Monday, December 15, 2008

The Gift of Living Missionally: Worship


As Christians we want to share the love of God with people. Not only do we do so because God commands us to share his message, but because we have personally experienced his love (we know God has forgiven us and has accepted us as his children), but also because the love of God for sinners has been poured into our hearts. That is, we truly love people and want them to experience God's forgiveness.

The Bible says, "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). Serving others and sharing the gift of God's love with them is the mission of the Church. We call this missional living. However, missions will not last forever. Why? Because missions is not the goal, only the means to the goal: the worship of God. And this is the real reason for why we want to reach out to people and witness to God's love. We know that people will be better off when they come to know God personally and know his plans for their lives. This is why the gift of missions is worship: the glory, good pleasure, praise and worship of God by his creatures.

Helping sinners find the cross and understand the reason for Christ’s death and resurrection (missional living) is not the goal. The worship of God by sinners is. To serve the poor, feed the hungry, educate the masses, and heal humanity’s pain is not the goal. The worship of God by those who are set free is. The enjoyment of the good things in life and the good pleasures of life is not the goal of our existence. The worship of God’s children who acknowledge that all good gifts come from him is.

As we enjoy another Christmas season let us be on the lookout for the opportunities God will give us to share the gift of his Son with people. As we develop relationships with others and spend time with folks may they see in us the peace and hope that flood our hearts because we have placed our confidence in God. And may we be ready, and willing, to point people to the Savior so that they too might experience God's hope, peace and forgiveness. May we not tire of living missionally so that people can come to know God, worship Him, and become followers of Jesus.
Por Su Gracia y Poder

Monday, December 8, 2008

"Dad, that's not right": Parents, Kids do Listen to Us


A few days ago I was reminded again that our kids listen to us more than we realize. Our family was traveling to Miami and began singing a few Christian songs. One of the songs we sang was “Trust and Obey.” The refrain says: “Trust and obey, for there's no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.” My daughter interjected, “Dad, that’s not right. We don’t have to obey in order to be saved.” She surprised me because she repeated what I’ve said many times. Now the song is talking about fellowship and service, and in this regards, it reflects proper doctrine. Our greatest joy in the Christian life is found in our fellowship with Christ as we live obediently to his words. That’s pure theology. But, she was also right in stating that we are not saved “because we obey.” Initial salvation, or being justified(=declared not guilty) is not the result of what we do but what has been done. I believe that salvation is by grace, not works. Salvation will produce some kind of work, in varying degrees, but obedience doesn’t save us, nor will it keep us saved.

Of course, I did take the opportunity to once again stress not only “grace” as a significant word for the Christian faith, but also “obedience,” which is how we honor God, show our love for God, show that we are disciples of Christ, and is a requirement for the rewards we will receive in return for our obedience in heaven at the judgment seat of Christ (2 Cor. 5:10). The book of Acts does say that “many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:7), but the mention of “disciples” that were increasing in numbers in the same verse leads us to affirm that what the phrase means is that priests were becoming convinced that Jesus was the Messiah and were now following him. Paul in Romans 1:5 speaks of “the obedience of faith.” This phrase has various possible meanings. Among the various alternatives given, the grammatical phrase can refer to 1) “the faith,” as in the content of the Christian message. Or, it can mean 2) the obedience which is the same as our faith and vice a versa. Others also believe it can mean 3)the obedience produced (even required) by our faith. Even if this last interpretation is accepted, obedience is the result of a saving relationship with Christ, and not the requirement for salvation, at least not initial salvation or justification.

Should we “trust and obey”? Yes, most definitely. We are saved and secure, however, because of the promise we have in Christ: “he who believes has eternal life” (John 6:47; see John 20:30-31; Galatians 2:16). To believe in Christ is to be convinced or have the inward certainty that what God says about his Son Jesus Christ to justify me and save me is true. I must personally come to faith in Christ to have my sins forgiven (See Acts 16:31).

Our children not only watch our behavior, but they also listen to what we believe about things, including our beliefs about God and his Word. I want my daughter to be committed to Christ and to want nothing more than to live obediently to God’s teachings because she loves him. But, I want her to be clear that salvation is not meritorious. It is always a grace gift for which she always ought to be thankful and obedient. “Trust and obey, for there's no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”
Por Su Gracia y Poder

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Gay Community and the State of California


When the CA Supreme Court in May of this year struck down a 2000 ban on same-sex unions there was cheering in the gay community. On the other hand, those who disagreed with the Court simply went to work to put Proposition 8 on the ballot for November. The reaction from the gay community since the amendment passed had been, until only last week, vociferous, violent and intolerant.

Leaving behind any biblical argument against gay relationships and marriages, let’s consider other matters that warrant reflection. Help me with this. Does any group have the right to have the traditional meaning of marriage redefined? For example, if tomorrow three men or three ladies wanted to marry each other, should they be allowed to take the new definition of marriage, sought now by gays, one step further and allow for such marriages to be legalized? Consider this scenario. What if a group of people believed that nothing is wrong with having sex with minors, and enough of them got signatures to place the amendment on a ballot, should not the amendment be allowed so that people could enjoy their understanding of what in their opinion constitutes a marriage? Wouldn’t they be able to cry, “Equal Rights”! I think most of us would have a problem with defining “marriage” along any of the above two lines, even if those involved argued that they loved each other and should have the right to define marriage anyway they chose.

Let’s take this a step further. Taking the two illustrations above, if the traditional definition of marriage is redefined, why would anyone care to prohibit any person or any group their right to enter marriage any way they seem fit? In other words, on what basis would they declare such relationships wrong or not beneficial to society? The redefining of marriage as anything else except between one man and one woman could eventually have the above slippery slope effect on society. No one would have a moral ground upon which to stop a series of re-definitions of what constitutes marriages.

But, some might argue, “Hasn’t marriage been redefined in the past already?” If so, what’s the big deal? Yes, the redefinition of marriage to allow for recognition in the case of slaves and interracial couples did take place years ago. However, these redefinitions of marriage were based on social and ethnic distinctions, not gender. Marriage was still defined to be the union of a man and a woman, whether between slaves or among interracial couples.

If I understand the law, as it stands now in California, gay folks already enjoy legal recognition as “domestic partners” who have “the same rights, protections, and benefits” as married couples do (see California Family Code section 297.5). Why insist on changing the traditional meaning (reference) of a word which the majority of the people in a state wish not to change? Why the hostility and the violence?

At the same we are concerned about the often expressed, as well as reported on, homophobic actions of some, whether religious or not. Many have displayed inappropriate attitudes toward gay people. Those within the Christian community who have demonstrated hateful actions toward the gay community do not reflect the ways of Christ. Everyone is worthy of respect on the basis of having been created in God’s image.

Having said this, it is true that families are concerned about what it would do to parent and child relationships if gay couples do constitute legal marriages. Families of small children in elementary school, for example, are concerned that tolerant education which already exists in CA will be taken to a new level and may leave parents sitting in the dark as it pertains to attempts at re-educating children. Such examples were seen in October with “Coming Out Days” celebrated in elementary schools in the state without the knowledge of some parents, who only found out about the homosexual education through casual after school conversations with their kids.

Some now fear that the amendment will be overturned. Last week the Supreme Court of California said that they will take up the matter of the amendment in March of next year, putting into question the livelihood of the amendment. What implications would such action communicate to our country? Richard Land recently wrote, “If the California Supreme Court were to now attempt to nullify what the people have chosen to do through an expression of their sovereign will, they will have attempted to usurp the sovereignty of government “of the people, by the people and for the people” and to replace it with government “of the judges, by the judges and for the judges” (The Christian Post, Wed., Nov. 19, 2008, www.Christianpost.com).


How, then, should the gay community respond? First, those who believe that “marriage” is the union of one man and one woman should not be labeled bigots as if “tolerance” is a one-way street. Their beliefs should be respected. Second, those in the gay community should tolerate the traditional definition of marriage in order to be consistent with their own message of tolerance and should continue to work peacefully to persuade people to think differently. However, once the people have spoken, as they did on Nov. 4, the democratic process should be honored.

Biblically, there are many arguments that can be established for rejecting a homosexual lifestyle. However, individual homosexuals should not be rejected. While many of us believe that the clamor of the gay community is really a plea for special rights, both sides of the issue are free to use the democratic process to advance their own agenda. What we ask of both sides is that the manner of persuasion adopted be peaceful and tolerant of individuals, and follow the chains of democracy our country has in place.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The World God Has Opened Up


I began reading a book the other day which asked a simple but penetrating question: “How do we see the world immediately around us? Do we see it as a place of mission which God is already opening up for us or do we see it as a place of immense threat – as the enemy to be overcome?” (Robinson & Smith, Invading Secular Space, 34). As in many areas of life this question brings out our perspective on sharing Christ into the forefront.

Jesus told his disciples to open their eyes (wake up) and see the fields that were ripe for harvest (John 4:35). Instead of hesitating to start spiritual conversations, or to take risks to enter into friendships, to speak about God, to speak of what God is doing, or of the people of God, or of activities concerning God in which we’re involved, why not open our mouths and let the words fall where they may. If it is true that God opened the heart of Lydia so she would believe (Acts 16:14), that those who were appointed to eternal life came to faith (Acts 13:48), that God added daily to the church those who were to be saved (Acts 2:47), if Paul knew that God through the grace of prayer would lead him to share (explain) with boldness the gospel (Eph. 6:19), why then are we not more bold, more open, more risk-taking, more believing, more willing to simply trust, obey and follow the path set before us?

