Creative Biblical content at the intersection of life and faith.

The Wandering Son (Gen. 4 in Meta-Narrative)

Adam ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil thinking he would become like God.  When God pronounced the curse upon Adam it was a rude awakening.  He would not become deity, Adam would return to dirt (Gen. 3:19).  Yet God cast Adam and his wife out of the garden with a glimmer of hope.  A son would be born who would bear the brunt of Satan's blow, but would in the end crush him and would somehow reverse the curse.

Genesis 4 opens with great anticipation.  We find out first that the blessing of God to be fruitful and multiply was indeed in tact.  Eve has fulfilled her name, she is the mother of all living.  Not only has she given birth, but she has brought into the world a son.  Is this the son who will crush Satan?  We get a sense that Eve believes this to be the child of destiny as she praises his birth (Gen. 4:1), "I have gotten a man with the help of the LORD."  And another son is born, with far less fanfare.  There is no applause, no praise surrounding the second son.  We are told only that she named him Abel.

I am an only child, but I have long observed the plight of the second born.  The youngest child is "so and so's" sibling.  The curse is worse if you are the sequel to a superstar.  A stellar academic, a superstar athlete, the eldest child with looks that could kill always leaves for those who come after him the difficult label to shake, "______________'s brother."  Cain is a man acquired with the help of the Lord.  Abel is merely Cain's brother.

The Bible says nothing of Adam and Eve's parenting skills, but it is not difficult to understand the ways of humans.  We bring a child into the world with high expectations.  Our culture fans the flame of the intense pressure of success.  A son is born - who must be proficient in piano, a straight A student, a goal scorer, the leading tackler, bat .300, and be elected the class president.  It is hard to be Abel, but it may be even more so to be Cain.  Lessons, practices, tutors . . . only a diet of free range chickens and green veggies with no pesticides is fit for a child with the potential of Cain.

I had lunch with a couple on Sunday.  The lady works at a Karate studio and interviews potential clients.  She said last week a couple brought in their son to sign him up and she ran the usual gambit of questions.  In the interview it became apparent that Karate might be an issue with his busy schedule.  Mondays he learns an instrument.  Tuesdays and Thursdays he practices football.  Saturdays he plays soccer.  So the final question was brought to the parents, "Why do you want your son to take Karate?"  The mother replied, "He needs an activity."  The child was 4.

We are not enrolling our children for activities.  We are busy raising Cain.

I know nothing of Cain's academic accomplishments or his athletic achievements.  We know only of the man his mother hoped he would be.  In his mother's mind, Cain was Satan's crusher.  Yet instead of becoming Satan's crusher, Cain became his brother's killer.  Such is life outside of Eden.

Genesis 4 is an early indicator in the meta-narrative of life that this sin thing may have done more damage to us than we originally thought.  I know that in a world of sin, such is not the case in every circumstance, but I believe in every birth there is in all of us a hope that this child will be Satan's crusher.  At the very least, we see in the birth of a child the triumph of joy and the power of hope to endure.  In a world in which so many people go the way of Cain, perhaps this child will succeed.

Instead life teaches us a cruel lesson.  We invest in lessons, we spend countless hours at practice, we pay for clinics, braces, and tutors.  Like Eve we so desperately want our child to succeed, but at some point we will learn, our child's biggest problem is not his inability to play the piano.  Our children have in them what Cain had in him; sin.

We are paying good money for success, but we are inevitably raising Cain.  We can shower our children with accolades from the moment they are born, but positive reinforcement does nothing to change our nature.  We need something more.

Our children do not need insane amounts of protection from scraped knees and disappointing comments, our children need redemption.  Our children do not need a heaping amount of lessons, clinics, and personal training sessions; our children need Christ.  Our children do not need ballgames without scoreboards to save them from the pain of losing, our children need to be saved from Hell.  In our desperate plight to raise successful sons and daughters all we are doing is raising Cain.

When Cain was punished by God there was no repentance only protest.  "My punishment is greater than I can bear (Gen. 4:13)."  There was nothing in Cain that made him grieve that he had killed a man, much less his brother Abel.  All Abel was to Cain was the representative of his failure, so he axed him.

In our current age of helicopter parenting we teach our children that they are not responsible for anything less than success.  If you don't succeed its someone else's fault.  Axe the teacher.  Axe the coach.  Axe any difficulty that stands in your way.  Don't take responsibility for the fact that your lack of study or even your lack of ability is the reason you are on the bench or that you didn't win first place; what you need is a new coach, a different teacher, a new school, a better environment.  A "B" is too much to bear.  Second string is unacceptable.  This is why compared to other generations our modern day Cains turn in D level work with an F level of effort but expect an A every time.

