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Sunday, March 29, 2009

What’s It All About

It’s about Jesus Christ.

A man who lived 2000 years ago. He pulled together twelve men as his closest friends and probably upwards of a 100 or so more who followed him for about three years. After three years, those followers scattered across the Mediterranean world and told anyone who would listen about him.

This had the effect of “turning the world upside down.” No other man has had a greater and lasting impact on the world than Jesus Christ.

Nearly everyone on the planet has heard his name. Whether in loving adoration, awesome worship, or merely as a “throw-away” filler word (usually when a person is mad about something), the name of Jesus Christ is heard.

There’s something about this man. He is more than just a man. His influence on people reaches across distance and time. He changes hearts. He transforms lives.

But why? What’s so special about this man?

His followers claimed that he was more than just a man. That is certainly true if he actually did what they claimed he did – rise to life again after being dead for three days. They also claimed that his death – by crucifixion – saved the people of the world from their sins.

His followers claimed all this and we can read about it in a book called “The Holy Bible.”

Yes, it is a little hard to believe. I understand that. But it isn’t impossible to believe, especially when you see the results of such belief!

Two billion people in this world claim to believe in Jesus Christ. I’ve met people that believe in Jesus and you can just tell that there’s something there – faith, belief, transformation. They live life differently. There is a deep-seated joy about them. They walk with purpose, they “know” something that others don’t. But they don’t flaunt that knowledge or look condescendingly on others who don’t know. Rather, they love them and share with them what they know by helping, listening, understanding.

There’s no doubt in my mind that Jesus Christ makes a different in a person’s life. Belief in Jesus, a relationship with him, transforms their lives into something else, something more, something different, something that will last.

©2009 True Men Ministries

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Benefits of Pain

I mention photographer and rock-climber Craig DeMartino in this devotion. Check out Craig’s incredible story here.

Squeeze your earlobe – hard - using fingernails. In 5 seconds, you’ll feel an ache. At 15 seconds, there’s pain. Keep squeezing. Now, while squeezing, turn to someone ask them, “What was the high point of your day today?”

The point is that pain is distracting. It’s hard to listen when you’re in pain. You now know that truth with first-hand experience.

Yet, as C.S. Lewis says, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” It is in our pain that God oftentimes most wants to speak to us.

Craig DeMartino, in the video Bible study “Gripping Point,” says, “There is pain, and then there is pain that stops you cold.” God speaks to us through both kinds; all we have to do is listen.

Have you gone through some kind of major pain? Has that made you depend on God more?

That’s been my experience. The pain of broken relationships, the pain of losing a job, the pain of a major bill that comes due and you don’t have the money to pay for it. I’ve certainly depended on God to get me through that kind of pain – and he has! No doubt about it!

But I’m also ashamed to say that once God has come through and the pain is gone, my dependence on God has been less. It’s like I’ve said, “Thanks God for getting me through that, I’ll take over from here.”

I need to depend on God when there’s pain and when there isn’t pain.

And I’m not talking about just physical pain. There’s emotional pain and spiritual pain as well. Trying to find a way to overcome a bad economy is an emotional pain that has stopped a lot of us cold. Losing a job or facing bankruptcy is something that you might be going through, or you know someone who is. This hurts. What’s more, it hurts us.

What we need to do is listen to what God is telling us. He is telling us something. The question is what?

Let’s take a look at Job.

Sometime later, while Job's children were having one of their parties at the home of the oldest son, a messenger came to Job and said, "The oxen were plowing and the donkeys grazing in the field next to us when Sabeans attacked. They stole the animals and killed the field hands. I'm the only one to get out alive and tell you what happened."

While he was still talking, another messenger arrived and said, "Bolts of lightning struck the sheep and the shepherds and fried them—burned them to a crisp. I'm the only one to get out alive and tell you what happened."

While he was still talking, another messenger arrived and said, "Chaldeans coming from three directions raided the camels and massacred the camel drivers. I'm the only one to get out alive and tell you what happened."

While he was still talking, another messenger arrived and said, "Your children were having a party at the home of the oldest brother when a tornado swept in off the desert and struck the house. It collapsed on the young people and they died. I'm the only one to get out alive and tell you what happened." - Job 1:13-19 (The Message)

God allowed incredible pain in Job’s life. And for seemingly no reason, at least no reason Job could see. There’s the initial verses of Job chapter 1 that explains that God is proving Job can take the pain because of his faith in God, but Job doesn’t know about this. At the end of the book it is clear that God wants Job to understand that there’s more to all this than just what we see around us.

