Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Showing Them a Light


“We do not draw people to Christ by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.”

Madeleine L’Engle

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Stairwell to the Servants Quarters


I am so full of myself and my own importance. If I am not noticed and my work not recognized, I grow sullen. (For instance, why don't more people read my blog?!) Then I read of Jesus' service to his disciples in John 13. He takes up the basin and towel and washes their feet, a job that was usually reserved for Gentile servants. It was beneath the Master, but He did not regard it as such.
"The stairway to the ministry is not a grand staircase but a back stairwell that leads down to the servants quarters."
-Edmund Clowney

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy... Prayer Warrior


Eric Metaxas has written a terrific biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Reading it (which I highly recommend) has prompted me to pull my books by Bonhoeffer off the shelf (alas, I only have two) and read the man himself. His little prayer book on the Psalms is rich and rewarding and prods me to do more than just read about prayer:
The phrase "learning to pray" sounds strange to us. If the heart does not overflow and begin to pray by itself, we say, it will never "learn" to pray. But it is a dangerous error, surely very widespread among Christians, to think that the heart can pray by itself. For then we confuse wishes, hopes, sighs, laments, rejoicings--all of which the heart can do by itself--with prayer. And we confuse earth and heaven, man and God. Prayer does not mean simply to pour out one's heart. It means rather to find the way to God and speak with him, whether the heart is full or empty. No man can do that by himself. For that he needs Jesus Christ.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Read Them and Weep


OK--I know I'm biased. I studied Bible and Biblical Languages in college and grad school. I have a passion for God's Word. That's why I majored in it and am spending my life teaching and preaching it. But as I tell my kids, the Bible is the most important thing you will ever study. Don't just take my word for it. God has a few things to say about His Word. (See Deuteronomy 4:2; 12:32; Psalm 119; Proverbs 30:6; Isaiah 40:8; Matthew 5:18; Revelation 22:19.) Consider, also, what some of our past presidents have said. Read them and weep.
"It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible." George Washington, 1st President

"I have examined all religions, and the result is that the Bible is the best book in the world." John Adams, 2nd President

"Almighty God hath created the mind free . . I know but one code of morality for men whether acting singly or collectively . . Nothing is more certainly written in the Book of Life than that these people are to be free." Thomas Jefferson, 3rd President

"We have staked the whole future of American civilization not on the power of government ... not in the Constitution... (but) upon the capacity of each and every one of us to govern ourselves according to the Ten Commandments" James Madison, 4th President

"So great is my veneration for the Bible that the earlier my children begin to read it the more confident will be my hope that they will prove useful citizens of their country and respectable members of society..." "The first and almost the only book deserving of universal attention is the Bible. I speak as a man of the world . . . and I say to you, 'Search the Scriptures.'" John Quincy Adams, 6th President

"That book, sir, is the rock on which our republic rests." Andrew Jackson, 7th President

"I believe the Bible is the best gift God has ever given man. All the good from the Savior of the world is communicated to us through this book. But for it we could not know right from wrong . . It is the duty of nations as well as men to recognize the truth announced in Holy Scripture and proven by all of history that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord . . I am profitably engaged in reading the Bible. Take all of this book upon reason that you can and the balance by faith, and you will live and die a better man." Abraham Lincoln, 16th President

"I do believe in Almighty God! And I believe also in the Bible . . Let us look forward to the time when we can take the flag of our country and nail it below the Cross, and there let it wave as it waved in the olden times, and let us gather around it and inscribed for our motto: "Liberty and Union, one and inseparable, now and forever," and exclaim, Christ first, our country next.” Andrew Johnson, 17th President

"Hold fast to the Bible as the sheet anchor of your liberties. Write its precepts in your hearts, and practice them in your lives. To the influence of this book are we indebted for all the progress made in true civilization, and to this we must look as our guide in the future." Ulysses S. Grant, 18th President

"If you take out of your statutes, your constitution, your family life all that is taken from the Sacred Book, what would there be left to bind society together?" Benjamin Harrison, 23rd President

"Almost every man who has by his life-work added to the sum of human achievement of which the race is proud, of which our people are proud, almost every such man has based his life-work largely upon the teachings of the Bible." Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President

"The strength of our country is the strength of its religious convictions. The foundations of our society and our government rest so much on the teachings of the Bible that it would be difficult to support them if faith in these teachings would cease to be practically universal in our country." Calvin Coolidge, 30th President

"The Bible is the one supreme source of revelation of the meaning of life, the nature of God, and spiritual nature and needs of men. It is the only guide of life which really leads the spirit in the way of peace and salvation. America was born a Christian nation. America was born to exemplify that devotion to the elements of righteousness which are derived from the revelations of Holy Scripture." Woodrow Wilson, 28th President

"Menaced by collectivist trends, we must seek revival of our strength in the spiritual foundations which are the bedrock of our republic. Democracy is the outgrowth of the religious conviction of the sacredness of every human life. On the religious side, its highest embodiment is the Bible; on the political side, the Constitution." Herbert Hoover, 31st President

"We cannot read the history of our rise and development as a nation, without reckoning with the place the Bible has occupied in shaping the advances of the Republic. Where we have been the truest and most consistent in obeying its precepts, we have attained the greatest measure of contentment and prosperity." Franklin Roosevelt, 32nd President

