Book Review – Conversion: How God Creates a People

The topic of genuine Biblical conversion has been on my mind lately.  In transparency, sometimes in moments of frustration where we see people stuck in patterns of sin, brokenness and unfruitfulness.  Sometimes the reason why is because maybe they never really never truly understood and submitted to Christ, and therefore they aren’t converted, regenerated, made new.

I’m also fresh off of a 9Marks Weekender and this topic is always discussed when you are spending time reflecting on what is a Biblical church.

Enter Conversion:  How God Creates a People by Michael Lawrence.  I was excited to read this as I usually am with anything from 9Marks.  I have come to value their Biblical faithfulness and clarity.

download-1Lawrence clearly states the solid reasoning why a book like this is needed right in the introduction.  “There is a problem with our theology – specifically our theology of conversion. Second, there is a problem with how we apply that theology to our church.  Too often our confessional theology says one thing, while our practical theology says something else. We say that regeneration makes us new creatures in Christ, but then we teach our kids a moralism that atheists could duplicate.” [14]  I think I’m gonna like this guy.

This problem, as I alluded to above, has then tremendous snowball effects in the body life and health of the local church.

This book targets then not the symptoms, but the underlying disease.

What do we think conversion actually looks like on the outside? It should be nothing short of complete regeneration – being made new, not just being made “nice.”  This means Godly new appetites and desires, not about just becoming a better you.  Lawrence makes a great point as to the tragic effect of this on our youth in the church “I fear this is why so many of my friends’ children have walked away from Christianity. They haven’t given up on being nice. They’ve simply discovered that they don’t need Jesus to be  nice.” [23]  Exactly.

This regeneration then not only is person, it is corporate – the new person is now part of the church where God’s new creation people glorify God by living how he has called them to live.  This has big impacts on church membership and church leaders.  Are we sure that the people we are accepting as church members and allowing to lead or worse yet…teach…are actually converted believers?  This is of paramount importance.

Lawrence faithfully lays down a biblical foundation of conversion.  We are saved…but saved from what and saved for what?  First, we are saved from God’s wrath for sin.  We need to preach and teach this hard topic because the Bible does.  It’s not “come to Jesus; he’ll give you purpose and meaning. The trouble is, subjective problems can be solved through subjective solutions.” [35]   If we are saved from God’s wrath, then we are saved by God’s grace, saved because of God’s love, saved into God’s people, and saved for God’s glory.  The Christian life is not about our happiness or fulfillment, it’s about God’s glory.  Otherwise when those things don’t materialize we are tempted to abandon Jesus…all the while we were believing in a different gospel. [44] Amen!

What then should conversion look like?  It should include repentance…real repentance. “An exchanging of our idols for God. Before it’s a change in behavior, it must be a change in worship.” [51] It should also include faith…again real faith, not just a intellectual acceptance of a set of ideas.   What faith do we teach, model, and give our people assurance of?

Contrasting pop psych-theology, the author challenges the therapeutic gospel – we need Jesus to make us OK.  “We don’t just need to accept ourselves. We need God to accept us.”  [66] Lawrence continues “Being healed then is not at all about coming to peace with ourselves. It’s about having our guild and shame and ultimately the curse removed and being restored to a right relationship with God. In other words, to be healed in Scripture is to be made holy.” [67] This is much needed perspective on this and again has a direct result in how we live.  Going back to where I began, maybe the people we are expecting to live as Christians aren’t because they aren’t actually Christians?  I underlined and highlighted this next part – “…it is not burdensome to live according to the new nature if you have it. What’s burdensome is to live according to a nature that you don’t have. In fact, its worse than burdensome. It’s impossible. Could it be that you don’t live as if you’ve been set apart because you haven’t been set apart?” [72]  #MicDropMoment

The author then diligently turns to the church itself and how a Biblical theology of conversion affects our ecclesiology.  If the church is a community of converted believers, then who are we targeting with how we “do” church?  Are we seeking to make it as comfortable as possible for those seeking?  I just read a great Spurgeon quote in a Challies post today –  “I believe that one reason why the church of God at this present moment has so little influence over the world is because the world has so much influence over the church.”  Thanks, Spurg.

This also effects how we do evangelism.  It shouldn’t be a pragmatic, sales pitchy monologue. “Successful evangelism is not about getting people to respond.” [91] What we win them with we win them to.  Is what we are saying in our witnessing reflective of a Biblically grounded conversion?  How many times does our [in transparency maybe my…] evangelism get reduced to “God loves you” or “Jesus will give you purpose.”  We need to communicate plainly, honestly, urgently,  and confidently.

