I’m learning to be… a Philippians 4 kind of guy.

This past Sunday, I taught two of the most quotable verses in the Bible:

Philippians 4:10 —  I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

Philippians 4:19 — And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.

Really, be honest. How many times have you quoted one or both of those  scriptures to convince someone else (or yourself) that things will get better, that you can do absolutely anything you put your mind to, that your “increase” is just around the corner?

Continue reading “I’m learning to be… a Philippians 4 kind of guy.”

Happy Father’s Day

To all the father’s out there, Happy Father’s Day. I hope the Lord blesses your time being celebrated. But I also hope you take the time to celebrate.

The Lord has been impressing on me all week, leading up to this morning, just how blessed I am to have the heavenly Father that I do. I’ve been trying to wrap my head around John 1 all week–that through the finished work of Jesus, I have the right to be called a child of God. The right. Not a privilege, which it is. Not a favor, which does no justice. But a right.

I am a child of God. He saw my desperate need, traversed the insurmountable distance, and completed all the legal work on my behalf so that  I can now proclaim the irrevocable right of adoption and be called a child of God. More so,  He hasn’t been an absent Father.  He did the legal work, and then took me into His household, care and riches.

Happy Father’s Day, guys. Be celebrated, but please don’t let the day pass without celebrating your heavenly Father.

The Leaves that Leave Us Smitten

Part of my devotional life recently has been to go back to the writings of the historical church–not as a replacement for scriptural devotion, but as a subtle effort to break through the facade that our modern culture has painted into and over what we believe it means to be a Christian. In hindsight, I think the genesis of this has been in teaching through the Bible over the past six years, and especially through the four gospels the past three.

When going earnestly to scripture for what scripture says–and with a decision to break it out of the box of our cultural interpretations, allowing it to speak from its own motives and cultural setting–I think one incapable of ‘not’ noting the vast chasm between what scripture (Jesus) says, and what we bend it to mean, thus allowing us our lukewarm, milquetoast, disconnected ‘discipleship’ of our Lord and Savior.

Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God, God in flesh.

Continue reading “The Leaves that Leave Us Smitten”

Life Essentials Study Bible Review

Life Essentials Study Bible - HCSB Book Cover Life Essentials Study Bible - HCSB
Study Bible
Broadman/Holman

B&H Publishing were nice enough to send me a review copy of the Life Essentials Study Bible. Now, I had already owned one--bought it myself, a hard copy. But again, they were nice enough to send me an updated copy of the Bonded Leather edition for review.

Just a little insight into my fleshly nature... I was a bit bummed when my free Bible showed up. I know... I know... You don't have to preach to me.

I was bummed because I thought I was receiving the blue/tan leather-like Leather-Touch binding. (I really like those, by the way, when I can't afford genuine leather.) But they sent bonded leather, which I have never been a fan of. Bonded leather is most often more like plastic than the minute leather fibers being bonded by the plastic.

But bummed or not, the disappointment didn't last long. It's a quality finish, and the bonded leather is remarkably more leather-like than any bonded leather I've ever owned. If you're suspicious of bonded leather, go to a book store and give this one a feel. I think you'll be surprised, and I think you'll find this a good alternative to more expensive genuine leather.

Now on to the content...

Buy this Bible. Buy it and use it.  It's a good translation. It's a great and accessible study Bible.

Unlike most study Bibles, it doesn't have verse by verse commentary, whether interspersed or in the footer of the Bible. Instead, it breaks the entire Bible text (from Genesis to Revelation) down and gives Life Essential Principles based on the text. The pertinent verses in the text are highlighted in blue, and a small article gives the principle, with application.

I find that the principles are solid, scriptural, indexed, and applicable. To make it better, each article/principle has a code that you can scan with your smart phone that will take you out to a multi-minute video that expounds the principle and text.

It really is great. Note: I haven't read/watched every principle, so I'm not ready to put my entire reputation behind a blind blanket endorsement, but what I've seen has been quality.

Look up Gene Getz's credentials for yourself and make your own conclusions.

