Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Fight the Fog

Isaiah's portrait of Immanuel helps us to clear away the fog in our lives. Fog clouds our ability to see our Savior. It comes in the form of trials, temptations, petty purchases, entertainment, distractions. It is essential to our faith to see clearly the author of our faith. Keeping Him in the center of our focus puts everything else in proper perspective.

People see Christ more clearly when there is nothing to distract them. God in love rips away his competitors so that He alone can occupy our hearts. In this way, temporal judgment is eternal grace. People will seek Him when they need Him.

In this way, the current economic condition may clear away the pluralistic fog in our nation. When darkness comes, man will grope about for any aid. It will be hard not to miss the Light in the center of the room.

My goal this year is to fight to see Christ more clearly than ever. My goal for the church? I want us to be the church in Jackson county who sees Christ most clearly. I want us to be the church in which the community sees Christ most clearly. Fight the fog will be our new slogan. The life of faith is always first a battle to see Christ. My resolutions?
  • This year, I will SEE Christ more clearly.
  • This year, I will SHOW Christ more clearly.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Coming Christ: Counselor

Blessed is the man who has a trustworthy advisor. Every person needs a friend who will tell him the truth, whose counsel is sure. David had such a counselor: Ahithophel. His advice was regarded "like that of one who inquired of God." When Ahithophel joined the renegade Absalom, David knew he was finished unless he could somehow thwart the advice of this clear-sighted counselor.

The person whom Isaiah describes does Ahithophel one better. He not only has good counsel, He IS good counsel. Perfect wisdom, discernment, and knowledge within Himself.
  • He knows the end from the beginning.
  • He knows the world and all its contingencies and has the power to see us through.
  • He knows our hearts. "I the Lord search the heart." He knows us and in compassion He remembers that we are dust.
When Jesus was preparing to leave this world, He told His disciples that they could not come now, but would follow later. When Thomas asked what he meant, Jesus made a remarkable claim. "I am the way, the truth, and the life." A counselor who speaks the truth, who knows the direction we should head, and can get us to eternal life is a wonderful counselor!
Imagine the woman who lives with one man after another because she is looking for love. Imagine the man who is racked with guilt for the infidelities of the past. He longs for a sure word of forgiveness. Imagine the materialist pursuing security or the addict just wanting to be happy. We have a counselor who can not only deliver us from the pain of the past, but meet every need of our hearts. Maranatha!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Agur's Experience with Wonder

Wonder is built into the fabric of the universe. Agur had an ability see the creativity of God in nature and to stand amazed at it. In a collection of his sayings in Proverbs, he lists four of his experiences with wonder:
  • The way of an eagle in the sky. Eagles ride unseen thermals, defying gravity in effortless, playful circles. Who teaches them to frolic above the circle of the earth?
  • The way of a snake on a rock. How do snakes move on slippery surfaces, change direction, shift speed, and coordinate every muscle in their bodies to get where they are going? They climb onto rocks to bask in the sun, enjoying the warmth and light provided by their Creator.
  • The way of a ship in the midst of the sea. It took Matthew Maury in the 1800's to discover and map the currents in the oceans. His maps solved the mystery of pathways in the seas, currents that sped some boats along and stranded others to wait for the wind.
  • The way of a man with a maid. Sex according to God's design is filled with wonder. Purity, security, openness, and satisfaction. All these and more are gifts of a loving Creator.
Agur sees the glory of God in the details, the hidden things, the secret things, the surprising design of God's world. In this world, God plays a game with us, concealing evidence of His power and creativity all about His world and challenging us to find it. "It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings" (Proverbs 25:2).
In Christ, the wonder is not fleeting. We marvel at his kenosis, his willingness to give up his rights and privileges as God to display his inner nature of a Servant. What wonder will be ours at the parousia, when we shall see Him as He is, blazing eyes and iron scepter, the glory of God on full display. Praise the One who is wonder Himself!

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Coming Christ: Wonderful!

Manoah stood before the Angel of the Lord in ignorance. He didn't know that the one instructing his wife about the care and training of their unborn son was God Himself. He asks, "What is your name that we may honor you when your word comes true?"

The angel of the Lord receives the worship of Manoah and his wife and their experience terrifies them. "We are doomed. We have seen God." When the word of the Angel of the Lord comes true, what was the name that was honored?

The angel had replied, "Why do you ask my name? It is beyond understanding." Other translations say "Wonderful." Incomprehensible. Indescribable. Awe-inspiring. Secret.

Isaiah predicts the coming of Wonder as a baby. Born of a virgin. Given by an eternal Father. Carrying the governments of the world. Ending war. No boredom here.

In our world, wonder comes in fleeting glimpses. When Jesus comes, He is wonder Himself. Heaven will be a continuing discovery of new joys in Christ. Eternity will be standing in wonder at Jesus, God-with-us!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Coming Christ: People Walking in Darkness

The Book of Isaiah not only reveals God's plan for His people in Isaiah's time, but unfolds a much more glorious picture. Isaiah predicts the coming of the Servant of the Lord, the Messiah who will set everything right and bring about the healing of the nations. Earlier prophecies (Genesis 3:15; 48:10; Psalm 22; 110) only hint at what Isaiah paints in bold colors.