Think with me. Is not society yearning for something to believe in? (In spite of the attacks from the New Atheism.) Are not many of the shelves at Barnes & Nobles filled with books on spirituality? Has not the skeptic, atheist world of modernity been “swallowed” up by the belief in one, belief in all, belief in anything, something, world of Postmodernity? Are not college and university Religion 101 and Philosophy 101 classes full with students searching, asking, questioning, rejecting, seeking, longing?

So, what’s the problem? Could it be we think the world is shut up in unbelief? That people will not respond to our spiritual probing? Is it fear? Could it be that we believe that the enemy can keep shut the hearts of those whose heart God wants to open? Furthermore, do we ignore that people are longing for acceptance and for community, or as some would say, for the opportunity “to belong before” they “believe”?

So, again, what’s the problem? I think that our perspective on spiritual reality is off track. Jesus died to bring sinners into a right relationship with God and to grant them eternal life. According to the verses quoted above God is actively calling people to himself (see John 6:65). If this is true, then what are needed are believers who understand and embrace their DNA, uh, that is, their mDNA, or their missionary DNA (core purpose, task). The church, if it is anything, must be a missionary church, or missional (if you want to be edgy) in its perspective on people. It must be willing to seek the lost (sorry if you don’t like the word), invade secular space, get in the mire, and enter darkness so that the light of the gospel has an opportunity to beam into the lostness.

God has gone before us. He doesn’t want anyone to perish, but desires that all come to salvation, deliverance, spiritual health, fullness of life. If this is what he wants, then this means that he is going ahead of us (you) preparing the hearts of your friends, family members, neighbors, co-workers, fellow students, enemies, skeptics, atheists, deists, spiritualists, cultural opposites, etc. The final question is: will we believe the empty threat of the enemy, or will we believe the purposes of God to involve us in missions? Will we obey, enter, and stand in awe of the world God has opened up for us?
Por Su Gracia y Poder

Monday, November 3, 2008

The Presidential Elections of 2008


"All that is necessary for evil to succeed is that good men do nothing" (Edmund Burke). I hope that each of you who can vote will do so tomorrow. The elections of this year may very well be the most important of our life time. We will vote to put into the Office of President either Barack Obama or John McCain. There are obvious differences among the two, and there is a sea of experience that divides them, among many other constrasts that could be listed. Each of us will vote our conscious on Tuesday morning and play the part of a good citizen. Whoever is president Wednesday morning (if this in fact is determined) will govern our great country for the next 4 years. May we find peace in the result of the election - whatever this may be - and never forget the One in whom we are to trust and the One who alone knows the end from the beginning - the Lord Almighty. "Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God" (Pslam 20:7).

Monday, October 27, 2008

"Just Walk Across the Room"


An uncle sitting alone after the funeral service for his deceased nephew. Tennis players sitting around afer practice. A Christian lady trying to find her way in a new church. And only a few steps from where I stood in each case and an attempt at friendship. I started a conversation, planted a seed.

Why walk across the room and spend time talking to people? Bill Hybels recently published a book called "Just Walk Across the Room". Hybels is known for his many books on evangelism. In this latest book he asks the question, "Are you using your steps wisely"? (19). He calculated that each of us travel about ten thousand steps each day which adds up to about 115,000 miles in one's lifetime. He writes the following: "Assume the average distance across most rooms is twenty feet -about ten steps. The question I hope to answer is this: What if ten steps - just one one-thousandth of your daily average - could actually impact eternity? If so, it might well change the way you walk" (19).

You'll have to read the book for yourself. But, the stories of people making a difference for eternity in the lives of others to whom they decided to simply walk across a room or a ball field to start a conversation, are amazing. One of the stories is about a Muslim man who shared with Hybels how he was approached by a follower of Christ during a business party. The Muslim as usual sat alone while others piled together and discussed whatever was on their mind. But one day things changed when someone was willing to step across the room.

Approaching people is always like stepping into the "Zone of the Unknown" says Hybels. For many people this zone is freightening. Hybel shares the following about the Christian who took the risk: "It's foreign territory, this zone. He had no clue what would happen when he stuck out his hand to the tall Muslim man. He knew nothing about where the conversation would go or if there would be any conversations at all. He was uncertain what this individual's reaction to him would be. But he was already committed. He had left his Circle of Comfort, he had walked by faith all the way across the room, and he had resolved in his heart, probably praying every step of the way, to enter into the Zone of the Unknown and see what God might do. (In my opinion, it's within this zone that God does his very best work.)" (23).

Hybel asks the question, "What if redirecting a person's forever really is as simple as walking across a room?" (22). I'm enjoying reading this book. It inspires me to continue seeking people and waiting patienty for them to respond. Why not try this approach to evangelism for yourself? I would love to hear your stories.
Por Su Gracia y Poder

Thursday, October 23, 2008

More Food for Thought on Worship - Part II

Marva J. Dawn’s views on worship are reminiscent of other authors I have quoted before on the topic of worship, such as Vanhoozer and Piper. She writes: “We must therefore be constantly asking how our worship reveals God and what kind of people we are becoming, because the perspectives and understanding about God and the specific attitudes and habits of being that are created by all the elements of worship services affect how we think, speak, and act as we worship in the rest of life” (119).

For Marva, the question is not attractiveness but usefulness. She discusses this in relationship to liturgy. “We must not ask, Is this liturgy attractive? But always, What kind of character does this nurture? Does our liturgy focus on feelings rather than on God’s character, which evokes those feelings?” She adds, “If so, it will nurture a faith that depends on emotions rather than a faith that can cling to who God is in spite of human experiences of sorrow or estrangement” (249).

What about the relation between experience and worship? Should we seek to 'experience' worship? In discussing worship Leonard Sweet in his book Postmodern Pilgrims believes experience is indispensable for the postmodern generation. He affirms that "Postmoderns literally 'feel' their way through life. Want to create change? Give postmoderns a new experience they haven't had before" (43). It seems that Sweet stresses innovative art-forms and interactive preaching and images to “create” worship experiences, while Marva – although not against using those things – would argue to make sure that those experiences reflect God’s character and are not confused for experiencing God himself. It is looking upward and intensely to God, and obeying his word, that will ultimately bring about inward change in believers. Even Sweet agrees that "Experience is not the final arbiter of truth. Experience cannot be trusted except it has been transfigured by Scripture and Tradition. Besides, there comes a time when it's not time for experience, but for obedience" (46).

Marva J. Dawn invites us to ask how the way we worship God is faithful to scripture, and to further ask what kind of believer we are becoming as a result of how we worship God. Good thoughts for us to keep in mind as we worship daily and in our faith communities each week.

I close this week with a quote found in Dawn's book on the definition of worship written by William Temple: Worship is "The submission of all our nature to God. It is the quickening of the conscience by His holiness; the nourishment of the mind with His truth; the purifying of imagination by His beauty; the opening of the heart to His love; the surrender of will to His purpose - and all of this gathered up in adoration, the most selfless emotion of which our nature is capable" (Temple, Readings in St. John' Gospel, 68, quoted in Dawn, 80).

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

More Food for Thought on Worshipping God - Part I

What is the goal of worship? This is the question I would like to consider as I continue the week long theme on worship. Marva J. Dawn serves as Teaching Fellow in Spiritual Theology at Regent College in Vancouver, BC, Canada. Years ago she wrote a very helpful book on the theme of worship, “Reaching Out without Dumping Down: A Theology of Worship for the Turn-of-the-Century Culture.” Marva provides readers with a much needed balance to the discussion on worship, as well as profound insights for reflection.

What stands out the most and is useful for evaluating worship in her book is Marva’s drive to make worship intentional in fulfilling a specific goal in worship. What is this goal? She states the following:
"I am very interested in using modern music . . . but our music must contain the substance of the faith, the heritage of the Church’s uniqueness, the character-forming truths of Christianity . . . Our worship services ought not to be designed by what appeals to the masses in order to survive financially; rather, they must be planned in a genuinely worshipful way that invites persons into the essence of truthful Christianity" (46-47). Paramount to Marva (see Vanhoozer in yesterday's blogspot) is the centrality of God in all of worship. His person must be the object of our worship. She believes that, “We cannot respond to God as the object of our praise unless we first see him, know him, let him be God in our lives” (87).

Marva goes on to discuss the significance of praising God. She writes, "Praise encompassing all of God’s character provides a safe haven within which we can face ourselves and acknowledge the truth of our brokenness, rebellions, and idolatries” (91). This means that the internal transformation that ought to characterize followers of Christ will take place as we consistently take the focus off ourselves and place them more intently on God.

What is the goal of worship? Marva quotes from C. Welton Gaddy, who writes the following: "'For whom is worship? Worship is for God. Only! The chief aim of worship is to please God - whether by adoration and praise, prayer and proclamation, confessions and offerings, thanksgivings and commitment, or by all of these actions combined'" (Gaddy, The Gift of Worship, 201, quoted in Dawn, 80). In worship we are saying "'God alone matters.'"