The pain is what gets Job’s attention and that’s the key to understanding our pain. It gets our attention. Craig DeMartino said that he read a daily devotional book while in the hospital that, on the day he fell, it said, “How far does God have to go to get your attention?” That’s the way to look at our pain.

Pain happens for two reasons.

1. We are sinners. Now, I don’t mean that all pain happens as a punishment for doing something wrong. Yes, some pain is the consequence of sinful actions – you drive 90 mph down the highway and you are going to feel the pain of a speeding ticket or worse. But all pain happens because we live in a fallen creation and we are fallen creatures. “In sin did my mother conceive me,” the Psalmist says (Ps. 51:5), which means we enter life cursed with the fallen nature of Adam and Eve. Part of that curse was pain. I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing,” God says to Eve (Genesis 3:16). To Adam God says, “in pain you shall eat of [the ground] all the days of your life” (Genesis 3:17). Pain happens to us because we are sinners living in a world cursed by sin.

2. Pain also reminds us that we are not long for this world. This world is held in bondage to pain. It wasn’t how God intended it to be and so Jesus is creating a new world for us – a new heaven and earth. Pain reminds us that we aren’t in heaven yet, that there is something better to come.

Pain is our wake-up call to remember that God truly does love us and wants to – and will – give us something better. His Son, Jesus Christ, endured pain – the pain of crucifixion, the pain of all our sin, the pain of abandonment of God, His Father – He did all this for you! And when you taste pain, you are given a small, little glimpse of what Jesus willingly went through because He loves you and wants to give you more than this world ever could.

Some people say that God could never let bad things happen to people and still be God. But is that true or is it true that God allows pain to show us that we can be so much more than we are?

Craig DeMartino found that pain focused his attention on God. It helped him hear God. Pruned his priorities. And renewed his passion for his family. Those are all pretty amazing things that have truly changed Craig’s life – I’ve seen it. What price would you be willing to pay for those same benefits?

When you go through pain, remember two things.

1. St. Paul, who was beaten and left for dead, stoned almost to death several times, was shipwrecked at least twice, and was imprisoned for years, said this:

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. – 1 Corinthians 4:16-18

2. God loves us and will taken care of us even in our pain, especially in our pain, because of the pain that Jesus Christ suffered on the cross for us.

©2009 True Men Ministries

Friday, March 20, 2009

Book Review: In the Footsteps of Paul by Ken Duncan

Footsteps of Paul Book Cover This is an incredible book from Thomas Nelson. Ken Duncan is a photographer who traveled to the places that Paul visited on his three missionary journeys and final journey to Rome.

The pictures make this book what it is. Words cannot begin to describe it, you truly have to see these stunning pictures to believe it.

Reading about St. Paul in the Book of Acts and in his Epistles is one thing. And don’t get me wrong, it is an amazing thing. But it is quite another to see pictures of the places that Paul visited on his travels.

St. Paul traveled throughout the Eastern and Northern Mediterranean world for one purpose only – the share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with people.

And this he did. And in so doing, was God’s instrument in bringing the Gospel out of Israel to Turkey, Greece, and Italy – and thus, to the whole world.

In the Footsteps of Paul chronicles the conversion of Saul/Paul, his three missionary journeys, and his final trip to Rome with readings from Acts and his Epistles, as well as quotes from Christian authors like C. S. Lewis, Billy Graham, Max Lucado, and others.

Short of actually walking in Paul’s footsteps yourself, no study of St. Paul would be complete without these amazing photographs by Ken Duncan.

Highly recommended. To purchase a copy of In the Footsteps of Paul, click here.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Book Review: Raising Dad by Thom & Art Rainer

Raising Dad Book CoverLet me just say first off: Great book! I picked this up on Father’s Day 2009 but just finished it this last week (March 2009). Not that it was hard to read, or long, just that I tend to bog down reading 5-6 books at a time.

I’m the father of three sons so this book touched my heart in a special way, but I believe it is a good book for any father – or mother, or son, or daughter! – to read. The last chapter alone is extremely insightful – The Lessons of a Dad: 12 Lessons of Fatherhood.

Both Thom and Art write smoothly and creatively, keeping your attention as they share their stories.

