Saturday, July 24, 2010

Tim Hawkins: Things You Don't Say to Your Wife

Last night a friend told me about a Christian comedian who is actually funny. I thought that impossible, but you tube has proved my friend shockingly right! My wife and I got a kick out of this one especially. We're heading away on vacation tomorrow night, so enjoy this funny for the next few weeks!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Lecrae - The Personal Testimony of a Christian Rapper

Blame it on the 80's. And the early 90's. I'm a really white guy who likes rap music as a genre. I grew up on the Beastie boys and (I hate to admit this), MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice and Ton Loc and Young MC and House of Pain and Run DMC. One year before I became a Christian I was at a Beastie Boys concert at Maple Leaf Gardens. The 1995 Ill Communication Tour was a lot of fun, even from the top row in the old Gardens. But when I became a Christian I turned my back on rap. The lyrics were (and still are) generally repulsive. Admittedly I still know many of those old songs by heart, but if I get one in my head I find myself amazed at the sinful content of most of those songs. Sure, there were 'Christian rap artists' around in '96 but I didn't find any that sounded authentic. It was kind of a 'Gaithers meets the Beastie Boys' sound, and in my head it simply didn't work (even as a white boy from Oshawa). Recently a few friends pointed me to Lecrae Moore and I was immediately suspicious. How could a Christian sound good and be faithful to the Lord. But I was amazed at what I heard. Lecrae is a new favourite for both my wife and I. His lyrics have a depth of theology and he is very talented musically. When I saw this short video of his personal testimony I grew to appreciate him even more. Take a look and be edified!

Friday, July 16, 2010

When the Gospel Came to Angola Penitentiary

Here is a copy/paste of a blog post from Desiring God:

On August 20 at Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, we're hosting the premiere of a brand new Desiring God film titled Don't Waste Your Life Sentence (now available for pre-order).

The Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, LA, is the largest and historically one of the bloodiest maximum-security prisons in the USA. In 2009, Desiring God and John Piper were invited to Angola to learn about prison life, hear from men who have been radically changed by the gospel, and minister to many of the 5,000 inmates.

Don't Waste Your Life Sentence confronts you with the realities of inmates who, though their lives appear to have been wasted, often have a greater grasp on eternity than those on the outside.

Here's the trailer:

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Malcom Gladwell - What We Can Learn From Spaghetti Sauce

This is in the 'just for fun' category. I really enjoy reading Malcom Gladwell. He has written four books, and I'm half-way through my fourth! I guess you could call him a cultural observer. Often, his observations border on the frivolous, but still, they are entertaining, and more importantly, he helps me to see the world in a different light. Below is an 18 minute video that is vintage Gladwell, bordering on frivolity, his main point is a bit off, but it's just plain fun!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Book Review: Rescuing Ambition

I am a man who lives in deep inner-conflict. On the one hand I struggle with a horrible sin. Mike Bullmore described it vividly at the Toronto Pastor's Conference last month: "If the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever, the chief temptation of man is to glorify himself". It is sad, but true. I love applause and this is deeply sinful. It is a sin I battle every day, and by God's grace, it is a sin that I battle and progress out of every day. But it is also a sin that still needs more slaying. On the other hand, though, I have ambitions that I don't believe are all sinful. In fact, part of the effect of me becoming a Christian in 1996 was the birth of ambition in my life. Prior to becoming a Christian, I was a floater, whose highest goals were to get home from work in time to watch yet another re-run of the Dukes of Hazard. I was goin' nowhere fast. With my new birth also came the birth of a great work ethic, a work ethic that was focused on God-glorifying work. This is a work ethic that has only grown over the past decade and a half.

