Thursday, December 24, 2009

This is What Jesus Christ Upholds By the Power of His Word

I was blown away by this video in light of the fact that my God and Saviour, who became flesh and dwelled among us, upholds all of this by the word of his power. He has been doing it since creation, and will do it until his second coming, when he will make all things new! Watch and worship.


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Multi-Site Mega Churches

I've just read an interesting article on multi-site churches in USA today. It's main feature is on Tim Keller, and it reports on the trend's strengths and weaknesses. Contrary to many of my friends, I'm actually in favour of this model if it is done right. As long as people are in intimate, accountable relationships within their church (e.g. small groups), and they are being overseen by pastors, this could be a great tool. I'd also add that 'video church' might be best done in local contexts, where pastors will be able to best engage with the culture of their local community. It's a huge discussion, and those are just some preliminary thoughts.

The following paragraphs stuck out to me:

(In contrast to the old small church model of having the same pastor preach, marry, bury, and visit you), Green recognizes, "We're just not looking for that kind of relationship with a pastor anymore. Today, it's all about a personal relationship with God, not the culture of a church. And a megachurch or a multisite church can still offer this. If you are there to hear a message and it's a powerful one, it shouldn't matter how it's delivered."

"Even if people are just watching the senior pastor on a screen, they are still gathering, as the Bible commands, they are still serving the poor, engaging in worship and study, and encouraging one another," says Ed Stetzer of LifeWay Research in Nashville, which studies church trends.

You can read the whole thing here.

The Ultimate Bible?

My wife thinks I'm crazy. I'm on a lifetime hunt for the perfect edition of the Bible. Perfect translation, perfect binding, perfect font, and so on. In the Bible Design and Binding blog, I think I've met my match. I've found someone who is even more particular than I am. I may read blogs like this, but this guy created and writes articles for a blog devoted to this quest. I have to step aside and admit that I'm in another league.

I have to admit that his latest review has caught my eye. This Bible and matching journal combination look pretty amazing. Aside from the fact that I'd like an ESV with Hebrew/Greek on one page, and English on the other, this may just be the ultimate Bible to date, a prospect for lifetime companion to this pastor/preacher. Take a look at the link here.

I do need to reinforce the truth that the guy writing the review is in a league of his own. Take a look at the following quote:

"This edition's paper has been upgraded. Combined with the added margins, something magical happens, something that makes the same leather cover that's on the ESV1 seem not at all the same. The weight of the text block and its relative width and slimness create the "Long Primer effect," a melty, decadent slouch that delivers pure tactile bliss".

What was that? Since when can a Bible be described as 'decadent' (i.e. sinful)? But I get is point, and I may save my pennies!

This quote is exciting for me as a Canadian: "The text is Anglicized, which means words like color are spelled colour". Amen to that!

Help Catch this Killer!

On (American) Thanksgiving Day, a 35 year old man showed up at a relative's house and was invited for supper, even though they had been estranged for a long time. For four hours, he sat and visited with the family. Then, he pulled out a gun and started shooting people, killing four, including a six year old girl. That girl was the niece of missionary David Sitton, founder of To Every Tribe Ministries. Here is a link to a video press conference explaining more. Pray for the Sitton family, and pray that people would come to Christ through this tragedy.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Red Apple Evangelism

This week I'm simultaneously putting the finishing touches on my Christmas Eve Sermon on John 1:14 and prepping a sermon on the conversion of the Ethiopian Eunuch for December 27. A bit different in 'feel', but what a privilege to be spending so much time in God's Word!

In my memory bank I remembered that James McDonald had a series of videos on what he calls 'Red Apple Evangelism' on his blog. As is usual with such things, I didn't watch when they came out, but I thought it might be helpful to take a look now. Boy, was I ever not disappointed. His evangelistic strategy was very thought provoking, and I commend all four videos to you (the grand total of time is under 10 mins). Take a look:

Top 100 Searches of 2009

This is a disturbing list put out by Norton. The fact that kids under 7 are searching words like 'sex' and 'porn' with frequency makes me weep. The whole list is worth reading.

