Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Lighter Side for the Mid-Week Blues...

Have you heard about the potential health risk for your children? No, it is not H1N1... it is much much worse. Watch, learn, and beware...

The Contagious Gospel

This Sunday I'm preaching from Acts 2 about the "contagious gospel". The good news of the Messiah Jesus not only changes people but produces gospel-contagious people. It turns our lives upside down. It changes our view of money and material possessions. It binds us into a new community. Yet some who claim this gospel (or at least what they think the gospel is) never experience this transformation. They never become contagious. Are they just disobedient Christians or has the true gospel never really penetrated their hearts? Well before Sunday rolls around I thought it would be helpful for you to be refreshed on the definition of the true gospel. Here is a video with Mark Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in D.C. answering the question, "What is the gospel?"

What Is The Gospel? - Mark Dever from Shane Trammel on Vimeo.

My thoughts (and outrage) concerning Roman Polanski

A few years back I saw the movie The Pianist and it was hands-down one of the best movies I’d ever seen. Does this justify the director’s actions three decades prior? Absolutely not. You may have heard of the director, Roman Polanski. Back in March 1977 (the month of my birth) Polanski drugged and raped a thirteen-year-old girl. Once arrested Polanski pled guilty in a plea deal for the lesser charge of statutory rape to be applied. He was let out on bail pending sentencing and for fear of a heavy sentence he jumped bail and fled to France where he’s resided for all these years.

Upon a visit to Switzerland recently he was arrested and is now- finally- facing extradition back to the U.S. to pay for his crime. Hollywood is of course in an uproar over the “injustice” against Polanski. It seems his cinematic brilliance and his humanitarian efforts should exonerate him from his crime. Whoopi Goldberg even went so far as to justify Polanski’s actions, "I know it wasn't 'rape' rape. I think it was something else, but I don't believe it was 'rape' rape.” So we’re rewriting the law books to distinguish between rape-rape and just regular run-of-the-mill rape of a 13-year old? Sick.

The victim has publicly forgiven Polanski but does this mean he shouldn’t pay the consequences for his crime? Apparently Tom O’Neill, the editor for Hollywood gossip magazine In Touch thinks it is absurd to hold Polanski accountable, "It's mind-boggling why they're still pursuing this. It just seems that the prosecutors in Los Angeles won't let go these many years later." He’s not alone. Hollywood big shots like Harrison Ford, Debra Winger, and uber-producer Harvey Weinstein are lobbying everyone from Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to demand Polanski not be extradited.

Weinstein argues in favor of Polanski because of what the famed director has endured in life, “It is a shocking way to treat such a man. Polanski went through the Holocaust and the murder of his wife, Sharon Tate, by the Manson family.” These were truly horrible things for anyone to endure but not justification for rape. Admittedly I’m no expert on the law and have no idea what further punishment should await Polanski (he spent 42 days in a mental institution), but I’m certain that he should face the legal process that is required of everyone else. One lesson that is apparent in this case is how our culture typically views and rationalizes sin. It is so important for Christians to be clear about what sin is and what the ultimate consequences are.

HT: Fox News and The Independent

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Historical Adam

For my church family here is a call-back to my first teaching series on Sunday nights. If you can remember that many months ago we spent several weeks going through the prologue of the Bible, aka Genesis 1-11. I'm still working (slowly) on coverting all that material to book form. My hope is that it can be a helpful resource to understanding the grand plotline of the Bible but dissecting the events of those eleven chapters. Anyway, I came across this blog post (via Justin Taylor's blog) that presents ten arguments for the historicity of Adam. So here is a response to those who might argue that Adam was a figurative figure and not a literal person.

Read and enjoy...

Monday, September 21, 2009

Confronting Idolatry

Idolatry is as real and present a danger for people today as it was for the people of the ancient world. Our present day idols are not just represented in statues but in currency, relationships, religion, pleasure, and possessions. Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in NYC preached an excellent message on this subject which I strongly encourage you to take the time and listen to.

Watch or listen to Keller's sermon HERE.

For the Puritan sermon by David Clarkson on "Soul Idoloatry" that Keller references go HERE.

Unity amidst Diversity in praise of God's Majesty

Last week I attended a meeting in Groves with several area pastors from Port Arthur (which is about 45% African-American, 25% Anglo, 20% Hispanic, and 10% Asian and other) and Mid-County (which is between 93-95% Anglo) concerning a cooperative ministry event. What really struck me in this meeting was how great a responsibility we pastors have to model the Biblical picture of Christian unity in the face of racism, socio-economic divisions, and ignorance. God greated diversity among the human race and we should ignore that diversity with empty phrases such as "color-blind" but as the community of faith our most distinctive feature should be the commonality we all have in Christ. The Apostle Paul said in Galatians 3:28, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus." This pronouncement doesn't erase diversity but signifies the basis for our unity.

