Giving More than a Trip to Michigan

Give.

When we hear that word, give, what happens to our psyche? Some of us may tighten up and get defensive. Or, we may get warm feelings from memories of birthdays or Christmas time. But how many of us are passionate about giving.

Giving what? Whatever you want. Whatever you need to. Whatever you have that you would be delighted to give to someone else who could use what you have or may really need what you have to offer.

The saying, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” is not a proverb that a wise person created to teach children. We heard it first from the Apostle Paul quoting Jesus.

“It is more blessed to give than to receive,” what a simple statement. However, few attempt it and even fewer have mastered it. What a joy it is to be around those who try. Not simply because by proximity, you may be a recipient of the giving, but because there is something, I dare say supernatural about giving.

Giving is not natural to our contemporary world, not without some sort of return expected which is not giving but an investment.

Yet, there is something inside of us that knows that giving is “good.” Good in the purest sense of the word.

Why is that?

Our Creator, Our God is a giver. We are made in his image. Oh, there has been a curse of sin that tries to darken the light bearer that we are, but that is what we are. Created in the image of the One who gives and so when we fulfill our purpose of image bearing and act as a giver, it is not natural but supernatural. It is the light of the gospel made manifest to the world. It is us being the city on the hill.

So you see, it is a pleasure being around those who master giving because of this light, because of the image that they bear. I heard a pastor once say, “Jesus was the most joyful person ever because he was the most generous person ever.” And to use that rationale, those who are most generous tend to be the most joyful to be around.

I have just a small few people in my life who are like this.

I had the wonderful experience of adding one more earlier this month. Let me tell you about it.

My son Mac was born in 2010 surprisingly without his right forearm/hand.

My and my wife’s faith in God’s sovereignty and goodness grew immediately as we were held up by God’s Holy Spirit and God’s people, the church.

Also, with my endearment to baseball as a boy, I remember watching Jim Abbott with a similar birth, pitch a no-hitter for the Yankees and play for other teams, using his patented fielding style holding the glove under Jim’s right arm until the ball was released and then switching the glove to his left hand to field cleanly.

My son Mac, quickly proved to us that he would be just fine and we received the pleasure of seeing the blessing of stubbornness and determination in our Son as he excelled in whatever he wanted to.

But still, the questions are there, the social awkwardness, stares, offensiveness and a parent’s defensiveness. Sometimes Mac has been tough for us, others Cassie has been tough for Mac and me, and a few times I hope they have been able to lean on me.

There are wonderful communities like Scottish Rite in DFW, but it is not realistic for us to be consistently present there.

Last year, as grandparents do, my mother – Mac’s Nanny, was talking all about her grandkids to people at her work and we were introduced to the possibility by someone that she was talking to wanted to help us get in contact with Jim Abbott, so that there might be some wisdom and encouragement there.

Are you kidding me?!

A childhood hero of mine wanted to speak to my Son, Mac!!!

Both were true to their word. The connection was made and Jim Abbott called us, sent a letter to Mac, and signed pictures and cards, and Mac had someone “like him,” to look up to. To hear the words from someone like him, say, “Don’t ever give up”.

End of story. It was awesome. Call it a day.

Except that was not enough for our friend who kept wanting to “give” to my son Mac.

His thought was, Mac has to see Jim Abbott in person, and he thought “this could change his life.”

Well, we live west of Fort Worth and Jim Abbott isn’t driving through Mineral Wells any time soon.

How about going to a University of Michigan football game (where both our Good Samaritan and Jim Abbott are alumni) where Mac can meet up with Jim Abbott?!!!

I was told, “See if Jim Abbott will be at any Michigan games, and we will meet him there.”

If you know me, I have a hesitancy to drive to the mall thinking, “Will our car make it?” “Do we really need to spend money on this?”

Can you wrap your mind around someone you do not know, someone who does not owe you anything, someone who does not need anything that you might have, and you cannot repay, not only completely covering the cost of a trip like this but making the emotional connection and investment to make this trip happen.

Not only is the money a concept that I cannot understand, but how many of us have never thought about the impact that any sort of gesture could make to someone else, let alone a complete stranger.

Now to take it multiple steps further, we (My mom, Mac, and I) were met at the airport boarding passes in hand. We were guided through the airport and made it to Detroit where our host prepared our rental car and then drove us to Ann Arbor where he had arranged our hotel. Thoroughly providing for our trip, first thing in the morning on game day, his family was preparing our tailgating spot so all that we had to do was come to the stadium and enjoy eating chili and the environment of 110,000 Blue faithful at “The Big House,” as we waited for our encounter with Mr. Abbott.

Jim, of course, was not bribed or tugged into this. Jim was so encouraging leading up to this point and assuring that he would love to meet Mac. This very morning Jim was emailing and texting me to make sure that we would be at the right place and right time, he was pursuing Mac, I did not have to “remind” him or hope that it would work out.

Then the moment that our friend had invested so much in and we had held our excitement in for so long came, Jim and his wife found where we were and I got to watch my son and Jim chat, get to know one another, play catch, share some stories, and Jim get down on one knee and give a pointer or two to Mac.

Our friend sat back and enjoyed seeing what he wanted to see all along, simply a boy getting a gift, an amazing gift. But that’s what we were all there for, a boy receiving not a box with wrapping and a bow on it or a gift card but a vision of possibility and encouragement, strength.

Hundreds of people around us tailgating knew what was going on: not a celebrity signing autograph but a memory that not only will not be forgotten but a memory that could galvanize the will for a young boy. The surrounding fans of Michigan, who knew that one of their favorite sons was near, did not interrupt but kindly respected the moment,  as one man put it, “all these grown men, jealous of an 8-year-old.”

Everything else, and that is a big “everything else”, (50-yard line seats near the players’ entrance to the Michigan game, not only watching Jim Abbott’s daughter play volleyball later, but Mac got to go on the court and receive an autographed volleyball, etc. Seriously I could go on and on) but all “everything else” was icing on a very amazing cake.

I say that because as any parent knows, there is just something amazing about making your child smile and 100 out of 100 times, a parent would choose that something miraculous would happen to their child over themselves.

So when someone gives a trip like this to your family and gives this gift to your son, what is there to do?

Say Thanks.

