Thursday, September 9, 2010

How People Change seminar this fall

What is God up to in our lives as he is seeking to change us, sanctify us, make us more like Jesus? How do we actually change in good ways? What's the relationship between our thoughts, action, words and the heart out of which all these things flow? How can we better participate in God's work of growing, changing, refining us?
This fall Brandon will be leading a small group seminar on biblical change based on the CCEF counseling course "How People Change."  The class will meet on Thursday nights, 7:30-9:00 pm, at the church and will begin on September 23. The cost of the class is $15 to cover the workbook.
  For more information, you can click here to see a sample lesson and watch the video clip below. If you're interested, please email Brandon or Kathy asap to sign up.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Judgment and Wrath

This summer I’m preaching through the story of Abraham, and this week we’re looking at Genesis 19 and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.  It’s been a sobering week of sermon preparation.  In Genesis 19, God utterly wipes out an entire city and its surrounding villages because of their oppression of others and violent godlessness.  This judgment of God then becomes a metaphor throughout Scripture of God’s judgment on sin, a judgment that finds its final expression in the day of judgment, when Christ returns and when every man, woman, and child will come face to face with their maker.  Those who trust in Christ will find mercy and salvation, those who don’t will find everlasting condemnation. 

It’s hard to read these things, hard to write them now, and sobering to preach.  So much of the Bible woos us to God with the overpowering love of Christ.  And it may well be true that love is a better motivator than fear.  And yet… the Bible doesn’t shy away from telling us the truth of God’s judgment and wrath in all its bleak awfulness that we might rightly fear a future devoid of God. 

There are a few things I’ve read this week that might be a help for those who are wrestling with this incredibly important teaching of the Bible:

• Jonathan Edwards’ sermon “Sinners In The Hands Of An Angry God.”
I don’t think I’d read this since high school, but found a copy online and read it again this week.  Edwards is graphic and passionate, but even when it seems he may have gone somehow too far, I was reminded that he’s really only drawing out the reality of God’s wrath and judgment that Jesus himself spoke of in graphic terms.  It is a sobering sermon.

• D.A. Carson’s new book The God Who is There: Finding Your Place in God’s Story, Chapter 12: “The God Who Is Very Angry”

• Tim Keller’s book The Reason for God, chapter 5: “How Can a Loving God Send People to Hell?”

Thursday, July 15, 2010

God and Guinness

The Search for God and Guinness by Stephen Mansfield
And for our next book review... a book about beer.  And about God.  And vocation.  And the redemptive use of wealth.
For the record, I was given this book as a birthday gift.  That said, it was a great gift.
The book begins with some some Guinness facts.  Let me quote a few:
• More than ten million glasses of Guinness are consumed each day worldwide.  This is nearly two billion pints a year.
• Guinness is now sold in 150 countries.  It is brewed in 49 countries.
• In 2003, scientists at the University of Wisconsin reported that a pint of Guinness a day is good for the human heart.
• Arthur Guinness (who founded the brewery in 1759) founded the first Sunday schools in Ireland, fought against dueling, and chaired the board of a hospital for the poor.
• A Guinness worker during the 1920's enjoyed full medical and dental care, massage services, reading rooms, subsidized meals, a company-funded pension, subsidies for funeral expenses, educational benefits, sports facilities, free concerts, lectures and entertainment, and a guaranteed two pints of Guinness beer a day.
• During World War I, Guinness, guaranteed all of its employees who served in uniform that their job would be waiting for them when they came home.  Guinness also paid half salaries to the family of each man who served.
• A Guinness chief medical officer, Dr. John Lumsden, personally visited thousands of Dublin homes in 1900 and used what he learned to help the company fight disease, squalor, and ignorance.  These efforts also led to the establishment of the Irish version of the Red Cross, for which Dr. Lumsden was knighted by King George V.
• Guinness was known for its care of its employees.  One Guinness family member who headed the brewery said, "You cannot make money from people unless you are willing for people to make money from you."
• In the 1890's, Rupert Guinness, future head of the brewery, received five million pounds from his father on his wedding day.  Shortly after, he moved into a house in the slums and launched a series of programs that served the poor.
• Henry Gratten Guinness, grandson of brewery founder Arthur Guinness, was a Christian leader of such impact that he was ranked with Dwight L. Moody and Charles Spurgeon in his day.  He has been called the Billy Graham of the nineteenth century.