Isaiah 9 begins this description by describing the plight of man. Man walks in darkness, looking for guidance, looking for direction but he cannot find his way. He is made in the image of God, but he is also rebellious and suffers under the darkness of sin. God has set eternity in their hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11) so that we know and long for God and our hearts are restless until we find Him.

Good and bad experiences are twisted together in our lives so that we cannot discern our futures. The good causes us to rejoice for a moment, and when the good disappears, we long for a good that is permanent. When the bad comes, we long for purpose and final peace and contentment.

Man is blind. He gropes about in the darkness, stumbling, and fearing what sleeps in the darkness. He walks in circles because there is nothing else to do. Into that futility, one Light shines. Men lament that there are not many lights. Praise God there is one.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

What the Imprecatory Pray-er Doesn't Know

I have written of the authority of the believer, trusting on the promises of God, and the weapon given to Him in imprecatory prayer. It is also important to speak of humility. While we ask for deliverance from oppressors, cry for justice, and plead for the expansion of the gospel cause, there are several things we are not privy to:
  • We do not know how God will work. We do not know, in specific cases, whether He will show grace or execute judgment. We do not know His timing. We do not know His purposes in specific situations. His patience meant our salvation. In the end, what we seek is the advancement of God's Kingdom, relief of our distress, and justice (attribute of God) to be shown.

  • We do not know how God will use our circumstances to expand His kingdom. Jesus promised that some of His disciples would be killed, but not a hair of their head will perish. Seems to me that means trusting Christ no matter how things turn out. Eventually, perfect justice will be shown and all wrongs will be righted.
Imprecatory prayer is designed to remove the people who have made themselves obstacles to the Kingdom of God and to God's work in our sphere of responsibility. How God works, whether he changes the heart of our opposition, changes us, or executes judgment, we leave these things with Him. Then we know that all things will work together for good.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Calling and Imprecatory Prayer

The same culture that is embarrassed by the execution of justice over tolerance is also embarrassed by authority. We have become so independent and democratic that we fear exercising our authority as believers. Who do we think we are?

The Westminster divines said we were created "to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever." Jesus commanded us to go into all the world, preach the gospel, and make disciples of all nations. To accomplish our tasks, Jesus promised we could ask anything because God's answers would bring Him glory and show ourselves to be His disicples.

The church has some awesome tasks to accomplish. We have work to do on our character and we have work to do in the world. This work is real and the accomplishment of our responsibility is eternal. Real work, not the usual chores in the church, will raise unholy opposition. Satan will rise against you and men will do his bidding. Roaring lions and snarling dogs will encircle us.

Think about it. We have one life to invest with eternal consequences. Adoption has brought us forward as adult sons in God's family and we must use that authority to accomplish our tasks. Those who oppose us, if we are working to fulfill our calling, are opposing God.

There are those who will regard our calling as hubris. How do we know for certain what the will of God is? The answer of course is listed in our tasks above. Granted my way to accomplish those tasks may not be the best way, but the goals are clear. The Christian uses his gifts, abilities, wisdom, insight, counsel, and sensitivity to the Holy Spirit to promote the gospel cause. He is responding in obedience to the Word of God and the leading of the Holy Spirit in His life. The community will come alongside, hone his skills and his abilities and provide encouragement and support. The Christian who chooses to oppose the method had better be careful here. He may wreck the work God is trying to accomplish.

The Christian leader will persevere in his task. He will listen for ways to better accomplish the goals of the church and he will refuse to be drawn aside to other goals. If opposition rises to the extent that the goals are being compromised or faithful people, including hmself and his family, are being attacked, he should use every legitimate means at his disposal, including imprecatory prayer, to see God's purposes through.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Imprecatory Prayer: The Unnatural Division between the Sinner and the Sin

The critic of Imprecatory Psalms finds his criticism largely in the judgment and condemnation expressed in the psalms. To model his own prayer life along the lines of imprecatory prayer seems abhorrent.

A popular dictum in Christianity says "God loves the sinner and hates the sin." We create an odd dichotomy in order to comfort ourselves when someone we love continues, in practical ways, to rebel against God's authority. But is the dichotomy more cultural than biblical? Consider:

  • It is the sinner who makes God his enemy.

  • It is the sinner who is held responsible for his sin.

  • It is the sinner who receives the natural consequences of his sin.

  • It is the sinner who cooperates in the process of hardening his own heart.

  • A sinner whose refusal to repent impacts not only his own life, but his family, his friends, his co-workers, and succeeding generations.

It is true that God loves the world (John 3:16) and is not willing that any should perish (II Peter 3:9). It is also true that man is responsible for his actions, whether good or bad. All are sinners and that sin will be judged. Justice demands it. Sinners are judged, together with their sins, unless that sin has been nailed to the cross. Because of sin, real people make real decisions and suffer real, eternal consequences. It will be hard to understand imprecatory prayer until we come to grips with the seriousness of sin.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Evidence of Imprecation in the New Testament

For those who are unsure about imprecation, there is evidence of cursing in the New Testament. In Mark 11, Jesus cleanses the temple of those who stand in the way of authentic worship and he curses a fig tree because of its fruitlessness. Paul tells us to do good to those who hate us because we heap burning coals on their heads (Romans 12:19-20). He has strident words for those who pervert the gospel (Galatians 1:8-9) and he is confident of judgment in store for one who has caused him much trouble in ministry (Alexander the Metal worker- II Timothy 4:14-15). In Revelation 6:10, the martyred saints call for vengeance from under the throne. Cases like these in the New Testament give evidence that imprecatory prayers may have validity today.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Imprecatory Prayer and the Psalms

Imprecatory Psalms are psalms of cursing. They are the most militant prayers in scripture and are often alarming in their descriptive violence. An imprecatory prayer is when we ask God to deal with the wicked in judgment. Examples of Imprecatory Psalms include Psalm 35, 58, 109, and 137.

