Tuesday, April 30, 2013

God's Favorite Place on Earth - 25 FREE BOOKS

Every now and then there comes along a surprising book, one that delivers in unexpected fashion. When such a book is published, word of mouth spreads quickly and the number of people impacted by the book multiplies exponentially. I think one such book is coming out May 1, 2013.

It is Frank Viola's God's Favorite Place on Earth. Frank is no stranger to literary success, but he calls this book his magnum opus, meaning it represents his life's work. In God's Favorite Place on Earth, Frank describes the events that occurred during the many visits of Jesus to Bethany, just outside Jerusalem. The beautifully crafted narrative is told through the viewpoint of Lazarus who lived in Bethany with his two sisters, Martha and Mary. Frank Viola shows followers of Christ how to create a "favorite place" for God in our world today, a place where people are set free to love, follow and embrace Jesus like never before. The message is written to help those who asking "Surely there's more to the Christian life than what I am experiencing?" It is a practical, easy-to-read narrative of a unified principle that will deeply encourage the believer in life's journey of faith.

But wait! This is where it get's fascinating.

If you purchase Frank Viola's book beginning Wednesday, May 1 through Tuesday, May 7, you will be given (free of charge) 25 ADDITIONAL BOOKS! That's right, Frank Viola is giving away 25 free books by 15 authors to everyone who buys God's Favorite Place on Earth between May 1 & May 7. Why you ask? Because, as Frank puts it, "Over 3 million books are published every year. In order for a book to rise above the fray and not be lost to obscurity, it has to sell really well during release week. Since this book is my life’s work, I want as many people to be aware of it as possible."

Makes sense to me. I've read the book. It's EXCELLENT!

For everyone who wants an INSTANT LIBRARY, go to God's Favorite Place on Earth for information on how to buy Frank Viola's new book and get the 25 bonus books.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Written a Book? Get It Published

Tim Price, publisher at Ekklesia Press, is opening another publishing company called Trestle Press which will focus on genres other than theological or church related. I was introduced to Tim through Jon Zens. His company Ekklesia has published a couple of biographies I've written. I have been very impressed with Tim. His background is in the railroad business, but he is also an author and a perfectionist in terms of publishing. Other books that I have written have been published by more established, larger companies, but Tim has done as good of a job as I've seen in preparation of the manuscript, designs for the cover and chapter separations, as well as distribution of the books through electronic and paper means via the Internet and distributors like Amazon.

For the grand opening of Trestle Press, Tim Price is running a writer's contest. Trestle Press is taking submissions for a contest to win our full publishing capability. This includes a custom cover, eBook conversion, Cataloging In Print, ISBN, custom interior layout and many other features of our publishing approach. Your book will be released to 28,000 book sites around the planet (including Amazon, Books-A-Million, Barnes & Noble and iTunes), and printing on three continents: America, Europe and Australia. You book will be advertised in Ingram Advance catalogs. You will receive industry standard royalties for both printed and eBook versions. The winner of this publishing package receives services valued at $3,200.

Genres sought after:
Crime Fiction
Science Fiction
Historical Novel or Non-Fiction

For more details and information regarding submission of your manuscript, click here. Even if you do not win the contest ($60.00 entry fee), you will be one step closer to having your book published because an editor with expertise has reviewed it and will be able to get it published for you at a very affordable price.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

If I Could Just Sit With You Awhile

On Sunday, April 14, 2013, during the Sunday morning worship services at Emmanuel Enid (auditorium services), Melody Lenox (my sister) sang Dennis Jernigan's If I Could Just Sit With You Awhile - acapella. This video is from the fourth service. I heard Melody sing this song at my grandmother's funeral and asked if she would sing it for us at Emmanuel. It was the first time many at Emmanuel had heard Melody sing. I know I'm partial, but I think she's one of the best vocalists in the nation, not just in tone, but in the spirit with which she sings.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

"How Long Have You Struggled with Pornography?"

