Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Analysis of the California ballot measures

Wondering how to vote on the twelve ballot measures in the November election?

The California Family Council (an affiliate of Focus on the Family) has done us a great favor by reviewing all the initiatives and providing a thoughtful analysis of each. Here are their positions:
  • Proposition 1A - No
  • Proposition 2 - No
  • Proposition 3 - No
  • Proposition 4 - Yes
  • Proposition 5 - No
  • Proposition 6 - Yes
  • Proposition 7 - No
  • Proposition 8 - Yes
  • Proposition 9 - Yes
  • Proposition 10 - No
  • Proposition 11 - Yes
  • Proposition 12 - Yes
For further explanation and in-depth analysis, click here.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

What is a "disciple"?

In my October 17 post, I introduced the new mission statement of our church: "to make disciples of Jesus Christ who love God and love people, by reaching and teaching everyone."

Making disciples is not just the mission of our local church. It's the mission of every church across the world, and of every Christian who is part of the church. Simply put, believers are here to make disciples (see Matt. 28:19).

When I hear the word "disciple," I immediately think of Jesus' colorful little band of followers along the shores of Galilee. While these men were called "disciples," they were only the beginning. After the resurrection, Christ instructed them to go "make disciples" of all nations (Mt. 28:19). They were commanded to reproduce themselves. They began to fulfill this in the book of Acts (see Ac. 6:1; 14:21). And now, two thousand years later, we hold the baton. We must make disciples of the next generation.

But what exactly is a disciple? I believe the word "disciple" captures three ideas:
  • A disciple is a student of the Greatest Teacher. The word "disciple" (Gk. mathetes) literally means a pupil, learner, or student. We are students of the great Rabbi Jesus, who alone has the words of eternal life (Jn. 6:68). But the goal of any "disciple" was never merely intellectual knowledge to pass an exam. A student was like an apprentice. He was expected to increasingly imitate his master. Thus Jesus said, "A pupil is not above his teacher; but everyone, after he has been fully trained, will be like his master" (Lk. 6:40). To be a disciple of Jesus Christ is to follow Him, listen to Him, and walk in His footsteps, becoming increasingly holy, just as He is holy (1 Pet. 1:16).
  • A disciple is a sinner rescued by the Greatest Savior. Jesus was not just the Jewish version of Confucious or Socrates. He was more than just a wise teacher of philosphy and ethics. Jesus actually came to "serve, and to give His life a ransom for many" (Mk. 10:45). As the pefect Lamb of God, He came to lay down His own life as a substitute for our sins. To be a disciple of Jesus Christ is to admit our sin and look to Christ alone for salvation. That's why Christ freely invited people who were weighed down with the burden of sin to "come to Me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Mt. 11:28).
  • A disciple is a slave of the Greatest Master. "What?" you say, "A slave?!" Yes, that's right. Christians are slaves of Christ. Jesus was very clear that there is a cost to become His disciple. "If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own live, he cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross after Me cannot be My disciple ... none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his possessions" (Lk. 14:26-27, 33). Wow. Those are strong words. Having second thoughts about this whole "discipleship" thing? Just remember that the alternative to serving Christ is not freedom. It is serving another master: sin. And while Christ is a benevolent Dictator - always kind and fair - sin is the cruelest of masters.
So when Jesus instructs us to "make disciples" in Matthew 28, He's calling the church to teach people to follow Jesus, invite people to be saved through Jesus, and admonish people to become slaves of Jesus.

Sound impossible? By any human standard, it would be. But Jesus began His Great Commission with an equally great promise: "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth" (Mt. 28:18). Christ has all the spiritual firepower necessary to make this mission successful. So let's roll.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Our loving teacher

While preparing for yesterday's sermon on the love of Christ, I was touched by this quote from Charles Spurgeon, taken from a sermon he preached in 1868. It brings out an aspect of Christ's teaching I'd never thought about before. How loving and patient Christ was with His disciples. And how blessed we are to now have the Holy Spirit as our aid.
[Christ] proved his love by being always ready to instruct [His disciples] on all points. His teachings were very simple, because he loved them so well. The epistles of Paul are, in some respects, far deeper than the teachings of Jesus; for instance, Paul more explicitly lays down the doctrine of justification by faith, of total depravity, of election, and kindred truths. And why? Observe the humility and loving-kindness of the Master. He knew infinitely more than Paul, for he is essential wisdom, but he was pleased, because their weak eyes were not able at that time to bear the full blaze of light, to leave the fuller manifestation of gospel mysteries until the Spirit had been given, and then he raised up his servant Paul to write under his guidance the deep things of God.