In order to build an adequate Theology of Prayer, we have to deal with Imprecatory psalms. It is almost universally agreed that the book of Psalms is meant to teach us to worship and to pray. The psalms teach us how to pray and what to pray. The Psalms tutor our emotions in worship.

But what about psalms of imprecation? Some scholars decide the emotions described in these psalms are sinful, human emotions and not sanctioned by a loving God. On what basis do we exclude imprecatory psalms and include psalms of praise, thanksgiving, and lament? My understanding of imspiration prohibits responding to these psalms in this way.

Others decide these psalms are not for this dispensation. They draw charts with broad brushes which put physical warfare on one side and spiritual warfare on the other, hate in the Old Testament and radical love in the New. However, the relationship between the Old and the New Testaments is a large and theologically complex issue that demands more care than the broad brush approach allows. Only if we saw no sign of cursing in the New Testament could we build a case against imprecatory prayer in our day.

Monday, December 1, 2008

When Christmas Hurts

Twenty-three years ago, I wrote an article for the Shepherd's Journal that still holds up. It was an interview with Diane Crider, an instructor at Liberty University, about facing the holidays after a loss or separation. Here's the article:
There are some people who will have a hard time celebrating this Christmas. They will feel a sense of loss from death, divorce, illness, or separation from family and friends. Memories of past holidays will come back to haunt them.
"Christmas amplifies the void and loss they feel," Diane Crider, staff counselor at Liberty, explains. "This often leads to depression."
She suggests several ideas to help in surviving the holidays:
1. Be Ready For It. Realize that there is loss in life. Give yourself time to be sad and don't set up high expectations or false hopes.
2. Make an Effort to be Around Other People. Don't overlook the relationships around you. Spend time deepening the friendships you have.
3. Let God Deepen His Relationship with You. Remember He allowed loss in His life, by giving His Son.
4. Make an Effort to Give. Reach out and help others during this holiday season.
How can we help others who may be hurting this Christmas? Crider adds, "Be sensitive to those who don't have families. Keep in mind that those who have lost the most will act the toughest. Finally, remember that the best gifts are time and caring."

Sunday, November 30, 2008

What is a "Prophetic Voice?"

What would a "Prophetic Voice" look like in our culture?
  • In the face of moral relativity, truth would describe promiscuity, adultery, homosexuality, pornography, deceit, indebtedness, and idolatry as sin.
  • Sin would be worthy of judgment. Judgment would not be descibed as pernicious consequences of sin that medicine or science can reverse. It would be described as cosmic rebellion against a holy Creator. The meanings of Justice and Mercy would be restored to our culture and sin would prompt us first to deal with the God we have made our Enemy. Feel good Psychology would be seen as a curse.
  • Spiritual Formation would deal first with repentance. If I am not encouraged and centered, if I am uncomfortable with mention of my sin, at least the way to restoration is clear. It is not compassion to tolerate my sin and leave me in danger of the holiness of God.

"Sin, Righteousness, and Judgment" are familiar prophetic themes. The culture will clamor to hear pleasant things, illusions, anything as long as they are not confronted with the Holy One of God.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Where is the Prophetic Voice?

The Prophetic Voice is missing in our contemporary world. It has been sacrificed on the altars of feel-good psychology, scratch and sniff spirituality, and moral relativism. Popular Psychology builds our self-esteem even when we abandon biblical values in our decision-making. Methods of spiritual formation minister to my felt needs without warning me of the precipice toward which my sins are directed. Moral relativism allows my best pragmatic judgment to trump scriptural warrant. All of this is headed for judgment. And it is never a good idea, when you're headed in the wrong direction, to push the acelerator to the floor.

The prophetic voice is missing from the pulpit. Who warns us of the results of promiscuity, adultery, deceit, and indebtedness? Where is the voice calling in the wilderness urging us back from the brink of calling good evil and evil good? Our society is in a moral free fall. We no longer have the tools to identify right and wrong or to describe sin with any measure of objectivity.

The result is that parents throw up their hands when their children consider promiscuity. "What can you do?" they say, "it's the culture." They vainly try to warn of disease and emotional difficulties associated with premarital sex. No one says you are rebelling against your Creator, destroying the divine purposes for sex, and putting yourself in serious danger "of the dread of the Lord and the splendor of His majesty" (Isaiah 2:19).

