Monday, December 12, 2011

Making Out In Front of Death: Danse Macabre

No music is being played, but a dance is taking place. The figure undulating to the mystical sound of it’s own making is not living. Its skin is like the weathered remains of a discarded scrap of leather from a boot makers shop. The tattered leather sucks into the bones that protrude like they would from an emaciated, starving child. The whole scene is odd, but what makes it even more odd is the facial expression. It’s odd because there isn’t much of a face. It’s more like a skull, shrink-wrapped in that shabby leather. And yet, there is a wicked looking smile of triumph. The creature is stark naked, except for a white sheet being used almost like a feather boa at a burlesque show.

There is a great contrast in this scene. There are different types of people standing next to these creatures. There is a king, a nobleman, a noblewoman, a worker, and a peasant. They are dressed, and although they are obviously depicted in attire from the middle ages, they look normal. And weaving in and out among these normal looking humans are these vile creatures, gyrating to some unheard sound of victory.

There are words spoken. One creature speaks to the Emperor, “Emperor, your sword won’t help you out, scepter and crown are worthless here, I’ve taken you by the hand, for you must come to my dance.” It’s speaks without fear, with finality, and gravity. Its words are heavy and carry a tone of glee.

How could something so grotesque be smiling? What kind of God-forsaken creature would be engaged in such a demonic looking dance?

It’s not a creature, it’s not a figure, it is Death—personified.

The Danse Macabre
That was a feeble attempt to describe an incredible piece of art called the Danse Macabre. I went into this old church called the Church of St. Nicholas in Tallin. The church is now a museum and houses some incredible artwork that dates from the Middle Ages. One of the biggest attractions is this incredible mural painting called the Danse Macbre.
A German painter and sculptor, named Bernt Notke, produced this mural in 1425. The mural was moved around over the years, and it didn’t survive intact after WWII. The Church of St. Nicholas is the final resting place for this mural.
It is a fascinating piece of medieval art. It is huge. This isn’t a painting you could hang in your living room. It is probably 50 feet long and 10 feet high. The mural is an allegory that depicts the universality of death regardless of one’s station in life. In the mural, death is personified in animated skeletal looking zombies who are dancing. In between death are people. The people start off from the most important of adults and then progress downward all the way to a child. In between each person is death in the middle of a dance.

When you enter the museum, the natural flow of traffic leads you to the Danse Macabre last. So, I made my way around the room looking at the iconographic artwork, the medieval tombstones and caskets (the rich could purchase a place to be buried inside the church), the blasphemous depiction of God the Father, numerous crucifixes, and then the mural. As in most museums, there were some nice displays explaining the artwork. I was intrigued by this piece of art. It caught my attention as a depiction of an incredibly important truism. As Maximus says in the movie Gladiator, “death smiles at us all”. But, instead of smiling back we are faced with the truth that death is dancing the dance of victory.
The other striking reminder is that death dances regardless of who you are. It reaches out to the most prominent king all the way down to the lowliest peasant. Old, and young alike must face the reality of death. One cannot buy themselves out of the dance of death, or rule their way out of the way of death, or work oneself beyond the invitation of death. The universal reach of death is something that cannot be escaped by who we are.
Yes, the mural is grim, dark, and “macabre”. But, it is also true. Death is coming for us all.

Making Out
There were other people in the museum that day. I was reflecting on the important truth depicted in that painting. I am not sure what Mr. Notke’s intent was, but it seems to ignite a confrontation with our own mortality. Humanity is mortal. We will die. No matter who we are, or what our station in life, or what our level of success or failure – death is coming for us. There is nothing we can do about that. I believe that contemplating that reality is good – because it can drive us to the One solution to that problem.
About 12 feet back from the mural is a series of benches. Sitting on these benches was a young couple. A guy and his girlfriend, probably in the early twenties, in a full face lock – making out. What a great date! “Let’s go to the museum today and sit in front of death personified and swap spit.”
How ironic, and yet representative of most people’s awareness of mortality. They ignore it. They get more wrapped up in their immediate pursuits and pleasures than they do in reality and truth. I wonder if Notke saw the same thing in his day, and painted this mural in an attempt to awaken people to the inevitability of the dance of death.

As I noted earlier, this mural is incomplete. There is no conclusion. In my research I was unable to find if there even is a conclusion. Maybe Mr. Notke didn’t have one. The mural is just supposed to make us aware of our mortality. But, given the time it was painted, and that it is incomplete, I wonder if there is some type of conclusion.
Since there isn’t one that is known, I will give my conclusion. Everyone will meet with death. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you have or haven’t done – death awaits us all. The reason for our mortality is because of sin. “The wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23) There is nothing we can do to get ourselves out of this payment. We deserve death, both temporal and eternal, for violating the standards of an infinitely holy God. So God, in His great love, did something for us. He sent His Son, Jesus, who became man, lived a sinless life, and died on the cross taking the punishment for our sin. He gave His life’s blood to pay for our sin. He danced with death because He loved us. But, death could not hold Him. He turned the tables around. He brought death to death. He rose from the dead and dances the dance of life-- life eternal. It is only when we turn to the Victorious Risen Savior, that we can be rescued from our own Danse Macabre.
That is the gospel of Jesus Christ. We have an important task. To interrupt people while they are making out, to show them the reality of death and the solution in Jesus Christ alone. That is the only way that they can be rescued from their own date with the Danse Macabre.