  This is a book about the famous Guinness stout, but even more a book about the stout Christian faith of a family and a company that sought to honor God in the faithful brewing of beer, the faithful care of it's employees, faithful service to the poor in Dublin, faithful Christian witness to the world.  The Guinness family had generations of brewers, businessmen, politicians, pastors.  And through it all ran a lineage of faith that began with the founder, Arthur Guinness.
  Here's what captured my imagination the most in this story--its beautiful, robust, biblical picture of pursuing a vocation with passion and excellence, of caring for the poor and oppressed, and of using the legitimate pursuit of wealth for ends much greater than just personal enrichment.

  May the world have more families, more legacies, more good beer like Guinness.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Same Kind of Different As Me by Ron Hall and Denver Moore

Reviewed and Recommended by Camper Mundy
The New York Times Bestseller Same Kind of Different as Me is an amazing true story of “relational justice.”  Written by Ron Hall and Denver Moore, the book details the development of their unlikely friendship.  It is the story of “a dangerous, homeless drifter who grew up picking cotton in virtual slavery, an upscale art dealer accustomed to the world of Armani and Chanel, and [the] gutsy woman with a stubborn dream” who brought them together (back cover).
This is a story of redemption for two men, a story that so powerfully shows the relational nature of mercy and justice.  And a story that emphasizes the two-way street of relational justice, that mercy is not about the “haves” helping the “have nots,” but rather about people in need of grace embracing people in need of grace.  It’s about the grace of God breaking into the lives of people who may appear radically different on the outside but who are actually very similar on the inside.
Themes such as prejudice, grace, homelessness, wealth, sickness, suffering, forgiveness, and faith run throughout the book.  This book explores the beauty found in relationships when risks are taken, when barriers are crossed with courage and humility.  Any reader of Same Kind of Different as Me will be encouraged by the transformational nature of the gospel and challenged to express that gospel by loving boldly.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A Praying Life by Paul Miller

Recommended by Kathy Buhl

Are you as intimate with the Father as you’d like to be or know that you can be?  Can you do life on your own?   Do you believe that time, talent, and money are all that you need to be satisfied?  Are you no longer in need of God’s grace in your life?  Like me, you would probably say a resounding “No!” to all of those questions, yet we don’t pray.  Has prayer become an add-on to our life instead of the very fiber of it?  
In A Praying Life, Paul Miller takes an honest look at what prayer is, what hinders us from praying, and how to enter into a vibrant life of prayer.  Drawing from his own personal examples, Paul shows us how it looks and feels to have a life of prayer.   Prayer is when the real you meets the real God.  Let’s face it, life is messy, ugly, and full of unbelief; not at all how we want to come to God.  Yet, that is exactly what He wants.   A Praying Life encourages us to draw near to the Father in an intimate relationship, not to perform a duty.   Looking at Jesus , his life of prayer, and his utter dependence on the Father, is what we have to guide us as we grow together in prayer.  
Do we believe that God is that personal?  Can and does God change hearts?  What do we do with God’s extravagant promises about prayer and how do we handle unanswered prayer?  These and other tough questions are addressed in A Praying Life as we consider the gospel story that God is weaving in our lives.  
This book will encourage you to connect with God in the daily-ness of life and restore hope and expectation as your life becomes “a praying life.” 

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Humility: True Greatness by C.J. Mahaney

  Awhile back I gave some thought to writing a book on humility.  Now that puts me at something of a disadvantage because aspiring writers are often encouraged to "write what you know."  On this topic I'd have to take a different approach, the one an investigative reporter takes: write what you don't yet know but want to know.

  I've found Humility: True Greatness to be a good primer, a good first step, in thinking more deliberately about humility--and in the more difficult work of actually pursuing humility of heart & life.

  Mahaney opens his book with an observation that Jim Collins' made in his leadership & business book Good to Great.  Collins realized in his research of companies that went from being good companies to being truly great that one of the ingredients was a leader who was, of all things, humble.  Someone who was a strong and decisive leader but at the same time self-effacing, who realized his or her need for other opinions and insight.  Someone who was quick to give credit and praise to others where credit was due.  Someone who was committed to the greater good of the company's greatness, not his or her own achieving glory.

  Yet, in business and in every other aspect of life, we don't usually prize humility. Mahaney defines humility this way: "honestly assessing ourselves in light of God's holiness and our sinfulness."  Instead, though, we scramble for recognition, affirmation, and sometimes power and control rather than prizing an awareness of ourselves as we stand before God--not only as sinners or sinners saved by grace, but as finite, dependent men and women who were created to live for God's glory and not our own. And so, chapter 2 of the book takes us right to the core of what bends us from the narrow and simple road of humility--the pride that has wrapped itself around every human heart. And here he puts his finger on something that both James and Peter tell us in the New Testament (James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5):
"God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble"
God doesn't simply make note of the proud--he opposes them.  That can sound a little extreme, can't it?  As if God is insecure and petty in his overseeing of us, his creatures.  But our pride isn't just a minor character flaw in us, it is the heart of rebellion against God in all his goodness, wisdom, and sovereignty over our lives.  Our pride is the bent of our heart that says "not thy will, but my will be done."  Mahaney quotes Calvin helpfully here: "God cannot bear with seeing his glory appropriated by the creature in even the smallest degree, so intolerable to him is the sacrilegious arrogance of those who, by praising themselves, obscure his glory as far as they can."  God opposes the proud because our pride obscures God's glory, turns our eyes away from him, and welds armor around our hearts so that we can neither love God nor follow him.  Our pride needs to be opposed by God.