The prophetic voice is the only voice that can save our culture. The prophet was the one who represented God and warned his people of rising judgment, "when He rises to shake the earth." As long as our pulpits, in the midst of societal rebellion and rot, teach us to pursue our best life now, the church will lead the culture into ultimate ruin and collapse.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Dangerous Word "About"

"About" is a dangerous word in Christian Spirituality. Students of Spiritual Formation run the risk of learning "about" prayer, "about" fasting, "about" the great spiritual writers of the past, and "about" Bible reading. It is possible to become an expert in the field while having no experience in it. We know about prayer, but we do not pray. We know God answers prayer, but there is nothing of the miraculous in our lives. We know the reasons for fasting and the results, but, we've never fasted ourselves. We know about God, but we do not know Him.
Such training without experience is dangerous because it gives a student confidence with no attending power. He or she becomes a target for interior collapse. Training for spiritual formation is more like playing the piano that learning an academic discipline. Both teacher and student need years of regular practice to become proficient. Classes on the history of the piano won't help you play it.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Come, Let Us Walk...

"Come, O House of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the Lord." Isaiah 2:5

According to Isaiah 2, "the mountain of the Lord's temple will be established as chief among the mountains." The picture is of a time when the glory of God, his ways and his law, are valued supremely by all nations. Nations who have lost their way and forgotten God's law, will rejoice in its rediscovery when the law goes out from Zion.
Nations will come from the ends of the earth to the place where God dwells to worship and to learn, not to know about God, but to know him in such a way that they are moved to walk in all his ways. There will descend upon those nations, when the whole world sits under the authority of Christ, a settled peace and security. They will no longer teach the ways of war to their children because they no longer fear. The authority of God will be a cloak of protection around them.
At this time, I too will walk with pilgrims to Zion. My transformed nature will be wholly Christ's and I will marvel at the zeal reflected in the face of my friend. He will tell me how God's law has transformed his nation and reformed his culture. He rejoices at how quickly God's principles have changed everything for him.
He turns to me: "God's word has changed everything for us. Our nation rejoices and trembles at it. How long have you had it?"
We walk on to worship in silence. Did the same Word yield its soul-transforming power in my life that efficiently? On that day, will my testimony rivel his or will I walk on in sanctified shame?

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Obstacles to Integration

    1. Where a two-tier theory of truth prevails, integration is impossible. The two areas are like apples and oranges. They allow no admixture.
      2. Training of teachers at secular schools has given them a sense of mastery in the content area without reference to God.
      3. Integration is impossible with an unsure hermeneutic of Biblical revelation. It will be an easier task for those who hold to biblical inspiration and authority. An added step will be necessary for those who must determine whether the passage is from God or wonder if the passage was meant for us.
      4. Tolerance and pluralism will be obstacles, not in the sense of differing opinions within Christianity, but in the sense of showing deference to other religions or no religion.
      5. Integration is a bigger challenge in some areas because the content of that discipline is in rebellion to the word of God. Many areas of law, science, and sociology will need to be reconsidered. Even Theology will not be immune. Integration may require the revision of knowledge in the content area, if it can be shown that biblical teaching demands it.
      6. The nature of man will also kick against the implications of integration. Every new insight gained will have moral and spiritual implications. The heart will need to remain submissive to the work of the Holy Spirit, even as it wrestles with a "secular" discipline.

    Friday, November 7, 2008

    What Does Integration Look Like in the Local Church?

    What can the church do to support the idea of integration in religion and education?
    • Reinforce the idea that science and religion deal with the same kind of truth
    • Remind us that the standard for any kind of truth is always scripture
    • Help us to see the application of scripture at work in many different areas of life: Work. Family Life, Sex, Economics, Politics, Relationships, and Education
    • Try creating events in which hands-on integration can take place

    In our church, we are trying a few ways to foster such integration. Design Detectives teaches hands-on science while pointing to the Creator as Designer and Sustainer at every opportunity. Our new Economics club (not yet named) will attempt to teach in an intergenerational way the principles of handling money, making money, debt, investment, work, and stewardship. We propose to show that God's principles in Economics work every time they are tried.

    If you have ideas, I'd love to hear them. Showing how God fits in every area of knowledge is good integration. Good integration leads to an accurate understanding of the world around us.

    Thursday, November 6, 2008

    Is Integration Possible?

    Integration of faith and education- is it possible? Our cuture holds to a two-tier theory of truth (see Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth) in which the facts of science or economics are divorced from the opinions expressed in values, morality, and religion. This has pushed faith out of the public square and relegated it to personal subjectivity.
    Integration will demand that knowledge of immaterial things (values, morals, religious precepts, numbers) be accepted on a par with scientific knowledge. What will be a reliable standard for acceptance of moral and religious ideas? Rebuilding a Christian worldview will be necessary to effective integration.

    Monday, November 3, 2008

    Integration of Faith in Life and Education

    Colossians 1:15-20, especially v.17, provides the foundation for successful integration of faith and the academic disciplines. Christ is designer and maker of all things, the purpose for the existence of all things, and the goal toward which they are heading. No explanations of science, economics, sociology, or politics are complete without reference to Christ.

    What would integration look like?
    • Integration would allow the student to see that his faith is vitally related to the subject area he is studying. It would not be tacked on as an afterthought. Where there is a gap between the "facts" of the content area and faith, doubt is engendered. The goal is congruence between the subject area and the revelation of God.
    • Integration includes correct thinking about both the content area and faith, responding properly to the implications of that content, and organizing your life around it.
    • Integration means the student can begin and end his interaction with the academic discipline with responses of faith, grace, and worship.

    Sunday, November 2, 2008

    Historic Elections and Where We Go From Here

    On Tuesday, our nation makes history. Either we elect the first black president or the first female vice-president. Barak Obama's candidacy is not a sign of the end of racism in America, but it may be a sign that the obstacles racism presents are no longer insurmountable. This may open up some new opportunities for racial reconciliation in the nation and in the church.