In the few days Paul Young was here in Enid we had some very interesting conversations. I have complimented Paul before, saying I have learned more about interaction with people through observing him than any other person I know. Paul believes everything in his life--every experience, every heart-ache, every blessing, every moment--have collectively led him to the moment in time he speaks with the one who is in front of him. He is not looking over the shoulder to the next person in line, he is not worried about being late for supper or his next appointment. Paul Young takes time to interact with people and connect with them on a level deeper than the superficial.

Paul Young and I share a very high view of the power of the atonement. We both believe the grace of God saves through the Person and work of Jesus the Anointed One. We are repelled by the notion that a loving God tries to save the world through His Son. We believe God actually delivers sinners from themselves through Christ. We also share a common view of hell. It is not a torture chamber dreamed up in the mind of the midieval poet Dante, but rather a solemn, holy place of judgment where a loving God sentences rebels to a just imprisonment for their crimes.

Where Paul and I disagree is on the extent of the atonement. Paul Young believes Christ died for every human being who has ever lived or ever will live, those who are in heaven and those who are in hell. I believe Christ died for the elect. We both believe Christ died for the world, but Paul defines the world as every human being, whereas I define it as a particular people (the Bride of Christ) from every nation, every tongue, every kindred, and every family on earth. Paul Young treats every human being as a child of God, and thus connects with them in a deep emotional and spiritual level. I desire to connect with every human being in a similar manner to Paul Young.

In discussing the extent of the atonement, Paul Young told me a story of a couple of Calvinists who approached him to debate the subject. Paul observed that Calvinists typically approach him in pairs, one tall and lean the other short and plump. The tall one argued with Paul about the extent of the atonement and Paul responded, "So let me ask you a question. You have two boys, both of whom are your flesh and blood. One boy is saved because God chose Him, Christ died for Him and the Spirit regenerated Him. The other boy, however, is chosen by God to be a "vessel of wrath" upon whom judgement will fall as a demonstration of God's holiness and justice. My question for you is this: 'Does it bother you that you have one son who will be in heaven and one son who will be in hell?'" The tall Calvinist responded: 'It does not. God's purposes are good, and if my boy is a vessel chosen for the demonstration of God's wrath against sin, it will be fine with me."

Paul Young's next question was this: "How long have you struggled with pornography?"

I was shocked at Paul's question to the man. Paul explained to me that any human being who is so emotionally disconnected from their children's welfare that they can dispassionately speak of their eternal state without sorrow, tears or pleading with God for mercy, is a person who is disconnected from emotion in relationships. The tell-tale sign of a struggle with pornography, according to Paul, is an emotional disconnect from human relationships.

I may disagree with Paul Young about the extent of the atonement, but I can guarantee you I want to treat every person the way he does. I wish to believe like Charles Spurgeon  who once said "God, save the elect and elect some more" and I wish to live like Paul Young who treats every human being as a chosen recipient of God's grace. My view on the atonement has not changed. I believe it is a particular atonement for those who believe. But I can tell you without hesitation I would rather be around people who believe in a powerful, universal atonement and treat everybody like a child of God than a limited atonement person who is emotionally disconnected from the human race. I'm not sure what camp that puts me in, but its one which I do not wish to leave.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

When a Cult Repents: The Transformational Story of the Worldwide Church of God

In my formative Christian years I was a fan of Walter Martin and other Christian apologists who became Kingdom watchdogs and protected the sheep from wolves. In subsequent years I began to realize that much of what passes as orthodox Christianity in evangelical circles is as cultic in behavior as unorthodox, Trinitarian-denying cults. Yet, even with my awareness of problems in modern evangelicalism, cultic organizations like Herbert W. Armstrong's Worldwide Church of God have remained anathema to me because of their aberrant beliefs, arrogant and abusive behaviors, and avarice.

That is why it is so refreshing to see the transformation taking place within the former Worldwide Church of God. Over the past twenty years, leaders in the WCG have renounced the beliefs of their founder Herbert W. Armstrong, adopted a Trinitarian view of God, emphasized the grace of God in delivering sinners (instead of obedience to God's law), and changed their name to Grace Communion International. GCI's magazine Odyssey has had some interesting articles, written by authors who have "a fresh awareness of the importance of grace, a high respect for Scripture, a willingness to do what the Scriptures say, and a spirit of rejoicing in the implications of Trinitarian theology." Not bad.

