December 29, 2008

10 Reasons to Read Good Christian Books

One of my hopes, for our church, in 2009 is that we will become more avid readers of Christian books. We are blessed to live in a time period, and speak a language, in which solid, Christ-centered books (new and old) are available to us like never before! What a privilege! And what a missed opportunity if we don’t take advantage. So, to urge some of you to begin reading … and others to read even more, I came up with 10 reasons to read good Christian books (and I do stress the word good, for there is a lot of junk out there!) …

1. Good Christian books can supplement your Bible reading. Nothing replaces Bible reading. And if you only have time for one or the other, read your Bible. But many of us – especially on Sundays – will have time for more (especially if we turn off the TV!). And good Christian books can be a wonderful aid in pointing you to Jesus, in giving you new insights, and in helping you understand what you’re reading in the other, more important Book.

2. Good Christian books reinforce what you hear on Sunday. Numerous times, people have come to me and said: ‘You preached on such-and-such on Sunday, and then, this week, I was reading and came across the very same ideas. It was so good to hear it again; to have it reinforced. Having heard it from two different voices, I feel like I really get it now!’ So why not give yourself the opportunity, through Christian books, of being thus helped and encouraged!

3. Good Christian books can be a great basis for fellowship. What if you and a friend, or you and your spouse, committed to each read the same book, one chapter a week … and then come together weekly to pray together and talk about what you read? It might just spark those spiritual conversations that you have been hoping would be more present in the relationship.

4. Good Christian books can give you insights you never thought of. If you only ever read the Bible through your own eyes, and those of your pastor, you may miss some things. For we all have blind spots here and there. But what if you were reading something written a hundred years ago by someone living on a whole different continent? They might notice some things that we would normally miss!

5. Good Christian books remind us of the unity of Christ’s church. Sometimes I find myself reading something written three, four, five hundred years ago. Sometimes, in fact, it may have been translated from French, or German. And yet the author is reading the same Scripture and expressing the same thoughts as me. He is wrestling with the same temptations and making many of the same applications that we would make today. And I am reminded that we aren’t so different after all; that there is a wonderful oneness in Christ’s church!

Next week, 5 more reasons. But why wait? Get some today!

December 24, 2008

The Day I Leapt for Someone Else

Marveling at the humility and Christward focus of John the Baptist in John 1 and 3, and pondering what went into the making of such a man, I wrote this poem for tonight's Christmas Eve Service:

When I was just a tiny lad
I’d crouch down on my knees with dad
Leaned back, with age, upon his bed,
Three pillows stacked beneath his head.
He’d whisper stories of our faith,
But often pause to catch his breath.
Time had conspired to take its toll.
He’d withered like an ancient scroll
So full of truth, and yet so frail –
Long pauses between every tale.

He’d nap sometimes and I would wait
An hour to learn of David’s fate
After he’d sinned; or what came next
When Job was by his friends perplexed.
He’d tell of Moses in the sands,
The bread, the quail, the Promised Land;
Of Jonah and God’s mighty gale;
Of Sis’ra’s head, and Jael’s nail.

But he was tired; his lungs were weak;
The color faded from his cheeks.
And so he spoke with head laid back,
Eyes often closed, and muscles slack –
Except … Except for now and then
He’d say to mom, “Remember when
The angel came?” Eyes open wide
Now he would raise up on one side.
With grimaced face and teeth clinched tight
He’d slowly push himself upright.
This story was too full of grace
To tell it from his normal place.

“Remember when the angel came?
Son, he’s the one who chose your name.
God really did, I guess I’d say.
I remember like yesterday.
He spoke of you – your mission great;
And how we’d have a baby late.
But most of all He spoke of Him
Who’d come and save us from our sin!”

And so he’d give us his report,
But mom would always stop him short –
You know how older couples do –
She wanted in the story, too!
So she would rise up from her chair,
And her side of the story share:
“As I recall, now, six months passed.
Your aunt came by. She talked so fast
I had to calm and slow her down.
And angel’d come to her home town,
To her, in fact – she grinned so wide –
‘Before’ she said, ‘I’m made a bride,
I’ll give birth to God’s very Son.
Messiah! The Anointed One!’
And do you know what happened then?”
Mom always asked. “You leapt within
My womb, dear son. I don’t know how
You knew.”

And then she’d always bow
And thank the Lord for giving both
A Son and Savior, by His oath.

She’s right. Somehow I always knew
That, though among the chosen few,
And though a preacher of God’s word
Whose voice is by the thousands heard,
“I’m not the Christ; I am not He.”
So let my voice drown in the sea
Of waves that crash upon His shore;
Of Christward praise forever more.
I publish this from east to west:
"He must increase, I must be less."

I guess I always knew these things.
I leapt before I knew to sing.
The Spirit came, and from the womb,
In my small heart prepared Him room.

But it sure helped, as days went by,
To have a dad whose lips were dry,
Whose heart was weak, whose eyes were tired …
But who, for Christ, became inspired.
It helped, that twinkle in his eye,
And how he’d push and pull and try
To sit up straight and tell it right,
When speaking of that holy night;
When speaking of God’s only son,
Before whose path I was to run.

It helped that mother’s fav’rite part
Was not how Johnny won her heart;
Was not her infertility,
Was not the miracle of me!
Instead, the part she always tells?
The day I leapt for someone else!

So moms and dads, your kids adore …
But let them know you love Christ more!
Train them to like the Baptist be:
“More of Jesus … less of me!”

December 22, 2008

Verse for the Year

As I was reading up on Helen Roseveare, studying for the missions message from two Sundays back, I took the time to listen to an address she gave, back in 2007, on “The Perseverance of the Saints.” Among the many delightful and helpful things she said (you really should listen to it), I was inspired by her habit, each year, of selecting a ‘verse for the year.’

“Every year,” she said, “between Christmas and New Year’s Day, I seek to have time alone with God and ask Him for a particular verse for the coming year.” She went on to describe the blessing of being able to meditate and re-meditate and then, after that, to meditate even a little more … for 365 days on a single verse. And I thought: ‘This lady seems to love Jesus more than me. She has certainly walked with Him a lot longer than me, and through a lot deeper valleys. So I’ll try this out … a verse for the year.’

This is not to say that I am not going to be embarking, once again, on a Bible reading plan for the year. Daily bread is an absolute necessity! Nor am I insinuating that a ‘verse for the year’ is the key to Christian growth. Despite the fact that Christians are always looking for them – and book publishers constantly marketing them – there is no key to spiritual growth … except for seeking and finding Jesus in His word.

So Helen Roseveare’s ‘verse of the year’ is no talisman; it is no magic formula for spiritual maturity. But it is one way, that I have yet to employ, of finding and feeding on Jesus in His word.

‘So then,’ you ask, ‘what’s your verse? What’s it going to be?’ Well … it’s not January 1st yet. So I don’t know! But I am thinking, so far, along the lines of Matthew 11.29, in which Jesus says: “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

I want to be more in love – really in love – with Jesus in the new year (and even before then!). And I want, too, to be more like Jesus. Particularly, I want to be transformed into His likeness by way of gentleness. “Learn from Me, for I am gentle” Jesus says. And I need to learn that. It can’t be learned by rolling up my sleeves, putting my nose to the grindstone, and trying harder at being gentle. In fact, those times when I find myself rolling up my spiritual sleeves are often the times when I am least apt to be gentle and humble! So I won’t learn gentleness in my own strength. But I can learn it by looking unto Jesus. By loving Him in and through a verse like Matthew 11.29.

