Friday, December 28, 2012

Quick, Vital, Free Online AED/CPR training

Would you know what to do if someone suddenly collapsed in front of you?  This web site combines very realistic videos with choice points that allow you to see what happens if you do various wrong (and right) things when a man suddenly has a heart attack in front of you.  (One of your options is even "freak out"!)

It doesn't take long, and it's very confidence-building.  It might help you to save someone's life.  Or at least prevent you from freaking out!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Why Did Jesus Come?

Last Sunday I got to go to jail to help do a church service for some men there.  In praying about what to share with them from the Bible, I got the idea to do a short survey of the Scripture verses that talk about Jesus' reasons for coming.  Sometimes we get so wrapped up in the facts of His coming (shepherds, angels, dreams, wise men) that we neglect the purpose of His coming. 

I was surprised at how many verses directly talk about reasons for Christmas.  But rather than tell you what those reasons are, I'm going to give you the same verses I went through with the men in jail.  There may be even more that I didn't find. You can dig out and enjoy their meaning for yourself.

Matthew 9:13
Mark 10:45
Luke 19:10
John 3:17
John 6:38
John 9:39
John 18:37
2 Corinthians 8:9
Galatians 4:4,5
Hebrews 2:14-18
Hebrews 9:26
1 John 3:5,8

Note: for a great short book on a somewhat wider topic, I highly recommend John Piper's 50 Reasons Jesus Came to Die.

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Innkeeper -- a touching Christmas poem by John Piper

This video of John Piper reading his poem "The Innkeeper" will move you, and if you are hurting, it will encourage you. You can also download a free PDF copy of the book.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Imagine There's a Lennon

Rock star John Lennon was murdered on this day in 1980.  Ray Comfort has just released a great 34 minute exploration of Lennon's life and beliefs.  Please take time to watch it and share it with your friends.  Imagine what John Lennon's life might have been like if he had heard and embraced the true gospel of Jesus.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Training in Biblical Counseling Coming to the Verde Valley

Interested in learning how to do Biblical counseling? Counseling is not just for “professionals” – all of us counsel each other, all the time, mostly "off the cuff" in informal settings. The question isn’t “Will you counsel?” but “Is your counsel based on the Bible, or based on your own thinking?” Training from the Biblical Counseling Training Center of Arizona is coming to Cottonwood. The training will be held in six, 8 hour segments on the first and third Saturdays of January, February and March (a total of 48 hours of instruction). Click this link for a typical schedule of the training.

The training does have a cost: $375 for individuals or $500 for married couples. (Our church is offering financial assistance to our members who are interested in taking the course but can't afford it. Perhaps your church would do the same for you?) There is also some required reading. If you’re interested or have questions, contact me ASAP and I can point you in the right direction.  You can also contact the BCTC directly.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

PLEASE buy this book for your pastor--but don't read it yourself!

I've known for many years that being a pastor is a tough job.  For most of my life, I've known that only from the outside, watching many of my pastors succumb to various forms of death.  It's obvious that Satan knows the "smite the shepherd and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered" principle very well.

You have probably seen the frightening statistics about the number of pastors who bite the dust.  If you've been a Christian very long, you probably have seen it first hand in your own church.  Only 1 pastor in 10 will actually retire as some form of minister. 

But since I became a lay elder in my church a year and a half ago, I've gotten to know the temptations and pressures of pastoring from the inside.  Granted, the pressures I've experienced are very low compared to what vocational pastors face, or even what a lay elder at a larger church might encounter.  Still, this position has exposed areas of sin in my own heart that other life challenges didn't.

That's why I have been profoundly touched by Paul Tripp's latest book, Dangerous Calling.  Not only does he expose, with scalpel-like precision, the very sins I have been wrestling, and not only does he explain in horrifying detail where those sins will lead if unaddressed, but he also gives great hope and encouragement by pointing back to the cross where my sins were conquered by Jesus.

Paul Tripp was a pastor for a number of years and fought the sins and pressures his book describes.  Then he taught in a conservative Christian seminary, and became alarmed at the way young men were being sent out into the ministry unprepared for the heart-battles they would be facing.  He now believes his mission is to be "a pastor to pastors".

This book is both stringent and kind, both passionate and compassionate.  He writes personally, talking directly to his reader ("you", not "they") and sharing many sins from his own life.  You can tell it's the product of tears.  The urgency in his tone, the realization that in his eyes this is life or death stuff he's writing about, keeps you turning the pages.  It's kind of like a long letter from your dad.

Dangerous Calling from Crossway on Vimeo.

The title of this blog post is not a joke.  Please, please, please, whether you think your pastor walks on air or whether you think he's a jerk, give him this book.  (Or, if he's not a reader, get him the DVD set.)  It may very well be the instrument God uses to save your pastor's marriage, children, or ministry.  It might even be the salvation of your church.  (Before you object to my terminology, look up 1 Timothy 4:16.)

But as strange as it sounds, I would recommend that you not read this book yourself. You want to be able to tell your pastor when you give him the book, "I haven't read it, but I heard it is really good."  If he knows you read it first, it will ruin the whole book for him.  He'll wonder whether you gave it to him because you saw in him the sins the book describes and he'll see your face staring at him from every page.  Also, it would be easy for a non-pastor to become more jaded towards his pastor after reading this book.  One reader described this book as "bathing in razor blades".  Congregation members who emotionally abuse pastors could use this book to tear their pastor apart even worse.  Trust me, the Holy Spirit does not need your help to rub the message of this book in.  If your pastor can read this book and remain unmoved, you probably should look for a different church.

