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Review of The Epic of God

March 22, 2013

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This is long overdue, but I wanted to provide a review of the book Epic of God: A Guide to Genesis by Michael Whitworth. Michael was in school at Freed-Hardeman the same time I was, and we have both served as counselors at Horizons, a summer leadership camp. A couple of months ago, I began reading his book as part of my research for a sermon series I am now preaching on Abraham’s journey of faith. I have found it tremendously helpful. Michael is a talented writer and researcher, and both of those abilities are on display in his book. Here are a few things I appreciate about this resource:

 

1.   It provides thorough, well-documented research.

It is clear that Michael has done extensive research and interacted with a variety of writers and resources on Genesis. When it comes to a disputed area of the text, he will put different points of view in conversation with each other. While he is always clear about his take on the issue in question, he explores each viewpoint and documents well. That has introduced me to some commentaries that I had not read, and it makes Epic of God a good resource to prompt further study.

 

2.   It is presented in an easy-to-read format.

Stating that a work is “thorough” or “well-documented” might lead you to believe it would be dense or difficult to understand, but Michael puts this information in an engaging format. He uses a conversational style, makes a few jokes along the way, and gives a fresh approach to the material. This also makes it readable for anyone who might not be that interested in the footnotes.

 

3.   It contains practical applications.

I like the fact that it doesn’t duck the hard questions (like the meaning of “sons of God” in Genesis 6). Michael clearly states his point of view without being dogmatic on difficult issues like that one. But what I like even more is that he is concerned with how this information applies to us in our context. Each chapter ends with “Talking Points” that would be beneficial for a Bible class study or for sermon preparation. He provides a great balance of research and application.

 

Okay, I realize that I just made three points. That was not planned. My next blog post will have to be more “inductive” to balance out my “deductive” post today! I do recommend this as an excellent resource for study on Genesis. It is available on Amazon, and you can also access it on E-reader versions. You can find out more at http://michaelwhitworth.com/start2finishblog.

Graymere Preaching Workshop

January 4, 2013

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The new year has begun, and with it have come a lot of New Year’s Resolutions. One of mine has been to utilize my blog more often (although that seems to be a resolution every year). I want to begin by sharing about an event I am really looking forward to next month. On February 25th, we will be hosting a Preaching Workshop at Graymere. It will be focused on preaching Matthew’s gospel, and we have a great line-up of teachers to make presentations, answer questions, and provide resources. You could think of it as a one-day short course on the gospel of Matthew. While there will be a particular focus on preaching, it will be helpful for all those who teach the Bible to teens and adults.

Graymere has always provided resources for ministry, and this is just another way we can help people who are preaching and teaching. There are several preachers in Maury County who are in vocational ministry, working another job during the week and preaching on Sundays. It can be hard for them to take off enough time for a conference, lectureship, or seminar. But attending a one day event might be easier. Of course, those who are in full-time ministry have packed schedules as well, so a one day event can work for them. We have tried to pack in as much content as possible into one day, and it only costs $10. Here is our schedule:

7:45 – 8:45 – Breakfast

9:00 –  “Matthew’s Gospel in its Cultural Context”   by Dr. Tom Alexander, Harding University

10:15 – “The Presentation of Jesus as Messiah in Matthew’s Gospel”    by Dr. Ed Gallagher, Heritage Christian University

11:30 – Panel Discussion

12:00 – 1:00 – Lunch

1:00 – “Challenging Texts in Matthew’s Gospel”   by Dr. Doug Burleson, Freed-Hardeman University

2:15 – Ministry Panel Presentations by Dr. Kirk Brothers (Freed-Hardeman University), Dan Chambers (Concord Road Church of Christ), Dr. Sellers Crain (Rivergate Church of Christ), and Barry Throneberry (Highland Church of Christ)

3:30 – Ministry Panel Q & A

4:30 – Conclusion/Dismissal

Breakfast and lunch will be great. One of our members is cooking a big country breakfast, and another one of our members is catering our lunch. $10 will get you both of those meals, as well as a workshop notebook. We have approximately 30 signed up for it already. If you would like to sign up, just go here.

