Book Review: Your Own Jesus

“Jesus is a person.”

This quote does seem strange, doesn’t it? We often want to think of Jesus as a foreign entity, absent from our lives, not caring what we think, feel, need, or do. We want Jesus to fit into our definition of Him.

That quote comes from Your Own Jesus by Mark Hall, in which he uses practical (and sometimes mind-blowing) illustrations and wonderful writing to compel the reader to develop a relationship with the REAL Jesus, not the Jesus we want Him to be.

The most gripping aspect of this book is the way it incorporates lyrics from Casting Crowns’ songs into the text, giving even more life to songs that already have lives of their own. We get to see the insight and inspiration behind the music.

This book unpacks powerful truth in a language that is accessible to all. If you have ever seen a Casting Crowns concert or heard Mark Hall speak, you will hear his voice on every page. He delivers the reality of Jesus in a concise and multi-faceted way. But he doesn’t stop at letting us know who Jesus is: Mark shows us how our lives should look BECAUSE of who He is. Sin, repentance and forgiveness, living a Godly life, commitment, accountability, prayer, evangelism… it’s all in there.

This book will stretch your understanding of our Savior. A must read.

Your “But” Is Sin

I was having a conversation with a member of the praise band at my church this past Sunday while we were setting the platform for the second service. I was saying how disappointing it is when believers are told that, based on the Bible, there are areas of concern in their lives. But because they want to keep doing it, they say something like this: “Well, I know it’s wrong, but…”

That’s when I said it: “Your BUT is sin.”

We laughed about it at first. But then I got to thinking: anytime we are confronted with the truth of the holy, infallible Word of God and our lives are being lived contrary to the teaching of the Scripture, we have no defense or excuse to continue in said behavior. In other words, whatever we have to say that follows the word “but” in the scenario above is a defense of sin and needs to be reconciled.

You often hear Christians say, “God said it; I believe it; that settles it.” Well, the fact is that it doesn’t much matter whether or not we believe it. If God says it, THAT SETTLES IT. And the same goes for sin. Sin is not up for debate. The Bible is not Wikipedia: we can’t submit revisions.

The Bible says that we are to be doers of the Word, not just hearers (James 1:22-25). When confronted with sin in our lives, we have no defense. The only way to a close relationship with God is to do business with Him as soon as we are aware of behaviors that are contrary to His Word. Our preferences, opinions, habits, predispositions, and misconceptions don’t mean a thing if they don’t stand up to the scrutiny of the inspired Word of God.

This is why it is so important to be in the Word on a consistent basis. We can’t know what God says if we don’t know His Word. That is also why preachers of the Gospel have to be steadfast in proclaiming what the Bible says, unashamed and unafraid.

Oh that my ways may be steadfast in keeping your statutes! Then I shall not be put to shame, having my eyes fixed on all your commandments. Psalm 119:5-6

I Swear to… Well… Me!

Hebrews 6:13 – “he (God) had no one greater by whom to swear,”

This passage (Hebrews 6:13-20) hit me over the head the other day! I love, for lack of a better word, the CONFIDENCE of God exhibited here. Paul is saying that there is no one higher than God. When God made His covenant with Abraham, He had no choice but to unilaterally swear an oath upon the Most High, Himself

God’s promises and His oath are sure. Humans fail. We have all dealt with broken promises and unmet expectations. This shapes our point of view. Thankfully, God is not subject to our perceptions. We can hold fast to His promises supported by His oath.

There are those that go through trials that come to the conclusion that God does not keep His promises. I believe, if we were honest, we would all have to admit that we think this way from time to time. We see our situations through our narrow perspectives and think, “God must have messed up.” Well, He didn’t, He can’t… He won’t.

God does not want His children to go through uncertainty. He wants us to rely on Him as the “sure and steadfast anchor of the soul.” Jesus Christ went before us and, through His ultimate sacrifice, allows us to commune with our Father. His coming was promised even before Adam and Eve were sent out of Eden (Genesis 3), and that promise, like every other, was kept.