To Paul Janiak, thank you so much for a trip that will not be stopped talking about. Thank you for caring about Mac. Thank you for all that you gave.

Thanks to Thomas Janiak and Joe Janiak for your hard work hosting us and creating an unforgettable tailgating experience.

Thanks to Mrs. Janiak for sacrificing your football ticket and your husband for the weekend.

Of course thanks to Mr. Jim Abbott for being a trailblazer and a role model and just a genuinely great guy to spend that time with a child.

Thanks to everyone else in Ann Arbor as we got to meet and spend time with some great people being a member of the Michigan Wolverines for the weekend and a fan for the future.   Go Blue!

Gillette commercial, a Navy Seal, a Seminary Professor, and Hairy Legged boys.

Last night, I switched over to a few news channels for a quick second and I mean just a quick second because I cannot watch any news for very long. There were split screens of debate covering every angle of the recent Gillette commercial.

I had not seen the commercial but based on the outrageous takes from the news feeds I thought it must be extremely controversial.

So this morning I found the time to view it.

I do not know what the Gillette motives were.

Was it an attack on men? Was it a positive commercial encouraging man to be men?

I have no politics brought into viewing the commercial nor know anything about Gillette.

But it surfaced with a topic that I have been studying and praying over for the past few weeks, manhood.

What is it to be a male? What is it to be a man? What is it to be a good man?

What are the attacks on manhood? What is a redeemed man?

Let’s focus on masculinity. What are some ultra-masculine, alpha-male traits?

1)Aggression 2) Discipline 3)Violence 4)Leadership.

Aggression:

The Navy Seal Jocko Willink who is notorious for his JOCKO Podcast and books Extreme Ownership and The Dichotomy of Leadership coming from his experience leading Task Unit Bruiser in Ramadi, Iraq calls for men to have a “default: aggressive”. “Default: aggressive” is about attack first. Strike first. This translates from the battlefield into business practices and self-help.

Counter to some Christian sub-cultures, Grace compels godly men to strike first.

Christian men have a “default: aggressive” posture. Carry yourself with a posture balancing between strength and approachability. Take the chips off of our shoulders and be ready to put someone else’s burdens there.

Christian men have a “default: aggressive” speech. Keep your tongues quiet when there is no engagement but when there is a need to speak, seasoned with grace and truth we encourage and exhort our brothers and sisters.

Christian men have a “default: aggressive” hands and feet. When opportunities arise, jump on them. Do not hesitate. Do not procrastinate. Do not regret inaction. Be the hands and feet of Jesus.

Discipline:

1 Timothy 4:7 …train (discipline, exercise) yourself for godliness.

Men aren’t to be controlled but instead, our energy, strength, and focus should be funneled into greater manhood, godliness. Without discipline, there would not be a great victory. Without discipline even our victories prove us to be animals or bullies.

Discipline is the path of godliness. The surrendering to our great commission from King Jesus, there is our purpose. We train ourselves for Him and for this. Training up ourselves in godliness to the point of small wins and keeping in godliness and this discipline whether growing in the wins or defeat.

If we could be victorious physically over something without discipline, then what is the point of that domination? For instance, think about the glory of soldiers who have attacked the enemy to point of retreat and surrender, then having the humanitarian sense to treat the enemy with respect and dignity. Sure caution is taken. They are now prisoners of war. But they are humans. Deserving dignity.

How much more so should we treat our neighbors.

If we are defeated without discipline what happens? Nothing. Nothing changes. In godly discipline, a defeat can expose our weakness and discipline takes that failure and makes it a strengthening experience.

Donald Whitney is the Professor of Spiritual Discipline at Southern Seminary and has written a book called “Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life”. I highly recommend his approach in the chapters: Bible Intake, Prayer, Worship, Evangelism, Serving, Stewardship, Fasting, Silence and Solitude.

We are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, not by works.

However, there is a command and call to these disciplines. Jesus did them. We are to do them.

In some Christian sub-cultures, there has been a pendulum swing to a path of non-discipline, non-training. This path is very close to Antinomianism. For instance, when Paul says in his letter, “do we keep on sinning that grace may abound?”

How do we not sin? Grow in Christ, crucify the flesh, and be trained up in godliness.

This does not happen by accident. It happens by spiritual discipline.

Violence:

Charles Spurgeon says that we are to, “Draw the Word of promise out of its scabbard, and use it with holy violence.”

Men have so many enemies. Their own primal flesh. The distracting world. The great accuser and liar, Satan.

Christian men also have a great King and equipped with a great armory. We follow our King Jesus who not only won the Most Epic of Wars at the cross but is also leading us and interceding for us. The Holy Spirit who lives in us as Holy Comforter, Counselor, Advocate against the lies in our heads, out there in the world, and against the flaming arrows of the devil.

We also have our sword. The Word of God. Which Spurgeon says, we draw out of its scabbard or sheath, and we use it with holy violence.

We use this Sword of Truth to defend ourselves and attack the enemy.

Do not fail in training with this sword and do not underestimate your adversary. Your enemy is prowling around like a lion and is infinitely more lethal.

Like Jimmie Johnson said, “When you hit a gorilla, you do not slap it. You hit it with everything you’ve got.”

Christian men get skilled with their weapon and use it with holy violence against the enemy.

Leadership:

Every man has some degree of leadership influence. The question is only if a man has good leadership or bad leadership.

Think about every situation from a conference room to a locker room.

Every person has some influence on the room. To what effect does a man raise or lower the trust of the room, the accountability of the room, the effectiveness of the room.

Christian men lead. Leading by exemplifying the attributes of the light in a dark world and to people who need the light of the world.

What else is there to do? What other choice is there?

The choice of crawling into a life of fulfilling the fleeting desires that only lead to a slippery tunnel of despair and more selfishness.

This where much of manhood and masculinity resides.

That is why there are so many hairy-legged boys with false alpha-male tendencies being fueled by every commercial in between football games.

That is why there are so many hairy-legged boys who have the outward appearance of manhood but do not strive after fulfilling the calls and responsibilities of life.

I had the privilege of seeing men in my life.

A grandfather, my Papa, who weighed probably 150 lbs. but worked 2 and 3 jobs for the better part of 60 years to provide and not only provide but love and love well.

