Bible Rebinding

I have really enjoyed my ESV Legacy Edition Bible that I bought from a friend back in 2014. It has been my go-to Bible for 5 years now. About three years ago the binding came apart in it, so I bought another one on Ebay for less than $20. That one, too, began to have binding problems.

What’s a guy to do when I can’t buy that edition for cheap any more? Rebind.

I found Leonard’s Book Restoration and began planning my next move. I didn’t want to spend a ton of money but I wanted quality. The video will show you what I got. If you have a Bible that needs to be rebound, this is the place to do it.

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Identity and the Christian Life

Identity: “the fact of being who or what a person or thing is.”

Identity is everything in American society where individualism and independence is prized and worshiped. We use our identities to create enemies and loosely bonded allies who can be discarded if they disagree about something. The problem with how identity works in America, particularly in the church, is that identity is a means of division: I’m a Democrat, I’m a Republican, I’m pro-choice, I’m pro-life, I’m straight, I’m gay, I’m a male, I’m a female, I’m trans, I’m a Baptist, I’m a Methodist, I’m this, I’m that. The list goes on. Even in the church, we use identity to divide, rather than unite.

The Bible reveals to us what our identity is. We are created beings endowed with the image of God. We also know that we have been marred by sin which has separated us from the God that created and loves us. Jesus lived a perfect life that we couldn’t live, died on a cross for sins that we couldn’t make right, was dead, buried, and raised to life by God on the third day. He did this so that we could be reconciled to him. For those who have repented, been baptized, and received the Holy Spirit, we receive a new identity (2 Cor. 5:17). That identity is the only identity we need.

Over the past 6 months, I have been memorizing the book of Colossians. Chapter 3 has had a remarkable impact on my understand of identity. Here are some of those thoughts.

Paul’s reminder is that when we are baptized, we are baptized into his death, we’ve “died to the elemental spirits of the world” (2:20; chapter 2 is a great place to go to get a better understanding of the transformational nature of baptism). He goes on to tell us what those elemental spirits are: “sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. . . [anger], wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk” and lying to one another (3:5, 8-9). Every single one of those things is an act of division. Every single one of those things are done by a person who believes their identity is in something other than Christ.

Paul doesn’t just tell us what we’re supposed to avoid, he also reminds us of who we are. “For you have died and your life is now hidden with Christ in God” (3:3) “and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” (3:10). Paul then makes a huge statement that took me weeks to see: “Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all” (3:11; emphasis mine). Paul is saying that whatever distinction that there could be between believers, it doesn’t matter because Christ is all, and in all. This is what Jesus prays for when he asks that we all would be one just as he and the Father are one. This is why Paul expects us to live with “compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” (3:12). These are characteristics of Christ, who ought to be our only identity.

Brothers and Sisters, if you find your identity in anything that isn’t Jesus Christ, you have bought a lie. “For you have died and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” It’s not that Christ is hidden in you; rather, it’s that you are hidden with Christ in God. To believe anything less than that is to reject what God has done for you through Jesus Christ.

Brothers and Sisters, we have a duty in the church to seek unity at all costs. Where there is disunity and division is a person who is in rebellion acting for their own selfish gain. It ought not to be this way. Leaders, look out for those who cause disunity and division, they are ripe for judgment (1 Cor 3:17) if they do not change their ways.

Our identity is in Christ. Through that, let’s pursue unity.

We made it a year

Crestleigh has been active for a year (a little longer now) and here are a few takeaways from our experience so far:

  • God doesn’t do things the way I want them to. My plans very rarely work out.
  • The relationships we have with people will either sharpen us or make us dull, it’s up to you to decide the type of people with whom you keep company.
  • Small church is messy and disappointing in many ways. Really it means that things are not neat and tidy. There’s mess. Lots of it. Whether it’s sin due to immaturity, conflict relationally, people coming and going, or just the fact that we’re in community and learning to love people deeply, there is a lot of mess
  • We’ve dealt with upwards of 90% attrition. But that disappointment mostly has to do with unfulfilled (and mostly wrong) expectations of what success looks like. My understanding of success is constantly challenged and must be given up.
  • A single quiet time in the beginning of the day (regardless of length) isn’t enough to sustain you throughout the day. There’s a reason Jesus said “abide in me;” it must be continuous. I still struggle with this.
  • I’m a 30,000 foot view type of guy. Working to disciple and be in relationship with people is not necessarily where I excel, so I have to be really intentional about how I do it.
  • The only constant is change. I cannot think of a single month where we had the same group of people or things went as planned. By the time I get to debrief an experience and begin to plan for the next season, things change so dramatically I often have to scrap my plans and start over.
  • Leadership in a church is about serving people so that they have opportunities to grow. Its very tempting to implement programs, but that treats every disciple as if they need the same thing. That couldn’t be further from the truth

Having said that, Julia and I are committed to continue to meet with a church in our home. We are seeing God do really cool things as we are in community with a constantly changing group of people. God has blessed us with peace and assurance that we are doing what he has called us to and brought us joy in even the most difficult of times.

