a much-needed educational institution in eastern Africa which will exalt His name and prepare young men and women to spread His fame. 

Would you join me in that prayer?

If you have yet to visit the ACU website, please follow the link above!  Learn a bit more so that you can pray more effectively. 

In closing, let me share ten facts about Zambia for your reading pleasure (some sentences were taken directly from The Land and People of Zambia):

  1. The climate of Zambia is similar to that of southern California.
  2. Lake Tanganyika is one of the deepest and longest freshwater lakes in the world.
  3. Famous explorer and missionary, David Livingstone, died on the shores of Lake Bangweulu.
  4. Kafue National Park, one the three largest game reserves in Africa, is over 8,500 square miles.
  5. The Zambezi River is almost 6,000 feet across as it plunges downward for 347 feet, making Victoria Falls twice as wide and one and a half times as high as Niagara Falls in North America.
  6. The first Europeans to reach Zambia were the Portuguese.
  7. Kenneth Kaunda was the first president of Zambia, elected in 1964.
  8. For many years, Zambia was known for its rich copper mines.
  9. Lusaka is the capital and largest city in the country.
  10. Zambia is a perfect location for African Christian University! 

Thanks for reading!  For more information, read the book mentioned above, or another volume I purchased from Amaz0n:  Historical Dictionary of Zambia, The Scarecrow Press, Inc., Lanham, Maryland, 2008).  Finally, here’s an awesome photo taken in Zambia:

Living and Preaching God’s Word

Several days ago I was reading a sermon by English Puritan Christopher Love (1618-1651).  He challenged his congregation to be grateful to those who faithfully preached the Word of God to them.  He wrote,

“Beloved, if you are converted and called by Jesus Christ, you will love the Word of God that was an instrument of your call…Second, he (the believer) not only loves the Word, but the minister who by preaching the Word was an instrument of his conversion (“Sermon 3”, A Treatise of Effectual Calling and Election, Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1998). 

Those comments caused me to send my pastor a “Thank you” email.  I appreciate his labor of love each week to understand and communicate the Word of God to me and those in our church.  I also praise God that he deeply desires for his life to compliment, rather than contradict the precepts of God’s Word.  As Jodi and I talked about Love’s sermon, we also thought of several previous pastors of churches we attended.  After further reflection, I am overwhelmed at the memories of consistent, faithful men that God has used in our spiritual lives.  My list includes Ray Hauser, Carter Johnson, Bill Haynes, Al Lewis, David Delmotte and Wayne Layton.  I praise God for these men, and for the others, that God has used in my life to help me in my striving for reality in this transient life. 

Christopher Love’s comments were stated within the context of a sermon on election (the doctrine of God’s choosing some for salvation).  Although he affirmed God’s absolute sovereignty in salvation (the argument of Romans, chapter nine), he is quick to point out that God chooses to use His Word preached by His servants.  This explains why Romans, chapter ten follows Romans, chapter nine!

“So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy” (9:14).

This undisputable declaration is followed by:

“How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher” (10:14)?

God is BIG!  He is in complete control of all that transpires in His creation.  “Christ above all” (the motto of Bryan College) means that His sovereignty covers every aspect related to the affairs of men (including their salvation and sanctification [read Romans 9 and Ephesians 2:1-10]).  And–guided by His sovereign hand–passionate and prepared men preach the Word of God they deeply desire to live out. 

We have all seen the grotesque examples of pastors and Christian leaders whose sins have gone public.  As a result, the church has a bit of a black eye.  However, for every bad example that we have, we could count twenty-five, fifty or one-hundred consistent, faithful men who attempt–week in and week out–to know and live God’s truth!  If you have been touched by such a man, give thanks to God!  I know that today finds me grateful!

Thanks, Christopher Love!

Cascade, Coyotes, Tim Keller and Courage

Cascade is obsessed with coyotes. 

The local newspaper ran a story this week that several coyotes have been sighted in the Blueberry Hill area.  That’s about a mile from here. 

Now Cascade thinks that there is a pack roaming the neighborhood.  Even worse–she thinks that they are hungry for little kids.  I suppose a little fear is a good thing–if it’s a good fear

But it’s easy to become obsessed about our fears.  We all have them to some extent.  Children may have more than their parents, but adults are not immune to the emotion of fear.

Of what are you afraid? 