A dad, Larry Mac, who I am named after, who I saw as the strongest, toughest, most-hard working man there ever was, grow into this wonderful dichotomy of also gentle and humble. He showed me how to admit mistakes and learn. He showed me what repentance looks like. A gift that is greater than all.

A father-in-law, Scott, who has many of the similar attributes but also, showed us how to have big faith and risk it all for the Lord. He also showed us how a man can turn the other cheek. A man picks his battles.

Hairy-legged boys do not do any of this.

They do not work hard. Do not provide. Do not aggressively fulfill their responsibilities.

Hairy-legged boys do not repent. Do not apologize.

To put up a false-perception under the banner of being an alpha-male, they make everything their battle when they are not even winning the most important of battles.

It’s ironic that I am using the term “hairy-legged boys” when also talking about a shaving company.

But that is the term I use for men who do not act like men, they are “hairy-legged boys”.

So you could say that I applaud the Gillette commercial.

I also am doing so with the wonderful burden of raising who I hope to be a great man, my son and namesake Larry “Mac” McMillan III.

In closing, I leave the passage of 1 Corinthians 16:13-14 as a call to all Christian men to be champions of, “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.”

2018 Books in Review

Top 5:

5) Encounters with Jesus – Tim Keller

Our preaching team actually preached through the passages of scripture and topics found in Encounter with Jesus as a tool to teach the gospel focus and apologetics needed in our society. Tim Keller always provides thought-provoking insight and a unique view and love for Jesus. This book does a remarkable job bringing to surface the grace and truth in the experiences of people when they had an encounter with Jesus.

4) Extreme Ownership – Jocko Willink

In Extreme Ownership, Jocko Willink takes his experience from leading Navy Seal Task Unit Bruiser in the dangerous area of Ramadi during the Iraq War and provides business, organization and personal applications that I found easily transferable to family and ministry. The best book on leadership I have ever read. Found Extreme Ownership to be very inspiring and also followed a great format of a military story, organization application, and then personal application. Every person should read this, especially if in any leadership capacity. Would be ranked higher if not for the following books that I will hope to re-read every year. You also need to listen to the Jocko Podcast.

3) Pilgrim’s Progress – John Bunyan

The classic allegory by John Bunyan tells a pilgrim’s story named Christian. Christian goes through trials and temptations involving his family and neighbors and then more as he travels. I read this previously but used the modern translation, this year I used the classic translation and it was very worth it. This book is beautiful, devotional, and refreshing. Find a copy that cites the constant use of scripture for as Spurgeon quoted of the author of Pilgrim’s Progress, “if you pricked John Bunyan, he would bleed Bible.” This book is almost as if you rearranged scripture in the timeline of the Christian life.

2) Morning and Evening Devotionals – Charles Spurgeon

These are a collection of a few paragraph long devotionals to read as it says, every morning and evening. I found a greater connection to Spurgeon not only for his preaching the gospel but his personal struggle with depression. I spent the year with Spurgeon reading this devotional along with biography, sermons, lectures, and commentaries. Spurgeon always points to Christ and does so in a Victorian/Puritan way that is not only beautiful but does so in a way that always preaches the love and hope of the gospel to the lowest of us as he battled his own depression.

1) Knowing God – J.I. Packer

This is almost a systematic theology on the person of God. One of the few books that are easily labeled as a modern day classic. This book is not dry and overly academic but is a book to be used to fire up the mind and soul to love God and his word. While handling extremely large concepts J.I. Packer concisely and passionately provides Christian doctrine, or how Jill Heatherly puts it, “puts the hay where the sheep can reach it…” Because the content is so great and it is written so every Christian can read it, every Christian must read it. My goal is to re-read it every year. It is that good.

* Honorable Mention

41: A Portrait of My Father – George W. Bush

After watching the funeral services of President George H. W. Bush, I was compelled to dive into more of this wonderful life that I was hearing in the eulogies from family, friends, and world leaders of the 41st president of the United States. I was not disappointed in this easy to read, funny, warm, and insightful book from a son’s point of view covering this great man, husband, father, president, and from this book and eulogies, one of the greatest friends of all time. Friendship seemed to be a key theme of George H. W. Bush’s life and we could all use some advice on that. Well worth the few hours it took to read.

A complete list of 2018 books in order of reading:
1. Expositional Commentary Psalms – James Montgomery Boice
2. Morning and Evening Devotionals Spurgeon
3. Lectures to My Students – Spurgeon
4. Knowing God – J.I. Packer
5. Heart of the Church – Joe Thorn
6. Life of the Church – Joe Thorn
7. Character of the Church – Joe Thorn
8. 8 Hours or less – Ryan Huguley
9. Shepherd Leader – Timothy Whitmer
10. Luther on the Christian Life – Carl Trueman
11. Faithful Preaching – Tony Merida
12. Supernatural Power – Jared C. Wilson
13. Spurgeon on Christian Life – Michael Reeves
14. Galatians – Martin Luther
15. Galatians – Christ-Centered Exposition – David Platt
16. Proverbs – Preaching the Word Commentary – Ray Ortlund
17. The craft of Research and Writing – Wayne Booth
18. Think – John Piper
19. Is there a Doctor in the House – Ben Witherington
20. Becoming a Pastor / Theologian – Wilson and Hiestand
21. Fellowship of The Ring – Tolkien
22. Trials of Theology – Rosner and Cameron
23. Praying the Bible – Donald Whitney
24. Extreme Ownership – Jocko Willink
25. Discipline Equals Freedom Field Manual – Jocko Willink
26. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone – J.K. Rowling
27. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets – J.K. Rowling
28. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – J.K. Rowling
29. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire – J.K. Rowling
30. Encounters with Jesus – Tim Keller
31. Letters to the Church – Francis Chan
32. The Prayer that Turns the World Upside Down – Al Mohler
33. Pilgrim’s Progress – John Bunyan
34. Reset – David Murray
35. Steal Away Home – Matt Carter & Aaron Ivey
36. 41: A Portrait of My Father – George W. Bush

Bible Translations and My Switch to CSB.

My dad has always been instrumental in my life but when I professed faith in Christ, my dad bought me a bible, had my name put on it, sat me down and explained the wonder and use of this book.

Since then, there are 3 things that I have come to love.

1) Daily reading

2) Bibles, the choices of formats and styles or tools (I nerd out on the world of Bibles.)

