Post-vacations Observations

Ann & I were gone last week and it was a much needed break. Now begins the attempt to return to ‘life as we know it.’ Here are just a couple of quick observations on events and experiences while gone:

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Apparently, the ‘huge’ hubbub of late is of certain risqué photos being leaked/stolen from female celebrities phones which had been stored in ‘the cloud.’ Some are outraged and pursuing legal action (yeah, good luck with that). Some are embarrassed and ashamed (they should be, and don’t go all ‘But they’re the victims here!’ on me). For a few, it will continue to feed the ‘I’m a celebrity and I can’t stand to be ignored’ mentality they have developed during their moments of ‘fame.’ For none will it end their career; that just doesn’t happen anymore. For every single one of them, no matter what their previous public persona may have been, it reveals an inner heart issue: a over-developed love of self and a tremendous lack of modesty. Nude selfies do not simply show a lack of modesty. Even being ‘merely’ scantily clad fails to show the lack of modesty. The lack is shown is their personal display, no matter the outfit or amount of fabric.

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Another pastor has fallen; this one within the last three weeks or so. Names will not be mentioned by me, nor will the sordid details (of which I’ve been made privy to a few). What is sad is the harm to self, spouse, family and congregation. What is more egregious is the shame thrown at the gospel and the centerpiece of that gospel: Jesus Christ. Having visited that church during the Sunday of our vacation, being good friends with one of the staff there, and having heard John Piper open the Word on that Sunday gives me exceptional hope in this same gospel to redeem, reconcile, heal and strengthen this now broken body of Christ. I commend this message to you, especially if a church you’ve attended has ever had this happen, whether among staff of laypeople.

Here’s the link: A Bitter Providence and Barley Harvest

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Finally, pastors…stay home!

What do I mean by this? I mean, too many pastors are getting caught up in the ‘I can do so many things: missions trips, teaching overseas, conference speaking and more’ syndrome that they fail to realize the detriment to their own flocks. The pastoral care that gets neglected, the sermon preparation that is ignored and the preaching that is lackluster and without focus are just a few of the drawbacks to our continuing celebrity pastor worldview which is such a part of the air we American evangelicals breathe today. I’m tired of hearing of hungry parishioners, longing for the preached Word of God, and failing to receive it. Senior pastor, if you want to go overseas three or four or five times a year to instruct international pastors who lack access to training, fine. Drop the ‘senior’ in your title and let someone else be the ongoing pastor/preacher. Let someone else feed the sheep at home while you travel and help others learn how to feed their sheep. But stop trying to do both.

I know, I’m in a small circle here…probably a circle of one, but as I hear sheep bleating to be feed the rich. life-giving, life-sustaining Word of God and not getting it, this becomes a bigger concern for me.

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Well, there were other things I saw, heard, learned and experienced while gone, but I’ll save those for another day.

Victory Through the Lamb – a review

VictoryThroughTheLambAbout the Book – The book introduces Christians to the book of Revelation through a thematic study of one of its key themes: victory. Running counter to Revelation’s prevailing interpretation, it proposes that Christians, represented by the audience in the Seven Churches, have been in tribulation since the first century and that Revelation was written to help Christians be victorious over the challenges of life. Each chapter opens with an account of martyrdom. The final account tells the story of the three believers in Malatya, Turkey, who were brutally killed in 2007. The book is dedicated to the three. The volume also features a new translation of Revelation by the author, a scholar who has worked on Revelation for over two decades and who lives in the land of the Seven Churches—Turkey.

Mark Headshot2About the Author – Mark Wilson (D.Litt. et Phil., South Africa) is the founder and director of the Asia Minor Research Center in Antalya, Turkey, a country in which he and his wife Dindy have lived since 2004. He serves as Visiting Professor of Early Christianity at Regent University, Associate Professor Extraordinary of New Testament at Stellenbosch University, and Research Fellow in Biblical Archaeology at the University of South Africa. He is the English editor of the Turkish archaeological journals Adalya andAnmed. He also blogs for the online Bible History Daily. He is the author and editor of numerous books, articles, and reviews including a commentary on Revelation (Zondervan), Charts of the Book of Revelation (Kregel), The Victor Sayings in the Book of Revelation (Wipf & Stock), and Biblical Turkey: A Guide to the Jewish and Christian Sites of Asia Minor (Ege Yayıları). Wilson is a member of twelve academic societies, including the Society of Biblical Literature, the Evangelical Theological Association, the Institute of Biblical Research, and the New Testament Society of South Africa. His particular research interests are the ancient Jewish communities, Roman roads, and biblical history in Turkey. He has been married to Dindy for forty years. They have four adult children, four granddaughters, and four grandsons.