In conclusion: It's a great Bible. It's quality in both materials and contents--which is no surprise coming from B&H. It will be applicable, studious, and the video may make it more accessible to many than other study Bibles (i.e. ESV Study Bible--I love mine, but it's a lot to gnaw on!).

Buy it. I would buy this particular one again if I B&H hadn't sent it to me.

 

 

A Pastor’s Justification — Book Review

The Pastor's Justification--Applying the Work of Christ in Your Life and Ministry
Jared C. Wilson
Ministry
Crossway
July 31, 2013
e-book
192

Great, easy, Biblical read that will benefit those in ministry, and those who know someone in ministry.

OK… The legalese stuff up front… This e-book was given free of charge by the publisher in exchange for a book review. There is and was no expectation from either party that the complimentary material would be exchanged for a positive review–just and honest one. And that’s exactly what this review will be.

Now, with all of that said… Buy this book. If you are a pastor, in Christian leadership, have a pastor, know a pastor, want to become a pastor… If you are a Christian, you should have a pastor in your life, so you should read this book.

This book will probably be most beneficial to pastors. It’s basically a dissection of 1 Peter 5, and the qualifications of a pastor/elder.  As such, it is very Biblical. Very. The author doesn’t stay constrained to 1 Peter 5, though. It carries a heavy dose of Biblical instruction and encouragement.

The book’s major premise is to lay the freedom of the pastorate singly on the gospel of Jesus Christ, just as our salvation and all blessings are. Pastors should know this. We really should. But the statistics in the introduction indicate that many of us don’t. The sense of burden that can so often become synonimous with ministry indicates that we forget. The sense of isolation and loneliness, depression, fatigue… The unBiblical sense that the health and success of the church depends on us… The unhealthy and detrimental feelings that those in the congregation are problems to be fixed, as opposed to people whom Jesus loves enough to have died for…

Yah. If you’re not a pastor, you’re shocked that pastors could feel any of this. If you are a pastor, you feel convicted that you’ve fallen into this at times and in seasons.

But we’re flawed people, members of that same congregation, who have been given the great privilege to under-shepherd a portion of Jesus flock. As members of that congregation, with one job among many to be done in that congregation, the same gospel applies to us. And that gospel is so momentous, so grand, so perfect and complete–it’s big enough even to cover the role, office and person of the pastor.

Praise God!

This book convicted me. It encouraged me. It reminded me and informed me. It was quite powerful, and I suspect that it will be again upon a planned reread.

So again… If you’re a pastor–especially a pastor who is dealing with any of the symptoms listed above–read this book. If you are on a support staff for pastors, please read this book. If you have a pastor, please read this book. If you are frustrated with your pastor, please read this book. He’s going through things that you have no idea about, and you’re probably giving him the short stick with all of your judgments.

If you don’t have a pastor, get one. Then read this book. Then buy it for him, tell him how much you appreciate him, and give it to him.

Ephesians says that pastor-teachers are a gift to the church. I am convinced this book is a gift to pastors.

The hands and feet are connected to the heart

I’m reading a great book by Jared C Wilson called ‘The Pastor’s Justification’. Crossway gave me an electronic copy to review. This is not that review. It’s just a few thoughts as I read it. It’s a dissection of 1 Peter and Peter’s instructions to church leadership on how and why they do what they do. It really is a liberating and instructive read. I look forward to writing the review.

Chapter 1 covers, in part: “Do it without compulsion”, i.e. do it because you get to, not because you have to.

In describing the need to do everything for Jesus, and combat the fatigues, depression, desperation, etc inherent in the work of a pastor, he describes his Monday mornings. Well, first he describes his week, and I can empathize. His whole week drives toward Sunday. It’s spent basically on call 24×7, tending to church needs, peoples’ needs, family needs, and all of it driving toward Sunday morning. He describes the responsibility carried throughout the week to receive and develop the word Jesus has for His church that week–not a feeling of production, but of responsibility. He describes the spiritual and emotional toll that Sundays usually take. The spiritual and emotional tax of relaying God’s word, then making himself available to all of the congregational needs–large and small–before going home and basically collapsing.