So why doesn't the local church reflect what the universal church contains- unity amidst diversity? Why is the Sunday worship hour the most segregated hour in America? These are issues that we need to be wrestling with as God's redeemed and we must strive to see such barriers erased in the visible Body of Christ for the witness of Christ on earth. Revelation 7:9-10 gives us a picture of worship in heaven that might make many congregants on earth pretty uncomfortable. How are we preparing for that worship service through our worship on earth. Here is a video presented by PBS that I encourage you to watch. It features Port Arthur native Dr. Rodney Woo who is the pastor of a multi-ethnic congregation in the Alief area of Houston. Perhaps the Lord will use this testimony to stir a work in our own city...

July 31, 2009 ~ Interracial Churches Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly

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The Truth about Tithing

Every Sunday the offering plate is passed at some point during our morning worship service. This time of giving is considered an integral part of our service because we understand faithful and committed giving as an act of worship. We usually refer to our practice of giving as tithing. So where did we come up with this idea? Should every Christian tithe? What is a tithe anyway? These are important questions to answer. In Genesis 14:20 we see the first example of a tithe gift when Abram (confirmed in Hebrews 7:2) presented a tenth or a tithe of his spoils from war to Melchizedek, who as a priest stood on behalf of God for Abram. This tithe was not to meet any law requirement but was given freely in recognition of God’s provision in war. Once the Mosaic Law was given to God’s people (recorded in books such as Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) a tithing system was established. This system was based on a seven year cycle known as the Shemittah. Various tithes were brought on each year of the seven year cycle. The ceremonial tithing system went much beyond a tenth of a weekly paycheck. The point of this system was to teach the people dependence on God and to use their pooled tithes to aid the Levites, strangers, orphans, and widows as a testimony to God’s presence among them. It was to drive them to faith and lead them to live out their faith in ministry to others. Jesus referred to the tithe in Matthew 23:23 condemning those who miss the intent of the tithe. The tithe system like the other ceremonial laws was not intended as a means to righteousness but ultimately to reveal the people’s lack of righteousness that they might seek God by faith for their righteousness.

God has provided that source of righteousness in His Son Jesus. By faith in His Lordship we are credited with righteousness and are set free from the law (Galatians 2:16-21). So Christians are not bound by the ceremonial laws of the Old Covenant, but there are moral laws that continue to guide us as we follow Christ. Giving as an act of worship and sign of dependence on God is one such moral law. New Testament texts teach giving but do not necessarily mention tithing. For example, 2 Corinthians 8:3 encourages giving what you can afford and 2 Corinthians 9:7 says we should be cheerful givers. In 1 Corinthians 16:2 there is an example of believers giving weekly when they gathered together (this was for a special offering to the persecuted church in Jerusalem). Additionally, 1 Timothy 5:18 exhorts supporting the financial needs of Christian workers devoted to the ministry of the Word and Acts 11:29 promotes feeding the hungry wherever they may be.

So is tithing a Christian discipline? In Malachi 3:8-10 God’s people are warned not to rob God but to collect tithes. These tithes were not taken because God needed money or grain. They were gathered to teach dependence on God’s provision. According to the faithful giving, God would supply for their every need. In Matthew 5:17 Jesus says, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not some to abolish but to fulfill.” This verse helps inform us how we are to read the Old Testament commands. We understand those laws in light of Jesus Christ who fulfills them. Bringing tithes and offerings demonstrate our dependence on God who supplies all that we need in Christ. Therefore we give as a demonstration of our faith in Christ. Those monies ought to be used to magnify Christ. In 2 Corinthians 8:1-5 Paul provides an example of faith-driven, Christ-magnifying giving. Whatever the Lord has convicted your heart to give be obedient to that as act of faith in the Lord Jesus. A tithe or tenth of your income is often a good starting point, because believe me giving up a tenth of my income (before taxes) requires me to trust in God’s provision. That’s a good chunk of change! However, for some a tithe is a token and not a faith gift. Still for others, a tithe is beyond what God has called you to give. Discern the appropriate offering, be obedient, and be faithful. These offerings are our gifts. They are not shares in a company and they do not purchase rights. In response to your faith which is reflected by your obedience God will supply all you need and He will use those gifts toward magnifying His Son Jesus.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?