We also have limited housing available for those who would need to come on Sunday night in order to get there on Monday morning. Let us know when you register if you need housing. Please pass this along to anyone you think would enjoy it. It is going to be a great day!

What I Want People to Know About Autism

December 18, 2012

I know all of us have been inundated with facts and stories about the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut. The most accurate way to describe it is “heart-breaking.” It simply causes my heart to ache when I think about it. Obviously, the best thing we can do is make sure we are praying for the families and friends of these victims.

Any time something like this happens, we start to wonder why. It is natural that in the search to answer the “why” question, we would try to understand how anyone could do such a horrific thing. That is why so many have tried and will try to psychoanalyze Adam Lanza. There have been FBI profilers, psychiatrists, etc. who have been on the news and tried to explain why he acted this way. Of course, most of those interviewed don’t have any personal knowledge of him or his family. What has really troubled me is that when the news came out Lanza had Asperger’s (a disorder that is part of the autism spectrum – it will be known simply as  one of the autism spectrum disorders beginning in 2013), people began trying to use that diagnosis to explain his violent behavior. As the parent of a child with Asperger’s, I guess my frustration at this mistake is understandable. But I like to think that even if I didn’t have personal experience with it, I would still see the danger in letting this misunderstanding exist. Over the last year, I have learned so much about autism from friends, teachers, and other resources, and the more I learn, the more I want to share that information with others. So, here are a few things I think we need to remember.

  • Just because someone is allowed to say something on TV or write it in a blog does not necessarily mean it is accurate. Trained counselors and psychologists need a lot of time with someone before they can fully understand that person’s challenges. To have a few facts about someone’s life (especially someone you have never met) and then draw broad, sweeping conclusions is not just mistaken, it is dangerously misleading.
  • Autism is not a mental illness. It is a neurodevelopmental disorder. The latest statistics are that 1 in 88 deal with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in some form. That means if you are reading this, you probably have personal experience with it or you know someone who does.
  • If you have met one child with autism, then you have met one child with autism. That is a statement I have heard several times from those who study autism, and it is absolutely true. You cannot generalize based on one experience how everyone will act. The Autism Spectrum is called a “spectrum” for a reason – there are a wide variety of conditions. For instance, if someone is struggling with anxiety,  that may mean severe panic attacks or it may be a milder sense of discomfort. But both are described as “anxiety.” So the next time you are tempted to say, “I knew someone with autism, and this is how autistic people think…” please pause and remember that.
  • A lot has been said about the challenges with “empathy” for those with ASD, including an interview on Piers Morgan. Please read this post – http://www.emilywillinghamphd.com/2012/12/autism-empathy-and-violence-one-of.html for a discussion of emotional empathy in the autism spectrum. I don’t know the author, but I agree with her.
  • I read the article entitled “I am Adam Lanza’s Mother.” It was powerfully written, and I have not had to experience anything near what the author experienced. But I was very disappointed that she conflated autism spectrum disorders with her son’s violent behavior. It seemed to leave the impression (that I think was unintentional on her part) that this is how most who struggle with ASD react. That is simply not true.
  • Please consider these responses from groups that deal with autism on a daily basis:
    • Autism Society: “To imply or suggest that some linkage exists is wrong and is harmful to more than 1.5 million law abiding, non-violent  and wonderful individuals who live with autism each day.”
    • Autism Global Initiative director Valerie Paradiz: “The eyes of the world are on this wrenching tragedy—with 1 in 88 now diagnosed, misinformation could easily trigger increased prejudice and misunderstanding.”
  • Lastly, and I can’t emphasize this enough, researchers have found no link between Asperger’s and pre-meditated violence. In fact, those with autism are more likely to have violence done against them. Please remember that when you hear this discussed. See this story for more – http://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory/experts-link-aspergers-violence-17987339#.UNB66Hn4JXN

I don’t know what led Adam Lanza to make the terrible decision that he did. I do believe it is too simplistic to say there was only one factor, and I also believe that each of us will be accountable for our own decisions before God. He will have to answer for his actions. It is a reminder that we live in a fallen, sinful world where evil exists that is beyond our ability to explain. It is also a reminder that we need to trust in God, especially in the face of difficult circumstances. I think the discussion of mental health is one we should have if we want to do what we can to prevent future tragedies like this one. I just think we need to be careful in the way we choose our words, and we need to have an accurate understanding of what we are saying. As a parent of a child with Asperger’s, a condition that is so often misunderstood, I would truly appreciate you passing this message along to others.