Buy the book, give it to your pastor, and ask God to bless him with repentance and you with compassion.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The "$10,000 Federal Government Grant" Scam

Today I received a phone call from a woman in a 'boiler room' who said that my name and phone number had been selected by the US Federal Government to receive a $10,000 grant.  This is not the first such phone call I've had.  Of course, I knew that it is a scam.  The US Government is certainly profligate in its spending, but not to that extent!  Although the woman claimed to be calling from a government office in Washington DC, her West African accent leads me to believe she was probably calling from the world headquarters of fraud, Nigeria.

A quick Google search showed that many other people have been receiving similar calls.  Some people have taken the time to play along with the story until they are asked to send a small amount of money ($150ish) via Western Union or another money transfer service.

I took a different tactic: I told the caller she is a liar and that she needed to turn to Jesus in repentance and trust if she wanted to avoid hell.  I said this with a gentle voice.  What surprised me was how brazenly the woman continued to assert that she was telling the truth.  We continued to go around and around for several minutes: me pointing her to Jesus, her asserting her innocence.

Come to think of it, I guess we are all like that before Jesus saves us.  Although we might admit to sin when caught, normally we justify ourselves; we think we're basically good people compared to others.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Joys of Missionary Life

Last year we met the Georges at a 5 day training in Bible storying by Simply the Story.  Sometimes we tend to romanticize missions life.  I hope you'll take time to read their latest two blog posts (links below).  They are short and have pictures.

Kind of puts a different perspective on things doesn't it?

Now, for a completely different (but actually very similar) portrait of missionary life, please take 15 minutes to watch this great video.

Never the Same from Pioneers-USA on Vimeo.
The Sawi were headhunters and cannibals when a young couple named Don and Carol Richardson arrived in their village carrying their seven-month-old boy Steve—and a message that would change the tribe forever. The year was 1962, and Steve—and later, three more children—spent their youth among the Sawi, learning the language and embracing the culture in ways that would shape the rest of their lives. Their story was immortalized in the best-selling book Peace Child and a feature film of the same name, inspiring a new generation to take the gospel to the remaining isolated tribes of the earth.

Fifty years later, Steve joins his father, Don, and two brothers, Shannon and Paul, to visit the Sawi village where they grew up. Journey with Steve as he travels to the swamps of Papua, Indonesia, to introduce you to the Sawi, and explore the impact of the gospel among a previously unreached people group.
So where's the similarity between the Georges and the Richardsons?  The Georges seem dogged by repeated problems, while the Richardsons are seeing incredible fruit from their ministry. 

First,  Don Richardson and Tim George both brought young families from American comforts to live in an underdeveloped society.  Don was just 27.  How many "20 somethings" do you know who would want to do that, much less who would actually have the skills and character to last in an environment as hostile as what the Georges and Richardsons face(d)? We need to raise the bar of training goals for our youth (before they hit their 20s) if we are going to produce more Don Richardsons.  If our goal is to produce youth who can make enough money to live comfortably, we are not going reach the United States with the gospel, much less the unevangelized regions of the world.

Second, remember that 50 years ago, Don Richardson had never read Peace Child.  He didn't know he would be famous one day as a "successful" missionary.  He took his family clear around the world to the Sawi without knowing whether there would be any fruit whatsoever.  Missionaries motivated by anything less than love for Jesus quickly either burn out and go home, or compromise to achieve "results".  Jesus gets honor whenever we present the gospel, regardless of the response of the hearer; His honor is the greatest result we could ever want.

Join me in praying that in another 50 years the Georges will be able to visit thriving churches which they helped start.  But that either way, they and the thousands of other missionaries around the world will be faithful to honor Jesus regardless of the response they see.  That they each may someday hear the words, "Well done, good and faithful slave.  Enter into the joy of your Master!"

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Book Recommendation: Counterfeit Gospels

Most of my recent book reviews have been just that, book reviews.  This one (although I got it free from Moody Press in exchange for reviewing it), I am actually recommending that you buy.  If you don't need it, you'll know someone who does.  And no, Moody didn't make me say that!

It's essential that we get the gospel right, because the gospel is what gets us to God.  No surprise, then, that there are so many seductive 'artificial gospels' available today.  Like artificial sweeteners, they have delightful taste, but no nutritional value.  Trevin Wax warns about six of these in Counterfeit Gospels.

It is probably one of the most organized books I've ever read.  Wax breaks the gospel down into three main elements (using a 3-legged stool analogy).  He spends a chapter on each of these three.  Then he describes two counterfeits that tweak each 'leg' of the gospel.  So the table of contents looks like this:

Part 1:
1. The Gospel Story
2. The Therapeutic Gospel
3. The Judgmentless Gospel

Part 2:
4. The Gospel Announcement
5. The Moralist Gospel
6. The Quietist Gospel

Part 3:
7. The Gospel Community
8. The Activist Gospel
9. The Churchless Gospel

Each chapter about a fake gospel (chapters 2, 3, 5, 6, 8, 9) follows this pattern: an explanation of why this fake is a fatal deviation from the truth, how it has infiltrated evangelical thinking, why the imitation is so attractive, and how to guard our hearts against it.  And, unlike some authors on this subject, Wax does not come across as a theological witchhunter, out to blast the heretics.  His concern and tone is pastoral.

If you've been reading people like John Piper, Don Carson, Tim Keller, Al Mohler, and Mark Dever, you probably won't find much "new" in this book.  Yet, Wax does not come across as merely an echo.  He blends personal anecdotes, clarifying analogies, and clear, accurate summations of theological truths in a way that is uniquely his. 

But one negative: I still have not figured out why the cover is a photo of spent matches. 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Could you prevent a robbery?