Back here in our culture we’ve got a tough mission. We have to reach people with the gospel of Christ while they are busy making out in front of death. They are wrapped up in all kinds of things that distract them from the reality of mortality and the only answer is found in Christ alone.

(This is a picture of a portion of the mural in St. Nicholas Church Museum)

(In this pic you can see the museum layout a bit better. The benches that I mention are not in this pic, and I did NOT take this picture -- you are not supposed to take pictures in the museum, a rule which I followed most of the time)

For More info, you can check out these sights. (Wikipedia page on mural) (Danse Macabre Info) (Nigueliste Museum: St. Nicholas Church)

Monday, November 14, 2011

Leaving Estonia

Teaching American Football

Here we are in Freedom Square trying to teach some Estonian teens how to play American Football. They haven't quite got it yet, but we are all having fun.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Pastor Nathan Shares Jesus With Teens in Estonia

Pastor Nathan and I bought three footballs and started a mini-sports camp to share Christ. The first day we had four kids, played football and told them about Jesus. The second day we had eleven. The third day there were 36!!

We are standing in Freedom Square in Tallinn, Estonia. These teens are probably hearing some basic truths about God that they have never heard before. In the video you will hear some of the kids affirm what Pastor Nathan is saying. They are the kids we had talked to the previous days.

Last Day

Our last full day. Evangelism at the train station, football clinic evangelism this afternoon, and coffee shop group this evening. Plus, whatever other divine appointments the Lord has on store for us.

Be praying

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Sharing Christ In Music

Great day today. In this video Zach and Abbie are in a town square which dates from the 14th century (I think). They are on the steps of an ancient building and basically playing songs about the gospel. There were a couple of songs that they did that were pretty much the entire gospel. Several people stopped and listened to every word of the song. They basically got to use the talents that God has given them(music) and shared Christ with people. Amazing! God can use us if we are just available.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Monday Work


Lunch At Troika

Colton Lino On Mission

Colton on his first mission trip with his dad. He has been tearing it up, handing out tracts to any and everyone he can. In this video he passes one out to a man, and then the train engineer opens the window and asks for two of the tracts from Colton as well. If this doesn't inspire you to get out of your comfort zone for Christ, nothing will!

Steet Performance

This morning we went to a train station. Zach and Abbie busted out the guitar and did some incredible music on the street. As people would pass by we would hand out fliers/tracts to them. All kinds of people came by; young, old, sober, not so was very interesting and productive.

By the way, Zach and Abbie are incredible!

What's For Breakfast

Sunday, November 6, 2011

We are having church here in a side room of a church building that is close to 700 years old. We are half way around the world, in a foreign country with people, wait, I guess we are the foreigners. What could we possibly have in common? The Lord Jesus Christ saved us by His grace. That is something we have in common and for which we can join together to worship our Savior.

International Church

Museum and God

Leaning Estonian Culture

Here we are at the Thompsons apartment learning about Estonian culture and having lunch.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Day 1 Report

Overlooking Old Town Tallinn

Made It

OK, we are in Tallinn, Estonia. It was a long trip but we made it. Thanks for all the prayers, God is good. I was awake for about 32 hours with only one and half hour nap on the flight. So, we were tired. We finally got some sleep last night. Today our goal is to get our legs underneath us, do some orientation, planning, praying for all the work that comes next week. We will also get to meet and know the Thompsons and the rest of the team from Houston.

Finland, Bus, to the Ferry

Monday, October 24, 2011

Gospel Precision

In the tenure of my life in the ministry I have grown accustomed to people being inaccurate in their understanding and articulation of the gospel, and biblical doctrines. Correcting people is the difficult part. The difficulty is not in identifying what's wrong, but the manner in which correction takes place.

So, is precision necessary and if so when?

The gospel is simple. I've sinned, Jesus died and rose again, salvation comes by faith in Christ alone. That is the gospel in a nutshell, and it is fairly simple. It is simple enough for a child to hear, understand and respond. It is not necessary for someone to be able to articulate justification, propitiation, substitutionary atonement and other key related doctrines in order to receive salvation. They don't need to be able to articulate them, but they do need to understand those concepts as part of a sound, evangelistic, gospel presentation.

But, that does not mean understanding those terms and being able to articulate them is not important. I think that it is a vital part of growing as a disciple to learn, and be taught, not only the meaning of those biblical truths, but also how to articulate them. That is where precision is necessary.

