I Do Not Think it Means What You Think it Means - Part 4

This one is a little bit tougher.

James 2:17 comes up a lot with misbehaving Christians. Actually, it's usually quoted in hypothetical situations, but rarely does someone have the guts to apply it the same way to a specific situation involving themselves or someone they know. Here's what I mean:

We hear about hypocritical Christians misbehaving fairly often. They smoke, drink, chew and run with girls who do. And we're quick to quote James 2:17 in their situation. "Well, I've got to question whether or not they're really a believer. You know, James says "faith without works is dead..."

But when someone calls us on our gossip, or our bad attitude, or our choice of language when the Dallas Cowboys false start on the goal line... again... James 2:17 couldn't be further from our mind.

And, it's just as well. Because I think it's pretty dangerous to apply James' words about faith without works to a person's eternal salvation. If James is saying that a person's faith, without works before, during or after salvation is not enough for them to be assured of heaven, we've got a huge problem because Paul says the opposite.

James isn't saying that if you don't have good works you are going to miss heaven. He has made it clear up to that point in his book that he assumes the people he's writing to are going to heaven (James 2:1).

If you look at that whole chapter, James is reminding Christian people that their works are important; not so they can be confident of heaven, but so that others can see their faith. James is writing about the importance of being a good reflection of Jesus. And he challenges his readers: You show me your faith while being a deadbeat, and I'll show you my faith by what I do... let's see whose life is the most compelling testimony of Christ to the world.

Christians should absolutely have good works in their lives; not so they can prove to other Christians that they're going to heaven, but so that they can prove to the rest of the world that because of what Christ has done our eyes are on a different and better kingdom (James 2:5) with a different and better Law (James 2:12).

As a pastor, I've seen a few dead bodies in my life. And frankly, I think dead bodies are pretty weird. Why? Because those bodies are not supposed to be like that. They weren't created to look pretty in a casket. They were created to walk, talk, hug, love, smile, eat, and enjoy life. Death is a consequence of sin - not what we were created to do.

As a believer, we are created in Christ Jesus to do good works (Ephesians 2:10) so that God can show the riches of His grace to the world (Ephesians 2:7). When Christians don't live lives of good works, they're like bodies lying in a casket - not doing what they were created to do. In that way, faith without works is dead. That's James' point.

It doesn't mean that you aren't going to heaven... just means when it comes to showing your faith (2:18) you're as worthless as a body lying in a casket.

I Do Not Think it Means What You Think it Means - Part 3

I'm a big fan of asking God to give me direction, especially when I'm facing a difficult decision. But a lot of times when I'm sitting in my office talking to people about decisions they have made (or are about to make), they tell me they're confident in their decisions because "God gave them a peace about it." Then they quote Colossians 3:15, "Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts..." to back things up.

The problem is: I've prayed and had a peace about some really stupid decisions in my life. And, as a pastor I've heard about some really boneheaded decisions followed by, "but God just really gave me a peace about it."

Yeah, leaving my wife to reconnect with my high-school girlfriend and quitting my job to pursue a career in acting seemed like a bad idea at first... but I have such a peace about it...

I don't think Colossians 3:15 means what you think it means.

If you back up two verses, you see that Paul is telling the Colossians to "bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you have against one another..." He goes on to say "put on love, which binds [all virtue] together in perfect unity."

This is a passage about how to fight fair, not a passage about how to make decisions.

The Greek word for letting the peace of Christ "rule" in your hearts is a word that means "referee." Paul is saying that when we fight, we should let the peace of Christ serve as our referee. What is the peace of Christ? The same writer says elsewhere that "having been justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 5:1), even when we were still sinners (Romans 5:8).

Colossians 3:15 is reminding us that we should do as much to pursue peace with others as Christ did to pursue our peace with God, even when we don't deserve it. It doesn't have anything to do with decision making unless we're deciding whether or not to fight fair.

I Do Not Think it Means What You Think it Means - Part 2

One of the passages you hear most often when it is time for corporate prayer is found in Matthew 18:20 "For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them." In fact, as a teenager, this was one of my favorite ways to start a prayer.

Lord, we know that where two or more are gathered, you hear the things we pray...

No wonder I wasn't motivated to have a quiet time by myself!

