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Category: Christian Perspective (page 1 of 13)

The surprising lesson I learned from Lexi’s trip to Italy.

Lexi in ItalyOver Spring Break Lexi went to Northern Italy with the UNI Wind Symphony.   She had a wonderful time playing the saxophone which she loves, getting to know her bandmates, and enjoying a new part of the world she’d never seen.

Her social role within the band quickly became that of a cheerleader.  Whenever enthusiasm would wane or boredom would creep in Lexi would pipe up, “Guys, guess what!  WE’RE in ITALY!  Aren’t you EXCITED!!” and that would return everyone’s focus to the amazing reality of their situation.

Lexi was simply reminding her friends of a truth that they already knew but had lost sight of.  Any instances of boredom or lackluster attitudes were merely the result of forgetting what an awesome place they were in.  Her animated reminders brought them back to reality and quickly helped them regain their excitement.

I think we need a similar reminder when it comes to our relationship to God.  It’s easy for our devotional life to become mundane and boring.  Why?  Because just like Lexi’s bandmates we’ve forgotten the amazing reality of our situation and we need to be reminded of what’s true.

“Guys, guess what!  WE’RE INVITED TO HAVE A PRIVATE, FACE-T0-FACE MEETING EACH DAY WITH THE CREATOR OF THE ENTIRE UNIVERSE!! HE WANTS TO SPEND TIME WITH YOU.  Aren’t you EXCITED!”

I’ve been contemplating this ever since Lexi shared about her trip and it has surprisingly transformed my approach to God.

What if I actually started living out what I know to be true?  What if I started to view spending time with God in the same way I would if I was being invited to have breakfast with a celebrity?  Would I hit the snooze button five more times if a head of state was waiting for me at my breakfast table?  Wouldn’t I go to bed early the night before if I had a breakfast appointment with a famous person, and if I were to wake up in the night wouldn’t I be counting the hours?  Wouldn’t I be excited when my alarm went off, no matter how early it was?  Wouldn’t sluggishness and boredom be unthinkable?  Wouldn’t I view my time with this celebrity as a humbling privilege rather than a chore?

By reflecting on such questions over the past months I can honestly say that I have enjoyed my early morning times with God more than ever before.  There have been many mornings when I have bounded out of bed to spend some quality time getting to know God deeper through His Word and prayer.

But it’s easy to forget what’s true.

And so just as Lexi’s enthusiasm reminded her bandmates of what they knew to be true, may this blog post remind you and me of what a privilege it is to be invited to meet each day with the Creator of the universe.

Lexi italy

 

 

J. Warner Wallace urges, “Send your teens to Summit!”

J Warner WallaceThis morning our New Covenant church family was captivated by J. Warner Wallace, who gave compelling evidence for God’s existence.  If you missed it, I hope you’ll watch the video.

At the end of his message, he gave a passionate charge to parents, adjuring them to send their teens this summer to the two-week Summit Conference!  He urged us to fill our bus!

What is Summit?  Rather than explain it,  click here to watch a video that shows you what it’s all about.

From personal experience, Cindy and I are so grateful that both of our girls attended Summit while they were in high school. Their experiences there adequately prepared them for the spiritual, intellectual, moral, and cultural challenges they would face at the state universities they attended.  Their faith was significantly bolstered by what they learned from their Summit experiences.

Professionally speaking — from my 23 years as a youth pastor at New Covenant — I’ve seen firsthand that college is a pivotal time where faith is either strengthened or abandoned altogether. That’s why we encourage all of our students to attend Summit before and/or during college to fully prepare them for life.

Obviously there is a cost to this two-week training, which pays for housing, food, materials, and face-time with some of best Christian thinkers, authors, and apologists from all over the world.  But I don’t think of it as a cost — Summit is an investment!  New Covenant offers some scholarships (and transportation to one of the sessions) because we think it’s so important. We hope parents and others will also consider investing in this important training.

Three important notes for those interested in going this summer:

  1. The early-bird price for Summit ended on March 31st, but Summit has made a special arrangement with our Intelligent Faith Conference to extend the early bird deadline until April 23.  If anyone registers for Summit using the coupon code “IntelligentFaith2016” they  will get that $200 discount!
  2. New Covenant is providing free bus transportation to anyone from the Cedar Rapids area to who wishes to attend Summit’s “Tennessee Session #1” (July 3-16.)  There are 9 other sessions to choose from as well, but note that we only provide transportation to this session.  Be sure to register for Tennessee #1 if you want to go with our group.  This transportation offer is also open to people from other local churches, but people must contact me to reserve a spot on our bus.
  3. If you regularly attend New Covenant and want information about New Covenant’s Summit scholarship (applicable to any session of Summit, not just Tennessee #1) contact me.