When we talk then about church membership, perhaps the most important thing we can do is diligently assess whether someone is truly converted.  I’m convinced this is why so many churches are in poor health.  We’ve see the implications on a personal level – how much more so on a church level!

Lawrence wraps things up with a great summary chapter on why it all matters – It matters for God, it maters for us, and it matters for the world.  The doctrine of conversion is too important to be lead astray to a weaker, non-Biblical position.  I’m grateful for the reminder and foundation set here.

 

 

Lessons from the Spartan Race

Moomer_Dad_SpartanYesterday, I ran a Spartan Sprint race with my daughter Morgan. For those of you who are unfamiliar with what a Spartan race is…this is the “Intro” one called a “Sprint.” It was 5.2 miles with 20 obstacles…not the least of which were crawling under barbed wire in the dust and rocks for what seemed like 10 miles, carrying a 40lb bag of sand up hill (did I mention this was a ski mountain?), rope climbs, more walls than I care to remember, sporadic mud and very smelly water, and just generally enduring the punishing, unrelenting Summer sun.

Yes, we paid to do this, and I’m glad we did.  Here are some lessons and thoughts:

  1. Training.  It cannot be overstated the importance of being ready for this race.  It was punishing.  I was very happy I had been diligent in training.  Still.  It. Was. Hard.  Makes me think – are we prepared for trials and suffering in our lives?  We are preaching thru 1 Peter right now at Highlands and suffering is unavoidable. Am I ready?
  2. Military.  I grew in appreciation for our military in not only how hard they train, but also the danger they face.  As I said to one fellow Spartan as we were crawling under the barbed wire – “Hey.  At least we aren’t getting shot at.”
  3. Team Work.  There is a generally good sense of team work at these races.  Morgan and I definitely cheered each other on, helped each other, and celebrated overcoming the obstacles.  Are we helping each other run our “life races” well?
  4. Goals.  Straight up – it’s awesome to set goals and then accomplish them, even in the face of suffering and resistance.  We were walking up our final hill and one woman said “Keep your head up. One foot in front of the other and don’t stop.”  It was so simple, yet true – each step we took literally got us closer to the end.  Set goals, get going, push yourself past where you think you can go and don’t stop.
  5. Stewardship.  This wasn’t about us, it was about the challenge, but it made me think of being a good steward of what God has given us in our health and the gospel. I think of 1 Timothy 4 – for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” (1 Timothy 4:8 ESV).  Am I giving enough dedicated, diligent attention to growing in Godliness and living daily in the gospel?  Our bodies will pass away, we need to be healthy and diligent stewards of them, but ultimately we exist not for our own glory but for the glory of God!

Ignoring God = Idolatry?

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For the last few years, idolatry has been a big buzz word in chruchy circles.  As a Pastor, I have even thought to myself sometimes: “Oh boy, here I go again…beating on the same idolatry drum.”

It is still true, that anything we hold higher than God in our affections and priority is an idol and all the usually illustrated suspects come into play – money, status, relationship, sex, comfort, substances, etc.  How can you tell if something is an idol?  If we sin in order to get it, or if we sin when we don’t get it.

But something dawned on me, as when I’m starting to feel overwhelmed my default mode is to go turtle.  I withdraw into myself.  It dawned on me that when I don’t turn to God for comfort, identity, help…I’m essentially ignoring God and my idol is me.  Not that I think too highly of myself, but instead I don’t look outside myself to God for redemption.  The answer (as Shane and Shane so well put) is never more of me.

This concept is not foreign to the Scriptures.  Many Psalms are “lament” Psalms that are not complaining into thin air, or withdrawing into a turtle shell, it is a directed lament at the all powerful God who alone can help.  There is usually a turning point in the Psalm where the author snaps himself back inline to realize the greatness of God, the great salvation he offers by faith in the Messiah that nothing can take away, and the futileness of turning only to himself.  It would be a soul-building exercise for me (and perhaps I’m not alone) to soak in some Psalms and remember that I’m not the answer.

I’ll leave you with a great example in Psalm 13:

O THE CHOIRMASTER. A PSALM OF DAVID.  How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

Consider and answer me, O LORD my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death, lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,” lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken. [Editorial note: turning point ahead!]

But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me.

(Psalms 13:0–6 ESV)

 

2016 Is Here – What’s Your Reading Plan?

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2016 is nearly upon us!  With each new year, it is a great chance to start fresh – make positive changes.  (For one, I resolve to be nicer to the cat.) One of the best things you can do is have a plan to read the Bible.  Like…the WHOLE Bible in a year. You can do it. Why should you?  Glad you asked. I can think of a few really awesome reasons.