    I for one would welcome the opportunity to work side-by-side with black pastors to press the gospel into the problems faced by the urban poor. I recognize my learning curve would be steep but the effort could mean progress toward permanent change as the gospel proves itself once again as the only real hope for mankind.

    If Barak Obama wins the election, it will be a sign that the American mind-set has moved to the point of co-operation. If Obama loses, his progress this far is no less an indicator. It would not show proper respect to the distances Obama's campaign has traveled to say that he is a victim. The race will be won or lost on issues. I am an old school conservative who believes that real compassion is not shown by increasing the power of government. That does not make me a racist.

    It will be important not to fall back on old racist arguments of victimization. Obama's candidacy has taught us that. As a nation, we are now in a position to do better.

    Monday, October 20, 2008

    Dark Horse

    Dark Horse
    Always running
    Behind the gaudy star
    Closing in 'til the very end

    Wednesday, October 15, 2008


    "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me." Perhaps no other falsehood is so often quoted by the young. Yet it tells us something about human nature: Invented as a defense against a juvenile onslaught, it verbalized the pain a "name" had caused. The truth is, physical abuse hurts the body, but words assault the soul.
    We use names to categorize people. We prejudge them with one word labels (radical, liberal, fundamentalist) and file them away in our mental data banks. We are no longer threatened with friendship. We are protected from the vulnerability of a relationship.
    "Him? He's strange." No need now to lend a hand. Her? She's plain." No need now to look for beauty. "Them? They're just a bunch of fanatics." No need now to understand.
    By categorizing people, we build what we presume are walls of security. In reality, they make us isolated prisoners. Labels push us away from people so that we do not have to accept our differences- or even face them.
    Call me "stupid" and I will make no attempt to learn. Call me "rich" and I will have nothing else to share. Call me "perfect" and I will mask my weakness. Call me "carnal," and I will cease to pray.
    If we are ever going to love each other or achieve any sense of unity, we must end this distancing process. No man is one-dimensional. We must be willing to learn more about a brother than what he wears or how he looks. We must accept and encourage him where he stands. Love must come before labels. Perhaps Leo Buscaglia, popular writer and professor at University of Southern California, put it best: "There is no word vast enough to begin to describe even the simplest of man."

    Friday, October 10, 2008

    The Knock of God

    O. Hallesby, in his classic book entitled Prayer, brings prayer down to its basic elements. For him, prayer is simply our answer to the invitation of God for our fellowship. "Behold, I stand at the door and knock."
    To Hallesby, this is the essence of prayer- to respond to the knock of God. Before we ever hold our hands or bend our knees, the rap on the door- that gentle tapping- has already sounded. We need never fear that one day we will awake to silence, the profound loneliness of a man without his God. Christ's desire for our fellowship is consistent. He is knocking; our response awaits.
    Throughout Hallesby's treatise is the continual refrain: "To pray is to let Jesus come into our hearts." Do we feel frustrated and helpless? Will not the One who knocks provide? Do we need revival? Is not the promise "I will come in to him and will sup with him" the place where revival begins? Do we need forgiveness? Would the One who knocks so tenderly ever withhold it?
    If this is prayer, we have but one responsibility- to let Him in. We do not need to storm heaven with bold and reckess demands; nor do we need to fear that our faith is not strong enough to gain His ear. It is only a question of the will. Once I put my hand to the knob and swing wide the door, prayer -and real friendship- begins.
    One day the Lover came, his head drenched with dew. He came with grace and tenderness, words sweet and compelling. But the Beloved had retired. Tiredness and self-concern held her back: "I have taken off my robe- must I put it on again?" She hesitated too long and her Lover slipped off into the night. She did finally answer the door; then love replaced apathy. "My heart began to pound for Him... my heart sank at his departure... if you find my lover, tell him I am faint with love.
    Can we not empathize with her words? Is it not the same when we hear the knock of God? The beloved need not fear, her lover will return to knock again. So will Christ. This time, let us also answer.

    Monday, October 6, 2008

    Comparison Christianity

    Who am I? What is it that gives me value and worth? Am I pleasing God? Will I ever be content with myself and my contribution?
    When I begin to answer these questions, my natural inclination is to look sideways at my brother. I begin to develop scales upon which to weigh our efforts. If I am smarter or stronger or more spiritual, then I am worthwhile. If I fall short in any of these areas, then I am inferior and I swallow the bitterness of jealousy and self-condemnation. If I allow myself to continue along this neurotic path, I will soon be speaking in superlatives and will have enslaved myself to an impossible dream.
    This strange malady breeds well in Christian circles. If my numbers or dollars or buildings or buses measure well against your numbers or dollars or buildings or buses, then my ministry has value. This comparison, along any line, brings competition. And if I see that you are running too far ahead, I will break fellowship. I will find some chink in your armor and rationalize my superiority. Now comparison has bred criticism.
    "Each one should carry his own load" (see Galatian 6). When I look inside, I see my own strengths and weaknesses, virtues and vices. I have my own gifts and my own responsibilities. I am an individual. To compare myself with you is to deny my uniqueness. I will test my actions in a divine mirror. I can take pride in myself because of my growth without ever looking at what you are doing. If I see distortion in the mirror, I find no condemnation. I admit weakness and consider it a challenge to change.
    "Carry each other's burdens." Comparison will never breed cooperation. We will never work together if I measure myself against you. Instead, I must rejoice in your strength when I am weak and be grateful for the strength I possess when you stumble.
    It seems a general rule that in competition there must always be a "winner" and a "loser," the "victor" and the "vanquished." This is not true when comparision enters Christianity. We both lose.