A friend posted the following true story to his Facebook page recently.
Unfortunately as good as police are, they typically arrive at the scene after the crime has been committed and someone is seriously injured or dead. Protecting ourselves and loved ones is our responsibility.

When we had a power outage a few years ago, our power was out due to severe storms for 6 days. Many of the homes in our development were vacant but a few of us stuck it out with generators and gas fireplaces. One night at 11pm with our neighborhood pitch black, a Honda Civic drove to the end of our cul-de-sac and four individuals not from our neighborhood got out of the car. There was no phone service either from land line or cell. I stepped out of my doorway with my Glock and flashlight and informed the individuals in a loud voice that I was armed and prepared to defend my home and family. They all piled back into the little Honda and sped away. I had not only saved my family from possible home invasion but my neighbors as well.

The next day our phones came back up and I called the Sheriff and told him what had happened. He told me that there were numerous reports of robberies and break-ins those last few days and there were not enough law enforcement available to respond. He told me that how I handled the situation was completely appropriate and wished that more citizens were able to defend themselves in a reasonable and responsible manner. It is important to note that not a single shot was fired and no one not even the thugs were harmed in this encounter. There was no doubt their intention was to break into several homes in our cul-de-sac. I can only imagine what position we would have been in if these four individuals had burst into our home finding my wife and I defenseless. You would be surprised how many crimes are actually prevented by simply possessing a firearm without having to fire a single round.
To be honest, I'm not sure I would have the guts do what my friend did.  I admire what he did, and wish I was like him  I get so nervous at even the hint of conflict that I think I would more a liability than an asset in a situation like this.

What about you?

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Discipleship Essentials: A review of The Radical Question and A Radical Idea by David Platt

David Platt's books Radical and Radical Together are excellent.  I highly recommend both of them.  But for people who are too busy to read good books, here's a book with essential excerpts from both.  Nice hardback binding, big print, quick read, high impact.

In the first half of the book (the part based on Radical) Platt lays out the cost of following Jesus (everything we have) and the rewards of following Jesus (everything He has).  It's a stark challenge to the American pursuit of success and comfort.

The second half challenges us to not only be followers of Jesus ourselves, but to disciple others to follow Jesus too.  We multiply through discipleship, not programs, buildings, or talent.  He uses true stories to show that the teachings of Christ and the apostles are still uncomfortably possible for us today. 

Short, stirring, simple.  May this little book hit its mark and free many Christians from wasted lives.

I got my copy for free through WaterBrook Multnomah's "Blogging for Books" program.  I was not required to give a favorable review.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Voting Romney = Voting Wrongly?

I have something of a history of voting for neither major presidential candidate.  As I recall, I did not vote for Bob Dole or Bill Clinton in 1996 (and 2012 feels a lot like 1996, only worse).  In 2008, I voted for Chuck Baldwin rather than Barack Obama or John McCain.  I also have a habit of picking (very conservative) losers in the presidential primaries.

This trend of protest voting seems to be gaining momentum.  More and more people are buying the logic that it's better to vote for no one than to vote for the lesser of two evils.  Doug Phillips promotes this philosophy with great intelligence and passion.  Here's an example from his ministry's Facebook page:
1. The Scriptures are still the only rule of action for Christians.

2. The duty of believers at the ballot box is the same today as it has always been. We may only select leaders who meet the Scriptural requirements for civil magistrate. Leaders need not be pe
rfect, but they must be qualified.

3. The obedient response of the elect of God to the Lord Jesus Christ and His law-word, not partisan politics or the results of presidential elections, is the key to national blessing.

4. The results of the presidential election, regardless of who wins, will work together for the good of the elect of God.

5. God is still on the throne.

Bonus Observation: The great and beautiful hope of tomorrow is the obedience of the Church in the face of opposition and challenging political scenarios. There is more hope for God's blessing on America if the people of God do what is right before the Lord, then if if they check their consciences at the ballot box to gain a perceived short-term victory. Perhaps God will save the city "if there be but ten..."
Here's an even more explicit warning blast from Phillips about Romney:
Report on the {First}Presidential Debate from Doug Phillips: It was a tragic day for America as our nation sat and watched two committed socialists, representing the Democratic and Republican parties respectively, argue between each other over which was the most committed to government interference in the private sector, wealth redistribution, and statist intervention in the economy. Tonight we learned that both candidates believe that social security is a success, that the government is responsible for education, and that the market will only work with heavy government regulation. Historically, presidential debates are shallow in terms of constitutional analysis of issues, but tonight's debate may have set the standard as the most constitutionally illiterate presentation by opposing primary party candidates for president in a national debate in the history of our nation. Tonight, (in case anyone needed reminding) Mitt Romney proved that he could be every bit the neo-Marxist that president Obama has become. What he may have lost in the first part of the debate through his petulant nit-picking, Governor Romney made up in the second part of the debate by unnerving President Obama, who clearly appeared to lose his edge as the evening closed. But the event was more of a clash of personalities then a debate over policy. Both peas were from the same pod, and the difference between the candidates on the issues raised tonight were little more than micro-degrees, with times that honest observers must admit that Obama appeared every so slightly to the right of Romney, and other times, vice versa. In sum: No Bible believing, Constitution-loving American should be proud of what happened tonight. Prediction: Liberals will like Romney much more after tonight's debate. But so will a large body of Christians to whom what Romney has said, done and advocated is irrelevant. The Evangelical political lobotomy is almost complete. His name is not Obama, and any facts pertaining to his radical socialism, statist agenda, pro-abortionism and pro-homosexual advocacy that get in the way of that truth must be ignored or stamped out.
I agree with much Phillips says.  Because of Republican loyalty to party rather than principle, conservativism fared better under Bill Clinton than under George W. Bush.  The GOP may again become the "Dem lite" party if they regain the White House.  More importantly, no matter which man is elected, we will still have a man who embodies the average American man.  A man who claims to be a Christian, but isn't; a man to whom the Bible is errant and fallible; a nice fellow who ultimately cares more about what is expedient than what is right in God's eyes; a man who does not argue "if" but "how much".  The only hope for positive political change in the US is for professing Christians to repent and get right with God. 

