Truman ShowDirector Peter Weir’s modern masterpiece, The Truman Show (1998), is about a kid who is adopted by a broadcasting network. Unbeknown to the young Truman—but relished by anyone with a cable subscription—his every waking moment is being broadcast on live TV.

Truman’s whole life is spent in an island town (which is actually an elaborate movie set) and his entire family, friendship circle, and everyone he interacts with are all paid actors. Their lines are fed to them by improvising scriptwriters via earpieces.

This masquerade goes on for decades with flawless execution, except for a few comical glitches like stage lights falling from heaven and fame-seekers who crash the set.

The perpetual ruse effectively dupes the adult Truman, played by the inimitable Jim Carrey, into living a life in which he is literally the center of attention all day, every day. The sun rises and sets for him and the weather is altered to create the director’s desired ambience. Truman is the reason for the season…and for everything else that happens in his world.

It’s a poignant and thought-provoking story.

But sadly, there is real-life tragi-comedy being played out in society today. Many people pass their days as if they are a self-aware version of Truman. They function as if they are meant to be the center of the universe. They actually get upset when the backdrop, like the weather, doesn’t meet their expectations. They become disenchanted when personal plans and desires are not quickly championed by everyone else. They have a near existential crisis when the economy, the political scene, or the people in their lives don’t behave the way their self-directed script would prefer. It’s almost as if they are disappointed that they can’t fire the actors who refuse to collaborate with their script.

Some people behave exactly as if they were raised to believe everyone and everything exists for them.

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SC2010Today marks one of my favorite days of the year. It’s the annual Shepherds’ Conference. Beginning today, over 3000 church leaders gather from several dozen countries to get equipped for ministry to Christ’s church. There are few places where rich preaching, insightful teaching, God-glorifying worship, refreshing fellowship, sacrificial service, and a deluge of resources are excellently weaved together in a local church atmosphere to serve church leaders. The mission of the Shepherds’ Conference is to provide the opportunity for men in church leadership to be challenged in their commitment to biblical ministry and to find encouragement as together we seek to become more effective servants of our chief Shepherd. And over the 14 years I have participated, the conference has always accomplished its mission.

As usual, the speaker line-up is set to richly bless attenders. And in between sessions, staff and volunteers are set up to do everything from shine your shoes, prepare custom coffee, have a theological discussion, and put a book in your hand.

And let’s not forget the conference culinary care. It’s been said that the Shepherds’ Conference is like a cruise: everywhere you turn, there is somewhere serving you good food.

A friend of mine attending his first conference asked a great question: “How does the church put on such a huge event?” The body of Christ at Grace Community Church is a well-oiled machine. Roughly 800 volunteers show up early, stay late, and work long days to serve attenders.

If you are unable to attend, you can catch the live-streamed general sessions here. All sessions are made available for listening shortly after the conference. And please pray that our Lord would transform all to be more faithful shepherds of his flock.

This June, Immanuel Bible Church (in the Washington DC area) is hosting a conference for college students/young adults. The Foundry Conference is a yearly conference with three goals. To expose young adults to expository preaching that will build a biblical worldview in every area of life, to sing theologically rich music that will lead us to a proper worship of God and lastly, to provide encouragement and connection for young adults from like-minded churches all over the country. You can listen to last year’s messages here.

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Registration is $30, and includes books and lunch. The conference begins Friday evening, June 3, and ends Sunday evening, June 5.

I’ll be preaching at the conference, along with:

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griping monkUpon Gino’s acceptance into a monastic order which emphasizes silence he is told that he will be allowed to speak only two words to the abbot every ten years. On his first night he finds that a rat has invaded his mattress and most of the stuffing is gone. He can barely sleep on the thin mattress. Being very dedicated, he endures the situation for a decade. When finally in front of the abbot, Gino cautiously offers, “Mattress thin.”

Presently workers arrive with a brand new mattress. However, upon their departure Gino discovers that they’ve accidentally broken his window. Icy winds blow all winter and torrential rains flow all summer.