It is also necessary in evangelism. This is especially true in the Bible belt. Churched people, who are still lost, have been inoculated to an imprecise version of the gospel, that probably isn't the true gospel. It is disturbing to me to run across people who have a church background and when asked about their relationship with the Lord give a works based answer to describe it. That happens to me all the time! That is where I have to be precise in my evangelistic efforts. This does not mean that I use big words, but that I am precise with the concepts those big words contain.

How do you accomplish that precision and still communicate effectively? That takes effort and work. One of the best ways to hone your precision is to explain the gospel, precisely, to younger people. Practice explaining justification to your kids. They need to hear it, and you need to practice communicating it.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Pastor Youcef Update

It seems to me like the international attention and reports have opened a small window for Christian pastor Youcef. Youcef is the Christ follower set to be executed because he would not convert to Islam in Iran. The supreme court has ordered a re-trial. This looks to me like a "face-saving" maneuver. Whatever it is, I am thankful that God has seen fit to spare His life. Read an article about it HERE.

Read a letter from Pastor Youcef in prison in Iran.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Pastor To Be Executed

I saw a headline that caught my attention. A Christian pastor in Iran has been arrested, tried and is set to be executed. What was his crime? Being a Christian and refusing to renounce Christ. You can read the article in this Fox News Report

Tertullian once said, "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church." When Christ followers are killed for no other reason than being a Christ follower the end result is the opposite of the murderers' intent. The murderers' intend for this to be a warning to others who might consider Christ and want to follow Him. It seems logical to think that, but history proves otherwise. In 2000 years, where the persecution is most extreme the gospel spreads the fastest.

Thankfully we live in a free country. We face some religious challenges, but nothing like they do in other parts of the world. As people of freedom and followers of Christ we should pray for our brothers and sisters who face serious threats each day simply for their relationship with Jesus. We should also pray for our "enemies". We should ask God to use the life of those persecuted to reach many with the gospel of Christ.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

UPG's -- "You Shall Be My Witness..."

Here in the buckle of the bible belt I've often said that you can't throw a bible down the street without hitting at least 2 churches. That is not the case in other parts of our country, but especially the world.

A UPG is an unreached people group. Here is the official definition from the International Mission Board Website ( "A people group is unreached when the number of Evangelical Christians is less than 2% of its population. "

Let's dissect that. People group - that is a group of people (duh) that share some commonalities. Like location, language (dialects), and other cultural commonalities. You can't just say a country, or nationality because that is too broad. Every country and nationality has within it smaller subsets of culture -- people groups. One country can be comprised of even hundreds of different identifiable people groups. Or, it could have just a few.

Unreached -- this phrase is used to describe "evangelical presence". Evangelical means different things to different people, but in this context it is used to refer to bible believing Christ followers who also believe in evangelism in that particular people group.

So, a UPG is a country/people group that has less than 2% that acknowledge to be bible believing Christians. Statistics vary, but here in America there are anywhere from 25-40% that acknowledge being evangelical(we will save a debate on the validity of those statistics for another time). This means if you are to walk up to a random person in America and ask them if they have heard of Jesus, they will probably say yes. If you do the same thing in an UPG they will probably say no.

In November I am going with a small team on a mission trip to Estonia. Estonia is an unreached people group. Less than 2% of the population acknowledge being evangelical. The overwhelming majority of Estonians are lost, unsaved, don't have Jesus, are heading to hell. God loves them just as much as he loves you and me.

The great commission of Jesus commands us to "go, and make disciples of all nations". It's not the great "suggestion", it is a command. It is important for us to realize that there are lost people right where we are, and that there are lost people all around the world. Doing nothing is not an option. People's eternity is at stake -- will we be obedient to the Lord who rescued us from our sin?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

What's In It For Me?

What's in it for me? That question may not be vocalized, but it is the underlying assumption for just about all that we do in this culture that we find ourselves in.

Every time you watch a commercial they are answering that question. Here is what our product has for you. Infomercials are infamous for answering this question. "These ginsu knives are only 19.99. But, wait, there's more..." Just in case you were thinking, "Is that all that is in it for me?" Well, no. You also get a pairing knife, a kitchen chamois, and and seed strainer.

I get junk mail all the time. Some company feels it would help their business to show me their product and tell me "what's in it for me". I also get lots of fliers for churches. Even these churches are telling me what their church offers. They do this because people that are looking for a church home are looking to have that question answered, "what's in it for me?"

That question is probably on a lot of people's minds when it comes to Christianity. "You say I should become a Christian, well, what's in it for me?"

If you listen to some churches, pastors, preachers, the answer seems to be everything. Health, wealth, peace, prosperity, good relationships, a better job, joy, absence of conflict, no difficulties. "What's in it for me?" Some portray the answer as "anything you want."

Now, there are lots of benefits to being a Christian. Some of the things in the list, if properly defined, are true. But, the answer is much shorter, more simple, and more essential. The answer to the question, "what's in it for me?" is JESUS. That's what we get when we become a true, biblical Christian. JESUS.