    Monday, September 1, 2008

    The Years the Locusts Have Eaten

    "I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten- the great locust and the young locust- the other locusts and the locust swarm- my great army that I sent among you." (Joel 2:28)

    They just kept coming. The skies were dark with their invasion. Locusts were as bad as any army. They came through the doors and windows. They were in the bed at night and in the grain for the morning meal. The land was devastated and the economy had collapsed.

    The people of Judah had experienced four waves of locusts. Worse was the knowledge that God had sent them. "The Lord thunders at the head of his army, his forces are numberless... who can endure it?" (2:11)

    Joel, the clearsighted prophet of God, came to the mourning nation with a message of hope: "Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your god for He is gracious... abounding in love." Joel even promised that God would "restore the years that the locusts have eaten."

    Many of us in the postmodern world understand locusts. Our lives are a desert and we know why. Our past is littered with the judgment of God. Now we wonder if return is possible, if it is too late to love Him. And so, Joel's promise is to us as well: "I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten."

    That is promise enough to return.

    Sunday, August 31, 2008

    Adam's Legacy: Remember Me...

    Let no exegete of death
    wax eloquent on my grave
    Rhetoric masks rebellion
    and redemption lies victim to

    Nor admit the scavengers-
    Who pluck the bones of character,
    Image and Likeness are honorable
    Remaining marks of the Creator.

    Extremes are grievous errors
    Respect remains in man, yet
    No forgiveness can follow pride.

    Only Truth can tell my story,
    And the story of those who follow.
    Remember me in accordance with the Truth.

    Bait and Switch Church Marketing

    The contemporary church, embracing marketing, now has all the integrity of a used car salesman. We poll the public to see what its felt needs are and then strive to meet them, rarely reminding ourselves that what the public desperately needs is Jesus. When we remember, we try to slip in the Four Spiritual Laws at the end of our laser light show.
    Here's the problem: When we do that, we are guilty of a most deplorable "bait and switch." There are several consequences: The one who is converted to Christ because of the light show will remain faithful only in so long as he is entertained. This entertainment will slowly lose its attraction and so the puffery of a laser light show must become grander still. Worse, the church must compete with the titillating entertainment industry where it will always run behind as a cheap imitator.
    We soothe our consciences by counting heads at our laser light show and the number of decisions made at the end (often understood as the price of admittance). Those who are genuinely converted are left to wonder why they had to be drawn to Christ by such a show of lights. Is there something about Jesus that is being hidden in the fine print of their new contract? As an evangelism scheme, the laserlight show has dubious merit. As a way to conduct worship, it smells of sulfur.
    Christians have come to expect the laser light show, and like true consumers, they will go to where they can get the best show and the best deal. They know nothing of corporate prayer, accountability, mentoring, sacrifice, or spiritual growth. They worship enthusiastically when the laser light show is better than last year and complain when the church across the street is offering a better one. Worse, Christians want the best laserlight show they can afford for their children. What if the church cannot attract them? What if they head for college and abandon the faith of their fathers? Have we done all we can to reach them if we haven't had the best laser light show in town? This would all be ridiculous if I hadn't looked into the pleading eyes of parents willing to buy the equipment to restore their wayward child.
    When they act like this, they betray themselves. They reveal in their complaints that they have never met Jesus. Not as Living Water, or Light of the World, or the Bread of Life. Not as Shepherd, Friend, Guide, or Judge. They have never felt His piercing gaze or seen Him in His glory. Their actions reveal them as strangers, for if they truly knew Him at all- the laser light show would be a colossal waste of time and money. Jesus Himself is far more attractive, far more beautiful than anything that can light up the night sky. Give the consumer Jesus first and while you may never be able to convince him of the virtures of a laser light show, you will have his attention when you talk about his Savior.

    Saturday, July 12, 2008

    4 Reasons to Listen to the Gettys

    Recently, I had the opportunity of hearing Keith and Kristyn Getty at the Moody Pastors Conference. I loved their music so much I brought it home, along with sheet music. Since then, my wife has spent much more time at the church, playing piano and worshipping her Lord. I miss her.

    I knew she would enjoy the simplicity of their music and the depth of their lyrics. So will you. Here are some reasons why:

    1. The lyrics reflect strong theology: In Christ Alone is popular because it tells the story of Christ and why it matters to sinners like me.

    2. The music has a simplicity that will appeal to a wide variety of worshippers so that several generations can sing together. This is in line with my zeal for intergenerational ministry.

    3. The lyrics speak to deep human emotions without displaying a pop sentimentality. I went to the conference at Moody pretty drained from the busyness of life and ministry. Words like these reminded me of the commonality of my trials.

    You have called me to this passage

    and I'll follow, though I'm worn...

    Let the treasures of the trial

    form within me as I go

    And at the end of this long passage

    Let me leave them at your throne.