So, whether I finally select this as my ‘verse for the year’ or not, maybe at least two things will come out of these few lines. First, you will be spurred (I hope) to pray for your pastor in the area of gentleness. And second, I think you might be spurred to follow Helen Roseveare’s example and select for yourself a ‘verse of the year.’ Any idea of what yours might need to be?

December 8, 2008

Small Potatoes?

It is Missions Week at PRBC … which means a lot of things for me. One of them is that I have been doing some close looking at recent newsletters from our missionaries, trying to pinpoint some very specific ways in which we can highlight each of them for prayer. And I’ve noticed something. Peculiarly, one of the families always includes stories about individuals. They invariably treat us to individual names, individual stories and circumstances, and close up individual photos. Why is that?

I suspect that this family knows what makes for good copy. Names and stories connect a lot better across the ocean than do statistics. But I also know, from reading the letters, that there is another reason this family is always reporting on individuals – because that is virtually all they have to report on. Even if they wanted to tell of crowds and numbers, they couldn’t. The crowds are a lot closer to single digits than anything that would look impressive in a missionary newsletter. They write about individuals because they can probably count on their fingers the number of converts they have coming to their home for Bible study and prayer.

Would you be discouraged? I know I would. And though I never detect it for a moment in their reports home … I am sure that each of our missionary families sometimes wonders what in the world they are doing ‘in this far off, difficult place.’ So we need to pray for them. We need to ask the Lord to remind them of Galatians 6.9, and make it real to them: “Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we shall reap if we do not grow weary.” Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. Maybe not even in their lifetimes. But God will reap a harvest of souls from their missionary labors if they do not give up.

I think about Henry Martyn. Today, his name is very famous in missionary circles. But when he died, he was a ‘failure.’ He had ministered in India and Persia for more than half a decade before dying at age 31 with tuberculosis. His harvest up to that point? One single, solitary convert – a Muslim named Abdul Masih. Imagine the missionary newsletters Martyn would have produced on his laptop! He would have only needed one photo! And yet that one lonely convert became a wildly successful evangelist after Martyn’s death. And “in due season” Martyn’s harvest was reaped! O, pray that our missionaries would know the Henry Martyn’s and the Galatians 6.9’s … and not lose heart in the days of small potatoes!

And pray for yourself, too. I know for a fact that some of you have been laboring with that child, or that church, or that relative, or that classmate for the longest time … with no seeming result. You have been sharing Jesus and giving out tracts for years on end with no converts to show for it. Some who read this little column are preachers who feel, perhaps, at the end of your rope. But whoever you are … do not grow weary. Keep loving. Keep sharing. Keep praying. Keep going. Keep preaching. Don’t lose heart. Remember Henry Martyn and Abdul Masih. Remember Galatians 6.9. Remember that someday, for God’s glory, your labors will prove to have been worth it. In due season, we will reap!

December 5, 2008

I will soon be eating one of these...

Is this furry creature a sheep or a goat? How do you know? What are the differences between sheep and goats (biblical pun intended)? See ANSWER below.

These are some of the issues Anthony and I will be addressing as we head to Ethiopia again in January for Pastor's Training Institute, round 7. Our topic? The doctrine of the church. What is it? Who should be a member? Why? What about leaders? Who, really, is in charge? And so on. Sound simple? If so, you are ahead of the game! Many church-goers (American and Ethiopian) may have no more answers than you do about the animal above! But surely the shepherds of the church ought to ... both in America and Ethiopia!

So please pray that we might do a faithful job of communicating what Spurgeon called "the dearest place on earth ... the church of Jesus Christ" to these 60 or so men. And pray that the fruit of our ten days away might be beautiful, faithful, Christ-centered churches.

ANSWER: This, my friends, is a sheep. I know, I know. It doesn't look like the furry white sheep we are accustomed to. But there are other kinds of sheep. And they look very similar to our American goats. But they are not the same! Easiest way to tell? A sheep's tail hangs down, while a goat's points up. There are other differences, too. Google away if you're interested.

November 24, 2008

More than you Think...

Every year about this time I urge our congregation to give ‘more than you think you can give’ to the Lottie Moon Missions Offering (or the benevolence offering, or the ...). It’s a bold suggestion. It goes against conventional wisdom. Many financial counselors would have a fit if they heard me say it. Some pastors would scold me for being too demanding. But I wish everyone in this church (and on this blog) would give more to missions and mercy than seems doable.

Why? Because that is exactly the kind of example we are given in the Scriptures. Jesus didn’t applaud the wealthy people at the temple gates—the ones who gave large gifts out of their surplus. He commended the poor widow who gave two copper coins—all she had to live on (Mark 12.41-44). And Paul pointed to the poor Macedonian as an example of faithful giving:

In a great deal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality. For I testify that according to their ability, and beyond their ability, they gave of their own accord, begging us with much urging for the favor of participation in the support of the saints (2 Corinthians 8.2-4).

Did you catch that? The Macedonians were afflicted and deeply poor. Yet they rejoiced in giving. They gave – hear this well – beyond their ability. They even begged Paul to let them give an offering (a minister’s dream)! They loved giving to God’s purposes so much that they gave more than they thought possible—and trusted God with their needs!

That’s the example of biblical, God-honoring giving. When a need comes up, we don’t fish around for our spare change (or spare hundred dollar bills, as the case may be). We give more than we think prudent—so that loose change becomes twenty-dollar bills; and hundreds become thousands! I don’t doubt that some of you have the ability to give thousands to the cause of missions if you choose to! Not sure? Here are some suggestions for how you might give more than you think you can give, both this year and next…

*Sell some piece of property and give the money to missions or mercy (a car, a home, a piece of land or jewelry, a doll collection, etc.). In that day, will these things matter more than souls?

*Give your entire Christmas bonus to missions or mercy.

*Buy a less expensive car, television, CD player, etc. and give the money you would have normally spent to missions or mercy.

*Give some of that Christmas money to missions or mercy. The perishing millions need the gospel more than your husband needs a gas-grill!

*Cash in some rainy-day savings account and put the money in the missions offering. It’s better to save the islanders than visit the islands!

*By faith, simply take a larger-than-you-think-you-can-afford chunk of your current cash-on-hand and give it to missions or mercy … and trust God to provide.

*Disable the cable, the high-speed internet, the extra cell minutes…and put the extra money into your offering.

*Look over your family budget and see if there isn't a line item you could decrease by $10 per month ... setting the rest aside for missions of mercy.

There are many ways to give more than you think you can…if you’re only willing! Looking for ways to give beyond my ability with you...

November 20, 2008

This, too, is worth 3 minutes

OK, actually 2 minutes and change.

Thanks, Jordan.

And if you want to give the gift of water this Christmas ... click here.

November 11, 2008

Was it God?

Have you ever been in prayer and thought to yourself: ‘God is telling me to call Sam’; or ‘God is telling me to give my Christmas bonus to that family at church’; or ‘God wants me to take that job.’ If not, you may have never prayed. For there is no doubt that, as we seek the Lord in prayer and meditation, the Spirit occasionally urges us with His still, small voice. And we need to listen for that voice. But the question always needs to follow: ‘How do I know it was God speaking?’ For, after all, our hearts are deceitful above all else. So maybe we misunderstood what God wanted. Or maybe we convinced ourselves that God wanted something when He actually never spoke at all. So, how do we know if God is really speaking? Let me make a few suggestions that you should always apply when you sense that the Spirit may be urging you to do something, or telling you that something is so.