3) Giving Bibles away

The effect it had on me was not only supernatural but very practical in the way that I wanted to reciprocate this to ensure others had a good Bible of their own for their growth in Christ.

My dad-Larry Mac and Pastor Scott Poynor drilled the mighty practice of a daily devotional consisting of prayer and God’s word.

The NASB Study Bible that was given to me was a huge help for me as a new believer to get familiar with scripture and application.

But why am I switching to the Christian Standard Bible translation?

First, let’s go through my journey with translations:

As mentioned, my first Bible was an NASB Study Bible. “NASB” is the New American Standard Bible.

I was taught to underline, date, highlight, and make my own notes in this bible and I did so until the cover literally started coming off, so I retired it.

A couple years into my faith, I would begin teaching youth, and I noticed that some of the word choices and sentence structure was not as easy to comprehend as what other translations provided.

I asked my newlywed wife for a new bible and that Christmas she purchased me an NIV Thinline reference bible. That is the New International Version.

This particular Bible did not have the study notes as my previous Bible provided but was much smaller and easier to carry around.

The main benefit of the NIV, of course, is it is an easy-to-read translation and this was helpful when reading scripture to my 6th-grade students.

When my Grandfather-in-law, “Grandpa Sam”, bought my wife a new bible a couple of years later, I wanted to compare my NIV to this translation that was new to me and so began my journey with the ESV (English Standard Version) translation.

I was enamored with this translation because it had the precision of the NASB but with more of a contemporary feel to it.

With the previous translations, I felt I could trust my NASB Study Bible for study and lesson preparation and I would use the NIV for morning devotions and quick references. I soon found myself preferring this English Standard Version over almost all other translations for preaching, teaching, and devotions.

Plus, a lot of my friends and pastors that I listened to and read were using this translation. The ESV became so popular that it soon had a new “ESV Only” tribe feel to it as opposed to the “KJV Only” tribe, though I didn’t mind.

I never considered changing from the ESV. Until, believe it or not, a complete stranger on Twitter challenged me to use a monster of a bible. Seriously, when Amazon delivered it and my wife picked the box up, she gave me the “Pete? Seriously?”

It is the Interlinear Bible and if you aren’t familiar with it, this is what the Interlinear Bible’s verses look like:

Image result for interlinear bible

The problem is is that it is just not practical to carry around. Great for the office but horrible for the pew.

What I desired in a Bible translation was what the Interlinear provided in faithful accuracy but with contextualization.

I enjoyed the ESV for its keeping a touch of King James flowery language but I fell out of love with it because it just isn’t how I would arrange a sentence. I found additional words that did not seem necessary and just cluttered sentences.

Accuracy is huge, but there is also an aspect of Bible translation that the bible’s new testament was written in common Greek, why then should we translate it into flowery English? It should be for the common reader, hence an emphasis on common language and readability.

Then the Christian Standard Bible was published.

I kept using the ESV for about a year after the CSB was published. First I downloaded a sample from the website. Then I downloaded the app to my phone. Soon I ordered a cheap copy to compare what I was reading in my devotion time.

My main hang-ups against the CSB were word choices that went against my preference. Particularly in John 15, I prefer the word “abide” where the CSB uses “remain” and in James 1:3 the word I like is “steadfastness”.

This isn’t purely from a translation preference. “Abide” and “steadfastness”, these words possess sentimental value for me. I have been in a dozen discipleship groups going through a curriculum called “Abiding in Christ”, it wasn’t called “Remain in Christ”.

When we were praying through one of the most difficult seasons of ministry, our prayer was for “steadfastness”. We didn’t use the use word “endurance”.

Eventually, the straw that broke the camel’s back for a switch to the CSB is that I do not use the style and structure of most Bible translations. The CSB is the most accurate translation that uses the flow of speech and sentence structure that I use.

The CSB has been a joy to read. It has much more of an effortless flow to it. It is just smooth.

That is why I have switched to the CSB. I finally dove in head first and bought a CSB Pastor’s Bible to preach out of. But do you know what I am asking my church to do? Nothing. I enjoy knowing that other people are reading other translations, as long as they are reading.

Some Final thoughts on translations:

1) Readability and accuracy should not be at odds with one another.

Getting words, terms, meanings, context, is crucial in translation and reading. However, If the translation is accurate but you are using it inaccurately it is still a fail. If you’re teaching or being taught out of a great translation but not in balanced gospel-centered ministry, this is a dangerous error.

Tim Keller has used the NIV and Todd Wagner uses the NASB. Both are pastors I respect, do great ministry, and use different translations.

2) Don’t demonize bible translations….especially the people that hold them.

What I mean is, when some see a different translation other than their choice, they scowl or giggle. This may be because of denominational, tradition, or school stigmas.

Hey Independent Fundies: Why does the KJV use the word unicorn?

Hey Angry Traditionalists: Does the NLT contain the word, predestined? Elect? Foreknew? Chosen? Say that the Holy Spirit draws?

Hey “Cage Stagers”: Can someone get saved when hearing the gospel preached from an NIV?

Obviously, I am characterizing, different “camps” and poking at their criticisms with exaggeration, but I have heard the critique of other translations and I find it unhelpful and divisive.

When we hold to that “the Bible” is the inerrant Word of God, that does not include man’s imperfections and limitations to our contemporary language.  It is the principle that God gave us scripture, the breathed out Word of God, written by the Holy Spirit but penned by man and is sufficient for all things for salvation and godliness.

Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone) is faith in the Holy Spirit’s teaching and ministry of the word and that the Bible is not only perfect but sufficient.

3) The best translation is the translation that you will read

Do you have verses memorized in NKJV and want to keep that? Awesome. Are you a young lady with an NIV women’s study bible, keep it up. Did you take one of the hardback bibles from a hotel room, keep it and read it.

4) See the charts/graphs below that were helpful in explaining the balance that the CSB strikes.

First is helpful to see differences in translation philosophies and how they compare.

Typically further on left is higher in accuracy but can be more difficult to read. Vice versa, those further on the right are more readable but can lack in accuracy.

BibleTranslationContinuum-02-09.jpg

The chart below combines the literal and readable percentages to show that CSB uses a hybrid philosophy of translation to obtain an “optimal blend”.CSB.jpg

Both charts are from csbible.com

Lastly)

I may not carry hard copies of all these Bibles but because of my handly Ipad and software, I can switch back and forth between 3-5 translations or even have all up on screen at one time.

