December 19, 2013

Born to Die

The last TV show I saw that tried to proclaim the “real meaning of Christmas” was a typical failure. Someone stammered, “Getting the family together, that’s what Christmas is all about.” You would think that the first six letters in the word Christmas would be a big hint, but apparently not.

In my opinion the best verse on the real meaning of Christmas is 1 Timothy 1:15. This verse is tragically underused. But here the Apostle Paul absolutely nails what Christmas is all about. He writes:

“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.”

Christmas is about Christ. But even more, Christmas is when we celebrate the Son of God coming into this world and becoming a genuine human being—without ceasing to be fully God. Jesus did this in order to glorify Himself by saving sinners, and to do that He had to live the perfect human life that none of us lived and then die the death that we deserved, in our place.

The reason for Christmas is that Jesus came into this world to save sinners like you and me. The reason for Christmas is Good Friday and Easter. Jesus was born to die.

It is amazing that God would come into this world.
Think about this verse. We should be amazed even if it just said, “Jesus Christ came into the world…” and stopped right there. Think about who this was who came. The person who came into this world was the eternal God, the Creator of all things, and the One for whom all things were created. (See Colossians 1:15-16) He is the One who came into this world with all of its problems, and sickness, and suffering. And He didn’t even come to modern America. He came to the Near East two thousand years ago—when there was no modern indoor plumbing, or air-conditioning, or aspirin.

It is amazing that God would come into this world to die for sinners.  
What if this verse didn’t tell us why Jesus came into the world? A lot of people know that Christmas has something to do with Jesus, but that’s about it. I think a lot of people assume that Jesus wanted to come into this world to tell us how wonderful we are. It’s like He is stopping by with a pan of brownies because he just likes us so much. You see, we are very deluded about how wonderful we are. The reality is that we are all sinners. (Romans 3:23) We are born with hearts that are in open rebellion to God. That is what sin is at its core: rebellion against God. That is what makes it so terrible. It isn’t like we just accidently broke a few technical rules. Sin is not insignificant. You can tell how significant a crime is by the penalty attached to it. Romans 6:23 tells us that the wages of sin is eternal death. That is not insignificant.

It is amazing that God would come into this world to die for really bad sinners!
Even the “smallest” sin is a sin against an infinitely holy God. Therefore, in a sense, even the “smallest” sin is infinitely terrible. Paul realized this. He described himself as the worst of all sinners, or as the KJV puts it, the “chief” of all sinners. Paul realized that Jesus didn’t come into this world to save “nice” people. There are none. Sure, we may be nice to one another, but we’re not nice to God. But Jesus came to save even the worst of sinners. As the Reformer Martin Luther said, Christ saves even “hard-boiled” sinners. If you think that you are too big of a sinner for Jesus to save, you’re not. Paul used to hunt down Christians to have them killed. The blood of Christ is valuable enough to save Paul, and it is valuable enough to save you. In the very next verse Paul writes:

But for this very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of all sinners, Christ Jesus might display His immense patience as an example for those who would believe on Him and receive eternal life.

This is why Christ came. Believe on Him and have eternal life. 

October 22, 2013

Archer Family

By all rights I should be living in a pit somewhere all alone, but instead God has given me this wonderful, fun family. So, this is me showing them off. My lovely wife is Hope and my kids are Eric (10), Zoe, (7), Luke (5), and Joel (2). When this picture was taken we were in Wisconsin and the Packers were winning, so I was extra happy.

I've been doing a lot more writing for my dissertation lately than blog posts. (I know, where are my priorities?) The good news is that the dissertation is going well. Maybe I will post about that sometime down the road.

In the meantime, here are a few related links for Hope, Eric, Zoe, and Luke.

September 29, 2013

The Rollie Fingers Tragedy

My son Luke broke my Rollie Fingers glass. I had this glass since I was seven years old. I couldn't tell you a thing about baseball today, but I can still remember the starting lineup for the 1982 Milwaukee Brewers. That was the year they went to the World Series, and as a boy living in Wisconsin that was a big deal. This glass featured catcher Ted Simmons and legendary relief pitcher Rollie Fingers, the man with the sweetest handlebar mustache since the 1920's.

But Luke wanted something quick, reached in front of his brother's plate, and broke my glass.

All things considered, I did an "okay" job of not exploding at my son. After all, he is just five and these things happen. We explained to him that this glass meant a lot to me and Luke quickly said he was sorry. But what really bothered mealmost more than the glass being brokenwas that it never really sunk in to him that he had wrecked something I valued.

Later on it struck me that this is what our sin is usually like. What I mean is, when we sin, we hardly ever grasp the reality that we have badly damaged something that God deeply values. Even though we say we're sorry, it doesn't sink in what a big deal sin is. When we sin, not only do we hurt people and fracture the wellness of God's creation, but even moremuch morewe trample God's glory. We shatter it by declaring to the universe at that moment that sin is more valuable than God. We devalue God's renown.

This isn't a big deal to us, but it is to Him. It is right for His glory to be a big deal to God. His glory is that valuable. It's valuable, not only to Him but for us as well. For human beings, nothing can bring more ultimate happiness than delighting in God's glory. When we sin, we break that. But God values this so much that He went to the cross to fix the problem. This is love, that Christ would die for those who trample His glory so that we can spend eternity delighting in the One we were made for.

That is a bigger deal than a broken glass from McDonald's.