Our God is faithful. What He says, He will do. There is confidence to be had if we REALLY GRASP that truth. He knows all about our struggles. He listens. He cares. He answers prayer. He loves us. He wants His best for us. And He can’t fail.

“Blessed Assurance, Jesus is mine!

Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine!

Heir of salvation, purchase of God,

Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.”

“Church Gig” part 2: Where’d They Go?

Having spent my whole life in church, I have discovered that “church gigs” still exist.

As I explained in my last post, musicians that signed on for what we called a “church gig” would likely not go back to the church in question, as they were really only there to get a paycheck.

There is, however, a significant difference between a “church gig” from my college days and today: the modern “gigger” is a member of the church where the “gig” happens to be.

They just don’t show up any other time.

There are many reasons why believers don’t come to church. I have known people that have left church because a pastor pronounces their actions as sin. I have seen people fade in their passion for God and fade from the memories of faithful attenders. Some feel that they can worship at home with the TV churches out there (Of course, notice that there ARE PEOPLE IN THOSE SEATS IN THOSE CHURCHES ON TV, TOO!) (Sorry. Back on topic.).

But the type I am addressing today are those who only show up at church just to do their job. They have been volunteering in a certain post in the church forever, but if there is a service where they are not needed, they find other things to do.

Maybe it’s an elder who isn’t Elder On Call and decides to take in some SportsCenter. Or perhaps the cellist in the orchestra has the week off, so she stays home and gets some Sunday Spring Cleaning done. Or someone works in the parking lot ministry and goes home after all the cars are parked and the service starts.

(Please note: this isn’t an attack on anyone in particular. My church has neither elders, cellists, or parking lot workers.)

Bottom line: if church is unimportant unless we are doing our job, we have missed the point.

As I see it, there are at least three things wrong with the mindset of these volunteers (I addressed vocational ministry in my last post):

1. Their walk suffers. Hearing the Word of God preached, lifting our voices in worship, integrating ourselves in the midst of other saints… all are profitable. Not just serving.

2. It fosters an unhealthy opinion of one’s role in the church. I learned long ago that the church doesn’t NEED me. God, for that matter, doesn’t NEED my service (but He WANTS it). When a person’s sole purpose for showing up at church is to do whatever it is they do and the rest of the time church is optional, that person has too high and opinion of what they do.

3. Going to church may become like going to a job. These people have a tendency to show up out of duty or commitment and not out of reverence and love for our Savior.

Confronted, many of these might say, “At least I’m serving. Many don’t.” And this is absolutely true. Many more are ALSO disobeying God in a different way by rebelling against God’s call to give of their time and talent in the local church. Absolutely.

But I would say to those defending themselves: “Let God decide what He uses you to do. You stay faithful, regardless. God calls us to different tasks every day. He orders our steps. And He wants you in church. Shake a hand. Listen to the message. Worship. Pray. Be a part.”

Agassi I Wasn’t

I have been talking on Twitter lately about my newly-reacquired love of tennis. On Monday mornings, you will find me at the local park, hitting a tennis ball against a wall with a white line drawn across it.

I learned to play tennis by hitting a tennis ball against the wall. The house in which I grew up had a carport with a large brick wall. I would spend hours launching tennis balls at that wall with my beginner aluminum racket.

I learned pretty good technique. What I didn’t learn was how to play against an opponent. I assumed that I could beat anyone I came up against. My thought process went like this: “Come on! Look how hard I hit that last shot! It nearly bounced over my head into the road! I got this!”

Then I played against a person.

I quickly found out that facing people on a real court was NOT the same thing. I figured I would have no trouble winning, but greatly overestimated my ability. I thought I was strong when I was weak.

Many times in our Christian lives, we see others going through sin. In the past few years, unknown numbers of pastors have been forced to give up their churches due to sexual indiscretions. We all have seen celebrities get caught for DUI or drug use or other such things. Politicians scheme and swindle and cavort. Friends divorce. We may think, “I would NEVER do that” or “That would NEVER be a problem for me” or “I would see that coming.”

Do you think those that found themselves in these situations thought the same thing?