It’s God’s church, he’s the one who builds it. We get the opportunity to love on and guide, as best we can, those who walk in our front door. That is the calling and it brings so much joy.

What do we hope to see in the next year?

  • A church birthed out of a church of people that aren’t even in the Kingdom of God right now.
  • 3rd generation disciples (the gospel passed down from one person to another, who believes and shares it with another who believes and is being discipled).
  • An opportunity to send a short-term team internationally to serve missionaries who are targeting an unreached people group.

But as I type that, I’m sure something will change 😉

Everyone who acknowledges me before men . . .

Warning: This is my reflection on a book that I’m currently reading, but haven’t yet finished.

In the book, The Insanity of Obedience (B&H Publishing Group: Nashville, TN, 2014), Nik Ripken brings a prophetic voice to those who are living a complacent Christian life in the West. I was recommended this book by a friend and it is crushing my heart right now, so here are some thoughts on what I’ve read so far.

Ripken first argues that persecution is the natural result of following the command of Christ to go and make disciples of all nations. Those who will be obedient witnesses of Jesus will necessarily be persecuted, there’s no way around it (see Matthew 10). We can look at the record of Acts and see that is the case for the believers in the first century and it also seems to be the case in developing countries where the gospel is flourishing. One question that obviously follows is if obedience necessarily brings persecution, how do we explain the nature of the West? More on this later.

Ripken argues that “persecutors seek to deny human beings the two great spiritual opportunities: first, access to Jesus and, second, opportunity for witness” (29). What does it mean to deny someone access to Jesus? “Just like persecution, the refusal to share the faith denies people access to Jesus” (29). Did you hear that? Refusing to share Jesus with others is to be complicit with persecutors around the world.

Now, I’m not going to deal with the specifics of persecution right now, I’d rather take a look at the spiritual implications of what we just heard. In Matthew 10, Jesus told his disciples that they were going to experience persecution and that they would be comforted and be given what to say by the Holy Spirit. Jesus continued with these words,

So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.

Matthew 10:32-33 (ESV)

I recently spent some time with this passage interacting with what I had been reading in The Insanity of Obedience . I’ve always read this passage as if there were no dichotomy in it, rather three options: acknowledge, deny, or silence. Jesus, however, only listed two. As I wrestled, I thought it would be a good idea to see if definitions would help clear up the dichotomy.

Acknowledge – 1: to recognize the rights, authorities, or status of; 2: to disclose knowledge of or agreement with

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/acknowledge

Deny – 1: to declare untrue; 2: to refuse to admit or acknowledge

https://wwwmerriam-webster.com/dictionary/deny

That second definition of deny helped me come to some clarity: “to refuse to admit or acknowledge.” It seems to me that denial can be passive. When we are passive in our interactions with people, particularly in being silent about Christ, we are refusing to admit or acknowledge him. It seems that silence is passive denial, whereas acknowledgement requires action.

So we come back to the purpose of persecution. If, in our silence, we are refusing access to Jesus and, by our silence, denying Christ, are we not participating in the persecution of others or at least helping achieve the goals of persecutors? Maybe the persecution that we experience in the west is the complacency of the Church to get the gospel out. It may not result in pain and suffering of Christians, but it sure leads to death and destruction of untold thousands of people who never have the opportunity to respond to the gospel. That is the end goal of persecution. Are we complicit in the persecution of the church in the West by our complacency? Does this sound too harsh?

In my reflection, it seems that I, too, am complicit with the persecutors. May God show us mercy as we awake from our spiritual slumber and may God ever increase his Kingdom as a result.

Which is more urgent, the results of the Super Bowl and its commercials or the message of the gospel? Which will you be talking about today?

