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    Tuesday
    Jul292014

    One Key to Spiritual Growth :: Starting Fresh

    Over the years in pastoral counseling, I've found that one of the greatest inhibitors to spiritual growth is guilt stemming from failure in efforts at discipline. People desire to grow, they try, they fail, they feel guilty, and eventually, guilt drives them to begin again.

    In those instances, I have counseled each person to begin each day anew. Instead of guilt being a motivator, I have encouraged these persons to consider and think about grace. Failure is in the past, new life lies ahead. Performance is not determinative for salvation, rather, Christ's perfect and past work, which is finished, has secured everything we need. And Christ has promised to be with us. The desire to grow is given by God. When we fail, we start fresh, believing that God will bring the work begun in us to completion.

    Frank Laubach, in Letters by a Modern Mystic, captures this well:

    This conscious, incessant submission to God has proven extremely difficult, and I have surrendered for the past few days. And today and yesterday I saw evidences of the result. In an effort to be witty, I have said biting things which have hurt the feelings of others, and have been short and impatient. I tremble, for I have told at least one of these men of this experiment, and he will think this is the result. It is very dangerous to tell people, and yet, I must tell and I must start over now and succeed. This philosophy that one can begin all over instantly and at any moment is proving of great help.

    Lamentations 3:22-23 (MSG) reminds us:

    God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out,
        his merciful love couldn’t have dried up.
    They’re created new every morning.
        How great your faithfulness!
    I’m sticking with God (I say it over and over).
        He’s all I’ve got left.

    Grace given. Fresh daily.

    Thursday
    Jul032014

    Book Review :: How God Became Jesus by Michael F. Bird

    Bart Ehrman is a boogeyman some evangelicals like to hate. Ehrman consistently takes positions that undercut Christian orthodoxy, and his scholarly positions often lead you to believe that most of what you have heard in sermons and all of what you have heard in Sunday School is erroneous. That is where he believes the evidence leads, and like any scholar, he wants to convince his students.

    That said, it is unfair to Ehrman and his scholarship to dismiss him out of hand or make him a heel. He is a human being, a hard working scholar, and  an engaging communicator. This is why each time Ehrman publishes a book like his last release, How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee, evangelical scholars respond in print or in lectures. He deserves to be answered fairly and with good scholarship.

    In How God Became Jesus: The Real Origins of Belief in Jesus' Divine Nature---A Response to Bart Ehrman, Michael F. Bird, Craig A. Evans, Simon J. Gathercole, Charles E. Hill, and Chris Tilling respond to Ehrman's How Jesus Became God. On short notice, this team of scholars offered their rebuttals to Ehrman's presentation of the historical Jesus. Their work offers an apologetic, or defense of Christian doctrine. And I think it is well done.

    I am not current enough in New Testament history to provide a wholesale evaluation of the arguments of Bird, Evans, Gathercole, Hill, and Tilling in this volume, but I am familiar enough with the biblical material and a broad enough range of scholarly research on the New Testament to approve and recommend this collection of essays. How God Became Jesus addresses the key questions raised by Ehrman concerning first century Jewish cosmology, Jesus' self-perception (Did Jesus understand himself to be God?), the evidence pertaining to Jesus' burial, the beliefs of the first Christ-followers, problematic elements within Ehrman's interpretive categories and his exegesis of Scripture, and the implications for our understanding of the formation of a bounded, exclusive community centered on Christ (as well as the emergence of heterodox groups).

    This book is a helpful companion to Ehrman's How Jesus Became God for those seeking to evaluate his arguments, or for those seeking to become conversant with Ehrman from an evangelical perspective.

    I heard Bart Ehrman speak in Lawrence, Kansas several years ago, right after his publication of God's Problem, an examination of Job and what theologians call theodicy. He's engaging, a good storyteller, witty, and clear. I am also familiar with his written works. I happen to disagree with him. Often.

    I disagree with Ehrman not only because I am Christian who believes the historic teachings concerning the incarnation, the resurrection of Jesus, the inspiration and authority of Scripture, and other core doctrines are reliable and true. I also disagree with Ehrman because I find his arguments unconvincing and his methodology suspect. Whenever I have read Ehrman's works or listened to his presentations, I have thought something is amiss. Admittedly, I have also had a very different existential experience concerning God--I am a Christian. Ehrman is an agnostic. Of course we will disagree.

    Scholarly fads come and go. Whenever a book is published claiming a new or never-before-told version of the life of Jesus, or a supposedly revelatory account of the ancient evidence that undercuts established orthodoxy, it will receive buzz. These books will be placed on end caps in every bookstore. They will sell. People enjoy controversy, and gravitate toward conspiracy theories.

    In those instances, it will be up to responsible Christian scholars, and responsible Christians, to listen to the arguments, examine the evidence, and offer a measured, accurate, and winsome response. How God Became Jesus assists those who wish to offer an evangelical perspective on the historical Jesus, and to do so as respectfully as possible.

    Monday
    Jun302014

    There are lots of reasons to despair. Give us a reason to hope.

    Last Wednesday Joshua Luton at The Apprentice Institute wrote an inspiring meditation on youth and the future of Christianity. Read the entire piece, "The True Narrative About Young People in the Church."

