Saturday, July 23, 2011

Battle of the Bulge: Identity Change

I met with my Together in Ministry group this week. Our Together in Ministry group is a group of American Baptist Pastors in Southeast Colorado. In our group there is one other person who is experiencing significant weight loss. Actually, Mike is experiencing more significant weight loss than I.

I do not share about the group that often on my blog, because much of what we discuss is confidential. But I believe what I am about to share is more of a personal reflection, and does not fall under the auspices of our confidentiality agreement.

My friend Mike has lost over 100 pounds. He refers to the person he was before his weight loss as another person named "Fat Mike". He shows us a picture and says, "There is Fat Mike!". He discusses his person before fall of last year as "Fat Mike" as well. He presents himself as a person whose personality, attitude, and character has been made into a different person becaue he lost weight.

I am intrigued by this. One thing you often hear from people without profound weight struggles is that they often don't like it when their friends that are large people lose weight because they go from being kind and fun-loving to being mean,agressive and overly-serious. I have not heard this about my friend, mind you, but I have heard it before when I was trying to lose weight.

This makes me think. Do people change personalities when they lose weight? Do other people simply percieve folks different when they are thinner? Is weight loss, in the end, a converstion process?

My first thought is that I hope not. I look forward to being able to accomplish things I could not before as I lose weight. I look forward to getting into better clothes. I even look forward to renewed spiritual insight and depth through the weight loss process. But I hope to have a positive, joyful continuity between the person I am and the person I am becoming.

I don't want to become arrogant. I don't want to become one of those people who looks down on people that have a hard time losing weight after I lose more weight because if I was able to lose it they should too. I don't want to be the guy that shills for some weight loss method or another because I think everyone should do what I do.

I do want to feel different. I want to feel stronger. I want to feel more attractive. I want to feel more confident. In those ways I hope to change. But I also want to be the same me I have always been.

Have you lost a weight in the past? Do you see your personality change when you do lose weight? In what ways? Have you seen other people's personality change when they have lost weight? For the worse or for the better?

Friday, July 22, 2011

Old Time Religion is not that Old

Last week, at a concert in the park, one of the groups began to lead the congregation in the song, "Give me that Old Time Religion". I have always loved the peppy, simple way that this song encourages religious sentiment. I have also always wondered what Old Time Religion is.

The song engenders an attitude in many in fundamental and evangelical churches. That attitude is that the religious experience of the evangelical church of 50-70 years ago is historic Christianity. Yet much of the "old time religion" is not historic Christianity. Instead it is rooted in revivalism in 18th and 19th century America and England.

Here are a few examples:

Sunday School--In many churches people believe that Sunday School has always existed in churches just like worship has. This is simply not the case. Sunday School began as an outreach to poverty-stricken children. Children were taught how to read and write by church people after worship on Sunday because poor children had to work every other day of the week.

It was not until the mid 19th century that Sunday School moved away from that early mission and toward using Sunday School as a bible study time for people of all ages before worship.

Hymnody--Someday, if you get a chance, find a hymn book. Read the dates when most of the songs were written. You will find that most of our most loved hymns were written in the late 18th and 19th centuries. Much of what many Baptist congregations call hymns are actually gospel songs written between the Civil War and World War II.

End Times BeliefMuch of what people believe about end times in conservative evangelical circles is derived from 18th and 19th century teachers and evanglists. Some of these beliefs were in contrast to the clearly stated beliefs of the Reformers and even some of the Church Fathers.

The 18th and 19th century teachers were pretribulation rapture, premillenial dispensationalists for the most part. These folks believe the Bible teaches a rapture followed by seven years of tribulation with a literal anti-Christ that brings about the end of the world. Most popular of these dispensationalists was a man named Scofield, who created the Scofield Reference Bible that holds sway in many churches today.

The Reformers and the Church Fathers had diverse opinions on the end times, but for the most part they were partial preterist, meaning that they believed that much (but not all) of the book of Revelation was describing the experience of the early church and the church throughout history. Also, most historic Christian theologians were amillenial. This means that they believed that the thousand year reign described in Revelation 20 describes Christ's Lordship of the Church throughout history.

"Old Time Religion" does not believe in a rapture that is followed by a series of events, followed by a millenium, followed by a final judgement. That chronology is popularized and promoted in the last couple of centuries. Instead historic Christianity believes in a second coming of Christ followed by judgment, and then the consumation of God's eternal kingdom.