The brutal honesty of Thom is especially attention-grabbing. Art relates a story and then Thom gives his memories of the same story, revealing that sons tend to remember the good more than the not-so-good while dads tend to be opposite.

A phrase from another author echoed through my mind as I read Thom’s take on not being home much during the raising of his three sons - “success at work and failure at home is total failure.” (paraphrase from Patrick Morley). But again, Thom feels he should have been home more but Art remembers him being home plenty, and I think that Art is right. Thom was involved in his sons lives in such a way that they have grown to be godly men and will pass on a legacy to their own sons that will be a tremendous blessing to them. God will certainly be showing love to many generations of Rainers (see Exodus 20:6).

The title of this book is extremely accurate. We tend to think that, as fathers, we are raising our children, but the truth is that they are raising us! Our children can bring out the best and worst in us as fathers. But because of the mercy and grace of God given to us through Christ Jesus, the best can far, far outweigh the worst, as it has in the Rainer family and as I hope it does in my family.

Highly recommended!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Age

I’m turning a year older today. My youngest son turned a year older on Friday. So, naturally (at least to me), I was thinking about age. 100candles As I’ve reached my mid-forties, I am pleasantly surprised to find that I feel better now than I have ever felt before, physically and otherwise. I guess it has something to do with eating better, taking better care of my body by exercising, and generally enjoying life – a lot – because of my beautiful (and younger) wife and my three sons.

We were talking about age and heaven in my oldest son’s religion class this past week. The question usually comes up in similar contexts – what age will we be in heaven? Will we age? Will we get older? What will we look like?

All very good questions to which I do not have very good answers.

But hey, this is not a new question. St. Paul was asked this question and he gave it a “kind of” answer in 1 Corinthians 15. I say “kind of” because he says it is “foolish,” and leaves it at that. I think that it is “foolish” in the context of the reason the question was asked – the idea that there was actually no resurrection. Even St. Paul, though, reveals he doesn’t know the answer to the question.

How about St. John? Maybe he has the answer?

“Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” (1 John 3:2).

Nope, St. John doesn’t know either.

So I would say we are free to speculate but that’s about all we can do. I would also say we should not worry about it. In 1 Corinthians 13 St. Paul talks about being “fully known” and I think it means much more than just “I will know St. Paul and will be known by my family, etc.” But I think part of it is that we will recognize each other, so I will know my sons in heaven, they will know me, etc..

But again, it will be so much more and beyond mere recognition.

Yes, birthdays can make you stop and think about age and aging. That’s what I’m thinking about today, a little bit. But I will also be thinking about being with my wife and boys, celebrating life and being happy that we’re together. We worshipped together last night with about 50 other Redeemer family members and are enjoying our Sabbath rest today as the gift of God that it is.

Thank you for your birthday wishes

as well as your continue prayers and support. I give thanks to God for you!

©2009 True Men Ministries

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Book Review: Coffeehouse Theology by Ed Cyzewski

Coffeehouse Theology book cover I received this book as part of NavPress' free book for review program. But I would have picked it up for myself anyway just because of the title.

Cyzewski presents a paradigm for Christians to "work" and "live" their theology in the post-modern world. I first heard the word "post-modern" from Len Sweet, who wrote a blurb for this book, and you can see Sweet's influence here.

I also should – sheepishly – admit that it took me a lot longer to read this book than I originally thought it would. But I think that’s a testament to the meat of Cyzewski’s writing more than anything else. This isn’t a “fluff” piece by any stretch.

“Coffeehouse Theology” made me think about my faith in the context of the world I live in. For a very long time I lived my Christian faith without giving much thought to other Christians or other people.

“Contextual Theology” as a concept reminded me of something I learned about during my own seminary days, although we didn’t call it that. It’s the concept of “sitz im leben” or “setting in life.” It is an idea that, when taken too far, removes God as the immediate author of Scripture. “Coffeehouse Theology” doesn’t do that. Instead, it takes the idea that the Bible was written in a specific time and place and presents it as an important part of how Christians live their lives in their own “specific time and place.”

After I closed the book when I finished reading, the first thought that came to mind was that I hope all Christians will develop contextual theology. We live in a very diverse world and if we are going to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with other people, we need to know something about other people and we’re going to need lots of help from other Christians.

