Thursday, January 31, 2013

5 Books I Read Every Day

I am always curious about what people are reading. I've been asked recently to share with you some book recommendations so I thought I'd start with what I read on a daily basis. 

I am a firm believer in the need for a daily intake of the Word. But I have also grown to appreciate other standard devotional works like those of Oswald Chambers and Charles Spurgeon. These works provide essential insight into walking with God. I want to share with you some additional daily resources that I have grown to appreciate. Three would be considered "spiritual" in nature and an additional read which would be categorized as secular (although it would do most ministers and students a world of good to read it).

Before I write another word, I want to relate one of my biases. As one who has given much of his ministry focus to the study of history, I have grown to value primary sources. Primary sources are the materials that the great thinkers and leaders have written. It is John Calvin's Institutes, or Spener's Pia Desideria, or a Jonathan Edwards sermon for example. These are not works about them but what they actually wrote. Permit me to recommend some daily readers which consist primarily of primary source material. These I have found both profitable and helpful.

Not too long ago, I came across Day by Day with Saint Augustine compiled and written by Donald X. Burt. It consists of a paragraph taken from an Augustine selection accompanied by a brief devotional thought. Published in 2006 by Liturgical Press, this volume provides a wide introduction to Augustine's devotional thought contained in his Confessions, sermons, commentaries, correspondence, and a few other writings. Burt's work provides interesting insight into Augustine's passionate heart for God.

A second reader, this one "secular" is a collection of essentially business thoughts from the master thinker on management and leadership, Peter Drucker. It consists of daily selections "culled from his lifetime of writing." The dust jacket describes The Daily Drucker this way: "Drucker's ideas about innovation, leadership, effectiveness, and adaptation to change still stand as elegant classics of business wisdom." Published in 2004 by HarperCollins, this book will prove helpful to anyone who is responsible for getting the right things done.

While attending the Evangelical Theological Society meeting this year, I ran across several leather-bound devotional books published by Christian Focus Publications out of Scotland. Edited by Randall J. Peterson, the two volumes I purchased are Daily Readings. The first, is a compilation of thoughts from the life of George Whitefield taken principally from his sermons and journals. For anyone who has been blessed reading his Journals or his Dallimore biography, this is an excellent reminder of one man's quest to know and be used by the Lord.

A companion volume, and my favorite, is Daily Readings from The Puritans. Each month, Pederson selects a Puritan (Richard Baxter, John Bunyan, Stephen Charnock are the first three), and provides a rich devotional thought out of their writings. I have been blessed by the depth of thought and spiritual insight provided by these great saints of history.

Each of these volumes are valuable in their own right and are profitable for our maturity. In many ways, we become what we read. These daily readers will help us become better and more mature. What comes in makes a difference! So tell me, what are your daily readings? 

Monday, January 28, 2013

Top 5 Posts In the Past 12 Months

Today I’d like to revisit my most popular posts over the past year. The following posts resonated the most with my readers so I’d like to share them with you once again in case you missed them the first time. Please feel free to pass these along to a friend or co-worker who may need some encouragement today. 

This blog is a way for me to offer encouragement to those I’ve encountered over the years. What topics would you like to see addressed here in the future? I’d love to hear from you. 

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Enough is Enough.

The majority of Americans deplore it. An influential minority of Americans applaud it. Yesterday we as a nation have commemorated 40 years of the significant Supreme Court ruling, Roe v. Wade and its companion piece, Doe v. Bolton.

I took the time to reread the oral arguments, the syllabus, the majority opinion of Blackmun, the concurring opinion by Stewart, and the dissenting opinion by Rehnquist. In the opinions of Blackmun and Stewart, I read about,"recent attitudinal change...and of new thinking about an old issue;” "a trend toward liberalization of abortion statutes;” "a feeling that this trend will continue;” and Stewart's citation of Frankfurter about our nation's founders who knew "only a stagnant society remains unchanged."

It would serve all of us well to consider how society changed. Not all change is for the better. In fact, sometimes, like this time, change was the evidence of moral stagnation. I agree with Rehnquist when he wrote, "Even today, when society's views on abortion are changing, the very existence of the debate is evidence that the 'right' to an abortion is not so universally accepted as the appellant would have us believe."

Years ago, Simon and Garfunkel (two musicians and not lawyers) sang a song called "The Boxer" in which they said,"All lies and jest/ Still, a man hears what he wants to hear/ and disregards the rest." It certainly appears to me that the majority of the Supreme Court heard what they wanted to hear and disregarded the rest.

I wonder if it ever occurred to them that an unborn baby might ought to be considered a person. And legal precedents not withstanding, should they have considered the prospect that by their ruling they were acquiescing to a trend that was detrimental to the long term well-being of society and its emotional and spiritual health?