These are just a few examples of how what we understand as the way the church has always been is really an invention of the church in our culture and our context.

What are others you can think of.

Quotes from John Calvin in the Institutes...

any mixture of the power of free will that men strive to mingle with God's grace is nothing but a corruption of grace (335)

the Scriptures obtain full authority among believers only when men regard them as having sprung from heaven as if the living Word of God were heard (74)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Got Style?--Work-based evangelism styles


Now for further reflections on Got Style?:

As we move on from the storytelling style, the styles that follow "move from word-based personality styles of works-based styles of evangelism" (p. 70). By this Johnson means that the relational, invitational, and incarnational style's are based on not simply talking about Jesus, but by living in a certain way among others that makes the Way of Jesus attractive to people.

The first style that is discussed is the relational style. The relational style reaches people through earning their trust in a meaningful relationship. As a person is able to truly relate to others, then more direct opportunities to share about Jesus naturally crop up. This is very important, because most people accept Christ because of the influence of some friend, or another kind of meaningful relationships.

The next style is the invitational style. This style is much like it sounds. It is the kind of person that reaches others for Christ by inviting them to spiritually meaningful events or introducing them to people who can most effectively communicate the truths of salvation.

Finally, Johnson describes the incarnational style. The incarnational style of evangelism serves others in the name of Jesus in order to reach them with the good news of Jesus.

What I find interesting about all of this is the differentiation between WORD and WORKS based evangelism styles. It made me wonder about a lot of this. Shouldn't there be some combination of word and works in our evangelism? Which of these two styles are most effective? How would we measure this?

Anway...things I thought about as I journeyed through this book

Monday, July 18, 2011

Battle of the Bulge: One Pound at a Time

I lost 5 pounds this week. It was strange to lose this much this week. I think it says something about how my weight loss would explode with just a little bit of moderate aerobic exercise.

This week I broke through a major barrier in my weight loss. This is very exciting for me. I am looking at the 100 lb barrier and seeing it as very attainable by the end of August--maybe earlier.

At the beginning of my weight loss journey I was sitting in a hospital room waiting for a doctor to show up, and being cared for by a male nurse. He was obnoxious. But one small part of the conversation really struck me.

He asked me how much weight I had gained since high school. I told him. Then he asked, "How does anyone gain that much weight since high school?" It made me feel bad and it got me to thinking.

How does a person gain as much weight as I have since high school?

9 months later I have an easy answer to that question. Gain one pound a month since high school. Of course it did not work like that, but in many ways it did. There were moments of rapid weight gain, usually after an impressive weight loss. For the most part, though, my weight gain came slowly over time.

Now, at he pace of one or two pounds a week, I am striving to lose that weight. At times I am impressed with my weight loss. At other times I get discouraged because I have so much more to lose. In those discouraging moments, it helps to remember that it took a lot of time to gain a little bit at a time, and it is going to take me a while to lose the same way...

to be continued....

Book Review of True North by Gary Heim and Lisa Heim

How do you respond to adversity? How do you act when things do not go your way? Are you a different person when you get frustrated that you are when you feel in control? Are you led astray to unhealthy actions and attitudes when things do not go your way?

True North is a new book that discusses how we deal with disappointments and frustration in our lives. Whether the issue is small or big, how we deal with not getting what we want when we want it effects our quality of life. Our attitude in this regard determines what kind of friends we are going to have, how we are going to see ourselves, and whether we see our lives as blessed or doomed.

Furthermore, our attitude toward these kinds of situations effect our spiritual lives and our relationship with God. It is our relationship with God in the midst of heartache and frustration that True North focuses in on.

The term "true north" is a metaphor for Gary and Lisa Heim. North is a direction of a healthier, more honest, and more intimate relationship with Jesus. "Going south" is a metaphor of a movement toward self-centeredness, unhappiness, ingratitude, and away from a close, powerful, meaningful relationship with God.

The Heims have clearly alliterated all of their points for living a "true north" lifestyle. It means avoiding grumbling and complaining. Avoiding "going south" also means abandoning habits of grasping for control or power in ways that sabbotage our lives and our relationships.