How come it seems like JESUS is not enough?! After all, He is the eternal God of the universe. He is the Supreme Lord. He is the Savior who gave His life to redeem us from our sin. He shed His blood so we might be forgiven and made right with God. His cross and resurrection was so we could know Him and have a relationship with Him. The answer is JESUS.

Is that enough for you?

Monday, August 29, 2011

Don't Be Good, Be Different: Moralism and the Gospel

I've been thinking a lot lately about being a good person. It seems like a lot people's perception of the Christian message is that the goal is to produce morality. Come to Jesus, go to church, so you can be a better; man, woman, husband, wife, student, employer, employee...fill in the blank.

This culture does have a tendency to view church as another aspect of their overall morality.

The gospel does confront morality but from a very different perspective. In the gospel morality is the indication of our need for a Savior. Let me be more specific. The gospel informs us that our morality is an indication of a deeper seated problem. Sin is not the absence of good morals. The absence of good morals is an indication of a deep, internal heart problem -- we are at heart sinners.
This is not just splitting hairs - it is a fundamental distinction. The gospel also informs us that what we perceive as good morality in our life, really isn't that good. In fact, all of our perceived goodness/morality/behavior is the equivalent of a pile of dirty rags compared to the standard of a Holy God. The Savior does not come to make us better at morality. The Savior comes to eradicate the sin problem of the heart.

This means that the major message of the church should not be "we will make you a better person". Don't get me wrong, the church does have a mandate to address behavior, good deeds and morality. But this must be enveloped in the context of the gospel. Our good deeds, behavior and morality are indications of heart change, but never create heart change. If someone claims to have heart change, but the pattern of the behavior/morality does not reflect that it is legitimate to question that heart change.

A message of morality, void of an emphasis on the gospel of grace, only produces half hearted religiosity. It also leaves people frustrated. It is frustrating because it removes the source of power to truly affect life change -- God's gracious gospel in Jesus Christ.

Jesus didn't die on the cross so we could be better. He died so we could be different, distinct, separated unto God. And, that precedes and leads to the correct motivation for a different morality in our lives.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Took A Break

Do you remember that philosophical question? "If a tree falls in a forest, and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?"

If no one reads your blog, and you take a break from blogging, does anyone notice? :)

I haven't kept up with my blog for a few months, but I think I am ready to post some more.

I took a break for several reasons. Probably the main reason was a combination of practical/spiritual. I felt like every attempt at having some type of devotional time with God was turning into "what can I share with others". From Bible reading, to praying, to whatever I was doing, it seemed to be drifting away from just being with the Lord, to trying to find a good nugget to share in a sermon, or a bible study, or a blog message.

There is a part of my calling as a preacher that necessitates such a mentality. I do have a responsibility to share a message with various audiences. I am always in "preacher" mode to some extent. When I hear a newsstory, or something going on in the world, my default is to analyze according to scripture and the upcoming message I am preparing to share. That is a good thing, and will never leave me.

The problem for me was that thinking was taking over my devotional time with the Lord. It is a very difficult challenge for me as a pastor/preacher to be intentional in simply spending time with my Lord and not just going through the motions in order to prepare a sermon or lesson. At times in my life I have done better with that than at other times. When i seem to be losing that focus it is important to do whatever is necessary to get things back into balance.

I am thankful for the grace and patience of the Lord. His steadfast love never fails.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Do You Know What It Says?

"God helps those who help themselves." Where is that Bible verse? The answer--no where. It's not in the bible,and it's not true. Yet, so many people quote sayings that aren't even in the Bible.

A recent article on CNN is about that very issue.

This is a great article that highlights the need to actually know what the Bible says. You cannot know what the Bible actually says if you never read, or study it.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Food is Good

Food is good. Food is not only good it is necessary. It is so necessary we will die if we go to long without food. Every morning I wake up and it doesn’t take long for me to begin thinking about food. What am I going to have for breakfast?
I have heard for years that “breakfast is the most important meal of the day”. I don’t know about the science of that statement, but it seems to make sense. My body needs to fueled so that I have the necessary energy to go through the day.

Food is critical to a properly functioning body. This effects every part of our life. My brain, emotions, and muscles are all directly impacted by the intake of food.

I cannot live without food. That is why we think about food many times a day.

Jesus said to the disciples, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.” What? The disciples were confused. They began to talk among themselves. “Hey Peter, did Jesus stop by 7-11 while we weren’t around?” “I don’t James, there was a grocery store back a couple of miles. Maybe he picked up a sandwich at the cafĂ©.”
Wrong! That is not what Jesus is talking about.

“Guys, listen up…my food is to do the Father’s will and to finish the work.” (John 4:34)

This is in John 4. That chapter starts out with the classic encounter between Jesus and the woman at the well. He told her that He was the living water. Now He tells the disciples that His food is to do the Father’s will.

You can’t live without water, and you can’t live without food. That is the comparison Jesus is making.