  But there's the other side of the equation: God gives grace to the humble.  God's eyes are drawn to the humble heart.  The humble know God's grace, know God, walk with him.  In humility we get a right understanding of ourselves, and we get God.  And that grace of God comes to us in the person of Jesus, the Son of God in the flesh.  The humble Son of God in the flesh.  The one who deserved all glory, but laid it aside.  The one who did not count equality with God something to be grasped, but who made himself nothing.  Who took on the form of a servant.  Who became human.  Who was obedient to the point of death.

  So how do we become humble ourselves?  The last third of the book takes up practical disciplines in pursuing humility.  Acknowledging our need for God as the day begins.  Ending the day in thankfulness.  Meditating on the attributes of God, the one who actually deserves praise and glory.  Thoughtfully encouraging others around us.  Inviting and pursing correction from others.  Responding humbly to trials.  These chapters are good a good place to start in cultivating humility in our lives.  And it's all worth it--because in humility we get God.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Shepherding a Child's Heart by Tedd Tripp

Reviewed by Marti Hutchison
Parenting is difficult; excellent, God-centered parenting is IMPOSSIBLE without the grace of God. There is no shortage of advice out there about how to raise children.  How can a parent discern which of the many well-meaning "experts" are right?  Does God's Word have any real direction for us?  Genuine believers vary widely in their parenting philosophies and methods, so to whom do we listen? 
Shepherding a Child's Heart, by Tedd Tripp, does an excellent job of addressing the heart of this issue of childrearing. Tripp, a seasoned parent, pastor, counselor and school administrator, offers no magical formula, but, instead, calls parents to the arduous task of pursuing a relationship with each of our children and living daily in the light of the Gospel as we parent.   
Shepherding a Child's Heart can be divided, pragmatically, into two parts.  The first part of the book provides the foundation for Biblical parenting, and looks at what the goals of parenting ought to be and how to pursue those goals.  It further discusses how to engage our children in what really matters, by addressing heart issues and emphasizes that communication and discipline work together.  The second half of the book provides practical training objectives and procedures for infancy through the teen years. 
Tripp's thesis, if you will, is that every behavior has its root in the heart.  We must address the heart issue, and not the outward behavior, in each of our interactions with our children.  We should, therefore, not aim for outward conformity in our children's behavior but a change of understanding of the way in which the behavior either glorified God or was sin against Him.  The goal of discipline, then, is NOT punitive, but corrective, and should be used as a means to restore relationship (with God, with parents, with others). Conversely, the goal of discipline is NOT to alienate, embarrass or chide. 
The author discusses that in order to discipline confidently, we need to first understand our calling to be in authority over our children; not because we're smarter, bigger or less sinful, but because that is the role God has given us.  We are to be shepherds to our children.  We have been placed in their lives to guide, protect, correct, discipline and teach.  Our role is NOT to "catch" them being "bad", but to understand their sinfulness and their need of a Savior, just as we understand this about ourselves.  
Tripp encourages parents to use the "shaping influences" in our children's lives (family life, siblings, values, the culture around us, etc.) to lead them toward a Godward orientation in life.  It is our role to equip them to respond to everything in life with an awareness of the Gospel, our need of it, and a desire to please God BECAUSE of it.    
I love this book!!  The centrality of the Gospel (the good news of Jesus and His pursuit of a relationship with us) permeates the book.  We must, likewise, pursue a relationship with each child that God has blessed us with, and, by God's grace, within the context of the authoritative role God has given us as parents, help our children internalize the Gospel so that it effects every aspect of their lives.  God has commanded us to "teach them (His commandments) to our children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up." Deut. 11: 19  This command doesn't look optional to me.  We cannot assume that someone else is going to shepherd our children.  No, parenting isn't for sissies, but it is for people committed to relationship with Jesus, and humbly relying on Him to enable them to do what He has called them to do.  "But He said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness'." II Corinthians 12:9. Our great Shepherd will help each of us as we shepherd our children.      

