Saturday, February 26, 2011

‘Idol’ Castoff Chris Medina Releases Debut Single “What Are Words” [VIDEO]

Great video. Smart man with a lot of integrity.
‘Idol’ Castoff Chris Medina Releases Debut Single “What Are Words” [VIDEO]

Fibonacci Numbers - The Fingerprint of God

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Modern-Day Martyrs in Turkey - A Reprise

The event I wrote about in May of 2007 has generated more traffic, by far, than anything else I have ever written about. Because of that, I thought some would be interested in an update on what has happened since. As a recap, three Christians, Necati Aydin, Ugur Yuksel and Tilmann Geske were brutally tortured and killed in Malatya, Turkey.

They were targeted for their Christian faith and the event has focused somewhat of a spotlight on Turkey's view of Christians. Evangelical churches are considered terror cells by many government officials. The question to arise is how deep the conspiracy went to have these men butchered. Was it merely the work of a few young radicals or was it the result of a plot to wipe out the influence of Christians in Turkey?

An article by Compass Direct News sheds light, not only on this case, but the state of hostilities towards Christians in many Muslim-majority countries worldwide. We in the West, living in comfort, with no fear of repercussions for our Christian views, need to remember to pray for our brothers and sisters in challenging situations. In some places, choosing to become a Christian means losing your family, your job, your reputation and perhaps your life.

Three years after the fact, continue to pray for the families of those slain and the church in Malatya, Turkey. Pray also for the countries in upheaval in the Middle East. What this means for the small Christian minorities remains to be seen. As in all major political upheaval, there is tremendous potential for good or evil.

As for this court case, it continues. Let's hope and pray that truth and justice win the day.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Book Review: "It Came From Within!"

Andy Stanley has been called "one of our generation's great communicators." I would tend to agree, and this book is a very well written book that should have a long shelf-life because of its practical application. "It Came From Within! The Shocking Truth Of What Lurks In The Heart" is eye-opening for anyone interested in dealing with baggage from their past.

Andy uses the theme of cheesy monster pics to demonstrate spiritual truth - thus the 'B' movie monster on the front cover. He begins by giving real life examples of how each of us do our best to hide those monsters that lurk inside of our hearts: guilt, anger, greed and jealousy. Some of us deny that we are susceptible to any of them, but we could all see ourselves in his examples. We blow up at a loved one for a seemingly small infraction; we fall into a destructive habit; we dwell on things that we know will drag us down or perhaps we simply refuse to forgive someone.

The first few chapters are spent building a convincing case that we each need to find a remedy. You may start reading as a doubter, but I think after a few chapters, you'll find an application for your own life. The reason for the book is simple - the heart matters. Jesus spoke to this when He said clearly "For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft false testimony, slander." (Matthew 15:19)

Andy insightfully explains that each of these four "enemies of the heart" results in a debt-to-debtor dynamic that messes up our relationships. As long as we feel that someone owes us, our relationship will never be quite right. There are only two ways to resolve this: either the debt has to be paid or it has to be forgiven.

The dynamic of guilt, for example, takes the form of "I owe you." We've done something we perceive as wrong and some spend the rest of their lives trying to make up for it. Anger, on the other hand, says "You owe me!" It's the result of not getting what we want. Think about the last time that you were angry. Wouldn't it have been resolved if things had simply gone the way that you wanted - somebody owed you and you didn't get what you wanted.

Greed says, "I owe me." Greed is trickier because it disguises itself, others would tend to recognize it in us before we see it in ourselves. As Stanley writes, "People with greed lodged in their heart fear that God either can't or won't take care of them." No matter what we have, it's never enough. The final monster, jealousy, says "God owes me." The jealous person looks at what others have, whether it be money, opportunity, talent, looks, etc., and thinks "If I had that my life would be different." Translation: God owes me.

Once we've identified the monsters, Andy goes about teaching us how to rid ourselves of their influence. So, how do we release the debt? The first weapon to use is confession. We have to own it, and to acknowledge that we struggle. Secrets are powerful and unless they're dragged into the open they will continue to pull us down. As he says, in the Bible, confession is associated with change, it is the beginning of the process. The kicker is that confession is not just about getting right with God, "you cannot resolve your differences with God if you are unwilling to resolve your differences with the people around you." This may hurt, but it's true.