So what was Cain's fate?  He was left to wander.  The Biblical text here smacks of irony.  Cain settled in Nod (Gen. 4:16).  The word "Nod" means "wandering."  Cain settled for a life of aimlessness.  If you raise Cain, as an adult he will not be able to hold down a job, pay his bills on time, or do the things necessary to be married.  The first time he is told he is unproductive, that he needs to work harder, that he needs to forgive - the first time he realizes the rest of the universe doesn't revolve around him like his parents did, he will quit.  He will settle in Nod just like Cain.  Nod is a quitters paradise.

Even though his mother wished success upon him, Cain never succeeded.  Cain was not the redeeming son.  By his lack of sacrifice, Cain was not even a redeemed son.  The primary goal of a parent for their child is not success, but redemption.  Jesus asked a pertinent question of all of us exiled form Eden, "What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world, but loses his own soul (Mark 8:36)."  Sin has done more to us than we realize.
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A Letter From the Field

I received this message by email early this morning.  It is from a family serving Christ in Africa that we have been communicating with for many years.  It is easy for us to lose perspective on exactly what the gospel costs.  These updates help to keep me grounded and to also expand my vision of God's greater Kingdom in the world.  Thanks K. for sharing.  We are praying for all of you.


I have been talking with colleagues and personnel sent out by other organizations that serve here and we are all feeling it.  Though we have toiled long and hard, the fruit of our labor has shown itself to be very little.  But, we have a sense, given by the Spirit, that a movement is coming.  At the same time,  there is a heaviness of the dark cloud of persecution that overshadows us.  It hasn’t been an issue before, because we haven’t yet caused a major stir with our Message and the good things we do are pleasing.  But, once an Acts 2:41 type movement happens, we WILL be noticed and those that join our Family WILL face persecution. 

As we get closer to a major mslm holiday in just a few weeks, there is a call to “revival” and relig. leaders “preach” and groups of disciples chant portions of their holy book all night long.  It began last night until early this morning.  Though our windows were closed, the echoes of chanting and preaching from loud speakers were sometimes so loud they rattled our windows.  The enemy can use this to exhaust us (for lack of sleep) and break us down with discouragement.  But, we hold tightly to I John 4:4, You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.”

We are so very thankful that we have you loving and lifting us up to our Father.  Please keep in touch.

Serving with Joy,
K. Heb. 1:3
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Temptation in the Story of God

">Temptation in the Story of God from Brian Branam on Vimeo.
How does the temptation of Christ fit into the story of the Bible? There is an incredible message in this!
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What Andy Murray Taught the Church - There is More to Championships Than What You See in the Highlights