So I've been left with a problem as the lines between these two conflicting desires have been fuzzy in my mind. Certainly it is possible (even common) for ambitions for God to turn into personal idols. How sick is that: something that began with the pure motive of seeing God glorified ended up simply serving my own God-debunking agenda. But certainly all ambition is not all bad. Over the past five years or so, since I've identified these sins more concretely, the line between glory seeking and ambition for God's glory have been blurry. That is, until I read 'Rescuing Ambition' by Dave Harvey. In this very helpful book Harvey asks the essential question: "is it possible to be both ambitious and humble?", to which he answers a resounding 'yes'. The book is his attempt to bring some clarity to this issue, to assist the reader to battle the sin of pride, while stoking the fires of ambition to the glory of God. Harvey explains: "the good news of the gospel is that we aren't trapped by the tragedy of misplaced glory. While our ambitious impulses led us to vain pursuits, the Lord of glory has come to rescue our ambitions" (32).

The greatest strength of the book is that it always brings the reader back to the gospel. It is not as though the gospel is a springboard for an otherwise unrelated topic. The gospel is replete throughout the book. For example, Harvey leads the reader to revel in the finished work of Christ for them. In the face of great sin, a Christian can come boldly to the throne of grace. Harvey continues: "Sin is real, and we can sin away a lot of good stuff. Sin robs our joy in God. It's a delight-smasher. But sin never alters or reverses what Christ did upon the cross. It never causes God to withdraw his name or his acceptance from us" (57). In fact, the first three chapters of the book are called:: "Ambiton Conceived: we are wired for glory; Ambition Corrupted: Growing smaller in our attempt to be great; Ambition Converted: Where to go when your best aint' good enough". As the book continues Harvey explores heart-issues of the focus of ambition: God's glory or our glory? He shows the radically distinctive, radically counter-cultural path of distinctively Christian ambition as the low road of humility (cf. Jesus in Philippians 2). He deals with issues of patience and contentment when great ambitions are put on hold by God, and with failure and the search for answers amid the brokenness. He focuses our attention on the church as the ultimate place that deserves our ambitions, and he challenges the reader to ambitious risk in the quest to produce reward. Finally, he ends with a very personal chapter on paying ambition forward; of pouring ourselves into the next generation and even beginning a ministry with a view to finding our replacement decades down the road.

Another strength of the book is it's clarifying teaching on humility. For example: "Ambition must also be rescued from a wrong understanding of humility. . .When we become too humble to act, we've ceased being biblically humble. True humility doesn't kill our dreams; it provides a guardrail for them, ensuring that they remain on God's road and move in the direction of his glory" (14).

I know this is the point in a short review like this one, that I'm supposed to tell you the few flaws the otherwise good book has. I'm supposed to heroically point out the few wooden nickels you should watch out for, or the few ways the book could have been that much better. But I'm left grasping at straws in this category. I am deeply thankful for this book. I was so helped by it, and I was so drawn to Dave Harvey, that I put his book on marriage at the top of my 'to read' pile, simply because I want to learn more from him (It's called: When Sinners Say I do: Discovering the Power of the Gospel for Marriage). So go ahead an buy a copy for yourself and then buy one for a friend. Study it together and sharpen each other as you read it!

Canadians can buy it here.
Americans can buy it here.

Pastor Paul Martin, on Getting Ready for Church Death

This post was so encouraging/challenging to me that I copy/paste it in full. In it Pastor Paul Martin (a dear friend and mentor of mine) tells the story of sending out his closest co-worker to plant another church. I'll let Paul tell the rest, but his story resonates with my heart. The question every pastor needs to ask himself is simply: am I an empire builder who wants first and foremost to see my church grow no matter what the cost is to the rest of the body of Christ, or, am I a kingdom builder who wants first and foremost to see the gospel of Jesus Christ advance, no matter what the cost is to my church (and, might I add, my pride)? In my heart I often lean towards the former, but as God sanctifies me, the latter is my heartbeat, more and more. Here it is:
We are preparing to send Julian out to start a new church in the 401/DVP area of Toronto. It is an interesting time in our church.

We have asked all our members to consider going with him, which means I might need to go back to running photocopies at the steel plant! I am praying the Lord leaves us enough people to keep things moving here and I suspect that He will. But seasons like this force you to look at everything with an open hand. That can be hard.

