Thursday, October 29, 2015

Next Tuesday is Election Day - it's easy to vote

John Wesley, so I'm told, used to tell the pastors under his jurisdiction that they should research issues and candidates, and tell their congregations 'how' to vote. While I might think that's a wonderful idea, I also am wise enough to know that the IRS would have a field day with that.  I'm not willing to risk our task exempt status, but there are things I can say. So let's talk politics:
Tuesday Nov 3,2015 is election day (The first Tuesday after the first Monday in November). In the city where I live, and the in the city where I work, there will be elections for a number of positions, and an question concerning a new tax.  The powers that be make it easier and easier for us to vote. Many municipalities send out 'mail-in' ballots; sometimes early voting is offered, and of course you can go to the polls on election day to cast your ballot. 
The important thing is that you vote. Exercise that right that is ours because of the blood shed by others, because of the sacrifices that others have made to ensure that our Constitutional rights are not trampled on.
And we remember that for Christians the exhortation found in the Apostle Paul's letter to Timothy is that we are supposed to pray for those in authority.  Even if the person who wins the election is not the person for whom you voted, you are told to pray.
Why not start today. Pray for all the elected officials, - national, state, county, municipality- Pray for the person you'll vote for on Tuesday, and pray for his/her opponent. And then keep praying.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Bethke's It's Not What You Think

I just read  a refreshing book by Jefferson Bethke, with a take on the Gospel that seems so in touch with  the Gospel as presented by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  This is not a presentation of a gospel diluted by political correctness.  In  It' Not What You Think: Why Christianity Is about So Much More than Going to Heaven When You Die (Thomas Nelson, 2015), Bethke asks the readers to look at some of the ideas about God and Jesus that they may have always  taken for granted. He asks us to take a look and then he challenges us to look at them in different ways.
If we're willing to follow him, we open the boxes where we think God has been confined and we get to experience Jesus in what is perhaps a new way.  Most people dream about going to heaven after they die, but what if heaven starts when you become a Christian? Is the communion meal just another ritual, or are people really changed when they come to the table?
What if other people aren't what you think? What if there's more to you than even you realize? And get this, God knows your story, and the part you're playing in His story. And by the way, He knows you and loves you anyway.
God knows when you hurt, where you hurt, and why you hurt. If we let Him, He takes our wounds, and turns them into scars. And what are scars but wounds that no longer hurt.
Bethke writes in a manner that engages the reader from the very first page.  Enjoy it by yourself, with a small group, or perhaps, if you’re a pastor, as a sermon series.
I received a copy of this book in exchange for this review.  I was not required to write a positive review.


Friday, October 16, 2015

I wish I could vote for Luis Lopez for Ogden City Council (but I don't live in Ogden)