Another thought came to mind as I was reading - “why re-invent the wheel?” It would be presumptuous boarding on arrogance to think that we as Christians today are in a unique situation. But what Solomon said is still true today – there isn’t anything new under the sun. We can learn something from what the people of God were dealing with in the past. It helps us understand Scripture and it will help us formulate the words of our message of sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

I enjoyed this book and recommend it.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Book Review: Walking With God by John Eldredge

I picked this up last Autumn and finally finished it last night. But Walking with God Book Cover that isn't because it was a "difficult or "long" read. This is basically a summary of John's journal entries for one year. It is a good exercise to write down what you say to God, because it seems that it is easier for some people to hear God. I tried it, at the suggestion of John early in this book, and it does work for me.

Too often, as a Christian I "know" that God hears my prayers, but I rarely would actually, actively, listen for God to answer my prayers. I know He answers through His Word, through the creation - to a lesser extent - and through other people and situations. But now I'm listening more intently and I've found that God is there, speaking to me.

Writing that last sentence feels kind of weird for a mainline conservative protestant like me, but it is also liberating in some way.

If you like John's books, definitely pick this one up.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

The Bible

As a collection of books, the Bible has been around for a long time. There are few texts that can compete with the age of the Bible, and those that can are similar to the Bible in content and style.dusty books

Some have dismissed the Bible as merely a mythology, much like, I presume, the Greek mythology and Egyptian mythology that I enjoy reading so much about and have since taking a wonderful class from a wonderful teacher in high school.

Some people have dismissed Christianity because of some of the things they have read in the Bible such as the violence in Judges, the virgin birth of Jesus Christ, and the seemingly cannibalistic practice of the Lord's Supper (Eucharist).

Ok, I can appreciate that. The Bible is violent, especially the Old Testament. And if I had picked up John chapter six without reading anything else in the Bible, I would think that's weird, too.

But that's the key. Like any book, the Bible has to be taken as a whole. Imagine picking up Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings" and just start reading at page 313. Or Dickens' "The Tale of Two Cities" at page 286. Imagine walking into the movie "Runaway Bride" and watching the hair coloring scene and then leaving because you didn't want to see a movie about a beauty parlor run by vindictive women.

The Bible is an incredibly complex piece of literature. It is unlike anything else ever written in the modern era. It was written by over forty different men and women over a span of 1500 years. It covers topics as diverse as animal sacrifice and the courting of a wife.

The Bible is also incredibly consistent when you understand what it is for, what it's purpose is. All literature has a purpose. The stories of Greek Mythology explain how the world got to the way it is (was) in the eyes of ancient Greeks. Hellers' "Catch-22" is a story revealing the insanity of some bureaucratic thinking.

The Bible also has a purpose. It's purpose is somewhat simple. Maybe too simple to be accepted more widely. The Bible's purpose is to show how much God loves us and to what lengths He goes to bring us that love.

The Bible seems mythic. I agree. It does. The reason is because it is mythic. Christianity is a myth that also happens to be true. These two concepts - myth and truth - are not mutually exclusive.

This is what J.R.R. Tolkien told C.S. Lewis and it struck a chord in Lewis. So much so that C. S. Lewis started looking at the Bible and the Christian faith in a different way. Lewis went on to become one of the great Christian writers of the 20th Century.

But Lewis wasn't convinced solely by what he read in the Bible. Lewis was influenced and convinced by his friends, most notable of which was J.R.R. Tolkien, and what they shared with him that they found in the Bible.

I won't argue about the Bible. It is what it is. It has been taken apart, put back together again, and debated and argued for centuries. It can be argued and defended by people much smarter than me.

What I can do is live my life by what I've read in the pages of the Bible. No, I'm not going to smite the Philistines with the jawbone of an ass. But I will love my neighbor, love my enemies, honor my father and mother, and tell the Good News about Jesus.

In the pages of the Bible are fantastic stories of intrigue, adventure and love. In the pages of the Bible are some of the greatest works of poetry ever written. But more importantly for me, I've found my life in the pages of the Bible. I've found my purpose in these pages. I've found a God who moved heaven and earth to save me and who loves me without condition.

But it wasn't solely in the pages of the Bible. It was significant men and women who shared their own lives with me, lives lived according to what they read in the Bible. People like Hazel Fish, John Zellmer, Pam King, Len Blonski, Jeff Meyer, Steve Kline, Mark Shaltanis, Kurt Taylor, Paul Pett, Nancy Dickerhoff and a slew of others.

Yes, the Bible is an incredible book. It is an old book. But it is amazing and wonderful what the Bible can do in the lives and through the lives of people.

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