Dr. Johnny Hunt said that any sin you are tempted to commit has been a temptation for millions of others. The Bible says that that there are no temptations that are not common to man (I Corinthians 10:13). The rest of that verse speaks of a means to escape any sin, which is a comfort. But the fact that all sins are common is not.

No one is immune from any particular sin. No one. No matter how you’ve been raised. No matter how you think you would react in a particular situation. We are all susceptible to disgracing the name of Jesus in ways we can’t even imagine.

That is why we must…
1) always be on guard
2) don the armor of God (Ephesians 6)
3) spend time in the Word and in prayer daily
4) set up hedges of protection around areas in which we struggle
5) remember that God IS faithful
6) “flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace” (2 Timothy 2:22)

I overestimated my strength and got burned. But that was just a game.

Love You Forever

My wife, Jamy, is an awesome mommy! One of the sweetest things she does is say to our kids, “love you forever!” Then she gives kisses. Melts Daddy’s heart every time!

How much more does God love us?

Romans 8:35-39 is a beautiful picture of God’s love for us. It teaches us that there is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING that can separate us from His love. Nothing. No one. No oppression or circumstance. Nothing we can do or say.

In my last post, I wrote that we have nothing to fear thanks to the God we serve. Verse 37 teaches that the love of God makes us conquerors. Tribulation? Handled. Danger? Not an issue. The sword, persecution… anything? No match for His love. Strong words. Stronger God.

The end of verse 39 says that the love of God is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Jesus Christ was both the perfect example of HOW to love and the perfect gift OF love. Love personified and exemplified. He served and He saved.

We are never alone. We are victors through the love of our Father.

In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. I John 4:10

No Fear

I have my website logo as the home screen wallpaper on my iPhone. My son, Tony, asked me what it meant. I told him that the red circle meant “no,” and the green stuff was called “camouflage.” He didn’t know that word. I explained that it is what army men wear. “Oh,” he said, “so they can hide?”

Exactly.

The God we serve is above all gods. He has no equal. He is Jehovah, Lord God Almighty. He is magnificent. He deserves all glory, honor, and praise. His Son, Jesus Christ the Messiah triumphantly conquered sin, death, and the grave. He is the Risen King. Shortly after Christ ascended, the Holy Spirit came as a Comforter. The same God the Spirit is always with us, always within us.

The might, splendor, magnificence, and love of the triune God are endless. Why should we fear? Why should we hide?

We as Christians have nothing of which to be ashamed. Nothing or no one on this earth to fear. And we have every reason to live in confidence and strength.

There are so many verses in scripture that refer to God’s strength, but I love the beauty of Psalm 62:1-2.

For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation. He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken.

Matthew 5:16 says to …let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. This can’t be done effectively by one living in fear. Or worse, apathy. Or worse yet, shame.

What stops you from living boldly?

Just Listen

Dove of the Holy Spirit
Image by hops_76 via Flickr

 

I have been reading about, thinking about, and praying to the Holy Spirit a lot lately. I think it is way too easy to forget about Him, and it is a shame when we do.

 

I think the reason He is easily ignored is because He rarely shouts.

 

There have been times when I have sought the Holy Spirit’s guidance in the midst of the din of iTunes/iPod/talk radio/web radio to no avail. But when I shut off the garbage and sought to commune with Him, He spoke to me in an unmistakable, yet quiet, voice.

 

Too often, I believe we ignore/tune out His voice because we think of the Holy Spirit as an “it” rather than co-equal with the Father and the Son. Is He any less God? We worship the Trinity, not a “du-inity+1.”

 

Embracing the presence of the Holy Spirit within us is completely empowering! Jesus went so far as to tell His disciples that they needed to stay in Jerusalem until the Spirit came upon them (Acts 1:4-5). Jesus knew that, with Him gone, the disciples would need the comfort and power the Holy Spirit would provide, and they shouldn’t go anywhere less than fully “equipped.” Neither should we.

 

If you are Born Again, you have the Spirit within you. I’d encourage you to give Him room to speak in our noisy world. And when He leads, obey.


