WIARN, August 2015 Edition

[WIARN = “Where I Am Right Now,” for those of y’all who don’t read the TeamPyro blog–and if you don’t, you should.]

You know those things that you keep meaning to do, but never seem to get around to, and you just feel more and more guilty as a result? This blog is one of mine.

So here’s what’s gone on in the last few weeks:

  • A buddy of mine got married a couple of weeks ago, and I got the opportunity to DJ the wedding reception.  It’s a bit more difficult than you’d imagine.
  • My wife and I found a new place to live that will reduce my commuting time by as much as 2 hours a day. Our application has been accepted and we are waiting to get a copy of the lease to sign. It’s a lovely little house in a small subdivision where we are looking forward to putting down roots in for a little while. The move happens in the next few weeks, so pray for us as we pack up and transition to this new location.
  • My last day of teaching Sunday School is this Sunday. It will be mark 10 years and 1 month of ministry for me. I’m not sure the reality of this has hit my heart fully yet. I expect I will be a mess. My final text will be Matthew 7:24-29, on the wise and foolish builders. A good way to go out, I think.
  • The following week, we will be joining a new church that is closer to our new house.  I’m a little sad about leaving my current church home after 25 years, but I know that moving is the right decision for my family, and we have found another church that faithfully proclaims Christ, so we’re merely moving from one expression of Christ’s Church to another.
  • A friend in the ministry put a bug in my ear about a ministry opportunity down the road a ways that would require relocation and a major change of lifestyle. I’m weighing out what that would require, and I would really appreciate y’all’s prayers for wisdom in considering whether or not this opportunity will be the right opportunity for my family at that time.
  • I got to take part in the #ProtestPP event last Saturday. As I’ve said, I wanted to have some skin in the game, and that was a good way to start. But it’s not stopping there. More about this to come, I’m sure.
  • I’m wrestling with the question of whether boycotts are effective or not, or even whether it’s a true Gospel response to the world’s evils. Anyone have any thoughts about this? Bro. Coughlin?
  • Oddly enough, in the midst of all this tumult, I find myself really wanting to start writing fiction again. I have the bare-bones of a novel starting to come to the surface in my head. It could be terrible, but it also could be a lot of fun. Action-thriller-mystery. Possibly a series of stories. I have a few scraps of dialogue done as well. Maybe I’ll post some of that soon?

All of this to say, I’m going to be busy for the next few weeks. However, once I get settled in the new digs (and get home internet–yay!), I would like to return to a regular schedule. Plus, I’m way behind on all my book reviews, and I’m pretty sure I’m about to lose those privileges if I don’t start producing.

So check back here in a couple weeks, or subscribe to the feed through whatever means you normally use.

Thanks for reading. Thanks for sticking around. Y’all are good folks. I appreciate you.

Lesson Notes: Matthew 7:13-14

[It’s been a while since I’ve shared any of my Sunday School lesson material, so I thought I’d offer something I shared with my class. I hope it encourages you today.]

“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Matthew 7:13-14)

This section is the beginning of the end of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus closes out the Sermon by giving a series of choices or warnings.  He talks about the dangers of the wrong path, the wrong teachers, the wrong type of religious faith, and the wrong type of foundation.

In verses 13-14, Jesus describes two paths with two gates. There is one way, Jesus says, that is easy. The gate is wide, the road is comfortable, and lots of people travel that way. However, their final destination is destruction.  But there’s another way to go. The gate is narrow, and the path is hard, but for those who travel that path, their final destination is life, eternal life.

What is Jesus talking about here?  Stated simply, Jesus is teaching that the “path” of our lives can only go in one of two ways: towards the glory and joy of eternal life or towards  the destruction of eternal judgment. Jesus warns that we must beware of being on the wrong path.

So how do we know if we’re on the wrong path?