Friday, December 18, 2009

12 Most Influential Books (on this Country Parson)

Tis the season to rate books. While many Christians are looking back on 2009 and offering their list of ‘the top 9 books of 2009’, I’ve decided to do something different. I guess you could call me a nonconformist! In no particular order, I’ve compiled a list of the 12 books (besides the Bible) that have most influenced my approach to the Christian life and Pastoral Ministry. As you read, keep in mind that this is not a list of the 12 best books ever, nor is it a list of the 12 books I wish shaped me most. This is an honest list as I assess the books I’ve read, and consider the passions God has given me. I’d welcome your feedback regarding which books I should be reading that will help balance me out better. I fully own the fact that many of these books have been written in the past 20 years. I consider this a weakness. But if I’m honest, although I loved ‘The Religious Affections’ and ‘Dissertation Concerning the End for Which God Created the World’ by Jonathan Edwards, and ‘The Mortification of Sin’ and ‘The Glory of Christ’ by John Owen, the books mentioned below have influenced me even more, even if many of the same themes are struck in them.

Desiring God - John Piper
“God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him”. This is John Piper’s anthem, and this book was his first to lay it out in detail. I first read it in the winter of 1999 and have never been the same since.

The Pleasures of God - John Piper
Not only are people called to be God-centered, but since God is the most glorious being in the cosmos, it is appropriate for him to delight in no one and nothing more than himself. As with all of his books, this one is full of Scripture that show this to be a Biblical idea.

Brothers, We are Not Professionals - John Piper
The business world is full of professionals, but the pastorate ought not to be. How can there be a professional cross-bearer? A professional fool (2 Cor 1)? How can one professionally die to one’s self or be a professional slave of Christ? This book of short reflections for pastors is really a series of Biblical exhortations to pastors.

The Supremacy of God in Preaching - John Piper
Simply put: the end goal of preaching is to create worshippers, and the act of preaching ought to be worship.

Preaching and Preachers - Martyn Lloyd-Jones
First a series of lectures at Westminter Seminary in the late 60’s, this book has shaped my view of preaching more than any other. Preaching is not a lecture. It is an event, empowered by the Holy Spirit!

Preaching Christ From the Old Testament - Sidney Greidanus
If the New Testament insists that Christ is the center of the Bible, how does a preacher connect these lines when preaching from the Old Testament? This book offers a theology of Christ-centered preaching, an overview of the various views of this throughout Church history, and then offers seven (or so) very helpful ways to move from Old Testament text to Christocentric application. Greidanus’ “Preaching Christ From Genesis” is a practical application of this methodology, walking through 26 or so key texts in Genesis.

Redeemer Church Planter Manual - Tim Keller
This unpublished spiral bound book can be ordered from Redeemer Presbyterian Church. I was glad to see that portions of it are due to be published in the fall of 2010. It offers a theology of church planting, and many, many practical helps. Along with John Piper, Tim Keller has shaped my approach to Church life more than any other author.

The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism - Tim Keller
How does one live and witness and preach in such a way as to gain friction with postmodern people? This book looks at the seven most common objections to Christianity in our day and shows first, that it takes as much faith to believe those doubts, as it does to believe the claims of the Bible. In the second half of the book, Keller offers a positive apologetic for the gospel.

Humility: True Greatness - CJ Mahaney
What is it and how does one practically pursue it? This book is small, but it packs an awesome punch.

Why Small Groups? - edited by CJ Mahaney
This one outlines how the family of Churches CJ Mahaney oversees, shapes their small group ministry. Very practical and helpful, even if your church does not have a small group ministry.

The Pastor-Evangelist - edited by Roger Greenway
This series of essays by American Presbyterians offers a theology of, and practical advice on how to, have an evangelistic priority woven into every aspect of Church life. Essential stuff, in my view.