Ten years later Gino despondently reports: “Window broken.” The window is immediately repaired to Gino’s delight, as he anticipates his first night of cozy sleep in two decades.

However, climbing into bed he realizes that the workmen have accidentally broken the leg of his bed. The bed is tilted at a crazy angle and all night he finds himself sliding down. Ten more years pass slowly. Finally, Gino finds himself before the abbot again and declares: “I quit!” The head monk snaps back, “Good riddance! Since you arrived you’ve done nothing but complain!”

After pondering my previous two posts in this mini-series (here and here) on complaining some of you are probably feeling a bit like Gino—that if you say two wrong words, you’ll be branded a complainer. I hope to offer some relief.

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In Romans 9, Paul discusses God’s absolute freedom in His saving purposes. He uses the illustration of the twins, Jacob and Esau, stating that God’s choice of Jacob over Esau had nothing to do with either of them. Rather, God chose “so that [His] purpose according to His choice would stand.” This choice was “not because of works but because of Him who calls” (Rom 9:11). He goes on to say that salvation “does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy” (Rom 9:16), and then supports that claim by referring to God’s hardening of Pharaoh’s heart for the expressed purpose of demonstrating His power and proclaiming His name through the events that followed (Rom 9:17; cf. Exod 9:16). Paul then summarizes his point by declaring: “So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires” (Rom 9:18).

Then, Paul anticipates an objection: “You will say to me, then, ‘Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?’”

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In yesterday’s post, we began an analysis of the packaged addiction program, Celebrate Recovery (CR). CR is founded on eight principles, taken from the Beatitudes, similar to the twelve steps of Alcoholic’s Anonymous (AA).

Created by John Baker and Rick Warren of Saddleback Church, CR claims to be a Christ-centered, biblically-based program. CR will be examined according to those claims, using the Leader’s Guide, by John Baker, as cited in yesterday’s post.

As stated yesterday, this review (completed with the help of Matthew Mumma, pastor of biblical counseling at Cornerstone Church) will demonstrate that CR contains two major problems: (1) Though claiming to be biblically based, its teachings are often constructed from a misuse of Scripture and an erroneous hermeneutic. (2) Though claiming to be Christian based, its theology often clashes with sound Christian theology. In today’s post, the second problem will be addressed.

2. Much of CR’s theology clashes with sound Christian theology.

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Enslaving behaviors are as old, and common to humanity, as sin itself. Since our fall at the dawn of time, we have been naturally enslavement to every destructive behavior possible. In response, various efforts have been made to deal with the problem.

One such effort is a packaged addictions program called Celebrate Recovery (CR). John Baker and Rick Warren of Saddleback Church created the program in 1991 to help people with various addictions. Rick Warren writes, “[D]uring the ten-week series that I preached to kick off this program, our attendance grew by over 1500!” (John Baker, Celebrate Recovery Leader’s Guide, 12). During the past 25 years, some 20,000 churches in the United States have reportedly used CR, with some 2.5 million people having completed the program. Needless to say, CR has had a major influence on the church.

CR’s stated purpose is “to encourage fellowship and to celebrate God’s healing power in our lives as we work our way along the road to recovery” (21). Further, Warren claims that CR is “more effective in helping people change than anything else I’ve seen or heard of” (12).

Generally, the program runs on a one-year repeating schedule. Participants are taken through the material in 25 lessons and testimonies, meeting once per week for 52 weeks. Rick Warren writes that CR was born when “I began an intense study of the Scriptures to discover what God had to say about ‘recovery.’ To my amazement, I found the principles of recovery—in their logical order—given by Christ in His most famous message, the Sermon on the Mount” (12). More specifically, CR teaches that the Beatitudes (Matt. 5:3-12), which are said to be “eight ways to be happy,” contain the progressive path to addiction recovery.

The eight principles upon which CR is derived are as follows (the principle is stated, followed by the corresponding Beatitude):

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When I do campus evangelism, I often start the conversation this way: “What are two reasons you stopped going to church?” I’ve asked hundreds of students that question, and the most common responses make me think that church youth groups have failed dramatically.