Is your goal in worship God alone? What should happen as we enter a time of worship where God alone is our focus? What kind of believers are we becoming as a result of how we are deepening our relationship with God? This will be our topic tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Worshipping More Clearly - Part II

Yesterday I shared with you about an article I read on worship by Trinity professor and theologian, Kevin Vanhoozer. Vanhoozer says that when we catch “the vision of who God is and what God has done, it stops us in our tracks and elicits our praise” (10). This is similar to what John Piper has written with regards to the missionary heart that the honest worship of God creates in us (see blogspots for Sept 22-24). Vanhoozer writes the following concerning the meaning of worshipping God "in truth": “Truth sets us free ‘from’ idolatry: from false religion and false striving after meaning and happiness and righteousness. Consequently, truth sets us free ‘for’ right worship, for worship bent on ultimate reality” (10). What does it mean to worship God "in spirit"? Does it mean to worship according to the Holy Spirit, or is it related to our own spirit? To worship God in spirit, says Vanhoozer “engages not merely our mind, but our whole being or ‘spirit’: not only minds, but hearts, hands, and imaginations too” (11).

Vanhoozer goes on to emphasize how proper theology (=understanding of God and his ways) leads to true worship: “Theology, then, both emerges from and leads us back to worship. Conversely, worship must be theological: it must reflect faith’s understanding of who God is and what God has done. Furthermore, worship must be corporate, for one of the great things that God has done is precisely to form a people. Worship involves – in praise, in commemoration – of what Christians know about God” (14). If it is true that worship forms us spiritually, and I believe it does, Christians must deepen their understanding of how God is portrayed in the Bible and expose themselves to writings that help them challenge cultural depictions of God which are inferior to the inspired text.

What does Vanhoozer say about the various styles of worship? Who’s right on the issue? Vanhoozer exhorts the Church to go “beyond the worship wars” and says, “Whatever one thinks about musical styles, let us at least agree that worship must be theological – God-centered – not anthropological. It’s not primarily about us!” (14). Within our Christian narcissistic culture thinking of worship as “not primarily about us” is easier said than practiced. Worship through my life, as well as when with my faith community must be about God's glory and his exaltation. It should never be primarily focused on what I can get out of a worship experience, although I am always blessed when I wholeheartedly praise the Lord. It is about living worshipfully in submission of everything I am before all that God is.

Worship is indispensable for your life and mine. Both private and faith community worship should seek to worship God in “spirit and in truth”. Clarifying true worship, its subject and object, and its importance for shaping one’s life, must be the sine qua non of how we live our lives today. Not to worship God as the centerpiece of our lives will lead us to the false religions and substitutes spoken about by Vanhoozer in his article. He alone deserves our allegiance, our focus, and our loyalty.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Worshipping More Clearly - Part I


I’ve been thinking a lot about worship lately. In fact, our entire staff at church has been discussing the implications of worship in fantastic and marvelous ways that will be shared with our congregation in the future. I'll be dedicating this entire week to blog on the subject of worship. One theologian who has thought and written on this topic is Kevin J. Vanhoozer, professor of theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. His article, “Worship at the Well: From Dogmatics to Doxology (and Back Again)" [Trinity Journal, 2002, V. 23, No. 1, 3-16.] attempts to clarify the meaning of worship and the response that is expected from those who honestly seek to worship God.

Vanhoozer discusses the encounter of Jesus with the Samaritan women in John 4. In the article he asks, “Does it really matter how we worship? Yes it does, because ultimately it is not simply a question of ‘how,’ but also of ‘what.’ Questions of style are not unrelated to questions of substance”(5). What does he mean? Vanhoozer says that "The Samaritans’ knowledge of God was partial, hence their worship was defective. The problem was not that the Samaritans lacked exhaustive knowledge of God (who does not?), but that they did not know enough to worship him correctly” (8). So what is the point? Well this would mean that we must demand, for example, that our worship songs be scripturally clear in what they say about God, his nature and his ways. Because worship forms us we want to strive to worship God according to what he has revealed about his holiness and Sovereignty, as well as about his love, mercy, and justice.

Worship must go beyond what we do on Sundays. Our corporate worship should be an overflow of our daily practice of worshipping God "in spirit and truth". This leads to the following question: What happens when the eyes of believers are opened so that they see God for who he is? We'll look at what Vanhoozer says about this question tomorrow.
Por Su Gracia y Poder

Monday, October 13, 2008

"Didn't God Know that Adam & Eve Would Sin?"


And the questions continue coming. I was enjoying my chicken salad with my wife and child, digging into the blue corn organic chips, when my daughter asked me one of those theological questions. "Dad, why did God test Adam and Eve if he knew they were going to sin anyway?" I finished swallowing the piece of grilled chicken, sipped once again from my tea drink, and prayed, "Lord, help me explain this one to her in a simple way."

"Well think of it like this," I began. I spread some of the blue chips close to her plate and placed a little piece of red tomato in the middle. "Think of it like this. God told Adam that he could eat from all the trees in the garden (chips), but he told him that he must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (tomato) because he would surely die." I hadn't concluded my illustration when she had already picked up the tomato from the middle and eaten it. I did this a few times over and each time she messed up my illustration. I was loosing her.

"You see, you must truly be able to choose between eating these chips or eating the tomato, or you really are not free. And this is what happened to Adam and Eve. God had told Adam and Eve that they were free to eat of any tree, but not from one particular tree. God created them with the freedom to choose. Do you get it?" I wasn't sure she got it, and the distractions during dinner time didn't help any.

This was once again a good question from the lips of a child. Think about it. Without a test our love and response for God would only have been possible if we were simple automatons, or mere robot like creatures. Instead, God created Adam and Eve as free moral agents with the ability not to sin. Anything less would have been bland automation, and loveless existence.

If she was a blossoming teenager I could have said it like this: "Adam did not have inability to sin; he had ability not to sin; he could choose." Yes, God did know the outcome of the test. But God wanted to establish the principle of obedience from the beginning, and to establish his rule or Kingdom on earth. God's desire to establish his rule on earth is the central theme of the Bible. We were created to know God, but also to obey him as King and Sovereign. Man has struggled ever sin creation with the issue of God's rule.

I'm not too sure how much of my explanation sunk in, but I'm glad that she's asking these kinds of questions and that the topics discussed around the table include issues concerning God and not just school homework, grades and politics. I like that.
Por Su Gracia y Poder

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

How Can I Read 6 Books @year & Remember What I Read? Part II

James W. Sire in his book, "How to Read Slowly: Reading for Comprehension," provides a motivating reason for us to read, and to read with understanding. He writes, ". . . I am most interested in encouraging Christians to think and read well. Christians, of all people, should reflect the mind of their Master. Learning to read well is a step toward loving God with your mind" (12). Sire's book is a classic on the topic. Reading, reflecting, and living well, are all ways we can love God with our minds (See Sire's helpful chapter on "A Time to Read: Knowing What to Read and When").

When picking up a book at your church or local bookstore, sit down and read it in ten to 15 minutes. How? Begin by overviewing the book (see the link to the article below). Read the back of the book to get an idea about it's topic and who endorses the book. Then read the front and back inside jacket. Skim quickly through the preface and introduction and read the last three pages of the book. If you have time, look over the outline. Select one chapter that catches your eye. Turn to that chapter and read the first line of several paragraphs in the chapter. By then you should have a good idea of where the author is going with the book, and whether or not you want to buy it.

You may want to simply read most books at leisure, but other books you may want to master. The following is from a web article written by Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason ministries (http://www.str.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=6761). The three steps he suggests for mastering a book are: Preview, Read, and Postview Immediately. I've applied this process on a few books whose content I've wanted to master. With discipline you too can obtain mastery over books you read.

When previewing a book you want to skim the entire book at a rate of 4-10 seconds per page. Don't stop, just read through to the end. Then write in pencil on the title page a concise summary statement what you think the book is about. Once you have previewed the entire book you are ready to preview each chapter. Read each page quickly just as you did before. Then go back and read the chapter again as fast as possible, using a pointer, but this time stopping only to mark margins for later study. The final step in the preview stage is to go back to the beginning of the chapter and write a 1-4 sentence summary in pencil on top of the title of the chapter.

Now you are ready for the post-read of the chapter. Re-read the chapter one more time. Do this quickly, but stopping at points where you made a mark in order to interact with the author, adding additional comments or questions on the margins. After reading through the chapter refine your 1-4 sentence summary at the beginning of the chapter. Then return to the end of the chapter and try to write an outline of the main points you read. Before going on to the next chapter in the book always review your summary statements and outlines from the previous chapter. Although it requires patience, I've found this method to be a valuable tool in helping me learn well the material covered in a book.

Do you think you can read six books in year? Some of you may be avid readers, but for others this would be a challenge. However, it isn't difficult if you discipline yourself to read a book of about 200 pages in sixty days. How? Simply read four pages per day. You can read any particular book for mastery if you apply the steps given above.