Thursday, January 21, 2010

If God is Good... Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil

Reviewed by Chris Tennant

If God is Good... Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil is the latest book from author Randy Alcorn, whose previous book Heaven enjoyed enormous popularity. In If God is Good Alcorn tackles the question that both believer and non-believer alike wrestle with, "If God is all-knowing, all-powerful, sovereign, holy and loving, why does He allow evil and suffering?" Or as St. Augustine succinctly presented the dilemma: "If there is no God, why is there so much good? If there is a God, why is there so much evil?"

Written with a pastoral heart, Alcorn carefully explores principles laid out in Scripture and reinforces them with numerous real life accounts of people dealing with suffering. Because it is not merely a collection of philosophical and intellectual arguments, this book serves not only to teach but also to comfort. (For a more scholarly approach to the subject of theodicy, consider reading D.A. Carson's excellent book How Long, O Lord?). Readers expecting quick and trite answers will be disappointed, because the truth is, there are none. If God is Good runs on the long side at 512 pages but remains completely accessible throughout, despite delving into topics such as the sovereignty of God and human will.

The book is divided into 11 sections which are comprised of several short chapters each. The book begins by presenting the problem of evil and suffering, including its origin, nature and consequences. Having a proper, Biblical perspective of sin is imperative for starting any discussion on evil and suffering. Alcorn's emphasis on how lightly we take sin and just how wide the chasm is that separates a holy God from sinful creatures is a powerful reminder for us all. As C.H. Spurgeon rightly pointed out "too many think lightly of sin, and therefore think lightly of the Savior".

Several sections are dedicated to showing why popular worldviews are simply incapable of providing a framework for understanding evil and suffering. One of the most relevant to our present day is the so-called prosperity gospel which promises health and wealth to those with sufficient faith. Of course when these temporal expectations are not met the result is a profound disappointment in a God who did not keep his "promises". The importance of having a Biblically based worldview is vital. Even a cursory reading of the gospels should be enough to discourage us from any notions of a suffering-free life in this fallen world (see John 16:33).

Alcorn also explores how some have attempted to excuse God, or get Him “off the hook”, from the evil and suffering by limiting one or more of His attributes. For instance, by denying God's omnipotence some have been able to excuse God for the evil in the world. While God remains all-knowing and knows when evil is about to occur, they argue that he is nevertheless powerless to do anything about it. Apart from breaking from Scripture which reveals God as all-powerful (see Isaiah 46:9-11) this presents us with a God who is not only unable to deliver us from suffering, but also who cannot deliver us through suffering.

The focus of the book then shifts to showing how Christianity alone provides a worldview that is big enough to include the evil and suffering around us. The clearest picture we have of God's good and perfect will being accomplished through evil and suffering is Christ's redemptive work on Calvary. God allowed Jesus' temporary suffering so he could prevent our eternal suffering. Christ's atonement guarantees, for the Christian, the final end of evil and suffering. This leads to a very readable discourse on divine sovereignty and human will.

Vital to any discussion of evil and suffering is the subject of Heaven, a place where God's eternal grace is extended to unworthy but grateful children, and Hell, where God's sovereign justice is administered to evildoers. If we do not have a sound Biblical understanding of Heaven, we rob ourselves of a source of hope and joy (see Colossians 3:1). This is where Alcorn is uniquely qualified and particularly effective, having written the definitive book on Heaven. In fact, the name of Alcorn's own ministry - "Eternal Perspective" - speaks to his desire to establish a sound theology of Heaven and eternity in the church today.

God allows suffering to make us more Christ-like. In preparing us for eternity “God doesn’t simply want us to feel good. He wants us to be good. And very often, the road to being good involves not feeling good”. Among other things, suffering ought to make us more thankful, cultivate humility, expose idols in our lives, remind us of our inability to control our life, prepare us for eternity and provide a means by which we grow in joy, compassion and hope. The book concludes with a section of practical applications for living meaningfully in the midst of suffering. A large part of that is cultivating an eternal perspective in our lives. As Alcorn reminds readers, for the believer, this life is the closest they will come to Hell. For the unbeliever, this life is the closest they will come to Heaven.

If God is Good is a remarkable achievement in that is provides a comprehensive yet accessible treatment of perhaps the most difficult question that we face as we live out our lives between "paradise lost" (Eden) and "paradise regained" (Heaven). The best summary is given by Alcorn himself, who writes that "the answer to the problem of evil is a person and a place. Jesus is the person. Heaven is the place."

Good books to read... coming this way

Starting this week, the Grace blog is back in business. Among other topics, I'll be posting book reviews by folks in our congregation. The idea is to let our congregation know about good books to be reading. We'll be featuring some on parenting, ministry, prayer, and the problem of evil (our next post), among others. So keep checking back!