Sending the Wrong Message

May 16, 2012

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You may have seen this in the news a few weeks ago:

Fred Bennet was expanding his horizons. He decided that his restaurant needed to tap into a new market, so he began advertising that he would offer Thai food. He hired a Thai chef and asked him to come up with a new restaurant name to communicate its new identity and cuisine. The chef came up with a Thai phrase that meant “Welcome and See You Again.” Business was fine, although he only had a handful of Thai customers. Once his chef left, he hired a new chef that questioned the restaurant’s name. It turned out that the phrase did not mean “Welcome and See You Again.” It meant “Go Away and Don’t Come Back!” No wonder he didn’t have many Thai customers – would you want to visit a place that told you to go away?

I shared that story in a Wednesday Night devotional a few weeks ago, but the image still sticks with me. We talked about how, as a congregation, we could send the right message to guests. We have made an effort to improve the way our signs guide guests through our building and the way we reach out new people. It has been really encouraging the last few weeks to watch how so many people have been greeting guests and introducing them to other people. Of course, many have been doing that for years, but it always helps to have reminders.

I have thought about how this principle applies on a personal level as well. How many times have we wanted to send one message, but we ended up sending another? Here are a few examples that convict me and highlight ways I need to change:

  • We do something for someone else, and we want to communicate kindness, yet a deep sigh or frustrated facial expression communicates inconvenience instead.
  • We want people to worship with us, but our tendency to seek out and talk to the same people we see each week communicates that we aren’t really looking for guests.
  • We want to show people we love them, but an overwhelming concern to make sure a ministry program runs smoothly communicates that we are too busy to invest needed time in conversations and relationships.

When asked about the confusion over his sign, Fred Bennet said, “That’s why it pays to do research.” It was important to check and make sure he was sending the right message. We need to check ourselves to see what message we are sending, and do it often. It pays to do research.

Dealing With Doubt

January 10, 2012

 

I have made a new year’s resolution to blog more – so here goes. These thoughts are taken from a sermon I preached a few weeks ago, so Graymere folks have heard it before. It led to some good conversations, and it has been on my mind ever since.

“…or should we look for another?”

As these words hung in the air, those listening must have experienced serious shock. In Luke 7, some disciples of John the Baptist had been sent to ask Jesus if He was the “expected one” or if they should wait for someone else. Apparently, John needed some assurance. That’s right – John the Baptist. The same John the Baptist who  leapt in his mother’s womb the first time he heard the voice of Mary, Jesus’ mother. Elizabeth must have told him that story. The same John the Baptist who had grown up hearing about how his father’s voice had been muted when he first heard Gabriel describe the son he would have. His father was not able to speak until his son had been born. That is when Zacharius wrote “His name is John.” Zacharias must have told him that story. The same John who saw Jesus and described him as the “Lamb of God,” causing two of his disciples to leave right then to follow Christ. Andrew was one of those disciples; he must have told the other apostles that story. The same John the Baptist who baptized Christ, saw the Holy Spirit descend like a dove, and heard the voice of God confirming what John already knew to be true – this was the Son of God. That itself is an incredible story.
Yet John is stuck in a prison cell, trapped because he spoke the truth about Herod’s message. And he starts to think to himself, “I wonder if I have this right.” Does that sound familiar?
Some might say that in order to be Christians, we can’t have any doubts. If we wrestle with doubt, then somehow we aren’t truly following God in the right way. I just don’t see that in scripture. In fact, I see the opposite. When Jesus hears news about John’s doubts, He does not say, “How dare you. You of all people should know My mission. You should understand what I am doing. I cannot believe you would be weak enough to doubt my identity.” He simply reassures him by pointing to the way He is fulfilling scripture. And in describing how great the Kingdom of God would be, Jesus later says that no one born of woman is greater than John the Baptist (you wouldn’t expect Jesus to say that if John’s doubts had disqualified him from serving God).
While there are ways we can grow in our knowledge and strengthen the foundations of our faith, if we hope to live a life free from any doubt, we are in for some serious disappointment. All of us deal with doubt. In fact, much like working out our muscles makes them stronger, wrestling with doubt makes our faith stronger. I think it helps us to understand some reasons behind doubt that we see in this text.
1. Difficult Circumstances – John was an active man. He lived in the wilderness, and the text gives us the sense that John was constantly teaching and preaching. Now he is trapped in a dungeon without the freedom to go fulfill his mission, as much contact with others as he was accustomed to, not to mention much less sunlight. He couldn’t do what he knew he was called to do. When we are more isolated and lonely, doubts tend to creep in more quickly.
2. Unmet Expectations – I don’t think John was exempt from some of the expectations of an earthly, political Messiah. After all, when Jesus reads from Isaiah in Luke 4, He quotes a messianic prophecy that says the Messiah will free the captives and give liberty to the oppressed. Didn’t John fit into that category? Notice that when Jesus responds to John, He discusses how He is fulfilling Messianic prophecy, but He doesn’t mention freedom for captives. When we come up against challenges where life does not meet our expectations, it is easy to struggle with doubt.

