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Five Simple Ways to Celebrate the Birth of Jesus at Christmas

We are getting ready to have the kids from our neighborhood over to make Christmas cookies and share the Christmas story. This is a list we plan to send home with them, and I thought I would share it with you. The way I see it, we can run from the commercialization of Christmas, or we can use it to advance the Kingdom. I prefer to take all the opportunities I get to share the message of the gospel! Merry Christmas!

  1. Read the Christmas story. It can be found in Matthew 1:18-25, Luke 2:1-20, and if you want to include the visit of the Magi, Matthew 2:1-11. You can also find a kid friendly version of the Christmas story woven together from both Matthew and Luke’s account and including some very reliable historical information at www.whychristmas.com.
  2. Bake a birthday cake for Jesus and sing happy birthday to Him before opening presents. Remind everyone that we give gifts at Christmas as a reminder of the gift God gave us on the first Christmas—the gift of Jesus.
  3. Share the real story of Saint Nicholas. You can find a great version at http://www.stnicholascenter.org/pages/real-santa/. Veggie Tales also has a creative and fun version of the St. Nicholas story. Our kids love it!
  4. Do something kind for a person in need, and do it as a family. You can collect food, give away gently used clothes and toys, take hot chocolate to people living on the streets—the options are endless.
  5. Watch “The Nativity Story” (PG, 2006) which portrays what it might have been like for Mary, Joseph, and others on the first Christmas. Despite a few inaccuracies (i.e. Magi at the stable), it is a great movie.
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Posted by on December 23, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Church Planting and the Sinner’s Prayer

When God called my wife and me to plant a church, Paul’s warning in 1 Corinthians 3:10 took on a more serious meaning than ever:

“Let each one take care how he builds . . .”

Before becoming a church planter, I mainly applied this verse to my personal spiritual growth. Believers must be careful, I thought, to build their spiritual lives with gold, silver, and precious stones rather than wood, hay, or straw.

This passage, however, was written as a warning to those who were choosing poor materials to build the church in Corinth, not their individual Christian lives. Paul is saying, “Hey, I laid the right foundation, but now that I’ve left, you’re messing everything up!”

As a church planter preparing to plant a church from scratch, there was no one else to blame for any wood, hay, or stubble. There was no previous pastor or board or committee or even any members to blame! If Christ Centered Church ended up being built on a bad foundation or constructed with cheap materials, there would be no one to blame but me! Realizing this drove me into deep prayer and study about the type of church God wanted me to plant and build, and it caused me to carefully examine every building block.

While there were many things to consider, nothing was more paralyzing to me than the question of leading people in a prayer of repentance, or a sinner’s prayer. We moved to Miami to plant Christ Centered Church in May of 2013, and the hot debate in the evangelical world seemed to be over the use of a sinner’s prayer.

At first, I was drawn towards the seemingly super spiritual position of rejecting anything like the sinner’s prayer. After all, I wanted our church to be deeply spiritual, and I didn’t want it to be full of people who just thought they had been saved. This seemed more like gold, silver, and precious stones to me.

So there I was, considering being a church plant unwilling to use something as shallow and easily misunderstood as a sinner’s prayer. This led me to an obvious, yet often overlooked question in the larger debate, “When someone is ready to follow Jesus, what do I tell them to do?” As I read through books, articles, and tweets about the subject, I came up empty. What’s more, as I considered alternatives like asking people to fill out a commitment card, focusing on baptism as the act of commitment, asking newly committed followers of Jesus to share their decision verbally with our elders or the congregation, or taking potential followers through a seminar, I realized something—all of these have been used at different points and by different groups in church history with some success and some obvious drawbacks, and they can all be misunderstood.

What does the Bible say about this? That’s the same question I asked, and guess what I found—sometimes, in the Bible people expressed repentance and commitment through baptism (Acts 2:38,41; 8:36); other times, they made a public confession (Romans 10:9). There were other times when a commitment to follow Jesus was expressed by drastic behavioral change (Luke 19:8-9) or even physical movement (Matthew 4:20). There were even times when people expressed repentance and a desire to follow Jesus through something that seems very similar to a sinner’s prayer (Luke 18:13, 23:42).

The problem is, whether it’s a come forward invitation with a sinner’s prayer, a confirmation class, baptism, a list of new disciplines to follow or any other method for expressing a commitment to Christ, as hopelessly legalistic humans, we will perform any act asked of us in a vain effort to earn our salvation. This includes having super spiritual conversations about “really following Jesus and not just saying a prayer.” We have a deep-seated, sinful desire to work our way to God, and we want to belong so desperately, that we will participate in whatever ritual our tribe prescribes.