That’s why pastors usually take Mondays off. They’re spent.

But he has a wonderful reason for not taking Monday off. He takes his weakness to Jesus that his ministry may be empowered by Jesus. And he never loses the awe, privilege and humility in the fact that he gets to serve Jesus’ flock.

Our omnipresent Savior is waiting for me in the office on Monday
morning. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will
give you rest,” he says (Matt. 11:28). I am plum tuckered on Monday
morning. I face ample temptation to wallow. But Jesus promises rest. I may be a shell of a pastor at this time each week, but God is no less
God. His might is no less mighty. His gospel is no less power. His reach
is no less infinite. His grace is no less everlasting. His lovingkindness
is no less enduring.

 

My first thoughts on Monday mornings are to my fatigue and all I must
do, but I must push them into thoughts of Christ, of all he is and all
he has done. There lies the vision that compels my will.

 

Then I want to think of the flock God has loaned out to me not as
items on a task list but as people made in the image of God, precious
and broken and beautiful and sinful, like me. I want to see them as
people, not problems. I want to see them not as obstacles in the way
of some vague missional purpose but as the missional purpose itself.
The minute I begin seeing God’s people as problems to be solved (or
avoided) is the minute I’ve denied the heart of Christ. [emphasis mine]

OK church. You translate that from pastor-perspective to daily walk. How do you view people? Do your actions show it? You can’t be the hands and feet of Christ until you have His heart.

Are there people that you dread? Then see them as the mission, and not an obstacle.

Here’s spit in your eye.

In Mark 8:22-26 there’s this odd little story of Jesus healing a blind man. Now, the fact that He healed a blind man is not odd. Old Testament prophecy predicted that that’s what the Messiah would do–that and more! The blind would see; the lame would walk. The broken would be restored. That’s what the Messiah would do.

What’s more, in His ministry up until this time, we’ve seen all kinds of healings and miracles.

There’s nothing strange or abnormal about restoration through Jesus Christ. It’s just the way Jesus did it that seems strange to me–that and the the Blind man’s response.

Jesus was ministering in Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man for Jesus to heal. Jesus took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village. Once alone and away from the crowds, Jesus spit in his eye.

Yes. You read that right.

Jesus spit in his eye.

Gross. I don’t want to offend anyone out there by calling Jesus’ spit gross, but gross. If I had been that blind man–not knowing much about this man who was leading me around in the dark–and I’d felt his breath close to my face, followed by warm wet dripping down it, I would have thought: “Did he just do what I think he did?”

Now, true… When He told me to open my eyes and asked if I could see anything, and I opened my eyes and saw people for the first time in a long time–even if they were blurry–all would have been forgiven. And when he laid His hands on my eyes and asked again–and I had 20/20–I would have worshiped at His feet.

But then, having gone home and bypassed the village like Jesus instructed, and perhaps having heard of other recounts of this great, powerful, compassionate man, I would have asked a few questions. If I’d heard of Jesus healing the Roman official’s servant with just a word from afar, I would have wondered why He needed to spit in my eyes. If I had heard of Him delivering the Canaanite woman’s child from demon possession from afar, with just a word, I would have asked why He needed to lay his hands on me the second time. If I had heard of Him raising a dead girl immediately, with just a command, I would have asked why it took a second try on my eyes.

I’m an inquiring mind. I would have had the same questions I have now, reading the account two thousand years later.

But, being this formerly blind man, contemplating these questions after the fact, I think I would have then imagined the first thing I’d seen clearly after years of darkness. His eyes. Those eyes searching me intently with all of the power and compassion that fuels the universe.

And I think the questions would have melted away into oblivion.

Why did He spit in my eyes? I don’t know and really don’t care anymore. I’ve been touched by God Himself! Why did it take two tries? Beats me; does it matter? I see now, and I’ve seen God in the process!

Last week, in preparing to teach this section, I left it with more questions than answers. I’m OK with that. I really am, because the questions gave me perhaps the greatest answer. What, how, when, where, why? It doesn’t matter. What matters is that I’ve been touched by God. All that matters is ‘Who”.