My Review – A fascinating book on the revelation of Jesus Christ.

Wilson seeks to add his voice to the plethora of books on Revelation. However, what sets Wilson’s work apart is:

  • his blend of preterism (seeing much of Revelation fulfilled by 70 A.D.) and post-tribulational premillenarianism
  • his unique perspective on seeing the victory of Christ through the sufferings of His people
  • his concise and succinct presentation of his arguments

I have many a large volume on my shelves about this final apocalyptic book of the Bible. Wilson’s (weighing in at 224 pages) is one of the more easily read of any. He doesn’t get lost among the trees of the forest. Rather, the author does a fine job of laying out the text (he also provides his own translation from the Greek), his arguments and conclusions. This is a book any person with a high school education could pick up and read.

Each of the twelve chapters opens with a portion from ancient texts recounting the martyrdom of God’s people. I find this truly noteworthy. This approach helps the reader thoroughly enjoy the victory of Christ over all His enemies. Yes, it grieves and saddens, but it also encourages, as such tales were meant to do. After all, the ‘blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.’ So, we grow through suffering and in our anticipation of Christ’s triumphant return.

While I may not agree with all of Wilson’s conclusions (preterism), I find this work to be very helpful. It would help those who preach to see this somewhat difficult-to-understand book of Scripture as very preachable. It is a very timely volume.

I commend it to you.

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Victory Through the Lamb may be purchased at:

Weaver Book Company

Amazon.com

Barnesandnoble.com

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

Blessed Are the Balanced – a review

9780825443459About the Book – A handbook to help seminarians grow in love for God as they study

Theological education can cool your love for the Lord. It’s sad but true. Learning that is not fully integrated into your daily life and patterns of living can lead to spiritual detachment. On the other hand, theological studies that are properly processed over time (with sufficient time for reflection and service) can aid your loving service toward God and others. As you enter into a theological program (seminary, divinity school, or other graduate studies), make a plan to help you balance the head knowledge with heart patterns.

With seasoned advice from seminary veterans, discussions include such pressing questions as, “Is seminary still relevant for today?” and “How are today’s Christian leaders really being formed?” This helpful resource also considers the potential danger of doing seminary 100 percent online. Blessed Are the Balanced will guide you as you learn to pursue both scholarship and the Kingdom.

About the Authors –

Paul Pettit (D.Min., Dallas Theological Seminary) is the president and founder of Dynamic Dads, an organization offering encouragement to fathers. A former sportscaster and youth pastor, he currently serves at Dallas Seminary as director of spiritual formation. Paul enjoys theology, golf, Kansas University basketball, and Texas barbecue.

Todd Mangum (PhD, Dallas Theological Seminary) is professor of theology at Biblical Seminary. He has written numerous articles seeking to repair breaches among various segments of Bible-believing Christianity, and advancing a generously orthodox, missional approach to theology and ministry in the postmodern, post-Christian context.

My Review – It’s been many a year since I traversed the classrooms and hallways of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Yet I can remember the battle that went on to keep a vast amount of knowledge from sucking the life out of my affections for Christ. At times, I readily dismissed the ‘theologs’ who would sit for hours (or at least it seemed so to me) and do nothing but discuss the minutiae of various doctrines. At other times, I would find myself eagerly devouring the content because I knew this was what I was called to do: learn, study, prepare.

This is the battle for which both authors are striving to lend assistance to the seminary student. Pettit and Mangum want to lay to rest the worn-out hack about men and women going to ‘cemetery’ to prepare for ministry. They each long for the student to take the knowledge they are learning and turn it to great devotion and affection for God. It’s not an easy task. It’s not that seminary professors attempt to suck the life out of their subjects. No; in fact, many of them are very passionate about their subjects. But, when the typical student is going from ‘Eschatology & Ecclesiology’ for one hour, on to ‘Church History: Post-Reformation’, followed by another hour of ‘Sin, Salvation & Man’, and finally, concluding the afternoon with ‘Missions 101′; well, that’s a vast array of content and it just gets crammed into one’s brain quickly.

Blessed Are The Balanced seeks to show the vital connection between learning about God and living for God. The authors offer up a chapter on disciplining the head and the heart, which I found, for the most part, helpful. I’m bothered by their inclusion of some ‘ancient practices’ such as lectio divina and the Jesuit practice of ‘examen’, disciplines which are not precisely prescribed in Scripture.