Instead of getting trapped in the grumbling and grabbing cycle, True North suggests a different way of living. That way of live is defined by a different cycle of recieving God's grace and gift of new life, and then living a life of gratitude and giving. As one gives and recieves grace, one finds a new way of looking at life that has an eye open for goodness and blessing instead of envy and disappointment.

This book is informative for church leaders and counselors. It also has the power to transform lives and communities of faith. Besides this, it also has the potential to be a text for pastoral counseling at bible colleges and seminaries. It is through, well-thought out, and easily understood. It also has several real life illustrations of their points which bring the method from theory and into the real world.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Book Review of Growing Kingdom Character by Tom Yeakley

By Tom Yeakley
ISBN 978-1-61521-614-7
Published by NavPress
Reviewed by Clint Walker

What do we look for in a potential leader in the church? Do we seek people with skills and abilities that will benefit our congregation? Do we invest power and leadership authority in someone who has financial resources to benefit our institution? Or do we simply seek a warm body to fill a leadership position that it was preordained that our congregation needed to have?

Tom Yeakley argues that biblical leadership begins with godly character. In Growing Kingdom Character Yeakley creates a resource to develop Christian character in potential Christian leaders. Growing Kingdom Character is a thorough, well-thought out curriculum book that has the potential to be a great support for churches and Christian organizations of all sizes.

Yeakley’s discipleship philosophy is based upon a leadership “triangle” (20-21). At the base of that triangle are foundational character qualities (love, integrity, humility, and servanthood). Then the supporting qualities of faith, patience, purity, self-control, teachability, and courage build upon those foundational character qualities. After establishing these clear character qualities, one can work on developing skills and abilities that allow leaders to lead with godliness and integrity.

Each chapter in Growing Kingdom Character has a text, a Bible Study, a prayer guide, and some exercises to help each participant in the study build kingdom character into their lives. The text is brief enough for a weekly study. The Bible study is thorough, and will take considerable effort for participants to read through. The prayer and exercises are well-done, and offer a lot of opportunity for growth and discussion as well.

I find Mr. Yeakley’s book refreshing. When one looks at the qualifications for leaders in the Pastoral Epistles, most of the job descriptions have to do with character qualities and not leadership skills. Our society tends to value image over substance, and many times churches have followed society’s standards. Growing Kingdom Character provides a prophetic challenge in this context.

This book will not be a helpful resource for everyone. It requires a committed individual or small group of potential leaders, led by a quality mentor who embodies the Christian character this fine book teaches about. In that specific context, Growing Kingdom Character has the ability to change lives, churches, organizations, and maybe even the world.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Book Review of Deeper Into the Word by Keri Wyatt Kent: Reflections on 100 Words from the New Testament

I have always enjoyed word studies. I think this is because so often, especially in the Biblical languages, when you do a word study, you get a word picture that helps you understand the word even better. It might also be because with Scripture, words are so important, and can so easily be twisted by twisting them or taking them out of context. Thank goodness I now have the book DEEPER INTO THE WORD on my bookshelf.

Keri Wyatt Kent is the author of DEEPER INTO THE WORD. DEEPER INTO THE WORD puts together reflections on 100 words from the New Testament. Mrs. Kent combines good scholarship about each word she chooses with personal thoughts on how that particular word challenges her or may challenge you. It is really a well-written, thoughtful, and fun book to have on my shelf.

I have been using DEEPER INTO THE WORD as more of a reference tool. I look up a word here or a word there, especially when I am a little stumped about something, or am interested in learning a little bit more about a topic. This book could very easily be a reference source, but it could also be a devotional that increases someone's knowledge of Scripture. I recommend it highly.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Battle of the Bulge: A Report, a Reflection and a Rant

I am now in week 28 of my diet. I have lost 82 pounds. I lost 3 pounds this week. That means I am now up to two bags of dog food in weight loss. At this point in my journey 3 pounds is a good week. I would like to see more loss, but I am glad to be consistent in my weight loss.

Right now, I feel like I have made good progress, but I also feel like I have so much further to go. I am one pound from my next intermediate goal, and 14 pounds from my initial goal for the entire year.

What is frustrating is that the "shine" has come off of the diet. I am at the point where I have been doing this about 6-7 months, and I am tired of the discipline and craving foods that I have not had very often while on my weight loss journey.