As a pastor, I had numerous opportunities to talk with people who had abortions. I have never talked to anyone who was left unscarred emotionally. Regret was the universal constant. Multiple times I have said to them that God forgives and your abortion does not have to be your defining moment. Even with that word of encouragement, getting past the wrong decisions of life is difficult at best and emotionally crippling at worst.

Could it be that our nation might ever change and return to a moral and legal standard where abortion on demand is declared unacceptable? It would take the intervention of God and a super-majority of people who stand up and say enough is enough!

I recently sat down with Baptist Press to discuss the close connection between Roe v Wade and the Conservative Resurgence in the SBC. Take a look at that article here

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Grace and Faith: Part 2

This is the second in a 2-part series on salvation. Here's Tuesday's post that complements this one. 

Paul tells us in Ephesians that believers are "saved by grace through faith.” In the book of Romans, Paul discusses the nature of salvation. Being "saved" means to be "rescued" or "delivered." He explains that we are saved from something to something. Theologically speaking, we are saved from sin and its consequences to a condition of righteousness with its coordinate blessings.

In Romans, Paul identifies salvation's multiple dimensions. Upon receiving Jesus Christ by faith, we are saved immediately from the penalty of our sin (Romans 10:13-14). We are saved progressively from the power of sin (Romans 5:9-10). And we will be saved ultimately from the presence of sin    (Romans 13:11). In theological terms, these are respectively categorized as Justification, Sanctification, and Glorification.

The moment a person is saved, in the sense of Justification, a number of changes happen instantaneously. Consider this list of biblically identified changes. The moment we are "Saved":

1. Our names are written in the Lamb's Book of Life--the roll book of Heaven (Luke 10:20, Revelation 20:12,15).
2. We are secured by God into His family (John 10:27-28).
3. The Holy Spirit comes to live inside (indwell) us and thereby gives us access to the Father (John 14:17, 1 Corinthians 6:19, and Ephesians 2:13,18).
4. We are made servants of God--no longer slaves to sin (Romans 6:22).
5. We become heirs of God--and joint-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17, Galatians 3:24).
6. We are placed into the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13).
7. We immediately become a new creation ( 2 Corinthians 5:17).
8. We are adopted into God's family (Galatians 4:5).
9. We are made citizens of Heaven (Ephesians 2:19, Philippians 3:20).
10. Our sin debt is totally and forever cancelled (1 Peter 1:18, Colossians 2:14).
11. We are made priests before God--we represent people before God--an awesome responsibility ( 1 Peter 3:5,9).

So the process looks like this. Salvation  starts with God and His grace, requires our faith response and has multiple dimensions. Nonetheless, the moment we are saved our eternal destiny is altered forever. And all of this is driven by God's great love which is why He established grace in the first place! He wants us (all of us) to be saved.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Grace and Faith: Part 1

Last week I had the opportunity to speak to a Bible study group on Ephesians 2:8-10 concerning the process of God's salvation. I’d like to share it with you. Today's post will be followed up by a post focused on faith on Thursday. 

Salvation always and only starts with God's grace. This is God's initiative in seeking the lost. It is the operating principle from Luke 19:10 where Jesus said He came to "seek and save the lost."

God's grace comes from many directions. It is seen in what is commonly called General Revelation. In Romans 1, Paul asserts that mankind knows the reality of God through conscience and creation. Paul's assessment is because of these two realities, we are "without excuse."

Jesus related in John 16:8 that the Holy Spirit would come at His direction to convince (convict) the world of the reality " of sin, righteousness, and judgment." The Spirit's work, too, is a manifestation of grace.

When we hear a sermon, or a testimony, or read Christian literature  that gives testimony to Jesus and the Gospel, that too is God's means of extending grace.

When a Christian lives a life which demonstrates compassion, or patience or generosity, that too is a means of extending grace. See Ephesians 4:29.

At times, God Himself orchestrates circumstances that drive us to Him. Remember Jonah?

God's grace was seen ultimately in the cross of Christ where He endured the punishment for our sin.

My point? Salvation for anyone always begins with God's grace. Grace convinces me that I am hopelessly lost left to myself. It directs me to God's only provision for my sin. It points me to and draws me to Jesus. That is grace.

When God extends grace (and there is no salvation apart from grace), our responsibility is to respond to that grace with faith. Faith is the human response to grace. Consider Hebrews 11 and the long list of saints who placed their faith (or trust or belief) in the Lord. Everything we receive from God, we receive as a gift through faith. Faith to use a theological and grammatical term is "the agency of means." It is how we connect with God's grace and, indeed, God Himself.

We are saved when God extends His grace and we respond in simple child-like faith. That is why Paul wrote, "By grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works, so that no one may boast." (Ephesians 2:8-9).