Food is compared to doing the will of the Father. Jesus’ was nourished, energized, filled up, strengthened, and enlivened by doing the will of the Father.
Food is not optional, how come we so often approach obedience to God’s will that way? It is not optional. True, I may continue breathing and living today without focusing on the Father’s will – but that is not truly living. It is a poor substitute for the true, abundant life that God has for us. True life is when I walk with the Father in His will.

Food is good. Food is necessary. Every morning I wake up and think about food. Every day I must eat food. God’s will is good. God’s will is necessary. Every morning I should wake up and seek to submit my spirit to the will of God. Every day I must seek the will of God.

Did you know that God’s will is actually better than food? There is a level where the analogy between food and God’s will breaks down. It is possible to view and use food incorrectly. You can become a glutton of food, which is a sin. You can eat too much, or too much of the wrong thing. You can overeat and become overweight.

Not so with God’s will. We are supposed to be gluttons of God’s will. There is no such thing as overeating God’s will. The problem is not becoming obese on God’s will, but becoming too thin. So, watch what you eat when it comes to actual food, but don’t ever be complacently satisfied with knowing and doing the will of God.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

In Evil Long I Took Delight

Here is the poem by John Newton that I quoted on Easter Sunday:

In evil long I took delight,
Unawed by shame or fear;
Till a new object struck my sight,
And stopped my wild career.

I saw One hanging on a tree,
In agony and blood;
Who fix'd His languid eyes on me,
As near His cross I stood.

Sure never till my latest breath,
Can I forget that look;
It seem'd to charge me with His death,
Tho' not a word He spoke.

My conscience felt and own'd the guilt,
And plunged me in despair;
I saw His blood my sins had spilt,
And help'd to nail Him there.

A second look He gave which said,
I freely all forgive,
This blood is for thy ransom paid,
I died that you may live.

Thus while His death my sin displays,
In all its blackest hue,
Such is the mystery of His grace,
It seals my pardon too.

With pleasing grief, and mourful joy,
My spirit now is filled,
That I should such a life destroy,
Yet live by Him I killed.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Rob Bell Reviews

The more I reflect on Rob Bell's book "Love Wins" the more disturbing it becomes. In fact, it is downright dangerous and cruel. That's right, cruel. It is cruel to see people heading towards danger and to tell them that it's not that dangerous.

Instead of continuing my review, there are some much smarter, wiser people that have done that very thing. Here are the best reviews.

John MacArthur is doing a series of blogs on Love Wins




Dr. Al Mohler has a good review


Frank Turk also has a good open letter to Rob Bell


Monday, April 11, 2011

Mud Run - Pics

The race was in the shadow of Downtown Fort Worth. We started next to Lagrave Field...home of the Fort Worth Cats.

Brett and I before the Race

Some post race pics:

Mud Run - Post Race Recap

I survived!! And... it was awesome! The race was very challenging...I was sucking wind...the obstacles were a blast...and I had a great time with my pastor friend Brett Storseth...who, by the way, won! He led the race from start to finish! Incredible.

The race started off with a good mile run. There were a couple of small obstacles, just enough to get your heart pumping and weed out the really slow runners. The first major challenge was a swim across the Trinity river. I don't know what was the bigger challenge; swimming with army boots on, or trying not to think about what toxins were in that river?

After that swim there was a good 50 yard scramble up a steep hill. From that point on cardio was the issue. I had to slow down a few times but kept a decent pace. I think I finished 7th in my wave.

The worst obstacle: we had another swim across the Trinity, up a small bank, and then about a 150 yard plod through a mud bog of a feeder creek into the Trinity. The mud was sloppy, thick, and sticky. It was hard to walk through, I fell several times, and it would suck your feet down. The worst part was the stench - it had that putrid, old pond/sewage type of smell. It was exhausting to get through that bog.

The best obstacle: lots of them were fun...the mud crawls...cargo net...the platform jump into a pit of water...all were a blast and I wanted to do them again. I think my favorite was more of an accomplishment. It was the 9 foot wall. It was just far enough in the race that I was pushing for air and I hadn't thought about or practiced how to get over this wall. So, I ran and jumped and was able to get a grip with my hands...arms mostly extended, but I was stuck there. No momentum. The only thing I could think to do was throw my left elbow over the top...then I basically swung my legs up to the top...flipped head over heels...and landed on the other side on my did I do that? It hurt and I have a good bruise on the underside of my left arm as a badge of honor. But it was getting over that I enjoyed the most.

For most of the race I was in between groups. The really fast group, Brett and 5 others, outpaced me, and I was a good distance ahead of the group behind me. So, I got to run and do most of the course by myself. I kind of enjoyed that...just pushing myself...enjoying the was fun.

Brett finished and came back to cheer me on and run alongside of me. I think he was a bit surprised that I was as far along as I was. It was a good encouragement to keep going and finish the last few obstacles strong. I did and my finish time was 1 hour and 24 minutes. Pretty good for an old fart.