    By the end of the conference, I was reminded of the Call of God and heard this refrain echoing in my heart:

    King of Heaven, we will answer the call

    we will follow bringing hope to the world

    filled with passion, filled with power to proclaim

    Salvation in Jesus' name.

    4. Perhaps the best reason to consider listening, is the testimony of the Gettys themselves. Their website invites people to pray for them in a real spirit of humility. Keith Getty recognizes his own need of grace: "I understand that the seeds of every sin are in the heart of every man so no matter what I write or what I pray or what I achieve, there is not one despicable sin of which I am not capable. So I start from that position." Kristyn Getty said it best in an interview with AFA (Check it out at "On our best days, we think Kingdom thoughts, and that simply comes from being in the Word every day and prayer. That is our lifeblood and power source."

    What are my favorite songs? Start with In Christ Alone. Its a great retelling of the death and resurrection of Christ and our identification with Him. Listen to Speak, O Lord. Its a great prayer for illumination before the service. I think my favorite is When Trials Come. You'll see why. Let me know what you think.

    Sunday, June 29, 2008

    Vow of Grace

    I took your hand to love you
    -a woman worthy to be loved-
    With a zeal drawn from the
    Jealous heart of God Himself.

    The LORD had put it in my heart
    To honor and to love
    To cherish and protect
    To encourage and promote you
    To be upright and faithful
    No matter what the cost
    'Til death do us part.

    I took your hand, ready to give until
    By love I was undone.

    But the tenderness of your hand
    Rewards my covenant with grace
    And the energy of my zeal
    Becomes the gratitude of my tears.

    Monday, June 23, 2008

    "My Dear Loving Uncle" and the Situation in Burma (Myanmar)

    18 years ago I lost contact with a good friend. She taught me about zeal for Jesus ("How are we to prepare ourselves for the second coming?") and love for family. Her father was a night watchman, her mother cared for their home. As a young girl, my friend took care of her grandmother until her grandmother passed away. She wanted to be a nurse.
    She always addressed her letters to "my dear loving uncle." I sent money to help with food and education. She stopped writing when the government of Burma refused to let the ministry who supported her in to audit ministry books. The country director retired and the ministry of help had to pull out.
    The government still stands in the way of aid, even in the face of Cyclone Nargis. Reports from the field tell of International aid being warehoused to be sold on the black market, while the government passes out their idea of aid:
    *A jagged piece of fabric
    measuring 12 in x 7 In
    *a slightly larger
    piece of towel
    * A bowl that can fit in the
    palm of the hand with
    a tablespoon of rice.
    There are ways of getting help to needy people in Burma. If you would like to help, check out Christian Freedom International. We also have a friend on the ground. Check out your favorite mission agency or drop me a line. The people of Burma, particularly the Karen people, need our help.

    Wednesday, June 11, 2008

    Southern Cross

    If there were no stars, would man be lonely-
    Spinning at the center of nothing
    A slight malfunction of the void
    Moving as lords of an accident
    Lone actor on the only stage.

    Would man be deluded, if there were no stars-
    Enthroning himself as Infinite
    A monarch of all he surveys
    Striding as noble in the darkness
    And evolving into purpose.

    Witnesses to Something Other
    Pointers to the Eternal
    Signposts of the First Cause
    Stars mark the limits of man's power.

    They are the guardians of his sanity.

    Sunday, May 25, 2008

    Adolescence and Responsibility

    Newt Gingrich recently wrote: "I believe that adolescence is a failed, nineteenth-century idea. Prior to the middle of the nineteenth century, people were either children or they were young adults. Now we have invented a middle zone, where kids are bored, trapped in mindless bureaucracies, critiqued routinely, and end up hanging out, watching junk television, doing drugs, and having sex."

    How has the idea of adolescence failed the church?
    • We have chosen peer group relationships over intergenerational relationships.

    • We have given teens spiritual entertainment rather than significant responsibility.

    • Mentoring has given way to peer-driven discipleship.

    What are the consequences for the church? Teens are leaving the church without ever developing a taste for real community, sound doctrine, or personal discipleship and accountability.

    Hope is rising, however. Newt Gingrich isn't the only one saying such things. In 1995, Christopher Schlect wrote Critique of Modern Youth Ministry. He writes "I am convinced that young people have a far greater capacity for spiritual and social maturity than we tend to give them credit for... the church does not expect what it ought to from children and their parents... We see in our present day that the youth subculture has become the dominant culture in our society... we are confronted by the values of youth wherever we turn... Late twentieth century America is not allowing itself to grow up."

    Listen to this 15 year old homeschooler:

    "The Bible never mentions teenagers. In fact, the word teenager was never mentioned in any dictionary until the middle of the 20 th Century. According to the Bible, children grew up into adulthood, not eternal teenhood. “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child, but when I became a man I put childish things away.” It has only been in the last fifty years and heavily influenced by evolutionary social theory that age segregation has been practiced in churches. Instead of being trained into righteousness, many teen ministries are leading their flocks into worldliness. However, the Bible never mentions any “teen” years or youth ministries in which to “find yourself” and embrace your “uniqueness.”

    "What can be done? Youth should attend all church services with their families. After all, the church is one body. “For as the body is one, and has many members, and all the members of that one body, being many are one body: as also is Christ.” 1 Corinthians 12:12 All ages/abilities should be integrated into the church, because all ages and gifts can be used to glorify Christ as one body.

