Saturday, September 20, 2014

A plea for positive [link]

Great article that blessed and convicted me.

Slammed in the Spirit

Hope for a Christian blogosphere that focuses more on God than each other.
Slammed in the Spirit
Earlier this summer, my daughter came home from Vacation Bible School wearing a thick purple bracelet with bright orange lettering. “Watch for God,” it read. To me, it seemed like an incomplete sentence. Watch for God to what? But my mental sluggishness only revealed a spiritual truth: God seems distant lately, and it’s difficult to see him working.

Follow the link for rest of the article.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Biography of Phil Hartman

You Might Remember Me: The Life and Times of Phil HartmanYou Might Remember Me: The Life and Times of Phil Hartman by Mike Thomas
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you are not familiar with the works of Phil Hartman, I pity you.

No, seriously, I do.  “Genius” is most definitely a term that gets tossed about too frequently when describing those who excel in the arts, especially those whose light is snuffed out much too soon.  But Hartman was, undoubtedly, a master of his craft.  And his demise was far too tragic and far too soon.

Other than admiring much of his work and being shocked and saddened by his death, I really knew little about Phil Hartman.  In his new biography of Hartman, Thomas presents Phil as well-rounded and complex.  Nuance is not replaced with a veneer of perfection or a caricature of dysfunction, as so often can be the case in biographies—especially those with the aspect of sordid tragedy.  Instead, Thomas seeks to give the reader a genuine look at a real person.  This leaves the reader with a sincere affection for Phil the person and causes the tragic ending of his life to be felt that much more.

A surprise for me about this work is that it did not seem overly back-heavy.  While the murder-suicide casts a shadow over the whole work(whether in the work itself or in the mind of the reader, it is hard for me to distinguish), this is not a “famous murder let’s make a book out of it” paperback that makes an appearance far, far too often.  This is an honest portrayal of a fascinating and tragic life and offers insight into the lives around him as well.

This is a tragic book.  There is a feeling of watching a tragedy slowly unfold before your eyes with the knowledge of how it will end plus the angst of being utterly impotent to effect any change.  It was sad to me to read how unprepared for eternity the Hartmans were and many of those connected to Hartmans still are.  As much laughter as Phil Hartman brought in his life and career, his death brought that much pain and sadness-even to those of us on the periphery.

If you are an SNL fan, this is a work for you.  If you are a fan of a good story, this is a book for you.  If you are a Phil Hartman fan (which, again, you should be), this is most definitely a book for you.

*I received a review copy of this book.

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Sunday, September 14, 2014

A Vine-Ripened Life

A Vine-Ripened Life seeks to show that spiritual fruitfulness is a result of connection to the vine; that bearing Christian fruit is inextricably linked to our abiding in Christ.  Adding humility as the “chlorophyll” of “the garden of Galatians 5” and seeing the grace of Christ as central to all production, Gale leads the reader in understanding how love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, and humility are results of the presence of God’s Spirit in the believer and one’s abiding in the Savior.

     This is radical love, the sort that distinguishes Christian love from the world’s notions of love. It is impossible to grasp the full extent of Christian love apart from the transaction of the cross. Such love defies all sensibilities. It exceeds all expectations.
     God’s love is the starting point for the fruit of the Spirit we are called to demonstrate. Jesus is our exemplar. We are to love as we have been loved. We emulate the illustration held up for us. We cannot exhibit such love in our natural strength. Love is a catalyst of abiding for the formation of greater love

Joy:  "Joy is nurtured through the exercise of faith in communing with our Lord Jesus."

     The fruit of peace is grounded in the fact of peace. Without that reality of union with Christ, peace is presumptuous. It is no more real or enduring than the relief given through pharmaceutical painkillers that treat the symptoms but not the cause.     When Paul addresses the Philippian church in the salutation of his epistle, he greets them with “grace…and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (1:2). Those words are not empty sentiment or mere formality. They are rich with meaning. They communicate a reality, the reality of redemptive, reconciled relationship with God the Father through Jesus Christ as Lord.      From that foundational reality flows the fountain of tranquility.