1. Compare it with Scripture. Peter says that the Bible consists of material in which “men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Peter 1.21). So the Bible is the word of the Holy Spirit. And surely the Spirit would not contradict, in prayer, what He has already said in print. So, if you believe the Holy Spirit is speaking to you … compare what you hear with the teaching of Scripture. And don’t just seek our one verse that seems to justify what you believe you heard. Study the whole counsel of God’s word on the subject at hand. And if the urging you heard in prayer does not match up with the plain teaching of Scripture, rule it out as not from God.

2. Seek the counsel of fellow believers. Sometimes you may feel the Spirit is urging you to do something for which the Scripture gives no specific or comprehensive command. You feel fairly certain He is telling you to take that new job. It’s not a sinful job. And the Bible doesn’t say anything specifically about where you should work. So that settles it, right? You should go ahead and start boxing up your pens and post-it notes, making ready for the new office, right? Not necessarily. You may still have mis-understood God’s will for you … even if what you feel you heard does not directly contradict Scripture. So, talk things like this out with some mature Christian friends – people who won’t pull any punches; and who won’t tickle your ears. If they give good, reasonable feedback that says ‘Maybe this is not the best fit’ … then perhaps you misheard. Not necessarily. But it’s a lot harder for 3-4 people to misunderstand God than it is for just one.

3. Recognize that you and your friends can be wrong. Let’s say that, after praying with friends, you still feel certain that God is telling you that you are about to change jobs. Your friends, in fact, agree that this would be a good thing. And then you get a call that says the company has ‘decided to go in a different direction’. What now? Do you show up at HR and say: ‘Obviously, you made a mistake; God told me this was my job’? No! Instead you take a step back and remember that your heart is deceitful … and admit that you must have misheard or misunderstood what God was saying (or that, perhaps, He wasn’t saying anything at all). You admit that your capacity to hear from God is fallible. In fact, it would be helpful to remind yourself of these things right up front … to never assume, in the first place, that the word was certainly from the Lord.

The only sure method of hearing God’s voice is in the pages of the Bible. That doesn’t mean we don’t listen anywhere else. But it means that, as we do, we put an asterisk beside everything we believe we hear. And we don’t put ultimate confidence in ‘the leading of the Spirit’. We put ultimate confidence, rather, in the writing of the Spirit.

November 5, 2008


I titled this "Wise Words" because of the link to Barry's blog ... not to insinuate that any of my words were wise!

Wise Words

I think this is my last post on political topics. Despite the content of this blog for the last couple of months, I am really not all that in to politics. I hope it is less that I am disinterested and more that I really believe what I said here. I've been writing largely because of a question that was posed to me in one of our quarterly Q and A sessions at church. But I think I have said my fill, the election has been decided, and it is time for us to:

1. Pray for our rulers (1 Timothy 2.1-2)
2. Submit to governing authorities ... rather than complaining about them (Romans 13)
3. Thank God for the racial progress that He has provided in this country

I've already posted a prayer below. I hope it is faithful. And Barry reminds me (re: #2) that I need to do a better job of "having a smile on [my] face and a song in [my] heart." Thanks BJ!

November 4, 2008

A Prayer for Barack Obama

By now you know that Barack Obama has been elected as the next President of the United States. At least, I hope you know. If you are getting your news from The Rest Stop, your world is probably a tad askew since the present writer knows very little about anything. But one thing I do know is that, like it or not, Barack Obama is the President-elect ... and God tells us to pray for men in his position, not because we agree or disagree with them, but because government is God's instrument to do us good. So, if for no other reason, because the person in the Oval Office is charged, by God Himself, with doing the nation good ... Mr. Obama needs our prayers, and God's help. Here's my effort. I'd encourage you - whether you particularly like Mr. Obama or not - to pray these things for him and his family.

Father, believing that “the king’s heart is like channels of waters in the hand of the Lord” and that You “turn it wherever [You] wish” (Proverbs 21.1); and knowing that You command Your people, unqualifiedly, to pray for their leaders (1 Timothy 2.1-2), we do now humbly pray for our president-elect, Senator Barack Obama.

First, regardless of how we voted on Tuesday, we thank you that the United States has come to a place in her history where it is possible to rise to the highest position of responsibility and honor regardless of the color of one’s skin. In this regard, make president-elect Obama an example of hope to us all.

Father, we repent of the sordid history we have in the area of race-relations and lament the fact that there are those who hate the very idea of a black man in office. Protect our leaders from the hatred of those whose opposition runs much deeper than political ideology.

Guard Mr. Obama’s family, as well. None of us can imagine the strain they will face as they live in the public eye, travel more than they ever thought they would, and find family time sparser than they’d like over the next four years. So bless Mr. and Mrs. Obama’s marriage, and make these years happy ones for their children.

Recognizing that the love of money is the root of all sorts of evil, we do not confidently assume that the prosperity of the American economy is, necessarily, your will. So again, Lord, guide the president’s heart like channels of water – and produce for this nation the economic status that would be best for our eternal souls – whether prosperous or not.

We ask, too, that you would guide our president-elect in knowing how and why to either continue or conclude the conflicts in the Middle East. Make him a wise commander in chief, and protect us, we pray.

In accordance with Your word, we pray that you would impress on Mr. Obama the importance of upholding the law of our land, the Constitution, which is written in such a way that the biblical goals (Romans 13) for secular government (rewarding good, defending the helpless, and upholding basic human rights) might be upheld. Especially, we pray that you might change his and his administration’s mind (indeed change our nation’s collective mind) so that we stop making it easier and easier to kill unborn babies. Please frustrate any designs the president or congress may have of passing the murderous Freedom of Choice Act. O Lord, use this administration – or some administration – to remove the blood-guiltiness from our land.

Finally, Lord, we pray for our future president’s soul. Father, would you so bring Mr. Obama to the feet of Jesus that he would love and treasure and trust your Son with all of His heart?

We don’t deserve anything we’ve asked, Father. But we need a president who will honor You and Your ways. Give us, as you so often have done in times past, far better than we deserve.

November 3, 2008

Attention all Ohioans!

I wish I'd have posted this sooner. Maybe it's not too late. Tomorrow Issue 6 proposes to bring casino gambling to Ohio. I hope you vote no. Who cares whether there are loopholes that will allow the casino to be tax free or not. I'd vote no if the casino promised me a hundred bucks a day for life. It's a destructive industry.

And that's not just coming from a typical Baptist preacher who thinks gambling is sin (which I am and do, by the way). It's also coming from someone who has lived in the neon glow of one of the larger gaming industries in the United States, and seen first-hand the devastation that gambling brings to communities. Most of all it's coming, I hope, from a pastor who wants to see people enter into the kingdom of Christ and who knows that "those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction" (1 Timothy 6.9).

The gospel of God's Son can and does triumph in degraded cultures. It's designed to, in fact. But the Bible also makes it clear that cultural sins like gambling lead people away from Jesus and destroy their lives, plain and simple. If we can keep it out, we should. So vote tomorrow ... and vote wisely.

October 30, 2008

The Green Bible?