    "The youth are part of the church of today, not only the church of tomorrow. Serving the elderly, assisting the less fortunate and training for the mission field, will prepare the younger members for leadership by firmly establishing them in their faith.

    "It really shouldn’t surprise us when so many teenagers leave the church after high school. They just can’t seem to make the transition into the “adult church.” Those that stay in church will usually attend their own college service or young singles groups. The church is one body with many members, not many categories with many groups... By allowing our youth to share their ignorance and immaturity with each other as they see fit, we are undermining the authority and stability of our churches. Just as a member of the body exposed to the elements will eventually weaken and make ineffectual the whole body; so will the spiritual life of the youth if we allow unBiblical practices such as youth groups and other special interests groups to have such unchallenged authority." -Annamarie Bettisworth is a 15 year old American homeschooler.

    Perhaps it will be teens themselves who will lead the charge to change. Alex and Brett Harris, teens who are founders of The Rebelution blog and website, have written a great new book, entitled Do Hard Things. In it they not only lament the low expectations our culture has for teens, but tell story after story of teens doing incredible things. It is definitely worth a read.

    What do I hope for the church?

    • That teens will have already acquired a taste of union with Christ before they head for college
    • That teens will be able to defend their faith in a pluralistic and skeptical age
    • That teens will come to value those who are ahead of them in age and maturity as valuable resources and supporters as they face the world to come.
    • That teens will disavow a desire to rebel against authority so that they do not cultivate a habit of rebellion that will lead to their destruction.

    Finally, my hope for the church is that teens will come to identify with the present church so that the church will be challenged and influenced by their strength, zeal, and idealism for the future.

    "Fireproof" the Marriages of Your Church

    The makers of "Flywheel" and "Facing the Giants" will release their newest movie on September 26th: "Fireproof." The double meaning in the subtitle says it all: "Never leave your partner behind."

    This movie shows what it takes to protect your marriage in our culture or to move back from the brink of divorce. Learning to rebuild broken trust is a difficult thing and the movie offers some good insights. Companion pieces, slated to be released later, will offer more direction and help to troubled couples.

    While retaining the humorous banter seen in earlier movies between coaches or used car salesmen, this movie has a darker edge. In the earlier movies, you can point to the exact place where the plot turns in favor of the protagonist. When the protagonist gets right with God, the circumstances change. In this movie, and I think in real life, the decision to follow is met with more obstacles before the plot begins to resolve.

    The volunteer cast does an excellent job with some very emotional scenes. Kirk Cameron was the only paid actor in the movie and he donated the money to charity. He was paid only to keep his card with the Screen Actors Guild. Watch for a boat, a bat, salt and pepper shakers, and a red dress.

    I look forward to recommending the movie to my church and promoting it in the community. It may just provide the emotional motivation for couples on the brink of divorce to reconsider. At least I'm praying to that end.

    Thursday, May 15, 2008

    G. K.Chesterton Gets it Right

    "You cannot evade the issue of God, whether you talk about pigs or the binomial theory, you are still talking about Him. Now if Christianity be. . . a fragment of metaphysical nonsense invented by a few people, then, of course, defending it will simply mean talking that metaphysical nonsense over and over. But if Christianity should happen to be true - then defending it may mean talking about anything or everything. Things can be irrelevant to the proposition that Christianity is false, but nothing can be irrelevant to the proposition that Christianity is true."
    G.K. Chesterton Daily News December 12, 1903

    Wednesday, May 14, 2008

    It's a God-centered World

    Our world is undeniably God-centered. God is Creator, Sustainer, Redeemer, and the one who defines me..
    As our Creator, every cell, every planet, every star shouts the design and handiwork of God.
    · One intricate cell in my body contains more factories than our planet.
    · Our planet boasts water, air, an iron and nickel core, and a decent size moon.
    · There are over twenty essential items necessary for life on our planet. Take away one and you take away life. The environment in which we live was designed for us.
    Our planet also boasts a front porch look at the universe. The heavens can be seen because of our position in the solar system and our position in the Milky Way. It’s almost as if we were designed to discover.
    Richard Dawkins and others have suggested that life was seeded, intentionally or unintentionally, on this planet by an alien. Is it really so difficult to believe that God created? Are we so afraid of admitting responsibility before God that we would rather make Roswell, New Mexico our Mecca? Proposing an alien as a cause for the beauty and design inherent in all things is preposterous. It doesn’t even answer the question it was meant to ultimately answer. Where did the alien come from?
    Our world also shows evidence of the need for redemption. While the design is clearly evident, it is marred. Disease attacks life. Sin mars man. Creation groans. A Redeemer is needed to bring about the restoration. The cross in the middle of time marks the place where the redemption price was paid.
    If I am made in the image of God, then God defines who I am. As Creator, He has fashioned me as He pleased. He has linked my purpose to Himself: “Let us make man in our image.” I have to know God before I can recognize what it means to be a man. Our image displays His glory to powers seen and unseen. Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer are all reflected in the image of man.
    To put you or me at the center of the universe is to defame God and destroy the purpose of man. To put nature at the center instead of the One who made it is to mistake the effect for the cause. We must put God at the center. We can understand nothing else until we understand this. The center of the universe is also the beginning of wisdom.