"The fundamental basis of this nation's laws was given to Moses on the Mount. The fundamental basis of our Bill of Rights comes from the teachings we get from Exodus and Saint Matthew, from Isaiah and Saint Paul. I don't think we emphasize that enough these days. If we don't have a proper fundamental moral background, we will finally end up with a totalitarian government which does not believe in rights for anybody except the State!" Harry Truman, 33rd President

"The spirit of man is more important than mere physical strength, and the spiritual fiber of a nation than its wealth. The Bible is endorsed by the ages. Our civilization is built upon its words. In no other book is there such a collection of inspired wisdom, reality, and hope." Dwight Eisenhower, 34th President

"Of the many influences that have shaped the United States into a distinctive nation and people, none may be said to be more fundamental and enduring than the Bible." Ronald Reagan, 40th President

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Begin Again, Believe Again


I have a new friend (via Facebook). Her name is Sharon Hersh. She has written a book called Begin Again, Believe Again. Here is an excerpt of a recent blog on the same theme. Perhaps you'll find a friend in her as well.
I haven’t written a blog for a long time. I have a lot of excuses. It was a rough summer, and yet despite the vicissitudes of hope and despair of the past months this new book hits the bookstore shelves October 29, 2010. I can’t think of a better theme for my own heart and life right now than Begin Again, Believe Again. Perhaps the most important word in the title of this book is again. Whatever season of life we are in, we inevitably face the opportunity to try again, risk again, hope again, forgive again, love again –to begin again and believe again. I am coming to believe that the word again is probably one of the most important and difficult words to live out. Whether it’s beginning a diet again, a relationship again, sobriety again, a letter to a long-lost friend again, an apology again, or time with Jesus again — living in “again” is humbling, challenging, and absolutely necessary if we are to become who we long to be and who God intended us to be.

One of my neighbors is crazy. At least that’s what we’ve said — I hope with some compassion — during the fifteen years that I’ve lived here. She only leaves her home at night, and then in a dark coat with a scarf wrapped around her head no matter the weather she walks quickly to the mailbox to get her mail. I’ve often wondered if she’s waiting for a letter or a card from someone who could help her with her overgrown lawn, peeling paint, and lonely hours. She has a basement full of cats that keep her company. I learned from a neighbor who has lived in this neighborhood longer than I have that she went through a messy divorce about twenty years ago and has never been the same since. She quit her job (she was a therapist!), pulled down her blinds, and has spent her days in the company of her cats. My neighbor told me that on the day of her divorce from her husband of twenty-five years my “crazy”, cat-loving neighbor told a few women in the neighborhood, “I’m done. My heart is broken, and I will never love again.”

Today when a box full of my new books arrived at my front door I pulled out a book and ran my finger over the raised letters of the title, Begin Again, Believe Again, and I thought about my neighbor. Ten years ago my family broke into a million pieces that all of the counseling and wisdom of this world could not put back together again. I think I’ve gone a little crazy along the way. I’ve relapsed in addiction, and in the process, I’ve hurt and scared a lot of people, including me. I’ve seriously thought about never leaving the house again. I’ve thought about getting a fish, because I’m severely allergic to cats.

This new book tells my own story and the stories of other women with broken and battered hearts, and again I’m contemplating hiding out in the basement. Making one’s failures public is a scary thing. Yet I know that if you ask anyone over the age of thirty if their relational lives have turned out as they dreamed, you’re almost guaranteed to hear stories of hard relationships, broken relationships, and evn unbearable relationships that make people go a little crazy.

In his wonderful book, A Taste of Silence, Carl Arico writes, “Transformation is the process of God’s recreating our very selves . . . . All the phases of transformation are not done through our strategies. They are done because we are open to remaining in the presence of God.” As I consider the realities that have resulted in hopelessness, uselessness, despair, abandonment, rejection, lack of understanding, loneliness, and vulnerability — realities that assault my equilibrium, I am learning that when I am in the place where I must begin again and believe again, God is closer than I realize.

An intimate relationship with Jesus is for crazy people — not because it’s untrue but because this whole world is untrue, and nothing proves that more than our relationships. Yet these very difficulties are what can compel us to want Jesus more than we want any human relationship. When we ignore His knocking at our door in the midst of painful or difficult relationships, we build dungeons for our souls. When we don’t realize that relational realities are intended to compel us to hear His knocking, we miss the Truth and we miss being discovered by the Truth.

In revealing his desire for a relationship with us, God chooses foolishness — broken, painful, confusing, heartbreaking, crazy, human relationships. The New Testament expresses it this way, “God chose the fooish things of this world [risking in relationships again] to shame the wise [playing it safe]; God chose the weak things of the world [brokenness in relationships] to shame the strong [looking like we have it all together]. He chose the lowly things of this world [difficult relationships] and the despised things [failed relationships] — and the things that are not [loneliness] . . . so that no one may boast before Him.”

I do want to invite you to read my new book – knowing that the very ability to write and process my own life has kept me from hiding in the basement living with a room full of cats — hoping that in considering the ups and down of our relationships that Christ Jesus might “become for us wisdom from God — that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:37-30).

What keeps us from going stark-raving mad when we experience heartache again and again? Knowing that we are loved. Loving because we have been loved. And in loving, knowing intimately the One who is the beginning, middle, and ending of all our stories.

“So this is my prayer: that your love will flourish and that you will not only love much but well . . . .” Philippians 1:9

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

What's Out There?