I will always use more than one translation during sermon prep and most preachers do this too. May there always be sharpening in the field of translation and handling God’s Word to strive for accuracy and Christlikeness.

Find “your” bible. Not just your preferred translation, but the feel and weight of it. Shop for font, columns, cover, notes, etc. and use it until it becomes an extension of your body.

Or if you have had your bible for so long that devotions have become dry, change translations if only to make the light switch come on.

Recommended Bibles:

Or if you’re looking for something smaller, there are wide varieties of “thinline” bibles that can easily fit in small backpacks, briefcases, purses, etc.

Grace 101

Our society has many uses for the word grace. But what is it?
We make mention of grace with sayings like “that dancer was so graceful”. Or, the King & Queen “graced” us with their presence. We say “grace” before dinner.

We use it commonly in religious, mystic, or general terms without considering what grace really is.

Grace is first “of God”. Grace existed before we did. There was a perfect graceful fellowship in our perfect Triune God before our creation.

We know grace because God grants it to us. It is an act of common grace to be created in his image. We are able to enjoy food, drink, nature, etc. simply because of his common grace. His special grace is that of the cross. Jesus died for sinners who would respond to salvation in faith by grace.

Grace is intended to be a recycled commodity in the pulse of the church. We receive grace from God. We give grace to each other. The people are knitted together in grace and share grace with the world.

Let’s look at an excerpt from Louis Berkhof’s Systematic Theology:
“The grace of God. The significant word “grace” is a translation of the Hebrew “chanan” and of the Greek “charis”. According to Scripture, it is manifested not only by God, but also by men, and then denotes the favor which one man shows another… The Bible generally uses the word to denote the unmerited goodness or love of God to those who have forfeited it, and are by nature under a sentence of condemnation. The grace of God is the source of all spiritual blessings that are bestowed upon sinners.”

Grace is the “unmerited goodness” given to those undeserving or especially of those who have “forfeited”.

Paul proclaims that we are saved by grace through faith. Paul takes painstaking efforts to explain to churches the desperate need to have grace with one another.

Why?

Paul knows that we have an entitled and spoiled nature. This is not an American 21st-century problem. The churches of Galatia wanted to add rituals to the gospel, nullifying grace. The Corinthian church trampled on grace allowing heinous sins. The Thessalonian church was more captivated with end times than with grace.

Grace is tricky not because of itself but because of our treatment of it. It is our error to add to grace, to take away from it, or to altogether forget. We must constantly consume the grace of God and extend it to one another.

Grace is both a delicate matter and a combustible fuel for gospel mission. Grace is worth spending a lifetime of study on and yet never completely definable. Grace is most often not explained in a classroom as it is modeled in a hospital or on a couch. Grace is most often not spat on in a public forum but around a shared corner.

A person without grace is both always the offended and always the offending. A person with grace has a default to forgive when wronged and is cautious to not wrong others.

A church without grace is like a car without any fuel. It will eventually become so stagnant that it begins to rust and its moving parts will seize. A church with grace will be as attractive as water to the thirsty.

It is clear Paul had his heart-ache for people and churches who had a misconception of grace. Paul was deeply concerned about the health of those who hoarded grace and he was attacked by revilers who did not value grace.

The value of grace is determined by its cost, not by our experience. We cling to grace and give grace because we see the cost paid for by Jesus. We are humbled by Jesus picking up the tab. We share a gratefulness of the gospel and a graciousness with each other because of the cost.

The cost of grace is the blood of God. Jesus, full of grace and truth, died on the cross to remove our sins and make us white as snow. Grace is free to us but that does not mean that grace is not costly.

If we neglect the gracious gospel or do not have grace in gospel community it is to cheapen grace. It is to not remember the cost of grace.

Jesus considered the cost. It was worth it.

I pray that we would be overwhelmed with the worth of grace.

I wander?

What is your coffee? Is it a hot cup of black coffee? Or iced caramel macchiato Frappuccino with extra whipped cream?
I don’t hate on either one. But NOBODY likes a cup of coffee that has been sitting on the table for 4 hours.

God tells the Church in Laodicea:
Revelation 3:15 I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were cold or hot. 16 So, because you are lukewarm and neither hot nor cold, I am going to vomit you out of my mouth.

Let’s be clear: this is speaking to believers. This scripture is not wishing non-believers to be cold. This scripture is addressing the danger of a believer who has dead religion.

The lukewarm are those with “faith” in Jesus but resists change to actions, patterns, lifestyle, etc.

Lukewarm-ness just tends to drift into space and time of decay where there is nothing beneficial.

What has changed in your life due to your relationship with Christ?

The past two weeks, Mark Hamilton preached “The Prodigal Son” and last week I preached covering “The Lost Sheep”. Both of these sermons dealt with situations of wandering. One story had the subject of a wayward son and the other parable was about a sheep that was unintentionally wandering.

Are we wandering?

How to tell:

1) Where are we going?
The son in Luke 15 wanted to go live the lavish party lifestyle. The sheep probably just got distracted. Neither of them had any ambition or fear and both ended up lost.

You are heading in a direction of life whether you want to admit it or not. Are you going to like where you are in 5 months? In 5 years?

2) Who is with me?
The son in Luke 15 spent his inheritance partying with friends and prostitutes, living the sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll lifestyle. Who is in your life? Who knows you and who do you celebrate with?

3) Who is leading me?
What!? I lead myself! If you’re a Christian and thinking this, you need to repent. Christ leads us. Pastors lead us. Family and friends lead us. Leadership is an effect. Who has an effect on us? Who do we want to be like?

What to do when we find ourselves wandering?

1) Trust Jesus.
Jesus is our good savior that died for your sins past, present, and future. Jesus provides grace. We need to trust him and trust that he is better. He is better than whatever is causing your wandering. Jesus is not just the “right thing to do”. He is more enjoyable. His ways are more enjoyable.

2) Trust His people.
Hopefully, you have a pastor, leader, or mature Christian that you are personally close to, you need to have a sincere conversation. If you see the gospel in their life, they will want to help while being loving, honest, and patient. Good conversations in the Christian community are a means of grace. It can be awkward and also a blessing. We have been trained socially and individually to resist this type of conversation. Remember the parables, being alone or with the wrong people is never healthy.