Patience:  "One of our challenges in understanding patience is to see its potency and potential as a deal breaker for cultivation of the other fruit of the Spirit: little patience, little rest of the fruit…Patience is not merely a social grace. It is a driving force for growing us in the character of the Vine."

Kindness:  “(S)ensitivity to need and practical expression to meet it is what kindness is all about.”        
“The fruit of kindness not only adorns our lives with Christlikeness; it also sweetens a world reeling under the effects of sin. It introduces this world to the age to come. It carries an agenda, taking into account a need and acting to meet that need. Our Father Himself sets the bar for us in the kindness He has shown us by meeting our deepest need through the giving of His Son, that we might not perish but have everlasting life.”

Goodness:  “Paul is not bidding us to put on tights and a cape and embark on a quest of good works. He is describing ordinary life lived for Jesus Christ, life expressive of the Vine into which we have been grafted by God’s grace. As such, our lives are fragrant to God, ourselves, and others with the aroma of grace.”

Faithfulness:  “Like a skeleton of steel rebar reinforces concrete, so the faithfulness of God upholds us in our lives as Christians.”

Gentleness:  "The fruit of meekness/gentleness is anything but. As we look at Jesus, we see gentle strength. It is power and authority restrained with love and grace. Gentleness does not use its strength or authority to crush, but to handle with care."

     Self-control is more than an internal police force(willpower). It manages the operation center of the believer’s heart… As citizens of heaven, those in the world but not of it, we are to seek the kingdom of God in all we do. That speaks to our ethics, our values, our priorities, our ambitions, our actions, our words—even our thought life. The twists and dangers of the path before us require that we make constant choices in which we are called to deny self and follow Christ. Self-control relates not just to the denying of self but also to the following of Christ.

Gale also devotes a chapter to humility, and he gives a compelling reason to do so:

     Humility acts as chlorophyll to a plant. Chlorophyll serves two primary purposes. One, it gives the plant its distinctive green color. Two, it enables the absorption of light and conversion of that light into energy, a process called photosynthesis.

     As chlorophyll works in a plant to give it its distinctive color and allow it to grow and function in God’s design, so humility gives believers their distinctive hue and helps them to thrive in the Vine. Every fruit of the Spirit is touched by humility. It is an essential element necessary for the production of the fruit of new life in Christ. Humility enables our abiding, drawing us to Christ, driving us to prayer, and drawing on the word of Christ to dwell in us richly. In that sense, it is not numbered among the listed fruit of Galatians 5, but it is present as a nutrient to all.

Many books that address this topic just make you feel bad.  You are left defeated and deflated, with little-to-no desire to grow in these areas.  “I am not patient, I am often unkind. Does ‘goodness’ describe me? Usually not…not to that degree, at least.  Why even try? I’ll never measure up.”  I guess that would be ok if the passage on fruit of the Spirit were a passage of law, designed to show you your failures and drive you to the Lord as Savior.  But it is not. 

It is a declaration.  “These are the Fruit of the Spirit.”  And a promise.  “This is what you will bear if you are united to me, filled by my Spirit.”  So it was encouraging to see these fruit addressed in a manner that left the reader hopeful and excited, rather that overcome with guilt or despair.  Convicted about areas of life that were hindering healthy, proper fruit-bearing, yes.  Guilted to the point of despair over not producing fruit in the manner the author or the reader or whoever feels is appropriate, no.

      To the degree we are negligent in prayer, we are derelict as students of grace. Either we don’t show up, or we show up unprepared and unreceptive. Without prayer, we see ourselves in the mirror of God’s Word, but we quickly forget what He has shown us of ourselves in it. If prayer is not a tool of our learning, the doctrine we learn becomes cold, dry, insipid, and irrelevant. We have left our first love. We may be attached to the Vine, but we are not abiding in it for the fruitfulness our Father desires.
       Prayer reminds us that abiding is not merely connecting to a source of power, like a plug to an outlet. Abiding is more than drawing upon resources outside of ourselves. To abide is to commune with our personal, living Lord. Without ceasing, we seek His care and wisdom and strength in the trenches of life. We engage Him in sweet fellowship, expressing to Him our fears and failures and frustrations. We cry out to Him and hear the assurances of His presence and peace and provision, as He reminds us that He is the Vine in whom we have been grafted by grace.