I also think this text gives us helpful ways to deal with doubt:
1. Understand Ourselves – When we know that doubts are part of any human existence, it helps us deal with them. Even Abraham, who left home to follow God still fought doubt when it came to the promise of his son. Yet several times in the New Testament, Abraham’s faith is highlighted. When we know that doubts don’t disqualify us from being faithful, then we can focus on how to deal with them. Someone once said that doubts are like mushrooms, when left in darkness, they can grow. When we bring them in the light before God, He helps us through.
2. Think About Blessings – Verse 21 tells us that when the messengers from John came, Jesus performed miracles in their presence. He wanted them to be able to see what he was doing. Doubts often come when we look at difficult circumstances. When I look around my own life and see all the ways I am blessed, I am reminded of all the good things God is doing.
3. Focus on Scripture – Jesus also referred to prophecies that showed His fulfillment of them as the Messiah. During a time of doubt, Jesus pointed to scripture. The answer to our doubts isn’t going to come from looking inside ourselves. That is not where the answers are – the answers are outside ourselves: in God.
4. Think long-term – It must have been easy for John to be discouraged inside that prison cell. Jesus was pointing John back to his larger mission as Messiah. One of the most difficult things to do when in a painful situation is to look beyond our circumstances and think long-term.

It doesn’t help to deny doubt. It doesn’t help to leave a struggle with doubts in the dark. Once we bring them into the light, God will help us through them.

Our Transition

March 13, 2011

Last week was pretty busy for us. After weeks of prayer and reflection, we announced on Wednesday night that we will be moving to Columbia, TN. Starting in June, I will begin preaching for the Graymere Church of Christ. The congregation at Crittenden Drive has been incredibly gracious and supportive to us. We love everyone and are so grateful for our time at Crittenden Drive. God truly blessed us with incredible brothers and sisters in Christ in Russellville!

At the same time, we are really looking forward to the work at Graymere. It is a congregation I have been familiar with for some time, and I am honored and humbled by the privilege to preach there. The church has a tremendous history of ministry and an exciting vision for future service. We can’t wait to get to know everyone at Graymere better and serve alongside them in ministry!

So in the next couple of months, we are praying for a safe delivery for Micah (and good health for Kathryn throughout) along with a good transition. It will be busy, but we are very blessed. If you know anyone looking for a house in Russellville, KY, we have a great one for you to check out! We appreciate your prayers during the transition, and we will keep everybody updated!

An IQ Test

February 15, 2011

I read something interesting in the book Switch: How To Change Things When Change Is Hard the other day. (Great book, by the way). They talked about tests being run by a couple of psychologists in which a total stranger walks into a room filled with people. No one knows him, and he reads a weather report then leaves the room. Here is the question asked to the participants – What is this man’s IQ? Of course, there is no way they can make an educated guess from just one interaction. They take a wild guess at the fake weatherman’s IQ. Then they ask the weatherman to guess his IQ. Here is the crazy part – the total strangers get closer 66% of the time!