I’ve been spending quite a bit of time in Acts lately.  If anything, the study of the practices of the 1st century Christian Church is one of courage.  The apostles simply were not intimidated.  After being threatened, they “continued to speak the Word of God with boldness” (4:31).  After being flogged, they “did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ” (5:42).  What explains their fearlessness?  Christ!  The life, death, burial, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ deeply and permanently affected their lives.  Jesus made a difference.  We also see that in the life of the Apostle Paul.  The question for us to ponder today is this:  Is courage because of Christ evident in our lives as well? 

Think on it.

You have fears.  I have anxiety.  How will we respond?  I suppose it depends upon our theology (the knowledge of the words and works of God).  Who is Jesus? What did He say?  What did He do?  These are all important questions with which to wrestle.  The biblical answers to them supply the courage we lack! 

Cascade wasn’t the only one with expressed fears last night.  TJ (he’s eight) was overly emotional at bedtime (not necessarily a rare event).  When I inquired as to what was wrong, he replied, “I’m afraid.”  However, he did not know the reason.  He was just scared.  As any decent father, I attempted to alleviate his fears.  I caressed him as I prayed for him, and I encouraged him to “Be still and know” that God is indeed God (Ps. 46:10).  Resignation to that truth can also enable Cascade to continue to play outside.  It was all that the apostles required as they faced persecution for their faith.  In reality, it is enough for you and I today.  God is God.  Jesus is God.  Believe.  Rest.  Walk in courage.

And–if interviewed–answer questions with courage.  In a recent interview, author and pastor Tim Keller struggled to answer a simple question:  Is Jesus the only way to heaven?  Surely fear was the emotion behind his timid, non-dogmatic reply.  As I watched the clip (you can find it on the link below), I was deeply saddened.  Only fear of men would keep someone like Dr. Keller from answering such an easy question with such a weak, conditional response.  I had so hoped to hear the courageous reply which would have been offered from Dr. John MacArthur.  Larry King would often interview John MacArthur when he desired to hear what the Bible has to say about particular issues.  Dr. Keller would have been wise simply to open his Bible and quote John 14:6–Jesus’ exclusivistic claim of being the only way to the Father. 

In writing these words, a question comes to my own consciousness:  How often have I been fearful of men when discussing the truths of God?  Have I been ashamed of Jesus or His claims? 

May God give us all courage when we fear coyotes or the disapproval of men!

Here’s the link to the blog containing the interview with Dr. Keller.  Learn from his lapse of judgement, but remember that we all have our moments of weakness!

http://solasisters.blogspot.com/

Sucking Ranch at Long John’s

This fall my schedule allows me to spend lunch with Cascade three days a week.  Today I took her out for a treat–Long John Silver’s!

I thought she was hungry.

Instead of eating, she spent her time dipping her chicken and french fries in the buttermilk ranch dressing and sucking it off.  The following conversation ensued:

Cascade:  “Daddy, why am I not eating?”

Daddy:  “I don’t know.  Why are you not eating?”

Cascade:  “I don’t know” (try to envision the twinkle in her eye).

Every now and then (I admit that it’s infrequent) I think I believe what the “empty nesters” tell me–that I will miss these days.

Some days I am overwhelmed at the laundry and mess.  I can envision (the actual memory is quite faint) the serenity of a clean and quiet home.  Some days I even envy good friends of ours who do not have children.

But then there are days like today, days when I simply cannot “get over” the grace of God and the cuteness of my kids.

Have a great weekend!

PS–Here’s a picture of “Babies” (Cascade):

Christian fiction vs. the Book of Romans

I should have known.  Still–the fact caused me to wobble.  I visited a church library this week and found scores of books that fall under the category of “Christian fiction,” but not a single commentary on the book of Romans.

Not a single one.

I’ve often described the books of the Bible as the Himalayas of sacred literature and the book of Romans as Mt. Everest.

Have you spent much time in the book of Romans?  If not, begin doing so–today!  Romans is the theological textbook of the Bible.  Every Christian should be quite familiar with its contents.  Paul’s argument is legendary.  Passages and verses jump off the page with their assertions and exhortations.  So many questions are answered.  New questions are posed and answered.  Simply put–no book of the Bible accomplishes what Romans does! 