But Phillips is not the only one thinking deeply about these topics.  Here is a Roman Catholic apologist, John Martignoni, explaining why he thinks voting for Romney is not wrong:
President Obama agrees 100% with the Democrat Platform when it comes to the “right” of a woman to abort her child. He has on a few occasions spoken to Planned Parenthood conventions and made it very clear that there isn’t an abortion that he wouldn’t support. He even pledged to Planned Parenthood that he would make passage of the “Freedom of Choice” Act – which essentially removes any and all state restrictions on abortion (parental consent laws, 48–hour waiting periods, laws requiring women see a sonogram of their baby before the abortion, and so on) – as one of the highest priorities of his administration. Thankfully that hasn’t happened…yet.

His administration has gone so far as to sue at least one state to force them to reinstate funding for Planned Parenthood – the largest abortion provider in the country. Also, he is 100% in favor of the Health and Human Services regulations, which are a part of Obamacare, that would require all Catholic hospitals, Catholic businesses, and most Catholic organizations to pay for abortion, contraception, and sterilization in the health care plans they provide to their employees – trampling all over the religious freedom rights of Catholics.

While a state senator in Illinois, Barack Obama was the lone vote against a bill that would require doctors to give proper medical care to infants that were born alive after a failed abortion. It was, essentially, a vote to allow infanticide when a baby survived an abortion.

Now, Mitt Romney does not have a stellar record on abortion. It seems he has gone back and forth a bit. He has however, made a pledge during this campaign with the following provisions:

1) I am pro–life and believe that abortion should be limited to only instances of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother.

2) I support the reversal of Roe v. Wade, because it is bad law and bad medicine. Roe was a misguided ruling that was a result of a small group of activist federal judges legislating from the bench.

3) I support the Hyde Amendment, which broadly bars the use of federal funds for abortions. And as president, I will support efforts to prohibit federal funding for any organization like Planned Parenthood, which primarily performs abortions or offers abortion–related services.

4) I will reinstate the Mexico City Policy to ensure that non–governmental organizations that receive funding from America refrain from performing or promoting abortion services, as a method of family planning, in other countries. This includes ending American funding for any United Nations or other foreign assistance program that promotes or performs abortions on women around the world.

5) I will advocate for and support a Pain–Capable Unborn Child Protection Act to protect unborn children who are capable of feeling pain from abortion.

6) And perhaps most importantly, I will only appoint judges who adhere to the Constitution and the laws as they are written, not as they want them to be written.

7) If I have the opportunity to serve as our nation's next president, I commit to doing everything in my power to cultivate, promote, and support a culture of life in America.

Now, the first point above is not really a “pro–life” position. But, if we can limit the number of abortions to only those associated with rape or incest, we will have eliminated around 99% of the abortions in this country. We can then start working on legislation and education campaigns to eliminate the remaining 1%. So, while this position is not a pro–life position, it is much less of a pro–abortion position than President Obama’s. It is the lesser of two evils.

The other six provisions, however, are indeed pro–life provisions. So, you have one candidate who is a pro–abortion extremist, and one who is pro–abortion, but much less so, in certain respects, but pro–life in other respects. You clearly have a situation where, on the issue of abortion, one candidate is the lesser of two evils. And, we are allowed, when there is no other viable alternative, to vote for the lesser of two evils.

Now, the prudential question becomes, can I trust Mitt Romney’s pledge to do these things? After all, he is a politician and he has seemed to flip flop before on this issue. I don’t know if you can trust him or not. However, I know that with President Obama, we are absolutely assured that a pro–abortion mentality will dominate his administration – that has already been demonstrated over the last 3 and a half years. With a Mitt Romney administration, there is at least a chance, that some babies lives – either in this country and/or in other countries – will be saved by his policies. I’m not a big fan of Mitt Romney (he was my 5th favorite out of the 6 main candidates on the Republican side), but I personally have to vote for the potential of pro–life policies being implemented vs. the absolute no hope of pro–life policies being implemented.

Also, this is where I factor in such things as Romney’s running mate – Paul Ryan – having been a pro–life Catholic for many years. This is where I factor in the Republican vs. Democrat Platforms. The Republican Platform does not have a plank advocating abortion “rights,” while the Democrat Platform does. So, even if Mitt Romney is not very pro–life in his heart of hearts, he is a politician. And, he knows that the pro–lifers are very important to his election and, if he is elected, to his re–election. If he is elected, and he reneges on the above–mentioned pledges – he is up the creek without a paddle and I believe he knows that. Which, will give him incentive to work on fulfilling the pledges he has made.
I find Martignoni's reasoning ultimately more compelling than Phillips this year.  As someone else has said, "Whenever humans are running for office, you are voting for the lesser of two evils." I will vote for Romney.  I will not rejoice no matter which man wins.  But I will pray that God will help me to see and repent of my own sins.  And I will pray for the return of the King.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Book Review: The Truth About the Lordship of Christ

John MacArthur is perhaps best known for his stand on what has become known as “Lordship salvation”.  His book The Gospel According to Jesus was a seminal challenge to the antinomian leanings of Charles Ryrie, Zane Hodges and Dallas Theological Seminary in the 1980s. 

So what’s he doing publishing a new book about Lordship after all these years?