              In the interest of transparency I don't live in Ogden so I can't vote for Luis Lopez in the upcoming election.  I pastor a church (that he does not attend so there's no bias there) and as a pastor I can't tell you how to vote, but as an American citizen I am entitled to an opinion. And I have one.
             I met Luis at a meeting a few months ago and he seemed like a nice guy. I attended the Ogden Hispanic Festival last week and saw Luis playing tug-of-war with a puppy. He likes dogs, so that's another point in his favor. And by the way, the puppy was an adult dog from the K-9 unit of the Ogden Police Department, and Luis was the rope. He volunteered to be the "perp" for a demonstration.  I like that about him too.  But  none of those things really qualify someone for public office. They're bonus points.
            So I sat down with Luis to discuss why I should (if I could) vote for him.  And I walked away impressed. There's a lot of stuff on his interwebs page ( but I wanted to approach things from a different direction. You see I don't think that the 'city'  can solve some of the problems facing Ogden (or Anytown USA)by itself. No ordinances or codes are going to force people to get along. The city can't pass a law that ensures that fatherless children  get 'fathered'.
            The City Council or the Mayor's office can propose, suggest, endorse, advocate programs to ensure that at risk kids have opportunities to succeed, but the solution involves more than a handful of elected officials could ever hope to manage. And Luis has some great ideas for bringing members of the community together to explore ways to help without hurting.
            Diversity matters. Diversity is here. And Luis and I agree that diversity should be embraced. There is such richness to be found in other cultures, not to mention all the food experiences that we miss when we live with  a 'we versus them'  mentality.  (Read the gospels: a lot of Jesus' activities included food--it draws people together.) Lopez wants to reach across the lines that divide us so that we do live as one community.
            I was especially impressed with his commitment to family -- his own and families in the community.   He is passionate about helping and serving  people in the community. Education is important. Providing opportunities and letting people know that they matter and that someone cares are high on his list of priorities.
            And I asked about a touchy subject: can the city and local churches work together for the good of OUR community,  how can we partner?  And his answer was that we need to be in conversation about issues, we need to work together, we need to avail ourselves of each others strengths.  And of course when you bring up religion, it opens the door for a totally different discussion.  How do you balance one groups right to display their religious conviction with another group's right to disagree and be offended? I was impressed, not because of his answer, but because he didn't have an answer. No one size fits all solution,  rather he has a willingness to listen to others, and a support for people to worship in the various ways that people do.
            We also talked about immigration and refugees. This is something else for which there are no easy answers.  I would like to see refugees resettled to Ogden.  For that to happen there has to be housing, job opportunities and reliable transportation. My blunt question was would you not only support resettling refugees here, but would you actively pursue making it happen.  The answer was not the one I hoped for, but one that I respected: 'in principle it sounds good, but I need to know a lot more about it before committing.' 
            I left our meeting impressed, and more than that, I left feeling like we have formed a friendship. If  I could vote for Luis Lopez, I would. If pastors could tell their flocks how to vote,  you guessed it,  I would.  I can't do either of those things, but as a member of the Ogden community  I can encourage you to vote, and if you are a registered voter in Ogden City, when you go to the polls, I encourage you to put your 'X' next to the name Luis Lopez  for council member at large.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

God's Love Is Extravagant

Many people, including me, enjoy the parable of the Prodigal Son, so when the references popped up just a few pages into Vince Antonucci’s latest book, I knew I was in for a ride. (If you don’t happen to be familiar with the story, find yourself a Bible and turn to Luke, chapter 15.) But God for the Rest of Us: Experience Unbelievable Love, Unlimited Hope, and Uncommon Grace (Tyndale, 2015) is not just the usual take on the story: God loves me just like the father in the parable loves the wayward son. Antonucci takes it a little further, and reminds us that extravagant grace doesn’t just apply to me, and to the people who have proved they deserve it.
And by the way, the word prodigal has a meaning that most of us don’t ever think of: wastefully extravagant. And God is definitely wastefully extravagant when it comes to offering us His love, grace and mercy. Do we deserve it? Yeah, not so much so, but we get it anyways.
No, the love that God showers on each of us, is also available for “the rest of us”: a group that in the author’s eyes are generally far outside the realm of the people we expect to see in church, and therefore in God's grace.  His A-Z list of people who are eligible for God's grace includes Adorable people, addicts, atheists and abortionists, Blue men in the Blue Man group, singers named Justin, the Kardashians, overweight obituary writers, strippers in stilettos, ushers and Usher, and even zoologists preparing for the  zombie apocalypse.
God doesn’t wait until we’ve proved that we deserve His love and grace, He showers us with it, and at some point we realize that we don’t want to live without it. The book is full of stories of people (including himself) who one day woke up to the fact that God loved them and decided to respond to that call on their lives.  We’re prodigals—we waste the gifts that God has given us, but God is prodigal too. He has more than enough love to cover our prodigal wandering.
And as a pastor in Las Vegas, Antonucci frequently sees people from the realm of ‘church people’. A blurb on the back cover says that the author ‘performs stand-up comedy in Las Vegas’.  Whether he honed his skill as a comedian through writing, or his writing skills by doing comedy, this book is well written, with a great use of words, and an impeccable comedic timing.
Some of the stories have been told before in his other books, but they are just as relevant the second time around. You might fit into one of the unexpected categories of people that God loves, or at least know someone that does. Whether it’s for you or someone else, you owe it to yourself to read the book.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my review.


Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Some thoughts on "MISSIOLOGY_ 2nd Edition

     The message doesn’t change but the method of delivering it does.  That is evident in sermons, in ‘church music’, and the way we do missions.  Back in 1997 the first edition of Missiology was published, and now in 2015 the 2nd edition of Missiology: An Introduction to the Foundations, History, and Strategies of World Missions (edited by John Mark Terry, published by B&H Academic) is available. Again the message doesn’t change, but the way we take that message to the world certainly has changed. The nations are coming to us in numbers greater than ever before and at times we have to adapt to the changing climate.

     If you're a big fan of 3-point sermons you might wonder why this wasn’t broken into 3 sections instead of 5, but sometimes we have to change the way we do things.  There is a logic to the sub-divisions, and the papers are neatly arranged according to several themes, the study of missions, a Biblical basis, theology history, and application. (For you three-pointers, you have an intro, 3 points and an application.)
Many prominent names in the field of Missiology are included in the list of authors represented in this edition. They are noted scholars who have advanced the study of Missions through their experience and writing. This is an ideal reference book for all those interested in studying how the Great Commission is being fulfilled in the 21st century…and it certainly has changed over the last few hundred years.

      Although I have no complaints about the authors, the papers, or the way things are arranged, I would have liked to see some indication of when the papers were actually written (and maybe that's there and I missed it). Especially when things are being updated, it's helpful for me to be able to look back and see how things have changed. Is the change something that has been happening over the past 50 years or 100? Or is it a recent (3-5 years) change?

     This a must for the reference shelf of anyone interested in missions.

I received this book for free from B&H for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

When God Shows Up

     It’s what happens when God shows up.  Woodlawn is a story about God. It’s a story about racism and desegregation in the South. It’s a story about football. It’s a story about love. It’s a story about what happens when God shows up.  It's another example of how when Jesus is involved things don't just stay the same.

     And it’s not just another made-up Hollywood story. This is based on a true story about the football team at Woodlawn High School in Birmingham, AL. It was during a time when the climate was changing, and schools were no longer to be classified as “white” or “black”.  Naturally there is some resistance to the new way of thinking, not just at Woodlawn, but throughout Birmingham and Alabama.

     The school is torn apart, the football team is anything but a team, the coach doesn’t know what to do, and in limps Hank, product of a Christian crusade. Coach gives him 5 minutes to talk to the team, and an hour later MOST of the team is committing to Jesus. (Hey if everybody had accepted the invitation there wouldn’t be any tension – or any movie.

     It wouldn’t be high school without a romantic interlude, and one of my favorite lines comes after a game when an attractive fellow student comes up to congratulate Tony Nathan. Tony's momma cuts right to the chase: what church do you go to? – I don’t go to church.  – you’re going with us.  She goes on to make it clear that anybody who plans on marrying her son is going to church. And by the way, momma is going to fatten this girl up, how else is she going to give her grandbabies. (Tony eventually married this high school sweetheart and they’ve been married for 35 years.)
     There is lots of football action as the story plays out, and anyone who follows high school ball knows how those rivalries lead to excitement.   Love prevails. This is a great look at the culture of another era, one that many of us can still remember. One that needed to change, and thanks to a culture that wasn't afraid to share faith, (although there is a little bit of the law says you can't do that) things did change.

     It would be nice to be able to write the "and they all lived happily ever after" ending, but racism still exists. There are people who don't know Jesus; there are people who mock Christians (as well as mocking Religious Others), so there is still work to be done.

     The team Chaplain came t faith at a Billy Graham crusade, and to bookend the story, the public is invited to learn more about how they can participate in some way in an upcoming crusade.  Why not, there are altar calls in the film, perhaps  a virtual altar call after the film will be just as effective in 21st century as face to face altar calls were in the 20th century.