Not too long ago, I bumped across an advertisement for the latest Christian publishing gimmick. HarperCollins, a secular publisher that occasionally dabbles in religious material, has released what they call The Green Bible - a version of the Bible designed to appeal to the conservationist in us all. A snippet from the website reads:

The Green Bible is the definitive movement Bible that shows that God is green and how we can care for and protect God's creation.


*Green-Letter Edition: Verses and passages that speak to God's care for creation highlighted in green
*A personal green Bible trail study guide
*An appendix with information on further reading, how to get involved, and practical steps to take
*Recycled paper, using soy-based ink with a cotton/linen cover

So we have women’s Bibles, men’s Bibles, military Bibles, couples’ Bibles, Bibles for teens, Bibles with sports icons on the cover, red-letter Bibles … and now a “Green-Letter Edition”, highlighting all the passages that deal with “God’s care for creation.” And I submit to you that this is, at best, a misguided marketing ploy – an attempt, by HarperCollins to squeeze a little more money out of the Christian 'book stores' by making the Bible ‘more appealing’ to the twenty-something set. I call it a ploy because, if they were really altruistic about saving the environment, HarperCollins would print all their books on “recycled paper, using soy-based ink with a cotton/linen cover.” But that’s not what this is about. This is, at best, a gimmick … and, at worst, it might be blasphemy. For here we have a Bible version that is primarily concerned, not with the whole counsel of God, but with a select portion of it – a portion, it just so happens, that appeals to a particular segment of society and purports to say what they want to hear.

I’m not a big fan of colored ink in the Bible – even red-letter editions. For if we are going to use red ink, ought not the whole Bible be printed in it … since all of its words are inspired by Jesus? To highlight the words of the incarnate Jesus, over against the words of Moses, or Peter, or Paul, is to make it appear as though some parts of the Bible are more inspired than others; and to add fuel to the fire of those who like to chop the Bible into little bits that are more or less acceptable in their own eyes. So buy your Bibles in all black – the way the prophets and apostles wrote it. Or at least read your copy as though the words were all the same color, remembering that red and green are no more inspired or important than black.

Now at least the red-letter editions attempt to highlight Jesus. But, in The Green Bible, the spotlight falls onto a subject much less worthy of adoration – the creation. And in highlighting creation – indeed, building a whole Bible version around it – The Green Bible fuels the fire of a generation of people who have, in a peculiarly altruistic sounding way, done a Romans 1.25. That is, 21st century Americans are encouraged on every hand to so venerate ‘mother earth’; to be so concerned for the environment; to become so ‘green’ that we have, in effect, “exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served the creature [or creation] rather than the Creator.” Sound far-fetched? Go to the public school down the street and you will hear the children singing these words: ‘The earth is my mother, the earth is my mother, she gives me everything that I ever need.’ I've heard it myself! And it's Romans 1.25 all over again. Instead of “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want” the youth of today believe ‘The earth is my mother, I shall not want.’ We’ve become a generation of earth worshippers!

So, I guess what I'm on about is something like this ... Do what you can, within reason, to preserve God’s creation. That is biblical and right. But realize, most of all, that God’s distinctive, definitive, perfect strategy for saving the planet is not about human efforts, and community action programs, and government initiatives. No, God is going to save the planet – and its inhabitants – through the blood of His Son. That's what Romans 8.19-22 says. The creation will be redeemed and made right when God's people are redeemed at the last day.

And how are God's people redeemed? Well, at the last day, by the coming again of Jesus. But all that would be of no use to us if we had not been redeemed, by His blood, at His first coming. So God's plan for restoring creation found its crux at the cross. So God’s environmental plan is more red than green. God’s ultimate solution for the groaning of creation is not to urge us to save the trees, but to point us to the tree that saves. God’s solution for the groaning of creation is to point us to the cross of Christ, where both we and the creation have been be set free from the effects of sin. And if we really care about God and His creation, those are the kinds of passages that we will highlight in our Bibles!

October 29, 2008

I am not Going to Pray for my People this Week

Nope. Not going to do it. Usually I pray for each individual in our church by name every week. But I won't do it this week.

Why? Well, a few months ago I thought it might be a good idea, one week, instead of praying for every person ... to thank God for specifics about them - areas of growth, blessings received, ways they've blessed me or others, etc. And it ... was ... absolutely ... revolutionary.

OK, maybe not revolutionary ... but really helpful at least.

Sometimes, as a pastor, your prayers for your people start to sound like a bit of a pity-party with God. 'Lord, Jim Bob wasn't here on Sunday. That's two weeks in a row. Set him straight. And Lionel made a snide remark about my haircut. Help him be humble. And then there's Sudie Bell. You know what she's been up to, of course. I just don't know what we are going to do with a woman like that.' And on and on it goes. Sometimes in a complaining tone. Other times, even when the prayers are genuine and compassionate ... you finally say 'amen' and feel worse than you did before you prayed.

That is probably a faith problem. But it is also a problem of ungratefulness. If I were more consciously thankful for what God is up to in people's lives, I wouldn't be so tempted to whine to God ... and I wouldn't feel like the odds were so stacked against me when prayer reminds me of all the growth we still need to see. Noticing God's work has a tremendous way of helping you see the bright side of things (while not neglecting the 'Need's Improvements' on the report card, either).

So I decided to take one week per month and, instead of praying for the people, to praise God for them in specific ways. OK, maybe I pray for a few things ... pressing issues and souls. But by and large I just thank God all the way down through each of the 96 people who regularly attend PRBC. It has changed my perspective. If you do it (for your family, or church family, or office mates) it might change yours.

Try it out, pastor or not.

October 23, 2008

Final Thoughts on the Election

People are going to die and go to hell on November 5th, just the same as they will on November 3rd. Babies are going to be aborted on November 5th, just the same as on November 3rd. You are going to be a sinner on November 5th, desperately in need of the Savior … no different than was true on November 3rd.

What am I saying? As many implications as there are in any presidential elections; as important as it is for us to vote wisely and pray fervently; as happy or disappointed or worried as we may feel twelve evenings from now… November 4th and the election that takes place on it are just a blip on the radar screen of God’s plans for us. “He it is who reduces rulers to nothing, who makes the judges of the earth meaningless. Scarcely have they been planted, scarcely have they been sown, scarcely has their stock taken root in the earth, but He merely blows on them, and they wither, and the storm carries them away like stubble” (Isaiah 40.23-24).

So as much attention as I have given, in recent weeks, to the presidential race and the implications of it for Christians … we need to check ourselves with a final statement about elections and government:

6. Do not put your hope in the government! No matter who is elected our next president … a few things are for sure.

a. He will be a depraved sinner. He will make selfish choices, foolish choices, and (given what we have heard from the various candidates in recent weeks) he will probably even make a few deceitful choices.
b. God will still be on His throne. What of gas prices go to $10 per gallon? What if the situation in the Middle East turns into World War III? And what if it really is all the government’s fault? God will still be in control. God will still be protecting His children. And Romans 8.28 will still be true.
c. People are going to die and go to hell on November 5th, the same as any other day. We could resurrect Lincoln or bring back Washington or even make Moses the president … and the greatest problems would not be solved. People are changed by the gospel. And cultures are changed by people changed by the gospel, not by presidents and congresses.

So he who takes too much interest, or expends too much energy, or invests too much emotion in the United States government is like the child who throws his pennies into the water fountain and actually expects his wishes to be granted because of it.

