Wednesday, January 27, 2010


SERMON RECAP: Last Sunday morning we took a look at Luke 4:14-21 with its story of Jesus, on the front end of His ministry, visiting the synagogue in his boyhood hometown of Nazareth(I think it's important to "go back home" sooner or later, both literally and figuratively).

Jesus participated in the synagogue service by reading an Old Testament passage and commenting on it. He really valued the scriptures, as evidenced by His going where they were honored and knowing where to find the text he wanted to read. Apparently it was not only His custom to "go to church" but to spend time in God's word. The Bible is God's authoritative revelation to us(2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20-21) and should be treasured. How valuable are the scriptures in your life?

It's obvious that Jesus saw himself in the text. He interprets the Isaiah passage as referring to Him personally in His Messianic role(vss. 18, 21). Sometimes when we read the Bible we're tempted to think it's just a history lesson or that it's for somebody else. But scripture is our instruction manual and a love letter to us from God. Our marching orders.There are warnings, promises, comforts, directions, and challenges there for us. Today. It is equally clear that Jesus saw Jesus in those Old Testament portions. That sounds redundant, but what I mean is that our Lord understood that the ancient scriptures unfold and predict and picture and present Him. In some way He shows up in every Bible book! In the types and ceremonies and tabernacle and prophecies He is foreshadowed and announced. His post-resurrection dialogue with some followers on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24:27 puts it all together for His listeners.

Most importantly, Jesus saw us in the scriptures. In verses 18-19 he uses the text to offer His personal mission statement and strategy for ministry. It's all about people. It has to do with meeting needs. Certainly He viewed His task as that of compassionate social, physical outreach(helping the poor, the hurting, the jailed, the sick). Also, though, He took His assignment as encompassing a far deeper work, that of inner, spiritual transformation(sinners are poor in spirit, soul-blinded, captive to sin, and needing deliverance). Contemporary believers, too, have a dual task. We must endeavor to relieve human suffering but also witness to grace and salvation and life change in Christ.

AT THE MOVIES: The new film, "Avatar" has been a box office smash since it opened about 6 weeks ago. It has lots of action, gorgeous scenery, thrilling music, an intriguing plot, and creative special effects. This sci-fi flick spins the narrative of soldiers and scientists from Earth who travel to a distant moon, Pandora, to try to extract a precious mineral desperately needed on our by then deteriorating planet. They are ultimately and decisively thwarted by the defensive actions of the natives who reside there.

This motion picture is quite interesting and entertaining, but regrettably is a thinly veiled Hollywood protest against perceived Western greed and exploitation and environmental plundering. It comes across as anti-American and anti-military. It portrays essentially a pantheistic, New Age, Wiccan, Earth-worshipping spirituality wrapped in an attractive, appealing garb. There seems to be a blending of Eastern religion and African animism here.

What to tell the kids: yes, Christians are to take care of the environment. That's a mandate from God(Genesis 1:26-31;2:15). No, we are not to worship nature. Our God is personal and transcendant, greater than, and above and beyond, all that He has made. He is not in flowers and trees and grass and stars but rather fashioned them for His glory and our enjoyment. He reveals Himself in His creation(Psalm 19:1-6) but more significantly in His scriptures(Psalm 19:7-14) and most perfectly in His Son, Jesus(Hebrews 1:1-3). No, when we die we are not absorbed into some kind of vague, cosmic force but instead will have distinct, personal identities.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Sharpening The Ax

How about a good book?

Reading is a great way to stretch mentally and deepen spiritually. The Apostle Paul understood that. Even when at the end of his ministry, in jail and near death, he was requesting stuff to read, according to 2 Timothy 4:13. He wanted to stay sharp and fresh, intellectually alert and vocationally visionary and spiritually focused.

We could benefit, too, from using some of our time during these winter days to recharge with the aid of wise writers. Allow me to pass on some suggestions of helpful works that are blessing me personally just now.

Anything that John Ortberg pens is insightful and creative. His latest offering is The Me I Want To Be(Zondervan, 2010). He discusses individual growth and maturity in a variety of areas, and uses very helpful illustrations. Chip Ingram's new book, Living On The Edge(Howard Books, 2009) also deals with deepening our spirituality, and he develops, in a very practical way, the applications that come from Romans 12.

You'll find John Piper's most recent work, though brief, to be rich and pointed. It is A Sweet And Bitter Providence(Crossway, 2010). He works through the Old Testament book of Ruth, drawing out crucial themes that impact our lives today. He highlights sex, race, and the sovereignty of God as well as the comforting truth that the Lord is always at work in our situations to bring about our good and His glory. Pure Pleasure(Zondervan, 2009) by Gary Thomas would refresh you. He ponders why Christians feel so bad about feeling good. He offers a practical theology about delighting in the everyday pleasures that God created for us to enjoy while warning about the misuse of those joys.

Want something a little deeper? Try the weighty academic study by Andreas Kostenberger, A Theology Of John's Gospel And Letters(Zondervan, 2009). It thoroughly probes the historical and literary features of these New Testament writings and digs out in detail the critical themes. This work provides fodder for a long, satisfying investigation of these portions of scripture. Sermons galore could be birthed out of these pages, and Sunday School preparation enhanced.

For some scintillating reflections on marriage, check out Love And War(Doubleday, 2009) by John and Stasi Eldredge. This couple blends scriptural thoughts with experiences out of their own relationship and those of people they counsel to serve up some beneficial advice on marital issues. Their transparency is refreshing and their wisdom enriching. If you need to brush up on your leadership skills, you might find Axiom(Zondervan, 2008) by Bill Hybels to be of assistance. This noted megachurch pastor shares a wealth of insights in short, incisive chapters on matters like vision, strategy, communication, teamwork, assessment, and integrity. It's almost like a "book of Proverbs" on leadership issues.

Dr. Larry Crabb does an interesting thing in his new book, 66 Love Letters(Thomas Nelson, 2009). He devotes a chapter to each book in the Bible and"converses with God" about what He is trying to communicate in each particular portion of scripture in terms of personal concern. This comes off like a daily journal kind of reading experience and is packed with rich thoughts on all kinds of spiritual and emotional matters in light of what God gave us in His Word centuries ago. This book offers a different kind of devotional way to work through the Bible over a year.

So...see ya at the bookstore.