This is a work that strikes a difficult, but necessary balance.  Gale writes in a manner that encourages a pruning and cultivation that leads to a greater relationship with the vine and that produces more and healthier fruit.  But it does so in a way that does not lead to despair in “failure” or self-congratulatory arrogance in “successes.”  We bear fruit when we are attached to the vine.  Gale encourages us to abide in that Vine.  This is a helpful book.

I received a review copy of this book.

Saturday, September 6, 2014


Doing Missions When Dying is Gain
OCTOBER 27, 1996

My mission statement in life and my church’s mission statement is,
We exist to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ.

I love that mission statement for a lot of reasons. One is because I know it cannot fail. I know it cannot fail because it’s a promise. Matthew 24:14,
This gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.

(And I hope that you know that “nations” doesn’t mean political states. It means something like people groups, ethnic-linguistic groupings.) We may be absolutely certain that every one of them will be penetrated by the gospel to the degree that you can say that a witness, an understandable self-propagating witness, is there.
Now let me give you some reasons why we can bank on that.
The Promise Is Sure
The promise is sure for several reasons.
1. Jesus never lies. It was Jesus who said Matthew 24:14, not me.
Heaven and earth may pass away, but my word will never pass away.

So this mission that we’re on together is going to finish. It’s going to be done, and you can either get on board and enjoy the triumph or you can cop-out and waist your life. You have only those two choices, because there is no middle option like, “Maybe it won’t happen, and I can be on the best side by not jumping on board.” That won’t happen.

2. The ransom has already been paid for those people among all the nations. According to Revelation 5:9-10,
Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.

They’re paid for, and God will not go back on his Son’s payment.
I love the story of the Moravians. In northern Germany two of them were getting on a boat, ready to sell themselves into slavery in the West Indies, never to come back again. And as the boat drifts out into the harbor they lift their hands and say, “May the Lamb receive the reward of his suffering.” What they meant was that Christ had already bought those people. And they were going to find them by indiscriminately preaching the gospel, through which the Holy Spirit would call them to himself.
So I know this can’t abort, because the debt has been paid for each of God’s people everywhere in the world. Those lost sheep, as Jesus called them, that are scattered throughout the world will come in as the Father calls them through the preaching of the gospel.

3. The glory of God is at stake. There are oodles of texts about this. Let me just pick one. Romans 15:8-9,
Christ became a servant to the circumcised in order to confirm the truthfulness of God, so that he might make strong [or sure or reliable] the promises made to the patriarchs, and in order that the nations might glorify God for his mercy.

The whole purpose of the Incarnation was to bring glory to the Father through the manifestation of his mercy to the nations.
The glory of God is at stake in the Great Commission. Back in 1983 at Bethlehem Baptist Church, me and Tom Steller—my sidekick now of 17 years—were both met by God in amazing ways. Tom, in the middle of the night, couldn’t sleep, so he got up, put on a John Michael Talbot song, laid down on the couch, and he heard our theology translated into missions. (We are a God-glory oriented people, but we had not yet made sense of missions like we ought.) John Michael Talbot was singing about the glory of God filling the earth the way the waters cover the sea, and Tom wept for an hour. At the same time God was moving in on me and Noël to ask, “What can we do to make this place a launching pad for missions?” And everything came together to make an electric moment in the life of our church, and it all flowed from a passion for the glory of God.

4. God is sovereign. God is sovereign! A few weeks ago, as I’m preaching through Hebrews, we arrived at Hebrews 6. As you know, this is a very difficult text about whether these people are Christians or not when they fall away. And in verses 1-3 there is this amazing statement (which is just a tiny piece of the massive biblical evidence for why I’m a Calvinist!) that says,
Let us press on to maturity, leaving behind the former things ... and this we will do if God permits.