To be honest, I’m not quite sure.  The Truth About The Lordship of Christ has no introduction so we have to guess.  But my guess is that Dr. MacArthur wanted to produce a book at “street level” to reach people with the most important truths of Christ’s Lordship, without having to introduce them to an exhaustive treatment of the debate. 

At times in the book I lost track of his train of thought; I agreed with his teaching but didn’t know how it fit in with the overall theme.

There are six chapters in all; the last three were easier for me to fit together.  They cover three major battlegrounds in the Lordship debate.

Chapter 4 is about sanctification:

Note this crucial distinction: At justification we surrender the principle of sin and self-rule. In sanctification we relinquish the practice of specific sins as we mature in Christ. Total surrender to Christ’s lordship does not mean that we make all of life’s decisions as a prerequisite to conversion. It does not demand that we give up all our sins before we can be justified. It means that when we trust Christ for salvation we settle the issue of who is in charge. At salvation we surrender to Christ in principle, but as Christians we will surrender in practice again and again. This practical outworking of His lordship is the process of sanctification.

(Kindle Locations 675-680).

Chapter 5 covers confession and repentance:

Like faith, repentance has intellectual, emotional, and volitional ramifications. Louis Berkhof describes the intellectual element of repentance as “a change of view, a recognition of sin as involving personal guilt, defilement, and helplessness.” The emotional element is “a change of feeling, manifesting itself in sorrow for sin committed against a holy God.” The volitional element is “a change of purpose, an inward turning away from sin, and a disposition to seek pardon and cleansing.” Each of those three elements is deficient apart from the others. Repentance is a response of the total person; therefore some speak of it as total surrender.

 (Kindle Locations 1058-1063).

Chapter 6 is perhaps the most balanced and understandable explanation of assurance of salvation that I have ever read. 

The Bible suggests that a well-grounded assurance has both objective and subjective support. The objective ground is the finished work of Christ on our behalf, including the promises of Scripture, which have their yea and amen in Him (2 Corinthians 1:20). The subjective ground is the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, including His convicting and sanctifying ministries. Romans 15:4 mentions both aspects of assurance: “Whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance [subjective] and the encouragement of the Scriptures [objective] we might have hope” (NASB, emphasis added).

 (Kindle Locations 1176-1181)

The book will not convince a predetermined non-Lordship advocate, but will help those who do want to pursue holiness in its proper relationship with faith.

(Disclaimer: I got a Kindle copy of the book free in exchange for reviewing it for  I was not required to give a positive review.)

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

My Take on the 2012 Arizona Ballot Propositions

Some years it's very tough for me to decide which way to vote on the propositions. This year, thankfully, they are relatively straightforward.  Here's how I will mark my ballot:

114 - Yes.  A no-brainer, with no opposing arguments in the publicity pamphlet. 

115 - Yes. Studying who is for and against this proposition is very telling.

116 - Yes.  Another no brainer, with no opposition.

117 - No.  If we're going to have property taxes, I would rather they be based as closely as possible on actual values.  Artificially capping the amount the valuations can be increased will wind up making owners of less valuable properties shoulder more of the tax burden.

118 - Yes.  Another unopposed proposition.

119 - Yes.  Ditto.

120 - Yes.  Basically this is the state's way of telling Congress we don't like the way they're managing the federal lands in Arizona.  Passing the proposition won't actually change control of anything unless Congress allows it.  It's about as powerful as a prisoner complaining about the food.  Worth a try, but unlikely to change anything.

121 - No, no, and no!!!  This is the scariest proposition on the ballot this year.  If you think this one is a good idea, you need to read the opposing arguments and maybe go take a high school civics course again.  Then again, maybe high school civics courses are responsible for this kind of proposition.  My, my, whatever do they teach in schools these days?

204 - No.  Our taxes are high enough without making the temporary 1% sales tax increase permanent.

And in case you're wondering how I vote on the judges: I always vote 'no' on all of them.  They are always re-elected by overwhelming margins anyhow, and I figure the smaller I can make their margin of victory, the better they will behave for the next couple years.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Why Country Magazine is More Dangerous Than Playboy

But He said to him, “A man was giving a big dinner, and he invited many; and at the dinner hour he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come; for everything is ready now.’  But they all alike began to make excuses. The first one said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of land and I need to go out and look at it; please consider me excused.’  Another one said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please consider me excused.’ Another one said, ‘I have married a wife, and for that reason I cannot come.’ And the slave came back and reported this to his master. (Luke 14:16-21 NASB)
Country Magazine is more dangerous to your spiritual fruitfulness than Playboy.  Playboy is evil and Country is innocent, but its very innocence makes it dangerous.  Most people will avoid the obvious danger of Playboy, but you can spend your entire life on innocent pleasures, and never do anything valuable or helpful for God or your fellow man.  Playboy will put you in jail (spiritually), but Country will put you to sleep.  I am not saying that reading Playboy is no worse than reading Country.  Playboy is far worse, but its obvious badness means fewer are captured by it. 
The greatest enemy of hunger for God is not poison but apple pie. It is not the banquet of the wicked that dulls our appetite for Heaven, but endless nibbling at the table of the world. It is not the X-rated video, but the prime-time dribble of triviality we drink in every night. For all the ill that Satan can do, when God describes what keeps us from the banquet table of his love, it is a piece of land, a yoke of oxen, and a wife. The greatest adversary of love to God is not his enemies but his gifts. And the most deadly appetites are not for the poison of evil, but for the simple pleasures of earth. For when these replace an appetite for God himself, the idolatry is scarcely recognizable, and almost incurable…“The pleasures of this life” … are not evil in themselves. These are not vices. These are gifts of God. They are your basic meat and potatoes and coffee and gardening and reading and decorating and traveling and investing and TV-watching and Internet-surfing and shopping and exercising and collecting and talking. And all of them can become deadly substitutes for God.’ (John Piper, Hunger forGod, 14-15)
Some more examples (so that I don't just pick on Country).
  • Golf is more dangerous to Christians than gambling.
  • Cake is more dangerous than beer.
  • Having pets is more likely to harm your spiritual health than having tattoos.
  • For married people, pleasing your spouse can be a bigger danger than adultery.
  • For single people, triviality is more likely to waste your life than immorality.
Please don't misunderstand: I am not saying that reading Country is a sin.  I am saying that Christianity is not simply avoiding sin.  Following Jesus is more than coloring within the lines.
No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier. (2 Tim 2:4 NASB)