What I find even more fascinating is the public apology by the leaders of the new GCI. After giving a short history of the Worldwide Church of God and the two decades long transformation on their web page, the leaders of GCI wrote:

"...(W)e are now in full agreement with the statement of faith of the National Association of Evangelicals. Jesus Christ changes lives. He can change an organization, too. We have worked hard to inform our members about where we went wrong — and we say “we” honestly, for the current leaders of the church once believed and taught (Armstrong's) erroneous doctrines. We have criticized other Christians as false, deceived, children of the devil. We have much to apologize for. We are profoundly sorry that we verbally persecuted Christians and created dissention and disunity in the body of Christ. We seek forgiveness and reconciliation.   
We do not have any delusions of grandeur. We do not imagine that we will turn the world upside down. We do not think we will transform the church like Paul did. But we do expect God to use us to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. There may be a niche that needs our particular experience. Perhaps God is preparing us for situations that do not yet exist. We do not know, but we remain ready to respond to God’s leading. We emphasize grace, and we accept Trinitarian theology."
Without doubt, the authoritarian, legalistic, cultic Worldwide Church of God hurt a number of people in the 20th century. Yet, the organization seems to have changed during the last two decades. That's good news. GCI could be a model for other religious organizations in the 21st century who need to separate from authoritarian leaders who have used and abused people. It can be done.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Forgiveness Past, Present and Future

Yesterday it was my privilege to hear a moving conversion story from a young man who opened his life to Jesus Christ a month ago. Not raised in church, losing his father to a tragic car accident before he was even born, and living his life of twenty-four years without God or any plumbline of morality, this young man teared-up as he described how in a very dark moment of his life last month, the knowledge of his need for Christ became a reality, and he gave his life to God, expressing his belief that he was on a path to ruin, and only God could turn him around. He came to me because Emmanuel was really the only church he attended during his immoral days where "he felt loved and not condemned" and he wanted to be baptized at Emmanuel to publicly share his new life in Christ.

I offered some words of encouragement and then gave him a copy of Happiness Doesn't Just Happen. Do you know what my words of encouragement were? You may be surprised. Here is what I told him.

"You have been saved. You may not realize all that means right now, but it's all good. God has loved you, reached down in His mercy and opened your eyes to your need of Him and revealed to you what Christ has done for you. He has become the Father you never had. You have been born from above. His love for you is unconditional, His kindness toward you is immeasurable, and His mercies will be new and fresh every morning. Everything in your life He will now ultimately work for your good. He is that good. That's His name - God - the abbreviation for the English word good.
You are going to screw up again. You will morally fail again. You will struggle in the future with the desire to party the way you used to party. Your old friends will seek to pull you back with them. Your old patterns of living are not gone - the battle is just beginning- and there will be days you will fail miserably.
Remember this. When Jesus died all your sins were future. He carried all your sins away. Your future screw-ups no more cause Him to love you less than your past screw-ups. You can't promise Him things to get Him to love you more, and you can't perform better to get Him to be good to you. He treats you just as if you never sinned and just as if you never will sin even though you have sinned and you will sin. Your relationship with the invisible, immortal and omnipotent God of the universe is good-to-go because of your faith in Christ, and all blessings of the obedience of Christ toward the Father are now yours because of faith. God sees no sin in you anymore. Period.
Then why change? Why transform? Because of the nature of sin. Sexual immorality, hatred, drunkenness, stealing, cursing, (_________ fill in the blank) is sweet like honey when it happens, but in time it is like gravel in the mouth. Living life without thought of God brings only temporary pleasure and guaranteed pain. You can't help but change because your perspective is changing. You are now thinking of the eternal. You recognize that there is more to life than just the immediate. You change because you are changed - by God.
My job is to help you realize that your relationship with God is like no other relationship you will ever have. Everyone else loves you, accepts you, stays with you, embraces you, guides you, protects you, enjoys you because of your performance. Not God. His favor towards you never changes because His Son has accomplished for you in the past what you will never be able to accomplish now or in the future. The great privilege of being a Christian is to unlock the riches of His grace and to continue to discover His immeasurable love."
I am convinced that if we preachers spent more time exalting Christ and less time being concerned about people's present or future screw-ups, more people would experience the life changing transformation of God's amazing grace through faith in Christ. I am often accused of being an antinomion ("one with no law"). So be it. Christ is the end of the law for me.