P.S. By the way, no, you don't need to go on Ebay and find me a replacement. It really isn't that big of a deal. And besides, my Paul Molitor & Pete Vuckovich glass is still fine.

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September 19, 2013

If Dead Theologians Were on Money

I don't know what is wrong with me, but I spent my drive home last night thinking about who would be on which bills if we had dead theologians on currency rather than presidents. The really sad part is that I had it all figured out by the time I got homewith justifications.
The rule is that they have to be dead for at least 100 years and they have to have lived after the completion of the New Testament. Here it is:

The One Dollar Bill: Augustine
Both Protestants and Catholics agree that Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (354-430) was the most important theologian in Church history. To honor his foundational  role, Augustine gets the $1.

The Five Dollar Bill: Calvin
John Calvin (1509-1564) gets the 5. This should be obvious.

The Ten Dollar Bill: Luther
Reformer Martin Luther (1483-1546) deserves an important bill. He gets the 10 in homage to his love/hate relationship with the Law. He would probably find that paradoxical and so he would be okay with it.

The Twenty Dollar Bill: Edwards
The twenty is one of the most commonly used bills, so it needed to be someone sweet. Therefore we have to go with Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758). Plus, as a matter of historical fact, Jonathan Edwards' grandson Aaron Burr Jr. shot and killed Alexander Hamilton, so it would be tacky to put Edwards on the $10. Too soon.

The Fifty Dollar Bill: Wesley
I was going to put Charles Hodge (1797-1878) on the $50 to honor the fact that Hodge was the first American theologian to serve as a professor of theology for fifty years. However, I realized that I should throw a bone to the Arminians. Therefore, John Wesley (1703-1791) gets to be on the $50. This is also fitting since Arminians think that salvation is a 50/50 deal. (Boom!)

The One Hundred Dollar Bill: Lewis
We are breaking the rule for C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) because, hey, everyone loves C.S. Lewis. He gets to be on the $100. This way we can call it a C-note. Lewis technically wasn't a theologian, but neither was Benjamin Franklin a president.

The Five Hundred Dollar Bill: Aquinas
The preeminent and rotund scholastic theologian Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) gets to be on the $500. I had him on the $100 but he got bumped so I could make that C-note joke.

The One Thousand Dollar Bill: Anselm
Anselm, Bishop of Canterbury (1033-1109) is responsible for the phrase Credo, ut intelligam which will appear on all theological currency. It is fitting that Anselm gets to be on the $1,000 because he was born around the year 1,000. Also, since the $1,000 is the largest bill that will be produced, it is "that than which no greater can be conceived." (You have to be familiar with the Proslogion to realize that is funny.)

Coins are yet to be decided, but we're going to go all patristic for these. They will all be Church Fathers, prior to Augustine. As a sneak peak, I can tell you that Athanasius will be on the Quarter. He is that important, and it is a nice homage to the Council of Nicea, convened in 325.

I thought about putting Benny Hinn on the penny since his theology isn't worth 2 cents.

Sadly, there are many other great theologians who will be left out:: Ulrich Zwingli, John Owen, Francis Turretin, Charles Spurgeon, and many others. Fortunately, we still have the possibility of issuing a two dollar bill, so keep your hopes up. There will also be a commemorative Zero Dollar Bill with the portrait of Francis of Assisi.

There you have it. And of course, these bills give new meaning to the term "religious denominations."

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September 9, 2013

Honor God With Your Body

I originally wrote this for young people but it pretty much applies to anyone who has a body:

Jesus died a terrible death of the cross to pay the price to save each person who puts their trust in Him. One of the ways that we need to respond to this is by honoring God with our bodies. The Bible talks about this in 1 Corinthians 6:

This passage starts with Paul correcting some of the false statements that were floating around. In the same way, there are many lies that float around today about sex. The world says things like: 
"It's only sex." 
"If it feels good do it." 
"If you really loved me you would prove it." or, 
"It's my body and I can do whatever I want with it." 
We need to reject these lies and replace them with what God's Word teaches about sex.

God raised Jesus from the dead with a real physical body. He will do the same thing for us one day. This means that bodies do matter. Not only that, it matters what we do with them.

Sex is superglue for the soul. God designed sex to unite two people together, not just physically, but spiritually. And just like superglue, it is designed to be permanent and life-long. So when people have sex and then break up, it is like supergluing your hands together and ripping them apart. Sexual sin has a way of damaging and hurting people differently than other sins. This passage says that even "meaningless" sex with a prostitute makes unites two people together. So never believe the lie that "It's just sex."

This message can be hard to hear for some people. If you have this type of sin in your past, remember to look at the passage that comes right before the ones we just read. This passage lists many sins that disqualify someone from eternal life. But if you have trusted the Lord Jesus as your Savior, you have been washed of these sins. You've been sanctifiedmade holybecause of Christ. You've been justifieddeclared righteous in God's eyesbecause Jesus died on the cross in your place and gives you credit for His righteousness. So accept your forgiveness and start living like the new creation that God has made you!

Sex is like fire. Fire is good! When fire is in your fireplace or where it is supposed to be, it is very good. But if it gets out, it does a lot of damage.

In the same way, sex is good. Sex was created by God. God made Adam and Eve naked in the garden of Eden and told them to be fruitful and multiply. In Genesis 2 we are told that sex causes two people to become one flesh. So, sex is good, when it is where it is supposed to be... in marriage. Sex is for married people. God designed sex for the life-long commitment of one man to one woman. Keep sex in the fireplace. 