There's one more thing I want to touch on. Some people might say, "But isn't reading the Bible sufficient?" "Shouldn't I concentrate only on devotional readings?" Or, "Why read anyway when there's better things to do with my time?" Sire encourages us to read beyond the Bible, although reading and studying the Bible should be done regularly. He challenges us to think of the value of reading, and of reading broadly. Sire writes: ". . . Those who read little other than the Bible do so to the detriment of themselves and to diminishing of the radiant glory of God who is the fount of all knowledge and truth" (155). In other words, God's truth in creation comes to us through many disciplines, and is not limited only to the spiritual truths found in Scripture. And don't worry about how many books you read, just enjoy your reading experience, stretch yourself a little, and continue growing as an individual. "The point is to start and then to read well. How far we get, how many books we read, must not become the issue" (Sire, 155).

Once again I want to encourage you to read a book, grow in your understanding of our world, and share your knowledge with others. Then pass the good title along.
Por Su Gracia y Poder

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

How Can I Read 6 Books @year & Remember What I Read? Part I


Do you like to read? Back on September 16 I posted on the need for us to continue growing by focusing, among other things, on reading. I love reading. In fact, one of the things I like to do most is to go through different books at the same time. On my desk in the office I have more than ten books that I am currently reading. I'm writing reviews on some of the books in order to share my thoughts in future blogspots. Most of what I read informs me about issues dealing with church life, culture, or help me to understand more clearly a biblical topic.

At home I do the same, reading tidbits of a particular book and moving to another topic often. Right now at home I'm reading through the massive (680 pages)"Mito y Realidad," (Myth and Reality) by Juan Clark which deals with the history of Cuba until the early 90s. But, I'm also peaking into "The Problem with Evangelical Theology" (Witherington), "How Christianity Changed the World" (Schmidt), and a few other titles. My practice is to glance at many books, magazines and journals, selecting for further reading those topics that interest me most at the time.

Yet I have to admit that with the exception of some books I've read, I would still have to go back to most of the books I've recently read in order to have a full conversation about their content. Of course, I can tell you a few things about most books I've read, but how about their details? Is there a way we can read a book that will help us gain mastery over its content? Yes. Can we read a half dozen books each year and be able to talk intelligently about their content? Yes. Tomorrow I will point you to a web article that will provide simple steps you can follow to read for comprehension and retention.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Living Life "Heart to Heart"


"We have to love people 'heart to heart'" was the mantra of Pastor Jorge, my former pastor under whom I served for sixteen years in Miami. I learned a lot under his leadership, and much of the way I do ministry today and what I think ministry should look like has been greatly influenced by his 'heart to heart' attitude. Yet, learning to love people by tangibly trying to establish a relationship with them is not always easy to do.

Years ago I met a Brazilian pastor/missionary, Jerry De Oliveira. Jerry was a people person, but he had not always been so openly friendly. One day he told me, "Roger, I used to be the most introvert person ever. But, one day I told myself, 'I'm going to change. I'm going to strike up conversations with people and I'm going to learn to build relationships with them.'" You would never have imagined from looking at Jerry that he had been a very private individual earlier in life. It was probably difficult for Jerry at the begining to break out of his usual pattern but in time he conquered his timidity and developed an outgoing personality.

I'm not sure everyone can change to the same degree that Jerry did. But I do think that many of us can learn to be more sociable, and learn to risk reaching out to others. Any one of us can say hi to a neighbor, introduce ourselves, and be open to share a few comments. Recently I exchanged a few words with a neighbor who was walking his dog. I knew that he had been in Kuwait because months earlier his wife had told me about it when my daughter was collecting money from neighbors for a school fund raiser. I told him about his wife's generous donation. He shared a few things about his experience in Kuwait and extended an open invitation for me to go to his house to view pictures he had taken while abroad. The point is that I could have easily gone my own way as he walked past my house, but I chose to make eye contact and say 'hello'.

Jesus was an expert in engaging people. One example of this was the woman at the well described for us in John 4. Cultural taboo should have steered him away from talking to any woman, and in particular, to this one. But that was not the way of Jesus. He took time to reach out to her and the results were amazing. There are other examples as well from the life of Jesus, such as being willing to talk to some Greeks who came looking for him (they were Gentiles), spending time with people of ill reputation with whom he visited, a tax collector who was hated by the Jews with whom he ate, and many more examples found in the Gospels.

I want to encourage you to seek out people by simply opening your eyes to those God brings your way. Ask God to give you a big heart and a big smile. Reaching out to folks will go a long way in communicating to them that they matter and that you care. Building relationships will take time. But, over time, it might just help us earn the right to share our faith with them.

Whether or not people respond to the gospel message is God's business and theirs. We can, however, be on the look out to take small steps through the doors to relationships that God seems to open for us. Let's enter through those doors and learn to love people 'heart to heart'. If we do, some people may just find the love of God through our heart.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Wall Street, Main Street and "Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus"

I'm not going to give my opinion to the present economic conundrum. Too many 'experts' are giving contradictory solutions, so I would only confuse the matter. But I can offer a few reminders that will help us keep our focus during this time.

Nothing new here, my friends, but do you remember the old hymns? Many of them still speak loudly to our hearts today. One of my favorites is "TURN YOUR EYES UPON JESUS," written in 1922 by Helen H. Lemmel. Here are the words of the first stanza and the refrain:

O soul are you weary and troubled?
No light in the darkness you see?
There's light for a look at the Saviour,
And life more abundant and free.

Refrain
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His Glory and Grace.

Many these days are feeling "weary and troubled" over the financial crisis. There is no doubt that our nation is facing (will face) difficult times in the upcoming months. That's why although we are experiencing an economical maze and uncertainty over the next few months, it's important to regroup and go back to the anchor of our faith, the Lord Jesus Christ, and to the Word of God. There are many verses that come to mind, but two are especially helpful in these days: "For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal" (2 Cor. 4:17-18).

I don't know how the present crisis will affect you and your family. I don't know to what degree we will have to change our lifestyles (most of us are already doing so). So what should we do? I guess trying to understand what's going on and learning how to best 'prepare' for the future, has its benefits. But, there are at least two things that are basic to our faith. We should pray for those who govern us, for those who will be making decisions for our economy this week, and for our nation to return to the true God and Savior, Jesus Christ. But we should also continue to place our faith in God who invites his children to trust him to supply their needs, and who encourages them to seek his rule and his ways above all things (read Matthew 6:25-33). Don't let your heart be troubled this day. Instead, let us "Turn our Eyes Upon Jesus," and be careful to view all things through the lens of faith.
Por Su Gracia y Poder (By His grace and power)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

"Yes, I believe in Jesus, But. . .": Why worshipping ‘God’ makes all the difference - Part III (Continued from Tuesday)

Some time after the glow of being married recede some couples begin to take each other for granted. Little attention is given to the development of the marriage. Weight is gained, isolation kicks in, and life becomes ho-hum. Some spouses even begin to chide their partner and demonstrate lack of honor and respect in front of others. Somehow any value of the partner has disappeared and now only disdain seems to fill their mouths. This shouldn't be. When as Christians we don’t live our lives in honor of God; when we disrespect God by disobeying his word or we break his heart over areas where we sit as master, we show that at least in our life-ruling concept of God, we are also rather, ho-hum. Although many believers in Christ live as if God is important, and even essential to their faith, they fail to live surrendered lives because they are NOT in awe of God’s greatness, majesty and wonder.

Why does God seek his glory? As God seeks his own glory he calls us to worship him, and the act of valuing and honoring God, with all our hearts, consequently leads to produce in us the desire to share the good news of Jesus with others. In other words, living for God and desiring to be used of God to share our faith in Christ is strictly linked to how we view the Lord and the kind of worship we render to him. Again, this is the way John Piper explains it. “. . . The deepest reason why worship is the goal in missions is that worship is God’s goal” (15). But again, why does God seek his own glory? Why is worshipping God, and not sharing your faith or any other way of serving God, the highest calling? Why is God seeking his glory, fame and honor?

Is this confusing? It really isn’t if you understand what Piper is saying about how missions will flow from God’s people. First, for God not to want to bring glory to him would lead God to commit idolatry. Hang in there. Second, for God to seek his own glory is to seek our best interest which in turn can only be realized when God is worshipped. Why should God exalt his own glory? Piper clarifies this for us: “He would be unrighteous not to do so since he would not be prizing what is infinitely valuable. He would be, in fact, an idolater if he esteemed as his infinite treasure something less precious than his own glory” (26). What Piper is saying is that the most righteous and most perfect thing for God to do is to worship that which is most worthy, honorable and highest . . . himself! Now I’m hearing some of you say, “You’ve lost me.” But, please hold on, as we go a little deeper still.

Think for a moment about how we could bring the most glory to God. What will fuel your missions, your evangelism, and your life lived in total surrender to God? Paul taught in 1 Corinthians 10:31 that we are to do all things to the glory of God. He told us to glorify God in whatever we do. That is, our lives should be concerned with the glory and honor of God. God desires that we glorify him for who he is. But, what does this all mean? Piper writes what may be the most significant statement of his book: “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him” (26). Please re-read this statement a few times. It’s significant and life changing. “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him” Helping sinners find the cross and understand the reason for Christ’s death and resurrection is not the goal. The worship of God by sinners is. To serve the poor, feed the hungry, educate the masses, and heal humanity’s pain is not the goal. The worship of God by those who are set free is. The enjoyment of the good things in life and the good pleasures of life is not the goal of our existence. The worship of God’s children who acknowledge that all good gifts come from him is. Are you beginning to understand how it is that as we begin to recalculate what our true calling is will we then begin to do the works of God more willfully and consistently?