Good to Great - Jim Collins
A secular business book in a list like this? Yep. Like it or not, this one has really helped me think about church life. Two words: common grace. If you doubt, read the book and be blessed.

(Honourable Mention to make it a Baker’s Dozen) Systematic Theology - Wayne Grudem
It’s only an honourable mention because I am yet to read every chapter. But everything from the way Grudem organizes his material, to his very accessible writing style, to his extended quotations of Scripture so that the Bible’s voice is the main voice, to his conclusions, resonate with me more than any other theological overview. I’m thankful for this great book.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

On Being Criticized

Tim Keller writes this amazing article on how to take criticism of your views. It is practical for any Christian and not just pastors. It is pasted below:
Recently several people have asked me 'how do you deal with harsh criticism?' In each case, the inquirer had felt stung by what they felt were unfair attacks on him or her. In this internet age, anyone can have their views censured unfairly by people they don't know. So what do you do when that happens? Here's is the gist of the counsel I give people when they ask me about this. For years I've been guided by a letter by John Newton that is usually entitled "On Controversy."

The biggest danger of receiving criticism is not to your reputation, but to your heart. You feel the injustice of it and feel sorry for yourself, and it tempts you to despise not only the critic, but the entire group of people from which they come. "Those people..." you mutter under your breath. All this can make you prouder over time. Newton writes: "Whatever...makes us trust in ourselves that we are comparatively wise or good, so as to treat those with contempt who do not subscribe to our doctrines, or follow our party, is a proof and fruit of a self-righteous spirit." He argues that whenever contempt and superiority accompany our thoughts, it is a sign that "the doctrines of grace" are operating in our life "as mere notions and speculations" with "no salutary influence upon [our] conduct."

So how can you avoid this temptation? First, you should look to see if there is a kernel of truth in even the most exaggerated and unfair broadsides. There is usually such a kernel when the criticism comes from friends, and there is often such truth when the disapproval comes from people who actually know you. So even if the censure is partly or even largely mistaken, look for what you may indeed have done wrong. Perhaps you simply acted or spoke in a way that was not circumspect. Maybe the critic is partly right for the wrong reasons. Nevertheless, identify your own short-comings, repent in your own heart before the Lord for what you can, and let that humble you. It will then be possible to learn from the criticism and stay gracious to the critic even if you have to disagree with what he or she has said.

If the criticism comes from someone who doesn't know you at all (and often this is the case on the internet) it is possible that the criticism is completely unwarranted and profoundly mistaken. I am often pilloried not only for views I do have, but also even more often for views (and motives) that I do not hold at all. When that happens it is even easier to fall into a smugness and perhaps be tempted to laugh at how mistaken your critics are. "Pathetic..." you may be tempted to say. Don't do it. Even if there is not the slightest kernel of truth in what the critic says, you should not mock them in your thoughts. First, remind yourself of examples of your own mistakes, foolishness, and cluelessness in the past, times in which you really got something wrong. Second, pray for the critic, that he or she grows in grace. Newton talks about it like this:

"If you account [your opponent] a believer, though greatly mistaken in the subject of debate between you, the words of David to Joab concerning Absalom are very applicable: 'Deal gently with him for my sake.' The Lord loves him and bears with him; therefore you must not despise him, or treat him harshly. The Lord bears with you likewise, and expects that you should show tenderness to others, from a sense of the much forgiveness you need yourself. In a little while you will meet in heaven; he will then be dearer to you than the nearest friend you have upon earth is to you now. Anticipate that period in your thoughts; and though you may find it necessary to oppose his errors, view him personally as a kindred soul, with whom you are to be happy in Christ forever."