Another key is forgiveness. In my experience, this is extremely difficult for some people. Why should a victim bear the responsibility of having to forgive? The simple truth is that unforgiveness does not hurt the person who has hurt you - it hurts you! But when we forgive - an act of the will, not a feeling - the one who is released from prison is us. Those around us are also freed from having to live with our bitterness. This is the key to dealing with our anger - releasing the guilty party from the debt that we believe they owe us. The truth is, in almost all cases, the debt could never be repayed anyway. My favorite quote from the book: "In the shadow of my hurt, forgiveness feels like a decision to reward my enemy. But in the shadow of the cross, forgiveness is merely a gift from one undeserving soul to another."

The answer for a greedy heart is to first ask the question, why do I have so much? When all that we have is focused on us, we know we have a problem with greed. The Bible teaches us that all that we have comes from God, and that we are managers of His resources. If guilt is conquered with confession; anger is conquered with forgiveness; then greed is conquered with generosity.

To deal with jealousy we must first admit that "the problem is that I'm not getting what I want." Instead of dwelling on what someone else has, we ought to be bringing our requests and concerns, and yes, even our feelings of envy to God. "In the shadow of the cross, it is clear: God doesn't owe us anything. We owe Him everything." So, rather than allow those feelings to fester, learn to celebrate the achievements and success of others. You will find that, eventually, your feelings will change.

This is one of those books that is very difficult to summarize. I highly recommend that you take the time to read this book. It is laced with real-life situations that apply to any of us. This book is so good it will very likely lead to a series of messages from my pulpit, so get a head start and read it.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Book Review: "Has Christianity Failed You?"

As I begin this latest book review, let me first admit my bias: Ravi Zacharias is one of my favorite authors. If you are unfamiliar with him, I suggest you check out his bio. I remember as a young pastor being faced with questions, the answers to which I did not have. I discovered Ravi's writings and recordings at the advice of my younger brother. The first couple of books I read required the assistance of a dictionary, as Ravi's vocabulary far exceeded mine. One of the things I have most appreciated of his writings was his ability to stretch my mind without losing my interest.

His latest work, "Has Christianity Failed You?" differs from his previous works in that it is aimed at lapsed Christians. Normally his target audience is those who are looking for a more scholarly approach to apologetics or to seekers of truth in general. This book arose from a talk by the same name he gave at the Fox Theater in Atlanta, his current base of operations. He was shocked to find 4,000 people packed into the theater with lines of people turned away, and tickets being scalped on the street. This subject had obviously hit a chord. In exploring the letters and survey responses before and after the event, Ravi decided that it was a subject worth speaking to.

In the introduction, Ravi explains that there are many reasons that people have turned their backs on the faith in which they were raised. For some it's a negative experience at church, for others it's a lifestyle choice, for some it's an inability to hold to their faith in an age of reason. The reasons are many, but the sense of loss is real. One of the questions Ravi asks is this: "Is it actually possible to still make sense out of life once one has denied one's faith in Christ or has shunted Him aside?"

Fittingly, the first chapter is titled "Who Is Jesus?" Ravi has the ability to cut straight through all of the emotion and vitriol and get straight to the point. This is truly the question. To paraphrase Larry King, "the answer to this question defines reality." If Jesus is mythological or a mere man, the question "Has Christianity Failed You?" has no meaning - it doesn't matter. But Ravi explains that Jesus Christ is the embodiment of ultimate truth. As Ravi recounted of C.S. Lewis' experience: "His greatest realization after he had finally recognized who Jesus is and what He offers to every human heart was that he had not come to a place or accepted a belief; he had come to a person - and that person is the very person of God." Some are disappointed with Christianity because they have come to a religion, but have not found the relationship.