I was happy to read this yesterday in The Trellis and the Vine:

Gospel growth… “means we must be willing to lose people from our own congregation if that it better for the growth of the gospel. We must be happy to send members off to other places so that the gospel may grow there as well. And be warned: this will happen if you take gospel growth and training seriously. If you pour your time into people, and mentor and train them, the consequence will often be that some of your best people – in whom you have invested countless hours – will leave you. They will go the mission field. They will join a church-planting team in another part of your city. They will take a job in a different part of the country because the gospel need is so great there. They will undertake further training, perhaps at theological college or seminary. A commitment to the growth of the gospel will mean that we train people towards maturity not for the benefit of our own churches or fellowships but for the benefit of Christ’s kingdom.”

In the last few months, we have
  • sent one man hundreds of miles away for further training
  • sent one couple to the opposite side of our city to help plant a new church
  • sent one newly converted student back to her home country to evangelize friends and family there
  • one man and his family to the other side of our province to work in an existing church
  • one man and another family to our downtown church plant
  • one family to Romania to work with orphans
  • and as of this Sunday another young man to pastor a small church two hours north of the city.

And now we prepare to send off the man who has been my Caleb/Jonathan/ Timothy for the last ten years.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

Gospel growth always requires death. Bring it to us, Lord… but stay close by our side!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Is Moping and Self-Pity Pride?

. . .and if so, what is the antidote? I appreciated John Piper's response to this question:

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Book Review: The Pastor-Evangelist

In preparation for leading tonight's Sunday Evening Bible study on fellowship and hospitality in the New Testament, I just re-read a chapter called 'Hospitality Evangelism' from one of the top-ten most influential books on me. I reviewed it a while back, but thought I'd re-post that review today, in hopes of pointing more people to that great book! Here it is:
There are two kinds of books that most of my pastor-friends read: new books that are ‘cutting edge’, and old books that have stood the test of time. The former are often reviewed by Tim Challies (at least in the circles I run in), and the latter are usually edited by Justin Taylor, or recommended by one of the super-pastors most of us little guys consider mentors from afar. The Pastor-Evangelist: Preacher, Model, and Mobilizer for Church Growth, fits into neither of these categories. Published in 1987, it’s too old to be ‘cutting edge’, and it’s too new to be a classic. It’s a book that has flown under the radar among most of my friends, but it is a book that deserves the attention of every pastor.

Edited by Roger S. Greenway, and contributed to by over a dozen American Presbyterian pastors, this book is rooted in Reformed Theology, and is a call for pastors and churches to have an evangelistic emphasis woven into the fabric of their existence. The book uniformly argues that to ‘do the work of an evangelist’ is a charge that applies to every pastor. To fulfill his charge, the pastor must preach evangelistically and with an aim to create a congregation of evangelists, he must model an evangelistic lifestyle to those under his charge, and he must strategically mobilize his congregation for effective evangelism.

The book begins with two chapters of theological underlay. Greenway writes on ‘Jesus, the Pastor-Evangelist’ and Edmund P. Clowney writes on ‘Kingdom Evangelism’. The ministry of Jesus, the paradigms in Acts, and the charges to Timothy, all combine to show that evangelism ought to be one of the central priorities of every local church pastor. Clowney reinforces this by reminding the reader that Jesus preached the gospel of the Kingdom that must be proclaimed to the world.

The ‘meat’ of the book is a series of practical chapters that fit under the categories ‘preacher’, ‘model’, and ‘mobilizer’. C. John Miller writes a chapter on ‘Prayer and Evangelism’ that had me on my knees in my study, even as I was preparing for an evangelistic outing with the church I serve as pastor. His stories of the coolness of his studied preaching, verses the blessing of God on his preaching when he began to prioritize both study and prayer, urged me to action! Some of the other ‘middle-chapters’ were: ‘Preaching and Evangelism’ (Dick J. Hart); ‘Evangelism Through Small Groups’ (Frank M. Barker, Jr); ‘A Full-Service Church’ (Bartlett L. Hess); ‘Learning How to Witness’ (D. James Kennedy); ‘Evangelism Through Sunday Schools’ (Kennedy Smartt); ‘Follow-up to Fellowship’ (James C. Bland III); ‘Equipping the Church for Lifestyle Evangelism’ (T.M. Moore); ‘Hospitality Evangelism’ (Richard P. Kaufmann); ‘An Integrated Plan for Evangelism and Church Growth’ (Terry L. Gyger); ‘Revitalizing a Dying Church’ (Harry L. Reeder III); ‘Pastor-Evangelists: Need of the Hour Everywhere’ (Roger S. Greenway).