So what do we do at Christ Centered Church? We often lead people in a sinner’s prayer while carefully explaining what it is, and equally important, what it is not. I’m sure that since launch day on February 9, 2014, we have had some false professions of faith. I am equally sure that some people have been rescued from the dominion of darkness and transferred into the kingdom of Jesus.

Salvation is an internal work of the Holy Spirit that brings a dead sinner to life. No ritual can replace or mimic that work, and those who have truly been born again will follow Jesus and persevere to the end by God’s grace. Any ritual or practice we use can and will be mimicked, and we must be aware of that and guard against it—false conversions are, however, inevitable in my church, your church, and every church this side of heaven.

Each church, and each church plant, must determine the best way to help people express repentance and faith, and at Christ Centered Church, we have decided it is best to encourage them to talk directly to the One to whom they are repenting and in whom they are placing their faith. Call me short sighted; call me shallow; call me whatever you’d like, but I just can’t see how it’s a bad idea for a broken sinner to cry out to Jesus, “Be merciful to me, Oh God, a sinner!”

 
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Posted by on August 9, 2014 in Church Life

 

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3 Ways Running Makes Me a Better Leader

Saying my time is a little limited as a church planter is like saying that congress has a little problem with their approval rating. At this stage in my life and ministry, things like reading, tweeting, writing, and especially running, can often seem like guilty pleasures. Who has time to run when there is so much else to do?

Whenever I find myself with some rare but unexpected down time, I often go for a run. This morning was one of those times, and while I was out for a run, I realized that running isn’t a guilt pleasure. For me, at least, it’s a leadership necessity. Here are three reasons (of many) that running makes me a better leader.

1. Running gives me time to think. Message outlines, strategic initiatives, staffing decisions, and other “big picture” ideas have time to develop and resonate in my mind when there is nothing else on my mind.

2. Running=discipline. One of the fundamental skills of leadership is self-leadership, or discipline. When I am running on a regular basis, that means that I’m probably living my life with some margin and I’ve spent significant time with my family and in the Spiritual disciplines so that I don’t feel guilty about choosing a run over time with God or my family.

3. Running gives me an opportunity to invest in others. If I’m taking time to run, I’ve delegated some other important activities to leaders I have equipped, empowered, and released to lead. That’s a good thing. It’s a great thing. In fact, it may be the most important skill of leadership. On occasion, I’m also running with someone I’m leading, and on those runs I always follow the rule “If we can’t talk, we are running too fast!”

If you are a church planter or pastor, do you see running, walking, biking, working out (insert any other physical activity here) as a guilty pleasure or a leadership necessity? What about those you lead? What about those you serve under?

If you have the platform to speak into the life of a pastor or church planter, encourage regular physical activity as a vital part of leadership.

 
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Posted by on May 6, 2014 in Church Life

 

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Dear Daughter–You’re Worth More than You Know

I wrote this letter to my daughter, Meredith, and I thought it might help other fathers put some of their thoughts into words. Please share this letter or the message of this letter with any young ladies you have influence over. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on April 22, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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God’s Sovereignty and Man’s Free Will: Ten Guardrails for Those Who Choose to Live in the Tension

What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction” Romans 9:22

Among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” Ephesians 2:3

Can those who are created to be objects (skeous) of wrath (orga) join the ranks of those of us who were once children (teknon) of the same but now live as sons and daughters of God? Living in the tension between God’s sovereignty and man’s free will is a mental and spiritual struggle that, if not encompassed by clear guard rails and a healthy humility, can exhaust a man and at the same time compel him to continue in the struggle. I suppose it si this truth that leads so many to adopt a neatly packaged system such as TULIP, Arminianism, or its more mature brother, Wesleyan theology. Although these systems have their anomalies, as all systems do, at least there is clarity, coherence, and most attractively, a brotherhood and identity. Rather than wrestle with anomalies, those living within the comfortable boundaries of a system can spend their energy criticizing the anomalies of competing brotherhoods.

While rethinking the thoughts of God is a noble task full of value and beauty, even more so is walking in the works that God has prepared beforehand for us to walk in. The great men of old who gave us these systems were not men who sat in coffee shops endlessly arguing mysteries that can only be solved in eternity. They were men who ministered, discipled, evangelized, worshipped, reformed, lived, and died all for the advancement of God’s kingdom. I am not suggesting that they never took to defending their systems, but they did so as a mean’s to the end of God’s glory and the advancement of His kingdom rather than as an idolized hobby.