Are there important issues to be decided on November 4? Absolutely. I have tried to highlight them through this medium in recent weeks. But if, in highlighting them, I have lured you into over-absorption in the election and its candidates … than I have done you a disservice. And if you have cast your emotional lot or placed your faith in a sinful candidate or party, then you’re in for great disappointment … and perhaps more than disappointment. “Some boast in chariots and some in horses, but we will boast in the name of the LORD our God” (Psalm 22.7).

October 20, 2008

Being Pro-Life is much more than a Vote

My series on voting has, of necessity, turned into a mini-series on abortion and pro-life issues. To balance, I do want to make it clear that there is more - much more - that needs to be done for the protection of life than casting a vote on November 4. In fact, I would say that voting is really the smallest thing (though indispensable, as I have been arguing). Much more, Christians also need to promote life through:

-Putting child-bearing and rearing above career, etc.
-Loving unwed mothers and their little ones
-Supporting Christian crisis pregnancy centers, etc.

Here are a couple of links that take us a little further into some of these issues:

-Russell Moore's sermon on Joseph of Nazareth, last week at SBTS
-Together for Adoption
-Dan Cruver on how physical adoption magnifies the gospel of God's adoption of sinners

Some Videos worth Noting

Gianna Jessen abortion survivor...

Ending Roe v. Wade is, says Miller, "a pipe dream". Hmm...

Piper: "Don't mess with that":

A Single Issue Voter? (Thoughts on the Election, Part 5)

As I continue thinking my way through the election on paper before you … I realize that I have left myself open to a particular criticism. That is, the charge may come that I am guilty of being one of the most narrow-minded of citizens … a (gasp!) single-issue voter. For many years, voting based on the devastating importance of a single issue (that of killing millions of babies) didn’t seem all that narrow. But in today’s climate, even some purportedly evangelical church leaders are saying to folks like me:

“Look, abortion is here to stay. We simply have to accept reality. And instead of spinning our wheels, hoping to overturn Roe v. Wade, we need to focus our attention elsewhere. Let’s take some educational measures to try and ‘lower the number of abortions in this country’; let’s focus on some other issues; and let’s not let this one issue, by itself, determine how we vote. After all, both sides say they want to lower the number of abortions (although check the facts on that) … so let’s put aside this hopeless fight to abolish abortion and get on to other things. Reversing roe v. Wade, frankly, is a pipe dream.”

That is the attitude of many ‘evangelicals’ – that when it comes to electing leaders, it is counter-productive and naïve to let a single issue dominate our thinking. To which I have two responses:

First (and borrowing heavily from John Piper) … what if one candidate proposed that we re-introduce slavery? Or reverse the civil rights laws? What if one candidate was a convicted felon? What if one candidate was a known drug-addict? Would any one of these single issues not disqualify him from the presidency? Of course it would … no matter what he believed about other things. There are just certain things you cannot do, be, or believe and still be qualified for the presidency. I think 99% of people would agree … and thus, in a given situation, become very adamant single issue voters.

So the problem is not with single-issue voting. The problem is simply that most Americans don’t care enough about 1 million dead children a year to have that strong of an opinion about this single issue. For my money, however, anyone who supports the upholding (not to mention expansion) of laws that have permitted 40 million children to be legally murdered (talk about a contradiction in terms) since 1973 is absolutely disqualified for the presidency. Read Psalm 139 again, think it out, and see if you don’t agree.

The second response I have who believe it is foolish or naïve to decide your vote based on a single issue is this: ‘What if Abraham Lincoln would have listened to the naysayers who surely told him that it was foolish to divide the country, to alienate people, and to risk his presidency and his life over a single issue? There were plenty of other political issues in the late 1850’s, just as there are today … many of them important. But nothing was more important than tens of thousands of black slaves being treated as property (and often worse) all across the American South. Nothing! This single issue was more important than the economy (which would take a big hit when all those slaves were freed). It was bigger than an end to war (in fact it created the war). It was bigger than anything. Injustice had to be denied. America’s plate had to be cleared of years of blood-guiltiness. And, praise God, it was!

But what if Lincoln would have listened to the sophisticated naysayers of his day? What if he’d decided (like so many today) that, after all, it was a bit naïve to base political decision-making on just a single issue? That ending slavery was a pipe dream? That he should slide abolition to the back burner, simply try and ‘reduce the number of slaves in this country’, and move on to other issues. You know the answer. And maybe we will get to live long enough to say ‘what if’ and ‘praise God’ with the issue of abortion. But if Americans decide single issue politics is too naïve for this day and age, we’ll never know what might have been. And neither, in 35 more years, will 80 million children.

October 17, 2008

The Best Secular Book I have ever Read...

I think I can say that, although there may be a few close seconds, this is definitely the most challenging, impacting, make-me-think kind of secular book that I have ever read. I am about 60% through it and excited to get back to it this weekend!

Though written in 1985, it has some profound words for our current political and religious landscapes. Have you read it? If not, order it today and read it this fall. It will profoundly challenge the way you think about ... and watch the world. It should be mandatory reading for every pastor and seminarian ... and would benefit 99% of everyone else tremendously, too!

October 13, 2008

Thoughts on the Election, Part 4

‘What biblical principles should inform us as we think about the presidential election this fall?’ Here’s a summary of what we’ve said so far:

1. Be sure to vote (Jeremiah 29.7)
2. Be sure to pray (1 Timothy 2.1-2)
3. Think issues, not personalities
4. Understand the biblical view of government (1 Peter 2, Rom 13)

Now a fifth, and for me, determining factor …

5. Think basic human rights. If God’s first expectation of human government is that it uphold basic human rights and ethics (as we saw in Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2) … then it seems to me that this should be our first expectation as well. Do we want our economy to be stable? Yes. Do we want jobs readily available? Yes. Are there energy concerns that need to be thought through? Yes. In fact there are many things that the next President will have to think through. But his (and his administration’s) first job will be to uphold basic human rights. If that is ignored, then everything else will eventually crumble, too … God will make certain of that.

So what does that mean? It means that, for Christians, what a candidate believes about certain human bioethical issues is more important than whether or not he wants to drill in Alaska. What he thinks about abortion, euthanasia, and so on is far more important than what his economic stimulus plan will be. Not because we don’t care about jobs and the economy. But because jobs and the economy, biblically, are not the government’s first priority – upholding basic human rights is! And if our country continues to kill babies created in the image of God to the tune of a million a year … who really cares if we continue to lead the world economically? Maybe we have forfeited our right to do so. If we keep sucking nearly 4,000 souls a day from the womb, maybe an economic crisis is exactly what we deserve.

God says that he knits human life together in the mother’s womb (Psalm 139). That means, quite obviously, that to snuff that out is not merely ‘a simple medical procedure.’ The thing being knitted together is a child, being fashioned by the hand of God. And the ‘procedure’, therefore, is murder. And that means, quite frankly, that politicians who support abortion support murder – no matter what they call it. And none of us would vote for a candidate who supported the murder of anyone else would we? If one of the candidates said that the solution to the immigration problem is to simply execute all illegal immigrants, would anyone vote for him? If he said that the solution to the health care crisis was the extermination of those who are extremely sick and have the greatest medical bills, would we support him? Not on your life. So why is it, then, that we are so wimpy when it comes to the extermination of children in the womb? It’s illogical, it seems to me. But millions of Americans don’t care.