When we looked at this, there fell across my congregation the most unbelievable silence, because we heard the implications. “You mean God might not permit a body of believers to press on to maturity?”
God is sovereign! He is sovereign in the church, and he is sovereign among the nations! One testimony to this is in the article in Christianity Today that came out a few weeks ago retelling of the story of Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, Pete Flemming, Roger Youderian, and Ed McCully. Steve Saint tells the story of his dad getting speared by Auca Indians in Ecuador. He tells it after having learned new details of intrigue in the Auca tribe that were responsible for this killing when it shouldn’t have happened, and seemingly wouldn’t have and couldn’t have. Yet it did happen. And having discovered the intrigue he wrote this article.
I want to read one sentence that absolutely blew me out of my living room chair. He said,
As [the natives] described their recollections, it occurred to me how incredibly unlikely it was that the palm beach killing took place at all. It is an anomaly that I cannot explain outside of divine intervention.

“I can only explain the spearing of my dad by virtue of divine intervention.” Do you hear what this son is saying? “God killed my dad.” He believes that, and I believe that.
According to Revelation 6:11, when you have a glimpse of the throne room and the martyrs who shed their blood for the gospel saying,
How long O Lord? How long till you vindicate our blood?,

The answer comes back,
Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren should be complete who were to be killed as they themselves had been.

God says, “Rest until the number that I have appointed is complete.” He’s got a number of martyrs. When it is complete then the end will come.
The Price Is Suffering
The price is suffering, and the volatility in the world today against the church is not decreasing. It is increasing, especially among the groups that need the gospel. There is no such thing as a closed country. It’s a foreign notion. It has no root or warrant in the Bible, and it would have been unintelligible to the apostle Paul who laid down his life in every city he went to. Therefore, there are martyrs in this room.
Statistically it’s easy to predict. One Sunday recently there was a focus on the suffering church, and many of you were involved in it. World Missions Fellowship was involved in it, and you all saw videos or heard stories about places like Sudan where the Muslim regime is systematically ostracizing, positioning, and starving Christians so that there are about 500 martyrs a day there.
I get very tired of people coming to look at staff positions in my church, which is in downtown Minneapolis. We all live in the inner city, and one of the first questions they ask is, “Will my children be safe?” And I want to say, “Would you ask that question tenth and not first?” I’m just tired of hearing that. I’m tired of American priorities. Whoever said that your children will be safe in the call of God?
YWAM (Youth With A Mission) is a wild-eyed radical group that I love. I got an email on September 1st,
One hundred and fifty men armed with machetes surrounded the premises occupied by the YWAM team in India. The mob had been incited by other religious groups in an effort to chase them off. As the mob pressed in someone in a key moment spoke up on the team’s behalf and they decided to give them 30 days to leave. The team feels they should not leave and that their ministry work in the city is at stake. Much fruit has been seen in a previously unreached region and there is great potential for more. In the past when violence has broken out between rival religious groups people have lost their lives. Please pray for them to have wisdom.

Now this is exactly the opposite of what I hear mainly in America as people decide where to live, for example. I don’t hear people saying, “I don’t want to leave, because this is where I’m called to and this is where there’s need.” Would you please join me in reversing American evangelical priorities? It seems to be woven into the very fabric of our consumer culture that we move toward comfort, toward security, toward ease, toward safety, away from stress, away from trouble, and away from danger. It ought to be exactly the opposite! It was Jesus himself who said,
He who would come after me let him take up his cross and die! (Matt 16:24 / Mark 8:34 / Luke 9:23)

So I just don’t get it! It’s the absorption of a consumer, comfort, ease culture that is permeating the church. And it creates little ministries and churches in which safe, secure, nice things are done for each other. And little safe excursions are made to help save some others. But, Oh we won’t live there, and Oh we won’t stay there, not even in America, not to mention Saudi Arabia!
I was in Amsterdam a couple weeks ago talking to another wild-eyed wonderful missions group, Frontiers, led by Greg Livingstone. What a great group. Five hundred people sitting in front of me who risk there lives everyday among Muslim peoples. And to listen to them! During the conference they were getting emails, which they would stand up and read, saying,
Please pray for X. He was stabbed in the chest three times yesterday, and the worst thing is his children were watching him. He’s in the hospital in critical condition.