If you want to follow Christ and honor Him with your body, here are a few things to help:

You need to be clear that "the line" between purity and immorality comes well before full-on sex. This is especially important these days because some surveys say that teens who pledge to abstain from sex are 4 to 6 times as likely to engage in oral sex or other forms of sex. Their logic is that since this isn't full-on sex, it must be okay. Instead, you need to be clear with yourself that these types of sexual acts are also over the line. Full-on sex is for married people
but so are other things as well. I think that Ezekiel 23:21 (in the graphic above) is helpful to realize this. To put this simply, there are certain parts of the body that you're not supposed to see or touch until you are married. Other things might be over the line as well, but it is clear that "the line" is at least somewhere before the things described in this passage. If in doubt, err on the side of purity. 

Once you realize where the line is, don't be a fool and rush right up to it. Take things as slow as possible. 
Just because something might not be absolutely forbidden does not mean that it is wise. If you are young you probably have a long time before you're going to get married, so take it easy. This will help your relationship as well. The more physical your relationship is, the less it will be about growing your friendship. So the slower you take things physically, the more you can grow your friendship. 

Be wise about when you date. It might seem like everyone in the world thinks you need a steady boyfriend or girlfriend by the time you are in fifth grade, but that isn't true. Remember that your worth as a person is not determined by if you date or who you date. Reject that lie.

When you do date, pay attention to what God's Word says in 1 Cor. 6:14. "Do not be yoked together with unbelievers." If you think this through, it is so obvious that it shouldn't even need to be in the Bible. If you are a Christian and you want to follow Christ and honor Him with your life, wouldn't you want to date someone who also has Christ as the center of his or her life? If God is your ultimate treasure, would you really want the person you date
and might one day marryto have a different treasure? If you are "in Christ" and someone else is "in Adam" you have different destinies, different loyalties, and different masters. It's not going to work out well. Do you want your kids to have a parent that doesn't love Jesus? This verse is a command, but it is also just plain wise.

Ephesians 5:245-27 is also a great test for the kind of guy you should date
or the kind of guy you should be. Dating leads to marriage, so don't date the kind of guy you wouldn't want to marry one day. Husbands are commanded to love their wives like Christ loved the church. How did Christ love the church? He was willing to suffer and die to save us! Jesus also wants to make us clean. So, a guy who is selfish, or a guy who won't guard your purity is not the kind of guy you want. A guy who really loves you would never say, "If you really love me you would prove it."

And remember not to trust yourself. Don't be a fool. I've know a lot of good Christians who have fallen into sexual sin. It can happen to anyone. If you think it can't happen to you, it probably will.

It is hard to honor Christ with your body. We have a lot of temptation to fight against. It is important to focus on the cross. Remember what Jesus did for you and the valuable price He paid in order to save you. Also remember that as a believer you are united to Christ. Don't drag Him into your sin. Instead, find your identity and strength in Him.

Worship God. I'm not talking about singing. I mean make God your highest treasure. If sexual sin seems valuable to you, fight that temptation by seeing God as even more valuable to you. Don't make sex or another person your idol. Teens often have sex because another person has become their idol and they are willing to sacrifice their purity rather than lose that person. That isn't love and it isn't worth it.

God loves you more than any person ever will. Jesus paid a huge price for you on the cross. He wants the best for you. So honor Him with your body.

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September 5, 2013

The Archer and the Arrow

Since my name is Nate Archer and I have a blog called Stay on Target it is impossible for me not to like a book titled The Archer and the Arrow. This is a book about communicating God’s Word in a way that faithfully delivers God’s truth to people. As the authors state, the task of the preacher is to “preach the gospel by prayerfully expounding the Bible to the people God has given me to love” (22).

The authors use the analogy of an arrow in comparison to a sermon. An arrow has three main parts: the arrowhead, the shaft, and the feathers. The arrowhead is the part of the arrow that does the damage. It is the part that penetrates. In a sermon, this is the part that pierces the heart. This is the part that convicts the listener of the reality of God’s truth and how it impacts their life. However, the authors explain, the arrowhead can’t work on its own. It has to be carried forward by the shaft of the arrow. In a sermon, the shaft is exegesis. This is the careful work of properly drawing out and understanding the real intended meaning of the passage. Finally, the feathers correspond to theology. Good feathers help an arrow to flight straight. In the same way, good theology helps a sermon to fly true. As the authors state, “Because every sermon has feathers attached, whether knowingly or not, one mark that distinguishes the good preacher from other preachers is the ability to understand how the preacher’s own feathers have affected the shaping of his arrows” (66).