Yesterday Andy Murray brought an end to the angst of an entire nation becoming the first Brit to win Wimbledon in 77 years.  What made the win even more appreciable probably escaped the view of the casual tennis observer or even the sports enthusiast who caught the highlights on ESPN.  What made Murray great was the struggle; the immense amount of persistence in suffering that resulted in a championship.  
Winning Wimbledon is not easy.  If you don’t understand the tournament allow me to fill you in.  While Wimbledon gets better TV coverage than most tennis majors, the primetime stuff most of us see is only the last three rounds.  The tournament actually takes two weeks and it consists of seven rounds.  In perspective, there are 68 teams in the NCAA basketball tournament.  There are 128 players competing in the bracket at Wimbledon.  
For the men, each round consists of a best 3 out of 5 set match.  I am not trying to diminish other sports.  You’ve got to be a MAN to play football.  Football games last about three hours, but there is a halftime and constant substitutions.  Even the best players play somewhere between 45% - 55% of the game.  In tennis there are no subs.  It’s all about you, alone on the court against your opponent.  A quick match is a minimum of two hours with the later round more competitive matches lasting as long as four to five hours.  Cumulatively, tennis players are running about 3 miles in a dead sprint over the course of a match.  Then, depending on the schedule, you have to turn around and play again within 48 hours, sometimes within 24.  
Murray’s championship match was against world #1 Novak Djokavic.  Great baseball pitchers have a 95+ MPH fastball.  Djokavic has a 130+ MPH serve!  He’s Nolan Ryan with a racket, on jet fuel.  The match lasted over 3 hours in stifling heat.  Both players were spent by the end of it.  The final game was the best of the match.  It was one of the longest of the entire tournament.  That one game may go down as one of the greatest single games of tennis in tournament history.  For those that appreciate great athletes the final game is one worth watching even if you hate tennis!
Murray has now won Wimbledon once, but he has lost it 7 times.  The last few times he has lost it, he has done so in late rounds with the weight of his nation on his shoulders.  Last year he lost Wimbledon in the final to Roger Federer.  That was probably Federer’s swan-song.  He is a great champion on his way out and a much younger Murray couldn’t overcome the much older, experienced player who was trying to do what no man has done.  Federer has won Wimbledon as many times as Murray has lost it, 7 times!  Murray was great, but destined to lose.  Murray, classy but emotional, simply commented to his country after that match, “I’m getting closer.”  Those words hung over every point Murray played yesterday, especially when he found himself down significantly not once, but twice throughout the course of the grueling match.
Murray’s coach is Ivan Lendl.  Lendl was the world’s number one player for five years, 270 consecutive weeks.  He was one of the top five greatest players of all time.  He NEVER won Wimbledon.  Ironically, Lendl was hired with one mission in mind; help Murray win Wimbledon.  Even more ironic is that Lendl has never coached a pro player and has hardly picked up a racket in 19 years after seriously injuring his back.  
During Murray’s final game it looked to me as if the usually emotionless Lendl was breaking down.  To appreciate this you had to be a tennis fan back in the ’80’s.  If you were, you probably had an Agassi mullet.  I did!  As a player, Lendl was nothing but a stoic, yet viscous fire.  He NEVER smiled.  He always looked like he could choke your granny and then go to lunch without any remorse.  When Murray won Wimbledon Lendl not only teared up, but the man smiled, albeit for 3.8 seconds, but everyone watching saw it!
Most people don’t realize Murray was born with a knee defect.  His knee cap is split in two pieces.  It causes him extreme pain and has caused him to withdraw from several tournaments throughout his career.  Yet yesterday, Murray was in the best shape of his life.  He physically outlasted an amazing athlete in Djokavic.  Since losing Wimbledon last year Murray dedicated himself to winning the tournament.  In the past 12 months he has been unbeatable on grass courts (18-0) including an Olympic Gold Medal at Wimbledon, again in front of his home country.  For a man with a split knee cap, working through the pain both on the court and in training is an amazing accomplishment.  
So why such a long diatribe on a tennis match?  There is a pertinent message for the Church here.  I love sports, especially the back stories of great champions.  Apparently, the author of several Biblical books, Paul, was also a sports fan.  His letters to the churches are full of words and images drawn from the context of Greek sports.   
“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:24-27, ESV)”
“Holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all.” (Philippians 2:16-17, ESV)
“An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules.” (2 Timothy 2:5, ESV)
Paul’s frequent reference to the struggle of sport serves to remind the church, there is more to following Christ than what you see in the highlights.  On ESPN Andy Murray’s win looks like five great shots in a few minutes, but in reality it was an excruciatingly disciplined journey executed successfully within a pre-determined set of rules.  
Such is the call of the gospel.  According to Paul in 1 Cor. 9:24-27, Christ calls us as well to an excruciatingly disciplined journey executed successfully within a pre-determined set of rules.  There will be highlight moments, but each of them will come at great cost.  Following Christ requires self-control, self-denial, self-sacrifice.  The gospel calls us to suffer without excuses.  Being a Christian is a constant journey toward being better tomorrow than you are today.  Too many of us want an ESPN version of Christianity - all highlights, no discipline, so suffering, no sweat!  This is not championship tennis and it is certainly not the gospel.
As great as Andy Murray’s win at Wimbledon was, he ultimately won a perishable, forgetful prize.  One that in the end will amount to nothing.  Do you know who won Wimbledon in 1888?  How about 1988 or even 1988?  How about 2008?  Can you answer those questions without looking up the answer in a web search engine?  Murray won a great prize.  The way he did is inspiring.  Yet for the follower of Christ we have a greater inspiration:  
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-2, ESV)
We have a greater prize, one that is worth it all.  As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9, “They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.”   Because of the prize Andy Murray altered his life.  His goal shaped him.  His win was a highlight, but there are no highlights from his workouts or his diet.  ESPN is not interested in covering the countless hours of hitting tennis balls with a coach it takes to win Wimbledon.  
Like Murray focused on Wimbledon, the call of the gospel should shape the way we live our lives.  The goal is worth it all.  The church does not exist in the highlights.  The church exists in the call of Christ to an excruciatingly disciplined journey executed successfully within a pre-determined set of rules.  Let us deny ourselves - not for tennis, but for Christ.  Let us suffer - not for tennis, but for Christ.  May we alter our lives - not on the altar of sport or fame or for the highlight, but for the joy set before us in following Christ.  The prize is worth is all!