I love corporate prayer. I love the fact that I'm a part of a church who prays together a lot. But it isn't because I believe God hears us better if there are two or more of us. I do not think it means what you think it means...

Matthew 18:20 can't be separated Matthew 18:15-19 which tells us what to do when a person sins against you - not church-wide prayer gatherings. If your brother sins against you and won't make things right after you go to him individually, you should take "two or three witnesses" (Matthew 18:16) as unbiased observers according to the Old Testament Law in Deuteronomy 19:15. If your brother will not make things right in the presence of two or three unbiased witnesses, he should be put out of fellowship in hopes that he will realize his wrong and repent (Matthew 18:17).

As a result, what you have in Matthew 18:20 is a warning to unrepentant brothers more than a comfort for prayer gatherings. Jesus reminds unrepentant brothers that two or more unbiased witnesses represent Him; they're gathered in His name. If they agree that the brother needs to repent, God is on their side.

Corporate prayer is vital for our growth, fellowship, and discipline together as a church, but it isn't because God is mystically more present when we have a quorum. God hears and answers our private prayers (Matthew 6:6) as well as our corporate prayers (Matthew 6:9) in a powerful, personal way. One is not more significant than the other.

I Do Not Think it Means What You Think it Means - Part 1

This week I want to do something a little different. I hope it doesn't come across the wrong way.

One of the most quotable movies in all history has to be "The Princess Bride." In that movie, there's a funny exchange between Inigo Montoya and Vizzini, after Vizzini continues using the word "inconceivable." Inigo Montoya looks at him and says, "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

There are a couple of passages of Scripture that I hear quoted all the time. But when you start looking at them, I'm not sure they mean what we use them to mean. I'd like to take a stab at a few of them this week.

The first one is Revelation 3:20. This verse is a favorite invitation verse for summer camp and Vacation Bible School speakers because it paints such a compelling picture. We imagine that the door is the imaginary door to our heart (I've always pictured the left ventricle, myself). Jesus is standing in the cold and rain, unable to enter our heart because of our sin. He stands there knocking (at this point it's helpful to knock three times on the pulpit, just for effect). If only we would ask Jesus into our heart, He could come in out of the cold.

Now, please understand. A person could hear that kind of invitation and understand that God loves them, sent His Son to die on the cross for their sin and gives eternal life by faith. I did. But that was because the Holy Spirit was speaking louder than the preacher, and I don't think the end justifies the means.

In Revelation 3:20, Jesus is talking to a church. He's not knocking on the door of a heart; He's knocking on the door of a church requesting fellowship with them.

Also, if the people in Laodicea He was writing to were unbelievers, it would be the only one of the "churches" in Revelation who were not believers; and the only "church" of unbelievers in Scripture. If you believed a person could lose his salvation, you might be able to make the argument that these people were once believers but now aren't, so Jesus is knocking at the door of their heart so that they would be saved. But that interpretation doesn't square with the rest of Scripture.

Revelation 3:20 makes an appealing invitation verse, but sometimes I want to go forward during the invitation and say "I do not think it means what you think it means." Jesus isn't knocking so little boys and girls will ask Him into their heart and not go to hell. He's asking boys and girls and moms and dads who have already trusted Him for eternal life to - as a church - repent and rejoin fellowship with Jesus.

Revelation 3:20 is an invitation, but not for eternal life. It is an invitation for churches to not get so distracted by other things that they leave Jesus standing outside.

The Unforgiving Minute - Book Review`

The Unforgiving Minute, by Craig Mullaney was a recommendation by Al Mohler several months ago as good summer reading. So, I gave it to my father-in-law for his birthday in hopes that I could steal it from him during a visit.

Before we left on vacation a couple of weeks ago, he suggested I take the book, which kept me from having to sear my conscience to steal the book. Maybe he had seen me plotting my getaway.

"The Unforgiving Minute" describes Craig Mullaney's life beginning with an education at West Point and in Army Ranger school, through Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, to the battlefield as a platoon leader in Afghanistan.

Mullaney is a brilliant writer, deep thinker, and great story teller. He has an uncanny ability to help the writer grow as a leader alongside him as he writes about his life-education on several different fronts. From debating philosophy in a pub near Oxford University to the private dealings of a young adult man who watched as his father abandoned his family, Mullaney is able to take the reader inside his head to struggle alongside him. Only a few years removed from the combat zone in Afghanistan, Mullaney is able to see events and circumstances with an astounding amount of clarity.

