The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you. (Psalm 9.9-10 ESV)
The writer of Hebrews demonstrated faith in action by highlighting the life of faithful men and women throughout biblical history. The famous “faith hall of fame,” otherwise known as chapter 11, is full of great faith stories like Abraham and Moses. But it also includes a list of names, stories that the author didn’t have the time to tell. One of those un-expounded faith stories is the story of Gideon.
Gideon’s story is found in Judges 6-8. He was the unlikely man chosen by God to deliver Israel from the hand of the Midianites. Though he was the least in his father’s house, the angel of the Lord told him to “go in this might of yours and save Israel.” In faith, Gideon destroyed his own father’s altar to Baal. The Spirit of the lord clothed Gideon, he rallied Israel around him, and gathered for battle. He famously sought confirmation from the Lord through the fleece, twice. And he trusted in God’s plan, even though the Lord whittled his fighting force down to a paltry 300 men and gave him a battle plan about a silly as Joshua’s: torches, trumpets, and clay jars. But “through faith,” Gideon “conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, and obtained promises” (see Hebrews 11.33). Continue reading “Failure: The Unintended Consequence of Success (Judges 8.27)” »
Charles Murray, author and social historian, has written several weighty works of great value. I have previously reviewed Coming Apart, a book about the changing culture in White America, and was looking forward to reading his latest release, The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Getting Ahead: Do’s and Don’ts of Right Behavior, Tough Thinking, Clear Writing, and Living a Good Life.
The Curmudgeon’s Guide is certainly different than Coming Apart. The later is a social research book, the former is the collection of a life time of wisdom, wisdom summed up in 35 thoughts with short explanations. According to the dictionary, a curmudgeon is “an old man who is easily annoyed or angered and who often complains.” Murray defines a curmudgeon as “an ill tempered old man” or as “a successful person who is inwardly grumpy about many aspects of contemporary culture.” But what could easily be dismissed as the rantings of the old man down the street who constantly tells the neighborhood kids to get off his lawn is tempered by this one key thought: “most large organizations in the private sector are run by curmudgeons” (15) like Murray, and they have the power to decide who gets promoted and who gets fired. So, like the sub-title suggests, if you want to get ahead in a world run by curmudgeons, then you need to learn the values of curmudgeons.
Much of Murray’s wisdom is very practical: stop using the world “like” in conversations, don’t get tattoos, dress properly, address people with terms of respect, learn how to write well, leave home, etc. Young people won’t like much of the wisdom, but that won’t change the basic premise of Murray’s work: curmudgeons are the ones who have worked hard and earned the positions of power in the places where most young people will end up working.
It is an easy read, entertaining, and makes a great graduation gift book. Unfortunately, it will probably be left un-read by the non-curmudgeons, but that will be to thier own demise. Don’t blame the curmudgeons; they told you so.
Disclaimer: I was provided a review copy of this book by the publisher at no cost in exchange for a review. I was not obligated to provide a positive review.
I’ve never heard of Timothy Egan, but then again, he’s never heard of me either.
Mr. Egan is an author and journalist who lives in Seattle. He has authored six books, his most well known probably being about the Great Depression: The Worst Hard Time (2006). He has won several awards for his writing, and he contributes to the Opinion section of the New York Times.
On July 18, 2014, his recent Op-Ed piece, entitled “Faith Based Fanatics,” appeared in the Opinion Pages of the NYT. As a man of faith, and probably what Egan would call a “faith based fanatic,” his opinion piece infuriated me, most likely, much to his delight. The truth hurts, he might be heard saying all the way from the West Coast. After stewing over his rant against religion, I decided to invest some time into articulating a response to Egan’s trash talking Op-Ed piece.
Just to be clear about terms, a fanatic is one who is “marked by excessive enthusiasm and often intense uncritical devotion.” Many of those who Egan rants against would reject the idea that they are devoted “uncritically” to their faith. In truth, they have excessive enthusiasm because they have critically examined their faith just as atheists share the same devotion to their beliefs. And let’s be honest, “non-faith based fanatics” are legion, too. Continue reading “Faith Based Fanatics: A Response to Timothy Egan” »
I preached this morning from Mark 6, the story of Jesus feeding the 5000. Mark crafts the story in such a way that see our Savior as the Messianic Good Shepherd. One of my church members composed this picture on his bulletin during the sermon. An amazing capture of the essence of Mark 6.30-52.
Before I actually took the time to closely read the Book of Leviticus and to study the law, I assumed that the sacrificial system was a system of sacrifices that were all basically the same, with the exception of the Day of Atonement. Sin, bring an animal, end of story, right? What I am learning is that the Lord presented Moses and Israel with a variety of offerings, each with its own set of rules, regulations, and purposes. This means that a worshipper in ancient Israel didn’t just haphazardly bring an offering to the tabernacle, nor to the Temple. The worshipper had to think about what kind of offering he was bringing and to examine the proper way to bring it. This mitigated against a worshipper just going through the motions. Worship was intentional, and great care was given to make sure it was done properly. It kind of shames our “just show up at church” mentality today.
More importantly, to group all of the various sacrifices together into one sacrifice is to miss how each one of them was fulfilled by Christ. Christ is the Passover Lamb. Christ is the once and for all burnt offering. Christ is the scape goat. And in chapter 3 of Leviticus, we discover that Christ is the once and for all peace offering. Continue reading “Christ, Our Fellowship Offering (Leviticus 3)” »
July 13, 2014
Sermon Series: The Gospel of mark
Why did Mark think it was important to tell his readers about the death of John the Baptist? And why did he frame the story of John’s death within the story of the sending of the twelve? Was it intentional, accidental, or just a coincidence?