The pastor must not only have good arrows, he must also know how to fire the bow. The archer must understand how interference from the wind can keep the arrow from hitting the target. In preaching, this means we must realize that although God’s Word is carried forward by supernatural power, there are still “real world” issues that can hinder communication. For example, it is foolish to ignore the fact that people will have a hard time hearing the truth if they are too cool, too tired, or too hungry to listen. The authors explain, “[In this world] there are many barriers to communication. These barriers range from profound to almost inconsequential. They include things like language and personal relationships—you may choose to ignore everything a preacher says because for some reason you don’t like him . . . or it may be the mundane realities of communication—the PA system is playing up and people can’t actually hear what we are saying” (88). Wisdom involves minimizing unnecessary barriers. 
The challenge is twofold. On the one hand we must resist being seduced by the promise of savvy communication, and on the other we must not resort to using ‘special revelation’ as an excuse for our own ineptitude (91).   
On the other hand—and more importantly—it is critical to realize that communication skills and charm can never reach past the ear to the heart. It is the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit that causes His message to penetrate the heart. That is why preaching must be done with prayer and dependence for God to do what only He can do. We must avoid the temptation of using manipulation to get quick, visible results. It is easy to get people to leave happy and come back with friends if we tell them only what they want to hear. Unfortunately, many preachers today “think we will understand the sheep better by listening to them rather than listening to their creator” (94). It is a tragedy to make the Bible “relevant” to people by making it irrelevant to God. In fact, we don’t need to make the Bible relevant at all. It already is relevant because “it addresses us, as we are, about the problems that most desperately plague us, and provides God’s own remedy for our maladies” (95). The gospel provides the real remedy for our deepest and most real problems. Preach it undiluted, with the confidence that God's power goes with it.

Faithful preaching centers on God’s gospel. It is for God’s glory, not our own. Good preaching exalts God, not the preacher. 
We long to hear people say, ‘He’s a great preacher.’ But we forget that what they are really saying is: ‘He’s a funny guy who possesses natural comedic timing and a winsome smile.’ If we are preaching for the sake of God’s honor, then we will long for our hearers to say, “Jesus is a great Saviour’ not ‘He is a great preacher' (92). 
The Archer and the Arrow is not a comprehensive manual on the art of preaching but it is a solid and foundational book about the heart of preaching. The more a pastor has this heart the more his preaching will stay on target.

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August 27, 2013

Powerman and Mosquitoboy: Robot Invasion - Episode 1

This is the first video for Powerman and Mosquitoboy: Robot Invasion. I wrote, directed, and edited these videos for a custom VBS program that we created for our church. This is the fourth and latest  "season" of Powerman videos that we made. If you've never watched this, you should! Watch a minute or two and see if it has you entertained. You could also watch it directly on YouTube here.

The teaching theme for this episode is God designed us for His happiness. (Psalm 139:14a) That comes in near the end.

There are four more Robot Invasion episodes yet to come. For Episode 2, click here!

To see the previous series, Powerman and Mosquitoboy: Deceptor's Revenge click here. You can also visit the PMMB youtube and facebook pages.

By the way, if you are a church looking to hire me and you found this, I guess it is good that you find out about my sense of humor up front!

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August 8, 2013

Fifteen Things I Love About My Wife

Fifteen years ago today I somehow got a wonderful girl named Hope Bradbury to marry me. In tribute to her, here are fifteen of the many things I love about my wife…
  • She loves me but she loves Jesus even more.
  • She is a woman of incredible strength and character. Her priorities are straight. She is patient and forgiving, but with high expectations. She works hard at the things she does.
  • She makes cute kids.
  • She teaches my kids to love Jesus Christ—by word and example.
  • She is an excellent photographer with an eye for capturing beauty. She has an eye for design. She makes our home beautiful—but I know she could do more if I had money to let her spend on a new couch.
  • She actually let us use Throne Room from Star Wars as her processional in our wedding. How cool is that!
  • Her life is about ministry. I love that she does ministry alongside me. She helps me see things I wouldn’t see. She is my best critic and coach. She is biblically sound and wise.
  • She is excellent at mentoring younger women. She is an instrument of God's grace. 
  • She isn't afraid to tell me what she is thinking. I never have to guess what I did wrong.
  • I like talking with her. She gives me wisdom and makes me laugh.
  • If she touches the back of my neck all the problems in the world instantly evaporate.
  • She is as beautiful as the day we were married. She is beautiful without even trying.
  • She uses the power of cuteness to get her way.
  • She trusts God to plan our future.
  • There was no one else I could have possibly married. She is everything I need and everything I could want. We fit.

August 5, 2013

Simple Ways to Keep Bible Reading Fresh

Familiarity can be a foe when it comes to Bible reading. We know that we should stay in the Word but we fool ourselves into thinking that the familiar has nothing fresh to offer. If that is your situation here are a few simple things to try:

1. Read a new translation.
Pick a translation that you haven't read through yet. Even small differences will make the passage pop out to you in new ways. Sometimes different words help us to realize that we had assumed the passage meant something it didn't necessarily mean. My suggestion is to pick a version that is slightly more literal than what you've been used to. For example, if you are used to the NIV try reading through the ESV instead. (NLT to NIV to ESV to NASB) I'm not saying that loose translations are always bad, but the further a translation strays from the original the less helpful it is.

2. Read out loud.
Reading out loud forces you to pay attention to each word. It also causes your brain to process the information differently than if you were just reading it silently. Reading out loud also has the benefit of keeping your mind from wandering away. This can be especially helpful if you are tired.

3. Read it to a kid. 
Reading the Bible to a child has many advantages! If you are a parent, this is an important way to fulfill your duty to train your son or daughter in God's truth. I read to my oldest son every night before bedtime. It is great quality time together and it helps him see how much I care about him and God's Word. Reading to him also helps me read the Bible in a fresh way because I have to explain words and think about the questions he will have.