Mullaney has a much different worldview from mine and some of that shows up throughout the book. He has lived through vastly different experiences than I have. Yet throughout the book, I couldn't help feel a common bond with him.

I had a hard time putting this book down. Something about it compelled me to keep reading, as if putting the book down would let Mullaney and his men down. I wanted to find resolution. It came, but not completely. In many ways, Mullaney's story won't be fully resolved either. He doesn't lead you to believe that it has been.

In the interest of full disclosure: if your ears are prone to bleeding in the presence of foul language, you might want to skip this book. Mullaney describes the battlefield and the language of soldiers pretty graphically. Otherwise, this book gets a strong recommendation from me.


I recently heard Timothy Keller make the argument that people today are rapidly congealing into two camps when it comes to religion: Those radically engaged and those radically opposed.

For much of the 20th century, the vast majority of people who followed a religion of some kind were moderate followers. They went to worship, adhered to the basic tenets of their faith, and went about their business. If Keller is right, and I think he may very well be, the 21st century will see that group of people almost completely replaced by a group of people whose religion absolutely permeates their life and a group of people who are radically opposed to religion altogether.

The Muslim world seems to be ahead of the game in this shift. It is becoming increasingly impossible for secular Muslims to exist. They're being forced to either embrace the complete package of their belief system or leave it altogether.

We're certainly seeing a rise in people who are radically opposed to religion altogether. Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Daniel Dennett are radically opposed to religion altogether and would love to have others join their group.

Meanwhile, Christians will be forced to either put up or shut up; to get serious about their faith or abandon it altogether. And although that sounds scary, I think it could be one of the best things to happen to evangelical Christianity.

The Price of a Salute

One of the books I started when I returned from vacation is "The Unforgiving Minute" by Craig Mullaney. It chronicles his education from West Point through Army Ranger School, to Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, to the streets of Afghanistan during battle. Mullaney is an extraordinary writer with a fascinating story. This is a great book, though some of the soldier language he employs would make it hard for me to recommend the book to my mom.

Early in the book, Mullaney recalls a conversation with a history professor, Lieutenant Colonel Guy LoFaro who had served as an Army Ranger in Grenada, and disarmed an assassin who opened fire on soldiers at Fort Bragg. Mullaney asked LoFaro "How do you know how you'll handle combat?"

LoFaro responded, "You don't... What you do know is that it will be chaotic and loud... You'll be more scared of letting down your men than anything the enemy's gonna do to you. And then you'll lead from instinct and judgment. That's the price of a salute."

If you're in a leadership position, others salute you, whether physically or literally. They defer to your leadership, look to you for marching orders, and entrust the health of their careers and sometimes their very lives to your hand.

Leadership brings responsibility. It's costly but if you want people to trust you, you have to be willing to lead in the hard stuff. You have to be able to be trusted in battle. That's the price of leadership; the price of a salute.

What will you do this week that is worth your team's loyalty?

Vacation Mini Book Reviews

We had a great vacation. We relaxed and ate so well, we probably wouldn't have come back if we hadn't run out of money.

Before I went, I asked for fiction recommendations. I went to Half Price Books the day before I left, and bought several of your recommendations. Here are some brief reviews:

Inside the Revolution by Joel C. Rosenberg - Okay, so technically this one isn't fiction. But, I read it at my in laws' house and in the airport before we left. I'm glad I did. It's a really great book tracing 3 major movements within Islam in the middle east: Radicals, Reformers, and Revivalists. We hear a lot about the radicals, and rightly so - Rosenberg describes their theology of how the world will end, and how many world leaders (especially the leader of Iran) are radicals who are set out to bring the end. The Reformers are peaceful Muslims who represent the majority, albeit a silent majority. The Revivalists are the millions of Muslims who are trusting Christ across the middle-east. If you are at all interested in what is going on in the Middle East, Rosenberg (who has served in the White House, and is well-connected throughout Washington as well as being a Bible student) writes a really good book.