In conclusion, when is the Church most mobilized, energized, and compelled to want to share Christ? Here’s the final answer: It is when God’s children are “most satisfied in him.” It is when the redeemed are most satisfied in seeking after God that their meager service will flow from a heart full of wonder for God. It is when our most treasured desire is to seek to be in a growing relationship with God because we are "most satisfied in him." This is why for God to seek his own glory is not selfish or self-gratifying. “If it is true, then it becomes plain why God is loving when he seeks to exalt his glory in my life. For that would mean that he would seek to maximize my satisfaction in him, since he is most glorified in me when I am most satisfied in him” (26).

Is God your greatest passion? Do you run after God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength? If not, spend some time to get alone with him, confess your lesser gods, acknowledge his lordship over your life, and ask the Holy Spirit to fill you with a heart of worship for our Creator and Savior. It is only as each of us who call ourselves followers of Christ continues to seek the glory of God as our highest calling, will a desire to love people, and share our lives and faith with them, become the heartbeat of our lives.
Por Su Gracia y Poder

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

"Yes, Jesus is my Savior, but. . .": Why worshipping ‘God’ makes all the difference - Part II (Continued from Monday)

Living our lives as followers of Christ can have its challenges. Yet, could there be something that most of us are missing that makes living totally surrendered lives for God less appealing? I think it’s a value thing. Living for God, and sharing Christ within the context of relationships that we have fostered should be natural when God fills our hearts. That is why John Piper in his book Let the Nations be Glad! The Supremacy of God in Missions writes the following: “Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man. . . .Worship, therefore, is the fuel and goal in missions” (11). What is Piper saying? Loving God and worshipping him (recognizing his ultimate value) as the centerpiece of my life is the beginning of any kind of service I can offer, including sharing my faith or being involved in living missionally.

Think of it like this. Most couples who are planning their wedding become enamored with the process itself and forget that it’s really about the woman or man with whom they will share the rest of their lives. The ceremony will come and the honey moon will soon pass. What will fuel the well being of the marriage will not be the activities done before or after the marriage, as important as many of these might be. What will produce a solid marriage and strong relationship is not just the fact of being married. Nor is it to simply play the role of married individuals. What will distinguish one marriage relationship from another are the value that is placed on and the honor that is given to each spouse in the relationship. In the same way, there is no doubt that God values each of us. The question is, how much do we value and love and treasure God? This is what Piper unfolds in his book. Living our lives fully dedicated to God, in awe of God, and thankful for his mercies, only comes when we understand who God really is and how deeply he loves us. Worship precedes and is the fuel for missions.

So I believe that if the churches in my city of Marco Island, or any of the churches in Florida or anywhere else in the United States, are going to have an impact on our culture then a renewed vision of God and passion for God needs to flood our hearts. Piper expresses this belief like this: “Where passion for God is weak, zeal for missions will be weak. Churches that are not centered on the exaltation of the majesty and beauty of God will scarcely kindle a fervent desire to ‘declare his glory among the nations’ (Psalm 96:3)” (12). Declaring the praises of God – living lives worthy of being God’s children, spreading his truth, his goodness and his fame to others – won’t happen unless our hearts recognize who God is and the honor he alone deserves from each of us is genuinely given. That is why Piper is quick to challenge the Church to understand that “The most crucial issue in missions is the centrality of God in the life of the church. Where people are not stunned by the greatness of God, how can they be sent with the ringing message ‘Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised; he is to be feared above all gods!’” (Psalm 96:4)” (14).

On Wednesday we will understand why God seeks his own glory, and why being in awe of God is significant in producing in believers a life of joy and service. To say that God seeks his own glory might be confusing to many because it sounds egotistical. Not so. We will see that it is in God’s desire to seek his own glory that we find one of the keys to motivating true worship and a heart for missions in believers.
Por Su Gracia y Poder

Monday, September 22, 2008

"Yes, Jesus is My Savior, but. . .: Why worshipping ‘God’ makes all the difference - Part I


“Houston, we have a problem.” No, I’m not going to write about our space program. The next three days I want to write about a theme that I need to keep in the forefront of my own life. I’ll need your patience because I’ll develop it slowly. I hope you stay with me and come back all three days. First, I want to start with a most joyful event in most people’s life: engagement. Do you remember when you got engaged? Do you remember the details of the occasion? I do. I proposed to my wife while walking through the beautiful courtyard of the Don Shula hotel and restaurant in Miami Lakes (a city in South Florida). It was an unforgettable evening for which I had meticulously planned for a long time. You too probably remember your engagement.

What does this have to do with sharing the gospel? Well, consider these questions: Why don’t more Christians share their faith in Christ with others? Why does it seem as if those who profess Christ are not living worthy of their call as followers of Jesus? Do we really understand what our highest calling is? In the following days I want to consider one important reason for which many Christians do not live their lives yielded to God and why often sharing Christ is more a duty or an obligation than a joy.

Back to my engagement illustration. I think that we can find many correlations between a love relationship between two people and our commitment and love for God. Take for example when you realized that God loved you so much that he paid the ultimate sacrifice for your salvation. Do you remember when you felt your eyes opening to the reality of God in your life? All of a sudden there was a deep love that filled your heart for him. Something great had happened. Engagement is the step that shows that two people are serious enough about their relationship that they plan to spend the rest of their lives together. The wedding ceremony is finally the last symbolic event in which the couple promises their love for each other before God and people as their witness.

Now, if you are married you know that the high levels of emotional euphoria are at best inconsistent throughout the years of marriage. They are replaced by a settled commitment to one another which with God’s help and our resolve to make the relationship work, the marriage continues to grow and be strengthened. Yet, for other couples, their experience is nothing like this. In a similar way, for many believers their fellowship with the Lord wanes, and slowly the intensity and desire to share his love with others dies down. This shouldn't’t be, but often this is the case. Living for God and sharing the good news of Christ seems to fizzle down. Why? What has changed?

Could it be that we begin to focus on the activities of faith instead of God? Could this be the reason why it becomes burdensome to live for God? Why do many believers seem to live selfish lives and forfeit the joy of living and serving God? Why is having fellowship and congregating with other believers often looked at like a chore? Look around. Start with your life. Sadly, the lives of many Christians become like a lot of folks who are married and who slowly begin taking their spouses for granted? The passion, enjoyment and awe of marriage have subsided.

In this series of blogspots I want to share with you some of the thoughts of well known pastor and theologian, John Piper. Years ago he wrote a book entitled, Let the Nations be Glad! The Supremacy of God in Missions. Here’s one of his opening thoughts from the book, but I have to caution you. Piper is a deep thinker. This is what he says: “Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man. . . . Worship, therefore, is the fuel and goal in missions” (11). For Piper being involved in missions or sharing the good news of Christ becomes confused when we begin to think about the process (missions or evangelism) as the goal instead of focusing our attention on the ultimate object (God) as the true purpose of all of life.

Tomorrow we will begin to think through how settling the most important issue in life will give clarity to our highest calling. As we understand this better it will provide the motivation for us to live life missionally and share Christ with others more often.
Por Su Gracia y Poder (Continued on Tuesday)
(By His Grace and Power)

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

"The Gospel, Clear and Simple"

What must an individual do to be forgiven by God? If we stand guilty before our Creator because of sin, how can we receive God's acceptance and forgiveness? I was talking last weekend with my family about how to share the good news of salvation with unbelievers. There is a lot of confusion in this area due to various theological positions, some which add a human factor - surrender, commitment, promise, dedication, submission, etc. - as conditions to be met before one can be forgiven or saved.

Let me ask you the same question I shared with my family: How would you answer your friend if he asks, "What must I do to be saved?" or, "What must I believe?" I think many people in our postmodern world will be drawn to Christ through our changed life. But at some point they will need to exercise faith in Christ. What do they hear us saying about what one must do to be saved? What do we share with them? This is such an important question that each of us must be clear on the answer to life's most important question. EvanTell, a Christian organization that educates God's people on how to share their faith, has a simple gospel presentation that you can use, or direct someone to, that spells out in a clear way how unbelievers can respond to God's offer of salvation. You can find it at: www.evangelism.net.

The Gospel of John is clear about what we must do to be saved. You can read about it in John 20:30-31. In another passage in John Jesus said, "He who believes has eternal life" (John 6:47). Salvation comes when we believe that what God said about our sin and Jesus Christ is true. Our sins separate us from God. But the death of Christ and his resurrection is sufficient to freely give us the gift of forgiveness and eternal life.