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Freedom Sunday 2013 at Liberty

How do you reconcile a world that can be so fun with one that can be so cruel?  How is it that we can live in a world of such amazing victories, but at the same time suffer sheer terror?

Join us for answers, Sunday morning, June 30 at Liberty Baptist Church of Dalton, GA (www.libertybaptistchurch.ws).  10:00 a.m. breakfast and panel discussion on terrorism.  11:00 a.m. service honoring those who help keep our communities safe.

">Freedom Sunday Intro Video from Brian Branam on Vimeo.
bumper video
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August 11 we (www.libertybaptistchurch.ws) will begin using a valuable resource from author Francis Chan entitled Multiply.  The reason I like this book is because it is solid, simple, and short!
As a pastor you are always looking for ways to get your people grounded in the Word quickly and to bring them to a place of Spiritual health where they are bearing fruit and bringing other people to Christ.  As simple as this may sound, this is not an easy task.  
The Bible is a HUGE book.  It is not only huge, but it is old and difficult for most people to understand.  As a pastor, I need something that can help people grab on to the story quickly.  You may not understand everything you read in the Bible, but if you can grasp the basic concepts and the premise of the story you are at least heading in the right direction.  Multiply spends a great deal of time helping its readers become well acquainted with the Biblical story and its redemptive theme in Christ.  
Life is crazy.  Most of us generally use the same adjectives to describe existence; hectic, busy, demanding.  We don’t have time for a virtual, mini-seminary class at church.  Crazy life fosters short attention spans.  If you’re discipleship material is just as huge as the Bible, most people will begin with good intentions, but crash and burn quickly.  As a pastor I need something I can give my people that offers the most critical information in the shortest possible segments.  I don’t need a book that reads like molasses, I need a book full of gun powder.  Six to eight pages a week of BOOM!  In Multiply Francis Chan has not sacrificed what is necessary for the sake of brevity.  The reader will leave the book with the solid doctrinal foundation he or she needs to understand salvation, the church, and how to walk for a lifetime with Christ.
Evangelism is scary.  Years ago we turned evangelism into a propositional presentation.  Bringing people to Christ meant memorize and regurgitate.  To me it felt more like selling knives than bringing people to Christ (and, yes, I have sold knives).  As a pastor I need something that will help my people have long term conversations, make disciples, not simply win converts.  Multiply is not designed for one to simply read.  It is designed to be a conversation between people who want to follow Christ.  Most books simply pass along information.  Multiply becomes an experience between brothers and sisters in Christ; and ultimately it leads one to continue bringing others into the conversation.  
Francis Chan’s Multiply is helping me as a pastor lead my people to fulfill our call, be disciple makers.  If you haven’t picked up a copy of this book, I highly recommend it.  As you read it, you will immediately begin thinking of people to whom you would like to give a copy.  I started reading it and bought ten more to give away within a few weeks.  The great news is, if you don’t desire to purchase the book, the material is offered free online at http://www.multiplymovement.com.  The website also offers videos and other resources that will help your journey through Multiply be the most effective experience possible.  I highly recommend Multiply to every pastor, leader, and follower of Christ who wants to be and make disciples.

For those of you who will be going through Multiply with us at Liberty.  I recommend that you begin downloading the material now and go through one unit per week as a family.  I would love for us to get to Aug. 11 with several people already "down the road" in the journey.  This will be the most effective platform for leading others to Multiply.
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How Should Same-Sex Marriage Change the Church’s Witness? (From Russell Moore)

The Supreme Court has now ruled on two monumental marriage cases, and the legal and cultural landscape has changed in this country. The court voted to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act and remand the decision of the Ninth Circuit in the Proposition 8 case, holding that California’s Proposition 8 defenders didn’t have standing. The Defense of Marriage Act decision used rather sweeping language about equal protection and human dignity as they apply to the recognition of same-sex unions. But what has changed for us, for our churches, and our witness to the gospel?
In one sense, nothing. Jesus of Nazareth is still alive. He is calling the cosmos toward his kingdom, and he will ultimately be Lord indeed. Regardless of what happens with marriage, the gospel doesn’t need “family values” to flourish. In fact, it often thrives when it is in sharp contrast to the cultures around it. That’s why the gospel rocketed out of the first-century from places such as Ephesus and Philippi and Corinth and Rome, which were hardly Mayberry.
Read the rest at Russell Moore's, Moore to the Point.
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VBS at Liberty 2013!!!

High night of 447!  Way to go crew!!!
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One Direction Call

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Raising Wimps

Maybe it's the cyclist in the park, trim under his sleek metallic blue helmet, cruising along the dirt path... at three miles an hour. On his tricycle.