  1. It builds understanding. Bad thinking starts with a partial understanding of Scripture.  We have all seen verses ripped out of context and misapplied.  Building a view of God around a verse (or a handful of verses) plucked out of context is super bad.  When we read all of the Bible it brings balance and interpretation.
  2. It builds self-discipline.  Have a plan.  Have a time that you read, pray, and meditate every day.  Build it into your routine…make it a habit.  Use the common grace of God found in good coffee. You might have to make little adjustments to protect it.  For example, my wife and I this year are printing out our reading plans and using paper Bibles to be away from our iDevices so that we do not get sucked into social media distractions.
  3. It spills out into other people’s lives.  The more you read and seek to understand Scripture, the better you are able to be an instrument of blessing in other peoples lives.  One of my mini-“resolutions” is to try to use Scripture more in every day conversations.  I can’t do that if I’m not reading it.
  4. It causes you to grow in Godliness and wisdom and character and strength…and a zillion other ways.  One of the things that I find very hard to hear is when someone says “I just wish God would speak to me.”  HE. HAS.  God speaks in His word and we come to understand more of who God is and how we are to live by reading, meditating, and applying His Word.
  5. It’s EASY to find a plan.  You can find them EVERYWHERE.  If you are disciplined enough to be able to use your phone/tablet to read the Bible without being distracted by other stuff you have a plethora of options that serve up the Word right to your screen.  You an also find a treasure trove of other plans on the InterWebs.  For example – here’s a great list.

However you chose to do it…please…let me go “Nike” for a second and “Just Do It.”  Many people gave their lives so that we can have access to God’s Word and many other believers still do not have access to a Bible in their language.  God speaks through His word, let us listen and be changed!

“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (Psalms 119:105 ESV)

 

 

Haiti Day 5 = Chaos (and Bools)

So.  Yeah. Friday’s during Haiti VBS are nuts! Reason being…the kids all expect us to give them presents in the last day. We certainly has our share of soccer balls (about 50) and various other things…but when you have a couple hundred kids that doesn’t go very far.  Chaos is a good word to describe the atmosphere today. And shoving. Lots of shoving. With lots of yelling in CreoleEnglish telling us to “Give me bool.”  (Ball)

  
We did give away all of our “bools” via a contest where the kid lines up far away from the goal and gives it his best kick.  If he or she gets it in, they win the bool.  Here’s a pic of one of the attempts. I’m pretty proud of this shot, every once in a while I get a good one!

  

I had the opportunity to talk again with Alberto. He seems to be a legit follower of Jesus. I saw a man selling Bibles and bought one. After that Alberto asked me if that was a Creole Bible, which it was, and he told me that he didn’t have one. He only had a French one on his phone.  When I gave him the Bible his face lit up. He as so excited to have a Bible in his home language. Here is a shot of my bud and his new Creole Bible. 

  
Tonight we are going back to the town to hold a “crusade” – basically a church service. We will sing a few songs, and I am preaching from Luke 5. Please pray for the Word to go out and for it to penetrate hearts!

Haiti – Day 3 – It Begins

One of the things I am liking the most is the chance that we have every night to sing together, be in God’s word together, and share what is going on in our hearts. Last night Alex challenged us from Matthew 19 that we desire most of the time to be first in yet Jesus calls us to put others before our own needs. 

 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.

(Matthew 19:30)

When we do VBS in Haiti, unfortunately the opposite of this verse is in effect. There is a great amount of clamoring, yelling, and pushing and shoving him to be at the first of the line to have a chance to get in. 

I had the opportunity to preach to the crowd this morning – telling them we are here because we love them very much and so does Jesus. We see brokenness and the effects of sin and evil all around us – in Haiti or America, and God has done something about it. He has supplied us the restoration and healing in Jesus. Ours is to live by faith in Him while remembering what he has done for us in securing our new identity. 

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

(Galatians 2:20)

Today we started VBS and while it was controlled chaos, it still was chaos.  I saw some of the kids that we saw 2 years ago. But even in the midst of chaos,  the warmth and the love of the children is just absolutely amazing.

   

After our VBS classes we fed the community as far as two giant pot of rice and beans could go.  One of our translators suggested that would be a good idea to take some plates of food into the street and find the people that of been hiding in the shadows and bring them to them. This turned out to be a great idea as many were doing just that received the food gladly. 

 
After that we spent some time in small groups with children who wanted to learn English.  

We spent time showing them pictures from our iPhones are pointing to drawings and the books teaching them the English word for many common objects. The Haitian children are very excited to learn English and it was a blessing to spend some one-on-one time with them. 

  
We’re looking forward to a nice time together tonight over dinner and more singing and time of sharing this evening. Lauren has volunteered to lead our studying the word tonight and we are excited to hear from her. 