Here is a passage from Elisabeth Elliot's Keep a Quiet Heart. Besides my wife, Heather, and my mom, Alice, she has more than any other woman shaped my thinking, feeling and (hopefully) some of my doing. The data from the Time magazine article may be dated, but her point remains. Check her science and check out her faith. Seriously, read anything she has written. Start here.
Time magazine once reported the discovery of the most massive object ever detected in the universe. The odd thing is nobody knows what it is. The Kitt Peak telescope picked up two quasars ("intensely bright bodies so far away that the light they emit travels for billions of years before reaching the earth") which seemed to be identical, an occurrence astronomers consider about as likely as finding two people with identical fingerprints. Something called a "gravitation lens" seemed to be bending the light (get that!) from a single quasar in such a way as to produce two identical images. Nothing astonishing about that--Einstein predicted it more than seventy years ago, and Arthur Eddington confirmed it a few years later.

The great question is just exactly what is acting as a gravitational lens. Whatever it is, it has to have the mass of a thousand (1,000) galaxies. If it's a black hole, it is "at least a thousand times as large as the Milky Way (which consists of hundreds of billions of stars, including the sun)." Got that? I was bemused by the statement, "Astrophysicists find it difficult to explain how so tremendous a black hole could have formed." I guess they do. They're turning over a third possibility, much too arcane for me to peer into at all, but it has to do with the Big Bang theory of the origin of the universe.

The most numbing of the facts of this story for me is that people go to such elaborate lengths to avoid mentioning one vastly prior fundamental possibility that (surely?) stares them in the face: creation.

How much faith does it take to believe in God? Less, I venture to say--a great deal less--than to believe in the Unconscious generating the Conscious, Mindlessness creating Mind, Nothing giving birth to Something.

What we know of God we have seen in His Son. He in whom we are asked to trust is Love, creative Love; thinking of us, I suppose, before He thought of gravitational lenses; giving Himself in sacrificial love long before He gave us His own breath of life--for the Lamb was slain before the foundation of the world.

My Lord and my God. Forgive my faithlessness.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Tomorrow Is None of My Business

Here's my quote for the day:
"Today is mine. Tomorrow is none of my business. If I peer anxiously into the fog of the future, I will strain my spiritual eyes so that I will not see clearly what is required of me now." Keep a Quiet Heart, Elisabeth Elliot

Thursday, September 23, 2010

I Love Soccer


My son loves soccer. And what my son loves I love--except for apple sauce. I don't really even like apple sauce. But soccer? I can get into this game. When I was growing up in Western Nebraska, soccer wasn't even an option. Now I love the game. That's why I'm excited about the possibility of having the FIFA World Cup hosted in the USA--because Eli is excited about it.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Forgotten God


Here are some quotes from Francis Chan’s The Forgotten God: Reversing Our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit, David C. Cook, 2009:

“God created feelings. Sure, like anything else, they can be misused and abused. But the intent and purpose of feelings came from God. Since he created emotions, why is it difficult to believe that he himself has emotions? The Spirit is grieved when there is a breach in relationship, whether it be relationship with God or relationship with other people. When we are disunified, unloving, hateful, jealous, gossipy, etc., that is when we grieve the Spirit of God. And since he is the creator of emotions, I believe that the Spirit grieves more deeply than we can even understand … I pray for the day when believers care more about the Spirit’s grief than their own. In fact, I pray that some of you readers would be broken over the grief you’ve placed on the Holy Spirit. So broken that you actually put down this book and work to resolve any conflicts you have with other believers. ‘If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all’ (Romans 12:8).” (72, 76)

Here are some of things according to Chan that should be present in your life if the Spirit dwells within you:

1. The Spirit helps us speak in precarious situations.

2. The Counselor teaches and reminds us of what we need to know.

3. The Spirit enables us to witness to others.

4. The Spirit empowers us to put to death the mis-deeds of the body.

5. The Spirit gives us an adoption to be God’s children.

6. The Spirit convicts us of sin.

7. The Spirit brings us life and freedom.

8. By the Spirit we abound in hope.

9. We are given a manifestation for the common good in community.

10. We exhibit the fruits of the Spirit.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Please Preach Christ


There is a lot of chatter (on line and off) about Christ-centered preaching. This can only be a good thing I think. I would hope that all Christian preachers could agree that we should follow the apostle Paul (who was following Christ) when he aimed at preaching "Jesus Christ and him crucified" (1 Corinthians 2:2). We should heed the warning of Jesus who reprimanded those who were diligent students of the Bible but failed to see how they bear witness to him (John 5:39). Jesus also showed his disciples that in order to interpret Scripture rightly you must see how it all pertains to him (Luke 24:25-27, 44-47). A lot of the discussion centers around how you actually go about doing this. (The guys who continue to debate whether or not this is necessary need the metaphorical bash to the head or kick in the pants.) There is no question that the how to's are hard. In fact, apart from the Spirit of God they are impossible. We need to start (and proceed) by recognizing that. There are plenty of helpful, reliable, gospel-preaching explainers. Here are a few:
Christ-centered Preaching by Bryan Chapell
Gospel and Kingdom by Graeme Goldsworthy
Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture by Graeme Goldsworthy
Preaching Christ from the Old Testament by Sidney Greidanus
Preaching Christ in All of Scripture by Edmund Clowney
Heralds of the King by Dennis E. Johnson

This last work contains examples of Christ-centered sermons. Of course, in order to preach Christ-centered sermons you have to hear them being preached by such men as Tim Keller, "Skip" Ryan, and Iain Duguid, Phillip Jensen, Sinclair Ferguson and Eric Alexander. Reading Ryle, Edwards, Spurgeon, Bunyan, Lloyd-Jones, Whitefield and the like is also invaluable. By whatever means, please preach Christ.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Only Sinners Need Apply

