Tuesday, April 30, 2019

We All Are Michael Vick

I attended a men's conference this weekend in Youngstown, Ohio, called Rally in the Valley.  Probably the most memorable part of the conference was an interview of former football player Michael Vick.  As you might recall, Michael Vick was a successful NFL quarterback who was later found guilty on Federal charges of dog fighting and then sentenced to Federal prison.  At this conference there were protesters outside that did not think it was appropriate for a convicted felon to give an interview at a Christian men's conference.   As my son Daniel and I sat in the auditorium, the protesters that were previously outside moved inside the auditorium and sat right in front of us.  As Michael Vick was introduced, they began verbally protesting.

As the interviewer asked questions of Michael Vick, it was readily apparent that God had done a work in his heart and that he understood the meaning of the forgiveness and grace that is found in Jesus Christ.  As some of the protesters were escorted out of the building by security, Michael Vick stated that he totally understood why people could be upset with him and verbally told the protesters that he understood their frustration and he forgave them for any offense directed toward him.  The interview revealed that Michael Vick had an ugly past, but was living a different life now, not just forgiven, but now living for Christ.

This whole episode made me think of how we deal with the history of our lives.  On the one hand, we look back on our lives with a sense of our own righteousness.  I have heard many people say "I have no regrets in life", or "I have lived a life without regrets".   I understand the sentiment of these words, but I'm not sure these are words I'll ever be able to say.   Reflecting back on my life, there are many regrets I have.  There are times when I lacked courage and should have spoken up, times when I acted judgmentally toward others and failed to act graciously.  There are many times when I was spiritually lazy, and did not do the hard work of repentance to bring about change in my life that would glorify God.  God does not want us to live in the past, but he also does not want us to live an unexamined life.

The most popular T-Shirt at the men's rally was the shirt that you see in this post.  It was an encouraging shirt to see, because it strikes at the story of redemption.  Redemption is the story that we have great sin, but also a great Savior.  Perhaps one reason why my attention was so grabbed by the Michael Vick T-Shirt is because of what we describe as sin.  Lying is sin, killing is sin, cheating on college entrance exams is sin.  Yet if we read closely the words of Jesus in the four Gospels, Jesus spends the greatest amount of time condemning the sin of self righteousness.  Self righteousness is the idea of the great pride we take in our own moral record and the easy platform it gives us in condemning others.  The good news is that redemption takes us from sin to the gospel.  "The gospel reminds us that we are more sinful than we ever dared think, but more loved and accepted in Christ than we ever dared hope, both at the same time" (Tim Keller).  This view really frees us to look at the sin in our own lives with freedom, unafraid to live an examined life, and quick to apply the forgiveness and love of Christ both to our lives and the lives of those around us, like Michael Vick.  The good news is that Michael Vick repented of his sins and is now free and forgiven in Christ.  This is the gospel.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Beauty Driven Duty

Whether we know it or not, our lives and communities are walking billboards for Christianity.  Recently I visited a Christian university for homecoming and one thing that stood out to me was the joy of the students.  Everyone greeted us with a sense of excitement.  Our visit was encouraging and uplifting because of the joy that surrounded us.  It got me to thinking, how is my joy quotient?  When people are around me, do they sense joy, or a lack of joy?   Joy is not something that needs to be painted on the face of the Christian, but instead is the natural result of correctly understanding the love of Christ for sinners. When the gospel is rightly understood, it should kindle a sense of Christ's beauty.   Tony Reinke in his book "John Newton and the Christian Life" reminds us that a life without joy in Christ is a life that lacks proper focus.  The Christian life is about vision, a proper vision of Christ.  Reinke writes, "when your hearts feel the comforts of God's pardoning love, you will delight to imitate him.  When you can truly rejoice that he has freely forgiven you of that immense debt...you will have no desire to take your fellow servant by the throat." He continues, "This daily renewed sense of Christ's beauty softens our heart and erodes angry and resentful thoughts against those who have offended us.  When the love of Christ rules our hearts, we can put on 'compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness and patience' (Col 3:12-14)."

The Christian life for me is at times a march of drudgery, keeping rules, avoiding sins and sterile duty.  Yet in reading Newton, I am reminded that the gospel rightly understood, is a fire that kindles the heart toward joyful obedience.  The kindling for the fire is the love of Christ.  As Newton writes, "Christ's love must first be received before Christ's example of love can be pursued...by trusting in Christ, we behold his blood-spilled love.  We love Christ and in loving him we seek to become what we love." 