Reflections on InnovateChurch 2009

 

In my last post, I reflected on day one of InnovateChurch 2009. I got up early on Tuesday morning, worked out in the quaint little gym at the hotel, read my Bible, and tapped out my thoughts on the first three sessions. I had plans to repeat this process the next day.

 

Not to be.

 

Charles Billingsley described the way I felt on Wednesday morning as a “Holy Hangover.” No workout. Did manage to read my Bible. But use my iPhone to write anything that made sense? No.

 

Enough excuses. Here we go.

 

I have told a number of people this and I repeat it now: I needed to go to this conference for reasons I didn’t know about until I got there. I knew that there was to be a focus on pastors and church planters in particular. What I didn’t know was that the majority of the speakers were led by the Spirit to talk about other things. Things like love. Secret sin. The power of God. Things I needed to hear.

 

First, I’d like to commend Charles and the praise band. They picked great songs and didn’t try to pump us up like some conferences do. They just glorified God in song.

 

There are other websites (including innovatechurch.us) that go into detail about what the speakers said. Instead, I will document what spoke to me (and what I haven’t already tweeted).

 

Francis Chan… One of my favorites before the conference. He spoke on the Holy Spirit and reading the Word.

 

Don’t run from the Word of God. Run to it.

 

Being in church makes us insecure rather than courageous.

 

As education increases, boldness decreases.

 

If you were stranded on a deserted island and read the Bible cover to cover, what would you determine about the Holy Spirit?

 

I need this Holy Spirit.

 

Churches today are so STOPPABLE.

 

I believe in my prayers.

 

Ed Stetzer… Spoke on Secret Sins and Spiritual Power.

 

There are no small sins.

 

If Satan can’t compromise our beliefs, he us more than happy to settle for compromising our character.

 

We should live Gospel-Centered and Repentance-Filled lives.

 

Mark Deymaz… Spoke on building a healthy multi-ethnic church.

 

Perry Noble… Another favorite of mine. He preached the Prodigal Son from the perspective of the older brother.

 

The older brother was sitting in the seat of power. He was lost too, too busy protecting the way things had always been done.

 

If it’s God’s will, it’s God’s bill.

 

Jesus didn’t die for your political party.

 

Greg Surratt…

 

Innovation is the product of desperation.

 

There’s a difference between “dangerous” and “edgy.”

 

Everybody’s good at something, even if it’s being a bad example.

 

Billy Hornsby… Spoke on Three Things That Steal Our Zeal.

 

Chris Hodges…

 

There is no substituting what goes on inside a person.

 

Don’t think about what you’re doing. Think about what you’re becoming.

 

“Surrender to the call of God” sounds like torture.

 

I didn’t stay for the last session with Lance Witt, but I have it on my iPod and look forward to hearing it.

 

These are just some of the notes I took over the latter two of the three days of the conference. God bless TRBC, Jonathan Falwell, the TRBC staff, and all the pastors that spoke.

 

I am praying for all the church planters that are going through with God’s call on their lives. May they have courage to proclaim the Gospel where God has called them. Praise God for the way He is moving.

Virtual Prayer Tour of Wellman Manor

I often like to drift to sleep in prayer. I heard the evangelist in my church’s prayer revival last week say that falling asleep while praying was OK: how better to fall sleep than in the arms of Jesus? While no substitute for my usual prayer time, I like to go over the day in prayer in my last conscious moments.

I’m not sure why I did this. Last night, I started praying, and I mentally walked through my house, thanking God for everything I “saw.” It took a while! Not long into my “virtual tour,” I was overwhelmed by how blessed I really am! I felt like I just wanted God to know that, as best I am able, I don’t want to take anything for granted.

In Mark 6, Jesus told His disciples not to focus on taking things with them for their journey. He wanted them to rely on His providence. Though we all have more to our names than a one tunic, a staff, and sandals, we also should not focus on what God has NOT provided. He has provided much!

Above all, He provided Jesus Christ, the ultimate provision for whatever we face!

I forget who said it, but it’s true: you never see a U-Haul attached to a hearse. God gives us everything we need to serve Him and to give Him glory. May we always be thankful.

Try a “tour” of your own! It will open your eyes.