 

If you have any questions, I’d love to discuss this with any of you!

Summit interviewed me in this professionally-made video, asking why New Covenant makes it such a priority to send our students to Summit.  Enjoy!

Why I believe in “Intelligent Faith.”

IFC newlogo w boxOne of the saddest things is to see people blindly embracing belief systems without any supporting evidence.  God gave us minds to use and to not do so would be about as ridiculous as a person with good eyes living with blindfolds on.  To not use what God gives would be a waste of His good gifts.

But some would argue — as I did in my satirical April Fools joke yesterday –that faith and reason are incompatible.  As if certain things are matters of faith, whereas other things belong to the realm of reason.  I want to challenge that argument.  I would assert that faith and reason need to work together.

But first I need to define what I’m talking about when I use the term faith.  Many skeptics think blind faith is the only kind of faith.  Blind Faith is believing something without any rational evidence, such as believing that the moon is made of cheese.

I agree with the skeptics that this kind of faith is an unfortunate waste of grey matter.

But I’m going to suggest there is another kind of faith — Intelligent Faith.

Intelligent Faith has three components.

  1. a subject to consider (a chair, for example)
  2. a rational assessment resulting in a belief about that subject (the chair appears to be able to hold my body weight)
  3. committing to that belief  (actually sitting in the chair, i.e. exercising faith.)

You’ll notice that reason itself has limitations.  Even in our simple example there’s a slight element of uncertainty in step 2 — the chair “appears” to be sturdy.  There is no absolute certainty that my chair will indeed hold my body weight — the wood may be rotten inside, the glue may be old, an earthquake may occur as I’m starting to sit down, etc.  So we don’t make decisions based on absolute certainty, but rather reasonable evidence.  Reasonable evidence is all a jury is asked to utilize in convicting someone — absolute certainty is never expected.  We all step out in faith based on reasonable evidence.  Faith fills the gap that reason alone leaves us.

So to put it succinctly:  Reason assesses; Faith trusts. There is no conflict.  Both are essential components needed to live life each day.

We all need to practice intelligent faith every day.  It’s how we decide whether or not to cover our roses after the weatherman’s frost alert.  It’s how we decide what we will allow ourselves to eat or not eat.  It’s how we decide what’s worth living for, fighting for, and dying for.  And what we believe happens after that.

I’m excited to be on the planning committee to present the Intelligent Faith Conference next weekend.  This event will draw attention to the vast amount of reasonable, rational  evidence that supports the Christian worldview, so no one will blindly believe anything.

The conference will be held April 8-9  at New Covenant Bible Church in Cedar Rapids.  The cost is $25 by this Sunday, April 3rd, $35 after that.  There is also a youth rally on Wednesday and a University of Iowa Q&A on the Resurrection on Thursday.  For more information on these events, or to register for the conference, click here!   I hope to see many of you there!

Why the Starbuck’s cups would have offended me.

fox_and_friends_first_-war_on_christmas_starbucksRecently the Starbucks “red cup controversy” made the headlines as it was purported by some to be a “war on Christmas”.  I personally think it was mostly a publicity stunt, as I know of exactly ZERO Christians (and I know a lot!) who were concerned about it.

But it does remind me of my own journey.  Until a few years ago I too might have been offended by such Starbuck’s cups — along with other Christmas trappings that exclude any mention of Jesus.  So for those who haven’t heard my story, let me share what brought me out of Grinchiness.

I wrote the following in Jan, 2008…


 

Anyone who has been around me this Christmas knows that I’ve had quite a change of perspective with regard to Christmas. For the past couple of years I’ve had this ever increasing negative attitude, bemoaning the secular “X-Mas” along with its assault on the spiritual “Christmas.” After all, Santa is spelled with the same letters as Satan!

I was disturbed at how the true meaning of Christmas (Jesus’ birth) is so often obscured by frivolous holiday trappings (decorations, ornaments, trees, the obsession with materialism, and of course, Santa). They’re taking Christ out of Christmas!