One of the common objections to Christianity is that Christians are a bunch of lousy hypocrites, people who call out other people for being sinners, but who still sin themselves. R. C. Sproul has a great answer for this objection in Reasons to Believe:
What happens is that people observe church members sinning. They reason within themselves, “That person professes to be a Christian. Christians aren’t supposed to sin. That person is sinning; therefore, he is a hypocrite.” The unspoken assumption is that a Christian is one who claims he does not sin. It reality just the opposite is the case. For a Christian to be a Christian, he must first be a sinner. Being a sinner is a prerequisite for being a church member. The Christian church is one of the few organizations in the world that requires a public acknowledgment of sin as a condition for membership. In one sense the church has fewer hypocrites than any institution because by definition the church is a haven for sinners. If the church claimed to be an organization of perfect people then her claim would be hypocritical. But no such claim is made by the church. There is no slander in the charge that the church is full of sinners. Such a statement would only compliment the church for fulfilling her divinely appointed task.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Please Preach


Last night I confessed a fetish to my church. OK, so there were only 15 there at the time, but it was a surly confession nonetheless. I have a book fetish. I can't seem to get enough of them. I sometimes buy a half dozen books in a months time--sometimes more. The book of books tells us that "of the making of books there is no end" (Ecc. 12:12) and I think I need to read--well not all of them, but my "need to read" stack is piling higher and higher. One of the caring souls in our congregation reminded me that we have a library, so I need not purchase so many books. Another countered that you're not supposed to mark up library books (which of course I do a lot of). I must confess that neither one of these helpful comments helped much.

With that being said, I am reading a great book by Philip Jensen called "The Archer and the Arrow." It's about preaching the very words of God, aimed mostly at preachers. But he gives a very clear definition to preaching:
Sermons and preaching are not synonymous … Biblical preaching is about communicating God’s thoughts and not our own. And so we preach biblically whenever and wherever we declare the word of God to each other. In fact, sometimes there may even be more preaching happening over morning tea than from the pulpit, if dozens of conversations revolve around sharing God’s word of encouragement and rebuke with one another. Sermons, in other words, are a subset of a larger activity – the activity of proclaiming God’s word to one another, and from one generation to the next. Preaching is an activity that all are called on to perform.

So please preach God's Book and help me stop buying any more than I need.

Monday, August 30, 2010

New Worship Songs

Yesterday Dale Chapel taught from Psalm 144 to wrap up our Songs of Summer series at Redlands Community Church. He did a fabulous job and got me thinking (he always does). He made a comment about new songs being new (or new again) to us even when they are familiar. He gave the example of singing "Great Is Thy Faithfulness" at different times in his life. Each time we sings of God's faithfulness it takes on new meaning because now looking back we can see it afresh.

Of course, there are some great new worship songs being written today. I've posted some of them on our church's website. Music has and always will play a vital role in our worship and praise God he is still giving us great songs to sing! Read the quotes below from William Temple, former archbishop of Canterbury, and check out some new songs:
To worship is to quicken the conscience by the holiness of God, to feed the mind with the truth of God, to purge the imagination by the beauty of God, to open the heart to the love of God, to devote the will to the purpose of God.

Both for perplexity and for dulled conscience the remedy is the same; sincere and spiritual worship. For worship is the submission of all our nature to God. It is the quickening of conscience by His holiness; the nourishment of mind with His truth; the purifying of imagination by His beauty; the opening of the heart to His love; the surrender of will to His purpose – and all of this gathered up in adoration, the most selfless emotion of which our nature is capable and therefore the chief remedy for that self-centeredness which is our original sin and the source of all actual sin. Yes – worship in spirit and truth is the way to the solution of perplexity and to the liberation from sin. – William Temple, Readings in St. John’s Gospel, (1942-44).

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Atheists Don't Have No Songs


I love music. Always have, always will. My earliest memories are of my mom and dad making music in church. My mom played the piano. My dad directed the choir. I sang even as a young kid before I could read or write. Now I do all three. One reason is that I have a song to sing. I always have songs going on in my head. Happy songs. Sad songs. Silly songs. Holy songs. At any given moment I might break out into song (often embarrassment of my kids in public places).

I'm glad I have a song to sing. I have a lot of things I like to sing about--my wife, my kids, the great outdoors, my country, my favorite pass times and favorite places... My favorite songs to sing are God songs (as Elijah calls them). Ancient, modern, fast, slow, contemporary, traditional, classical, popular, folk, Anglo, Latino, Celtic, Israeli, African, Asian--I like all types. If it's a solid, Scripturally sound, singable song, I'll sing it and enjoy doing it.

In light of this, you've got to view this silly, but very insightful, video. I have nothing more to add.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Thinking about Rocks


On Sundays this summer, we started doing a children's sermon during the morning worship service. Here's how it works. One of the children brings something in a black box (something that fits inside, is not alive, and is approved by mom or dad). I open up to box and use the object to teach a Scriptural lesson. This can be challenging.

This past Sunday, Alexandra brought a piece of coral rock in the black box. I talked about God being our Rock and Fortress and Jesus being the Rock on which we build our lives. Of course, I've been thinking about rocks all week. (Funny I've been thinking more this week about the kid's sermon than the "adult" one.)

