Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Seeing Clearly

Recently, on a Sunday morning I spoke on the topic of seeing Jesus clearly. Living 2,000 years after the time of Jesus makes it difficult to see Him clearly. We are historically nearsighted. We can see recent history much more clearly than ancient history. This is why the four gospels in the Bible are so important for us. They provide accounts of the life of Jesus from witnesses in the 1st century. We need these witnesses to bridge the historical gap between our day and Jesus' day. These four gospels (biographies on the life of Jesus) provide us today with a very clear and accurate picture of who Jesus is. I encourage you to listen to the sermon on this topic on our All Nations website.

After that Sunday's message, I received a request for the top three names of books by reliable authors about the authencity of the Gospels that I would recommend. It was suggested that others in might be interested in such list as well, so I thought I would post this list on my blog. Here's a list of five excellent books. The first two and probably the fourth are the most readable for the general public. The first two books are the best books to start with and the best for anyone who is still a seeker or is struggling because of questions raised by misinformation in popular press books or TV shows.

The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel. Strobel was a journalist and atheist who discovered Christ. He interviews many of the best scholars in their fields of expertise and writes in a very readable format. This book gives a great overview of the evidence for Jesus and the Gospels to be considered.

Dethroning Jesus: Exposing Popular Culture's Quest to Unseat the Biblical Christ by Darrell L. Bock & Daniel Wallace. Darrell Bock is Research Professor of New Testament at Dallas Theological Seminary. He is probably the premiere evangelical theologian spokesman right now. Daniel Wallace is a Professor of New Testament at Dallas as well and is an authority on the study of New Testament manuscripts. This book is excellent because it deals with contemporary popular press attacks on orthodox Christianity.

The Historical Reliability of the Gospels by Craig L. Blomberg. Craig Blomberg is Distinguished Professor of New Testament at Denver seminary. He is one of the most important apologists of our day. This book is not light reading. It goes in depth into the differences among the gospels and proofs for the reliability of the gospels. One way to use this book is to use the scripture index in the back of the book to find discussions on particular passages that one might have a question about.

The Origin of the Bible edited by Philip Comfort. This book contains chapters written by some very prominent theologians like F.F. Bruce and J.I. Packer. It contains three sections: the authority and inspiration of the Bible, the canon of the Bible, and the Bible as a literary text. The chapter on The Canon of the New Testament is exceptional on understanding the history of the acceptance of the 27 books of the NT as authoritative by the early church.

Jesus and the Eyewitnesses by Richard Bauckham. Richard Bauckham is Professor of New Testament studies at the University of St. Andrews in Scottland. This is the most academic read of this list and most people would probably find it laborious to read. However, it provides a very important discussion of the use of eyewitnesses in the writing of the Gospels that I found incredibly insightful.

I encourage you to not only read one or some of the above books but even more importantly, go to the primary sources yourself. Read the four gospels. Look at the life of Jesus through the glasses of the gospels and study for yourself this Jesus of history.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Thoughts on the new president elect: Barack Obama