This is especially true with the "liquid calories." I have been keeping with my rules and the weight watchers way, but as it gets hotter I want pop, I want slurpees, I want fruit slushes, I want ice cream, and I want them on a pretty regular basis. And drinks do not cut it for me. With the exception of g2.

These days, with Biggest Loser off the air, I am stuck watching EXTREME MAKEOVER: WEIGHT LOSS EDITION to fulfill my weight loss trash tv addiction. I am not sure I like this show very much. Especially after the show that I watched this evening.

First of all, the shows plan is to get every person on the show to lose over 200 pounds in a year. While this is definitely possible, I am not sure it is advisable for long term weight management. As a matter of fact, I think the overly high expectations set people up for failure.

That is what happened in EXTREME MAKEOVER this evening. And then, when the guy disappointed him and they parted ways, the trainer refused to look at his client, who was suicidal because he couldn't measure up to the goals the trainer had set for him.

Expectations are a funny business. You want goals to be ambitious enough to push you off the couch, but not so ambitious that you set yourself up for failure and then eventually give up. Each person has their own journey, has to find their own way, and needs to be encouraged as they go. Expectations are too high, and you give up. No expectations, it is hard to get anywhere. Expectations too low, you don't push yourself hard enough.

Currently, I have several step goals in my journey:

I want to lose 1 more pound to meet the goal I set for myself a couple of months ago

I want to lose 13 pounds after that to meet my goal for the year.

I want to lose 4 more pounds after that. This will put me at 100 lbs lost total.

My next goal after that is to lose 33 more.

I am a plodder. So while I have hopes for my timeline of weight loss, I do not have strict time-sensitive goals except for losing 96 for the year.

I am not sure I am right, or that my way is the right way, but that is where I am at in my journey. God bless you in yours.

Book Review of Branded by Tim Sinclair

This month, I have the privilege of beginning a reviewing agreement with a new publisher. Several months ago I recieved a postcard in the mail inviting me to review books for Kregel publishing. I decided that I would sign up. So they sent me a complimentary book in exchange for an honest review. That complimentary book was BRANDED by Tim Sinclair.

Tim lives in Illinois and works in Christian radio. He currently is a radio personality on a morning show at a Christian radio station, but has also worked in advertising in the past. In his advertising work, he especially focused on branding, which makes him especially qualified to write a book on the subject.

I have had the opportunity to review BRANDED in the past. I passed it over the first time I heard about it because it was a book that unashamedly talks about marketing Jesus effectively. When I hear the term "marketing Jesus" I get concerned. I think of pastors dressed in plaid suitcoats playing with zoo animals in order to sell Jesus the way a used car salesman sells cars. Or, I ponder if Mr. Sinclair is suggesting that I as a pastor should get a pinky ring and a purple suit, and make my wife get a beehive. Thankfully, Mr. Sinclair does not endorse such unwise practices. As a matter of fact, I think Mr. Sinclair might believe these are, in fact, a poorly thought out marketing strategies if they were implimented.

As I understand BRANDED, Tim Sinclair is longing for Jesus to have a better public relations campaign. Too often Jesus has been "branded" inaccurately and unfairly by people who call themselves his followers. This in turn has led to the church having less of an impact in the world. It has also made it difficult for believers to introduce Jesus to spiritual seekers because "poor branding" has given Jesus an "image problem". As Sinclair says at one point, "The archaic tactics of high-profile believers make our day-to-day job of sharing Jesus increasingly difficult. And frankly, that stinks" (p. 24).

BRANDED has several suggestions to help believers "re-brand" Jesus more effectively. Most notably, Sinclair suggests that Jesus needs a grass-roots marketing campaign. This includes living our faith hands-on in the real world, and a witness that combines knowlege and experience, and an appeal to head and heart.

This book is simply written. I would not be suprised if what we read in BRANDED was first presented in a speech or workshop of some sort. Many of the paragraphs in BRANDED have one sentence. This makes the book an easy read, and a quick read. Sinclair is effective at getting his ideas across. He has a lot of good ideas to think about as well. Those who enjoy deeply thought out, artistically crafted sentences will be disappointed in BRANDED. Nevertheless, Sinclair is a very effective communicator.

I would recommend this book highly to folks that feel like there is something wrong with how the church is presenting itself in the world, and find themselves wondering how they could do to help people see Jesus in a better light.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Can't wait for the release of this movie

'A Leap of Truth...' trailer from Satellite Pictures on Vimeo.