The chapter on ‘Humble Service’ was a good addition. ‘Knowledge puffs up,’ says the apostle; and indeed it can. Nothing lends itself to pride and hubris like the feeling one gets at discovery. Join that with the majority’s desire to take this knowledge and go forth to teach others and there are many temptations which can lead to trouble. This chapter is a welcome antidote to that.

All in all, I’d say this is a helpful book. If I had to recommend it (which I am doing, by the way), I’d commend it to the pastors in churches where young men & women are giving thought to pursuing seminary. ‘Take up and read’ and then pass it on to that future student. Also, to the leaders of student advisor/advisee groups (if they still do such things as they did when I was in seminary), read this and keep tabs on your students. Lastly, to seminary professors, I’d offer this and one other piece of advice: at the close of each class session, have two things ready. First, a short devotional thought on the content for that day which fuels the affections of the heart for God. Second, a hymn which gives praise or thanks to God, so the fuel gained can now be ignited in worship.

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Blessed Are the Balanced may be purchased at…

Kregel Publications

Amazon.com

Barnesandnoble.com

Christianbook.com

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

Nothing Says I Love You…

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Do you, Joe Dufus, take Aimee Airhead, to be your wedded wife…

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Will you love her…wedding-cake-face-smash1

…comfort her…wedding-cake-cutting-8

…honor her…cake-in-yo-face-af

…keep her…hpb_0002

I, Joe Dufus, do take Aimee Airhead to be my wedded wife…

…to have and to hold…should-you-smash-cake-in-face

…for better, for worse…cake-smashing

…for richer, for poorer…0622

…in sickness and in health…bride-shoves-cake-in-grooms-face

…to love, honor and cherish till death do us part…cake-smash

…according to God’s holy plan…wedding-photo-idea-cake-smash

…and with God’s gracious help.WACTahoeWeddingCake3

I’ve been leading two couples through my pre-marital counseling regimen this summer. I’ve also attended two weddings this summer (not of the two aforementioned couples). So, this is heavy…and yes, I do mean heavy on my mind.

Nothing says to God, ‘I love this woman you’ve provided for me so much; she is the church to Your Son Christ Jesus, and I, like Christ, to vow before You, Heavenly Father, to give me life for her. So, now, let me just shove this piece of dessert into her face.’

Nothing says to God, ‘This man You’ve chosen, from before eternity, for me…especially for me; he is Christ to me and I will love him, honor him and submit to him just like the church does to her blessed Savior, who died in her place…and I will show my love and appreciation, with revenge written all over my face, by smashing a piece of cake up his nostrils, into his eyes and smear it all over his handsome face.

Nothing could say it better to the great crowd of witnesses who’ve gathered to celebrate the beginning of a new phase of life for a man and a woman than by laughing uproariously as they begin their life with the bride, in the recesses of her mind, getting angry that this beloved husband just pronounced, strikes her in the face with force; and the husband, with mocking gestures and undertones of the male dominance that has nothing to do with love, making sure his piece of cake strikes first.

Nothing says Christ, the Bridegroom, loving the Church, His Bride, with a sacrificial love than doing everything one couple can in the moments just after announcing that very truth to the world around them than to desecrate that very same truth by this horrid ritual that began centuries ago with superstitious nonsense about hoping for good luck.

I know of a couple, who’s marriage ended after only a few short years, who did this at their wedding reception. The bride, a stunningly beautiful young woman (I asked my wife, Ann, if I was right in this assessment), came into the Women’s restroom following this debacle, where my wife happened to be at the same time (she’d missed the ritual). With cake literally covering this girl’s entire face, she wept, sobbing over the sink, looking in the mirror (and probably thinking, ‘Why? He said he loved me!). I’m not saying this was the cause of the divorce a couple of years later, but it’s the heart’s attitude that brought it about later. Any man, who would take any kind of food item, and on the day he promises to his beloved and makes vows before a Holy God that he will take care of and love this woman like Christ did the church, is a fiend. Any woman, who has stood in the presence of God Almighty as well as many witnesses and responded with and to these same promises and vows, and then, usually out of self-defense or spite at what is being done to her at that moment is a wretch, no matter the glory of a gown.

I’ve not included in my pre-marital counseling sessions anything on this deplorable tradition that must come to an end…at least as far as it is in my power to do anything about it at the weddings I officiate. I will, from this point onward, with all seriousness and love of Christ in my heart, tell them ‘Do not do this thing.’ Perhaps, I need to hold off signing the marriage license until they’ve kept their promise to not participate in this foolish fiasco.