When my first son was very young we read through The Jesus Storybook Bible several times. I recommend it. When he was in second grade, we started to read through the Gospel of Mark one "episode" at a time. This worked well because they were short, focused stories. Also, Mark was good for that age because it is action-packed and focused on Jesus. After Mark, we started reading the Old Testament one chapter a night. We started with Genesis and just kept going. We talk about applications that stand out to us but I don't try to "teach a lesson" each night.

4. Write out the passage.
This may seem tedious and pointless but it is not! Writing out the passage forces you to focus on individual words and phrases. You will be shocked by how many details you would have otherwise skimmed over. Now, you probably won't want to do this for long narratives or genealogies but for other passages it works well. It is ideal for New Testament letters! Try writing out the entire book of Ephesians longhand. I guarantee you will not think it was wasted time.

5. Write Bible study notes
This technique is not as simple as the others but you might want to give it a try. Try making a running commentary for your passage. Imagine that you were writing notes to give to a younger Christian who is preparing to lead a group Bible Study on this passage. For each verse, explain anything that you think needs to be explained. What is the main point that the author was trying to communicate for each verse or paragraph? What are applications that we can draw from this? I did this for fifteen years for small group leaders. Even when I had leaders that didn't "need" the notes, I still did this because of how much I got out of it. I'm sure it would be a benefit to you as well. And hang on to those notes; they may come in handy one day!

July 29, 2013


I was really hoping that Twitter would die, but since it hasn't you can follow me at @NateArcher1.

I can't offer indulgences to everyone who follows me but you should do it anyway.

July 25, 2013

A God-Centered Discipleship Reading List

These are some of the very best books that I recommend for Christian growth. These books also correspond to areas in the God-Centered Philosophy of Discipleship I developed. Together they form a discipleship curriculum that I commend to believers as a reading plan. 

I have used many boxes of these books for discipleship over the last few years. None of these books are difficult to read. I have used them both with adults and high school students. You could read them in order, or you might want to start with Transforming Grace or Seven Reasons Why You Can Trust the Bible.

Glorfy God
The Holiness of God, by R.C. Sproul
Outside of the Bible, this is one of the top three Christians books I have ever read. You will not see God the same way after reading this book. If you get the message of this book you will realize that everything is God-centered. 

Treasuring Christ
When I Don't Desire God, by John Piper
This is one of John Piper's best books for describing how God is glorified when we delight in Him as our highest treasure. This is also an incredibly practical book that helps us to learn how this is if hindered or helped.

Prophet (Teacher)
Seven Reasons Why You Can Trust the Bible, by Erwin Lutzer
Treasuring Christ as Prophet means hearing the voice of Scripture as the voice of God. This is a very readable book that will help you have confidence in the Bible as God's own Word. 

Priest (Savior)
Transforming Grace, by Jerry Bridges
This book does an excellent job of clearly explaining that salvation is by grace alone and that the Christian life is based on grace as well. 

King (Lord)
The Joy of Fearing God, by Jerry Bridges
Along with Sproul's The Holiness of God, this is the best book I know of for helping believers stand in awe of God's majesty. This books is deep, and warm, and will cause you to bow the knee to God with reverence and joy. 

Change in Thinking and Actions
How People Change, by Timothy S. Lane & Paul David Tripp
As Christians, we need to learn to be students of the human heart. This book does a very good job of showing how real heart-change takes place. 

The Bible itself is the only book that is essential to read, but excellent non-inspired books can still be a major benefit to your Christian growth. There six books are great ones to start with for a solid, God-centered foundation.

Related: A God-Centered Philosophy of Discipleship

July 16, 2013

A God-Centered Philosophy of Discipleship

What are we trying to do in people’s lives? It is easy to talk about discipleship without having a clear idea what it is or why we do it.

Several years ago I developed this tool to train ministry teams. My goal was to help us think about the heart of discipleship in a way that is biblical and God-centered. There are hundreds of things that could be said about discipleship but my intent was to create something simple and memorable.

Our ultimate goal is to Glorify God by helping people to Treasure Christ as their Prophet, Priest, and King resulting in a continuous and life-long Change of their Thinking and Actions.

Glorify God 
First and foremost, the ultimate goal of discipleship is to glorify God. This is because the ultimate goal for everything is to glorify God. It is the reason God created us. It is the reason we exist. As Romans 11:26 states, “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever! Amen.”

This is non-negotiable. It is crucial to have a God-centered view of discipleship rather than a man-centered view. We are not the center of the story. Although many great blessings often come as the result of growing in Christ, God is not a tool that we use to get something else that we really want. He is the focus. He deserves it. His glory is worth it.

So, what exactly does it mean to glorify God? The next part of this model is meant to help us grasp what this means by saying the same thing with different words.

Treasuring Christ 
But how do we glorify God? Do we do this by building a giant golden statue of Jesus or getting God the most “likes” on a social media site? No. The real way that human beings glorify God is by treasuring Him in their hearts. Whatever our hearts delight in the most is the thing that has the most worth to us. The more our hearts value God’s worth, the more God is glorified in us. As John Piper puts it, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.” Real discipleship aims at the heart. Real Christian growth is about what we love.

Christ is the focus of our worship, but what do we treasure Christ as? Is it okay to treasure Christ as our magic genie, or perhaps as the ideal humanist role model? As I thought about this, I recalled the three Old Testament offices that Christ fulfilled: Prophet, Priest, and King. I realized that Christian growth will always be deformed unless we treasure Christ in all three of these roles.