I came across this brief article by George Grant in Approaching the Throne of Grace: A Parish Presbyterian Church Prayer Booklet. This is what I wish I would have said, but then it wouldn't have been a "children's sermon":
I was reminded of a well-known English nursery rhymne
Mistress Mary, quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells, and cockleshells,
All in a garden row
when I decided this year to put in a vegetable garden. I thought it would be a wonderful idea to have fresh vegetables. I knew the soil would need to be prepared, holes dug, and plants placed with growing room between them. What no one warned me about were the rocks. They were everywhere! Little ones, medium ones, big ones, huge ones--an ever-growing pile of rocks, which all needed to come out so the plants would be able to sink their roots deep in the soil. I spent a lot of time breaking and digging up rocks.

It got me thinking about the rocks in the soil of my relationship with God--not the Rock on which we stand, but the rocks that get in the way of my prayer time with God. I have rocks of pride, covetousness, defensiveness, doubts, temper, greed, fear, right things done for wrong motives--the list goes on. Some days it seems like I have a rock garden, but the huge boulder in the middle is self-justification. Just as a shovel is needed in a garden to remove rocks, a confession is needed for spiritual rocks.

As Christians, we need a time of confessing our sins to God in prayer, both privately and corporately. Without it, we are likely to think either better or worse of ourselves than we should--either way it is about us. Prayer can become an exercise in self-focus and self-justification.

Confession, though, reminds us of who we are and Whose we are. "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins" (1 John 1:9). Grace removes the boulders of self-justification, allowing us to be fruitful gardens. There will always be rocks this side of heaven, and as grace grows they'll be moved also.

How does your garden grow?

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Ever Green and Full of Sap


I love old people. One day I will be old and I hope I will still be loved. (To my eleven-year-old daughter and nine-year-old son, I am old and they still love me.)

Have you heard the story of "The Wooden Bowl"?
A frail old man went to live with his son, daughter-in-law, and four-year grandson. The old man's hands trembled, his eyesight was blurred, and his step faltered. The family ate together at the table. But the elderly grandfather's shaky hands and failing sight made eating difficult. Peas rolled off his spoon onto the floor. When he grasped the glass, milk spilled on the tablecloth.

The son and daughter-in-law became irritated with the mess. "We must do something about Grandfather," said the son. "I've had enough of his spilled milk, noisy eating, and food on the floor". So the husband and wife set a small table in the corner. There, Grandfather ate alone while the rest of the family enjoyed their dinners together.

Since Grandfather had broken a dish or two, his food was served in a wooden bowl. When the family glanced in Grandfather's direction, sometimes he had a tear in his eye as he sat alone. Still, the only words the couple had for him were sharp admonitions when he dropped a fork or spilled food.

The four-year-old watched it all in silence. One evening before supper, the father noticed his son playing with wood scraps on the floor. He asked the child sweetly, "What are you making?" Just as sweetly, the boy responded, "Oh, I am making a little bowl for you and Mama to eat your food in when you get old." The four year old smiled and went back to work.

The words so struck the parents that they were speechless. Then tears started to stream down their cheeks. Though no word was spoken, both knew what must be done. That evening the husband took Grandfather's hand and gently led him back to the family table. For the remainder of his days he ate every meal with the family. And for some reason, neither husband nor wife seemed to care any longer when a fork was dropped, milk spilled, or the tablecloth soiled.

"Honor your father and mother" is a command that we never outgrow, but is too often neglected. Our youth-oriented culture doesn't square with most of the cultures of the world throughout history. The aged have usually been revered. And is Scripture there are specific references to the godly aged.
[The righteous] still bear fruit in old age; they are ever green and full of sap...
Psalm 92:14

Eugene Peterson comments: "The life of faith does not deteriorate or wear out. The longer we praise God, the more vigorous we become. There is a flourishing of faith that properly comes to its most lively expression in the later years." I've seen this many times over. Some of my favorite people on the planet are godly men and women that have continued to "grow in grace and the knowledge of God" well into their 80s and 90s. They are "ever green and full of sap."

Bill Iverson is one such man (pictured above). I saw him recently at our church's General Assembly in Nashville for the first time in 8 or 9 years. He is still "vigorous and flourishing in the faith." He is still actively sharing the gospel with others and busy helping to plant a church in downtown Newark. His son (a missionary in Japan) and his grandson (a missionary in India) were also there. I had to introduce Heather and my kids to him, and without hesitation Bill started playing ball with my three-year-old Ellie.

I love old people!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Life Flows through Relationships


“Death creates an economy that makes life precious. One of the ways of naming that preciousness is friendship.”
--Stanley Hauerwas

Heather and I just returned from a two-week trip to Nashville and back. Along the way we lost luggage, fought colds, ate everything from Kentucky and Tennessee BBQ (I think TN won) to Georgia's best blueberry pie, did loads of laundry, and saw lots and lots of friends (although I am beating Heather in the "Facebook friend" challenge, she in reality has way more friends than me--and I'm OK with that--really!). Even when we were "by ourselves" at the Country Inn and Suites, our friends from Cape Coral were just across the hall (and I'm very OK with that--really!).

Oliver Claassen, a pastor-mentor of mine, once said that ministry flows through relationships. I've found that to be true. My version is that life flows through relationships. (I don't think Oliver would mind my edit.) Think about it--you would not be alive today if your mom and dad didn't have a relationship--good, bad or indifferent. Despite the dysfunction in your family, it still took two people to produce you.