Isn’t it time that we required our political leaders to enforce the Constitution of the United States, which guarantees all of us the right to life? More importantly, isn’t it time we expected our governmental authorities to stop shirking their respoinsibilities, and to do the one foundational thing that God has called them to do – uphold basic human rights, for everyone? Isn’t it time Americans stopped voting with their pocket books and their politics … and began voting with their consciences?

October 7, 2008

Thoughts on the Election, Part 3

We’ve been thinking, for a couple of weeks, about the question: ‘What are some biblical principles that Christians should take to the ballot box on November 4 (or any other election)?’ And so far, largely from Jeremiah 29.7, we have given three answers:

1. Be sure to vote
2. Be sure to pray
3. Think issues

Now today, let’s step outside of Jeremiah 29 and narrow our focus even a little further with a fourth idea. How should Christians think about and use the privilege of the vote?

4. Inform yourself as to the Bible’s understanding of government. Our vote is a reflection of our desires and expectations of our government. And as Christians, if we are going to express our desires and expectations, they had better line up with God’s, right? So does the Bible have anything to say about God’s desires for and expectations of secular government?

We need to look, specifically, at the New Testament. Since the Old Testament presents, basically, the form of government known as theocracy (i.e. a religious state ruled directly by spiritual principles) … statements about government there are really more applicable to the church than they are to the modern secular government. The United States, unlike the church, is not a theocracy. But the New Testament was written in a context where governments were very similar to ours – in that they were largely secular, though with varying levels of influence from a handful of religions. So the New Testament is where we need to look for the most direct statements about how God might think about modern government.

And what does the New Testament say? Well it presents three strands of thinking regarding the government.

A. Christians should pray for their government (1 Tim 2)
B. Christians should submit to their government (Rom 13, 1 Pet 2)
C. Governments should enforce ethical norms (Rom 13, 1 Pet 2)

It is on point ‘C’ that we need to focus. When we read the words of Paul in Romans 13, and of Peter in 1 Peter 2 … both men make it clear that God expects the government to uphold and enforce a standard of ethical norms … to uphold the most basic human rights, and to punish those who violate those rights. I find this significant … especially since this is really the fundamental standard that God imposes on government as an institution – uphold basic human rights. Since this is the only expectation mentioned, I take it to be of prime importance. It’s the fundamental thing.

That is not to say that we are not thankful when the government builds roads, or creates jobs, or gets gas prices under control. But these are not the primary role of government, according to the New Testament. The primary role is “the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right” (1 Peter 2.14). So it seems to me that what a candidate thinks on various human rights and ethical issues is a great deal more important than his view on the economy, or on offshore oil drilling. And we need to take that realization with us to the voting booth.

October 1, 2008

Thoughts on the Election, Part 2

Last week we began a series of thoughts in answer to the question: ‘Are there any biblical principles that can help Christians select a candidate in this year’s presidential candidate?’ In other words, what sorts of thoughts should be rattling around in our minds as we listen to the rhetoric, watch the debates, and go to the ballot box on November 4? Well, from Jeremiah 29.7 (“seek the welfare of the city to which I have sent you … and pray to the LORD on its behalf”) we have already said that Christians should:

1. Vote. Failure to do so would be a giant missed opportunity at seeking the welfare of the country the Lord has placed us.

2. Pray. Failure to pray for the election and subsequent winner (whoever he is) would be, quite frankly, sin.

But are there any other principles besides voting and praying? What should we pray for? And how should we decide for whom to vote? That’s the gist of the question. So let’s get a little more specific this week. How should we select a candidate in 2008?

3. Think issues. I would hope that thinking issues would be an obvious tenant for any voter, Christian or not. But since the Lord has commanded us to seek the welfare of the city (or nation), we have to think issues. We have to ask: ‘Which candidate’s policies will be best for our nation?’ And we have to refrain from asking questions like: ‘Which one do I like more?’ ‘Which one looks most like me?’ ‘Which one is going to benefit me?’ Honestly, this election is not about me or you. It’s about an entire nation. So we have to ask, what is best for the entire nation? We have to vote on issues, not in a popularity contest.

Now the reality is that some people are going to vote either for against Barack Obama simply because he is African American. And others are going to vote either for or against the Republican ticket simply because Sarah Palin is a female. Some will vote for McCain simply because he is a war hero. And most will judge the debates and (eventually) the candidates primarily upon their eloquence.

Now, should we be excited that our country has finally reached a place where a black man can be considered a serious candidate for President? Absolutely! And should we be proud of and thankful for heroic veterans? No question. But I suggest to you that neither of those qualities, by themselves, makes a person fit (or unfit) to be President of the United States of America. Neither does a candidate’s gender or charisma. This job is far too important to be decided on factors that tug on our heartstrings, but may or may not make a good president.

So I say again, think issues. Look beyond each candidate’s outward appearance, speaking ability, and socio-economic background and begin to listen to what they say … and to look at what their track record indicates they really believe. Go to the ballot box on November 4 thinking issues, not personalities.

September 22, 2008

You Preached on the Election?

That is what someone asked me this past weekend. ‘The election? Republicans, Democrats? Obama, McCain? Was I asleep? I don’t remember a sermon on that.’ No, not that election. I preached on God’s election of sinners to salvation.

But the question got me thinking. While delving deeply into government affairs is neither the preacher’s calling (his interest is first of all souls) nor his line of expertise (if he is diligent in his day job) … the question made me think: ‘Souls are deeply affected by the politics and policies of modern American government. Huge moral issues do largely decide where many of us stand politically, and how our elections play out. So maybe I should say a little something about the election.’ Couple that with a biblical-voting-guide kind of question from this Wednesday’s Q and A session, and I thought maybe, over the next few weeks, I’d address a few items via the medium of this column.

How should a Christian think about his privilege of the vote? Are there any biblical principles that guide us in selecting candidates? What should we be listening for in the debates and speeches that will capture a nation’s attention in the weeks ahead? A few political principles for Christians (they'll go from general and innocuous to more specific ... and maybe more controversial as we go along):

1. Make sure you vote! Now everyone says this. After all, ‘If you don’t vote, you can’t complain’ goes the old saying. But believers in the Lord Jesus have an even far more compelling reason to vote (especially since our God does not permit us to complain whether we voted or not – Philippians 2.14!). Even though we are strangers and aliens in this country; even though America is not our true home, we ought to “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you” (Jeremiah 29.7) and to “pray on its behalf.” So if you fail to vote, you are failing – not only to take advantage of a precious democratic privilege – but to fulfill a Christian duty. Seek the welfare of the city, state, and country God has placed you in. Vote!

2. Pray! Jeremiah already said it didn’t he? And Paul echoes the importance of prayer in 1 Timothy 2.1 … where he tells us to lift up our voices in prayer for our leaders. I think, by extension, that means we ought to pray for this election. And we ought to be praying for all four of the main players in it – that, should it be God’s will to place them in the White House, He will guide their hands, prevent them from folly, bless their wise decisions, and thwart their foolish ones. Are you praying that – even for the candidates for whom you will choose not to vote? I haven’t been nearly like I should. So I have some work to do. So probably do you.

See you again on this soon.