The Strange Delayed Time Schedule of Ministry

Perception is a fickle thing. We may think our senses are pure tools for observing the world. We may believe that our eyes and our ears will lead us to the simple facts of any given situation. They do not.

In court, eyewitnesses are known to be notoriously unreliable. You get three of them together, they will often notice things quite differently. In fact, some of them will often contradict one another on certain details. I believe this happens for two reasons.

First, even though we may be experiencing the same events at the same time, we are experiencing them from different perspectives. One person may observe an event from a balcony above the whole scene. Another may catch a glipse from around the corner. One person may see one person's face while they speak. Another may not.

The second reason is we all have to filter what we take in through our brains. Our brains rarely objectively observe anything. It fits personal experiences into scripts, filters, and pictures that it is pre-wired to categorize in a certain narrative. That doesn't mean that we always observe with a prejudicial attitude. It means that when we are eyewitnesses of something our brains work like a computer search engine, using prompts and verbal and non-verbal "keys" to attempt to define what we experience.

As a person in ministry, I can attest to the fact that we as ministers tend to have a unique angle on percieving what is going on in our churches. There are times when we witness what is going on in our church from a detached perspective. Because of our lack of history in our local community and church community we can see things with an outsider's perspective, and bring those helpful observations from the outside into our leadership.

The opposite is also true. There are times as pastors that our prominent role in church life, our attachment to the people with which we are dealing, and our emotional investment in the mission of the church that we fail to see things clearly. I want to share about an idea I have about one of these situations where pastors are often "too close" to see what is really going on.

Most pastors, if they are leading their church anywhere, have "crisis points" in their ministries. Perhaps this crisis point is due to a conflict with a church leader. Or maybe it is due to the congregation decreasing significantly in one's ministry. It could even be a financial crisis in the life of a church family.

Most pastors, except in their most difficult ministries, also have "mountain-top" phases in their ministries with a congregation. These can be moments. They can also be periods of time. Seasons where the minister enjoys favor with their congregation. Moments where the pastor feels especially valued and appreciated.

What is important for those of us in ministry work to remember is that none of this really is driven by the "now", and rarely will what we say or do in response to these moments and moods have an immediate impact. This is because ministry works on a time delay basis.

As a pastor, most people deal with you on the basis of who you were or how they percieved you months ago. That may not be who you are or what you are doing today. You are going to have to live with the results of yesterday for a year or two to get to the blessings or curses of what you have done today.

I have a pastor friend. His church had to cut his ministry staff because of financial issues. The church shrunk to half of the attendance it was before. It is obvious they have to deal with issues in the congregation today. The truth is, though, that this crisis was like a slow moving tsunami moving through time. Certain crisis happened a few years before. They did not respond appropriately to the crisis. They thought because the wave of destruction didn't hit them right away, the tsunami would never come. But it took time for the wave of consequences to travel to them.

The mistake of a pastor and leadership team in situations like this is to address symptomatic issues that have presented themselves in the last 6-12 months, and not to understand that they are often dealing with consequences of things that happened 18-36 months ago, or longer.

So let's say a church is complaining about the pastor's preaching. They are probably not concerned about the pastor's preaching in the last 3-6 months, they are probably working with a perspective constructed 1-3 years earlier. It will take a year of improved preaching before the church notices any difference.

On the flipside, a pastor could have worked very hard for 3 or 4 years. Then his pace of ministry slows down. A congregation will take at least 18 months to be concerned about this change, unless the pastor is doing absolutely nothing. They will continue to laud him for his work ethic, even if he is not working nearly as hard as he used to be.

Here is a simple example in my life. When I started as Associate Pastor at FBC Springs, people had a difficult time trusting what I was doing. I could have blamed all that distrust on myself (I may have done a little of this), but for the most part I realized that the track record of my predecessors created a script that had a lack of trust built into it. Even when I reached a crisis moment a year later, in retrospect, I should have noticed that some of the challenges I experienced were due to distrust that had built 2-3 years before, and not as much about who I was or my ministry had done. This is because perceptions come in time delay within congregational life.

If the pastor believes the press about his present perception in a congragation, he is going to be a prisoner of the moment, and that moment is yesterday. This can be dangerous, because in order to be effectively moving forward into the future, one needs to be focused on the "now" as a leader. Otherwise we will always be chasing our tails.