Jesus showed how life flows through relationships by using a vineyard as an illustration (John 15). Jesus taught that He is the vine and His Father is the vinedresser. We are the branches. If we abide in Him, we will flourish and bear fruit. Apart from Him we will wither and perish. Here are Jesus' own words:
"If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you." (John 15:6-7)

I think that most of us want to ignore the first part (v. 6) and dare not believe the second part (v. 7). The bad news is that because of sin, none of us have stayed. We have all strayed. We are all runaways. We are all toast. The good news is that Jesus stayed with us. He remained. He was obedient even to death--to conquer it and bring new life. Now if we abide with Him, we'll have it. Everything connected to Jesus will be renewed. Real and lasting life flows through a relationship with Jesus.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Help Haiti Concert


In July, Redlands Community Church will be sending a team to Haiti to assist Pastor and Mrs. Jovin in their efforts of caring for hundreds of people left homeless in the aftermath of the January 12 earthquake in Port-au-Prince. The team will be transporting needed medical and clothing supplies for the "tent city" that has sprung up outside the Jovin's home, as well as assisting them on a construction project at their church and school property.

On Wednesday, June 2nd Redlands will hold a Help Haiti Concert to inform our church family about how they can be involved in this project. Please join us Wednesday for our family meal at 6:00 pm and concert at 7:00 pm. An offering will be to go toward supplies for the trip. Details at redlandscommunitychurch.org.

Room for God

As a child, I learned this southern gospel classic by Ira Stamphill:
I've got a mansion just over the hilltop
In that bright land where we'll never grow old
And some day yonder we will never more wander
But walk on streets that are purest gold

I also learned from John 14 that Jesus told his disciples of the place He was going to prepare for them. In verse 2 Jesus says, "In my Father's house are many rooms (KJV, "mansions" - Gk., monai, "dwelling places"), if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?" In verse 23 he says, "If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home (Gk., mone, "room, dwelling place") with him." This is quite remarkable. Not only is Jesus preparing a place for his people. He and the Father (and the Spirit)are indwelling his people. He is not only making a home for us--we are being made a home for him.

How can I (an unholy sinner) possibly be made a dwelling place for God (the Holy One)? Surely a dwelling place for God must be swept clean of all evil--be made spotless and white as snow. This is a task we cannot do on our own, but only by receiving daily the grace of God who declares those in Christ righteous based on his merit, not ours--and is making us more and more righteous as we die to sin and rise to new life day by day for the one who died and rose again for us.

A collect (a short prayer used in a worship service) found in the Book of Common Prayer reminds us of the place we ought to prepare for Him: "Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at His coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for Himself."

In Revelation 21, we are told by John of the coming of Christ:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from he throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God."

Come--not to find, but make this troubled heart
A dwelling worthy of Thee as Thou art.

--(Bishop Handley Moule)

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Prayer Is Hard Work


Prayer is hard work. It's a struggle for me and when I do pray I don't do it too well. So why do it? Well, it's commanded for one (2 Thessalonians 5:17 and Philippians 4:6). And it's necessary. If I need God--if I can't do anything without him (Psalm 42:2; John 15:5), then I need to pray. Prayer is a (chief) means that God accomplishes his will on earth. That we have the privilege to play a part in "bringing heaven to earth" is awe-inspiring.

Amy Carmichael knew about "bringing heaven to earth" and she knew about the importance of prayer. Here are some private notes she wrote to her "Family" (hundreds of children and their helpers, both Indian and European) in Dohnavur, South India, to help them prepare for a special day of prayer:

WITH WHAT DID I STRUGGLE?

1. With all that says to me, what is the use of your praying? So many others, who know more of prayer than you do, are praying. What difference does it make whether you pray or not? Are you sure that your Lord is listening? Of course He is listening to the other prayers but yours are of such small account, are you really sure He is "bending His ear" to you?

2. With all that suggests that we are asked to give too much time to prayer. There is so much to do. Why set aside so much time just to pray?

3. With all that discourages me personally--perhaps the remembrance of past sin, perhaps spiritual or physical tiredness; with anything and everything that keeps me back from what occupied St. Paul so often--vital prayer.

WHAT WILL HELP ME MOST IN THIS WRESTLE?

1. The certain knowledge that our insignificance does not matter at all, for we do not come to the Father in our own name but in the Name of His beloved Son. His ear is always open to that Name. Of this we can be certain.

2. The certain knowledge that this is Satan's lie; he is much more afraid of our prayer than our work. (This is proved by the immense difficulties we always find when we set ourselves to pray. They are much greater than those we meet when we set ourselves to work.)

3. Isaiah 44:22 and kindred words, with 1 John 1:9, meet all distress about sin. Isaiah 40:29-31 with 2 Corinthians 12:9,10 meets everything that spiritual or physical weariness can do to hinder. Psalm 27:8 with Isaiah 45:19 meets all other difficulties. And the moment we say to our God, "Thy face, Lord, will I seek," His mighty energies come to the rescue. (See Colossians 1:2,9.) Greater, far greater, is He that is in us than he that is against us. Count on the greatness of God. But are we to go on wrestling to the end?

No, there is a point to which we come, when, utterly trusting the promise of our Father, we rest our hearts upon Him. It is then we are given what St. Paul calls access with confidence (Ephesians 3:12). But don't forget that this access is by faith, not by feeling, faith in Him our living Lord; He who says "Come unto Me" does not push us away when we come. As we go on, led by the Holy Spirit who so kindly helps our infirmities, we find ourselves in 1 John 5:14,15 and lastly in Philippians 4:6, . It is good to remember that immediate answer to prayer is not always something seen, but it is always inward peace.