A couple weeks ago I caught Michael Jordan's Hall of Fame speech. The "wow" I felt upon watching the speech was not the same kind of "wow" I often felt watching him play basketball when I was in high school and college (I won't count the Washington Wizards years). Watching MJ play was to watch brilliance on the basketball court. I enjoy watching greatness and that is what his play was- athletic greatness. He dominated while winning six championships. His recent speech however was a different experience. Jordan was caustic, bitter, and cold. This was certainly not the legend that fans imagined. Of course during his playing days MJ cultivated an image as much as he perfected his game. He was a master at self-promotion. Fans bought into the idea of Air Jordan rather than the man himself. His speech demonstrated the man himself.

On one hand it was a rare glimpse into the true personality of a carefully crafted celebrity but on the other hand it was a tragic example of the emptiness that all the world's trophies ultimately hold. To be the basketball champion and multi-million dollar entity that Jordan became he had to be cutthroat in every way. This is the kind of man one must be to "gain the whole world". At the same time this is the kind of man that "forfeits his soul". After all his accomplishments Jordan showed lingering bitterness toward those who disrespected or underestimated him. On this grand stage he took the opportunity once again to dunk on the heads of all those who crossed him for one reason or another through the years. Here was a man who had reached the pinnacle of the earth's glories and reaches and there he stood... bitter and empty.

Back in high school I had a poster of Air Jordan. On the Hall of Fame stage MJ was a poster boy once again. This time it was not as a champion but as a tragic and cautionary tale of the fading glories of this world. True victory is not found in trophies that pass away but in the fulfillment that is found in Christ alone. I pray Michael Jordan will one day realize the greatest champion is not #23 but the Messiah Jesus.
  • Mark 8:36, "What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?"

Friday, September 11, 2009

Band of Brothers

Last night fifteen men from our church met together at Cowboy Red's for our second "Band of Brothers" gathering. This is our new men's ministry. It is a no frills gathering of guys so that we can just do guy stuff in a God-honoring way. There are some funny moments that come out of these get-togethers but I'm sworn to secrecy. I will say that more meat was consumed than might be thought humanly possible! We are getting together to strengthen the friendships we have and build new ones. I've been asked if the name of this ministry was inspired by the HBO miniseries about WWII. I'd say yes- partially, but the origin of this name comes from Shakespeare's play Henry V. There is a scene when Henry V is rallying his troops to charge into battle on St. Crispin's Day. The clip from the movie version is below.

As men God has given us a charge to keep- to lead out in our homes and in our church. We need to support each other, encourage each other, and hold each other accountable. Proverbs 27:17 says, "Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another." On evenings such as last night I go home built up by the fellowship of my brothers and more strengthened by the assurance of their accountability and friendship to be the leader God has called me to be. It certainly makes me so glad and humbled to be the pastor of such men. I wouldn't want to be anywhere else.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Nine things I love about my Wife on 09-09-09

On 09-09-09 I am inspired to write nine things that I love about my wife Blair. This was not easy to do... because it's hard to limit this list at nine! Okay, I'm not trying to be cheesy I just really appreciate this amazing woman God has brought into my life. She is quiet and reserved in public so most people never really get to see what I see on a daily basis. Here are just a sample of the things I love about her...

1. I love that Blair is so gentle. This is a godly attribute that she exudes and I pale by comparison.

2. I love that Blair doesn’t waste words. I’m a talker and she is much more reserved so when she has something to say it is usually very intentional.

3. I love that Blair sees life through a Biblical worldview. It is essential that a married couple is on the same page here because your worldview shapes nearly every decision and value.

4. I love that Blair loves chocolate. We both enjoy the simple pleasures of life and one of those is munching on anything chocolate.

5. I love that Blair loves to cook… not only because it is a huge ministry to me in our home but because she’s just so darn good at it!

6. I love that Blair will occasionally and only with me burst into random song. It is both sweet and hilarious all at once cause deep inside I think she'd love to be a pop star.

7. I love that Blair let’s me watch ESPN on my lunch breaks and football on Sunday afternoon. She’s not a sports junkie but is okay that I am and she’ll watch with me (likewise I watch a lot of Food Network and HGTV with her).

8. I love that Blair encourages me with Biblical truth in a kind- not nagging- way. I’m the leader of our home but her role as helper requires that sometimes I need nudges and reminders to lead out.