So, we need to acknowlege people's perspective's about us and our ministry primarily based in the past and not the present, but we need to minister in the present and not in the past of people's perceptions. When those perceptions from the past are also true in the present day, we need to address them. We also need to realize that, as ministers, we can make significant changes and address significant issues today, but that positive action and growth will not be perceived by those we serve for another 18-36 months. Anyway....something I am thinking about...

Some good thoughts in blogs for today

From Dr. Molly Marshall, president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary

from Donald Miller, author of Blue Like Jazz

from Bill Wolfe, Pastor of Highland Park Baptist Church

Monday, July 04, 2011

Not a Magic Trick: Sermon on Sunday 7/3/11 about the Seven Sons of Sveva and the Fear of the Lord


11 Now God worked unusual miracles by the hands of Paul, 12 so that even handkerchiefs or aprons were brought from his body to the sick, and the diseases left them and the evil spirits went out of them. 13 Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists took it upon themselves to call the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “We[a] exorcise you by the Jesus whom Paul preaches.” 14 Also there were seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, who did so.

15 And the evil spirit answered and said, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?”

16 Then the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, overpowered[b] them, and prevailed against them,[c] so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded. 17 This became known both to all Jews and Greeks dwelling in Ephesus; and fear fell on them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified. 18 And many who had believed came confessing and telling their deeds. 19 Also, many of those who had practiced magic brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted up the value of them, and it totaled fifty thousand pieces of silver. 20 So the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed.

It has been a couple of weeks since we have been studying in the book of Acts. Let me remind you where we are at.

When Jesus left earth, he told his disciples that they were going to be witnesses of Jesus unto the ends of the earth. The church begins in Jerusalem. It soon begins to grow, and go throughout what we would now call Israel. Then into Syria. Then God led Paul and Barnabas to begin a mission to the rest of the Gentile world. Paul and Barnabas go separate ways after a while, and Paul drafts Silas as his ministry partner. They go further into what is now Turkey, and then make a foray into starting a church in Europe with their visit to Athens. This is where we left off in the middle of next month.

In Acts 18, Paul and Silas also went further south in Greece to community of Corinth. They stayed there for about a year and a half. Pastor Mike shared a little about Corinth last week in his sermon from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. The missionaries spent over a year and a half planting that little church in Corinth, with Paul making tents on the side. While doing that he met a couple of other tentmakers named Priscilla and Aquila. They were a married couple who quickly became some of Paul’s most trusted ministry partners.

After a year and a half, Paul sets sail toward home. They land in Ephesus. Paul leaves Priscilla and Aquila there, and runs home for some missionary deputation in Syria and Israel. Having reported what God has done, he goes back out on his third missionary journey. He quickly visits churches he has founded before. And then he gets to Ephesus, and re-joins Priscilla and Aquila.

And that is where the missionary Paul is when we join him today. He is in Ephesus, and while some of Paul’s trainees have begun to make inroads in Ephesus, when Paul arrives he brings the kind of energy to the ministry in Ephesus that just takes it to another level. Paul’s ministry is especially relevant because he engages the powers of evil and darkness in spiritual warfare.

One of the things that happens is that God gifts Paul with amazing power of healing. People began to be healed by handkerchiefs and aprons that Paul had touched. Demons were being cast out of people even.

Now there is something that you need to know about Ephesus. Ephesus was an important city in the Ancient World. It was important because it was home to the temple of Artemis. The temple of Artemis was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. It was a marvel.

This temple thing, as well as its strategic location as a seaport on the Aegean sea, made Ephesus a very powerful city, and a very populous one. As a matter of fact, at this time it had over 250,000 people in the city, which made it the second largest city in the known world.

The temple of Artemis was also the center of the occult for the known world. If Harry Potter would have lived in the ancient world, he would not have trained in Hoggwart’s Academy, he would have trained to be a magician in Ephesus. This is why Paul had to directly engage is spiritual warfare in Ephesus. To demonstrate the power of God in the spiritual realm.

Ephesus was full of spiritual activity, and people who fraudulently imitated powers of ghosts, demons, and other spiritual powers. People experimented with the supernatural. They sought supernatural powers. They would magic talismans in their windows, magic crystals in their living rooms, and books of the dark arts in their basement.