I pray that you have come to faith in Christ. That is, that you have the inward conviction that only Jesus Christ can save you from your sins. It is true that many believe that repentance or a change of life or change of direction must be present in order for God to receive us as children. Although sinners should repent, and many in fact come broken before the Lord with a deep desire for change, the act of repentance doesn't save them. Repentance may lead people to faith [You can read more about my thoughts on "repentance" by reading the posts in July 31-August 1, 2008]. However, it is by believing in Christ that you are saved, forgiven, and adopted as a child of God forever. Faith in Christ alone is the only condition for us to be forgiven (see Ephesians 2:8-9; Galatians 2:16). That is the "Gospel, Clear and Simple."
Por Su Gracia y Poder

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Viva Picasa2!


My wife has always liked taking pictures. I've often encouraged her to take a class on photography. For Mother's Day this year I surprised her with her own laptop (something I regret at times!) Besides feeding me a lot of information about news items and world events she has mastered the use of Picasa2. With the use of scanners and pictures from digital cameras she has put together many of our photo albums in a convenient way which makes finding our family and vacation pictures really easy. Picasso is like her new hobby. Good for her.

Whether our growth be accademic or a new hobby, growth should characterize each of us. I believe one of the joys of life is the pursuit of knowledge. To be sure, the Bible says that the greatest knowledge is to know and honor the Lord (Prov. 1:7). Yet, many folks allow days, weeks, and months to go by without a plan to grow as individuals.

Growth is for everyone. For example, Christian leaders who want to influence positive movements and change, must be readers. Many leaders know this addage:"If you want to lead you must learn. If you want to continue to lead, you must continue to learn" (John Maxwell, Leadership Gold, 126). Growth, however, must be intentional. Take for example our kids. Most kids must be helped to consider the importance for intellectual growth. At the beginning of a new school year many are still on summer mode. Parents intent on their children's education will be sure to help them shake off the slumber and get going on the new academic year. Yet, many adults will go through life and forfeit the pleasures of discovery because they have not developed a passion for knowledge and growth.

My pastor is leading our staff through a study of Leadership Gold. Last week we discussed the chapter which dealt with the topic of becoming lifelong learners in order to continue becoming effective leaders. In his book, Maxwell states that "the greatest obstacle to discovery isn't ignorance or lack of intelligence. It's the illusion of knowledge" (127). When you're young you think you have things figured out pretty well. After a few years you know better. Remember Socrates? He once said: "I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing." I like that. That's why I'm always trying to hear for new ideas and learn from the perspectives of others on issues. We can often learn from the gleanings, insights, experiences and knowledge of others. Maxwell says it like this: "Teachability, is essential for being a continual learner."

By nature I'm inquisitive and I enjoy learning, even what some would consider trivial facts like, how much longer is Florida than Cuba. But, I also love to consume many areas of knowledge, including of course, theology, philosophy, history, leadership, the life of the Church, and lately, yes, tennis. In order to be a lifelong learner, however, we need a plan, and having someone more knowledgable than you around is also helpful. Think about new areas of knowledge you can dive into. Think about deepening your understanding of matters you only know little about. Read a book each month. Take a class. Whatever you do, be intentional about developing a personal growth plan.

Maxwell again gets it right: "The secret to success can be found in people's daily agendas. If they do something intentional to grow every day, they move closer to reaching their potential. If they don't, their potential slowly slips away over the course of their lifetime" (125). Second, if possible, find others who are further along than you in a certain area that you want to really grow in. This can come through personal meetings with others, attending conferences, or through reading materials written by a particular author on a specific subject. Maxwell again states: "Being around people who are better than we are has a tendency to make us stretch and improve ourselves. That is not always comfortable, but it is always profitable" (131).

Finally, get out and share what you are learning. Would you believe it if I told you that I'm teaching several people how to play tennis? (Well, maybe "teaching" is too strong of a word.) Imagine me teaching tennis? Yes, it's true that sometimes I'm not sure what I'm doing on the court, especially when I play more experienced players who remind me of how little I know. Yet, that's okay because I do know a few things. As I continue to grow I can begin to pass along the information and the techniques that I'm accquiring. And this too is part of why we want to continue growing and learing throughout life. It's not only about ourselves, and about experiencing God's creation and the pleaures of knowledge before us. It's also about the people you can take along for the ride. It's about enriching others as well.

For years in middle school and high school the light of acquired knowledge shinned dimly in my life. But something changed. Besides the spiritual impact of having my life touched by God during my senior year, something else was ignited within my soul: A thirst for knowledge. A thirst to understand how the world turns. A growing appetite to learn about the wonders of life, of the animal kingdom, of astronomy, history, all things God.

Picasa2 is a great computer program. I especially get a kick from seeing my wife's ability to juggle around pictures and place them in the order she wants. I hope you too well have the light switch of knowledge turned on in your life. Read, understand, grow, and share. In whatever area, be it academic, hobby, or sport, become a lifelong learner!
Por Su Gracia y Poder (By His Grace and Power)

Monday, September 15, 2008

"Dad, how do you know God exists?"

Kids. Some times I think they are the greatest theologians among us. Many parents can attest to the inquisitive questions children ask them about faith and life. Where do they get these ideas? What happened to many of us that stopped the flow of questions from coming?

A little while ago I was doing my nightly ritual of reading some devotional materials with my ten-year old. We were talking about creation and about how sin came through one man, Adam. Kathy asked me, "Dad, how do we know that God exists?" "You know, how do you know that's the way it was." Oh, boy. That's when you pray and ask the Lord to help you come up with a quick and easy explanation to your child's questions.

Well, let's think about it like this. Let's just say we're about to have dinner, and you come up to me and your breath smells like chocolate. In fact you have crumbs of what seems to be a cookie on your mouth and marks of chocolate smeared on your lips. The cookie jar had ten cookies and now there's only nine. Now it could be that someone else ate the missing cookie, or that a mouse got into the jar and ate the cookie. But, guess what? All the evidence points to you! I didn't see you eat the cookie, and yes, someone else may have eaten it. But, your chocolate filled mouth, your breath, and the missing cookie seems like enough evidence to say that you're guilty: you ate the cookie before dinner. Well, that's kind of the way many people try to argue for God's existence. In the same way I used the evidence to show that you ate the cookie is how I show that God exists: the evidence in our universe seems to point to God's existence. I went on to share some of the evidence from design apparent in our universe to argue for the existence of God.

Well, it may not have been the best explanation, and it was getting late for more discussion, but I think my illustration satisfied her curiosity, at least for tonight. My fifth grader is growing up and her questions well get tougher. I just hope that I can help her think critically about faith and life issues. May the Lord help all of us lead our kids into a growing knowledge and confidence in God and his word.
Por Su Gracia y Poder

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

"It's My Way, or the Highway" - Part II (Continued from Monday)

God's response to sin has not changed. It is when we choose to live outside of God's will and independent of his Word that we reap the sour results of our ungodly choices. Jeremiah probed his people to consider why she was suffering: "Consider then and realize how evil and bitter it is for you when you forsake the Lord your God and have no awe of me" (Jer 2:19b). Reading Jeremiah is a reminder of how easily we can replace the ways of God with our own idols. God often whispers into our hearts our secret sins, whatever they may be, hoping to gently tug our hearts and move us back to love and obedience. He wants us to confess our sins and to not live in them (See 1 John 2:1: 3:1-2). He wants those who have fallen into a sinful pattern to repent and turn completely away from their sinful practices and begin to live obediently.

Proverbs 19:3 reminds me of what Jeremiah told Judah about the consequences of her sins. The writer wrote: "A man's own folly ruins his life, yet his heart rages against the LORD" (Pro. 19:3). If I can deviate for a moment, as you carefully analyze this chapter in Proverbs you will notice how Prov 19:3 sets the theme and the rest of the verses are its sub-points, or explanations (See 19:16, 20, 23, 27, 29). Our folly, our decisions to live according to our ways instead of seeking to honor the Lord with our lives, will brings us down.

But there's something else that should lead us to keep close watch over our sins. Reading Jeremiah is also to read about the goodness and tenderness of the God who redeemed us. It is to hear the cry of God over the sins of his people who forsook him. Over and over again God asks, "What fault did your fathers find in me?" (Jer 2:5); "Long ago you broke off your yoke and tore off your bonds; you said, 'I will not serve you!'" (2:20); ". . . "But you said, 'It's no use! I love foreign gods, and I must go after them'" (2:25b); "Why do my people say, 'We are free to roam; we will come to you no more'?" (2:31); ". . .Yet my people have forgotten me, days without number" (2:32). God's heart breaks over the sins of people, especially of those who are his children.

When we forsake the Lord and his ways we do so to our detriment. When our ways are preeminent, we set ourselves up for the fall. Great are the woes of those who think that their ways are better than the Lord's. May we choose this day to honor God for who he is, for his love, and live according to the teachings of his Word.
Por Su Gracia y Su Poder

Monday, September 8, 2008

"It's My Way, or the Highway" - Part I


I'm again reading through one of my favorite books of the Old Testament: the Book of Jeremiah. I'm drawn to this book for various reasons. As a follower of Christ I am amazed, as well as encouraged, to read of how Jeremiah remained faithful to the Lord in the midst of hostile situations and a rebellious people. I also read Jeremiah because it helps me deal with sin in my life. Although God had delivered the Hebrew people from slavery in Egypt, led the nation faithfully through the wilderness, and provided for her well being, she still managed to forsake the Lord. This is why God asks, "Has a nation ever changed its gods. . .but my people have exchanged their Glory for worthless idols" (Jer 2:11, NIV). As I read through Jeremiah I am forced to look at my own life and ask the question: "Am I guilty of sin and rebellion against God?" "Am I living my life my way?"