The authors do not hide the fact that churches with Reformed convictions often fare poorly when it comes to evangelism. T.M. Moore notes that this is sometimes a conscious decision: John Owen believed that evangelism was primarily the job of the pastor, and was primarily to be done from the pulpit. The authors show that this is contrary to the teaching of Scripture’s didactic sections, along with the paradigms in Acts and the very creative methods for evangelism this inspired book describes.

Perhaps the most helpful chapter for me was Richard Kaufmann’s ‘Hospitality Evangelism’. He begins by quoting Peter Wagner: “The effectiveness of the Christian’s role as a witness for church growth decreases with that person’s maturity in Christ”. Kaufmann explains: “As a Christian matures in Christ he becomes more and more involved in the church. His free time is quickly filled with Christian activities such as worship services, prayer meetings, Bible studies, Sunday school, committee meetings, and church socials. Either his non-Christian friends are converted, or he gradually loses contact with them as their interests take them in different directions” (pg 140). In a ten page chapter, Kaufmann sets forth an intentional lifestyle of getting to know one’s neighbours, having them over for supper, and gaining trust with the goal of speaking the gospel into their lives, seeing them converted and integrated into a local church. This lifestyle of hospitality evangelism is in line with God’s work in salvation history: When the curtain of the Temple was torn in two the ultimate ‘open house’ began. Since God has been so welcoming with his people, every one of his people ought to be welcoming to the strangers around them.

In the last analysis, this is a book to buy and re-read. It may be a great book to read as an elder’s team. Select chapters, especially ‘Hospitality Evangelism’ would be great as photocopies for church members. This book will be life-changing, especially if the reader takes Edmund Clowney’s advice, and doesn’t avoid evangelism by escaping to the study to read about it! May the reading of this book serve to mobilize many pastor-evangelists who preach, model, and mobilize their churches for this all-important calling.

Canadians can buy it here.
Americans can find it here.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Free Audio Book - The Pursuit of God, by A.W. Tozer

I'm excited to see that this month's free audio book is a classic that I've wanted to 'read' for a long time. I guess I'll 'listen' to it this month instead. It can be found here.

Jani Ortland: For the Young Mother: Ministry, Guilt, and Seasons of Life

When I saw the topic of this article my attention was fixed for three reasons: 1) I am married to an amazing woman who happens to be the mother of (our) two very small children. Natalie has amazing spiritual gifts, and prior to having kids, she used them to serve the local church. The demands of having a two year old and a four year old are great, and the adjustment has sometimes carried with it a temptation to guilt; 2) I'm blessed to pastor a church with many young families. That means many very godly young moms are very busy serving their growing families of little kids. Many work to balance home and church and for some, part-time work. The demands are great; 3) The author of the article has done well at mothering. A good friend of mine is a student at Wheaton, and is very good friends with the author's son. My friend has told me just how far ahead his friend Dane is, as a direct result of the family he was raised in. So, young mother, read and be challenged and encouraged. And, young father, read, and link it for your wife!

Here are the opening few paragraphs:

Guilt is a young mother’s habitual shadow. It has a nasty way of soaking through many of her efforts at nurturing, serving and loving others. “Am I doing enough for my children? For others? What do they think of me? What does God think of me?”

As a young mother everyone wants something from you—your family, your church, your boss, your neighbor. And most likely, you give way more than you ever thought you could. But along the way guilt nibbles at your soul, eating away your inner peace and joy. And it often lingers through the years, even after your children are grown and gone.

Dear young mother, don’t waste your guilt!

You can read the whole thing here.