Divine Justice by David Baldacci - This was the first novel I read on the trip. Baldacci is (apparently) known for suspense novels. This one was pretty fast-paced and an easy read. Basically, a former spy is on the run after two major political players are assassinated. As he seeks a hiding spot, he ends up in the wrong town and races against the clock to stay hidden and solve a series of mysterious deaths in a small coal mining town. Oh yeah, and there's a love story too. This was a good book, though fairly predictable.

Runaway Jury by John Grisham - Several people recommended this one, and it was the second one I read. Everyone who walked by on the beach commented about how much they liked the book, so I guess everyone had read it except me. My review will be short: really liked the book. I like a good twist at the end, and although I had this one figured out before it happened, I wasn't disappointed. I like Grisham's ability to pay attention to detail without bogging the reader down. The book moved just quickly enough for me. Good read.

The Sigma Protocol by Robert Ludlum - This was my least favorite of the books I read, though it wasn't awful. I read it toward the end of our trip, and wanted to finish it before we got home so I may have rushed through it. It's not a good book to rush through. A guy gets shot at by a former friend while on business in Europe. As he tries to piece things together on the run, he realizes that he is near uncovering a deep, dark secret leftover from Nazi Germany. He runs from country to country trying to stay a step ahead of assassins while trying to uncover the truth despite the fact that it could destroy his family. Oh yeah, and there's a love story. The book was good, though it seemed every person had two or three aliases and spoke in different languages while they jumped around to several different locations. That made the characters and storylines almost impossible to follow. The book came together at the very end, though I thought the end was weird. The language in this one was particularly rough too. Someday when I finish all the other books in my queue, I might pick this one up and give it another shot because I think it has potential. Nah... I'll just wait for the movie.

I read one other book at my parents' house when we got back. It's non-fiction - the story of a West Point soldier who goes to Afghanistan. I'll post more about it in the future, because I'm not quite done with it. I'm loving it though and will want to recommend it to you.

On Vacation

I am here:

Be back October 19.

Money Money Money Money

This morning I was reading in Acts 16:16-24, the account of Paul and Silas in Philippi. They come across a girl - actually, she seems to find them - who was possessed by a demon that allowed her to predict the future. She was owned by another guy, who exploited her demonic possession for the purpose of earning a little extra spending money.

This voodoo girl begins following Paul and Silas throughout the countryside, saying correct information but making their ministry into a freak show. So, Paul casts the demon out of the girl.

He frees her from the demon, doing her a pretty big favor. The slave-owner wasn't impressed. A great miracle happened right in front of his eyes, but he was so worried about his money disappearing alongside the demon that he couldn't notice what was going on right in front of him.

Instead of being overjoyed that his servant was restored to her right mind, the slave-owner could only focus on his own situation. As a result, he had Paul and Silas flogged, stripped naked, and thrown in a maximum security prison cell.

Perhaps just a bit of an overreaction.

Throughout his ministry Paul confronted a lot of different idols, but none was personally dangerous to him as the idol of money. When he talked about the Unknown God on Mars Hill (Acts 17:16-34), some sneered. But when he confronted the idol of materialism, he normally found himself at death's door (see also Acts 19, especially verse 24).

Some things never change.

Fake Brakes and the Gospel

When I get to heaven, I'm going to ask God why He coded the "fake brake" reflex in the foot of every woman. My mom has it, my wife has it, and my friends report that their wives and mothers have the same trait.

You know the "fake brake." While driving, you approach an intersection (or another car) at a rate of speed that is uncomfortable for the female in your car, at which point they simultaneously reach across to restrain you, put their other hand on the dash to brace themselves, and stomp on the fake brake that they believe has magically appeared on the passenger's side of the car.

As if their arms and a non-existent brake are going to be enough to restrain either of us from flying forward in the event of a crash.

Kari assures me that she trusts me as a driver. The fake brake is just a reflex. She just wants to be sure... just in case.

I talk to a lot of people whose reflex is trying to fake brake their way into eternity.

"Think you'll go to heaven when you die?"


"What makes you so sure?"

"Well, I trusted Jesus as my Savior when I was six... and after all, I go to church every Sunday, read my Bible, give to the poor, listen to Christian radio, teach Sunday School, and put a Jesus fish on my bumper."

If I had a quarter for every time I'd heard that explanation...