Many times our sins invite suffering. When people ask why bad things happen to them, they rarely associate the suffering with the actions that produced it. Questions dealing with suffering have multiple layers to its response. But, if we are honest, many times, we are the recipients of our own poor choices. This is what God tells Judah, the southern tribe of Israel, when she is taken captive to Babylon (modern day Iraq). "My people have committed two sins: they have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water" (Jer 2:13). Many times our problems began long before with initial steps of rebellion and of actions we took that we knew were not pleasing to the Lord.

Jeremiah was trying to provoke a response from Judah about her suffering. Her suffering was not the result of a capricious God bent on dishing out pain. Jeremiah wanted to help Judah understand why she was taken captive to another nation. Her predicament had not come as a surprise. The tribes of the northern kingdom, Israel, had been taken captive to Assyria in 722 B.C. Many prophets preached to the southern tribes of Judah, calling her to repentance (=to turn away from sin and live differently according to the ways of God), but she refused to listen. This is why Jeremiah tells Judah, "Your wickedness will punish you; your backsliding will rebuke you" (Jer 2:19a). Did you catch what the prophet said? The captivity was the consequence of her rebellious lifestyle and unrepentant sinful choices. Sadly, the final invasion and captivity of Jerusalem took place in 586 B.C.

Jeremiah calls God's people to repentance. To turn from evil ways and live unto the Lord. Before its demise as an exiled community God called Judah to reflect on her condition and return to him. In addition, one of the things that the prophet did was to try to elicit a change of behavior from God's people as he recorded the emotions of a loving God and Father. Jeremiah wanted wayward Judah to turn from her evil ways and return to her God. (To be concluded tomorrow)
Por Su Gracia y Poder

Thursday, September 4, 2008

New Energy Sources - Consider Pickens' Plan

Sometimes people give up and do nothing when facing difficult circumstances. They loose all hope for change. However, the American people are starting to believe that we can do something about our dependence on foreign oil. Perhaps you are aware of how much we depend on other countries for fuel. But, are you aware of the escalating amount of money being paid to these countries each year in order to keep our economy working each day?

If you watch TV you have probably seen advertisements for the "PickensPlan". I took a moment to go online and read through some of the material. There's a video which lasts about four minutes which you can link to. After checking out the web site you may want to become involved in promoting this plan. The fact is that our dependence on foreign oil is almost at 70%. The next 10 years, accoring to the Pickens' web site, will cost us $7 Trillion dollars. Link on to the plan and let others know about it: www.pickensplan.com/index.php.

The oil crisis is just one area of our national life where we can't afford to simply throw up our arms in defeat. Our national defense, our future economic prosperity, and the well being of our country in years to come will be closely related, in part, to how we respond to this energy crisis.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

"Have Sex," "Don't Have Sex". . . Hypocrites!!

I'm a bit ticked off. Whether you like Governor Sarah Palin or not, whether you are a staunch Democrat, Independent or Republican, be consistent! I can't stand the hypocrisy of our media and many of our social institutions and organizations. Are not kids today encouraged to have sex? Isn't abstinence education looked down on? Don't they say that women have a right to abortion? So, what happens when our children fail to live up to our moral standards? We are scrutinized and ridiculed. "What else is in our closet?" they ask. "What else is being kept secret from the public?" Give me a break!

The office of the President of the U.S.A. is the highest calling of a public servant in our country. And yes, we should be aware of what's in the history of our candidates. Governor Palin has electrified conservatives because of her views. Now that her 17-year daughter, Bristol, is found to be pregnant, what do we hear? We don't hear that she's a teenager and is expected to have sex, and should have the right to do so. We don't hear how she should consider having an abortion (God forbid that she in fact was planning on having one--she isn't). We don't hear the cry of feminists that come to her defense.

Conservatives, instead, are condemned for their hypocrisy. How dare conservatives place someone with these family problems in the office of Presidency at a time like this? Why doesn't Palin apply her conservative views and stay home and solve her own issues? Hello? Is this situation really the heart of the matter? Do problems at home with children disqualify you from holding public office? Should our children's behavior and choices determine how we can serve? How quickly do so many forget the actions of some while still in Office?

Whether or not you agree with the choice of Palin by McCain, is up for debate. But, don't speak out from both sides of the mouth and dish out a double standard. Our culture prides itself with giving freedom to sexual expression and right over a woman's body. Are we now going to play the role of a society zealous for absolute truth and biblical morality in order to discredit a potential candidate from holding office? Pure hypocrisy!

The reality of life is that children don't aways follow the ways of their parents. The Bible is full of examples where good kings in Israel sometimes were followed by evil children (See 2 Kings 14:1-4). Many are the hearts of fathers and mothers which are broken over the poor choices made by their children. Furthermore, the reality of the world is one of tension and conflict between how we want to live and the way we do live. Still, for Christians, the Bible encourages us to live lives worthy of the call as followers of Christ. We are to live lives that are filled with integrity. Our children will also live with this tension and sometimes live lives of dissonance.

You may want to cast your vote against Palin on arguments based on her inexperience and the challenge she would face if she had to take over the Presidency if something happened to McCain. But, don't argue against her on the basis of the poor choice made by her daughter and cast your vote based upon the decisions of a family member over which she had no power. Everyone is responsible for his/her choices.

Obama said it well and forcefully on Monday: leave the family out of the campaign, especially the children. More importantly, I think many in our society need to learn to sing a tune of fairness for all and begin holding a distinct note of judgment that applies to everyone. Above all, everyone needs to seek mercy and compassion, forgiveness and restoration. And remember the words of Jesus, "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?" (Matthew 7:3).
Por Su Gracia y Poder

Monday, September 1, 2008

A Prayer to God

Years ago I wrote out a prayer to God based on Isaiah 11:2, which is a prophecy of Messiah Jesus. The New Testament says that we have fullness in Christ, or have been made complete, in Jesus (Colossians 2:10). Jesus is God's provision not only for our salvation, but for our daily sustenance (See Ephesians 1:3). He is our daily bread in every possible way. I hope this simple prayer encourages you to trust the Savior who alone will completely uphold and guide your life.

"Jesus, on you the 'Spirit of the LORD' rests. Be Thy, my Lord. Jesus, on you rests 'the Spirit of wisdom'; give me wisdom to lead Thy people; Jesus, you have the Spirit 'of understanding'; help me to understand your will for my life. Jesus, on you rests the 'Spirit of counsel'. Thank you for being my Counselor in times of uncertainty. Jesus, Spirit 'of power,' please meet me in my points of weaknesses and give me strength to overcome. Jesus, Spirit 'of knowledge,' enlighten my mind to understand, to will, and to obey. Spirit 'of the fear of the LORD,' teach me to revere and honor God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength. In your Precious Name. Amen.
Por Su Gracia y Poder

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Rich Young Ruler (Matthew 19; Luke 18) – Part III (Continued from Tuesday)

God doesn’t expect us to commit (surrender) to him, or promise anything, or for us to abandon our ways, in order for him to first receive and forgive us (See John 1:12). (Now, many do make this commitment and do turn from their sins at the moment of salvation; this is called repentance. We may repent, turn direction, at the point of salvation, but repentance is not a condition for salvation, only faith is; See John 5:24; 20:30-31; Book of Galatians, especially 2:16). However, our forgiveness and adoption as sons of God is not a matter of giving up things first because if we don’t do so God won’t accept us. As difficult as it may seem for many to understand, salvation is totally free without any strings attached. Initial salvation (or justification) is by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8-9).

Those who place their trust in Christ alone for eternal life can begin to experience the fullness of God and the abundant life that are found in knowing Jesus (See John 10:10). Jesus was ready to give the rich young ruler much more than mere entrance into heaven. He tells him that he can enjoy the fullness of life in God or the kingdom, and the abundance of eternal life, including future rewards (See 19:27-29), if he is willing to surrender and follow Christ as his disciple. Sadly, the ruler chose neither.

What then is the teaching behind the rich young ruler? First, the command to go sell his possessions and follow Jesus was a way for Christ to confront the young man with what enslaved him. He ought to have recognized his bondage to possessions as a source of trust and have turned his attention upon Jesus who was probing him to consider who it was that was speaking to him. Only Jesus can save, and provide eternal life (=abundant life or inheritance of the kingdom).

Each of us must be confronted with our sinfulness and need of Christ. The rich young man was first in his own estimation because he had many riches, but he would be last (unless he later came to faith in Christ) because he had not trusted in Christ alone for eternal life (19:30). Second, selling our possessions or sacrificing whatever stands between us and the Lord Jesus, is necessary for us to obtain the fullness of eternal life. That is, fullness of life in God’s coming Kingdom, including the promise of reigning with him and eternal rewards, are prepared for those who will sacrifice and live lives of commitment to the Lord (See 19:29; Luke 14:25-33). Those who follow and serve Jesus faithfully in this life will have riches in the kingdom.