When God allows something gross into my life I have all the questions about it, but the one simple answer is always there. What does it matter? I’ve been touched by God. Things look blurry and I can’t see clearly? It’s OK. I’ll see clearly in His good time, and He’ll be there peering into my soul when it happens. Taking longer than I expected? That’s OK too. It’s just that much longer that I’m helplessly in His presence being personally ministered to by…

All of the power and compassion that fuels the universe.

Psalm 8:4 — what is man that you are mindful of him,
    and the son of man that you care for him?

But you do, God. You do. That’s all the answer I need.

The misfits, the Kingdom, and God’s glory…

One of my favorite scriptural passages is 1 Corinthians 1:26-28. As someone who has never considered myself as particular strong, or smart, or creative, that verse ministers to me. As someone who never saw myself as ‘pastor material’, and having received that call, it ministers to me on new levels.

I’ve learned that if I am to boast in anything, it is in my weakness, because in my weakness God is glorified (2 Corinthians 12:9). I’ve learned by experience that God chooses to use the weak because when He does radical things through weak and ignoble vessels, He gets the glory.

I was reading in 1 Samuel today and something occurred to my pastor’s heart. How often are we short-changing ourselves and the kingdom of God by not recognizing the scriptural references above? Where we are so free to apply the above God-logic to ourselves, are we so free to apply it to others that we view as weird misfits?

How many see a fellow Christian that is a little strange, downcast, odd, weird, disenfranchised, and we give them a wide berth? When we pick people on our spiritual basketball teams, they’re not only the last to be picked, but they aren’t picked at all? How many are excluded and made to feel as outsiders because they are different, and we somehow designate them as unimportant, with little or no potential?

Oh… Yah… I mentioned 1 Samuel, didn’t I?

1 Samuel 22:1-2

David was fleeing Saul and went into hiding because Saul wanted to kill him. Saul actually saw David as too profitable for the kingdom. Saul wanted to kill David because he was successful and Saul didn’t want competition. This is a separate blog post altogether, fellow pastors! (But worthy of mention here. Our job is to raise people up, equipping them for ministry. If you are threatened by those you lead, get on your face before God!)

But notice verse two. Who rallied around David? The desperate. The indebted. The discontented.

The weirdoes. The ‘failures’. The forgotten and cast-offs.

They rallied around David. And they were the men who would overcome Saul with him. They are the people that God used to eventually seat David on the throne. In 1 Chronicles, when David’s “mighty men of valor” are listed, I’m sure many of these misfits are listed among them. Where Saul saw unprofitable weirdoes, David either recognized or created mighty men of valor.

That’s a powerful thought.

Think of Saul’s failure here. And think of David’s great victory in surrounding himself with these men, pouring into them, leading them, investing in them. Saul removed from the kingdom. David credited it.

I encourage you not to look at people with human eyes. See them with spiritual eyes. Love people as Christ loves you. Accept them as Christ accepts you. Invest in them as you have been invested. Lead them. Even train them. Recognize what others miss, whether it be hidden skills or just potential. Have David’s eyes and Paul’s heart (1 Corinthians 3:9-10).

Do this. Every Christian that reads this post–do this. One day, you will find yourself surrounded by great people of valor. And God will be greatly blessed and glorified through it.

 

PS: For future reference, what’s the plural of weirdo? I trusted autocorrect in this post, but will need to know in the future as I write about the church. 🙂

New Year — Old Man

So, it’s a new year. 2015.

Praise God for a wonderful year with my beautiful and amazing wife, my kids (OK, they’re all old enough to hate being called that, but I’m a dad, sue me…), each of whom I am so proud of, and all of whom I love more than words can describe. Praise God for all of the wonderful family I have at Calvary Chapel Ooltewah. I don’t deserve to have you in my life, much less have the privilege of serving you, serving with you, and leading you.