Although I have laid the issue to rest in my own mind time and time again, it seems inevitable that it will be an ever present discussion in this generation. It is my fervent prayer and humble petition that those who have chosen a brotherhood and system willingly leave the coffee shop and enter the highways and hedges. Our evangelistic energy is too often being wasted on the already redeemed in efforts to win them to our brotherhood rather than being invested in those who are by nature children of wrath in order to win them to the Kingdom of the Son. Furthermore, I would like to offer some guardrails for those who, like me, desire to live with the tension rather than adopt a label with all of its baggage.

  1. God is sovereign, and salvation begins and ends with Him.
  2. Man is free, and his freedom is more than just the appearance of freedom.
  3. Man’s freedom doesn’t violate God’s sovereignty anymore than does Satan’s rulership of this world.
  4. God’s sovereignty does not negate man’s responsibility or the need for evangelistic zeal and fervency in any way.
  5. Believers were predestined, adopted, and chosen before the foundation of the world.
  6. For an absolutely sovereign, omnipotent, and omniscience being, there is no difference between foreknowledge and predetermination.
  7. God created many, many people knowing, before He created them, that they would spend eternity in a godless hell., and in their destruction, God is glorified.
  8. The death of Jesus is sufficient to atone for the sins of all humanity, but it is only applied to those who repent and believe.
  9. God wants everyone to come to repentance, and the invitation is open to all though He knows not all will respond. Whether someone can reject an inward call of the Holy Spirit or not can only be known by the one who calls and the one who theoretically rejects. Since we are neither of these, we cannot know. We can know, from Scripture, that many have and will reject the outward call of God.
  10. All of these exist as paradoxical truths in space and time. In eternity, they are beautiful strands of a woven tapestry so much more extravagant and glorious than all of our creeds, confessions, systems, and brotherhoods that we will weep at its sight as we drop our earthly understandings in the dust and fall to our faces before our holy, sovereign God and beside our Calvinist, Arminian, Wesleyan, and formerly confused brothers to worship the one being who sees neither tension nor anomaly in His perfect plan.

Until that day, may we live in the tension or in our system with humility and peace.

 
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Posted by on March 27, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Aside

Below is an excerpt from a blog posted at Aletheia Cube (http://aletheiacube.blogspot.com), which is hosted by a friend of mine, Tyler Thomas.

Two modern Christian apologists (defenders of the faith), William Lane Craig and Gary Habermas, set out to find neutral ground on which to defend the resurrection. Below I will give you 12 historical facts about the resurrection of Christ that were gathered in their research.  It’s noteworthy to say that these facts are accepted by atheistic scholars, pastors, New Testament scholars, any skeptical believer, and just plain skeptics.  Everyone with a working brain and knowledge of history on the subject will acknowledge these facts.  Following the facts, I will give you 12 theories that represent the best attempts by modern scholarship to refute these facts to counter the historicity of the resurrection. After considering the facts and reviewing the theories, decide for yourselves which theory best fits the accepted facts about Jesus and the resurrection.

12 Facts:

  1. Jesus died by crucifixion.
  2. Jesus was buried.
  3. Jesus’ death caused disciples to despair and lost hope, for they believed his life was over.
  4. Jesus’ tomb was found empty just a few days later.
  5. Disciples had experiences they actually believed to be literal appearances of the risen Jesus.
  6. Disciples were transformed from doubters, afraid to identify with Jesus, to bold proclaimers of His death and resurrection.
  7. This message was central to the preaching of the early church.
  8. It was especially proclaimed in Jerusalem, where Jesus recently died and was buried just a short time before.
  9. As a result of the preaching, the church was born and it grew.
  10. Sunday became the primary day of worship, this is powerful considering all of the early believers were Jewish.
  11. James, formerly a skeptic, was converted to faith when he also saw what he believed to be the resurrected Jesus.
  12. A few years later, Paul was also converted by what he believed to be an appearance of the resurrected Jesus.

12 Theories:

Examine each of these theories and determine which theories best fits the facts.

The Unknown Tomb Theory – Jesus’ body wasn’t put in a tomb, it was thrown into a common “pit-grave” that was an unknown location, so the disciples then created the resurrection. Explains facts 1, 2 and 3.