Or perhaps it's today's playground, all-rubber-cushioned surface where kids used to skin their knees. And... wait a minute... those aren't little kids playing. Their mommies—and especially their daddies—are in there with them, coplaying or play-by-play coaching. Few take it half-easy on the perimeter benches, as parents used to do, letting the kids figure things out for themselves.

Then there are the sanitizing gels, with which over a third of parents now send their kids to school, according to a recent survey. Presumably, parents now worry that school bathrooms are not good enough for their children.

Read the rest at:  http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200411/nation-wimps
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He Tames the Chaos

"In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.  The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep.  And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters."  Genesis 1:1-2
There is certainly a place for the discussion of how God created the earth.  Is it young or is it old?  How long is a day?  How do we reconcile the Bible and science?  While these topics may be profitable, it is vital that we do not lose God in the debate.  The author of Genesis is not as concerned with how God created the world as he is about telling the story of the God who created the world.
After introducing God (Gen. 1:1) the author introduces the world (Gen. 1:2).  The news is not good.  For the ancient readers of the narrative the choice of language is sinister and unmistakable.  The earth was without form and void.  It had no meaning.  There was nothing but chaos.  There is no surprise here because it seems that the earth is the victim of an evil realm, the darkness and the deep. 
Readers of ancient Mesopotamian mythology can sympathize with the terror here.  The darkness and the deep are the lairs of evil.  The abyss of the sea was the chamber of the underworld.  The darkness was the breath of demons.  Man lived life in constant fear trying desperately to ward off these evil forces but to no avail.  Not even the gods could tame the chaos of the darkness and the deep.  In the Mesopotamian mind Genesis 1:1 is just the name of another God, because Genesis 1:2 is the end of the story.  No god can overcome such evil.  Life is hopeless.  Chaos rules.
The author brings us an early note of good news.  The Spirit of God is hovering over the face of the waters.  The creator God is not from the darkness or the deep.  The creator God is not threatened by the darkness or the deep.  He hovers over it.  What we should expect here is a great battle to ensue.  The evil spirits of the chaos rising up and victimizing yet another god of the pantheon; but there is no battle.  The creator God simply speaks and immediately the darkness is gone and there is light (Gen. 1:3).    As he speaks the world comes to order and where there was once only dark, deep, formless void there is meaning.  The creator God tames the chaos. 
There are many spirits rising from the evil of the abyss with which we must contend.  Each of them seem to interrupt an otherwise enjoyable existence by introducing chaos.  Globally we deal with terrorism, government conspiracy, and economic instability.  It seems there is growing chaos in our environment.  Every few years there seems to be a contagious virus we cannot tame.  We have always had storms, but they seem bigger now.  More people are dying due to the weather.  The Fujita scale is used to measure the intensity of a tornado.  They calculate it based on the damage to human life a storm causes.  Some of us seem to always be living life at F-5, total chaos.  As bothersome as the agents of global chaos may be, they are not nearly as concerning as the personal ones.  Darkness is bad, but when the darkness is near you; in you . . .  We are no match for this sort of evil.  We all want a happy life,  but somebody, something inevitably walks in with chaos.  We need rescue.
Left to itself the world descends quickly into chaos.  An abandoned building, an untended garden, an orphaned life; all of these are the easy victims of chaos.  Even with our constant attention there seems to be some forces in life for which even the best of men are no match.  The deep reminds us we are in over our heads.  The darkness we may not see, but we certainly feel.  We are in desperate need of someone greater than we who can give life meaning and offer hope.  Without an advocate we are easy victims.  The good news is that there is a creator God who is not from the evil.  He is not of the evil.  He is not even threatened by the things that threaten us.  His Spirit hovers over.  He is working to tame the chaos.  The more he speaks the more life means.  The chaos is controlled easily by three words, "And God said."  We grossly underestimate the power of God's Word.  
God has spoken.  This is good news.
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Filling Up?

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Is the Gospel Worth It? (Random Thoughts on Friday)


When Paul writes Ephesians 3 his life is not at peace.  He is suffering for the gospel.  The gospel is the story of God's redemption of mankind for His glory.  Through His son God has not only paid the penalty of sin, but He is calling unto Himself a people who through repentance and faith, live for Christ in the final season of redemptive history.  After rehearsing the implications of the gospel story for his readers, Paul makes a simple request of them:

"So I ask you do not lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory (Eph. 3:13)."  In this simple request there are some deep considerations for us about the gospel.