Monday, October 1, 2012

Beware Calls from the "Windows Technical Department"

Hi ____,
Just wanted to tell you that I got a phone call just like you had a few weeks ago, a guy with an East Indian accent from the “Windows Technical Department” calling to tell me that their server had detected that my computer was infected with malicious software. I confronted him very boldly with his lie and told him he needed to repent and trust in Jesus. He hung up on me.
I searched online and found that MANY people are reporting these kinds of phone calls. Some people have been called repeatedly.
Microsoft is also aware of the phone fraud but unfortunately it seems there isn’t much they can do. I guess it’s a bit hard to track down and arrest guys in India who commit crimes in the US!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Great Responsibility for The Great Controversy

At a church small group earlier this week, a middle-aged member approached me with a book in her hand.  "This was in my mailbox today.  Have you heard of it?"

Fortunately I had.  "Yes."

"Is it any good?" she asked.

"No," I said solemnly.

She walked over to a trash can and threw it in.

Wow, I thought, that was fast!

When I had time to reflect more on our brief encounter, I was both thankful and sobered.  I was thankful that I had previously read up on The Great Controversy by Ellen White and knew it contains heretical teaching.  I also had read that the Seventh Day Adventist Church is doing a major campaign to mail millions of copies of this book to American homes this year.  I was thankful to be asked a question to which I knew the answer. 

I was also sobered by the trust this woman placed in my judgment.  The Holy Spirit gives Christians many different gifts, but we all have responsibility to help each other avoid sin and follow the truth.  Which means we all (even "smart" people like me!) need to seek help and counsel from others.  Following Jesus was never meant to be a solo sport.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Wanted: the Perfect Funeral Song

At a church small group meeting on Monday evening, a friend shared how she had gone to a funeral with a coworker.  En route to the funeral, they had discussed what song they would like to have sung at their funeral.

What a great question!  Our deaths will be a great platform from which to proclaim Jesus to our family and friends.  Don't squander your final "sermon" on songs and messages that present a fuzzy God who will let a man into heaven as long as he is kind to his friends, raises civilized kids, and doesn't cheat on his wife. 

This is also a great question to use in evangelism.  When you ask people, "What song would you like sung at your funeral?" you'll gain insight into what they value in life.  They'll probably ask you what song you would pick too--and this will give you an opportunity to share about Jesus.

I posted this question on Facebook a few days ago, and I got a lot of interesting song suggestions.  Here are some of them to get your own thoughts going:
So what song have I picked?  I am still trying to decide, actually!

I want a song that:
  • Expresses the gospel clearly: that Jesus, God in the flesh, died for sinners and rose from the dead, and that by trusting in Him and turning from sin we receive forgiveness of sins and a new heart.
  • Expresses joyful confidence in the promise of the resurrection (that death, for a Christian, is just a shadow)
  • Doesn't use overly-archaic language
  • Doesn't have a melody that is overly complex or beyond the vocal range of an average person.  (I want my funeral attenders to sing the song, not just a soloist or choir.)
These are a few I am considering (but, all of these have weaknesses too):

Got any more ideas for me?

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Two Ways to Cut Grocery Bills

A couple years ago several friends came to me separately, excited about a new kind of grocery co-op called Bountiful Baskets.  I finally decided to try it once -- and have not missed a delivery since then.  Basically you pay a set price for a box or basket full of 6 kinds of fresh vegetables and 6 kinds of fresh fruit.  You pay 4 or 5 days ahead of the delivery day, and you never know ahead of time what veggies and fruit they will be (I love being surprised).  The types of produce vary with the season of the year, but two things are almost always true: you get fresher produce, and more produce for the money than you would get in a grocery store.

And there was a side benefit: my health improved noticeably with the increased intake of fresh fruit and vegetables.  I now buy the maximum number of baskets (3) as often as I can (they only come to my town once every 2 weeks).  Besides the "surprise" baskets which are their core "product", Bountiful Baskets also offers a small and changing list of other food items at good prices.  For example, I got a great deal on some organic extra virgin coconut oil last time.  They also usually sell whole-grain bread at great prices. 

Bountiful Baskets is not available nationwide yet.  But if they are in your area, I highly encourage you to try it out.

A second way to save on groceries is through  This site has a number of tips and tools for saving on household costs, but their flagship product, which I use, is their weekly newsletter.  The newsletter surveys all of the major grocery stores in Arizona for the sales that are really noteworthy (not just over-inflated prices marked down to normal prices), and lists them in compact, easy to read charts.  A lot of the "good" prices turn out to be on junk food that I wouldn't feed a pig--but there are still enough sales on items we do use to make the newsletter subscription ($25 a year) worth while.  Try a two week subscription for free and see what you think.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Book Review: Twelve Unlikely Heroes

John MacArthur is no stranger to controversy.  His interviews on Larry King Live and other programs were not marked by soft words.  His books The Gospel According to Jesus and Charismatic Chaos had polarizing effects, to say the least.  And yet, in his latest book Twelve Unlikely Heroes we see his gentler side.