9. I love that Blair is my best friend. The best conversations, the best laughs, and the best stories are shared in our times together. The Lord has blessed us with great friends outside our marriage but our ‘hang-out’ times together are second to none (one tip to cultivate this time- don’t have a TV in the bedroom).

Okay sorry I can't keep it at nine... one more, I love that Blair will be the mother of my son in less than three months. She will be an amazing mom and I wouldn't want to raise a child with anyone else in the world. Praise be to God, I am so blessed!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Grateful Pastor... Amazing Church

Last night I had the privilege of officiating the ceremony for Micah and Meredith Schuff. Blair and I have been able to get to know this sweet couple over the past few months and see how God is working in their lives. It is a joy to see the redemptive love of Christ transform people and unite them together. Today they are enjoying their honeymoon and I am still enjoying what I saw from my church last night. You see Micah has been a member since he was a teenager but drifted out of the church and away from faithfulness to the Lord. Yet the Lord never let him go. About a year ago I went to visit Micah with one of my deacons (only knowing Micah as a name on the membership roll). We reminded him and encouraged him of his need and his responsibility to reconnect with the fellowship of the Body of Christ. God began drawing him back and strengthening his walk in the Word. Meredith was new to our church and had not experienced the kind of family atmosphere we try to cultivate at Memorial. As an engaged couple it immediately encouraged them to have a support group around them but as they planned for the wedding they anticipated a small turn-out.

They still didn't know a lot of people in the church very personally and they had distanced themselves from friends of their past that were not edifying in their spiritual growth. So they expected a few family members, some co-workers, and a small handful of church friends. What they got was a sanctuary full and an overcrowded Fellowship Hall for the reception. They received a pile of gifts and cards as well as a stack of encouraging notes. Needless to say they were blown away and reminded of the fact that they are not entering this marriage without a loving support group around them. It really made me proud (in a grateful to God way) to be the pastor. It was so encouraging to see a sea of volunteers put together a beautiful reception. Many gave of their time and money to decorate the sanctuary and prepare food for the reception. The Body of Christ came together to give a young couple a solid start. It sure makes me a grateful pastor to see my church in one of its finest hours. I have no doubt that those same people will be standing there beside this couple and others to help them throughout their marriage- for better or for worse.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Catholics are On To Something

As one who comes from a Reformed understanding of the doctrines of grace and justification I do not agree with my Roman Catholic friends on many of their positions regarding the sacraments. For example I do not believe that the Church has the power of absolution of sins for the Church is only the body, but the prerogative and power to absolve sins is in Christ alone. Hebrews 7:24-25 says, "Jesus... because He continues forever, holds His priesthood permanently. Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them." Going to a priest to make confession has certain psychological benefit (as the Roman Catholics recognize) but should not be mistaken as providing a means for salvation. That said we Protestants tend to throw the baby out with the bath water. We get so nervous about doing something that is misunderstood that we don't do it at all- even when Scripture commands us to. James 5:16 says, "Confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much." This instruction is given in the context of the local church as James addresses the responsibilities of the elders (local church office) in the preceding verses.

Scripture teaches us that it is good to make confession to one another. We are all priests in this sense for one another (1 Peter 2:9 teaches that we are a kingdom of priests). We intercede for one another. This confessing to one another and prayer for one another is not for the absolution of sins. Christ accomplished that on the cross and through His resurrection from the dead. It is for our daily sanctification- submitting ourselves before God and repenting from sin. Confession is integral to our pursuit of repentance and confessing to others keeps us honest in that pursuit.

So why do we not practice confession to one another in the local church? We have become a privatized society. People drive home from work, pull into the garage, and never engage with their neighbors. Turn on the TV, hop on the internet, or start text messaging and you never really have to engage with your family either. A few years back I mentioned to another man (that I considered a spiritual leader) in the church where I was a member that I was concerned about a particular married couple in our church and their relationship. I felt we should go to the husband and offer help. His counsel was to mind my own business, "You don't bother another man's house." This really disappointed me and it continues to disappoint me how disconnected and privatized a church family can be. This is no different than the world. Confessing your sins to one another is not only a good habit to cultivate, but it is a command. It is a spiritual discipline. We need to invest in each other's live no matter how uncomfortable and awkward it makes us feel. This displays Christ! I'm not advocating having everyone stand before the congregation to air out everything but each believer should have other believers in their local church that they are accountable to and confess sins to. This is part of what it is to daily experience victory over sin and part of what it is to be in the family of God.