His love to his disciples is shown as clearly in what he kept back from them as in what he revealed to them. How loving it was on the part of the great Teacher to dwell so often upon the simpler truths, and the more practical precepts; it was as though a senior wrangler of the university should sit down in the family and teach boys and girls their alphabet day after day, or spend all his time in teaching village urchins simple addition and subtraction.

A man who is thoroughly acquainted with the highest branches of knowledge finds it a terrible drudgery to go over and over the first principles—and yet this very thing our Lord did, and made no trouble of it; he, by the space of three years, taught the simplicities of the faith, and thus indisputably proved his condescending love to perfection towards his own which were in the world.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The true test of professionalism

Baseball offers a wonderful lesson in discipline. Take the first baseman, for example. It might appear to the casual spectator that his job is easy - that he just stands there and guards the base. But in reality, a good first baseman is performing dozens of tiny, seemingly insignificant, acts of discipline. In his book Men at Work: The Craft of Baseball, George Will explains,
When Rod Carew moved from second to first he discovered that a first baseman, far from being immobile, must always be doing something. Watch an excellent first baseman such as Don Mattingly, hold runners on first base. The instant the pitcher is committed to deliver the ball to the plate, the first baseman should make a strenous move, one comparable to that made by a base runner when stealing or participating in a hit-and-run play. "It's like stealing a base," says Keith Hernandez. "Take two explosive steps at the last possible moment. The point is to get into position to cover the hole. You get hurt more in the hole than down the line. Nowadays there are so few dead-pull left-handed hitters...Still, you'll see so many first basemen sitting on the line. Because they're lazy. It get boring over the season to come off the bag. You're tired and don't feel like getting out there." That is a true test of professionalism, this ability to do the small and boring and cumulatively stressful and draining things that must be done during the half of the game when you are at your defensive position.
If discipline is important in the sport of baseball, how much more necessary is it in Christian ministry! Making that phone call, visiting that sick person, planning that event, reading that commentary, praying for that spiritual need - each of these tasks might seem rather insignificant in itself. You might even be tempted to let it slide. After all, who will know the difference? But doing the small things of ministry with excellence is the true test of professionalism.

As Paul told Timothy,

"Bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come...take pains with these things; be absorbed in them, so that your progress will be evident to all. Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you"
(1 Tim. 4:8, 15-16)

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Free Sermon File Addin - an $80 value!

In honor of Pastor Appreciation Month, Logos is giving away their Sermon File Addin. This tool has two basic functions: to catalogue sermons and illustrations. It normally sells for $80 value, but through the end of the month, you can get it for free. Thanks Logos!

Logos is also selling 16 book collections at a discounted price. For more details, click here.

I downloaded the Sermon File Addin on Saturday and tried it out a bit. It looks interesting, but I haven't decided yet if I will use it regularly.

Up to now, I've been saving a digital copy of my sermon notes each week in folders according to category/book of the Bible. I've been filing all illustrations in a simple Microsoft Access database that I created. But since I use Logos constantly, it just might be worth the effort to start using the Sermon File Addin.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The sixties revolution

I recently finished reading The Things that Matter Most by Cal Thomas. I'm a sucker for library book sales, and I found this book at a local sale about a month ago.

Thomas wrote this book shortly after Bill Clinton came to office. What I found so interesting was how the author described Clinton as a child of his times, the epitome of the 60s revolution. This would prove even more true than Thomas realized, as Clinton would later be impeached for perjury and obstruction of justice after his sexual promiscuity and disgracing of the Oval Office.

At any rate, I think Thomas does an excellent job of capturing what really went on in the 1960s. When I read David Well's The Courage to Be Protestant, he said that the private spirituality and rejection of all authority that we see today are deeply rooted in the 1960s. But having not lived during the 60s, I always felt like Wells assumed I knew what he was talking about. Thomas, on the other hand, walks you through that infamous decade and lists some of the distinguishing marks of those times.