Praise God for the coming year. I can’t imagine what God has for me, our family and the church. I can’t wait to see. As far as the church, I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that God has an exciting new season for us. (The building we’ve leased for 4 years has sold to a new, amazing, very Godly owner. But nonetheless, we’ll need to find a new place to meet by April of this year.) I’m not sure what God has in store, but He owns the church. Jesus leads it. And He doesn’t do things for no purpose. So, I am excited to see what He has for us.

In any event, for whatever reason, I awoke this morning thinking as much about last year as the coming year. I had several questions on my mind that I want to consider balanced between my own ‘old man’ nature and God’s gracious heart that loves that me wherever I am.

  1. Did I give my everything for Jesus?
  2. Did I give my everything for Judy (that beautiful, amazing, supportive, loving wife I mentioned a moment ago)?
  3. Did I give my everything for my kids?
  4. Did I give my everything for Calvary Chapel Ooltewah?
  5. Did I give my everything for my day-job?

That’s a lot of ‘everything’ isn’t it? Now, I’m not a math teacher, I just teach one on Sunday mornings (love you, Toni-sis!), but I know enough to realize that none of us have 500% to give. Maybe some motivational speakers will tell you that you do, but they’re bad at math too.

So I guess my questions revolve around the idea of whether I gave my all to others or held back for my own comfort, entertainment, laziness, whatever… Did I go to the mat or throw in the towel? Did I run the race to win, or flail my arms?

The answer to all five of the questions above is– ‘no’. No I did not give it my all. I still have many of the same character flaws that I started 2014 with. I have failed everyone in some way, whether they know it or not. I have had my lazy moments, my scared moments, my weak moments. I have procrastinated, given partial effort, lacked faith, lacked empathy, lacked resolve, lacked courage…

But here’s the cool thing. God has used the introspection today to swallow me in His love and grace. He has gently caressed me. He has whispered that that’s why it all has to be about Him, what He thinks, what He does… And He’s used that introspection to give me a renewed zeal, renewed vision for how I may pour myself out–ways I can be with and for others, ways I can develop in Him, ways to serve Him, my family and my church.

There is an excitement in introspection sometimes–if we do it with Jesus. He’ll shine a light into our heart. The old man retreats, and the shadows get smaller.

I can’t wait for the new year. My hopes for that year are varied. Among the hopes is this:

When I awaken on January 1, 2016, I’ll ask the same questions. I’ll undoubtedly receive the same answers. But I’ll have spent more time on the mat, more time running, and less time flailing my arms. The old man will have another foot in the grave, and I will be closer to what Jesus calls me to be.

Happy New Year. I hope to serve you better. I hope to serve and represent Jesus better. I hope we both do it together.

 

AJ

 

 

 

 

 

Bible Review: HCSB Large Print Ultrathin Reference Bible, Brown Genuine Cowhide

HCSB Large Print Ultrathin Reference Bible, Brown Genuine Cowhide Book Cover HCSB Large Print Ultrathin Reference Bible, Brown Genuine Cowhide
Holman Bible Staff
Bibles
B&H Publishers
September 1, 2014
1328
http://www.bhpublishinggroup.com/products/hcsb-large-print-ultrathin-reference-bible-brown-genuine-cowhide/

A great translation, wrapped in a quality, smith-sewn leather cowhide.

A word of transparency to start… This Bible was presented to me by the publishers, free of charge, as a review copy. They did not ask for a good review, only an honest one–which it will be.

Those who know me know that I’m a Bible collector. It’s become a bit of an inside joke in our family. We’ve literally had to buy more bookshelves to house my extensive library of books, many of which are various Bibles. But ‘collector’ is a misnomer. They get used. They get marked up. They get worn, bent, crinkled, creased and cross-referenced from use. Each Bible has a specific purpose. Some of them are journaling Bibles with wide margins, so that I can mark them up and journal as I study. Some of them are various study Bibles, with commentary built in. Some are devotional Bibles. Others were found at a reduced price at a used book store and were just too pretty to leave there, sitting lonely on the shelf. (Hey, I’m a sucker for a leather binding; sue me.) It’s this latter category that are generally given away as encouragement to others to get into the Word and allow it to transform them.