The prophet was the mouthpiece of God. The main function of the prophet was not to predict the future. The most important thing about the prophet was that God spoke His message through him. In Deuteronomy 18:18 God tells Moses, “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.” Jesus is the ultimate fulfillment of this promise. In Hebrews 1:1-3 we read that in these last days God has spoken to us by his Son…the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature. In John 1:1 Jesus is even called the Word of God.

To treasure Jesus as Prophet means to treasure Him as the one who teaches us what is true. We want to believe what Jesus believed and taught. This especially means that we believe the Bible as God’s Word. Jesus taught that the whole Old Testament was the Word of God (Jn. 10:35) and He told his disciples that He would send the Holy Spirit to guide them in all truth (Jn. 14:26). Jesus confirmed the Old Testament and commissioned the New Testament. As followers of Jesus we need to adjust our beliefs to everything God teaches through the Bible.

Let me be clear, we need to believe everything the Bible teaches, not just the “red letters” of Jesus. Printing Jesus’ words in red letters is a modern invention. “All Scripture”—black and red—“is God breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

In the Old Testament the priests were the ones who made sacrifices to God on behalf of the people. The book of Hebrews makes it clear that Jesus is the final and permanent fulfillment of the office of priest. For example, Hebrews 4:14 states, “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.” Not only does Jesus present the sacrifice for us, Jesus gave himself as the sacrifice for our sins (Heb. 7:27). He took the wrath that we deserve when He went to the cross in our place.  

Treasuring Jesus as our Priest means treasuring Him as Savior. You are not a true Christian if you do not treasure Jesus Christ as the one who sacrificed Himself to pay the price for your sin and to make you right with God. As Christians, we never outgrow our need for God’s grace. We need to grow in our appreciation for it every day. We also need to realize that “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Heb. 4:15-16).

In the Old Testament, the king was the one who rules with authority. In the New Testament, Peter declared, “let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah” (Acts 2:36). Jesus is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords (Rev. 19:16).

To treasure Jesus as King means to treasure Him as Lord or Master. He is the one who deserves our obedience. He is the one with authority over our lives. He is the one who we must gladly bow the knee to. Jesus is the King and we need to recognize that fact and live like it—all the time. We need to stop living like we are on the throne.  

The problem is that the sinful human heart hates the fact that Jesus is King. That is why some churches neglect Jesus as King. It’s a big turn-off to rebels. It is much easier to fill a church talking about Jesus as a great humanitarian role model than as the Lord to whom we must bow the knee. We need to focus on Jesus as Prophet and Priest and King. If we neglect any of these three roles, discipleship will be unbalanced. 

Change, Thinking, Actions
When a person genuinely treasures Christ as their Prophet, Priest, and King there will be change in their life. Change may be dramatic, but usually it is a gradual process. It will be from the inside out—the way it is supposed to be. Lasting change is change that starts in the heart and flows outward to the rest of life. Romans 12:2 calls us to be “transformed by the renewing of your mind.” The result that God is aiming for is to conform the believer into the image of Jesus Christ (Rm. 8:29). As we treasure Christ as our teacher, Savior, and Master we will grow to become more and more like Him in every way possible.

Please notice that life change is at the end of the process, not the beginning. This is important because, on the contrary, too often it is the main thing that people are after. For example, imagine some parents whose main desire is for their kids to stay off drugs and keep from getting pregnant. These are good things to desire, but it would be a shallow victory if their kids avoided scandalous sins but didn’t have hearts that cared about Jesus.

If you just change the outside, the change is fake and temporary. If you change the inside, the outside will follow. Don’t make the mistake of trying to change behavior without changing hearts. The true goal is not behavior modification, but heart change for the glory of God.


There you have it. My guess is that you could now take out a piece of paper and draw this diagram yourself. There is much more that could be said about discipleship, but I hope that this model will help you to think about Christian growth in a way that is (1) God-centered, (2) Heart-targeted, and (3) Biblically-balanced.

Related: A God-Centered Discipleship Reading List

July 10, 2013

The Conviction to Lead

Albert Mohler has written what is probably the best book on leadership I have read. What sets The Conviction to Lead apart is that it is thoroughly Christian, cohesive, and conviction-based. Unlike some leadership books which would be equally as helpful in a secular setting, Mohler’s book is specifically geared for Christian leadership. Certainly, there are principles that apply in both worlds, but this book is not business principles baptized with Bible verses. Second, it is not a random collection of wise principles. The chapters dovetail together and build on each other. Finally, what really sets this book apart is that it teaches leadership based on conviction rather than pragmatism. At the core, we must be more concerned with “what is right” than merely “what works.” Mohler’s book exemplifies that type of godly practical leadership.