Thanksgiving in January

I received a text message from a dear friend early one morning. This friend was anxious from head to toe. They had just started a new job, the intensity of which was astounding compared to their previous job. They were dealing with relational stress regarding a former spouse, kids, and their own parents. Anxiety was ruling over them. I happened to set my alarm a little early for that morning and was awake within a few minutes of receiving the text. There was crisis at 4:30 in the morning on a Wednesday, what was I going to do?

I suggested that we FaceTime that morning before anything else happened in the day so that I could pray with them and maybe provide some encouragement. So a little after 5am, we began to talk. We both spent some time praying about what we were feeling and laying our burdens at the feet of Jesus, knowing that he cares about our whole person. We then spent some time in quiet reflection waiting for the Holy Spirit to minister to us. What came of that time was an important reminder for me as well as this friend.

In Paul’s letter to the Philippians he tells them not to be anxious about anything, “but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Phil 4:6). There is a promised result (verse 7) when anxiety is dealt with this way: “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” I was reminded of this truth as I spoke with my friend.

About the same time, I had been memorizing Colossians 2 and had come to verses 6 and 7 ” Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.” This was fresh in my mind as I spoke to this friend and it dawned on me: thanksgiving is the key.

Now, I know that this isn’t some grand revelation unique to me and my experience; it is a truth that has been there for centuries. We like to encourage those with anxiety to simply cast their cares on Jesus by prayer and let him know what they’re anxious about. What we tend to miss is the thanksgiving part. We get so wrapped up in the actual anxieties and cares of life that we forget what God has already done.

When we just list our anxieties in prayer, we get focused on “me, me, me,” our focus is inward; but when we have an attitude of thanksgiving our focus turns to God’s steadfast love and glory. Thanksgiving changes the way we think and orients our minds toward the faithfulness of the God we serve. When we are reminded of his faithfulness we receive peace over the situation we are anxious about because he has proved himself time and again. We aren’t downplaying the urgency of the situation or the very real struggles we may be having, we are simply recognizing that God has shown himself faithful and worthy of our attention over and above what may be causing that anxiety.

As I spoke to my friend, I encouraged them to spend some time thanking God for what he has done. As they laid bare their heart in thanksgiving, I could see and hear the change in their attitude. Thanksgiving was the response to what God has done and it was the catalyst for the peace of God in Christ Jesus.

When you begin to feel anxious, take some time to be honest with God about what you are feeling and make your request known, but don’t forget the thanksgiving. God is an ever-giving God, he wants to give you peace and comfort. Will you let him?

My Way . . . or Maybe (Probably) Not.

Some of us like to make plans. Me? I’m one of those types of people.

There was an opportunity for a job change within my organization which would have been great for my career. I applied to the job under no certainty that I would get the job, yet in my mind and heart I began to plan for the eventuality that I would get it. You know, I put the cart before the horse.

The process was drawn out over the past 6 weeks, which meant there was a LOT of time for me to convince myself that I would get the job. You probably guessed by the title of the post that I didn’t get it, and you’d be right.

The wind went right out of my sails. A couple hours after I found that out I said goodbye to some wonderful friends that we had made over the last 2 years. Hugs were given. Tears were shed. By the time I got home that evening, I was crushed. Fortunately, we were meeting with our church that night.

While I began the evening with so much disappointment, I was quickly drawn out of it by being with the body of Christ. Through our time together, I was reminded of the sweet joy of being with the church, spending time worshiping together, and being comforted by the Holy Spirit. It seemed to be a really special night together. It was much needed rest for my soul.

Over the past month, Matthew 11:28-30 has been on my mind and heart:

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

I thought initially that God was giving me an understanding of what the good news is to people in America (I still there’s something to that, which I’ll talk about in a different post). What I can see now is that there was also a message for me. We can rest under the yoke of Jesus because he can see the end from the beginning and knows how best to navigate the field of life. Sometimes, even under Jesus yoke, we try to go our own way. We think that we know the best course of action and try to go that direction. All that does is create strain and anxiety. Occasionally, we need a nudge back in the right direction. I needed one of those because I had started to chart my own course and pull against the yoke ever so slightly.

God has been teaching me this week to not let my ambition get in front of what he has planned. I am content to do my job and enjoy the ministry he has entrusted to me. In a real way, I am learning to rest in the fact that God’s plan, though different than mine, is sufficient and ultimately way better than I could have ever come up with on my own. It may not result in promotions, but it will result in his glory. I’m learning to trust that his glory is enough.