In the words of one prominent writer, grace is an amazing reality!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

7 Lessons I Learned from Watching the BCS Championship

Spurgeon, the great Baptist pulpiteer, often told his students that illustrations are everywhere if they would simply stay alert. In watching the BCS Championship game Monday night, I noticed seven lessons that can be applied to families, ministry, academia, the business world, teams, and individuals. 

1. The past is no guarantee of the future. All the hype of how good Notre Dame was, all the accolades about their All-American nose guard and Heisman candidate line-backer, coupled with their stellar offense was just that, hype. Any investment firm will offer the disclaimer that "past performance is no guarantee of future success." That was, no doubt, the case here.

2. What you do when everything is on the line is what really matters. The only thing that matters is what happens between the goalposts and the sidelines in the 60-minute contest. All the talk, all the pundit predilections, all the hoopla was irrelevant. And where it mattered, Alabama performed and Notre Dame did not.

3. There is no substitute for great coaching and great preparation. From start to finish, no question existed as to who was executing a superior game plan. Coach Sabin and his team did a masterful job of preparation.

4. Great teams depend on great individual performances. Across the board, Alabama players, both on offense and defense executed their responsibilities with surgical precision. Turns out that all the chatter about "Alabama does not have the dominant players as in the past" was just chatter. And it was clear that man for man, "the match-ups," favored Alabama from start to finish.

5. Great teams with great players must still play as a team or unit. The Championship game was a tremendous example of great individuals playing as a team! Teamwork wins!

6. Preparation does precede performance--but it must be superior preparation. Alabama clawed its way through the rugged Southeastern Conference schedule. By playing and beating (mostly) the premier football teams in the country (5 teams in the top 10 final standings and 7 teams in the top 25 nationally), they were prepared for the final showdown called the National Championship. Fact is, any of the top 5 SEC teams would probably have won that game. Not every team or everyone who makes it to the perceived top (Notre Dame) has actually earned it through superior preparation.

7. Champions are made in the off-season. According to Coach Sabin, this team started preparing for this season and this game two days after last year's championship win. 

I am proud to be numbered among those who scream out "Roll Tide!" every fall. Congratulations to Coach Sabin and the Alabama Crimson Tide for another great season.

Do you have a favorite lesson you learned through playing a sport or watching an athlete? Please share in the comments. 

Monday, January 7, 2013

The Benefits of Being a Christian

I read an interesting yet disturbing article this past week where a young pastor acknowledged the "collapse of American evangelicalism." After reviewing the present condition of evangelicalism he notes that the historical vital signs are to "make converts and point to Christ. By those measures this former juggernaut is coasting, at best, if not stalled or in reverse." Could it be that  the present condition of evangelicalism is a direct result of evangelical churches' and Christians' failure to effectively evangelize?

One reason, no doubt, that Christians fail to evangelize unbelievers is because Christians themselves are not convinced of the benefits of being a Christian. I recall King David's words in Psalm 103:2,"Bless the Lord,O my soul, and forget not all His benefits." Then, David proceeds to delineate some of those benefits. In today's world, reflecting on the benefits of being a Christian and even using them as an evangelistic selling point may not be a wrong-headed idea. So, what are the benefits one should consider with respect to being a Christian? Here is my list which I acknowledge is partial at best.

When we become Christians:
1. Our lives come into alignment with the God of the universe and His self-revelation. See John 1:1-3.
2. God gives us an eternal perspective on life. See Psalm 90:12.
3. God gives us security in spite of and in light of circumstances. See Proverbs 3:5-6.
4. God calls us to be a people of influence. See Matthew 5:13-16.
5. God gives us emotional health and coping mechanisms. See Matthew 11:28-30.
6. God gives us inner peace. See John 14:27; 16:33; 20:19,21,26.
7. God gives us His Holy Spirit who enables us to do what is right. See John 16:5-12.
8. God gives us purpose in our lives. See Romans 12:1-2.
9. God gives us an understanding of His will. See Romans 12:2.
10. God lets us experience His love. See Galatians 5:22, then look back to John 15:9-10,17.
11. God provides us guidelines to maximize our relationships. See Ephesians 4:32; 5:1-12 and Paul's insight into family and work relationships.
12. God gives us the privilege of prayer with its coordinate answers. See Philippians 4:6-7.
13. God assures us that we will never be alone. See Hebrews 13:5.
14. God gives us perspective in living in a lost and fallen world. See James 1:2-8.
15. God gives us hope. See 1 Peter 1:3,13,21; 3:15.
16. God gives us an advocate who represents us before Himself, Jesus Christ. See 1 John 2:1-2.
17. God gives us a forever family. See 1 John 3:1-3.

And on top of all these things, Paul reminds us that "things which eye has not seen nor any ear heard, nor has entered the heart of man, all [this and more] God has prepared for those who love Him" in 1 Corinthians 2:9.

Did you think of any other benefits to add to the list? Please share in the comments.