September 19, 2008

September 16, 2008

Psalm 29 in Real Time

3The voice of the LORD is upon the waters;
The God of glory thunders,
The LORD is over many waters.
4The voice of the LORD is powerful, the voice of the LORD is majestic.
5The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars;
Yes, the LORD breaks in pieces the cedars of Lebanon.
6He makes Lebanon skip like a calf,
And Sirion like a young wild ox.
7The voice of the LORD hews out flames of fire.
8The voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness;
The LORD shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.
9The voice of the LORD makes the deer to calve
And strips the forests bare;

A great storm. That is what David is describing. Thunder. Waters. Broken cedars. Lighting (hewn flames of fire). The wilderness shaken and the forests stripped bare. And David says it is all caused by “the voice of the LORD.” That is important to remember after what we experienced this past Sunday afternoon. We definitely saw broken trees of every sort. 70+ mile per hour winds. Frightening cracks above our heads. Flying debris. And all of it a reminder of how small we are … and how big God is. The voice of the LORD has shaken a large portion of mid-America this week.

Now in the midst of it all, there is a lot to do. We have been sawing, dragging, pulling, and hauling a whole heap of trash, leaves, and wood this week. And, on behalf of our fellow men in southeast Texas, there is a lot more hauling, cutting, repairing, and generosity ahead this fall. We have a lot of praying to do, too – for people who have lost their earthly all from the Gulf Coast to the Great Lakes. And we certainly have a gospel to share. All of these things, I hope, leap immediately to your mind once the voice of the Lord is done heaving the winds and waves.

But notice what the Psalmist says. Yes, when the voice of the LORD breaks the cedars, we have to clean them up. Yes, when His voice is above many waters, we have to minister mercy to those whose homes and livings have washed away with the tide. But Psalm 29 reminds us that, in the midst of the restoration, there needs also to be adoration. What should we do in response to the LORD’s storm?

1Ascribe to the LORD, O sons of the mighty,
Ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.
2Ascribe to the LORD the glory due to His name.
Worship the LORD in holy array.

Not just restoration. Adoration! Have you done that yet this week? Have you allowed the broken cedars to put you in awe of our “majestic”, “powerful” God? If not, before the memories fade away and life goes back to the routine and the mundane … make sure you pause to admire the power of God, and to ascribe to the LORD the glory due His name!

Ike Photos

From my in-laws in SW Louisiana? No, from right here in Cincinnati! Ike brought us little rain but 70+ mile an hour winds on Sunday afternoon. Our power came back on last evening, but hundreds of thousands are still without. Praise the Lord it wasn't as bad as it could have been.

September 1, 2008

Thoughts on Labor Day

As you sit back and enjoy the day ... think about how cool it is to get paid for doing nothing; to receive remuneration for resting. And then remember that, if we are in Christ, this is what we will be doing for all eternity. All of heaven, and all our future existence, will be one prolonged Labor Day ... happily enjoying wages that Christ, and not we ourselves, worked for. Those wages, in fact, are available today for those who will stop trying to earn salvation, and will simply rest in Him!

So make sure you rest today, and not just from your 9 to 5.

August 28, 2008

"While we were still helpless"

Several folks were particularly helped by the word "helpless" in Romans 5.6 this past Sunday. While we were still helpless, Christ died for us. Below is a modern parable ... a father and son running the Ironman Triathlon together (a 2.4 mile ocean swim, a 112 mile bike ride across the desert, and marathon run to top it all off).

August 25, 2008

Unmasking China

The Olympics have passed us by for another four years. And, if you are like me, the impression left by Michael Phelps, Usain Bolt, Nastia Liukin, and those 15,000 absolutely amazing Chinese Chinese Opening Ceremony performers have already begun to fade.

But there were other stories; stories I hope you do not allow to fade; stories that had to do, not so much with athletic achievements or entertainment, but about the realities of life in China. A few reporters actually dared to take the watching world behind the Chinese scenes, reminding us that not everything in Beijing was exactly as it seemed. The city – for better or for worse – put on its best Chinese New Year’s mask, as it were. Phony (but beautiful) buildings were erected. Computer generated streetscapes were beamed in for the televised marathon, hiding slums and poverty. A little girl was pulled from the stage at the eleventh hour for having crooked teeth. Everything had to be (or at least look) perfect.

I suppose we could have a debate about what one should think about these various facades. Was it a political move, making China appear to be far more progressive and open than it really is? Or should we simply smile at the pretend buildings and the straight teeth and say ‘that’s entertainment’? I’ll let you be the judge.

But one thing cannot be ignored by those of us who are followers of Jesus. Despite how things looked in Beijing, China is not as open and free as the IOC, the Chinese organizers, and the vast majority of American news outlets would have us believe. There are still great injustices, particularly toward our brothers and sisters in Jesus. Here is just one excerpt, from the Canadian newspaper, The Globe and Mail:

It's been a brutal Olympics for China's non-registered church. Just a snapshot of the crackdown happened in Beijing, where all major house churches were forced to stop meeting during the Games and most of their leaders were arrested or put in seclusion. That excludes the names on nearly a dozen pages of documented Chinese church arrests and assaults publicized by Canada's Religious Liberty Commission just before the Olympics.

That’s the reality we must never forget. For all the talk about the world coming together at the Olympics (no matter where they are held); and for all that there is to admire, learn from, and rightly enjoy about an event like the Olympics – we must remember that the world that we see on television is often very different from the reality … especially for the persecuted church. Pray for them.

August 18, 2008

Church Architecture

Every now and then I get a strange look. Okay, actually I get a lot of strange looks. But the kind I am specifically thinking of right now is a look of confusion when I insist that we do not worship in a church, but in a church building. Maybe I sound like the English teacher that was always correcting you when you said ‘who’ instead of ‘whom’ … or ‘brung’ instead of ‘brought’. But she served a good purpose, and I hope my linguistic pet peeves might do the same. Let me mention a few of them, by way of definition…

church (church) - Translated from the Greek word for ‘assembly.’ Not to be confused with a church building, a church, then is a gathering or assembly of people – in this case, believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. They may meet in a cathedral, a little white chapel, a multi-building campus, a store front, a school gymnasium, a home, or under a mango tree and still be said to have ‘gone to church.’ That is, they have gone to be with God’s local assembly of Christian believers.

sanctuary (sangk’ ∙ choo ∙ er ∙ i ∙) - Another name for the Old Testament’s Holy of Holies – the place of God’s dwelling among his people. Not to be confused with a church auditorium which merely houses God’s people. In the New Testament, the sanctuary is not a particular room in a building, but the human heart of the believer in Jesus, where the Spirit dwells.

altar (awl’ ∙ ter) - The Old Testament place of animal sacrifices … where atonement was made for the sins of the people. In the New Testament since “Christ died for sins once for all”, “there no longer remains any sacrifice for sins”. Therefore, there is no longer any need for an altar. Thus, Christian church buildings do not actually have altars at the front of the auditorium, but platforms.

Now, which terminology we use is not the be-all and end-all of Christianity – not by a long shot. But the distinction, for instance, between altar and platform is significant enough, I think, to be intentional in the way we speak. If we replace the word altar with platform, we will, every time we say it, be reminding ourselves that we don’t need to bring anything to God in order to be saved. That no amount of tears or prayers said at an ‘altar’ are of any avail. Nor are they necessary. “Christ died for sins once for all.” Similar theological reminders would come if we replaced church with church building and sanctuary with auditorium or chapel.

Again, not the most important things in the world. But words do have meanings. And we should, for the gospel’s sake, squeeze the most and the best out of them that we can.