I like fiction.  I’ve read quite a bit–from the classics to popular, modern authors.  I’m a sucker for a good story.  To that end, I was excited to visit a genuine used bookstore here in Dayton yesterday.  However, no literature excites me like the Bible!  Last night while Jodi was serving in AWANA and my two eldest children were involved in the program, I was watching my youngest two.  While they enjoyed a video, I continued my study of Romans 9.  What an amazing chapter!  God’s sovereignty and grace are broadcast without reservation!  No doubt, it is a passage which exalts God and humbles man.  Karen Kingsbury and Janette Oke don’t “hold a candle” to the Word of God (they would wholeheartedly agree)! 

Enjoy your fiction.  Seriously.  I bought three novels today at the bookstore.  I’ll read them.  But I’ll continue to meditate upon the text of the Bible, especially the book of Romans.

Won’t you join me?!

I found the following on a blog (the link is given below):

There is no book of the Bible which has been so instrumental in changing lives and in impacting the church as Paul’s Letter to the Romans. Most, if not all, of the great revivals and reformation in the history of the church have been directly related to the Book of Romans. I don’t often list a great deal of historical quotes and facts here. But as a pastor, my calling and my life’s goal is to see the Word of God change people’s lives. More than any other Biblical passage, Romans does that! Read on:

In 386 A.D., Aurelius Augustine received Jesus Christ as his Savior after reading a passage from the Book of Romans. He went on to become one of the church’s most outstanding leaders and theologians.

A thousand years later, Martin Luther wrote, “Night and day I pondered Romans until I grasped the truth. I felt myself to be reborn. This passage of Paul became to me a gateway to heaven.”

Several centuries later (May 24, 1738 to be precise), a minister named John Wesley wrote this about his study in the Book of Romans: “I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for my salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins….”

In assessing the importance of the Book of Romans, John Calvin said, “When one gains a knowledge of this Epistle, he has an entrance opened to him to all the most hidden treasures of Scripture.”

The famous sixteenth-century Bible translator William Tyndale wrote of Romans: “It is the principle and most excellent part of the New Testament… No man can read it too oft, or study it too well; for the more it is studied, the easier it is; the more it is chewed, the pleasanter it is. . . the more it is searched, the preciouser things are found….”

http://goossengrapevine.blogspot.com/2007/01/significance-of-book-of-romans.html

Counterfeit Christianity–They were dying to impress

The contrast between authentic and counterfeit Christianity can–at times–be remarkably clear.  I am thinking–in particular–of the genuine believers described in Acts 4 (vv.32-37), personified in the person of Barnabas–the “son of encouragement” (4:37) and goats-in-sheep’s-clothing–Ananias and Sapphira (5:1-11).  Those who had wholeheartedly grasped that abundant and eternal life is found only in Jesus Christ (5:20) joyfully ensured that they kept a loose hold on their possessions (5:32).  They were so committed to Christ and the community of Christ that they even sold property and homes to meet the needs of others (5:34).  Today we find such communal fellowship odd.  We prefer, instead, a pleasant level of superficiality.  You’re fine. I’m fine (even though you are struggling with porn and I am $100 shy for my mortgage payment).  We’d rather be “fine.”  We’d rather remain at a safe distance.  That “safe distance” seems to have disappeared in the early church.  They were aware of one another’s’ needs, and they did their part to practically help one another “make ends meet.”  Barnabas sold one of his fields and gave the money to the apostles to do just that. 

Ananias and Sapphira had another agenda.

Rather than being moved by a deep concern for others, this couple was dying to impress the apostles.  After selling their piece of property, they quietly decided to announce that they were giving the church the entire amount when–in fact–they had kept some of the money for themselves.  God was not impressed.  In fact, He killed them for their  “satanic”deception (5:3).  The Apostles did not require wealthy believers to sell their possessions.  Neither did they dictate that individuals were to give the entire amount of their sales (see 5:4).  The issue was not the amount but the motivation.  Barnabas was seeking to bless.  Ananias and Sapphira were dying to impress. 

Barnabas succeeded.  Ananias and Sapphira perished in the judgment of God. 

There is a lesson for each us here.  Why are we doing what we do, especially as it relates to our service in the church?  Are we truly seeking to bless?  Or are we dying to impress?

On Monday, I challenged the students at the academy (grades seven through ten) to examine themselves.  I wanted them to evaluate whether or not their faith was indeed their faith rather than the faith of their parents.  I exhorted them to be real–not fakers.