And if the day ends otherwise and we are discouraged? Then tell Him so, "nothing ashamed of tears upon His feet" [here she is quoting from F.W.H. Meyers's poem "St. Paul"]. Lord, Thou knowest all things. Thou knowest that I love Thee. "Yes, my child, I know." But don't settle down into an "it will never be different" attitude. It will be different if only in earnest we follow on to know the Lord.

Friday, March 5, 2010

God's Way of Changing the World

Heather and I have been reading Scripture Union's Encounter with God for years. It's a daily devotional that takes us through the New Testament twice and the Old Testament once in a five year cycle. Today's reading is Hebrews 11:32-40, the last portion of the "hall of faith" which reads like a who's who of Old Testament characters: Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel. Their military and governing accomplishments are impressive. But others suffered mocking and flogging, imprisonment, stoning, being sawed in two, death by a sword. Even those who were mighty "were made strong out of weakness." The SU writer comments:
In western democracies, one notable way to influence society and promote your values is by mobilizing a large voting block that can have a significant impact on elections. Christians, in pursuit of their values, may go that route, too. But our passage today describes a radically different approach for influencing society. Instead of building a large following, amassing lots of resources, crafting a public image, the faithful throughout history have been jeered, mistreated, stoned, imprisoned, tortured and killed. That's no way to win elections, but it's God's way of changing the world.

To read the full devotional click here. You can purchase Encounter with God here or receive it free daily via email here.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

If I Had the Time (and Money)


The New Canaan Society is a group of men (they call themselves 'brudders') who meet on a weekly basis. Its not a church group, a bible study, an accountability group, a speaker forum or a men’s fellowship. It’s just men joined by the common desire to experience deep and lasting friendships, with each other and with Jesus. You can read about how the group got started here. They have speakers like Os Guinness, Luis Palau, Tim Keller, Miroslav Volf, Chuck Colson, Rick Warren and Dave Dravecky. Plus the guys that MC--Skip Bowlinski and Eric Metaxas--are ridiculously funny. There is an infectious joy about these guys that seems to be (happily) contagious. Their love for Christ is spreading. There are NCS chapters popping up all over the place. Each year they have a retreat. This year it is March 5th-7th in Hot Springs, VA. If I had the time (and money) I'd go with some guy friends (you know what I mean). James Hunter is one of the speakers. I've read his work since college and am challenged by him even at points where I disagreed with him. John Seel gives a synopsis of the theme of the retreat.
What "Faithful Presence" Means
By Dr. John Seel

Faithful presence means leading the league in assists.

John Stockton is the all-time NBA leader with 15,806 assists. He didn't merely know how to pass the ball -- any player can do that. What makes an assist leader is the ability to see the entire court, or field of play. With this skill, they distribute the ball with pinpoint passes that players easily turn into points. That's why assist leaders command respect. They serve others. John Stockton epitomized this to near perfection.

Faithful presence is when the church leads the league in assists and everyone wins, even if the church doesn't lead the league in scoring. It is when culture-shaping institutions in the wider world respond to the church and respect it. It is what the Bible calls flourishing or shalom.

In his forthcoming book, To Change The World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World, James Hunter calls the church to adopt a public posture of faithful presence. He writes, "A theology of faithful presence calls Christians to enact the shalom of God in the circumstances in which God has placed them and to actively seek it on behalf of others." Faithful presence is not the starting point of Hunter's book, but its conclusion. Two-thirds of the book is devoted to understanding how culture is changed and the appropriate role of power in this process. Coming to faithful presence requires first clearing years of erroneous assumptions. It's a new paradigm, not a new program.

Faithful presence is contrasted to three other postures towards public life -- what Hunter calls "paradigms of engagement" -- that have been adopted by the church in the recent past. Faithful presence can be clarified by underscoring what it is not.

It's not a defensive enclave set against the world. For those who adopt this vision the main problem is secularity, "if only God could be re-enshrined in the social order the culture would be restored." One can think of this as a lament over lost market share.

It's not relevance to culture, where the priority is being connected to the pressing issues of the day or the felt-needs of the person in the pew or more importantly the felt-needs of the nonbeliever. This posture focuses its sharpest critique not on contemporary culture but on the established church. One can think of this as a branding crisis.

And finally, it's not purity from culture, where active engagement in culture is abandoned for a call to authentic witness. This posture adopts the view that the "church has no other obligation other than to be itself." While expressed in many different ways and through various traditions, it feeds on the logic of "us-against-them." One can think of this as a new monasticism.

In contrast, the foundation of faithful presence is the incarnation and Jesus' example of "pursuit, identification, and offer of life through sacrificial love." The same should be evident in our relationships with others, in the exercise of our vocations, and in the spheres of our public influence. "What this means," writes Hunter, "is that where and to the extent that we are able, faithful presence commits us to do what we can to create conditions in the structures of social life we inhabit that are conducive to the flourishing of all."

Make no mistake about what is required. The church's flourishing is tied directly to the flourishing of the community in which it lives and works. Our shalom is found in the shalom of others. This is the calling and cost of faithful presence. So it was for Jesus. So it is for the church. It works on the court just as in life.

Too bad I won't be able to make it. I guess I'll have to spring for the DVD. Did I mention that Paul Baloche and Graham Kendrick are going to be leading worship?