Thomas says on p. 3, "To understand why the promises [Baby Boomers] are making to us today won't work, it is crucial that we examine the promises they made before, which they broke." These failed promises then set the agenda for the rest of Thomas' book, as he gives one example after another of how these promises were flawed and have done nothing but wreak havoc in society. Here's the list:
  • The Promise of Liberation from the Traditional Family
  • The Promise of Unrestrained Expression
  • The Promise of Pharmaceutical Enlightenment
  • The Promise of Sexual Freedom
  • The Promise of God's Death
  • The Promise to End Poverty
  • The Promise of Preferential Treatment for the Young and Strong
  • The Promise of Progressive Education
  • The Promise that Bigger Government will do it all for You
Sound familiar? These promises of the sixties revolution are still alive and well today, and are still producing the same empty results. They are tied to a worldview that is essentially humanistic and hedonistic, denying the existence of a just, jealous, merciful, and sovereign God who has revealed His nature and His will in the Bible.

Just as Adam and Eve discovered, when we pursue the promises of happiness apart from God, we are eventually in for a rude awakening.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Our mission

This fall, our church has been asking the question, "What is the mission of our church?" In other words, what is the target, the overarching purpose, the unifying statement, that describes who we are to be and what we are here to do? What has Christ entrusted to us that will determine our faithfulness to Him on the day of judgment? (Mt. 25:21)

Developing a sense of God-given purpose can greatly help the maturity and development of a church. In his book Comeback Churches, Ed Stetzer notes, "Comeback leaders agreed that having a clear and compelling vision was foundational in the transformation of their churches. Casting the vision with other leaders and with the congregation was an integral part of their leadership. Through vision casting, a sense of unity developed as other leaders embraced a new sense of urgency about church growth and reaching the lost" (p. 45).

After much prayer, research, and discussion, our leaders have arrived at the following mission statement:

"Our mission is to make disciples of Jesus Christ who love God and love people, by reaching and teaching everyone."

We're now beginning to share this statement with our congregation and collectively thinking through ways we can apply it practically.

We believe this statement is faithful to Christ's Great Commission (Mt. 28:18-20), while giving a snapshot of a true disciple and a method of how discipleship must be done. We believe it is short enough to be memorable, yet long enough to say something of value. In the coming weeks, I would like to break it down into smaller parts, examining one phrase at a time.

Our prayer is that God would be pleased to use our church and this mission statement to advance His kingdom for His fame and glory.

Photo credit: ogimogi

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The most extreme pro-abortion candidate ever

When Rick Warren asked Barack Obama at the Saddleback Civil Forum about abortion and human rights, Obama responded that this issue was "above his pay grade." That may sound humble, but the fact is, Obama has been clear and consistent during his Senate career and Presidential campaign what he really thinks about abortion.

Princeton Professor Robert P. George observes, "Barack Obama is the most extreme pro-abortion candidate ever to seek the office of President of the United States. He is the most extreme pro-abortion member of the United States Senate. Indeed, he is the most extreme pro-abortion legislator ever to serve in either house of the United States Congress." (To see the evidence for such a bold claim, you can read the whole article here.)

We can't afford to be ignorant on this issue when we cast our votes in three weeks. Millions of lives are at stake.

HT: Danny Akin

Monday, October 13, 2008

Preaching is an act of faith

At the end of a long day, the mechanic looks at the car he repaired, and feels satisfied. At the end of a long season, the farmer looks at the crop he harvested, and feels joy. At the end of a long year, the teacher looks at the children she educated, and feels gratified. But when does the preacher feel a sense of fulfillment?

Hopefully, every preacher does receive regular encouragement from his spouse and parishioners. But I believe our greatest gratification will come when we arrive in heaven. Paul says of the Thessalonians, "For who is our hope or joy or crown of exultation? Is it not even you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming?" (1 Thess. 2:19) How I long to see my flock standing in the presence of Christ, perfected in glory, and to feel the joy of having been an instrument used by God! But that day is still in the distant future.

Preaching is, by and large, an act of faith. Rarely -- if ever -- do I immediately see the full fruit of my labor. Nevertheless, over the long haul, preaching is one of the most fundamental and important aspects of my ministry as a pastor.