My attitude hit an all-time low in early December [2007] when I found myself at odds with my own family. They had the audacity of wanting me to join in the annual decorating of our home, setting up our tree, stringing the lights, etc. My preference was to throw the wicked tree in the recycle bin and go to my room to read the Nativity story instead!

Fortunately, my friend Steve Duffy sent me an email just in the nick of time (no christmaspun intended). It was a 17 page summary of a book on the history of Christmas. I was captivated — to the extent that I immediately bought the book and absorbed myself in it.

The book, Christmas: a Candid History, by Bruce David Forbes, a professor at Morningside College, put it all in perspective for me and transformed my attitude completely. I recommend it for any of you remaining Scrooges or Grinches out there. Here are the things I came to understand.

  1. There is no record that the early church ever even celebrated the birth of Christ at all for the first three centuries. (The Death and Resurrection were their big celebrations.)
  2. Only 4 chapters in the whole Bible mention any details of His birth.
  3. Even so, the season of His birth was never indicated, nor was any commandment ever given about recognizing it in any way.
  4. Midwinter celebrations (like Saturnalia, New Years, and the Winter Solstice) had been held since long before the time of Christ as a way to bring cheer to a dark, gloomy season of shortened days (in the northern hemisphere). These popular celebrations were characterized by greenery (holly, mistletoe, poinsettas), gift giving, lights and feasting along with a lot of raucous partying.
  5. After Constantine legalized Christianity, church leaders added a celebration of Jesus’ birth to these Mid-Winter festivals in an attempt to “Christianize” the festivities and tame the revelry.  (Had they tried to cancel them outright they would have faced stiff opposition.)  December 25th was designated as the day to recognize His birth, adding new traditions to the winter festivities.
  6. Therefore the spiritual aspect to the holidays has always been an “add-on” to a mostly secular cultural phenomenon.
  7. Interestingly, the Puritans almost succeeded in killing Christmas between the 1600s to 1800s, making the point that it wasn’t observed by the earliest church fathers.  Christmas thus fell out of public acceptance.  Their influence is shown by the fact that Congress and public schools were still meeting on Christmas day until 1850!
  8. Just as interestingly, Charles Dickens’ short story, “The Christmas Carol,” and Queen Victoria’s elaborate royal family traditions were instrumental in bringing Christmas back to popularity — this time with a new emphasis on families and children. Shortly after that, legends of St. Nickolas began to morph into today’s concept of Santa Claus largely through the poem “T’was the Night Before Christmas, ” which added to this new focus on children, toys, and gift-giving.
  9. Capitalism, higher standards of living, and advancements in technology have naturally and understandably increased the consumer emphasis of all of our holidays, including Christmas.

 

All these facts helped me realize that my thinking about Christmas was skewed. I learned that there’s nothing inherently wrong with enjoying a winter “holiday” with all it’s cultural trappings. And I learned that “true meaning of Christmas” wasn’t predominantly about Jesus’ birth at all. Instead of looking at the glass as half empty, I’m now looking at it as half full, rejoicing at how much Jesus remains a part of an otherwise secular season.

I rejoice that (for now anyways)…

• The name “Christ” in Christmas is still largely a part of the our holiday culture.
• Christmas carols, some clearly proclaiming the gospel message, have endeared themselves to our culture and are commonly enjoyed in public stores, holiday concerts, and on secular radio.
• Nativity sets, reminding the world about the incarnation, are commonplace and culturally acceptable.
• Jesus is thought about and talked about more during this season than any other time of year.
• TV and news specials about Jesus, Bethlehem, etc are common and generally positively portrayed.
• Church attendance at Christmastime has become a cultural family tradition for many–even the irreligious.
• Charity and unselfish giving are great values during this season—affording opportunities to share about God’s generous nature.


 

Since I stopped being a Grinch about Christmas eight years ago, I can honestly say that I thoroughly enjoy the holiday season, red cups and all!

Review of Romans 15:14-33 (Sat)

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Here’s the whole text from this past week in the NET translation.

15:14 But I myself am fully convinced about you, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able to instruct one another. 15:15 But I have written more boldly to you on some points so as to remind you, because of the grace given to me by God 15:16 to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles. I serve the gospel of God like a priest, so that the Gentiles may become an acceptable offering, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.

15:17 So I boast in Christ Jesus about the things that pertain to God. 15:18 For I will not dare to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in order to bring about the obedience of the Gentiles, by word and deed, 15:19 in the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Spirit of God. So from Jerusalem even as far as Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ. 15:20 And in this way I desire to preach where Christ has not been named, so as not to build on another person’s foundation, 15:21 but as it is written: “Those who were not told about him will see, and those who have not heard will understand.”