So whatever you do, do anything you can to avoid feeling smug and superior to the critic. Even if you say to yourself that you are just 'shrugging it off' and that you are not going to respond to the criticism, you can nonetheless conduct a full defense and refutation in the courtroom of your mind, in which you triumphantly prove how awful and despicable your opponents are. But that is a spiritual trap. Newton's remarks about this are very convicting:

"A man may have the heart of a Pharisee, while his head is stored with orthodox notions of the unworthiness of the creature, and the riches of free grace. Yea, I would add, the best of men are not wholly free from this leaven; and therefore are too apt to be pleased with such representations as hold up our adversaries to ridicule, and by consequence flatter our own superior judgments. Controversies, for the most part, are so managed as to indulge rather than to repress his wrong disposition; and therefore, generally speaking, they are productive of little good. They provoke those whom they should convince, and puff up those whom they should edify. I hope your performance will savor of a spirit of true humility, and be a means of promoting it in others."

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Tipping Point

I first heard of Malcom Gladwell from Tim Challies on his 10 Million Words site. Challies' review caught my attention, so I bought the book he recommended - Gladwell's first of four bestsellers, The Tipping Point. Borrowing from the worlds of sociology, psychology, and epidemiology (the study of epidemics), Gladwell makes a convincing, 280 page case, for the fact that ideas, social behaviour, and products 'spread like viruses', and how they do so. I'd highly recommend the book. Below is a copy/paste of a Q & A with Gladwell about the book.

1. What is The Tipping Point about?

It's a book about change. In particular, it's a book that presents a new way of understanding why change so often happens as quickly and as unexpectedly as it does. For example, why did crime drop so dramatically in New York City in the mid-1990's? How does a novel written by an unknown author end up as national bestseller? Why do teens smoke in greater and greater numbers, when every single person in the country knows that cigarettes kill? Why is word-of-mouth so powerful? What makes TV shows like Sesame Street so good at teaching kids how to read? I think the answer to all those questions is the same. It's that ideas and behavior and messages and products sometimes behave just like outbreaks of infectious disease. They are social epidemics. The Tipping Point is an examination of the social epidemics that surround us.

2. What does it mean to think about life as an epidemic? Why does thinking in terms of epidemics change the way we view the world?

Because epidemics behave in a very unusual and counterintuitive way. Think, for a moment, about an epidemic of measles in a kindergarten class. One child brings in the virus. It spreads to every other child in the class in a matter of days. And then, within a week or so, it completely dies out and none of the children will ever get measles again. That's typical behavior for epidemics: they can blow up and then die out really quickly, and even the smallest change -- like one child with a virus -- can get them started. My argument is that it is also the way that change often happens in the rest of the world. Things can happen all at once, and little changes can make a huge difference. That's a little bit counterintuitive. As human beings, we always expect everyday change to happen slowly and steadily, and for there to be some relationship between cause and effect. And when there isn't -- when crime drops dramatically in New York for no apparent reason, or when a movie made on a shoestring budget ends up making hundreds of millions of dollars -- we're surprised. I'm saying, don't be surprised. This is the way social epidemics work.

3. Where did you get the idea for the book?

Before I went to work for The New Yorker, I was a reporter for the Washington Post and I covered the AIDS epidemic. And one of the things that struck me as I learned more and more about HIV was how strange epidemics were. If you talk to the people who study epidemics--epidemiologists--you realize that they have a strikingly different way of looking at the world. They don't share the assumptions the rest of us have about how and why change happens. The word "Tipping Point", for example, comes from the world of epidemiology. It's the name given to that moment in an epidemic when a virus reaches critical mass. It's the boiling point. It's the moment on the graph when the line starts to shoot straight upwards. AIDS tipped in 1982, when it went from a rare disease affecting a few gay men to a worldwide epidemic. Crime in New York City tipped in the mid 1990's, when the murder rate suddenly plummeted. When I heard that phrase for the first time I remember thinking--wow. What if everything has a Tipping Point? Wouldn't it be cool to try and look for Tipping Points in business, or in social policy, or in advertising or in any number of other nonmedical areas?

4. Why do you think the epidemic example is so relevant for other kinds of change? Is it just that it's an unusual and interesting way to think about the world?