When I study, pray, and preach, I'm trusting that God will use His Word to convict, convert, encourage, and accomplish all His divine purposes. The results may not be instantaneous, but as the years go by, I can expect that God will progressively sanctify people through the preaching of His Word. Some effects, I may witness in my lifetime. Other effects, I may never see this side of heaven. But this much I know: God will use His Word to bring results:

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, And do not return there without watering the earth And making it bear and sprout, And furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater; So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It will not return to Me empty, Without accomplishing what I desire, And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it. (Is. 55:10-11)

I am watching over My word to perform it. (Jer. 1:12)

For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (1 Cor. 1:18)

For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe. (1 Thess. 2:13)

These Scriptures help me not to grow discouraged or distracted from preaching. They remind me that I serve God's people best on Sunday when I serve them a steady diet of God's Word.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Depending on God in this economic crisis

The economic tailspin continues. FoxNews reports this morning, "Amidst the greatest financial crisis in the U.S. since the Great Depression, the Dow is on pace to suffer its worst weekly plunge in its 112-year history even as reports of another government-led financial rescue swirl. "

Families, banks, and even the federal government are taking desperate measures to stave off a full-blown recession or depression. But in the midst of this crisis, we must not forget to turn to the Lord for help. Depending on God is the safest and most fundamental step we can take in this turbulent time.

Centuries ago, when the Israelities felt the threat of war from their enemies, they took drastic military measures to protect themselves:

In that day you depended on the weapons of the house of the forest, And you saw that the breaches in the wall of the city of David were many; And you collected the waters of the lower pool. Then you counted the houses of Jerusalem and tore down houses to fortify the wall. And you made a reservoir between the two walls for the waters of the old pool. (Isaiah 22:8-11)

All these things made good sense. But Israel neglected the one thing that was most important: to trust in God. Verse 11 continues,

But you did not depend on Him who made it, nor did you take into consideration Him who planned it long ago.

From a military standpoint, weapons, fortifications, and a reliable water supply were all good measures to take. But apart from God, these things were impotent to save Israel.

Likewise, government bailouts, interest rate adjustments, CEO changes, and other emergency actions might prevent financial calamity, but apart from God, these things will not ultimately rescue us.

In this season of turmoil, God is calling us to stop trusting in human institutions and worldly riches, and to submit to Jesus as Savior and Lord of our lives. Let us start depending on the One who made us, who gave us our money, and who instilled within us the principles for a free market economy. He alone is unchanging and ultimately in control over all things. And He calls for our absolute trust, not only for financial provision, but for eternal salvation.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

I got a 'B' on the US citizenship test

Here's a sampling of questions from the new US citizenship test:

1. What does the Constitution do?
2. What do we call the first 10 amendments to the Constitution?
3. Name one branch or part of the government.
4. We elect a U.S. representative for how many years?
5. How many justices are on the Supreme Court?
6. How old do citizens have to be to vote for President?
7. When is the last day you can send in federal income tax forms?
8. There were 13 original states. Name three.
9. Who was president during World War I?
10. Name one U.S. territory.

For answers and the full story, click here.

So, how did you do? I scored 8 out of 10. 6 or more is a passing grade. Whew! I guess I qualify to be a US citizen!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Our hiding place

"A prairie fire was whipped along by the wind so fast that it overtook all creatures in its path. One family, seeing the impossibility of outrunning the blaze, began a backfire and then covered themselves with earth as they lay in the midst of the already burned-out circle. The roaring fire met the backfire and it burned only up to the edge of that burned-over area, then went right around it, continuing on its hungry race. That family was saved. They knew the only safe place was where the fire had already burned.

"The fire of God's wrath has touched down at one particular point in history. And when it did, it utterly consumed a man as he hung on a cross. It did not burn a large area, but it finalized God's work of judgment. The fire of God's wrath will come again in history. This time it will consume the whole earth. Will there be any place to hide? Only on the hill where that cross stood, where the fire has already burned. A person is forgiven if he identifies with Christ who on the cross bore God's judgment for sin. Jesus Christ is our burned-over area, the only safe hiding place." (Will Metzger, Tell the Truth, p. 75)

This communion Sunday, I come to the Lord's table thankful that God's holy wrath has already been poured out upon His Son. I am safe at the foot of the cross.

Photo credit:

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Big bear trip

Here are some highlights from last week's trip in Big Bear, and our weekend back at home. I've come to realize that it's impossible to "get lots of rest" on vacation when you have two young children. Nevertheless, we had a wonderful time, and made some great family memories!

New Blog

Today I'm closing up shop and launching a new blog called Pinch of Clay. You can visit it by clicking here . Please stop by and...