15:22 This is the reason I was often hindered from coming to you. 15:23 But now there is nothing more to keep me in these regions, and I have for many years desired to come to you 15:24 when I go to Spain. For I hope to visit you when I pass through and that you will help me on my journey there, after I have enjoyed your company for a while.

15:25 But now I go to Jerusalem to minister to the saints. 15:26 For Macedonia and Achaia are pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem. 15:27 For they were pleased to do this, and indeed they are indebted to the Jerusalem saints. For if the Gentiles have shared in their spiritual things, they are obligated also to minister to them in material things. 15:28 Therefore after I have completed this and have safely delivered this bounty to them, I will set out for Spain by way of you, 15:29 and I know that when I come to you I will come in the fullness of Christ’s blessing.

15:30 Now I urge you, brothers and sisters, through our Lord Jesus Christ and through the love of the Spirit, to join fervently with me in prayer to God on my behalf. 15:31 Pray that I may be rescued from those who are disobedient in Judea and that my ministry in Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, 15:32 so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company. 15:33 Now may the God of peace be with all of you. Amen.

There are a lot of things in this passage. I’m going to review this week simply by listing them.

he affirms them,
he reviews his calling,
he gives God credit,
he expresses hope to see the Romans on his way to Spain,
he highlights the generosity of two other churches,
he asks for prayers of protection, fruitful ministry, and joyful refreshment.

Reflections on Romans 15:30-33 (Fri)

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Today’s passage in the NET translation.

15:30 Now I urge you, brothers and sisters, through our Lord Jesus Christ and through the love of the Spirit, to join fervently with me in prayer to God on my behalf. 15:31 Pray that I may be rescued from those who are disobedient in Judea and that my ministry in Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, 15:32 so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company. 15:33 Now may the God of peace be with all of you. Amen.

It’s not often that Paul asks for prayer for himself, so I’m going to be curious to analyze this passage.

Parsing the first sentence down to it’s simplest form, Paul says “I urge you to join me in prayer on my behalf.” So I observe that he’s not asking them to do something he’s not already doing. He sees it as urgent. He asks for fervent prayer. He recognizes that prayer happens through Jesus and the Spirit’s love.

The specific requests are 1. to be rescued from the disobedient Judeans, 2. that his ministry may be acceptible to the Jerusalem saints 3. in order that he may come to the Romans with joy and be refreshed.

He’s asking for protection, fruitful ministry and joyful refreshment.

The first request surprises me because I view Paul as being fearless and not running from persecution. This seem to be the cause for his “urgent” request. I see Paul as being content in any and every situation (Phil 4:10-13) and so this surprises me.

The second request doesn’t surprise me. Fruitful, acceptable minstry seems like a good thing to pray for.

Third request also surprises me at first. He asks them to pray for his joyful refreshment. Sounds kind of self-centered at first — I mean he doesn’t ask for joy for the Romans, just for himself. But then I reflect on the concept that he’s wanting to be refreshed by their company. They will be blessed as he is refreshed. They will receive the joy of giving, just as he receives the joy of receiving. It’s a mutual delight, which I’ve thought about quite a bit in other contexts. This kind of delight ought to occur betwen spouses in lovemaking. It’s also experienced as we delight in the Lord’s delight of us. So asking to be satisfied in them is a way of honoring these Roman friends.

Reflections on Romans 15:25-29 (Thu)

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Here’s the text for today in the NET translation.

15:25 But now I go to Jerusalem to minister to the saints. 15:26 For Macedonia and Achaia are pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem. 15:27 For they were pleased to do this, and indeed they are indebted to the Jerusalem saints. For if the Gentiles have shared in their spiritual things, they are obligated also to minister to them in material things. 15:28 Therefore after I have completed this and have safely delivered this bounty to them, I will set out for Spain by way of you, 15:29 and I know that when I come to you I will come in the fullness of Christ’s blessing.

In this account, Paul talks about the generosity of the Macedonian and Achaian believers towards the poor believers in Jerusalem. Twice he says they were “pleased” to do so. This shows their attitude. It was not a grudgery, but a delight for them to send funds with Paul.

I also found their motivation interesting. In this case they weren’t giving out of compassion or pity. They were repaying the Jerusalemites for their previous generosity to them. They recognized that they were indebted to them spiritually and so now they were happy to repay them materially. It was a delight for them to have a reciprocal “we need each other” type of relationship with their fellow-believers.