  • The Path to Life is NOT the popular path. Jesus says that there are many on the path to destruction, but few find the path to life. What this means is that the right way to walk will often contradict what most of the world is pursuing. We’ve already seen this in the Sermon—the “ordinary” Christian life looks downright radical in a world that is pursuing self and power and riches and romance as its ultimate goals. So here’s what it comes down to for us: If your values, your desires, your goals, your ambitions look just the same as what you see depicted in the culture around you, you could be on the wrong path.
  • The Path to Life is NOT the easy path. The path of following Jesus is a hard, difficult road. Jesus himself says that we will have trouble in this world (John 16:33) and that we will be opposed and persecuted by the world, because the world hated Jesus first (John 15:18-25). Paul writes that anyone who seeks to live a godly life will be persecuted (II Timothy 3:12-13). If you’re on the Path to Life, your life will sometimes be really hard, really painful. But in those moments of pain, the grace of God will sustain us and remind us of our destination.

How do we find the Path to Life? It starts by going through the right gate.

Here’s an imperfect analogy: There are lots of ways to get to different places in my apartment complex, but if you’re trying to get to my apartment and enjoy a delicious dinner prepared by my amazing wife, you have to enter through my door. Going into my neighbor’s door isn’t going to help you. Standing outside and looking through the windows won’t get you food. (It will, however, get the cops called on you.) To enter into the feast, you have to walk up my sidewalk and front steps, and come through my door. (And if you’re going to argue that you could bust through my window, I will remind you that doing so won’t get you a meal, but it may get you a Louisville slugger to the face–fair warning.)

The Path to Life is the same way.

Lots of people are trying to find Life on their own, through different teachers and philosophies, but all these paths are pretty much the same thing: if you do enough good works, or do the right kind of works in the right way, you’ll earn your reward, in this life or the next.

Jesus has said already that this is not the Path of Life. Remember back in chapter 5? Unless your righteousness is greater than the “religious elite,” unless you are perfect as God is perfect, you will never see the kingdom of heaven. You must be “perfect” to enter the Path of Life.

That leaves us out, right? On our own, yes.  None of us are perfect or good enough to enter the Path of Life.  But a way has been made for us, and that way is through Jesus Himself. In John 10:7-9, Jesus calls Himself the “gate” for the sheep (His flock of followers). We enter the sheepfold through Jesus and find safe pasture.  In John 14:1-7, as Jesus is talking about leaving for a while before coming back to gather His followers to Himself, He says that HE is “the way, the truth, and the life,” and that no one comes to the Father except through HIM.

If you’re looking for the Path of Life, you have to come to the correct Door. That door is Jesus Himself, who lived a perfect life of holiness in our place, and then deposits that righteous standing before God into our bankrupt account when we turn from our sins (repent) and believe that Jesus is the Son of God who died and was raised again in order to accomplish this for us.

One last thing: Jesus is the gate/door we walk through to find the Path of Life, but that Path is still a difficult one. We aren’t saved by our good works, but after we are saved, we are then called to follow Jesus daily on the Path. That road is hard. We must die daily to our own desires in order to follow Him (Luke 9:23-24).  But in the end, that path leads to Life Everlasting.

So which path are you on, friend?  The easy and popular path that the world lays before you? Doing what everyone else is doing in order to try to grab onto any happiness you can? Trying to do good works to earn the approval and acceptance of others, or even of God?

Or have you gone back to the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount and recognized that you are “poor in spirit”—you have nothing to offer God that is free from the stain of sin, and you know you need to repent of your sin and rebellion and ask Him for mercy? Have you gone through the narrow, cross-shaped gate, turning your back on your sin and clinging to Jesus as your Savior?

If you don’t go through the proper gate, you will never see the Path of Life.  Never. There is no on-ramp, half-way through. You can’t jump over the wall or bust through the windows to get on this path. You must start at the Cross of Jesus and come face-to-face with your need.

If you want to talk to someone about any of this, comment below. God bless you.