This week in church during worship, hold in your mind the beauty of Christ as you sing.  His perfect love for His church should be the fuel that not only fires our worship, but also fuels our obedience.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Love God with Your Time

As a pastor, one of my most difficult tasks in life is to eat what I cook.  It's easy to preach through the Old and New Testament Scriptures each week.  I love to study and communicate the truth of the Bible.  Actually applying the truth of the Bible to myself each week?  Well, as the Wizard of Oz said in the movie, "that's a horse of a different color!" 

When Jesus taught his disciples about priorities and about what to prioritize in terms of obedience, Jesus set the priorities in the context of love.  Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.  Jesus merely pointed out the obvious.  Love shows itself in how we use our time, our money and our talents.  I prioritize time with my kids and wife if I truly love and value them.  I prioritize time for golf if it is a love that pushes other things to the side.  During the course of life, sometimes I have more money, sometimes less.  Other times I have more energy, sometimes less energy.  On some occasions, my talents even change, where I am more skilled at sports or teaching or running.  Yet the one thing that never changes is time.  Each day always has the same allotment.

Recently I have become convicted on how I use my time to serve Jesus.  Do the news posts and articles I read about current events and sports really reflect a love for God?  I am a firm believer in fun and relaxing as part of a healthy spiritual life, but it must be in balance.  Loving God with my time means not curtailing fun, but using the time for communion with God, service to God and service to others.  After meditating on Matt 22:36-40, I am convinced (convicted) that I can do better, ultimately leading to greater joy.

How are you doing with your time?  Love God with your time.  A change in priorities reflects what we truly love.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

The Pain of Porn

One of the attention grabbing headlines of the past several years was Playboy Magazine's announcement that they would no longer offer nude photographs in their magazine. One Twitter feed recently explained the reason why..."Breaking News: Playboy to stop publishing nude pictures, leaving men only 79,895,422 places to access photos of naked women." The internet is the new environment for the unspeakable. A Gallup poll released in June 2018 states that 43% of Americans believe pornography is morally acceptable. Polls show that young people believe that "failure to recycle" is a worse sin than pornography.

We now live in an age of access, with the resulting devastating effects. Movie producer and director Harvey Weinstein spent a lifetime in the movie industry, often featuring gratuitous nudity in Oscar winning films such as "Shakespeare in Love". Sadly, the litany of alleged sexual assaults leveled against Weinstein are merely the by-product of an industry that treats men and women as sexual objects that are to be used, abused and discarded.

C.S. Lewis once wrote, "we laugh at honor and yet are shocked to see traitors in our midst." The movie and film industry normalizing immoral behavior, helps create a society that normalizes porn but blindly believes there will be no moral fallout. An organization called "Enough is Enough" provides some startling statistics:

  • 46 published reports demonstrate that exposure to porn puts individuals at increased risk for committing sexual offenses.
  • Extramarital sex is one of the leading reasons for divorce, and porn consumption is correlated with positive attitudes towards extramarital affairs.
  • Porn sites get more visitors each month than Netflix, Amazon and Twitter combined.

As a Christian, God calls us to shine the light (Eph 5:11). We are to shine the light on our own lives, pushing back the darkness of immoral behavior and we are to shine the light on darkness in the world, bringing the light of the gospel. In a world with increasing levels of pornography, consider:

1. Getting with a confidant and going through accountability questions to hold each other accountable regarding behavior.

2. Consider placing software on computers and devices to help block porn sites.

3. Fill your heart with the worship of Christ. The best defense is a good offense. As Job said, "I have made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a woman." May God give us strength, as we look ahead, fixing our eyes on Jesus.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Why Johnny Can't Preach

The average American spends seventeen times more time watching television than reading.  This includes magazines and newspapers.  This statistic reflected the huge cultural change that has happened in America over the past decades.  We are consumers of information through video and media, rather than in written form as never before. This reality affects not just how we learn, but how we communicate.

T. David Gordon has written a book addressing the impact of video on our culture and how it has negatively affected preaching in America, and he recommends some important remedies. Dr. Gordon is a college professor and for 14 years served on the New Testament faculty at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary.  When Mr. Gordon was struck with cancer and given a short time to live, he sought to write a book that would embody what he felt most strongly about, biblical preaching.  In his book, Why Johnny Can't Preach, he laments the problem of bad preaching and talks about how media and video has changed not just people, but communicators that preach God's Word.