In His Grace,


Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Imago Dei and Your Teenage Daughter

It was my wife's and my privilege to raise three boys and a girl. All four of our children are grown and out of the home. Two of them are now married, including our daughter Charis who recently moved back to Oklahoma with her husband for his new career. We are grateful for the grace of God in our children's lives, but we are particularly thankful for God's presence in the life of our daughter.  Young girls in America are bombarded with media and advertising that defines "success" for women in terms of beauty, sex appeal, and body consciousness. Before I offer a word of encouragement to parents with pre-teen or teenage daughters, I ask you to watch the following video that will illustrate how American advertising has lied to our girls.

 How do we combat these messages our loved ones see? I believe we must teach them about the Image of God within our girls, or as the ancients called it, the Imago Dei.

Thomas Aquinas taught that God's image is seen in one's intellect or reason. The ability to think is a human's most God-like quality. Aquinas pointed out that animals were not created with a mind like that of a human, so animals do not have the image of God. The first humans (Adam and Eve) had a battle between their reason and what Aquinas called their "lower powers." God intended for Adam and Eve to be controlled by their ability to reason with God, but they allowed their physical appetites, such as lust and gluttony, to overtake their minds. They fell from walking in harmony with God.

Aquinas taught that after the fall, the descendents of the first parents lost all control of their “lower powers.” God said in Psalm 81:12, “I gave them over to the stubbornness of their heart, to walk in their own devices," a concept repeated by the Apostle Paul in Romans 1:24, “Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them.”

Thomas Aquinas writes:
In his original state man was divinely endowed with the grace and privilege that, so long as his mind was subject to God, the lower powers of the soul would be subject to his rationale mind, and his body to his soul. Man’s mind by sin abandoned subordination to God, with the consequence that now his lower powers were no longer wholly responsive to his reason; and such was the rebellion of the flesh against reason that the body as well was no more wholly responsive to soul.
Aquinas believed that for the Image of God to be restored, there must be an understanding that the lower powers must come into submission of the mind. This can only happen when people come to know and love the Creator God more than themselves. This experience with God is what we would call salvation. It is what happens when someone comes to be a partaker of the life of God in Christ, not just a believer in the existance of God through Christ. Christ begins the work of transformation, but we parents can be partners with Him in encouraging our girls.

If we wish to combat the influence of our culture in the lives of our daughters, we would do well to practice the following:

(1). Be cautious of ever emphasizing, either intentionally or unintentionally, the need for a beautiful body over the necessity of a well-conditioned mind.
(2). Take interest in recommending books that your girls can read more than any interest in commending boys your girls can date.
(3). Spend as much time and energy on sponsoring your daughter's planned field trip as you do your daughter's prom date night.
(4). Focus on reinforcing your little girl's ability to think for herself.
(5). Use phrases like, "I love the way you think!" or "You amaze me with your abilities to understand!" or "I'm so proud of the way you stood up for your convictions" -- as ways to confirm the importance of one's mind over one's body.
(6). Ask questions about, and show interests in, any friend that may be unpopular with the "in" crowd, but gives evidence of having a strong character and a good mind.
(7). Never be bashful to talk with your little girl about her relationship with God.

The fight for the souls of our daughters goes against a tidal wave of cultural conformity, but in the end, I can't imagine we parents ever regretting emphasizing the Imago Dei (the mind) over the temporary tent of this world (the body) in the raising of our daughters.