Here are several gems mined from this book. These quotes help describe the heart of conviction-based leadership: 
True leadership starts with a purpose, not a plan.
Convictions are not merely beliefs we hold; they are those beliefs that hold us in their grip. . . Put simply, a conviction is a belief of which we are thoroughly convinced. I don’t mean that we are merely persuaded that something is true, but rather that we are convinced this truth is essential and life-changing. We live out of this truth and are willing to die for it.
The leadership that really matters is all about conviction. The leader is rightly concerned with everything from strategy and vision to team-building, motivation, and delegation, but at the center of the true leader’s heart and mind you will find convictions that drive and determine everything else.
The leader develops the capacity to think in convictional terms and leads followers to do the same.
The leader draws followers into a story that frames all of life. . . That story frames the mission and identity of the organization, and explains why you give your life to it. The excellent leader is the steward-in-chief of that story, and the leader’s chief responsibilities flow from this stewardship. Leadership comes down to protecting the story, bringing others into the story, and keeping the organization accountable to the story. The leader tells the story over and over again, refining it, updating it, and driving it home.
Leadership is the consummate human art. It requires nothing less than that leaders shape the way their followers see the world. The leader must shape the way followers think about what is
real, what is true, what is right, and what is important. Christians know that all truth is unified, and so these concerns are unified as well. Leaders aim to achieve lasting change and common alignment on these questions.
Leaders must be unquestionably committed to the truth, and they must lead their followers to do the same. Beyond that, leaders must lead followers into a growing maturity that enables them to discern the true from the false.
Matters of priority are also central to worldviews, and the leader must teach followers what is most important, most urgent, and most essential. If not, followers will go off in different directions, working out of very different understandings of what matters most. The great aim of leadership is to lead followers continually into a deeper and more comprehensive love for what is most real, most true, most right, and most important. The thrill of leadership is in seeing this happen, and long-term success depends on it.
This is how effective, faithful leadership works. You aim at the heart and the head of your followers, confident that if they share the worldview and embrace it with conviction, the right actions will naturally follow.
Passions must arrive out of convictions. . . Passions arise naturally or not at all. It happens when convictions come to life, and deep beliefs drive visions and plans. The passionate leader is driven by the knowledge that the right beliefs, aimed at the right opportunity, can lead to earth-shaking changes.
In any context of leadership, passions arise out of beliefs. For the Christian leader, those convictions must be drawn from the Bible and must take the shape of the gospel. Our ultimate conviction is that everything we do is dignified and magnified by the fact that we were created for the glory of God. We were made for his glory, and this means that each one of us has a divine purpose. 

Related: Leadership: Character, Connection, and Direction 

July 3, 2013

The Star-Spangled Banner's Unanswered Question

The last time I was at a minor league baseball game I started thinking about the lyrics of The Star-Spangled Banner. The thing that struck me is that our national anthem asks an unanswered question. 

The anthem was originally a poem written by Francis Scott Key who had been captive on a British warship during the bombardment of Fort McHenry during the War of 1812. Through the night, he could see from the flashes of the artillery that the U.S. flag was still flying. However, he wouldn't learn until morning how the battle turned out and if the flag had been taken down in defeat. 
O say can you see by the dawn's early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;
O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave,
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?
We know how the battle turned out. We take it for granted that the flag would still be there in the morning. But Key didn't know that. He was desperate for any word that the flag was still flying because there was a significant chance that it could be gone. We need to realize the same thing.

Every time we hear the national anthem it should remind us that the flagand our freedommight not always be here. We assume it is permanent. We take it for granted. We don't cherish how valuable, rare, and fragile our freedom is. It might not exist tomorrow.

All the great empires of human history eventually fell. Even if America is protected from her external enemies, the threat remains that she will rot from within until only a star-spangled shell is left. 

Our historic liberties are being assaulted. The values of our founding fathers are being forcefully abandoned. Their work ethic is evaporating. Our heritage is being squandered. Religious liberty is being eroded as the new morality of the cultural elite is pushed on everyone else. 

There may soon come a day when the only circle of  liberty that remains is that which is horded by the liberal idealists in power. The only freedom that will be tolerated will be freedom from God's transcendent morality. The goal of the new freedom will not be freedom of conscience but freedom from conscience. 

How long will the tattered flag of true freedom still fly? How long until all is dark? Do not take for granted what we still have. Pray for sanity. Pray for revival.

June 25, 2013

Superman v. Superman

The fight scenes in the new Superman movie could have used more creativity. There were basically only two fight moves: (a) ramming the other guy into a building, and (b) throwing the other guy into a building. Don’t get me wrong, the effects in Man of Steel were spectacular, but the older Superman movies had an epic quality that is hard to top. Remember in Superman 2 when Zod makes Superman kneel down to him and take his hand, then Superman crushes it? Brilliant.

Superman 3 was my favorite, but that was because I was 8. I thought the movie was hilarious, but again, that was because I was 8. Thirty years later… not so much. However, even today there is one part of that movie that remains truly epic. More than that, this scene moves me as a Christian. I am not kidding.

What happens is that Superman gets exposed to some synthetic kryptonite, but because the formula is wrong it doesn’t kill him. Instead, it makes Superman turn evil. He turns into a jerk who punches holes in oil tankers, messes up the Leaning Tower of Pisa, gets drunk and hits on sleazy women. Finally, evil Superman lands in a junkyard. He goes through an internal crisis and splits into two halves.

Now, there is Clark Kent, in a suit and tie, who represents his good side and there is five-o’clock-shadow Superman who embodies his evil side. The epic fight begins. Superman fights himself. At first, evil Superman pummels Clark Kent who barely puts up a fight. Finally, Clark Kent starts fighting back, but evil Superman fights dirty. The fight drags on and eventually evil Superman puts unconscious Clark Kent into a metal crusher. We hear him scream, but then he rips through the side of the machine in a rage, grabs evil Superman by the throat and chokes the living daylights out of him until he is dead.

This is what the Christian life is like. There is a battle inside every believer between good and evil. The Bible refers to these two sides as the Spirit and the flesh. For example, Galatians 5:17 states:

For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.