Barack Obama ran on the promise to bring change to Washington. So what change will he lead our country in? Pondering this historic moment suggests that it is not that Barack Obama will bring change, but it is that HE IS THE CHANGE. He embodies the change. He is the son of an immigrant. He and his family are African-American. He is ethnically mixed. He is diversity embodied. Diversity is taking the highest seat in the land. Diversity has ascended to the presidency. This is the change people voted for. Much was made of the question: “Would race be a factor in this election?” Would he not be voted in because of his race? People who asked that question didn’t understand the next generation of Americans who have come of age. People who asked that question were thinking about older, racially biased white Americans. They were not thinking of the new Americans. Why were young people across America so excited about Barack Obama? Because they value diversity. They live in a multi-ethnic society that is blending people of all races. Just look at our marketing now. It intentionally is multi-ethnic. What we’ve looked at in the last decade in marketing and in all forms of media (ethnic diversity) we finally saw in real life in a presidential candidate. Across the nation, on Tuesday night there was so much euphoria, joy and hope because we saw an embodiment of what we see in our diverse communities we now see personified in the president elect. America voted for values, not for ideas on Tuesday. It’s the values of ethnic diversity, the value of bringing all Americans to the table, the value of a handsome, articulate, likable, young leader that our nation voted for. That’s why this election is historic. It was an overwhelming referendum on a more ethnically diverse America, on equality for all Americans, the shattering of the highest glass ceiling in America. It’s historic because no longer are we speculating on where we are headed in America. The future realities of a diverse America are now a present reality. For the old guard, this is a scary threshold we have crossed. As a church planter of a multi-ethnic church, this is a vision of the future that suddenly now is a present reality. We at All Nations Fellowship know first hand the joy of doing life together across ethnic lines. Ethnic and cultural variety is a beautiful tapestry woven by God and the rich detail viewed up close in our new global world and in our new America.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Remembering the Poor

For the past 2 months, we have been focusing at All Nations on God's heart for the least in our world. It has been a stirring season at All Nations to dig into God's heart for the poor, for the unborn, for the prisoner, for the sick, etc. We've looked at the call to justice in the Bible and the call to loving the least in our world. I feel that God has been bringing into greater focus this aspect of the good news of Jesus.

Last Sunday, Pastor Gregory Bangura spoke on the topic of "ministry to the poor." One of his scriptures was Galatians 2:10 with the key phrase "continue to remember the poor." I've been struck by the wider section of Gal. 2:9-10 as well. Paul writes, "James, Peter and John, those reputed to be pillars, gave me and Barnabus the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the Jews. All they asked was that we should remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do."

Paul was driven by the call of God to bring the good news of Jesus to the Gentiles (people of non-Jewish ethnicity across the world). But helping people discover who Jesus is should never exempt one from caring for the poor. Yes we are to meet the spiritual need that people have of entering into a relationship with God through Jesus that brings true life. But this should not be done in isolation, ignoring the physical needs of people.

What strikes me about these verses is that Paul says James, Peter and John (who were the pillars, the key leaders of the church headquartered in Jerusalem at the time) encouraged Paul to take the message of Jesus to the Gentiles but specifically charged him to continue to remember the poor. To continue means that Paul was alreading doing this, and he indicates that he was eager to keep on doing it. Its very important that James, Peter and John gave this charge to Paul. It denotes how important this is in the life of the church and in the lives of the followers of Jesus. James was the brother of Jesus and Peter and John were disciples of Jesus for three years. They were so moved to emphasize this because Jesus' ministry to the poor had made such a deep impression on them. They remember Jesus telling the rich young ruler to go sell all he had to the poor and come follow him. Why? Because Jesus loves the poor. Usually we focus on the fact that this man loved money more that God, but we miss the point of God's love for the poor, and Jesus call to sacrificial giving to the poor. They also remembered that Jesus was not willing to send the crowd away hungry after listening to him for three days. He had fed them spiritually but that was also compelled to feed them physically. So he multiplies the loaves and fish to feed a crowd of 5,000 on one occasion and 4,000 on another occasion. Disciples suggested to Jesus they didn't have enough money to feed to crowd. Jesus took the food that they had and multiplied it. This begs the question: What do you have? Would you give it to those in need? Jesus healed numerous people because of his compassion for people suffering with sickness. Jesus loved the least, not just the lost and we are to follow in his footsteps.

A week ago, a family in our church, made a commitment to feed 100 children for one year through the organization Feed My Starving Children. They are inviting others to consider helping them in this. You might want to read about it on their blog and do as Paul, "continue to remember the poor" the very thing I know you are eager to do. They have a link to donate to the project on their blog as well. Check it out at

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Walking a Prayer Path

For the last year, I have been walking a path of prayer that continually takes me to significant scenic outlooks and past important prayer places. This is because I've endevored to walk the prayer paths of scripture and the trails blazed through the history of the church. I want to take a few moments to encourage you to consider walking one of these prayer paths as well.