No. I think it's much more than that, because once you start to understand this pattern you start to see it everywhere. I'm convinced that ideas and behaviors and new products move through a population very much like a disease does. This isn't just a metaphor, in other words. I'm talking about a very literal analogy. One of the things I explore in the book is that ideas can be contagious in exactly the same way that a virus is. One chapter, for example, deals with the very strange epidemic of teenage suicide in the South Pacific islands of Micronesia. In the 1970's and 1980's, Micronesia had teen suicide rates ten times higher than anywhere else in the world. Teenagers were literally being infected with the suicide bug, and one after another they were killing themselves in exactly the same way under exactly the same circumstances. We like to use words like contagiousness and infectiousness just to apply to the medical realm. But I assure you that after you read about what happened in Micronesia you'll be convinced that behavior can be transmitted from one person to another as easily as the flu or the measles can. In fact, I don't think you have to go to Micronesia to see this pattern in action. Isn't this the explanation for the current epidemic of teen smoking in this country? And what about the rash of mass shootings we're facing at the moment--from Columbine through the Atlanta stockbroker through the neo-Nazi in Los Angeles?

5. Are you talking about the idea of memes, that has become so popular in academic circles recently?

It's very similar. A meme is a idea that behaves like a virus--that moves through a population, taking hold in each person it infects. I must say, though, that I don't much like that term. The thing that bothers me about the discussion of memes is that no one ever tries to define exactly what they are, and what makes a meme so contagious. I mean, you can put a virus under a microscope and point to all the genes on its surface that are responsible for making it so dangerous. So what happens when you look at an infectious idea under a microscope? I have a chapter where I try to do that. I use the example of children's television shows like Sesame Street and the new Nickelodeon program called Blues Clues. Both those are examples of shows that started learning epidemics in preschoolers, that turned kids onto reading and "infected" them with literacy. We sometimes think of Sesame Street as purely the result of the creative genius of people like Jim Henson and Frank Oz. But the truth is that it is carefully and painstaking engineered, down to the smallest details. There's a wonderful story, in fact, about the particular scientific reason for the creation of Big Bird. It's very funny. But I won't spoil it for you.

6. How would you classify The Tipping Point? Is it a science book?

I like to think of it as an intellectual adventure story. It draws from psychology and sociology and epidemiology, and uses examples from the worlds of business and education and fashion and media. If I had to draw an analogy to another book, I'd say it was like Daniel Goleman's Emotional Intelligence, in the sense that it takes theories and ideas from the social sciences and shows how they can have real relevance to our lives. There's a whole section of the book devoted to explaining the phenomenon of word of mouth, for example. I think that word of mouth is something created by three very rare and special psychological types, whom I call Connectors, Mavens, and Salesmen. I profile three people who I think embody those types, and then I use the example of Paul Revere and his midnight ride to point out the subtle characteristics of this kind of social epidemic. So just in that chapter there is a little bit of sociology, a little of psychology and a little bit of history, all in aid of explaining a very common but mysterious phenomenon that we deal with every day. I guess what I'm saying is that I'm not sure that this book fits into any one category. That's why I call it an adventure story. I think it will appeal to anyone who wants to understand the world around them in a different way. I think it can give the reader an advantage--a new set of tools. Of course, I also think they'll be in for a very fun ride.

7. What do you hope readers will take away from the book?

One of the things I'd like to do is to show people how to start "positive" epidemics of their own. The virtue of an epidemic, after all, is that just a little input is enough to get it started, and it can spread very, very quickly. That makes it something of obvious and enormous interest to everyone from educators trying to reach students, to businesses trying to spread the word about their product, or for that matter to anyone who's trying to create a change with limited resources. The book has a number of case studies of people who have successfully started epidemics--an advertising agency, for example, and a breast cancer activist. I think they are really fascinating. I also take a pressing social issue, teenage smoking, and break it down and analyze what an epidemic approach to solving that problem would look like. The point is that by the end of the book I think the reader will have a clear idea of what starting an epidemic actually takes. This is not an abstract, academic book. It's very practical. And it's very hopeful. It's brain software.