Reflecting on the whole thing: the race was a great motivation for me to workout consistently in the few months before. I feel like I am in good shape - that is always a good thing. I love to compete...that was fun. It was a great challenge...and I got to do it with a friend.

When is the next one?!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Mud Run

This winter a friend introduced me to adventure racing. Perhaps a bit foolish, I decided to sign up for the DFW Mud Run. It is a 10k race with about 30 muddy, wet, challenging obstacles.
The race is this Saturday, April 9th.
There are two divisions, the competitive division and the non-competitive one. I like to compete, but that division ran on Sunday morning and I was unwilling to give up a Sunday to do that. So, I will compete in the non-compete division. Maybe it will make me look better.

I have always been athletic and worked our fairly regularly, but I never did much endurance running. I know that 10k is not that far for many, but will be further than I have ever run at one time.

I have been training now since about late January and have received some great advice from a few friends. My friend Dave Elliot (check out his blog here) gave me some good tips and advice. By the way he does another type of adventure/endurance racing that makes a 10k look like the salad before a 5 course steak dinner. My brother in law, Chuck, who runs the fitness boot camp (see here) has also been training me.

I feel like I am ready, but I know that I am not going to be too fast. My friend Brett Storseth, who got me into this, (pastor in Wichita Falls see here), has done lots of these and is going to smoke me at the mud run.

I feel like I am in good shape. Better shape than I have been in a while. It seems that I need something to motivate me to be consistent -- competing and not looking like a fool is some good motivation for me.

I'll let you know how it goes after Saturday.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Continuing our discussion of hell and justification...

In Jesus, and Him alone, the Justice of God is satisfied, and the Love of God is extended.

This leads us to consider a couple of other questions. If Jesus' death satisfies justice why is there still a hell? Does this mean that everyone automatically goes to heaven?

The belief that everyone goes to heaven is called universalism. This is essentially the position of Rob Bell. (His position is a bit more nuanced, but boils down to universalism)

You can come to that position, but just not from scripture. Jesus was clear that not everyone ends up in heaven. In fact, he says that most people will not end up in heaven.

But, if Jesus died for justice why do some still go to hell? The answer is that the gift of acquittal must be received in order to appropriate its benefits.

The biblical requirement for receiving the gift of pardon is repentance and faith. Jesus took the punishment, offers the gift, and gets to set the terms necessary for one to receive His gift. That is repentance and faith.

We must be clear about this. Reception of a gift is not a work to earn the gift. In fact, repentance and faith are a gift from the grace of God as well. If someone does not appropriate the pardon Jesus purchased then they forfeit its benefits forever. This is a tragedy. The gift is available and hell can be avoided. All one has to do is receive their pardon by grace through faith. If they don't, they will spend eternity in hell.

Imagine this: a person, JQ Everyman, has been walking down the broad path of life. JQ Everyman is handcuffed with his arms behind his back. He walks down a long hallway and comes to two doors. One door is big, broad. It is already opened. He can see down the path that this big door leads to. It is a broad path and there are lots of people ambling down this path. But, there is another door in front of JQ Everyman. It is a much smaller door and it is shut and locked. He is convinced that this door is the door to real life. But he can't open it, or go through it. It's locked and his hands are cuffed.
The owner of the door does something that JQ Everyman couldn't do for himself. The Owner comes and unlocks the door, and takes off his handcuffs. The Owner even opens the smaller door. JQ Everyman can see down this road. It is smaller, there are not as many people walking down it, but what he sees is truth, life, the Owner's invitation to walk with Him.

Then JQ Everyman turns away from the Owner and walks through the big door down the broad path that leads to destruction.

The story and analogy is far from perfect, but it is a bit similar to heaven and hell. Yes, Jesus satisfied the demands of a Just God and extends the love of God. But, if a person does not appropriate that by grace through faith/repentance, then they are walking down the broad road to destruction.

The jail door has been opened, the way to freedom is available if man would but repent and believe in Jesus. If not, they will spend and eternity in hell.

See Matthew 7:13-14

For review: God is Just and Holy. He would be perfectly justified in offering no one the opportunity of a relationship with Him and going to heaven. This because we are sinners. The fact that there is a way to be justified by Jesus Christ is the amazing love of God. He is both perfectly just and loving.
One cannot make a sound, biblical argument for the position of universalism.

Coming up next: some more thoughts about the reality of hell.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Argument From Justice - Part 2: Jesus and Justice

God is Holy and we are not. God is Just and His justice is perfect. He cannot allow crime to go unpunished for that would be unjust. The just punishment for our sins against a holy God is hell. That is what humanity deserves.

This means that there is a problem. The Bible talks about heaven. How can God remain Just and yet allow any sinful human to avoid hell and go to heaven?

Jesus is the Answer!

Jesus Christ took the punishment in our place. He paid the price we owed. In Jesus, God's justice was satisfied perfectly. Through Jesus a sinner can be acquitted while justice is upheld. Only God could devise such a perfect and amazing plan.