These two sides are sometimes spoken of as the “old man” and the “new man” (Eph. 4:22-24). In Romans 7:13-25 the Apostle Paul describes this battle in his own heart. You see, when a sinner trusts Christ as his Savior, he becomes something new. God’s Spirit comes inside him and starts to change him from the inside out. The new man is our new true identity, but there is always the old sinful part of us that remains and tries to stay in control. The old man fights dirty. This is a grueling fight that will rage on and on until our dying day.

The problem is that we often don’t put up the fight that we should. We play defense and let the old self take cheap shot after cheap shot. We don’t get aggressive in our fight against sin. We need to remember that the Bible actually calls us to murder the old man. For example, Romans 8:13 and Colossians 3:5 tell us to “put to death” or “mortify” (KJV) the old sinful self. These are violent images.

That’s why I like Superman 3. It is a picture of what I feel going on in my heart. It is a fight. This movie reminds us that there comes a time to stop being kicked around by the old man. There comes a time to get angry, and with God’s help and power, to use all our strength to strangle the daylights out of the old man. 

June 20, 2013

Powerman and Mosquitoboy: Deceptor's Revenge

This is the complete series of videos for Powerman and Mosquitoboy: Deceptor's Revenge. I wrote, directed, and edited these videos for a custom VBS program that we created for our church. This is the third  "season" of Powerman videos that we made, but if you are new to the series this is a good place to start. Enjoy!

This series was originally done as five episodes but I had to split them online because of YouTube's former time limits.  Each episode was used to illustrate a different teaching theme during the VBS week.
  • Episode 1 (1 & 2 here): God is Eternal; God has No Origin - Isaiah 40:28
  • Episode 2 (3 & 4 here): God is Unchanging - Hebrews 13:8
  • Episode 3 (5 & 6 here): God is Holy - Isaiah 6:3
  • Episode 4 (7 & 8 here): God is Love - Romans 5:8
  • Episodes 5 (9 &10 here): God is Not Silent; God Has Spoken Through His Word - Hebrews 4:12
To see the previous series, Powerman and Mosquitoboy: in Space! click here. I hope to have the next series, Powerman and Mosquitoboy: Robot Invasion online in the near future. You can also visit the PMMB youtube and facebook pages.

May 28, 2013

A Vision for a Healthy Church

Both church health and church growth are important, but church health is the more vital of the two. A church can grow, but not be healthy. On the other hand, if a church is faithful and healthy, it will have a heart for reaching others with the life-changing message of salvation.

At least five things will be true of a healthy church:

(1)   A healthy is focused on the glory of God. A healthy church does not exist for its own glory but for the fame of His Name. A healthy church longs to see Jesus Christ glorified in the hearts of people everywhere. God is glorified in our hearts when we find our joy in Him. This is what God deserves and this is the greatest good that human beings can have. Therefore, we want to help each other and others to make Christ the highest treasure of our hearts. Therefore a healthy church will keep its focus on Christ and continuously kindle their devotion to Him as our first love (Rev. 2:4).

(2)   A healthy church has members who are continuously growing in their knowledge, love, and obedience to God’s Word. (Col. 1:9-14) Discipleship is a life-long process based on God’s grace. When people encounter God’s saving grace their lives begin to be changed from the inside out. Motivated by love and gratitude, Christians desire to follow Jesus and to bow before Him as our King. We want to listen to His Word in order to know Him more and to learn what pleases and displeases Him (Eph. 5:17). Thus, a healthy church will have a high view of the Bible and will be diligent to let it renew our minds and transform us more and more into the image of Christ. (Rm. 12:2; 8:29)

(3)   A healthy church is made up of members who love and care for each other as they would themselves. The church is the body of Christ and we are all members of it (1 Cor. 12:27). We need to remember that God did not create Christians to live as spiritual Lone Rangers. We need to live in unity with each other, caring for one another’s well-being as if it were our very own. The members of a healthy church will forgive one another, bear each other’s burdens, encourage one another, and spur each other on to love and good deeds. Further, we will work together for the mission that God has called us to on this earth.

(4)   A healthy church has an evangelistic heart for the lost and an outward focus. A healthy church is not content to keep the blessings of the Gospel to itself. Instead, a healthy church desires to obey Christ’s Great Commission to go and make disciples of all nations (Mt. 28:19-28). A healthy church will have a heart like Jesus had—a heart of compassion for the lost (Luke 15:1-32). A healthy church will care about evangelism both individually, and as a church; both locally, and globally. A healthy church will be a lighthouse, not a clubhouse.

(5)    A healthy church will have members who are equipped and active in using their spiritual gifts, abilities, time, and resources to glorify God by building up the body of Christ. (1 Cor. 12; Eph. 4:1:16) The core mission of the church is to glorify God by bringing people into a living relationship with Christ and helping each other grow as devoted followers of Him. In other words, we are called to build up the body of Christ through evangelism and discipleship. God has equipped believers with the gifts needed to do this work. In a healthy church, each member embraces the fact that he or she is an essential part of fulfilling this mission. Our goal is not merely to make disciples, but to make disciples who make disciples.

These things are essential, but they are not the only things characterize a healthy church. To become a healthy church requires passionate and dependent prayer, biblical leadership, and a healthy diet of expository preaching. Yet the goal of all of this is for the people of God to become the body of Christ as Jesus intended it to be, for His glory.    

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