The Wrong Tomb Theory – The women that discovered the empty tomb simply went to the wrong place. Explains fact 4.

The Legend Theory – The resurrection was simply fabricated and then evolved over time to vindicate a religious leader that was dead. Explains facts 1 and 2.

The Twin Theory – Jesus died and was buried, but soon after his long lost identical twin brother emerged on the scene and was worshiped as the risen Christ. As absurd as this is, it actually answers all facts except for #11, but you need to put yourself back in that time and place.  Wouldn’t they then go back and check on the empty tomb to see if there was a twin body there?  Wouldn’t James know Jesus had a twin brother?  Think of the large scale scope of the conspiracy that would have to be in place.  Did no one think to ask Mary (still alive) if she delivered two babies in a manger?

The Hallucination Theory – That everyone hallucinated when they saw the resurrected Christ? Hits on facts 5, 11 and 12.  However you need to include what modern science says about hallucinations.  That people don’t generally hallucinate the same thing and that even if they somehow did, the fact that they weren’t all in the same place (like Paul for example) makes this one nearly impossible.

The Existential or Spiritual Resurrection Theory – That Jesus didn’t arise in physical form, but rather in our hearts only. Explains facts 1 and 2.

The Disciples Stole the Body Theory – The theory that says the disciples stole the body of Christ. Misses on all facts except for #4.

The Authorities Stole the Body Theory – This one states that the authorities stole the body of Christ. Misses on all facts except for #4.

The Swoon Theory – Jesus only fainted during his executing and then the cold air and spices in the tomb resuscitated him.  After he revives he then unwraps himself, sits up, moves the stone and then he either slips out past the guards or overpowers them. This misses on fact # 1, which is crucial.  It then offers no explanation for the remainder of his life on Earth.  Again, put yourself back in that time period.  Where did he go for medical treatment after his severe torture?  The scars from the beating and those left by the crown of thorns would have been tough to hide.   He couldn’t have traveled far, given their limited ability to move around, so why did no one else see him as he lived out the rest of his life?

The Passover Plot Theory – This one’s a jewel.  Jesus originally planned to fulfill Old Testament prophecy through a mock death and resurrection, along with co-conspirators Joseph of Arimathea and a mysterious young man.  The plan went horribly awry when the Roman soldier speared him in the side, actually killing him.  Later the mysterious young man walked the Earth pretending to be the risen Christ. This misses on fact 5, 6, 11 and any logic.  It’s hard to imagine that the disciples and even James were led to believe that this impostor was Jesus.  It’s also worth pointing out that if 5, 6 and 11 can’t be proven, then 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10 wouldn’t have happened either. 

The Alien Theory – Jesus was an alien and used his alien powers to stage the crucifixion and resurrection. This one nails all 12 facts, so you have to consider it based on the acceptance of the data.  If Jesus was an extra-terrestrial then all 12 facts could be explained by this theory.

The Resurrection Theory – This is the theory that the Biblical accounts of the death and resurrection were true and that Jesus rose from the dead. This theory also explains all 12 facts.

Now You Decide:

Based on the accepted facts surrounding the resurrection of Christ it appears that there are several theories that hit the data points on the facts themselves, but have little logic to support them. The two that fit all 12 facts are the last two, so either Jesus was an alien or Jesus arose from the dead! It’s up to you to decide now.

Personally, I’ve always found the response of the disciples to be extremely compelling. What would it take for these men, as cowardly as some of them were, to then go out boldly to proclaim the gospel with the fear of death in their path? What changed? What did those that knew Jesus best see that emboldened them so much that they died for His very name? Nearly all of them were executed for proclaiming the gospel at the hands of the authorities, and some of them died by crucifixion. Why? What did they see? This has always been all of the evidence that I needed to historically explain the resurrection.

What about you? Do you believe in the resurrection? No one ever comes to Jesus because all the facts suddenly line up, but many people push God away because they feel like there is no substance to faith. My prayer is that the Holy Spirit of God will use the words from Aletheia Cube to start a process of conviction and salvation that will lead you to a personal encountered with the resurrected Jesus.

12 Facts and 12 Theories About the Resurrection of Jesus

 

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Sex Before Marriage: How Far is Too Far? An Article for Parents and Teenagers

Many single Christians struggle more with this questions than any other: “I know that sex before marriage is wrong, but how far can I go?” In this post, I plan to answer that question by drawing the line where I believe Scripture draws the line. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on February 12, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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