  1. The gospel requires suffering.  Even though it is an amazing story, it is met with great resistance. This will require some degree of suffering from every person who receives the gospel.
  2. The suffering required by the gospel will cause some to lose heart.  Whether it seems unfair or unfitting that God would allow such difficulty, the reality of the suffering required by the gospel is something that we are not well prepared for, nor are we well equipped.   Why?  Perhaps it is a mixture of bad theology and American idealism, but if it does not require us to suffer we cannot rightly say it is the gospel.
  3. The suffering required by the gospel is for the benefit of others.  Paul said that not only is he suffering for his readers, but it is for their glory.  Initially, a thought like this makes us angry.  It makes us angry when we find out that those who pay taxes are funding the lifestyle of those who do not.  It makes us angry when we pay higher car insurance premiums because of those who do not.  It is making us angry now that we are finding out that those who are paying for health insurance are going to have to pay even more next year because of those who have not.  Yet the gospel requires us to suffer for the glory of others.  How do we reconcile this in our already angry American minds?
  4. The suffering required by the gospel is worth it?  What is it that Abraham, Paul, Jesus and countless sufferers have found in the gospel that makes it worth the suffering it requires?
I hope you can join us Sunday at Liberty Baptist Church www.libertybaptistchurch.ws.  


This weekend my wife turns 29 again.  Next week my firstborn turns 13 for the first time.  This is MardiBranam weekend.  Party!

On Sunday night Caleb Waid will be at Liberty.  I am really looking forward to seeing Caleb, Brittany, and Finn.  Caleb was a Junior in High School when I went to Ridgecrest in 2002.  I have spent a lot of time with Caleb over the years both pouring into him and just enjoying serving Christ with him.  Caleb makes me laugh.  He keeps me humble.  He reminds me why I love what I do.  I can't wait to hear him preach again and see the fruits of our labors together.


Crazy Love by Francis Chan
Practice Resurrection by Eugene Peterson
Listening to the Language of the Bible by Lois Tverberg and Bruce Okkema
Fusion: Turning First Time Guests into Fully-Engaged Members by Nelson Searcy and Jennifer Henson


Haggai 1:7, "Thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways."

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He Knew What Was In Man

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The Great Commission as the Mission of a Man (Men, Avoiding the AWOL Life)

I want to offer a series of posts over the next week or so about the dangers of men living an AWOL life and how they may recover a sense of meaning and fulfillment in the Jesus' Great Commission as recorded in Matthew 28:18-20.  For sake of brevity I will need to chop them into smaller portions.  I hope you take the time to follow along.  (this is part 4)
In this command (Matt. 28:18-20) is a mission that will give a man purpose and keep him from living an AWOL life.  How does a man avoid going AWOL?
  1. He must surrender all.  (All authority)
  2. He must challenge his comfort zones and expand his sphere of influence. (All nations)
  3. He must commit to radical obedience.  (All I have commanded you)
  4. He must practice the constant presence of Christ.  (With you always)
You may object in thinking that the whole thing sounds too “churchy”, as if the only way a man can live a fulfilling life is to become a preacher.  I am a preacher and I can testify to you; there are other ways!
The key to understanding what the Great Commission has in it for men is in the “going.”  When Jesus said “Go” He didn’t necessarily mean to leave what you’re doing, although that may be the case for some.  What Jesus meant instead is to “go” do what you are doing, but do it under His command; as an expression of the mission.  The sense of the word is, “As you are going.”  As you are working, fathering, voting, eating, driving, shopping, building, bowling, fishing, hunting, flying, helping, . . . go now through life with a purpose on a mission that can give you a definite sense of fulfillment.  
But before we expand on this idea there is another pertinent question.  Why did this one statement of Jesus make such an incredible impact on these 12?  Why were they so willing to risk all for all?  What had they heard or found in the teachings of Christ that suddenly made them so ready to go?  The key, again, is in the command.
Jesus commissioned His disciples to Go and teach the nations, “all I have commanded you.”  In the context of Matthew, I believe the commands point to five major teaching passages Matthew selects to be the framework of his book about Jesus.  Each teaching covers a topic that is critical for any person, but especially for men who desire to be disciples of Christ.  Here is a rough outline of these teachings:
Matthew 5-7 - Character
Attitude - foundational dispositions of the disciple’s soul.
Transparency - living a life that inspires others.
Purity/Hidden Sins - living a life that has no secrets.
Hypocrisy - living a life that is honest before others.
Spiritual Disciplines - learning to feed the soul.
Conversion - making the most critical choice of all.
Matthew 10 - Calling
Authority - how to keep oneself from becoming spiritually anemic.
Courage - facing opposition.
Commission - a mandate for the mission.
Matthew 13 - Kingdom
Christ stories - Simple stories that help us grasp the deeper truth of how the Kingdom of God works in the current culture.
Matthew 18 - Community
How do we confront one another?
How do we contend for what is right without destroying one another?
How do we forgive one another?
How do we restore a fallen brother?
Matthew 24-25 - Coming
Perspectives on suffering.
The end time agenda.
The danger of apostasy.
The nature of the judgment.
Being well versed in the teachings of Christ, once the disciples received the command they immediately engaged in the mission.  Going AWOL wasn’t even a consideration.  The only way a man can live a fulfilled life is for him to higher than himself sense of what it is he is supposed to do with the life he has.  A man needs to know what it is that he was born to do.  These men who followed Jesus knew their destiny.  As a man, do you have a strong sense, a sense that is higher than yourself, of what it is you are supposed to do?  You can.
They had a high sense of expectation and understood the measure of accomplishment.  They knew how to be rewarded and they knew the danger of losing their reward.  As a man do you have a strong sense of what constitutes failure and what constitutes success?  Do you have a strong grasp on what leads to waste and what leads to eternal reward?  You can.
They key to avoiding an AWOL existence is simple.  Take command.  When we take the commands of Christ and apply them to our “going,” suddenly everything about us is seen through a different lens.  Some things that we gave so much of ourselves to, that ultimately lead us nowhere, will become of little importance.  And they should.  New things, that we have never given much of ourselves to, will begin to take precedent.  And they should.  Knowing what really matters is foundational to being a fulfilled man.
Avoid living an AWOL existence.  Follow the command of Christ.
Continued next week . . .