I understand that every human being is responsible for their own sin, and that even the best of youth groups will have students that fall between the cracks. But the fact of the matter is that too many pastors have believed the lie that teenagers cannot handle certain truths. They have accepted the culture’s belief that today’s teenagers’ attention span has shortened, and that their ability to comprehend deep truths has dissipated.

Whether you’re a parent or a youth pastor, you have to understand that adapting to the culture is something that pagans do. The Church is called to be counter-culture, and we must, despite what the world tells us and sadly what many fellow Christians tell us, stay faithful to Scripture and teach the whole counsel of God. So here are five truths that most teenagers (christian or not) are not being taught, that we must teach, in order to have a Biblical youth group.

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It takes more thought than you’d think to figure out which years are leap. Years divisible by 4 are leap, except for the century, i.e. years ending in -00 are not leap years, unless the first 2 digits are also divisible by four. Got it?

So 1700 is not a leap year, but 1600 is. That’s why the year 1900 was not, but 2000 was. Don’t stress, you won’t have to worry about getting it wrong until 2100 (which is not leap).

When Pope Gregory XIII declared the first leap year to be 1588, the Protestants were ruling England and they rejected the law, saying it was too Catholic. The problem was that on the day after the 28th of February the rest of the world had calendars that acknowledged the 29th. So Protestant Brits just ignored the day, as if the law and custom didn’t apply to them. So a superstition arose that the other laws and customs didn’t apply either. Hence the name ‘leap year’ as it was the day that ‘leapt over the law.’ Sometimes non-conformity can be taken too far.

One such custom which was leapt over was that of marriage proposal etiquette. It was customary for a gentleman to propose by sending a glove to his true love. If she was seen wearing it at church the following Sunday, she had accepted the proposal.

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Imagine the scene. A guy gets dropped off on a 140 by 30 mile island. With beautiful weather, rich agriculture, calm beaches, and mountainous landscape, it was, externally, a great place. However, as he spends time there, reality sets in. The island is inhabited by stiff-necked, unsaved religious people and liars, evil beasts, and lazy gluttons. There is no worse combination. The place is so debauched that even Greeks cringed at the thought of it. Later, he receives a letter which says, “I want a good church going in every town on the island.” And, at that time, it’s likely that there were about 100 towns.

This was the situation in which Titus found himself near A.D. 60 on the island of Crete, and for which Paul wrote the New Testament letter.

Though Crete prided itself on once having advanced societies such as the Minoans, history records it was so bad in Titus’ day, that to be called a “Cretan” was to be called something like a liar or drunk. Even so, and, perhaps, especially so, Paul and Titus did not see it as off-limits for evangelism and planting strong churches. The book of Titus was written, in part, to make this happen in Crete, and, places like Crete thereafter.

For this reason, I’ve found the book of Titus to be a helpful and strengthening study as a younger church plant. I suppose, also, it would be an equally helpful study for anyone in the throes of a church revitalization. In some sense, Titus is a God-breathed church planter’s and revitalizer’s manual. Why? Consider Titus’ task: among other things, he was to plant strong churches in the sense of gathering existing, unassimilated believers, into NT kind of churches in the midst of a godless, gluttonous, religious culture.

2013-04-14_12-45-42_11As I had the opportunity to stroll around the island of Crete a few springs ago, I was stunned and sobered at the daunting task facing Titus: “For this reason I left you in Crete, that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as I directed you” (Titus 1:5). Sadly, today on Crete, there seems to be little of the book of Titus happening. In downtown Heraklion, there sits one of the larger “churches” (which was closed on Sunday!). Outside was a tiny plaque which gloried in the claim to possess the skull of Titus. And, while chatting with a guy at the Greek yogurt shop, instead of telling me about the Apostle Paul or Titus, he told me about Zeus.

In Titus’ day, things were likely worse. And to equip him for setting in order what remained, Paul handed him the short, 46-verse letter.

This is not an attempt to say all that there is to say regarding church ministry from Titus. Rather, these are a few observations simply from Titus 1:5 pertaining to church planting, revitalizing, and local church ministry in general.

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