Bible does not deny the supernatural world or deny speculation about powers we cannot see. As a matter of fact, a primary theme of Paul’s letters to the Ephesians talks about how to deal with ungodly spiritual powers and to confront the principalities and powers.

Here in Acts, we have a short, somewhat humorous, yet very serious story of some young men who engage in dealings with the spiritual realm, and end up losing their shirts, and much more, in the process.

The young men are not mentioned by name. They are all brothers, a
nd sons of a man named Sceva. Sceva and his sons were Jewish. And they were travelling exorcists. They would roam around from city to city and cast out spirits from people from money.

They had heard about Paul, and a few others, casting out demons from people in the name of Jesus. They did not know much about Jesus, but they thought this would be another good incantation to add to their collections of spells.

So the sons of Sceva confront a man who is possessed by an evil spirit. They say to the evil spirit inside the man, “I exorcise you in the name of Jesus of whom Paul preaches”.

Possessed by a demon, a demon spoke through the man he possessed. The demon said, “Jesus I know, Paul I know, but who are you?”

Then the man whom the demon possessed attacked the seven sons of Sceva. The Bible says that those boys ran out of the house that the man lived in, the man they were trying to take the demon out of, and they ran home naked and bleeding.

Scripture says that everyone heard about this. Both Greeks and Jews took notice. As a result three things happened. The people were filled with fear. They began to confess their sins—their dishonesty and idolatry, and they were so convicted of the evil of their occult practices that they gathered together and burned all of their books of magic and spells. The total loss in value of the books was the equivalent of 10,000 days labor for the average blue collar worker.

The key word in this story is the word fear. It only shows up once in the whole paragraph, but it defines the purpose of what God is trying to tell us through this adventure in the life of the church.

The fear of the Lord. There is much debate about this phrase. Some people try to soften it up. God does not want us to be afraid of him, some people say. We should understand the fear of the Lord as respect instead of fear. Fear is too mean and too harsh of a word. After all, some say, why would God and his angels say “Do not be afraid” so often?

I am not one of those people.

The book of Proverbs says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”
Throughout the book of Acts you see the church seized with fear of the Lord after God’s power is exercised in powerful ways over and over again. God wants us to have a holy fear of Him. He wants us to have that sense of awe in his presence. He wants us to have an awareness of his Almighty power. He wants us to know that his power transcends all the other powers in the world. That there is no nation that is more powerful that he is. He wants us to know that there is no spiritual power greater than he is.

So these Sons of Sceva come along. They want to turn “the name of Jesus” into a magic trick. Into some power that they can manipulate and control and own and use for their own benefit. And God will have none of it. So he allows the demon to attack these young men. Through this event God teaches the people of Ephesus that they need to fear him. They can’t treat him like some ghost or spirit that they can use or manipulate. They cannot use the name of Jesus to line their pockets. God will have none of it. The power of Jesus will not be used as a plaything. It will not be controlled and manipulated. It will only be found through surrendering one’s life to Christ, and giving oneself in service of Him. God will not be taken for granted. He would not be taken for granted that day with the Sons of Sceva. And he will not be taken for granted now.

I believe we live in a generation today that has forgotten the fear of the
Lord. We have forgotten that our God is an awesome God. We have forgotten that we serve the God that conquered the Egyptian army at the Red Sea. We have forgotten that we serve a God that made the sun stand still in the book of Judges, or that send down fire from Heaven with the prayer of Elijah on Mount Carmel. We have forgotten that God struck Zecheriah mute and Paul blind. We have forgotten a Jesus that spoke much more about hell than he did about heaven. We have forgotten about the Jesus that will come again to judge the living and the dead in the last days.
No, instead we have painted God as a cosmic co-dependent. We picture God like some cosmic version of Mr. Rogers, telling us that I’m ok and you are ok, patting us on the head and emploring us to be his friend and neighbor. And, in the process, in our generation, in this nation, I believe we have forgotten the fear of the Lord.

You will see all around us that our church is decorated to celebrate July 4. July 4, technically, is not a celebration of a military victory. It is not the day we adopted the constitution. It is the day that we ratified the Declaration of Independence. The document that states in its second sentence that “all men are created equal, and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights…”

I think it is good to thank God for the country he gave us. I am so glad I was born in a land where I am free to worship as I please. I am so thankful to live in a place that God has blessed with so much wealth and privilege and beauty. And I am truly blessed to live in a nation where the truth of Jesus has had such a strong influence.