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Living Fulfilled (Men, Avoiding the AWOL Life)

I want to offer a series of posts over the next week or so about the dangers of men living an AWOL life and how they may recover a sense of meaning and fulfillment in the Jesus' Great Commission as recorded in Matthew 28:18-20.  For sake of brevity I will need to chop them into smaller portions.  I hope you take the time to follow along.  (this is part 3)

How did Paul go from AWOL to living a life with a clear sense of purpose and a measurable sense of accomplishment?
Paul found his meaning in the same place that 12 other men found meaning.  Yes, the simple Sunday School answer here is “Jesus”, but allow me to take it a step further.  Paul and the apostles found meaning in Jesus’ command.  “All authority in Heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.  And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age (Matthew 28:18-20).”  If a man is to have a mission, he must be able to take orders.  How does a man avoid living an AWOL life?  He obeys the command and engages in the mission.
The 12 men to whom I refer are the apostles.  11 of them Jesus called early in His ministry.  One was added just before Pentecost.  Paul was added later (1 Cor. 15:8).  However they are numbered, the result of their lives is unquestioned.  They turned the world upside down for Jesus Christ (Acts 17:6).  These men went from being fishermen, tax collectors and in Paul’s case a spiritual terrorist to making what is arguably the greatest contribution to human history in the birth of the church.  Because of them, the gospel has gone global.  Why the change?  It can all be traced to the command that was given to them.  They did what Jesus said for them to do.
The command is all encompassing.  “ALL AUTHORITY in Heaven and on earth has been giving to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of ALL NATIONS, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe ALL THAT I HAVE COMMANDED YOU.  And behold, I AM WITH YOU ALWAYS, to the end of the age (Matt. 28:18-20).”
In this command is a mission that will give a man purpose and keep him from living an AWOL life.  How does a man avoid going AWOL?
  1. He must surrender all.  (All authority)
  2. He must challenge his comfort zones and expand his sphere of influence. (All nations)
  3. He must commit to radical obedience.  (All I have commanded you)
  4. He must practice the constant presence of Christ.  (With you always)
More to come . . .
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Men Without Mission (Men, Avoiding the AWOL Life)

I want to offer a series of posts over the next week or so about the dangers of men living an AWOL life and how they may recover a sense of meaning and fulfillment in the Jesus' Great Commission as recorded in Matthew 28:18-20.  For sake of brevity I will need to chop them into smaller portions.  I hope you take the time to follow along.  (this is part 2)

As I stated before, fewer and fewer men are attending church.  I would also argue, that for the men that do, fewer of them actually embrace what is going on in the church.  What’s the problem?
Men are mission oriented.  A man without a mission is a man who will waste his life.  He has no directive, no purpose, no goal, and no measure of accomplishment.  But is it even possible for a man to assess himself as he is, in his current station in life, and to answer with confidence, “So far, have I done what I was born to do?”  What’s a man’s mission anyway?
In 2 Timothy 4:7 Paul writes to Timothy, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”  Paul, as a man, expressed not only confidence, but a total sense of accomplishment.  “Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day (2 Tim. 4:8a).”  Paul goes further.  He invites others into the same experience, “And not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing (2 Tim. 4:8b).”  
Indeed Paul’s principle of the living a fulfilled life is not gender exclusive.  Women should avoid living an AWOL life as well as men.  I am not intending to exclude the women in the sense of suggesting that God has nothing for them, my intent here is merely to address the men.  For men a sense of mission is critical.  If a man loses his mission, he loses his sense of manhood. Paul was a man with a mission who went from an AWOL existence to living a life full of meaning, purpose, and a great sense of accomplishment as he looked forward to his reward.  
How did Paul go from AWOL to living a life with a clear sense of purpose and a measurable sense of accomplishment?
More to come . . .
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Where Have All the Men Gone (Men, Avoiding the AWOL Life)