    His central claim, "High school and college age members of the body of Christ don't want to leave, they want more."

    I happen to agree. There is more than enough negativity on offer. But God is good, and deeply loves the young people whom you know. One of the great discoveries I have made over the past fifteen years of working in ministry is that young people are searching for sound answers to life's great questions. They have genuine curiosity about the Bible and a deep desire to understand the spiritual life, and to live it richly as Christians. They want to be challenged and invited to use their gifts and talents as part of a community. And they want to love and serve others as a response to the love of God revealed in Jesus Christ.

    We often underestimate our students.

    Instead of complaining, build relationships, reach out to young people, and walk alongside them. Witness to Christ. Answer the questions they are actually asking (you might want to ask). And be open about your journey of transformation and change as a disciple.

    What you'll find will be refreshing. Jesus Christ is still calling disciples from among youth and college students. And Jesus is still calling us to point the way to him, to lead, to invite, to teach, and, most importantly, to model our faith.

    Saturday
    Jun282014

    Book Review :: What's Best Next by Matt Perman

    Whether you are an executive or a pastor, a student or a mom, you have projects. You have tasks. You have things to get done. You have papers to keep track of and appointments to keep. You have places to be and goods to deliver. Your life is geared toward productivity--the flourishing of a business, a family, a school, or a community.

    Those responsibilities come with stress. One of our greatest challenges in life is to discern exactly what is ours to do, and to make the best use of our days.

    Matt Perman has written a book that shows us how to steward our life well, and to find motivation for productivity in the gospel itself. What's Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done is a helpful, clear read on how to approach every dimension of your life as a Christian, using productivity methods as a way to relieve stress, do excellent work, bless your neighbor, and serve the world.

    Over the past decade I've read a number of books that are well known in the productivity field. I've read David Allen, Tim Ferriss, Daniel Pink, and Julie Morgenstern. I recommend reading their books. But Matt Perman's book is unique. While Perman provides practical tips for approaching your life, like using a time map, making the most of your to-do lists, creating idea-capture systems, managing email, building a team, and delegating responsibilities, his greatest gift is providing the reader with a doctrinal and theological frame through which to view productivity in all of life.

    To focus in on one example, Perman makes a helpful distinctions between work efficiency and effectiveness. Think about it: you can be very efficient at work while doing the wrong things. The key is to be focused on your God-given mission, and to be effective, accomplishing tasks that bless others. Perman also explains how efficiency doesn't solve the problem of the never-ending flow of incoming tasks, can make things worse by draining your energy, lower morale, hamper innovation, and remove a sense of meaning from work. In this instance, your doctrinal and theological frame makes a big difference. Effectiveness keeps the ultimate end in view, and can motivate you to do the right things along the way that will help you get there. What you believe about God shapes the how and the why of effectiveness.

    This, of course, raises the question of how to identify the right things. That is when Perman expands his discussion of our doctrine and theology. Perman argues that our work should be God-centered. Our lives do not need to be balanced, but instead focused on the right thing--God. It is God who provides us with meaning and depth in all areas of life. Perman reminds the reader that God is foundational to right and true principles, defines for us what the right things are to get done, and lastly, asserts the fact that God is "what matters most." Pleasing God should be our aim in all efforts--everything we do should help us to know, love, serve, and tell others about God in our personal and professional lives.

    Perman's position that Christians might be able to do the most good for the cause of the gospel simply by doing their work well is also spot on. Whether your an underling or a CEO, a great deal of good can come simply by accomplishing one's work with excellence. Business is a powerful avenue for the blessing of other people. Therefore, our work should be done unto the glory of God and in service of other people. This can be challenging, for each vocation has particular temptations and vices that can best be addressed by a fellowship of Christian professionals working in the same field. But it's nonetheless a worthy venture. While the best companies do exist to thrive financially and generate a profit, they also exist to create better lives for employees, to create products that are helpful, and to make life better.

    Even if you don't work full time, this book will provide you with a great deal of wisdom. If you are a parent, you will find instruction that might help you better structure your time and focus more fully on the projects that matter. Perman's chapters on discerning your life's mission and creating a flexible time structure will help anyone. This book will help anyone get things done.

    Lastly, this book doesn't necessarily have to be read cover to cover. You can use the table of contents, identify the type of instruction you need at the moment, and get to work. Each chapter also has helpful summations, and the book even ends with a 500 word summary of exactly what you'll find in WBN. If you are a knowledge worker like me, you might want to immediately read parts 3 to 6, where Perman explains the DARE model behind gospel-driven productivity: define, architect, reduce, and execute.

    It isn't enough to read a bunch of productivity literature. Eventually, you have to determine your approach and put it in to practice. There is work to do and projects to complete. But if you're looking for a place to start, pick up Matt Perman's book. It's a worthwhile read.

    If you like what you find, you might want to check out Matt's blog or follow him on Twitter.

    Thursday
    Jun262014

    Sermon Audio :: Father Abraham: The Covenant

    This weekend we continued a three part sermon series at UBC on the life of Abraham. This is part two.

    Click here to read the passage from Scripture.

    Download or listen to the sermon here.

    Or, you can visit the UBC website and stream from there.