For me it really all started when I participated on a weeklong contemplative prayer retreat in Mexico last summer facilitated by Charles Bello (check out Charles leads the Oklahoma network of Vineyard pastors that we are a part of at All Nations Fellowship. At the retreat, we practiced a number of prayer paths of the church practiced throughout the centuries. The path that I've continued to walk on in prayer daily since that retreat is the path of the fixed hours of prayer articulated in The Divine Hours. The Divine Hours is a prayer book that utilizes lots of scripture as well as the prayers of various church traditions. The book of Psalms, in the Bible, is a book of prayers. Too often we read the Psalms without understanding it is a book of prayers that should become a wonderful expression of our heart in prayer to God. The Divine Hours uses portions of the Psalms, teachings of Jesus, and prayers of the church to create a path of prayer that can be followed daily.

The divine hours, or fixed hours of prayer, in the early church were fixed hours of prayer set at specific times throughout the day that become part of one's daily rhythm drawing our attention toward the Lord each day. We find evidence of these fixed hours of prayer in the book of Acts. On the day of Pentecost they were praying together at 9 am. Peter was praying on the roof at noon when he had a vision. Peter and John were going up to the temple for prayer at 3 pm. After being released from jail by an angel in the middle of the night, the apostles went into the temple to proclaim Jesus at dawn because there were people gathered to pray at dawn. These were all fixed hours of prayer in the Jewish lifestyle and subsequently in the early Christian lifestyle.

Phyllis Tickle has created a three volume series of daily prayers to cover the entire year called The Divine Hours. I have only been using the morning prayers (the book contains morning, midday, and vespers prayers). Even though I've just been using the morning prayers, it has transformed my prayer life. Over the years, I've found that my own prayers end up covering the same ground day after day. Incorporating the Divine Hours into my prayer time each morning has taken my prayer time in new directions. If you decide to experiment with this, I encourage you to read the prayers outloud and slowly. Stop and pause at the end of phrases and sentences and then jump off into spontaneous prayer related to that phrase. Before you invest in a prayer book, you can find these prayers posted online each day at I hope that you will discover the beauty of the new (or should I say old) spiritual vistas found along this particular prayer path.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Celebrating in Greece

Sandy and I traveled to Greece for 10 days to celebrate 20 awesome years of marriage. We had such an incredible time together in perhaps the most beautiful place we've ever been (Santorini) one of the Greek islands. We landed in Athens. Spent a day and a half in this ancient city that now has 5 million in habitants. We went to the acropolis, a rock outcropping on which the Parthenon was build in the 5th century b.c. along with other temples. Between the acropolis and the the agora (where the Athenians lived in the 1st century) is a rock we call Mars Hill where Paul was invited to meet with the leaders of the city to discuss this faith in Jesus that he had been talking about in the agora (the marketplace). Its so incredible to walk in the places that are described in the Bible. Much of the New Testament is rooted in Greece: Philippi, Thessoloniki, Berea, Athens, and Corinth are all located in modern day Greece. Not only do we have the historical descriptions of Paul's ministry in these cities in Acts we have the books of 1st and 2nd Thessalonians, Philippians, and 1st and 2nd Corinthians all writtten to churches in this area.

We then took an 8 hour ferry in the Aegean Sea to the island of Santorini, perhaps the most beautiful place we've ever been to. This is probably the location from which the legend of Atlantis comes from. In 1650 B.C. a volcanic eruption caused about 60% of the island to colapse into the sea. Villages are built up on the cliffs that surround this area called the caldera that this now filled in with the sea. What an incredible view from our balcony in the cottage that we stayed in. Below are some pictures from our time in Santorini. We then returned to Athens for another day of sight seeing. I am posting this blog from Prague as we then flew to Prague to visit Jerry and Lis Lillard, our missionaries in Prague. We traveled to Dresden as well to stay with Jorg and Claudia, our friends. More later on our time in Prague and Dresden with pictures. For now here are some shots from our time in Greece.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Oaxaca, Mexico Trip

Last week I returned from a five day trip to Oaxaca, Mexico. I went to visit Derek and Lily Paul who moved to Oaxaca 10 months ago with the vision of planting a multi-ethnic church in Oaxaco. The state of Oaxaca has 158 languages and the city of Oaxaca attracts a number of Europeans who retire here. It is a great place to establish a multi-ethnic church.