Think about that for a minute – the fake weatherman has all the information to make the right prediction. He knows how he thinks, he knows his aptitude, he knows the grade he has gotten in school, etc. The weatherman in this experiment consistently rated himself higher than he actually was. Because of that, the total strangers usually get closer.

It reminded me that we have a hard time assessing ourselves accurately. We tend to overrate our talents and abilities. The authors went on to say that 25% of people surveyed believed they were in the top 1% in the ability to get along with people. 94% of college professors report that they do above-average work. Case in point – American Idol auditions were recently aired for this season, and the same pattern emerged. No one who was rejected stopped to say, “Well, maybe I should do something else.” They all said something to the effect, “The judges are wrong – I am a star!” When we decide to, we can convince ourselves of just about anything.

It seems to me that in our relationship with God, the same danger exists. I think that is why so many scriptures caution against pride. Paul told the Romans not to think of themselves more highly than the ought to (Romans 12:16), and that is a constant challenge for us. So how do we assess ourselves? Maybe if we constantly compared our lives to the life of Christ, it would be easier to keep things in perspective.

Quote – The Secret of Holiness

July 29, 2010

I ran across this quote while getting ready for Sunday. We are focusing on the latter half of Galatians 5, the contrast between acts of the flesh and fruit of the Spirit. Really hits home as we think about actually putting to death the sins in our life – very challenging. John Maxwell likes to say that anyone can make a decision, but it takes real leadership to manage that decision. The same is true for repentance – saying I will repent is not the hard part; maintaining the that repentance every day is the challenge.

“The first great secret of holiness lies in the degree and decisiveness of our repentance. If besetting sins persistently plague us, it is either because we have never truly repented, or because, having repented, we have not maintained our repentance. It is as if, having nailed our old nature to the cross, we keep wistfully returning to the scene of its execution. We begin to fondle it, to caress it, to long for its release, even to try to take it down again from the cross. We need to learn to leave it there. When some jealous, or proud, or malicious, or impure thought invades our mind we must kick it out at once. It is fatal to begin to examine it and consider whether we are going to give in or not. We have declared war on it; we are not going to resume negotiations. We have settled the issue for good; we are not going to re-open it. We have crucified the flesh; we are never going to draw the nails.” –John Stott

Anything I Want To Be

July 22, 2010

We shouldn’t say, “I can be anything I want to be.” We should say, “I can be all that God made me to be.”

James Hayes said that the other night at our VBS, and it really stuck with me. We often say things like, “You can do whatever you want to do in life,” but that isn’t really true. I could never play NFL football, for instance. Ok, that may be an obvious example, but there are alot of other things I won’t be able to do in life. The better I understand that, the more realistic my expectations will be.

I had lunch with a bunch of friends Monday, and one of the guys there is a policeman who worked security during the recent American Idol auditions in Nashville. He had to guard the exit for those who were rejected. I’m sure many of the people who tried out just did it for fun, or to see what would happen. Some of those trying out, though, were convinced they will be professional musicians. They might have grown up thinking they could do anything, and a little bout with reality shook some of them up. You’ve probably seen those first few episodes of the American Idol season. They all say things like, “Just wait – I’ll prove you wrong.” Contestants have been saying that for quite a few years now, and I still haven’t seen them prove the judges wrong.

Not trying to pick on them, I just think it is interesting that if we give ourselves unrealistic messages, we set ourselves up to fail. But we can all be everything God made us to be.

In Need Of Feedback – Let Me Know What You Think!

July 18, 2010

I’m trying to take a quick, informal poll on a couple of questions. I’m speaking to some teens in the next couple of days about the Christian life – specifically how to “start the fire” of Christianity and how to spread it without “burning others.” So, I thought it might be helpful to get some feedback to two questions –

1. What are the major influences out there which can threaten to “put out” our fire as Christians?

2. What are some common mistakes Christians might make when talking to those who aren’t Christians that could turn them off to the entire topic of God/faith/Christianity?

Please comment and leave your feedback – it will be helpful to me, as well as others!