The4thDave Reviews: “The Last Con” by Zachary Bartels

[I’ve noticed that my book reviews differ depending on genre. With novels, I’ll give a synopsis or pitch before reviewing–something I don’t do with non-fiction. I don’t know why that is, truth be told. If you like it, or don’t, let me know below. Now, for the review…]

The Pitch: Fletcher Doyle is trying to stay on the straight and narrow. After serving six years in prison, this career con-man is working hard to restore his relationship with his family, though things aren’t going too smoothly. While in prison, Fletcher became a follower of Jesus, but even he is now starting to have doubts about whether or not he really is a changed man. During a church mission trip back into his old stomping ground of downtown Detroit, Fletcher is suddenly pulled back into the game, as an old associate and a mystery involving the treasures of an ancient, mysterious sect tempt Fletcher once more to become the man he’s trying so hard to leave behind.

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The Review: The Last Con by Zach Bartels is like a great heist movie. The characters are interesting and likeable. The background of the “Macguffin” is  interesting. The action is fast-paced and thrilling. As the reader, you’re happily munching popcorn as you follow the adventure. This book has all the necessary elements for this kind of story: the set-up, the small heist, the complication, the big heist, the plan breaking down, the shocking reveal. That’s not to say the book is formulaic–at least, not in a negative way. If the book follows tropes, it does so only to suddenly shift your expectations. You realize at a few key points that you’ve been duped as well. While the ending of the book wasn’t a complete surprise, that’s only because I had about 5 different theories in my head about who the “big bad” was. Still, I was not disappointed at all with how the book resolved.

Bartels has created a caper that could easily work on-screen, though such an adaptation would probably lose the fascinating historical elements of the story. There are actually two main narratives at work: Fletcher’s story and the history of Count Cagliostro, a legendary (and infamous) master thief and con-man from the era of the French Revolution. (I’ll leave you to find out how the two stories intersect.) I don’t want to say anything else about the plot because I’d hate to spoil anything else.

Another satisfying element to this novel is how the themes of redemption and identity are woven  throughout the story. It’s almost as if you as the reader fall for the misdirection of the “heist” narrative, until you suddenly recognize the spiritual themes unfolding before you. Just as with Mike Dellosso’s Centralia, the book avoids the preachiness that sometimes plagues Christian fiction, while still presenting Biblical truth in a moving way. So it’s not an evangelistic book, as such, though it could provoke some Gospel conversations for those with ears to hear.

A quick note on “content”: Unlike mainstream crime/caper novels, this one avoids lewd sexual content and profane language. The violence is clear but understated, aside from a few brief descriptions of fatal head-shots. The only notes I’d make on coarse language are one use of a coarse slang term and one instance of innuendo–but nothing overt or gratuitous. Just wanted to mention it for those who would share this book with kids/teens.

Final Verdict: The Last Con by Zachary Bartels is great fun. Definitely worth a read if you’re looking for the literary equivalent of Oceans Eleven or The Sting or another film of that type. It’s available now at Amazon and other retailers, and would be a perfect “end of summer” read.

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Please Note: I was provided a physical copy of the book by the publisher in exchange for an unbiased review. The preceding thoughts are wholly my own.

How Long?

I don’t even know what to say. How to begin. There are too many words, too many emotions, flooding my mind right now. I want to be eloquent. I want to be winsome and compelling. But what is swelling in my chest is rage and sorrow and shame that it has taken me this long to feel this outraged.

O Lord, God of vengeance,
O God of vengeance, shine forth!
Rise up, O judge of the earth;
repay to the proud what they deserve!
O Lord, how long shall the wicked,
how long shall the wicked exult?
They pour out their arrogant words;
all the evildoers boast.
They crush your people, O Lord,
and afflict your heritage.
They kill the widow and the sojourner,
and murder the fatherless;
and they say, “The Lord does not see;
the God of Jacob does not perceive.”

Today, the fifth undercover video in the growing Planned Parenthood scandal has been released. 

If your first reaction to that is to argue about editing and journalistic ethics and how much “good” that meat-grinder of an organization allegedly does, then you are morally blind, morally bankrupt, and/or morally complicit. Is that a harsh statement? Yes. Am I okay if you’re so offended that you never want to read another word I write after today? Yes I am. I will accept that.