The trip was filled with great conversations, meeting wonderful people, and enjoying time with Derek & Lily. I was blessed with the opportunity to preach in the church that Derek & Lily have been attending while they settle in and prepare for the church plant. The pastor asked if I would come back and do a week-long conference on outreach for his church and possibly a network of 40 churches that he is a part of. We may look at doing this next year.

Lily is from Oaxaca. Derek is from the states (and happens to be Sandy's cousin). They have a burden to establish a church that not only is multi-ethnic but one that is also free of the legalism in the evangelical church in this part of Mexico. Both elements are needed in this city and Derek & Lily have the passion and gift mix to lead such a church. Usually when church planters go to a new city to establish a work, the first 9 to 12 months is invested in simply settling in and building relationships. This is exactly what Derek & Lily have been doing. Derek is working toward establishing dual citizenship and God provided a fast track to getting his work permit several months ago that has enabled him to teach English in the best English school in the city. This is a great way to build relationships. You can learn more about Derek and Lily at their website:

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Into the Mountains of Pakistan

I've recently made a new discovery in my reading adventures. I love to read so this is something I enjoy doing on my day off. However, when I read theology, ministry, or leadership books (my standard fare), my mind does not rest but goes immediately to the church, which means I'm not taking a rest. The problem is that I love what I do. I love ministry and church planting. So it's easy to not take a day off mentally. When I read these kind of books my mind goes into overdrive to make applications to my context, All Nations Fellowship. So, I've purposed to not read these sorts of books on my day off.

In my pursuit of rest and enjoying my days off, I've begun to pick up biographies. This winter I read a biography that would rank in my top five all time favorite books. I was captivated by the true story of Greg Mortenson called Three Cups of Tea. On the heels of failure (getting within a few hundred yards of the summit of K2 but aborting the climb to rescue a fellow climber), Greg found his life purpose: building schools in Muslim villages in the isolated mountains of Pakistan and then Afghanistan. His story made for some great illustrations for preaching. I know at least one Sunday, I went a little to far and shared a story, not because it fit the sermon, but just because it was a great story.

I loved the book for a variety of reasons. For one, Greg is a modern hero making a difference in our world. But he has his flaws and quirks and is humble enough to share them in his book. A second reason I loved the book was that it gave me a new depth of understanding and insight into a part of the world that is very isolated from most of the world, a part of the world I wanted to know more about. I encourage people to read it just to deepen their understanding of Pakistan, Afganistan, and Islam that has played a very significant role in the last eight years of the world.

I am also saddened by the book. There is a moment in his story when his work is stopped until it can be ruled on by a Muslim High Council in Iran to determine if this non-Muslim could be allowed to build schools for girls in in these villages. An investigation into Greg's life is made. Because he lives a moral life, and because he does not promote Christian teachings he is allowed. At this my heart sank. Its ok to help as long as Jesus is not part of it. But Jesus told his followers: "Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name [emphasis mine] welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me" (Mark 9:37). These schools embrace and serve children, but not in the name of Jesus. My heart is sad because the great work that Greg is doing just goes half way. Jesus went on to say that we are to offer a cup of water to people in his name. Greg's story is powerful because his life radically challenges us to serve. Jesus radically challenges us to serve too: "If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all" (Mark 9:35). But Jesus tells us to serve in HIS name so that our temporal help can also bring eternal help to people's lives.