And maybe…just maybe…if the people at the wedding, instead of shouting, ‘Smash it in her/his face!’ (I’ve heard this jeering taunt at more than one wedding), would shout, ‘No! Don’t do it or we leave right now with our blessings and our gifts!’…maybe…just maybe the sin would stop in this particular case.ibo6OdpZBbBXEk

Look And See…Communion & Baptism

The saints that gather at Cornerstone Evangelical Free Church observed the two ordinances our Lord Jesus Christ commanded us to observe yesterday: communion and baptism. It was a rare day. It was a glorious day. It was a ‘gospel’ day.

Both of these ordinances help us to see the gospel, to observe a spiritual reality that is only seen with the eye of faith. Both are physical. In communion, there is the bread and the cup, each representing Jesus’ body broken and blood poured out, respectively. Baptism has water…and for us, being credo-baptistic, lots of water. Both ordinances are tangible: those participating get to touch the elements. Both declare the gospel.

Communion declares the past, present and future of the gospel story. It looks to the past, our past and our sin, which needed to be dealt with powerfully. This was done so through Jesus Christ in His substitutionary death on the cross. There is, however, the present that is seen as well, for we still continue to realize the powerful working of Christ in our life today. The ongoing effects of His suffering and death strengthen us to live for Him. The grace we receive in the remembering encourages us. Someday, there will be a marriage feast with us as the Bride and Jesus as the Groom. We look forward to that great day, but until then, we will partake and remember, receive grace and strength for today and a bright hope for tomorrow.

The waters of baptism declare the gospel in a different way. They help the one who has come to faith in Jesus declare to others who are witnessing this great event what has taken place within them. Yes, we hear their profession of faith, but few things confirm that confession in as powerful and dramatic fashion as baptism. Entering the water depicts us entering into Christ and His sufferings. Going under the water portrays our dying with Him, being buried to sin and self and our fleshly desires. Coming up out of the water gloriously displays being raised to resurrection glory and newness of life. See Paul’s description in Romans 6.1–5.

Baptisms @ CEFCYesterday, we got to observe both of these visual displays of the gospel. It was a tremendous day of worship together, praising our God who is gracious to save, lifting up the name of Jesus who is powerful to save, and doing so joined and knit together by the Holy Spirit. If you’d like to see the baptismal portion of the service, just hop on over to Cornerstone’s web site: Baptismal Service.

The End of 32 Years…And the Beginning of 33!

Tomorrow marks the 33rd anniversary when this glorious woman said, ‘I will’ and ‘I do’ to me, before witnesses and before our gracious God. I am more blessed than I deserve.

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While we were on vacation this past June, visiting Ann’s sister in western Virginia, her nephew, Brent, taught her how to use a crossbow. I’m in serious trouble now!

More Blessings! More Blessings!

Today, I want to mention just one blessing out of the many which I’ve found coming from the longevity of staying in one place as a pastor: learning the definition of blessing.

‘What are you talking about definitions for? Just talk about the blessing itself.’

Patience, my dear reader; patience. I define because, in the definition comes the blessing. If we mean blessing to mean only the good things, the satisfying things, the delightful things for me and for me only, well, our understanding of what a blessing truly is will be skewed wrongly. I think Pastor Ed Young, Jr., down at Fellowship Church deep in the heart of Texas, exemplifies this with his latest schtick. He’s offering (pun fully intended, as you’ll see) a money-back guarantee on your offerings if, after 90-days, you don’t find yourself getting blessed. And by ‘blessed’, dear Pastor (cough, choke) Young means: getting many of things you’ve been wanting (house, car, vacation, retirement plan, etc.)

On the other hand, I’ve learned that blessing also means getting many things you didn’t want: hardship, turmoil, opposition, and stubborn, thick-headed Christians who are fully convinced that their spiritual gift is themselves to the church. The blessing of longevity is that I learn to be content no matter what state/condition/circumstance I am in. The blessing comes from enduring, persevering and remaining steadfast in my affection for Christ and all the rest of His people when one of the sheep (might even be a goat, at times) decides to bite you in the backside when you’re not looking.20120319-angrysheep-2

So, while the blessing may seem like a major pain, at first, it turns into joy: joy at knowing God is working in me that which is most pleasing in His sight; delight in seeing the purifying effects of the fire upon my soul; satisfaction at having others, in the know about such ‘bitings’, see the blessing being worked out in me, and subsequently, in them. If I bailed out at the first sign of conflict, I’d never know what God could do.