3) Stop doing what you are doing.
That may seem simplistic or even legalistic. Let’s face it, when we are wandering we are not making good decisions. In a life of wandering, there is at best, things that are not necessary and at worst a lot of sin. This is not saying, “we clean ourselves up” this is to say “stop quenching the Spirit”.

For referenced sermons go to Grace Church Sermons

Below is a link to Prodigal God, a must read. And a link to a soon to be released book that is worth a look.

 

Hearing from Jesus

Joy Behar criticized Vice President Mike Pence’s faith a few weeks ago on an episode of the View. Behar said, “It’s one thing to talk to Jesus. It’s another thing when Jesus talks to you….that’s called mental illness.”

That brings up an interesting discussion.

Is obeying commandments apart of the Christian life? Sure, there is a matter of holiness and obedience.
Is Christianity about faith in things you cannot see. Yes, absolutely. The Bible says that we live by faith not by sight.

So what is Christianity? How do we explain Christianity? Where do we start? Is it with the commandments or the spiritual aspect?

Neither.

Christianity is not a discipline or a philosophy.
We do not start with a step but we start with a person. This person did not bring a set of rules or a way of life. He brought a solution.

People are natural rebels, giving them more rules only provides more rules to break or shows them to be greater rebels.

People are natural hypocrites, giving them a worldview only provides one more worldview to put into our kaleidoscope of trending philosophies.

The answer is Jesus who fulfills the law for rebels and sends his Spirit to the hypocrites.

The Bible contains stories, songs, rules, prophecy, etc., but all point to Jesus Christ. Like Paul says to the Corinthians, “For I passed on to you as most important what I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures…” 1 Corinthians 15:3-4

Did you notice the multiple mentions of “according to the Scriptures”? Jesus would also say that all the Law and Prophets spoke of me.

Jesus is what separates Christianity from other religions. The leaders of Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, etc., will say that “I can show you the way.” Jesus says, “that I am the Way.” – John 14:6.

Christianity is the following of Jesus. So, how do you follow Jesus?

First, we do so by the word. By “word” I mean, we consume the Word of God. The Bible. It is his primary revelation to us.
In short, everything we need to know to walk with God is found in Scripture.

Prayer is the other primary means.

And now the hot topic. Do we alone talk to God or does God speak to us? This is what Joy Behar criticized Mike Pence for, hearing from God.

Are we crazy, or in Behar’s terms, “mentally ill” to hear from Jesus?

Full discretion, I have never heard an audible voice from God. I have never spoken in tongues.

However, I have had moments, brief encounters, with God where I was either encouraged or in awe because of communication between God and myself.

When I say encouraged, I do not mean that I needed a little pat on the back, I mean that as a Husband or Father at a point in life I did not know how to move forward and before I could even blink, God “told” me that everything was going to be alright.

When I say I was in “awe”, I mean that I felt God’s presence so mightily I was scared not only that his holiness would engulf me but that its might would bring the building down.

It can be just as simple as when I go to my devotional time, a truth is so stunning that I can’t continue reading for something has overwhelmed my mind and heart. God is revealing a truth about himself.

Other times, God uses other people to confirm something in my life. God is “telling” me to push forward.

The surest times I know God is “speaking” to me is when He is telling me to do something that I do not want to do. Just this past week I was told to do something that was uncomfortable. God’s word was preached to me, the opportunity was given to be faithful, and I wanted to say no.

The surefire way of testing if God is telling us something: Is it confirmed by His word? Is what someone is saying to you found in scripture? Does the “voice in your head” line up with the word of God?

Pastors have said, “Do you want to hear from God? Read your Bible out loud.”

It takes adoration of God and devotion to his word to be obedient. If we know what to do, but do not love Jesus, we will sin. If we believe we love Jesus but do not know his word, we can stumble into sin.

In our sermon from Sunday, Sam Poynor was preaching over the calling of Moses in Exodus.

At first, Moses was given a staff by God. God turned this staff into a serpent, Moses ran, and God called him back to show Moses how to turn it back into a staff and use it. Moses then after a tremendous journey of dealing with the Pharaoh of Egypt, the plagues, etc., Moses led God’s people out of Egypt and crossed the Red Sea with that same staff.

The question for us, for growing Christians, are we going to see what God is giving us or run away from it?

I think it depends on how much you are “hearing from God.”

Sam’s message was around how we deal with difficulties in the Christian life. The world will give us stones and serpents, but God can change stones to bread or use them as weights to strengthen us until we can cast them off.

Sam showed us what Moses had seen as a serpent was a weapon of God. Moses began afraid of it, but then it was used to lead God’s people.

A charge of the sermon was to sharpen our gaze on Christ, do not be so shortsighted. In doing so we only produce self-inflicted stones.

Sam preached, “When we are being in the fast lane of following Christ the stones of suffering seem like small road bumps.”

Sam closed with a recent commitment to a mission that God was calling him to. The journey will be hard, there will be some difficulties and dangers, it will be out of the safety and comfort of his home where his wife and child are, but ultimately there will be joy and fruit.

It has been said that Christianity is too mystical for the academic and too grounded in truth for the mystic.

Our personalities tend to drive one way or the other. We are either control-freaks who like our worship to be nice and structured along with our theology or we are emotionally and experience-driven?

In Tim Keller’s book Prayer, he quotes John Murray, “It is necessary for us to recognize that there is an intelligent mysticism in the life of faith…of living union and communion with the exalted and everpresent Redeemer…He communes with his people and his people commune with him in conscious reciprocal love…The life of true faith cannot be that of cold metallic assent. It must have the passion and warmth of love and communion because communion with God is the crown and apex of true religion.”

In closing, I hope to “hear” from God more and I hope to say yes as often.