MacArthur profiles twelve mostly obscure Bible characters, drawing out remarkable insights from passages that seem scanty at first.  Enoch, Joseph, Miriam, Gideon, Samson, Jonathan, Jonah, Esther, John the Baptist, James (the brother of Jesus), Onesimus, and Mark are all brought forward from the pages of Scripture in vivid, three-dimensional color.  Even seasoned Bible students will have plenty of "Why-didn't-I-ever-see-that-before" moments reading this book.

While the book contains plenty of information, there is very little application.  MacArthur doesn't spend as much time exhorting his readers as we would expect from a book with "What He Wants to Do with You" in the subtitle.  The basic message of the book seems to be: "God uses imperfect people; He can use you".  But who really needs to be told that?  I think most of us struggle more with expecting God to use us and being upset when He doesn't.  It's the (rare) humble person who would be blessed most by this work; someone who honestly thinks their past failures or present weaknesses are inhibiting God from ministering through their life would find this book a refreshing spring.

Disclaimer: I received this book for free from in exchange for writing this review.  My review was not required to be positive.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Surprising the Septuagenarian

Traditionally our family hasn't done much for birthdays.  Once you reach a certain age you start hoping people won't notice when the odometer registers another year.  The last really big party in our family was when I turned 10.  (And in case you were wondering, that wasn't last year.)
But it's not every year your father becomes a septuagenarian.  And besides, a birthday is a good excuse to publicly praise Jesus and thank friends and family who have invested in our lives.

Actually his birthday was celebrated first in India.  Yes, you read right.  The evangelist-training school he visited earlier this year held special celebrations and prayer times for Dad's birthday.  They sent us pictures of the celebration.

For security reasons, this is the only picture I am showing online of the India celebrations.

At home, we had to plan carefully because Dad was suspicious that we would do something to surprise him.  On his actual birthday we gave him a "fake" surprise celebration at a church family's home, complete with delicious carrot cake and ice cream and blowing out the candles.  Mom's sister and brother came in from out of state.  Here's a video from that:

Other friends who couldn't come in person recorded audio greetings for him.  Here are a few classics:

One friend even recorded a video for Dad (his first time to make a YouTube).
Then after a few nerve-wracking near-giveaways of the big secret, the real moment of surprise arrived.  We were (supposedly) invited to a surprise party on Saturday for our pastor's mother.  Unbeknownst to Dad, it was actually a party for him.  He walked in and... Mom and I, still in the parking lot, could hear everyone shout "Surprise!!"
This is actually the look on his face at the moment of surprise, not Dad being a ham.
Now the embarrassment is setting in...
My aunt and uncle were still here, and my brother and his wife and daughter came.  In fact, a total of 51 people showed up!

Back row: my brother, me, my uncle
Middle: my aunt, Dad, my sister in law, my niece
Front: mom!

Friends also donated nearly $600 to help buy MegaVoice digital audio Bible tools for evangelists in India.

Here's a video of the speaking portion of the party, after the food.  

Thank you friends for your labors and time in honoring my dad.

Thank You Father for giving my father another year of life.  And thank You for giving us Your Son, so that we might know what life truly is.  Amen.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

My Vote Recommendations for the AZ GOP Primaries

Picking candidates was harder for me this year than any previous primary I've voted in.

Fortunately (?), there is a choice on only three of the 17 offices on my ballot.  The other 14 offices have candidates who are running unopposed (at least for the primary).

For US Senate, replacing retiring Jon Kyl, I've selected Clair Van Steenwyk.  Jeff Flake is most likely to be the winner (and I will gladly vote for him against Richard Carmona in November), but quite honestly, Wil Cardon and Jeff Flake threw so much mud at each other that I don't trust either one of them.  Clair's web site is hokey, but I did like his performance in the PBS debate, and I think he represents my beliefs more precisely than Flake or Cardon.

For CD1, I've selected Gaither Martin over Jonathan Paton.  Paton and Martin have done their share of mudslinging too, but I think Paton would be an easier candidate for Ann Kirkpatrick to beat in November.  So I'm hoping Gaither Martin pulls through and turns out to be decent.

And for Yavapai County Supervisor, I've selected the incumbent Thomas Thurman.  I don't think John McReynolds has enough experience, and finding out that Martin Pangburn is a "bishop" under the umbrella of what appears to be a oneness pentecostal group was enough to turn me off on him.

Feel free to share your own perspective.  Voting is a great privilege, which we should use responsibly.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

A review of Doug Wilson's Father Hunger: Why God Calls Men to Love and Lead Their Families

When I first decided to review Douglas Wilson's new book, Father Hunger, I was afraid it might turn out to be a book trying to get me to unearth some hidden feelings of emotional deprivation caused by failures of my father. 

It actually turned out be a delightful read, something that perhaps would have been better titled Father Satisfied.

Even the subtitle reveals only half of the story.  Wilson not only does a remarkable job explaining "Why God calls men to love and lead their family", he also tells how.  It's not just theoretical (although there is plenty of philosophical and Scriptural foundation), there is also practical advice.