In the era of video and cell phone usage, careful reading of a text for clear meaning and content has taken a back seat to entertainment because of the shortening of our attention span.  As Americans increasingly obtain information through media, Americans also do not read carefully or don't read at all.  Preachers have been affected by these changes as they fail to represent the underlying text that they ostensibly represent, because the preacher is not reading the text carefully and not seeking to communicate a clear, singular point. One of the helpful illustrations Gordon gives from preaching relates to the topic of preaching on love. Both Romans 5:8 and John 3:16 talk about love, but sadly when love is preached from these texts, it is often glossed over without digging into the intricacies of the text.  Love is spoken of in both texts, but a careful reading yields two different audiences and two different truths about love that the preacher must address and apply.

Additionally, Mr. Gordon laments the demise of reading.  In the past, reading was careful and wide spread, yet now people get their content through video and short text messages.  This emphasis on video has blurred the difference between significant and insignificant.  We think of something as significant if we see it on television, but sadly most of television is filled with the insignificant.  Conversely, spiritual truths and Scripture are of enormous significance, yet the video age has shortened our attention span and given us the perspective of diminishing the importance of that which is not video.

This book is strong medicine for preachers, Christians and anyone who teaches or is involved in education.  Gordon gives many practical examples of how good preaching is developed and encourages Christians to reading, the medium that God chose to give us his Scriptures.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

What is the liturgy of your life?

Within the past year, the pastor of my church encouraged me to have a formal 'date night' with my wife each week.  This was a pipe dream for my wife and I for several years, and we never implemented this idea because of three young children below the age of 9.  Baby sitters are hard to find and expensive, kids require constant attention and soccer commitments.  It is hard to carve out time for a "date night" because of the ever pressing needs of our kids and money commitments. Yet his excellent suggestion directed us to have a "date night" at our dining room table at home.  Now each week, we put the kids in the basement with their favorite video and a bowl of popcorn, and my wife and I enjoy a candle lit dinner with a store bought dessert and peace and quiet together for a couple of hours.  In a planned and formal way, it is a practice that cultivates love and relationship in our marriage that we both look forward to and cherish.  You could say that this is one of our life "liturgys".  A liturgy is a habit or practice that cultivates your love for something.

James Smith in his book, "You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit", begins his book by asking the question, "What do you really want?"  In the deep recesses of your heart, what is your deepest longing and desire? Is it comfort?  Is it the stability that money brings?  Is it the love and respect of others?  Smith makes the point that our check books and personal calendar reflect the deepest love and longing of our hearts.

Love is a choice that is either cultivated or neglected.  Love is either protected or neglected.  Love "takes practice".  In many often unintentional ways, we built our lives around what we truly love.  The unspoken "liturgy" of our lives cultivates and deepens around some central idea.  The book challenges us to build routines and habits in our life that cultivates a deeper love for God.

It also exposes the emptiness of our rituals.  Are we worshipping and spending time with God because we desire more of Him, or because we want more of what he gives.  You can say "you are what you worship", but also say "you are what you love".  The question is, am I building my life habits on what I say is my greatest love?

Monday, May 29, 2017

The Sufficiency of Jesus Christ

John Newton was a great hymn writer of the 1700's world renowned for his authorship of "Amazing Grace", but many do not know that he was a wonderful letter writer. Although his sermons were not widely published, his letters to friends and congregants are full of pastoral wisdom and insight.  Tony Reinke recently published a compilation of Newton's writing that are pure gold.

Newton writes, "Every step along the path of life is a battle for the Christian to keep two eyes on Christ"-the eyes of the heart. "If I may speak my own experience," he said, "I find that to keep my eye simply upon Christ, as my peace, and my life, is by far the hardest part of my calling."

Newton lived out what the ancients called "the beautific vision".  Through the eyes of faith, keeping our vision of Jesus Christ at the center of our lives. Keeping our eyes upon Jesus with a constant awareness of his presence, is the great goal and challenge of the Christian life.  "By fixing our eyes upon Christ, our lives are filled with holy affection and delight, and we go forth in joyful obedience to him" writes Newton.  While the song "Amazing Grace" may be what John Newton was most known for, his writings tell a fuller story.  Newton was always focused on the sufficiency of God's grace in Jesus to meet our every need.  His love is sufficient to meet the hunger of our hearts, his resources are sufficient to give us strength and guidance, his presence is sufficient to calm an anxious heart.

I am going through this book with a friend and it has within it treasures that abound.  This book speaks constantly of the beauty of Jesus. Let me encourage you to go through this book with a friend, you will not be disappointed.

We All Are Michael Vick

I attended a men's conference this weekend in Youngstown, Ohio, called Rally in the Valley.  Probably the most memorable part of the c...