I want to offer a series of posts over the next week or so about the dangers of men living an AWOL life and how they may recover a sense of meaning and fulfillment in the Jesus' Great Commission as recorded in Matthew 28:18-20.  For sake of brevity I will need to chop them into smaller portions.  I hope you take the time to follow along.

The term AWOL is a military acronym that means Absent Without Leave.  It describes a soldier who has failed to report for duty.  A soldier who is AWOL stands in blatant disobedience to his orders.  By his absence he stands in rebellion against authority.
Whether out of intentionality or ignorance, more and more men are going AWOL in every venue of life.  One of the most common examples of men going AWOL expresses itself in the family.  Men are not only leaving marriage but they are failing to take responsibility as fathers.  Even if a man has not physically abandoned his family, many men spiritually and emotionally check out of their home.  There is a man in the house, but no man of the house.  
A simple statistical search reveals that the AWOL issue for men has become epidemic.  Fewer men are working.  Fewer men are attending church.  In civic life in general, fewer men of integrity are taking responsibility to serve and to lead.  In the United States fewer men than women volunteer their time.  Each year fewer and fewer men are going to college.  From community to education, men are going AWOL.  Simply Google the phrase “Fewer men are _________” and you’ll see what I mean.   
Where have all the men gone?   
While some may simply account for this cultural disparity as the gains women have made in the same social venues, the danger here is exposed when we flip the question.  If men are doing less; what is it then that men are doing more?  Men are giving a ridiculous amount of time to video games.  More men are living single.  Men are becoming more violent.  Men are spending more time in prison.  More men are suffering from addiction.  More men are committing suicide.  Men are becoming more gender confused. 
Men are in great danger. 
So men are becoming more of a societal burden rather than societal builders.  Why?  What’s behind the change?  A purely secular argument of the reasons that may account for the fall of man could point a finger at a myriad of causes that would only engender more arguments.  Most of them are arguments that are warranted in the public square.  Here’s my take.  There is no longer a strong sense of gender, authority, meaning, or need for men.  Over the past thirty years the leadership responsibilities of men have been critically challenged and we now live in a society that is simply asking, “Who needs a man?”
I may not be an expert to offer the answers to what is happening in society at large, but I can sympathize with how men are feeling - wasted.  Yet, what we see happening in society at large is also influencing the behavior of men in the church.  To this, I can speak.  Of all men, Christian men have greater reasons not to go AWOL.
To be continued. . .
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J.I. Packer on Grace

From p. 129 of J.I. Packer's Knowing God

"To be sure, there have always been some who have found the thought of grace so overwhelmingly wonderful that they could never get over it."

Throughout the history of the church there have always been those who would fight for grace.
Many have suffered for grace.
Grace has inspired some of our finest and most deeply felt songs.

"With Paul, their testimony is, 'By the grace of God I am what I am' (1 Cor. 15:10), and their rule of life is, 'I do not frustrate the grace of God (Gal. 2:21).'"

"But many church people are not like this.  They may pay lip service to the idea of grace, but there they stop.  Their conception of grace is not so much debased as nonexistent.  The thought means nothing to them; it does not touch their experience at all.  Talk to them about the church's heating, or last year's accounts, and they are with you at once; but speak to them about the realities to which the word grace points, and their attitude is one of deferential blankness.  They do not accuse you of talking nonsense; they do not doubt that your words have meaning; but they feel that, whatever it is that you are talking about, it is beyond them, and the longer they have lived without it the surer they are that at their stage of life they do not really need it."

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Sin and the Law

">Sin and the Law from Brian Branam on Vimeo.
The law ultimately reminds us of impending condemnation through the necessity of constant sacrifice. It also shows us the willingness of God to provide a substitute so that we may not be condemned for our sin. However, the law failed to change the human heart and eventually man lost passion for the law. One man, Adam, has ruined our lives by introducing sin. Yet, one man, Jesus, has saved our lives from the penalty of sin.
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