Then they say, “This is a missionary in the Muslim world, let’s pray for him,” and we would go to prayer. Next day another email comes, and this time six Christian brothers in Morocco have been arrested. “Let’s pray for them,” so we did. And so it was throughout the conference. And at the end of it the missionaries were ready to go back.
Do you think I’m going to come back to America and be the same? Do you think I’m going to stand up in front of my church and say, “Let’s have nice, comfortable, easy services. Let’s just be comfortable and secure.” Golgotha is not a suburb of Jerusalem.
Let us go with him outside the gate and suffer with him and bear reproach (Hebrews 13:13).
Suffering is Also the Means

Friday, September 5, 2014

How Can I Be Sure?

How Can I Be Sure?How Can I Be Sure? by John Stevens
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“Lord I believe.  Please help my unbelief.”  The cry of faith and doubt, assured uncertainty, desperate confidence, has been the greatest source of sustained faith for me.  There are others as well, but God has used this desperate cry of a desperate father to spur me on in great seasons of doubt and, at times, despair.  How Can I Be Sure? is a question with which I have personally struggled, mightily.  And it is still, in seasons, a struggle that is much more prevalent than I would like.  I was thankful for the chance to read John Stevens work from The Good Book Company on this very personal subject.

Stevens does much well and very little for me to criticize.  I am sure, if I were a more astute reader or if I just tried really, really hard, I could nitpick or even come up with some genuine concerns.  But, be it the topic or how it is handled, this book ministered to me much too greatly for me to be able to see much wrong with it.  Stevens begins by listing some examples of people, all different people at different stages of their journey of faith, to set the stage for a conversation on doubt.

Is doubt and unbelief the same thing?  Maybe, but not always.  Like a child asking “why”, sometimes our doubt is genuine desire to know God more and the struggle that inevitably ensues when a sinful person seeks to know a holy God in a broken world, but sometimes our doubt is simply rebellious unbelief.  Stevens does a service to all doubters by differentiating clearly between the two.

“Doubt is good” is a mantra that is oft repeated in our pluralistic, relativistic age, but Stevens aids the reader in seeing that, while doubt is inevitable and the result of wrestling through doubt is good for the believer and to the glory of God, doubt is quite dangerous.  One thing he highlights that we may often miss is the peripheral danger of doubt.  It is somewhat obvious that doubt is dangerous for the one doubting because, when left unchecked and allowed to fester, it can grow into unbelief and apostasy.  An all-too-often overlooked aspect of the danger of doubt is its effect on those around us.  Stevens cautions the doubter to not be an island and to honestly express their doubts, but to do so to people who it will not hurt or cause to doubt.  This is a weaker brother argument that is much closer to Paul’s meat and drink position than the typical “alcohol is the devil”, Momma Boucher response of so many.

Stevens deals with issues of assurance, not by looking back at an experience or an earnest prayer or a date the evangelist told you to write in the front of your bible but, by encouraging the reader to trust Jesus and believe the Gospel.  His question is not so much “Have you believed the Gospel?” but “Do you believe the Gospel?”  It is important to note that this “believe” does not preclude doubt, even a season of rather intense doubt, but it is contrary to unbelief and apostasy.  Beyond just mental assent, “believing the Gospel” is inextricably linked, to some degree or another, to growth in Christlikeness.  Though this looks quite different for all and the amount of growth and areas of growth might not be as distinguishable for some as for others, citing 1 John and other biblical texts, Stevens persuasively argues that there is necessarily growth in the life of the Christian.

I once had a friend ask me what I would tell someone who was struggling, desperately, with their assurance.  My advice was to meditate on the Gospel and to avail himself of all the means of grace (corporate worship and prayer, private study and prayer, the mutual edification of Christian fellowship, the hearing of God’s Word read and preached, taking communion and witnessing baptism).  Stevens hits on essentially these items as he guides the reader on, not just how to overcome doubt but, how to “develop a confident faith”.  To flip the proverbial saying, sometimes a good defense is a good offense.  Often, the best way to fight doubt is to cut it off before it appears.  Growing in a confident faith is not a magical force field against the arrows of doubt, but it is the best way to be prepared when those shots begin to be fired.

This is a great book that I look forward to sharing with people.  Get it, read it, enjoy it.

I received a review copy from the publisher through Cross Focused Reviews.

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