It's not a quick read.  But not because it's hard to understand (Wilson writes lucidly, with excellent use of analogies to explain complex ideas), but because it's so thought provoking.  A few samples:

Simply put, masculinity is the glad assumption of sacrificial responsibility. (pg. 41)
... authority flows to those who take responsibility.  Taking responsibility is the foundation of all true authority.... Often a simple reassertion of authority is an attempt to avoid taking responsibility. (200)
Your actual pursuits are a running scoreboard.  They reveal what you actually prize.  You do what you want to do.  The glory you pursue is the glory that you think is actually glorious. (104) 
In addressing men who avoid marriage for selfish reasons:
Perhaps someone will appeal to the chimerical gift of "singleness".  The apostle Paul had the gift of celibacy, which is quite a different thing.  The gift of celibacy is not a gift possessed by twenty-nine year old living in his mother's basement, looking at porn.  A single man involved in frontier missions, who does not struggle with sexual temptation, has the gift of celibacy.  A man with two Xboxes and a trophy from the regional Halo tournament does not. (116)
A quote that caused me to appreciate my own father more:
Gracious fathers lead their sons through the minefield of sin.  Indulgent fathers watch their sons wander off into the minefield.  Legal fathers chase them there. (185)
 In explaining a reason why female pastors have become increasingly common:

...we have come to demand essentially feminine virtues of our ministers but are stuck with this arbitrary line from the Bible that disqualifies the most qualified members of the church--as far as being sweet goes.  This creates a demand among evangelicals for some exegetical ingenuity. (124)
Real ministers do need to be tough, and we need to remember that the reputation of ministerial milquetoastery--of ministers as the third sex--is not really all that unfair.  Generations of "the nicest young man in the church" have been urged by the church ladies to consider the ministry, and because it was a vocation that by common consent involved no bleeding knuckles and lots of being nice to people, over time the church has come to consider the best candidate for future ministry to be "that sweet boy". (131)
A few small disagreements.  Wilson rejects the idea that vaccines cause autism (and that cell phones cause brain cancer) but suggests that maybe putting children in daycare might cause autism.  Then there is a particularly puzzling section where he warns about increasing "food weirdness" in our culture, while taking a pot shot at people who don't drink wine:
Just as the grape juice in the Lord's Supper is an anemic but fitting picture of the grape-juice gospel American evangelicals tend to preach, so also the frantic search for bread substitutes says about as loudly as anything that we are really in the market for father substitutes--which are much harder to come by, as it turns out.  (151)
In some of his other writings, Douglas Wilson has demonstrated a tendency to ride his horse of logic even when she departs from the trail of Scripture.  (How else could he be a Presbyterian? :)) But this book is excellent, and will be a valuable help to any father, husband, or son looking to found their relationships on the Bible.
For more quotes from the book, click here.

Disclaimer: I received my copy of the book for free from in exchange for writing this review.  But I was not required to write a positive review.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Difference between Evangelists and Evangelicals

A Muslim friend from Turkey asked me today to explain the difference between Protestants and Evangelists.  I guessed immediately that he meant "Evangelicals". 

So, being my typical long-winded self, I started all the way back with the Greek.  "Ev" = good, "angel" = news (and yes, that is the same "angel" that we get our English word angel from).  And of course I explained what the Good News is (the perfect life, substitutionary death, burial, resurrection and ascension of Jesus).

Then I finally got to evangelists.  I explained that an evangelist is someone who shares the good news about Jesus.  And (after pausing slightly to think how to explain the difference) that an evangelical is someone who believes the good news should be shared.  I wish I could remember the exact words he used, but it was something like, "I think I see the difference.  An evangelist actually does it, and an evangelical is a spectator?"

Uh, actually...yes!


Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Battle for Ganesh

As some of you know, my father went to India earlier this year to meet and encourage a group of Indian evangelists who are planting house churches.  On Monday he received an email from one of them.  I am pasting excerpts from it below, without correcting the English or altering any details. 

Ganesh a 12 year old boy born to fanatic Hindu parents and among 3 children he is the last one. He heard God’s story (Through mega voice) in one of our house church where he went to play with other children. To his surprise as he heard the God’s story, though he did not understand any things but he was amazed after hearing. And the Lord put a hunger in his heart to know more detail on the story and he was led to our house through our church children. and we make him watch the story on the laptop and he was not only able to listen but was able to see, he felt so fascinated and was convinced that God loves him and Jesus is his God.

And his parent came to know that he is going to a Christian home and learning about Christian God, and they threatened him, slapped on his cheeks, pushed him down and expressed their anger on him. Told him it is shameful for them to have other god’s and if the society will come to know they will not be able to put up their head. But the Lord is working in such a way in that boy that he even removed the religious mark on his for-head and the parent forcefully put the mark o his head again. You can see the mark on his forehead on the picture. And they restrict him very strictly yet he loves so much being with a Christian home, singing, hearing God’s word and having fellowship with Christian children.

and today he escaped somehow from his house and came to our house again, and the parents came to know somehow that he is in our house so both parents came running and very angry on us saying, we have done some witch and his boy is always saying Jesus, Jesus, Jesus at home. And in front of our house they scold us with abusive language and as our Hindu neighbor heard they also came running to watch what happened. And the parents told our entire neighbor that we have done some witch and their child is mad of Jesus. We just kept silent and talked nothing before the people in front of our house and as a family we were just praying in our heart, though we had no word heard outside but our heart was filled with joy that we did not feel ashamed or fear. They beat him and dragged and took Ganesh from our house.

A picture of Ganesh
We know Ganesh is having hard time at home and they are watching him where ever he is going. Ganesh feels insecure and fearful in his house and he loves the fellowship of Christian home. Ganesh is quiet a silent boy but very courageous and He is crazy to grow more in God’s love.  Please pray for him so that this boy will be more courageous to stand for Jesus and his parents Rammurthy and Devi, and 2 other children at home will know the love of Jesus.
The pastor did not mention this in his email, but my guess is that Ganesh was named for the Hindu god Ganesha.  Pray for him and his family!