Here is how it works:

First of all, some might wonder why can't we pay for our own sins during this life? Is it possible for someone to do enough good deeds to balance out their sins against God? If that is possible then we could atone for our own sins. Maybe we could go so far to think that if we gave our life as a payment for our sins, wouldn't that be enough to procure acquittal?

No! Justice requires equitability. It must be equitable. Our good deeds, and even our very life is not an equitable payment for our sins. The reason our good deeds will never be good enough is because our sins have an infinite characteristic to them. Our sins are a violation against the infinite holiness of God. Equitability would require an payment, or sacrifice, that contains an infinite payment. As humans we are finite. Our good deeds are measurable and finite. Our own life is not an appropriate sacrifice because it is not infinite in value. This is a critically important truth that people need to grasp. You cannot pay for your own crimes against a holy God!

The problem we have requires a solution that is capable of meeting the infinite characteristics involved. This is where Jesus comes in. He is the infinitely perfect sacrifice to pay the punishment for our crimes. His life, and His life alone, can meet the requirements for the punishment of sin. Jesus is God. He is perfect in holiness and righteousness. He became man in order to die for our sins. He lived a perfect life and never sinned. When He willingly died on that cross He was the infinitely acceptable sacrifice for the payment of sins. The immeasurable quality of His person is what enables Jesus to satisfy the payment not just for my sins, but for others as well.

So, in Jesus, and only in Jesus, the justice of God is satisfied and His great love/grace/mercy are extended! Wow!

This raises some other questions: If Jesus' death satisfies justice why is there still a hell? Does this mean that everyone automatically goes to heaven?

Answer -- stay tuned!

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Argument From Justice

My dictionary app defines justice as “rightfulness, lawfulness, equitableness, or moral rightness.”

Granted that there are flaws in the justice system in America, it is still one of the best in the world. There is no system of justice in this world that has ever been perfect because they all involve fallible humanity. That is why there are occasions where the guilty go free and the innocent are punished. And yet, America has one of the most just systems in the world.

Let’s consider some hypothetical situations regarding justice. Consider a capital murder case. The criminal has committed multiple murders, brutally killing seven innocent victims. There is no doubt to his guilt. His fingerprints and dna are linked to all of the crimes. There are eyewitnesses to what he did. Guilt is not in doubt.

Then there is an unfathomable turn. The judge decides to pronounce the man innocent, and to let him go free. (remember this is s hypothetical)

If that were to happen people would be incensed and outraged. How could a judge who is supposed to uphold justice do such a thing?! That is criminal in and of itself. That is the opposite of justice. That criminal deserves the full punishment of the law. Such a judge would be downright evil to allow such a situation to occur. He would be thrown out of office at the first opportunity. We would not stand for that.
There has been a lot of discussion lately in the news and in the world of the internet about the Biblical concept of hell. The catalyst for this discussion was the release of a book by Rob Bell called “Love Wins.” In this book Bell is battling against the biblical idea of a real hell. His attack is nothing new(good review here). Many have wondered, “how could a loving God send people to hell?”

Besides the fact that the scriptures are unmistakable clear in teaching the reality of hell, let’s consider the argument from justice.

It is a flawed task to compare the justice of man with the justice of God. His ways, are not our ways, His thoughts are not our thoughts( Isaiah 55). For all the imperfections of human justice, God’s justice has no imperfections. He always does what is perfectly just. He can do no different.

People would be outraged if a human judge let a guilty mass murder off free. And yet people are outraged that God would NOT do that. God would be just, rightful, equitable and lawful. He is the epitome of true justice.

The response that people give to that would sound like this, “Yes, but we are not all murderers. What about all the innocent people? Do they really deserve hell just because they don’t accept Jesus?”

God would not send an innocent person to suffer for all eternity in hell. And yet the Bible is clear that hell will be filled to the brim with all kinds of people. This raises a more important question. Are there any innocent people in hell? Are there any innocent people?

The answer to both of those questions is “NO”. There are no innocent people. Let that sink in. There are no innocent people. Some might object, “I am not a mass murderer. Sure, I may have told a white lie, and do some things I shouldn’t have, but surely there is a difference between me and a mass murder?”

There is no difference. Compared to other humans, you might be a bit better. But the standard we are measured against is not humanity but God. God is infinite in Holiness and Perfection. His law is the perfect standard. This means that even the slightest infraction of His law is a crime against the infinite measure of God’s goodness. We are worse than mass murders.

That is why we deserve hell. That is why hell is a place of eternal torment. Our crimes of sin against God are infinite in measure. Justice requires equitability. The only equitable punishment would have to be eternal in measure. That is why hell is an eternal punishment.

That is true justice. For God not to do that would make God bad, and an evil judge. He is Holy, Righteous and Just. That’s why hell exists.