Beyond that, I think that The Tipping Point is a way of making sense of the world, because I'm not sure that the world always makes as much sense to us as we would hope. I spent a great deal of time in the book talking about the way our minds work--and the peculiar and sometimes problematic ways in which our brains process information. Our intuitions, as humans, aren't always very good. Changes that happen really suddenly, on the strength of the most minor of input, can be deeply confusing. People who understand The Tipping Point, I think, have a way of decoding the world around them.

Pornography Pandemic

Justin Taylor noted a disturbing statistic about pornography, and then offered a very helpful roundup of resources to help Christians fight for purity. I've copied/pasted the entire thing below. It's worth reading!

A sobering stat from a university study:

Researchers were conducting a study comparing the views of men in their 20s who had never been exposed to pornography with regular users.

But their project stumbled at the first hurdle when they failed to find a single man who had not been seen it.

“We started our research seeking men in their 20s who had never consumed pornography,” said Professor Simon Louis Lajeunesse. “We couldn’t find any.”

HT: Mike Anderson

Here are some free resources to consider using as we battle together for purity:

And here are a couple of books to consider purchasing:

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Created to Sing

Below I've copied/pasted a great Tim Keller quote, transcribed by Dan MacDonald. Dan pastors Grace Toronto Church and was trained by Keller in New York, if I understand correctly. The quote has to do with Christians and singing. Enjoy!
"You and I were created to sing. If secular people are right, then we are an accident, and love and hate and good and evil are how you are hard-wired, but they do not really exist. But if you were created by someone then you were created for someone. If by God, then created for God, if by the king, then for the king. We were created to make Him our king. Until you are, true to your original nature – you are like a fish on the ground; like a seed of a tree left on the windowsill. You need to plunge into the Lord Jesus Christ to become who you were meant to be. When the trees come into the full presence and lordship of God, they will be able to sing and dance – they are mere shadows now, they will be fully themselves then – and if that is true for them, then what about for us?"

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Pastor, the People, and the Pursuit of Joy

The trailer for this year's Desiring God conference for pastors has been put out and is embedded below. I'm posting this for two reasons: 1) to be a small part of telling people about this conference; 2) to note that this short video is a snapshot into my life, and the lives of most pastors; a life that most people in the church never see. The quiet behind the scenes study, prayer, counseling, visitation, shepherding of a family. . .all to wake up and do it all over again. Who would ever want to do this? Only a man called by God who works for his own joy and the joy of his people, both of which are ultimately found in the glory of God. Enjoy the short video!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

A New (to me) Christmas CD

I'm always looking for new Christmas music. Every year Natalie and I tend to buy one or two new CD's and add them to our collection. One of our favourites is still the City on a Hill Christmas, probably because it was on repeat during much of her 24 hours of labour with our firstborn. How could we forget it? Anther favourite is the Sovereign Grace Music CD simply entitled, 'Savior'. Rich theology and beautiful music, especially the song, 'Rejoice'. Yesterday I saw a note on Justin Taylor's blog about another CD - Andrew Peterson's, 'Behold the Lamb of God'. This one is a re-release, 10th anniversary edition. The first disk is a remastered version of his original, and the second disk is a live version of the same CD with a few extras included. I was in the mood for new music, and liked the previews I heard, so I went for it, and I have not regretted this purchase. Marked by a 'folk' sound and beautiful melodies, and rich in Biblical Theology, this is a great album for Christians who want to prepare their hearts for Christmas, as well as help them fill out their whole-Bible understanding of the incarnation of Christ. Below I've posted a You Tube Video of one of the songs.
Canadians can preview and download the album here (you can also order the CD there).
Americans can go the cheaper Amazon download route, found here.