Understand, O dullest of the people!
Fools, when will you be wise?
He who planted the ear, does he not hear?
He who formed the eye, does he not see?
He who disciplines the nations, does he not rebuke?
He who teaches man knowledge—
the Lord—knows the thoughts of man,
that they are but a breath.

You should know that I don’t count myself wholly innocent. No, I’m not in any way a supporter of abortion or Planned Parenthood. I have always viewed abortion as the barbaric butchering of an innocent child, no matter the circumstances surrounding that child’s conception.

But in some ways, I’m still guilty. I’m guilty of turning the channel. Of feeling bad and forwarding a link and sharing a post but not doing anything else. I’m guilty of living in a city that is home to one of the largest Planned Parenthood facilities in the nation and never once making my way there to raise my voice in defense of murdered children. I’m a citizen of Munich, and I have politely ignored the smell.

I am thankful for the mercy of God on cowards like me; but that mercy also must compel me to action.

Blessed is the man whom you discipline, O Lord,
and whom you teach out of your law,
to give him rest from days of trouble,
until a pit is dug for the wicked.

For the Lord will not forsake his people;
he will not abandon his heritage;
for justice will return to the righteous,
and all the upright in heart will follow it.

Some people are calling this a “William Wilberforce” moment—a moment when the bloody truth about this barbaric national practice is brought screaming into the light so that all are forced, at least, to acknowledge and own what we as a society have allowed for forty-plus years. I pray that this is true.

Even if the pagan culture around us clamps its eyes shut and covers its ears to the horror that it allows in the name of “choice,” if you are a Christian, I don’t think you–we–have that option anymore. We can’t just go about our business anymore. We can’t just cluck our tongues and shake our empty heads and move on to the next moral outrage.

This matters. This matters in a way that little else we Christians chatter about matters. We are knee-deep in the blood of a homegrown holocaust, and we cannot simply pretend it isn’t important.

If we care about justice, if we care about mercy, if we claim any certain kind of “lives” matter and yet we stay silent on this issue, we have surrendered all credibility on these grounds.

Who rises up for me against the wicked?
Who stands up for me against evildoers?
If the Lord had not been my help,
my soul would soon have lived in the land of silence.
When I thought, “My foot slips,”

your steadfast love, O Lord, held me up.
When the cares of my heart are many,
your consolations cheer my soul.

It’s easy to be overwhelmed by this. I’m feeling overwhelmed today. I don’t know what to do, other than cry and pound my fists against my chest. My hands are still trembling a little, and I feel myself fidget as I sit. So I’m going to pray. I’m going to repent of my silence, ask God for wisdom and discernment to know what comes next, and ask for courage to follow through.

But one more thing I must do is hold onto this feeling. I need to hold onto this rage and this sorrow, not so that it overwhelms me or buries me, but so that it gives me perspective and focus.

My fear is that, in a couple of months, after the last of these videos has been released and we are all appropriately shocked and horrified, we as the Church will go back to business as usual.

We can’t let that happen. I can’t let that happen to myself.

Can wicked rulers be allied with you,  those who frame injustice by statute?
They band together against the life of the righteous
and condemn the innocent to death.
But the Lord has become my stronghold,
and my God the rock of my refuge.
He will bring back on them their iniquity
and wipe them out for their wickedness;
the Lord our God will wipe them out.

[Psalm 94]

I have never felt comfortable praying the imprecatory Psalms. I’m too aware of my sinfulness and my imperfect view of justice. But today, I’m definitely tempted.

Yet even as I consider this, I am reminded that the sin that should most horrify me is the sin that is found in my own heart.

Father, forgive me for my cowardice and silence. Give me grace to stand and speak and fight for the innocent, in the ways that you have given me to do so. Give me boldness in the face of opposition, and guard my heart against despair. Bring conviction and repentance to Your people, so that they may stand and proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ our King, and those who are even now enslaved to sin and darkness can be set free and born again into the kingdom of your Beloved Son, who is praised forevermore.