You can listen to Sam Poynor’s sermon here: Grace Church Sermon Page – Sam Poynor

 

Recommendations for this part of Christian life:

And I have not read this yet because it is recently published but I hear good things about this book and the writer is excellent:

Repentance & Tragedy

Sunday my pastor Kelsey Cates preached on Luke13:1-5.
An often overlooked passage about an evil ruler who committed horrible acts on people and another catastrophe that results in loss of life. This subject must have been insensitively brought up in a discussion. Jesus aimed at the heart of those in the crowd, for he said, “do you think that they are worse than the others?” “You too, you need to repent unless you perish.”Pastor Kelsey explained why we need repentance and the seriousness of sin. 1) repent & 2) perish were the keywords driving the main point of the sermon. Repent, meaning to think differently or to be changed. Perish referring to the ultimate death not only the end of one’s life but eternal destruction.
Kelsey gave us the key to repent, “Repentance only comes when you replace sin with something better. Jesus is that Better.”
Later in the sermon, Kelsey preached an exhortation to come to repentance in light of the gospel saying, “Jesus is the Better…… A Christian that repents every day has tasted and seen the goodness of the Lord….. His mind has been changed after experiencing the Better.”
We are not saved by any amount of good works. Righteousness and holiness are something that we cannot earn. Jesus died on the cross for our forgiveness and imputed his righteousness to us that we may be saved by grace through faith in Jesus.
To listen to the full sermon click here: Kelsey Cates – Sermon – Change Your Mind
Kelsey provided a contemporary example for Luke 13:1-5, the recent shooting of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas school in Parkland, Florida.
This sermon was timely for me, as I have been wanting to express a thought about this tragedy. By waiting until after Sunday, Kelsey gave me a greater insight and a wonderful text to base it off of.
We should examine our lives to find sin and replace it with satisfaction in Jesus. Are we doing this when a crisis occurs? Did we do this with the hurricanes? Do we do this with terrorism?
What about this? Are we being judgemental with our comments about the Florida school shooting? Judgemental? What? That would mean that we are criticizing the victims or assume that we are better.
No. We do not say that we are better. But the logic that we use might say otherwise. Why did the shooting occur? What is the reason something like this will not happen to us?
To say that we do not deserve what happened is to imply that the victims did.
Even if we are not using the same tone or judgment, isn’t it still legalism? Things like that do not happen to me because of,…? Who I am, what I do, what I believe?
Take a look at the Florida school shooting from a different perspective.
Let’s agree that we absolutely sympathize with the victims and families.
What about the shooter? What about him? What does he deserve?
Maybe we do not reason our safety against the tragedy of the victims, but do we claim for ourselves to be the judge of the guilty?
The shooter deserves every punishment that is lawful according to the government and God. But don’t we deserve this also?
If you were asked, “what is keeping you from judgment and punishment for your sins?” our only acceptable answer is what Jesus did on the cross. And if our answer is not that Jesus’ blood covered our sins and that is the only reason we do not deserve immediate judgment, then that is legalism. It is self-righteousness, it is works based, merit-based righteousness.
What is the appropriate response to a tragedy such as this?
Look to the gospel. That Jesus the sinless one was crucified as a criminal. We can be relieved in tragedies by fixing our eyes on the greatest tragedy. In dire circumstances, this truth anchors down further that God can use the worst of things for redemption. Tragedy reminds us the hope that eventually all things will be made new.
What are we to do though? Love.
Are the victims and families of the victims our neighbors? Yes. Is the shooter our neighbor? Yes.
We should not feel secure because of what we do and we cannot revel in someone else’s condemnation.
In such a sensitive time it is never more crucial to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger.
Love does not accuse. We should not leap on opportunities to transfer blame to organizations, political parties, or current procedures that we are seeking to attack.
As believers in Christ, we should be agents for justice and reform. But, of first importance is the gospel and our repentance, that we may be able to minister to the world.
To an atheist, the highest power they know can only be either evolution or Darwinism. The solution for disaster from evolution or Darwinism is the survival of the fittest. I am sure that is comforting at the funerals.
Or to an atheist, the highest powers are the civil government. So something by our government must be done to rectify this disaster or justice has failed.
As believers, we trust God for justice. We have the hope of a good and just yet merciful God who will right every wrong.
If our response to disasters as believers in Christ is the same response as the rest of the world, we need to repent.

Recommendations:

 

Doctrine of Repentance – Thomas Watson

Grace & Discipleship

After recently preaching Cost of Discipleship (linked if you haven’t heard it) from Luke 14: 25-27, I would like to add some more practical thoughts and resources on personal growth in the Christian life.

I hope we can all agree that our engaging Jesus with consistent Bible reading and prayer is essential. There are many other “spiritual disciplines” as I like to refer to them, such as meditation, fasting, journaling, singing, etc.

The main thing is this, training up in Christ does not happen by accident. We certainly do not perform anything for our salvation but we do have a part in our sanctification. Romans 12:2 says, “To be transformed by the renewal of your mind.”

Now, what does that look like?

As I have discovered that nobody else’s devotion is going to look exactly like mine, as it shouldn’t. Since this is the case it could be very helpful to personalize your devotion time.

I do commend at least a morning devotion time, simply because it has the effect on an upcoming day, not as the day is ending.

Sometimes the benefit of this devotion is simply encouragement for the day. Or sometimes it provides needed grace and mercy after I feel like I have failed or sinned somewhere. Other times I receive a bit of wisdom for a particular topic or decision. Others, it seems to be filled with prayers for other people. To be honest, sometimes I oversleep and miss my time or, maybe I have that time but it was not profound at all and I do not feel any different than when I woke up.

To personalize this time, you may like to have a consistent place and location. Or you may like to randomize your devotion time by walking outside, listening to different worship music, or going to a public place.

There is one more thing that I want to consider about growing in Christ, we need each other. We need others that are growing in Christ that may not be exactly like us. And occasionally though hopefully not very often…….we will need to fight for one another.

What I mean is this, take Paul and Peter, for instance. Paul was an educated scholar of the Old Testament, a Hebrew of Hebrews. Paul was probably wealthy, powerful, and an influential man who after conversion loved Christ and served the mission.

Then take Peter, a fisherman who probably couldn’t read all that well. If it had not been for Jesus calling him, Peter would have spent most of his life working very hard, living a blue-collar life, and smelling like fish. But Peter, after conversion loved Christ and served the mission.

Paul at one point rebuked Peter for showing favoritism to the powerful  Jewish social circles. Peter felt compelled to remind Paul to minister to the poor.

I believe both had a personal growing relationship with Christ. I believe both served Jesus well. But, I also believe both were served by their being in ministry near one another because they sharpened each other in complementary ways.