But I also am concerned that I live in a nation that takes so many of those blessings from God and God himself for granted. It is one thing to believe that our nation’s founding was heavily influenced by Christian theology, which it undeniably was on several levels. It is another thing to take that history for granted, and to believe that God unconditionally endorses our nation because of those foundational principles. That is taking God for granted. That is forgetting the fear of the Lord.
My friends, being an American will not make you a Christian any more than being in a garage will make you a car. We can put “in God we trust” on our money, and we can sing “God Bless the USA”…but if we are not surrendering our lives to Christ, we are just using these phrases like magic phrases, and we are not any different than the Sons of Sceva.

The power of God will not be reduced to a slogan or a catch phrase. It will not be reduced to one nation’s self-interest. It will not be manipulated for political gain. And this weekend should not so much remind us that God is on our side, but that we should seek to be on HIS side. As a nation. As a church. As individual people.

So often we take God for granted. We do what we want instead of what God commands, planning on asking for his forgiveness later. We take God’s patience for granted, putting off until tomorrow what God has called us to do today.

We forget that our God is an awesome God. We forget to fear God.

A few months ago we had this goofy yahoo running around the country saying that he knew the day and time when Jesus was coming back. I rolled my eyes, and at the appropriate time went in the front yard for rapture practice.

But I wonder sometimes, if we really knew that Jesus was returning in a week, what would change. I suspect you would see massive changes in many people’s lives. They would begin to understand that they were mortal, and that soon they would stand before the judgment throne of God. They would stop taking God for granted. They would begin to experience the fear of the Lord.

I was in Montana when Sept 11 happened about 10 years ago. People had their bubble burst. They did not feel as safe in this country. And as a result, churches in our area began to experience a rapid rise in attendance for a few months. As folks began to feel more vulnerable, they experienced the fear of the Lord. They knew he was mighty and powerful. They began to turn to God in their time of distress. They stopped taking God for granted. For a few months, they began to be filled with the fear of the Lord.

This did not last for long though. Many folks went back to taking God for granted again pretty quickly.

As we come to the Lord’s Table, we remember God’s great sacrifice for us. We remember that he died for me and for you and for the whole world. And we remember this sacrifice until he comes again. Our coming to this table on a regular basis reminds us that we are not to take God for granted. Instead we are to surrender ourselves to Him and give Him the honor and awe he deserves. Amen.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Book Review of God and Stephen Hawking by John Lennox

By John C. Lennox
ISBN 978-0-7459-5549-0
Published by Lion Hudson
Reviewed by Clint Walker

Much has been made in recent years about the “new atheism”. I have yet to figure out what the phenomenon is all about. Thankfully there are people like John Lennox, who is a mathematician, a scholar, and skilled debater, and a leader in both explaining the theories of the new atheists, and refuting them.

John Lennox is about to release God and Stephen Hawking in the United States. It is a small book. Not even a hundred pages. It is not meant to be an exhaustive text on the intellectual coherence of God’s existence. Instead, God and Stephen Hawking is a book that is focused on answering the objections to faith posited by Stephen Hawking in his book The Grand Design. Step-by-step, Lennox engages many of Hawking’s arguments, and shows the flaws with each of them. He takes on Hawking’s description of “the laws of nature”, the multiverse, and his dismissal of philosophy as unnecessary in the light of scientific discovery.

As I read it, Hawking argues for a position that science is not only able to describe natural processes, but metaphysical realities as well. And by doing so, Hawking describes a universe that is self-creating and self-perpetuating without a creator. Thus, because he can describe a coherent theory of the physical world without God, he believes he has proven to his readers that God does not exist.

God and Stephen Hawking is brief, but that does not mean that it is easy to understand. The author in very thorough in describing the arguments of Stephen Hawking, and then sharing why he believes his perspective is superior to Hawking’s ideas. In the process, he cites ancient philosophers, Einstein, and many others. This is a very good book, but it is clearly written for a very specific audience. For the average reader, God and Stephen Hawking will require a slow and careful reading. However, the knowledge gained from reading this brilliant defense of the existence of God will be worth the effort.


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