Isn’t that a good word for us all today?

Bonhoeffer, house work, and the importance of theology

In a recent Q & A session in Ministry & Leadership with author Eric Metaxas (Fall 2011, Reformed Theological Seminary), I found the following:

What else do today’s evangelicals learn from Bonhoeffer?

The main thing is to realize that on some level, theology is worthless unless we live it. This is a particular challenge for us as evangelicals–you can say, “I believe this and this,” but at some point God says, “If you’re not living it, I don’t want to hear about it.” Sometimes we can worship an idol of theological correctness. It doesn’t mean that theology isn’t extremely important, and anyone who says it isn’t is wrong. At the same time, it’s not everything, and Bonhoeffer challenges us to understand that the two have to be one–our life and what we say we believe. You can’t fool God with a statement of theology.

Metaxas, I believe, makes a valid point.  Theology needs to be lived.  In this, Bonhoeffer proved very useful to me as a young Christian.  I found his book The Cost of Discipleship to be both convicting and encouraging.  In a very real sense, God used that book to help me learn my role as a husband to Jodi.  Functioning as a servant in my marriage was not an option.  It was required.  Glorifying God (principle) meant doing laundry, dusting and putting away shoes (practice). 

However, that practice possesses meaning when we understand why God should be glorified.  As Metaxas intimates, theology is indeed “extremely important.”  We need to know what we believe and why we believe it.  I don’t know what you have encountered in your conversations with adherents to Christianity, but I have found many more individuals who have minimized theology, regulating the knowledge of God to a secondary issue, than those who might be described as consumed with theological head-knowledge.  I always find that difficult to swallow.  The Apostle Peter commands us to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 3:18).  Obedience (practice) flows from that sanctifying grace and knowledge.  I’m probably “preaching to the choir” again.  I trust you understand the importance of knowing Christ (Phil. 3:8) and knowing about Christ.  Isn’t that why regular attendance at a Bible-teaching church is a necessary ingredient in our spiritual lives?  The church we attend (see link below) helps me to know Christ and know about Christ.  If you attend a church where those two important activities take place, thank God for His wonderful provision.  If you need to find such a church, please let me know.  I’ll help you look!

Have a great Lord’s Day.  Hear God’s Word.  Believe God’s Word.  Live God’s Word.

http://www.grbchurch.org/welcome.htm

The Packers and Packing

Did you see the game?!  Did ya?  Did ya?

The Packers began their season with a big win against a very good team!

Green Bay 42,  New Orleans 35

ESPN writer, Gene Wojciechowski stated:

“The Packers scored so often and so easily, they nearly broke a 92-year-old team record for most points in a season opener. The only Packer not to do the Lambeau Leap was Vince Lombardi’s statue. Otherwise, it looked like a high-jump competition.”

Indeed!  It was fun to watch.  I’m excited about the rest of the season (though I hope we can improve our pass defense just a tad)!

I love fall!  I love cooler weather.  I love the trees changing colors.  I love the Pack.  But I also love something you may not have heard of before–AWANA. 

AWANA is a non-denominational ministry, typically held in local churches on Wednesday nights.  Children are challenged to believe and live the Word of God.  They are also encouraged to memorize Scripture, and they are given rewards if they do so.  Several years ago, someone asked me if I was planning to “brainwash my kids.”  My response was something like this:  “If by ‘brainwashing’ you mean teaching my children the Word of God, then, yes.”  Years later, after watching Jodi and I live out the Bible (consistently, not perfectly), his opposition softened.  Either way, however, my plan remained firm.  As much as I would love my kids to join me in my mild obsession with the Green Bay Packers, it is far more important to me that they know and love the truth–particularly as it is presented in the Bible.  That’s why I so appreciate AWANA on Wednesdays and Sunday School on the Lord’s Day. 

I close with three cheers on this Friday:

“Go, Pack, Go!”

“Go, AWANA, Go!”

“Go, kids, Go!”

PS-The Green Bay Packers art above was presented to me last night by my daughter, Celena!

Here’s a link to the complete  Wojciechowski article on ESPN:

http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/columns/story?columnist=wojciechowski_gene&id=6945635&sportCat=nfl

Here’s a link to AWANA Clubs:

http://awana.org/on/demandware.store/Sites-Awana-Site/default/Default-Start