Because Paul wrote most of the letters in the New Testament, we have this impression that he was this loner missionary conquering Greece with nothing but the clothes on his back and the gospel. But, how many times does he include in those letters, a request to thank a long list of people with funny Greek names? Paul not only needed help, he loved his friends. He loved Timothy and Titus, and Luke, and all the other people that accompanied him. In the book of Acts as he is leaving he tells the church that is trying to keep him, “Why are you trying to make me cry?”, “I have to go.” (paraphrase)

So we should aim to grow personally and learn to feed ourselves scripture and to meditate and grow in our prayer life.

But Christianity is not a solo mission. Jesus designed us to be in community, namely the church which he is the cornerstone.

In the church, there are shepherds and brothers for each other’s edification, mentorship, and accountability.

In 2 Timothy 2:2, Paul writes to Timothy, “and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.

I would like to close with several recommendations and also would love to hear your comments or questions and recommendations:

Bibles:

I am not going to fight over Bible translations. If you’re a King James guy, great. You like the NIV, great. It’s a fight that nobody wins. The best Bible translation is the translation you will read. The guys doing translations are smarter than me and we have the freedom to choose. Stay away from some versions that are way too lax like the Message or the New World Translation which is a Jehovah’s Witness bible translation and you will be fine. To be clear though my preference due to biblical accuracy and readability are the ESV, CSB, NKJV, and others are acceptable like NIV and NLT.

Another Bible edition that is extremely helpful is a Study Bible. All the above-mentioned translations have their Study Bibles. Study Bibles have a commentator who includes helpful insights below the referenced scripture verses. These are useful in understanding difficult passages, creating a devotional environment, and providing context such as time, author, critical events, type of literature, etc.

Podcast & Audible or Christian Audio:

There are many great preachers that upload their sermons for free. If you do not want to listen to more preaching, an alternative is podcasts that can be helpful covering topics in a conversation or interview format. Audible and Christian Audio provide books to listen to rather than read. I recently started listening to “The Whole Christ” by Sinclair Ferguson as my first audiobook.

The great thing about podcasts, sermons, audiobooks, is that you can multi-task. You can drive, work out, do your chores, etc. all while listening to something that is helping you grow in Christ.

I also advise, choosing to listen to more than one podcast. Balance it out to not have just one teaching style in your head. Also, it is beneficial to get the gospel applied from different age groups, different regions, different cultures, even different denominations. For example, I listen to Tony Merida out of North Carolina, Art Azurdia from Portland, Joe Thorn from a suburb of Chicago, Tim Keller from New York City, and Matt Chandler from DFW.

Podcast Recommendations:

The Briefing with Al Mohler (Christian analysis of world news updated every weekday morning)

Radical or Pray the Word by David Platt

Culture Matters by The Village Church

Good Books:

How do I know it is a good book? It makes me want to pick up the bible more.

Some people frown upon reading other human’s works rather than the God-authored bible. I understand what they are saying, but the execution of this idea is what I have a problem with. I have a hunch, that people that “only” read the bible probably don’t read as often as they think they do. And that people that read other books for personal growth can responsibly read these types of books, grow in discernment, be helped taught the meaning of scripture, and are probably reading the Bible more than those that claim to “only read the bible”. It is valuable and important to learn from godly Christians who have gone before us or are in it with us.

Book Recommendations for personal growth:

-Knowing God – J.I. Packer

-Pilgrim’s Progress – John Bunyan

-Abide – 6-week devotional in the Lifeway Growing Disciples Series

-Spiritual Disciplines – Don Whitney

 Briefing – Al Mohler

Audible audible, an amazon companyChristian Audiochristianaudio

Grace & Fascination

Wonder, awe, breathtaking, etc. These are words that have been used to capture an experience. Maybe this was with God, or in nature, or with a newborn child. It was definitely not describing a grocery trip to Wal-Mart.

You are probably thinking, “Yeah, that’s the point, they are extraordinary.”

Do we really only ever stop and pause at a few extraordinary moments in life?

With so much instant entertainment in our culture, we may have become desensitized to the miracles of life.

We should with hungry humility seek out the “everyday” miracles and attribute them to God. That’s what the word “fascination” brings besides the words mentioned earlier, is a sense of on-going, continuous, searching out.

We should be fascinated with grace. We should be fascinated with what God is doing in our lives.

This simultaneously brings about a higher sense of worship for God and gratification. God gets the exaltation, the credit for what is happening in our life. We find more satisfaction, more joy, thankfulness for what is going on in our life. This practice will also strengthen our faith, provide endurance for when we get rocked, it will bring to light that God is great and there is much more going on than the trial in front of us. Whether you need reminding that there is more than this crisis, something better than the mundane, or whether you need assurance that God will work out all things for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose.

Be fascinated with every miracle God has in motion. Be curious to find out what we are not seeing. Be hungry to find out what we can thank God for that we have been ignorant of in the past. We need to be in pursuit of fascination with the miracles around us.

As a believer in Jesus and in particular a pastor, I have a calling to invest in people’s lives. With every text message and every lunch, there are exchanges of grace. There are so many things that happen daily and weekly that make a lifetime of differences.

As a husband and best friend to my wife, a connection that is unexplainable. A relationship that is indivisible, there is nothing in my life that does not affect her nor her’s mine.

As a parent, every night when I come home, I can see and hear little miracles. My children have a story of their own now. They have their own interactions at school, with other kids. My little girl is in Pre-K and has a boy crushing on her. My son has his playground adventures and wants to start karate. Are these not moments to treasure?

As a co-worker, we spend 8-10+ hours a day, basically as a family away from home. For some of you, it may just be a couple of people. For me, it is 70 people. C.S. Lewis said, “I have never met a mere mortal.” Every day I go to work with 70 people who were made in the image of God.

History contains fascination. The present should hold our fascination. The future intrigues our fascination.

To be bored is to fail at worship. To not be fascinated with your life is to be guilty of being lazy with your eyes and mind. To not be fascinated is to fail to recognize what is going on around us.

How can you stir up your thankfulness? How can you slow down to realize your fascination with life around you?

What can you do to turn the moments that are difficult into experiences that can be more helpful? Is it treating your spouse differently? Is it changing a parenting approach, performing a job better or rescheduling something? Life is too precious to not be fascinated with our lives and seek out the grace that is present and become transformed by it.