Coming: Part 2 – Jesus and God’s Justice

Monday, March 14, 2011

He Is Worthy of Worship

A quote from A.W. Tozer,

"Sometimes I go to God and say, "God, if Thou dost never answer another prayer while I live on this earth, I will still worship Thee as long as I live and in the ages to come for what Thou hast done already. God’s already put me so far in debt that if I were to live one million millenniums I couldn’t pay Him for what He’s done for me."

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small,
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my life, my soul, my all.

Oh, the wonderful cross
Bids me come and die
And find that I may truly live

Thank you for the cross!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Tsunami Tragedy and the Gospel

The news of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan are devastating! It is grieving to hear of so many lives lost and shattered. It should move us followers of Christ to pray.

This Sunday our church will set aside a portion of our corporate worship service to pray in light of this news.

It should also remind us of something else: the time is now to share the gospel! Tomorrow is no guarantee! The loss of life is tragic. The loss of eternal life is even more tragic! God has graciously saved me and given me His gospel -- how can I hold that in? How can I not speak of the Only One who can truly rescue people from the despair of their sin?

We have a biblical responsibility to help those in their time of need - to ease physical suffering. We also have the responsibility to tell them the good news of Jesus Christ.

We are in urgent times -- the only answer, the only hope is the gospel of Jesus Christ!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Bible Readig Plans

It's time again to renew our commitment to the word of God. A follower of Christ is led, taught, encouraged, rebuked, trained, and protected by God through His Word.

Far to few people who call themselves Christians have actually read the Bible. Don't let that be you. Read God's Word this year.

Here are some options:

1. Read through the New Testament.

2. Read through the entire Bible.

I began to develop my own plan, and realized I was about to reinvent the wheel.

Here is a great website that has a link to some downloadable reading plans.

NavPress Reading Plans

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Westboro - Not Baptist or Christian

I hesitate to even mention the evil folks of Westboro Baptist. They crave any attention or publicity that they can get. But, I want to make clear a few things in regards to them because some people might get confused by their name.
This group of people, and their cult like leader Fred Phelps, have made a name for themselves by protesting with very offensive signs at the funerals of soldiers, politicians and officials. This last weekend there was a tragic shooting of a congresswoman. She lived. Six others died, including a nine year old girl. There are reports that the group from Westboro is going to come and picket at these funerals. ( I have since seen conflicting reports about whether they will or will not picket at this funeral)
I won’t detail what their signs say, but they are very offensive and completely inappropriate for people who are grieving at a funeral.
I want to set the record straight. Although they claim the name ‘baptist’ they are NOT a part of the Southern Baptist Convention. In fact, they are not officially a part of any brand of official Baptist organizations. They are completely their own independent group( I won’t even call them a church, because they aren’t a true church).
Beyond that, I don’t think that they are even Christian. Their actions do not reflect a group of people who understand the gospel of Jesus Christ and are seeking to follow Christ. For example, Jesus himself said that the greatest commandment is to love God and the second is to love your neighbor as yourself(Matthew 22:37-39). The actions of Westboro are completely devoid of any real vestige of true, Christ-like love. Jesus modeled compassion. Jesus did speak the truth, but He was always demonstrating love and compassion. These folks at Westboro are not following Christ’s example. I doubt whether they are truly Christian.
We do live in a free country. I have the freedom to write and speak about my objections and opinions about anyone. Freedom means that crazy people get to have their right to free speech as well. Freedom also comes with responsibility, which these people at Westboro seem inclined to ignore. Set aside Christian values for a moment, common decency should keep these folks from picketing at the funeral of a little girl! Come on! Grow up!
This group of people exhibit some clear signs of being in a cult. A cult has one dominant, authoritative leader, an aberrant teaching, and an antagonistic philosophy. This group is run by one man. What he says is law – that is a hallmark of a cult-like leader. The members of this church are made up primarily of his family members. They have a weird, antagonistic philosophy. There are some clear comparisons between this man and David Koresh.
It is also unfortunate that they chose to use the name ‘baptist’. It bothers me that someone might associate who I am as a baptist with what these people at Westboro stand for. I do not want to be lumped in with those nut-jobs.

Here is a great quote from Christian apologist and blogger Phil Johnson:

It is unfortunate that in the media (and thus in the minds of many non-Christians) the Fred Phelps family have become the representative face of religious opposition to homosexuality. For the record, they are not Christians at all. They are gospel-corrupters who have exchanged the gospel of Jesus Christ for a twisted message of fierce, ungodly hatred.

The true gospel is good news about forgiveness and cleansing from every kind of sin—from homosexuality and heterosexual fornication to white-collar sins such as greed and fraud (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). But the Westboro Baptist heretics have exchanged the gospel for a graceless, hopeless harangue that is an embarrassment and an affront to true Christians—and a gross insult to both the Person and the work of Christ.

Such gospel-twisting is expressly condemned in Scripture as the profoundest kind of blasphemy, a desecration of the Name of Christ, and a more horrific crime against God than any sexual perversion. See Galatians 1:7-8; 2 John 7-11.