His second chapter, "What Does It Mean To Be A Christian?" speaks to the simple truth that to be a Christian means to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ, and explains the implications of that. This chapter quickly moves into a classical Zacharias approach. He deals with different worldviews and approaches to truth and demonstrates the superiority of the Christian worldview. (For those who have never experienced Ravi's logic, go to this link for a brief video of him answering a question at the University of Illinois). It is within this understanding of the world that we find meaning, purpose and ultimate truth.

He then moves to a chapter called "Points of Tension." In this chapter he takes on many of the assumptions of our culture, including moral relativism, scientism, personal autonomy, et al. Then he deals with some of the challenges that we face as human beings living in an often hostile environment. How do we rationalize our pain with belief in a loving God?

His chapter "Looking Incoherence In The Eye" asks the hard questions of those who would abandon their faith. Here's a quote from the chapter: "A friend of mine in India, who lives in a meager little place, once told me he always prays for America because 'it must be hard to trust in God when you already have so much.'" His premise is that, yes, there are difficult questions to answer sometimes, but there are answers.

His next chapter is a specific answer to the book, "The Reason-Driven Life" which has received a lot of attention lately. The author, Robert M. Price, was a former evangelical who wrote his book as a response to Rick Warren's "Purpose-Driven Life." I appreciate Ravi's unwillingness to avoid this discussion as the book has influenced many. I'm reminded of the time when many of Jesus' followers were leaving Him. He turned to His 12 disciples and asked if they would leave also. Peter replied "To whom shall we go? Only you have the words of eternal life."

His last two chapters are questions: "Does Prayer Make Any Difference?" and "Has Christianity Failed You?" Here a warning is given to the church. "The church is prone to one extreme or the other in her responses to the world - either legalism that destroys the wounded, or relevance that has no substance and is relevant to nothing." We, as church leaders, must be careful with how we lead the church and how we handle people.

Here is his final argument in a nutshell: "The choice for you, if you are among those who think Christianity has failed you, is either to look at Jesus Christ himself and trust God to carry you through the struggles you experience and to bring you to a place of contentment and victory, or to turn your back on this loving Savior, using the failures of the church to justify your unbelief, and to face a meaningless, purposeless existence without any guide to bring you into a future in the presence of God himself - and, sadly, to be brought under the scourge of a freedomless worldview that imposes its belief on all."

This is not an easy read for most people, but it's well worth the effort. I would especially recommend it for those who do feel that Christianity has failed you. You're not alone and there are answers.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Book Review: "The Power Of A Whisper"

Often when people come to me and tell me that "God told me..." my first reaction is a healthy dose of skepticism. The world has been plagued with people who have said and done crazy things because "God told them to." That being said, The Bible teaches us very clearly that God desires to be known by us and does reveal Himself to us - in nature, in the Word and through special revelation. The New Testament speaks of God's Holy Spirit who was sent to "guide us into all truth." The question then is, how do we discern between the truth and the counterfeit?

Bill Hybels' book "The Power Of A Whisper," is his attempt to answer that question. In the book, Bill recounts times when the trajectory of his life, and others, was changed because of a whisper from God. The premise of the book is very simple - God is still speaking today, and we need to put ourselves in the position to hear Him. One of the quotes I highlighted was this: "There is no more critical goal in life than to keep a pliable heart before God." That being said, the logical question follows, how do we determine whether or not the whisper, prompting or direction we are receiving is actually from God?

Bill has complied a list of 5 "Filters" that he uses to help him test every "whisper" he receives. Filter #1 - Is The Prompting Truly From God? Does it square with God's character? Is it God speaking, or someone else trying to further their own agenda? Filter #2 - Is It Scriptural? God has already spoken to us by His Word, and He will never contradict Himself. So, if you sense God telling you to do something that violates His written Word, you can be sure it's not God. Filter #3 - Is It Wise? Just because an opportunity presents itself does not mean that it came from God. While God sometimes calls us to do things that go against conventional wisdom, we'd best be sure that it is God. Step back, pray, consider, consult. Filter #3 - Is It In Tune With Your Own Character? This filter is based on the truth that God has wired each of us in a certain way. If you can't hold a tune in a bucket, it's highly unlikely that God has called you to be a worship leader. It's likely wishful thinking on your part. Filter #5 - What Do The People You Most Trust Think About It? The Bible tells us that there is safety in the multitude of counselors. Ask trusted people to help you dsetermine whether God is speaking - or last night's pizza!