Friday, February 12, 2010

Atheist Christopher Hitchens Knows What a Christian Is


In a recent interview, Christopher Hitchens, the fervent atheist and author of God Is Not Great, showed he has a much clearer understanding of what it means to be a Christian than the Unitarian minister, who claims to be a Christian, interviewing him.

Marilyn Sewell: The religion you cite in your book is generally the fundamentalist faith of various kinds. I’m a liberal Christian, and I don’t take the stories from the scripture literally. I don’t believe in the doctrine of atonement (that Jesus died for our sins, for example). Do you make a distinction between fundamentalist faith and liberal religion?

Christopher Hitchens: I would say that if you don’t believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ and Messiah, and that he rose again from the dead and by his sacrifice our sins are forgiven, you’re really not in any meaningful sense a Christian.

Click here to read the rest of the interview.

HT: Randy Alcorn

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The (Wo)man Who Walked 1,000 Miles

1 Kings 10 records the account of the Queen of Sheba who traveled 1,000 miles to see the reputed splendor of Solomon. He answered all her questions. There was nothing he could not explain to her. She was left breathless. It wasn't just his wisdom and prosperity that surpassed the reports she had heard. It was also the joy of the people who served him. "Happy are your men!" Bathsheba observed, "Happy are your servants, who continually stand before you and hear your wisdom!"

It was a good reflection on Solomon that the people in his kingdom served with joy. Those who serve Christ with joy are a good reflection on him. Am I happy to serve my King? What about those in my care? Is my wife happy to have me as a husband? Are my children happy to have me as a dad? Is my church happy to have me as a pastor? The joy of those in my care is a good reflection on me.

In light of this I should seek to maximize my joy in God (which should be easy--there is no better king to serve) and to increase the joy of those in my care (which often times proves to be hard--I could be a much better husband, father, pastor--and even at my best, I will never please everyone).

What promotes my joy in God (and therefore should be emulated in fostering joy in others)? God is wise--he knows how things work. When we bring to him what's on our mind, there is nothing hidden that he cannot explain to us. (There is a limit to this, of course. See Deuter. 29:29). I need to increase in wisdom (James 1:5).

God is blessed and blesses. He is supreme in his own affections and rightly so. What's more, he blesses his own with his favor. I must show favor to those in my charge. Bestowing a blessing is a powerful way to foster flourishing which leads to joy.

God is love and loves. This is the motivation behind showing favor. He loves us because he loves us. He has chosen to bestow his love on us based on his promise of covenant faithfulness. I must love those who I have pledged myself to. This again leads to joy.

God executes justice and righteousness. He is always just, always right. He will not waiver from doing what is equitable. I must seek justice and righteousness in my dealings with others (Micah 6:8).

Jesus is the Greater Solomon who fulfills when Solomon failed (Luke 11:31). True and lasting joy is found in those who serve in his court and kingdom.

Note bene: The court of Solomon was never meant to be an end in itself. Solomon lost sight of the fact that God blessed the king in order to benefit the people in his realm and even the world. When Solomon's court became self-serving it imploded. In contrast, Christ the King "did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45). It is joy to serve such a King.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Haiti Relief


On Tuesday, January 12, Haiti was hit by a 7.0 earthquake. There is extensive damage to structures in Port-au-Prince and the surrounding area. Hundreds of thousands were killed and millions are without homes. The conditions in Haiti were terrible. Now they are even worse. In terms of natural disasters, this is the worst case scenario. I've been to Haiti and seen the need, so I'm compelled to help in the relief and recovery effort and call others to do the same. Here's how.

Emergency Response

Pray. Let all the media coverage on Haiti inform what you pray about in the morning, at breakfast, during lunch, at the dinner table with your family, as you sit in your living room in the evening, and as you drift off to sleep. Let the gospel shape how you pray. Pray with great confidence that the God who has come to us in Jesus has not forgotten us or the people of Haiti.

Pray as a family. Pray as a small group. Pray as a church. Pray.

Give. Donate money to reputable organizations that are already on the ground in Haiti. This is the most tangible act you can do for the people of Haiti right now. They are in desperate need of water, food, and medical supplies. Donating money is currently the best way to meet those needs. Who can you give to? I'm glad you asked. Here is a list of reliable organizations who are helping in Haiti now.
http://www.gcanet.org/
http://www.foodforthepoor.org/
http://www.redcross.org/

Advocate. The Joint Council on International Children’s Services is leading the way in advocating for Humanitarian Parole. Check their Haiti page often for updates and for information on what you and your church can do to advocate for Haiti’s orphaned and vulnerable children. Educate yourselves and advocate for Haiti’s children.

Plan. I encourage you to begin thinking about how you (and your church) can serve Haiti in the weeks and months and years ahead. Begin considering how you (and your church) might serve a Haitian church when the time comes. For example, begin thinking through the following questions:

What can we do over the next several weeks so that we don’t forget about the people of Haiti?

What will our church be able to do if/when Humanitarian Parole is granted for Haiti’s orphans?

Where in Haiti can we send our people to serve on short-term trips come summer?

How many people can our church send?


Long-term Engagement

After the media coverage and the celebrity fund-drives, there will be the ongoing work of recovery and rebuilding. The problems in Haiti are not going away for a very long time. We need to be thinking through strategies for long-term engagement with the people of Haiti. My hope is that many individuals and churches will begin thinking about how this crisis in Haiti might change their life goals and ministry trajectory for years to come.