So now for my application. To whom am I indebted (spiritually or otherwise) and consequently to whom should it be my delight to bless in some way?

Reflections on Romans 15:22-24 (Wed)

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Here’s the text for today in the NET translation.

15:22 This is the reason I was often hindered from coming to you. 15:23 But now there is nothing more to keep me in these regions, and I have for many years desired to come to you 15:24 when I go to Spain. For I hope to visit you when I pass through and that you will help me on my journey there, after I have enjoyed your company for a while.

Today I have several small reflections.

1. Paul’s dream of visiting the Romans was delayed many years because of his commitment to evangelize the unreached territories first. In our day of immediate gratification this willingness to defer dreams for years stands out as commendable.

2. There was nothing more to keep him in these regions. I assume he either presented Christ in every city there or God re-directed him. Either way, he finished his task.

3. Paul shows his humanness and limited understanding by assuming he was destined to end up in Spain. The historical record would indicate he never got there. He got to Rome — but in chains — and died there. His dream of going there — which seems to be of the Lord — was never realized. It seems he died before ever getting there. It strikes me that this situation of dreams from God not happening is common to humanity. Many people die before attaining what they set their hearts on. It’s interesting that Paul doesn’t mention this loss of his Spain dream in 2 Timothy — the last book he wrote from Rome before his death. He says he finished the course. I guess he came to realize that Spain was someone else’s mission field.

4. He looked forward to enjoying their company. That says something about what the church is supposed to be. Not empty rituals or duties or chores, but a living, relating, loving, delighted fellowship of believers.

5. He says he hopes that they will help him on his journey. He’s not ashamed to ask for their partnership and assistance.

Reflections on Romans 15:17-21 (Tue)

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Here’s the text for today in the NET translation.

15:17 So I boast in Christ Jesus about the things that pertain to God. 15:18 For I will not dare to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in order to bring about the obedience of the Gentiles, by word and deed, 15:19 in the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Spirit of God. So from Jerusalem even as far as Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ. 15:20 And in this way I desire to preach where Christ has not been named, so as not to build on another person’s foundation, 15:21 but as it is written: “Those who were not told about him will see, and those who have not heard will understand.”



what Christ has accomplished through me
… I’m reflecting on Paul’s understanding of his own limitations. In reality we can do nothing apart from Christ and anything good that we produce is merely God’s handiwork on display.

In staff meeting each week the question is asked of us, “What happened this week in your area of ministry that only God could do?” The only right answer is everything! Every good thing is God’s doing! Now I understand the intent of the question, but it would be more accurately stated this way: “Share some of the most extraordinary things that you saw God do this week.” Ok, I’ll get off my soapbox!

This idea of me being incapable of good things — rather it’s Christ accomplishing things through me — requires us to be humbled. Last Sunday in the hallway at church I had a great conversation with a college student who struggles with this idea. He wants to “gut it out’ and push forward in victory. He sees surrender to anyone as a defeat so this is a hard concept for him to grasp. It’s interesting that Paul, who had reason to boast of his great achievements, will only speak of what Christ has done through him. As for me, I often like to think about what God does in spite of me!

I desire to preach where Christ has not been named… Paul is a pioneer, an entrepreneur, wanting to be used of God to introduce Jesus to those who have never heard. He doesn’t want to build on another man’s foundation — his preacher’s heart beats for persuasive evangelism rather than discipleship of someone else’s converts. As Bob mentioned in his sermon on Sunday, we have to know who we are, accept who we are, and be who we are.

Reflections on Romans 15:14-16 (Mon)

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Here’s the text for today in the NET translation.

15:14 But I myself am fully convinced about you, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able to instruct one another. 15:15 But I have written more boldly to you on some points so as to remind you, because of the grace given to me by God 15:16 to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles. I serve the gospel of God like a priest, so that the Gentiles may become an acceptable offering, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.

I’m reflecting on the fact that Paul considered the Romans able to instruct one another. He had adequately trained them so they no longer needed him to hold their hands. Sure reminders might be in order, but overall, they had progressed to the point of needing very little outside help. In a sense, Paul had worked himself out of a job!

This attitude of equipping others to the point of no longer needing you is a key one I think. Too often we enjoy having others depend on us and so we forget our job is to make them succeed even without us. Parents especially need to adopt this attitude so their kids learn to function on their own.

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