This book, just as in Hybel's speaking and other writing, is given in an easy to understand style. There are a lot of personal examples in the book that will speak to anyone truly desiring to find God's will for their life. It is filled with practical advice on how to put yourself in a place to hear God. There was one page however, that particularly got my attention with it's four simple keys to hearing from God.

Key #1 - Fervently and frequently ask God to improve your hearing.
Key #2 - Reduce the ambient noise in your life. (Be quiet and slow down so you can hear God).
Key #3 - You simply must fill your head with Scripture. The vast majority of God's will for your life is revealed in His Word.
Key #4 - Be sure that you confess the sin in your life, because it puts up barriers between you and God.

If you are a Christian sincerely desiring to hear God's voice, this book will help you. Let me end with a quote from the last chapter of the book. "If we were to boil down Christianity to its core, we'd be left with simply this: relationship with God. The living, loving God of the universe has spoken throughout history, and still speaks today - not just to pastors or priests, but to anyone who will listen. God will speak to you."

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Akiane Kramarik

This is a follow-up to an earlier video that I posted of an interview with Akiane, a young prodigy of an artist who has captured worldwide attention. Now 16, she began painting at the age of four, usually using visions she experienced as her subject matter.

What brought her to my attention was the book I just reviewed "Heaven Is For Real." Young Colton, who had a near-death experience and shared his encounters, spoke often about meeting Jesus. Everywhere that they saw a painting of Jesus they would ask Colton if that's what He looked like. Colton would always respond in the negative.

As Todd Burpo began to share the story of his son's heavenly encounter, someone came to him after a speaking engagement and told him he needed to check out this young girl's art. Much of it dealt with the theme of heaven and spiritual realities. As he went to this little girl's web-site he found a surprising, non-traditional, painting of Jesus which Akiane had painted as an 8 year old. He called his son to him and asked Colton: "What's wrong with this one?" He stood staring at the screen for several minutes, studying the painting. Finally, he turned to his father and announced, "Dad, that one's right."

You can find the portrait at Akiane's web-site. Remember that this painting was done when she was eight year's old. Let me know your thoughts.

Articles of Interest:
Is Heaven For Real?
Book Review - "Heaven Is For Real"
Drawing Heaven
What Is A Christ-follower?

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Book Review - "Heaven Is For Real"

I decided that I'd use this spot to review some of the books that I've been reading lately. I'd love your feedback.

The very first book I'll review is a quick little read called "Heaven Is For Real." I read this in one sitting - about 2 1/2 hours worth. It's a true story that will make you sit back and go "Hmmm."

The author, Todd Burpo, (yes that's his real name, I didn't make that up) is (was?) a Pastor in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. At the culmination of a year's worth of hard times for he and his family, his almost four year old son, Colton, became very sick and was misdiagnosed with the flu. In fact, he had appendicitis, and by the time it was discovered, his appendix had burst and his chances of survival were slim.

The book tells the story of what Colton shared with his parents after he was released from hospital. I'm usually highly skeptical of the stories of "near-death" experiences, but this book has the distinct ring of truth to it. I found myself unable to put it down.

As a pastor myself, I automatically find myself looking for areas which contradict Scripture. I didn't find any of those with this book. It passed my "sniff test" for authenticity. I liked it so much that I found myself recommending the book to 3-4 people the very next day - especially for those who have recently experienced the loss of a loved one.

Is there a heaven? What is heaven like? These are questions that almost everyone has asked, or will ask, at some point in time. Read about heaven through the eyes of a little boy who has nothing to hide and nothing to gain from misleading you. I highly recommend this book.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Planned Parenthood Aids Pimp's Underage Sex Ring

Here's a shocker. Watch how an undercover couple reveals how Planned Parenthood aids and abets the sex trafficking of minors.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Drawing Heaven

This is absolutely stunning. I'll be giving a back-story on this later, but check out her art at