What, then, must we do to have eternal life? How can we inherit the kingdom? We must first recognize our sins and need for forgiveness that comes through faith in Jesus Christ alone. Why would we believe in Jesus as Savior unless we are first convicted about sin in our lives and our need to be forgiven. The rich young ruler trusted his wealth and didn't see a need for Christ. Second, to experience the fullness of life with God now and in the coming Kingdom, we must we willing to surrender our lives to Jesus and keep the commandments (=the Law of Love in Christ and the two Greatest Commandments given by Jesus in Gal. 5:6; 6:2 and Matthew 22:37-40), something which can only be done through the enabling work of God’s Spirit in our lives.

Those who not only believe in Jesus, but also surrender and follow him, will have riches in heaven. The rich young ruler was blinded by his great riches. He failed to remove his eyes from his empty righteousness and place them on Christ for salvation. In failing to believe in Christ, he also failed to receive the Spirit of God which alone would have helped him to follow Jesus faithfully, and to enjoy the riches of eternal life and God's kingdom.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Rich Young Ruler (Matthew 19; Luke 18) – Part II (Continued from yesterday)

Jesus confronted the rich young ruler from the start with this truth: only God is good (19:16-17). This means that no man is good in the absolute sense in which God is good (See Rom. 3:12). Man is totally bound by his sin and he can’t obey the law completely because he’s a slave to his evil desires and inclinations. He is utterly in need of God for salvation. To present oneself as righteous before God is to be deceived. The rich young ruler was deceived about his standing before God.

One of the points of the passage is that man is not good enough to be saved, or to inherit the kingdom or have eternal life, because we all sin by breaking God’s laws. For some, the enslavement is riches, for others, popularity, or pride. But, each of us before faith comes to our hearts is under bondage to sin. Only the life of Jesus was good enough to become the perfect sin payment for our sins and make a way for our forgiveness (John 1:29; 2 Cor. 5:16-21).

Do we inherit the kingdom when we sacrifice and follow Jesus while on earth? This is what Jesus tells the ruler. Jesus is not saying that abandonment and commitment is expected from us in order for us to enter the kingdom. Initial salvation is received by faith, and not works. It is important to understand, however, that many do teach that because the young ruler was unwilling to surrender his riches he could not be saved or be forgiven by God. The problem, they say, is that God demands complete surrender and commitment to his Lordship before God can save an individual, something the young man was unwilling to do. However, Christ’s words, in part, were rhetorical, intended for reflection. In leading the rich young ruler to reflect on his love of possessions Jesus was hoping to lead him to confront his sinfulness and need for God. He trusted in his own goodness and righteousness, not in God (See Luke 18:9-14).

Yet, Jesus did tell the young man that by keeping the commandments he could “enter life” (19:17). What did he mean? Who can really follow the ways of God? The Apostle Paul later in his letters taught that the ability to keep the commandments and experience the life of God would come through the enablement that God's Spirit would give those who came to faith in Christ (See Romans 8; Galatians 5:16-18). However, are keeping the commandements the basis for us to have eternal life? What did Jesus mean by telling the rich young ruler that in order to "enter life" he had to keep the commandments? How, then, do we inherit the kingdom? How do we get eternal life? (Conclusion tomorrow)

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Rich Young Ruler (Matthew 19; Luke 18) – Part I


Does the story of the rich young ruler teach that one must surrender all to God in order to be saved? Is the teaching about what we must do in order to be forgiven? What does Jesus mean when he says that we will have riches in the kingdom if we follow him? A rich young ruler came to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?” (Matthew 19:16). Often times we hear that eternal life is only about going to heaven, being forgiven, or the like. Eternal life, according to Jesus, is about knowing God and experiencing his fullness in our lives (Jn. 17:3; 14:6). Life for the Jews was about experiencing the fullness of life in God as described in the Old Testament. The rich young ruler wanted to experience abundance of life in the Kingdom, or eternal life. In his dialogue with the ruler Jesus tells him three things. First, eternal life is possible to achieve. Second, you can’t obtain it on your own. And third, you must sell all your possessions and follow me if you want to experience the fullness of heaven.

Keeping the commandments or the ways of God according to the O.T. brings true life. This echoes the teachings from Deuteronomy 28-30 where choosing life or the ways of God would bring earthly blessings and true prosperity. That is why Jesus tells the young man, “. . . if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments” (19:17). That is, if the young ruler wanted to inherit eternal life (=experience the richness of God’s promises), he had to keep the commandments. But, there was a problem. The young man valued his riches above all else. He was enslaved to his love for wealth. Although he said that he had kept all the commandments, Jesus tells him that in fact he was still lacking: “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me” (19:21). In other words, Jesus tells the young man, "Fulfill both sides of the Ten Commandments, those that touch on your relationship with me, and those that deal with your relationship with others."

Jesus here confronted the ruler on two issues. First, the young man was unwilling to let go of his riches because he found his comfort and security in his possessions. His possessions had enslaved him. In order for him to experience or inherit eternal life (=fullness of God; abundant life) he would first need to respond to the conviction of God’s Spirit about his need for a Savior. No one keeps God’s commandments perfectly; we all fall short (See Rom. 3:23). His love for riches, however, had blinded him to his real need.

Second, to experience the fullness of life in the kingdom we must be willing to forsake all. Faith in Christ demanded that the rich young ruler recognize his lack of righteousness and need for a savior. Entry into the kingdom demands that we first come to faith in Christ. But, just entering the kingdom without the full experience of the kingdom is to be short changed. It is like the illustration shared with me by my good friend, René A. López, Ph.D. Who comes to this country (U.S.A.) expecting only to sit down satisfied to live in a free society and not enjoy the abundance of living here? In order for us to enjoy all that God has prepared for us in the coming kingdom (not just entering it) we must be willing to sacrifice and follow Jesus now.

Both the entry into the kingdom and the full experience of the kingdom are received by grace (the point of the parable in Matt 20:1-16), but whereas the first is received by faith alone in Christ, the second is dependent on our decision to give up whatever stands in the way of following the Lord Jesus. (To be continued tomorrow)

Thursday, August 21, 2008

". . . This Generation Will Not Pass. . ." (Luke 21:32)

Some liberal scholars today say that Jesus made a mistake when his prediction of end times events didn't take place within the generation that heard his prophecies. Luke 21:32 reads, "Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place." Three things should be considered. First, the meaning of the term "generation". Second, the context of this verse, and third, the significance of the phrase "these things".

The term "generation" (Grk., genea) can refer to the persons in a family, or to a specific race. It can also refer to a particular time, period or age. In the O.T. generations represented forty-year periods. In the Dead Sea Scrolls there is the mention of a forty-year period of suffering which the final generation alive will undergo (C. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary, N.T., 248). Many believe that a generation is limited to this length of years. Since Jesus spoke these words near A.D. 30, some believe this "generation" refers to the events of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in A.D. 70. However, one of the problems with this interpretation is that some of the predictions made by Jesus do in fact center on events related to the end times (beyond A.D. 70), predictions which did not come to pass within a generation of his death and resurrection (see vv. 25-27). If this distinction of content matter in the teachings of Christ is not made then the accusation of a mistake made by Jesus becomes sharper. Is there a solution to this?

I believe the immediate context of Luke 21:32 starts in Luke 21:25. This is the section that points to a time period beyond the time of the destruction of the Temple which Jesus spoke to his disciples about earlier (21:5-9). Notice that although Jesus predicts events surrounding the destruction of the Temple he also alerts his disciples to the fact that ". . . the end does not follow immediately" (Luke 21:9c). This means that other events would follow chronologically the demise of the Temple. The events of Luke 21:25ff. with its supernatural and cataclysmic characteristics take place sometime after Jerusalem is taken "captive into all the nations" (Luke 21:24). We know that Israel as a nation was dispersed throughout the world until 1948 when she again was recognized as a State. Her captivity, writes Luke, will be limited to a certain period of time. Jerusalem will be "trampled under foot by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled" (Luke 21:24; See Zechariah 12:2-3). The "times of the Gentiles" began with the Babylonian Captivity of 586 B.C., and will last until the fulfillment of these prophecies, when Israel again will come under the leadership of God her King.

The final aspect to consider is the phrase "these things" in Luke 21:32. Some believe that the phrase refers to all that Jesus had been teaching his disciples, including events surrounding the Temple's destruction and the end time predictions. A clue to help us understand the time frame of this phrase is found in the previous verse. After using the illustration of a budding fig tree as a reference point for believers to discern when future events happening in the world mark the end, Jesus says these words: "So you also, when you see these things happening, recognize that the kingdom of God is near" (Luke 21:31; emphasis mine). So that, the "generation" spoken of by Jesus in verse 32 will be the one alive right before the final establishment of the Kingdom.

What, then is Luke 21:32 teaching? This verse teaches that the generation who will witness the cosmic signs detailed by Jesus starting in Luke 21:25-27, and will see the "Son of Man coming in a cloud," will not pass. That is, the generation alive when the end time signs or events begin to take place will surely see the coming of the glorious Kingdom of God, in its fullness, promised to Israel.
Por Su Gracia y Poder