This Bible will not be given away. It will definitely become my main Bible for both daily reading, carrying with me to church and Bible studies, as well as teaching from on Sunday mornings. Let’s discuss why–as well as a few nits to pick about it.

(1) It’s beautiful.

The photo doesn’t do it justice.

I’ve already admitted that I’m a sucker for a nice leather bound Bible, and this is definitely a nice leather bound Bible. The cowhide is soft and supple. B&H has always done well with leather bindings, and I’ve found that they use quality materials in their covers. I have the HCSB Minister’s Bible in black leather binding. This one is softer and prettier.

It bends easily in the hand without being so malleable that it becomes a hindrance. It’s just firm enough that it sits well in one hand to stand and read from, as I do every week at church.

The edges are standard gold. The indexes are easily accessed, but not intruding. The OT books are indexed in black, while the NT books are indexed in red–which makes them easily identifiable.

(OK… I know where the books of the Bible are, but if you have never taught–i.e. public speaking–you don’t know the horror of your mind going blank in front of expectant faces for no other reason than the fact that you’re in front of expectant faces…)

A small nit to pick, per the indexes… I wonder at the durability of the pages at the point of index. The indexed are cut out of each page as curved rectangles, as opposed to the oblong circular cut-outs in other indexed Bibles I’ve seen and owned. I actually like the visual aspect of the rectangles better, but as my wife thumbed through the Bible last night, I noticed that the stark edges of the rectangular indexes could tend to tears and folds more-so than curved indexes. But that’s a small gripe and just a suspicion. I’ll be interested if it actually presents a problem with extended use.

The nicest indexing I’ve seen on a Bible.

(2) Durability

Despite the suspicion mentioned above, I expect this Bible to wear well. The leather is hardy and well-bound. But it also appears to be smith-sewn. In other words, the pages aren’t just glued into the binding, they’re sewn in. My Minister’s Bible is smith-sewn, and it’s proven very durable. If you like the leather binding on this Bible, you should expect it to last.

 

(3) Readability

As the name implies, the print is large. The pages are a bright white, but aren’t shiny, so the contrast is very good. I can read it well in both bright lighting and not-so-bright. I’m not always the biggest fan of red-letter editions though I like idea of being able to easily spot the words of Christ. The reason is that red lettering can often hurt contrast and make it harder to read them. I like the red lettering in this Bible because it’s bold and legible–almost maroon as opposed to red.

Easy to read. Note the less than literal translation in Psalm 1. This would worry me more if not for the excellent footnoting (photo below).

I really like the font used. Really. Although I can imagine traditionalists hating it. I’m not sure of the font, but it’s not the traditional ‘Biblical’ type font. It is contemporary, clean, and in my opinion, actually easier to read.

I mentioned in my HCSB translation overview that the translation is well footnoted. The footnotes in this edition are easy to read, without becoming intruding on the page.

For the serious Bible student, the footnotes retain the importance of the original. Without them, one would miss the progression implied in walk, stand, sit…

A special note on readability… They decided to put the Book/Chapter/Page Numbers on the bottom of the page. I’m not sure why. Perhaps there’s some printsetting science behind it that I don’t know about, but it just seems weird. It doesn’t seem to be any harder to find them when I am flipping for a specific book and verse. I just have to ‘flip’ the bottom corners instead of the top. It’s just odd after 35 years of Bible-reading.

I’m sure I’ll deal with it and it will become second nature.

The pages are thick enough to feel substantial, but still thin enough to allow minor bleed-through from the printing on the opposite side. It doesn’t severely affect readability, but I would have sacrificed a little of the “thinline” of the Bible for a little thicker paper.

(4) Size

Whichever Bible you prefer, this is what yours should look like… Open in front of you. 🙂

It’s a very good size for a personal and teaching Bible. Having been known to carry large study Bibles around with me, this thing is a dream.

Final review:

It’s a great translation. It’s a great Bible that does everything it’s designed to do very well. It is worth the list price and I highly recommend it to someone looking for a trustworthy, modern English Bible. It’s great for everyday use in both devotional reading and studying.