As I told my friends and family about the disappointments of the day, they all responded similarly, “God has a different plan.” They’re right. He does. This is one of the first times in my life where I see clearly that they are right, he does have a plan. I see some things that seem to be in motion that I never could have imagined happening 2 weeks ago, let alone a year ago when this journey started. But I can’t hold my plans too tightly, God’s plan is so different and so much better than I could imagine. I’m looking forward to see what that the next step is.

And I’m pretty sure it’ll look different than I expect.

A Message for the Church

I’m writing this several days past when I felt God impress this on my heart, so hopefully it has had a chance to develop some more in my mind.

I have read through the Bible probably a handful of times in the past two or three years. I am completely convinced that it should be done as a discipline for every believer. While I believe that Holy Spirit speaks today, I also believe that it is hard to test the spirits of what we’re hearing (1 John 4:1) if we don’t have an understanding of what he has said in the past. As a church we have devoted ourselves to read through the Bible this year, but I felt like God was really wanting more out of me than to read the Bible through once this year, so I started an ambitious Bible in 90 days plan (which I have already fallen significantly behind). It came to pass that as I was reading about a week ago I came across this passage:

And [Moses] said to [the LORD], “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?”

Exodus 33:15-16

A little background might be helpful. Moses had been on Mt. Sinai for 40 days without eating or drinking and received the covenant for the people Israel on two stone tablets “written with the finger of God” (Ex. 31:18). God sent Moses down because the Israelites, with the help of Aaron, had fashioned an idol of gold and were doing some really nasty stuff. Moses returned to the camp to see the people of Israel committing heinous idolatry, so he rebuked them and they received significant punishment from God. God then said that they were to go up to inherit the land of Canaan, but he wasn’t going to personally lead them anymore, an angel would go before them. In response, Moses went to his tent outside the camp where he would talk to God “face to face” (Ex. 33:11). The above verses are from the conversation recorded in the tent.

Two things caught my attention in this short passage. First, it was specifically God’s presence among them that made them unique, nothing else. They were something special only because God was among them, not because of their size or their inherent goodness. God was among them.

That lead me to the second thing that caught my attention, God was gracious in choosing them. They had nothing to provide him that any other people group couldn’t provide. They were not the wealthiest nor the strongest. The only reason God chose them was because he made a promise to their ancestor, Abraham, that God would bless the whole world through his family. God was truly gracious to Israel in choosing to be among them.

That really made me think about the church. Isn’t the church unique for the same reason? God chose us to make his presence known among us. In fact, the Bible tells us that we love God only because he first loved us (1 John 4:19). There is nothing unique about us as a people, nor is there anything that causes us to be special EXCEPT that God, in his grace, chose us and chose to be present with us.

So what about you, church? Are you marked by the presence of God among you? Are your gatherings, whether big or small, marked by the presence of the Creator of the universe? When you meet with a Christian friend, are you experiencing the powerful presence of God in your midst? Jesus said that when there are two or three gathered in his name there he is among them (Matt. 18:20). Is that something you experience?

Paul makes an interesting comparison in Ephesians 5 that I think we need to recognize as believers. Ephesians 5:18 says “And do not be drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit.” For most of my life, and for most people who come from a baptist tradition, the emphasis was on the first part of that passage “do not be drunk with wine.” Good baptists don’t drink and so they think that they have obeyed that command, but there is more. Paul says “BUT be filled with the Spirit.” It’s almost as if being filled with the Spirit ought to be as obvious as being drunk with wine. Paul goes on to describe what it looks like to be filled with the Spirit and I encourage you to go read the passage for yourself and wrestle with what Paul is saying.

What is keeping you from experiencing the presence of God as a church? I think there might be a couple of the big reasons why you don’t experience God’s presence:  sin and a low view of the church. If you are in unrepentant sin, you probably aren’t experiencing the presence of the Holy Spirit (except maybe conviction of sin, unless you have  ignored that voice for a long time). If you think that the church is some place you go once a week to sing some songs (worship) and hear a sermon, then I would say that your view of the church is deficient and you need to go back and figure out why you are going to church in the first place.

Jesus died on the cross for our sins and came to life again on the third day so we could experience the joy of communion with God again, not so that we could go to a service once a week. The gospel is not that we accept Jesus and get fire insurance; but, rather, as we let Jesus be the King over all our life, we get to be part of a living body of believers who experience his presence. The presence ought to bring us to unity and unity is something that this world desperately needs. When people who don’t believe that gospel see this unity, Jesus says that they will believe that God sent him and God loves them (John 17:20-23).

When we are a people marked by the presence of God, only then will we begin to see Jesus’ Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.