It's not that people have a hard time trusting Jesus. It's that we have a hard time trusting Jesus alone.

We fake brake it... Just in case.

As if our filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6) are going to be enough to carry us over the line if Jesus fails...

Here's the problem: it's awfully hard (read: "impossible) to trust Jesus and trust ourselves at the same time. Either Jesus is our Savior, or Jesus us helping us be our own savior. It can't be both.

If the real brake fails, the fake brake ain't going to be of much help. So trust Christ alone, and enjoy the ride. Do all those other things because you get to, not because you feel like you're helping Jesus drive.

Fiction Vacation

I don't read fiction.

I don't have anything against fiction, or people who do read fiction. But for most of my life I have regarded fiction as a gigantic waste of time. I read a ton, but not just for the joy of reading. I read for the joy of learning. If I want fiction, I watch MSNBC.

Just kidding.

I'm leaving for vacation on Friday. I'll be gone for about week. We're going to a location where my cell phone and email will not work. If someone wants to get a hold of me (other than Kari), they'll need to get on an airplane. I love my job and the people at our church, but I'm going to a place where they can't find me.

And, I need a couple of books to read while I'm laying on the beach. But, I'm not allowing myself to take any non-fiction books along. If I read non-fiction, I'll think about how to apply it at work, and I'd like to not think about work so I can be fully refreshed when I return.

Here's my request: You get one (1) fiction book recommendation. If it isn't one of the "Left Behind" books, "The Da Vinci Code," "The Shack," a Nicholas Sparks book, "The Giver," or "Elmo Wants to Play," I haven't read it. Which single book of fiction would you recommend?

Keep in mind, I'm reading for entertainment on the beach... not to be beat over the head. Don't come at me with Dostoevsky or something that's going to make me read with a dictionary. I don't want to carry a dictionary to the beach. They're heavy.

So... I need your help. What's one fiction book I can't miss? Comment away.

The Crucifixion of Ministry - Book Review

The Crucifixion of Ministry by Andrew Purves is a book that helps those involved in full-time Christian ministry give "their ministries" back to Christ.

I bought this book because a friend of mine was reading it and I loved the title. I ended up liking the book too.

Purves makes two big points throughout the book: (1) The ministry we lead isn't ours. It never was ours. It never will be ours. And, when we begin to think of it as ours, it usually goes about as far as we're able to take a supernatural ministry in our very natural power: nowhere... over and over again. If you pastor "your church" or "your para-church ministry," or for that matter "your Sunday School class," you really ought to kill it.

(2) Christ is at work in the world, and we get to share in what He is doing. But, He will do it in His power, with His resources, in His way. It isn't our job to make Jesus relevant, or catchy, or funny, or angry. Jesus is alive... He can impress people however He likes. Our responsibility is to present Him as Scripture says, help people interpret Scripture, and lead the church in types of worship that point people back to Jesus (communion, baptism, etc...).

Purves is much more reformed than I, so there were a few places that I disagreed with the theology behind his advice. He talks a lot about Jesus "believing" for us, which I think is an over-reach of some reformed theology, but it didn't distract from Purves' main point.

Lots of books will help you be a good pastor from the man-side. They'll help you do your job better from the standpoint of the congregation, your elders, and in your own eyes. But if you're a pastor looking for a good theology of pastoral ministry from the God-side, Purves' book is a pretty good place to start.

Character Defense

Ever notice that it's impossible to defend yourself against a character accusation?

If someone accuses you of being an angry person, you can't defend yourself against it. Anecdotal evidence will always win the day. You say you're not an angry person, but one person saw you get angry on the soccer field one time when you were eight, and in their mind that proves their case.

"Character" speaks about a pattern of behavior over a long period of time. It is the person I am when pressure is applied; the person I am when nobody is looking. And if nobody is looking, nobody else knows what my true character is. They're reliant on anecdotal evidence that is impossible to prove or defend against.

I think that's what Paul is going for in 1 Corinthians 4:2-5.

Today, it's impossible to defend yourself against a character accusation. Some day, we'll stand defenseless when our character is revealed. False negative accusations today are better than true negative accusations on that Day.

So rather than focusing on what everyone else is saying, it's better to focus on what God will say. By and large, when that is our focus, the other takes care of itself.