     Tony Nathan, a name you football fans might recognize, (Does ‘Bear’ Bryant sound familiar? ‘Bama?) is played by newcomer Caleb Castille.  Mr.Castille left  college football after a couple of seasons because he sensed God calling him to acting as a higher purpose. The film also stars Jon Voigt and Nic Bishop among others. Directed by the Erwin Brothers, and produced by Kevin Downes. Roma Downey and Mark Burnett are executive producers.

      You might have guessed by now that I liked this film. It's an unabashedly Christian film that doesn't try to change the story to pander to peoples carnal appetites. It's designed to meet our spiritual needs coupled with a desire to point out that racism still exists and needs to be eradicated. And it will be, because that's what happens when God shows up.

      My  friends at Grace Hill Media have given me some books associated with the movie that I can give to a blog reader.  There's also an XL t-shirt.  Comment on the blog, and next week I'll pick a random reader to get the books.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Women in Asia Need Prayer and Fellowship

There are women in countries all over Asia who have accepted Christ as Lord and Savior.  So what happens next. Here in Utah as in the rest of the United States, it's generally pretty easy to find a church to connect with. That connection with a local church generally means that there are mature Christian women that they can connect with. That connection means more than just fellowship, it means discipleship. 

But what happens when you accept Christ, and there are no other believers in your village? When you're the only person in your family who is a Christ follower? (and in many places the whole family is a religious other and is not very happy with your decision to leave that faith). 

Believers in other countries need the same close fellowship accountability and the study of God’s Word as do believers in the West. Those things play a vital role in helping these women thrive in Christ. 

Gospel for Asia has Women's Fellowships that offer those crucial things that all believers need. 

Please pray this month for Gospel for Asia’s Women’s Fellowships, that they would find new believers, that new believers would find them. Pray for their safety, and that the fellowships would provide an avenue that leads to Christian growth!

Thursday, October 8, 2015

thoughts on Rediscovering Disicipleship

Robby Gallaty (Growing Up, Firmly Planted)  rightfully thinks discipleship is important to the life of a Christian.  In his latest book Rediscovering Discipleship: Making Jesus' Final Words Our First Work (Zondervan, 2015) he shares some of what he has learned about how to more effectively be a disciple, and just as importantly, and probably more so, how to make disciples.
This fairly short book (less than  250 pages including front and back matter) has two main sections. The first part "Know the Man Before You Go on the Mission" offers some historical context from the life and times of Jesus, and also something a little more recent, a missing comma (read chapter 7 to find out how a missing comma totally changes the way we read things). Included in this part is the four-step process that Gallaty identifies from his study of the Gospels as the one Jesus used: 1) Jesus ministered while the disciples watched; 2) Jesus allowed the disciples to assist him in ministry; 3) the disciples ministered with the assistance of Jesus; and 4) Jesus observed as the disciples ministered to others. And then they were released to replicate the process.
The second part is aptly titled "The Method of Making Disciples". The chapters in this section cover a variety of topics such as making disciples in the post-Christian culture, why discipling non-believers doesn't work (disciple making is more than getting someone to say a prayer) along with some of the attributes of a discipleship group.
This is not a book just for pastors or just for the elder responsible for discipleship and evangelism; it's a book for Christians who take seriously the call to be a disciple maker (you remember that pesky command found in Matthew 28). And if you don't take that command seriously you should definitely read this book.
I was given a advance copy of this book for agreeing to be part of the launch team,  to read the book and to post a review. 


Friday, October 2, 2015

God Loves us, and we should all be aware of that, and just like anyone else who loves someone God is fond of giving us good things, and doing good things for us. No argument there.  Good Things: Seeing Your Life through the Lens of God's Favor by Kevin Gerald (WaterBrook  Press, 2015) is an attempt to show some of the oh so many ways that God shows His love for us on a regular basis.
Gerald uses a combination of scripture, explanation and personal stories to get his point across. This is an easy read, and there doesn’t seem to be anything with which to find fault theologically, but the coverage is so broad, that it doesn't really cover much of anything.
This book needs one of two things -- either 1) more pages so the author could cover things a little more deeply and with more of a scriptural approach or 2) fewer topics covered more deeply.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions expressed are my own.