So far everyone is doing great and no one has become sick. Please pray for our stamina to keep up in the punishing heat and most of all for God’s word to have an impact in the hearts and lives of these precious children. 

Haiti – Day 2: Orphanage, Churchnp, and…Oh yeah…the Citadel

Welp, after a time of worship and a word last night from Psalm 1, most of us slept pretty well. It is H-O-T. Personally I don’t think I’ve ever sleep-sweated like that before, unless I was breaking a fever. (Oversharing?) Still, with 3.5 hrs of sleep on Friday, a sweaty 8hrs felt great!

After breakfast (we have 2 Haiten cooks here who fix us yummy breakfast and dinner each day) we set off for the Children of the Promise Orphange. They have many kids there and a few house parents that raise them and care for them. They also have some children with special needs. This was particularly hard to see, but my brother Josh spurred us on to love and good works and suggested that we pray with each child. One boy who was very restless and noisy became silent when we touched him and prayed for him. Many of these children will not be adopted, but some will. Some also will be cared for by loving house parents. Perhaps you are being called to be one of them?

We also were able to worship with the staff there today. We sang some songs and the watched a video sermon from 1 Peter 3:3-12.  To sing worship after seeing the needs of some of the children was emotional, these lyrics hit hard: 

Heal my heart and make it clean, open up my eyes to the things unseen. Show me how to love how you have loved me. Break my heart for what breaks yours everything I am for your kingdom cause, as I walk from here into eternity.  (Hillsong United – “Hosanna”)

It was a solid message on video from Pastor Lee Cummings from Radiant Church– our feelings and reactions are wired to our hearts like buttons that get pushed. Will we be Christlike in our reactions and actions?

After the service and some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches we got in our vehicles and headed off for a bouncy ride to the Citadel. (my wife actually managed to leave there without stealing any of the children.)

This was my second time to the citadel and I think I was even more impressed this time. The hike up is quite a workout, but once you get there the views and history behind the massive fortress are amazing. See below for a great shot of my dear friend Josh with some cannons. Josh loves cannons. 

After the Citadel workout, the team was very excited to get some relaxation by the pool. Tonight we are looking forward to a yummy dinner and then some VBS planning. And then a time of worship and sharing together.  We have given the challenge for some of the youth to lead in a devotion each night and for tonight Alex has taken up the challenge.  I’m always thankful and encouraged when youth take up the challenge to lead. 

    

  As you can see, our room (somehow dubbed the honeymoon suite) holds all the supplies for our week doing VBS. Tonight we will talk about how we are going to get things done, but also how we are going to share Jesus with the children there.  May we truly love God and love his children. More to come!

 

Haiti – Day 1: We Made It!

 This is the view from the veranda! It is a beautiful mission house and a beautiful breeze and keep things nice and cool!

Praise God we had problem-free travel! Everything was so smooth. We are is settling in to the house here at Deep  River Mission. 

We are looking forward to tomorrow where we will visit an orphanage, go to church, and hopefully do some sightseeing. With and rest up and get ready for VBS which starts first thing Monday morning. 

Thank you for your prayers. Please continue to pray for us to be effective in the work that we’re doing here and grow and love and unity for each other and the people of Haiti. 

More posts to come!

 

Listen Up

All of the Bible tells one story – God’s Big Story of who He is, His creation, our sinful rebellion against His Lordship, and His tremendous love in pursuing us to be reconciled.  It also points to a future hope – all of us know that this life with its cancer, personal conflicts, school closings, and endless winter is not all there is.  Eternity is the destiny that awaits us all, but which one?  

The central focus in God’s Big Story is Jesus. The Old Testament points to His coming, the New Testament is the account of His ministry, life, death, and resurrection, the birth of the church after he returns to the Father, and the hope of His future coming again to restore His creation to the purity that sin has defiled. 

We see clearly in some passages a direct link from the OT to the NT. A very clear one is Deuteronomy 18:15 

“The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen— (‭Deuteronomy‬ ‭18‬:‭15‬ ESV)

Fast forward to the NT. People saw Jesus and knew that he was the foretold a Prophet, the Messiah…

Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” (‭John‬ ‭1‬:‭45‬ ESV)

Moses said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers. You shall listen to him in whatever he tells you. (‭Acts‬ ‭3‬:‭22‬ ESV)

Jesus actually existed, that is a fact. He was extraordinary – we see what he did in the gospels, we have extra biblical history that verifies His miraculous ministry. He is so much more than just a good teacher, or example. He is God in the flesh, the Messiah prophesied about hundreds of years earlier. He is The Prophet to whom we shall listen. Are we listening?

Here is what He is saying –

Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord…(‭Acts‬ ‭3‬:‭19-20‬ ESV)