Allow me to suggest that the answer to those questions lies in the setting of Mark’s gospel. Remember, Mark was Peter’s “ghost writer,” of sorts. Peter discipled Mark. And after Mark abandoned the apostle Paul during the first missionary journey, he eventually resurfaced in Rome alongside the apostle Peter. According to the church fathers, Mark was commissioned to write down Peter’s remembrances of the life of Christ. This means that Mark wrote the gospel around the time of the end of Peter’s life.
And we should not miss the obvious fact that Peter’s first epistle contains numerous references to suffering for the gospel.
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And “If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. (1 Peter 4:12-19 ESV)
What does the setting of Mark’s writing have to do with including the story of the death of John and framing the story within the sending of the twelve?
I think that Mark was encouraging his Roman readers. Continue reading “The Encouraging Story of John the Baptist’s Death (Mark 6.14-29)” »
The Gospel of Mark, the short gospel, the first gospel written, often gives abbreviated accounts of the life of Christ. But, a few times, Mark left us with more information than the others.
Compare his account of the temptation of Christ with Matthew’s and Luke’s account. Mark simply wrote, “And He was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan” (Mark 1.13). Nothing about an exchange of Bible verses or trips to the top of the Temple, like the other two. Or consider the story of John’s preaching. Luke gives the content of his sermons; Mark simply gives a three verse summary (see Mark 1.4-8).
However, there are times when Mark provides us with more details, not less. For instance, when Jesus calmed to sea, only Mark tells us that Jesus was asleep in the stern on a cushion. Small details, but important to Mark.
When Mark records the story of John’s death, several observations leap off the page. While Mark gives only 8 verses on the life and ministry of John, he devoted 13 verses to the story of his death.
But Mark does something very important with the story of John’s death, something that the other gospel writers did not. Something that many scholars believe was either not intentionally done by Mark or done with little meaning. Mark sandwiches the story of John’s death within the sending of the twelve. Continue reading “The Death of John the Baptist: Why Did Mark Tell Us This Story? (Mark 6.14-29)” »
For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. (2 Corinthians 5.14-15 ESV)
“For the love of Christ constrains us” (KJV). That’s what the apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth. What exactly was he saying? In the preceding verses, he wrote of the sufferings and persecutions of being an apostle. He then wrote about the hope of his heavenly home. After saying that the love of Christ “constrains” us, he talked about how we are now ambassadors for Christ. What does that have to do with “constraining” love?
The word translated “constrains” (KJV) or “controls” (ESV) or “compels” (NIV, HCSB) or is a basic Greek word which means “to hold together.” The fuller definitions include (1) to hold the whole together lest it fall to pieces, (2) to press together, (3) to press cattle into a squeeze, forcing the beast into a position where it cannot move so the farmer can administer medication, (4) to be occupied with any business, or (5) to urge or compel. Continue reading “Youth Camp Theme Verse: 2 Corinthians 5.14-15” »
The first day of youth camp is a mixed bag. Much of the day is spent getting organized, choosing your bunk, finding out where the lake is located, signing up for recreation, and learning what it means to have KP duty. The first official activity of youth camp is the evening “Tabernacle Experience,” what we might call a worship service. After about 30 minutes of worship, the camp preacher Hance Dilbeck, led the youth to explore a passage from John 12. The key section was the following verses:
Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself. He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die. (John 12.31-33)
The camp pastor helped us to see four things about the cross. The cross seemed to be a judgment upon Jesus, but it was really a judgment upon this world. The cross seemed like a defeat for Jesus, but it was really a defeat for Satan. The cross seemed like a humiliation for Jesus, but it was really His exaltation. And finally, the cross seemed repulsive, but it was really a marvelous attraction. Continue reading “Youth Camp Reflections (Day 1)” »
One of my goals this year is to improve my prayer life. I stumbled across a fantastic website, Prayer Today Online, with many great resources to equip people like me who are looking to deepen their prayer life. As I was developing my actions steps to go along with my goal of maturing in my prayer life, I saw the following model: one hour of prayer each day, one full day of prayer each month, a three day prayer retreat each quarter, and one full week devoted to prayer each year.
I have modified that ambitious plan to the following actions steps for this year: (1) thirty minutes in prayer each day, (2) one full day prayer retreat each month, and (3) one two day prayer retreat each year.
I share the following with you, not because I am an expert in prayer, but because I believe there might be other pastors who are struggling to mature in their prayer life and who are looking for resources to guide them in prayer.
First, I modified a resource from Prayer Today Online and created my own guide to spending 30 minutes in prayer.
Second, I discovered a fantastic resource on Prayer Today Online for guiding me through a day of prayer, which you can download below. I modified this resource to create my own schedule for the day which I share below. Putting myself on a schedule is helpful to me because it gives me the freedom to focus my prayer time. One of the ways that Satan attacks me in prayer is to make me think that I ought to be praying about something else. If I am in confession, I feel like I should be interceding for others. If I am praying for the church, I feel like I should be praying for my family. A prayer schedule allows me the freedom to focus on one area of prayer, knowing that I will get to the other areas at their scheduled time. Continue reading “How To Plan a Pastor’s Prayer Retreat: One Man’s Journey” »