August 4, 2008

China and the Olympics

Here is one story that fits the moment.

Solzhenitsyn, 1918-2008

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn died yesterday. Our loss. Here was a man who, more than most others, challenged the intellectual classes to think about reality. Would that he were even more well known. I find myself thinking I ought to, perhaps, take the time to read through his classic work, The Gulag Archipelago.

At any rate, here is a quote from his bombshell 1978 commencement address at Harvard. Sounds like it could have been written yesterday. Maybe the times they aren't a changin' as much as we think:

If humanism were right in declaring that man is born to be happy, he would not be born to die. Since his body is doomed to die, his task on earth evidently must be of a more spiritual nature. It cannot unrestrained enjoyment of everyday life. It cannot be the search for the best ways to obtain material goods and then cheerfully get the most out of them. It has to be the fulfillment of a permanent, earnest duty so that one's life journey may become an experience of moral growth, so that one may leave life a better human being than one started it. It is imperative to review the table of widespread human values. Its present incorrectness is astounding. It is not possible that assessment of the President's performance be reduced to the question of how much money one makes or of unlimited availability of gasoline. Only voluntary, inspired self-restraint can raise man above the world stream of materialism.

Read the whole address here (thanks JT).

August 2, 2008

Leftover Cloth

They say the test of a good tailor is how much material is lying on the floor when he's finished making a suit. Honestly, I am not sure whether their is supposed to be a little or a lot! Nevertheless, as I was crafting a suit out of the topic "Mankind" in our Theology 101 series, I had some material left-over ... a section on the distinction between male and female that I had not room for. I hated to just leave it on the floor, or throw it in the trash can, so I figured I'd hang it here in the window and see if anyone could use it.

So, if the suit fits, you can wear it ...

There is a distinction within the human race. Now we could, perhaps, draw up a list of numerous supposed distinctions between humans. But Genesis 1 says nothing about race, or tribe, or nationality, or educational background, or economic status. And therefore we should not be overly concerned to draw distinctions along any of those lines either. Genesis 1 only draws one line of distinction within the human race. There is only one difference among us that warrants mention in the definitive chapter on the origins and value of mankind. We find it stated clearly in verse 27: “In the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”

Now, seventh grade biology class made it embarrassingly clear that there is, at least, an anatomical distinction between the sexes. And, despite the massive amount of money and political energy that is currently being poured into convincing the American public that this distinction is really not that significant; that it is not abnormal for two people of the same sex to overlook what seventh grade anatomy made so clear … I do not think I need to spend much time arguing this point. We do not even need the special teaching of Scripture to understand that there is a difference between male and female … and not only physically so, but emotionally as well … and that there are obvious practical principles that flow from that.

However, I think we may need some reminding of the distinctions between men and women in some less obvious areas. While the Bible makes it clear that God created us all in His image (“male and female”), and therefore urges us not to discriminate, not to look down upon one another, and not to see one sex as more valuable than the other … the Bible also makes it clear that men and women – equally created in the image of God – do sometimes have distinct roles. We see this especially emphasized as it relates both to the home and the church.

Now we do not have to like it, but the Bible makes it patently clear that men and women play equally valuable, but obviously different, roles in the home. The man, and not his wife, is uniquely handed both the authority and the responsibility and potential repercussions that come with being the head of the household (see Ephesians 5.22 and following). And wives, more so than their husbands, are charged with the privilege and difficulty of submitting to their husbands (Ephesians 5.22) and being “workers at home” (Titus 2.5) – caring for the house, nurturing the children, showing hospitality, and so on. Sometimes there will be some overlap, obviously. Men can nurture children, and women can make decisions. But overall, the distinction is clear. Husbands are to lead and to bear the brunt of responsibility for how well they do so. Wives are to nurture, and make sure that the home is a home. We mustn’t be wiser than God. Even if we do not feel particularly suited to or desirous of our God-given role, the fact that it is God-given ends the discussion for us. Husbands and wives are equal in value, but distinct in role.

The same principle carries over into the church. Men, women, and children are all on equal footing beneath the cross of Jesus. But there are decisions to be made; lessons to be taught; leaders to be ordained. And, in those situations, God has made it clear that, though they are no better (and not necessarily always more capable) than their female counterparts, men are to play these roles. “I do not allow a woman to teach or be in authority over a man” (1 Timothy 2.12).

Now last week Julia mentioned the possibility that she might like to someday follow in her daddy’s footsteps and become a preacher. So I kindly walked her through the verse I just read to you – 1 Timothy 2.12. And then she asked: ‘Why?’ Why what? ‘Why are only boys supposed to be preachers?’ Well, because only boys are supposed to be heads of their households and it would be confusing if daddy were in charge at home and mommy were the leader at church. ‘But why are only boys supposed to be in charge at home?’ she asked. And at that point I had to admit that the Bible doesn’t give an extremely clear and decisive answer. It just says that’s the way it is. We know it is not because men are more “in the image of God” than women. Genesis 1 won’t allow that line of thinking. So I just had to tell Julia: ‘because that’s the way God wants it.’ And, at the end of the day, that has to be good enough for us.

Since we know that God loves us and has our best interest in mind, we should be content to accept the fact that God has made men and women equal in terms of value and dignity, but distinct in terms of their personalities and roles. So I ask you: Are you content with God’s plan? Or is there some way, in your heart or home, that this biblical truth needs to be more faithfully embraced and applied?

July 29, 2008

The Sinner's Favorite Letter

Every chapter of holy writ is inspired. Every chapter is vital for our Christian existence. Every chapter is lovely, and can usher us into the presence of our Savior. But, I think we would all agree, there are some chapters and sections that seem, especially, to take us by the hand and lead us heavenward – the 23rd Psalm, the parable of the prodigal son, the sermon on the mount, and so on. But if we were to take a survey of the most seasoned Christians, asking: ‘Which Bible passage has been the sweetest, the most oft-returned-to, the most favorite in your Christian pilgrimage … I would venture a guess that we’d get a lot of slips of paper returned with Romans 8 written on them. Here we have some of the most famous and heartening turns of phrase in all the Bible:

Ø “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (v.1).
Ø “A spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba! Father!’” (v.15)
Ø “The sufferings of this present world are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (v.18)
Ø “The Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (v.26)
Ø “God causes all things to work together for good” (v.28)
Ø “If God is for us, who is against us” (v.31)
Ø “Who will separate us from the love of Christ?” (v.36)
Ø “In all these things we overwhelmingly conquer” (v.37)

And then there is, perhaps, the most comprehensive promise of God’s goodness is all the Bible “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?” (v.32).

If the whole Bible is like an enormous treasury of the richest jewels, Romans 8 is like the golden chest, placed on a pedestal in the midst of it all, crammed full of million dollar diamonds. And beginning on August 20, I am going to attempt to pop open the lid, put on my jeweler’s eye-piece, and admire these precious gems with our congregation for several weeks’ worth of Wednesday nights. I do not know how long we will take, or when we might finish. But I want us to work slowly, holding up each individual diamond of truth and grace and looking at it from every angle – maybe only a verse or two per week. Would you pray for us ... and maybe join us online (the sermons are posted Monday afternoons)?

To whet your appetite, let me tack on a quote by Octavius Winslow, a godly pastor of an age gone by, whose congregation spent 34 weeks in this most precious of chapters, and who preached and wrote far more loftily and effectively on these verses than I ever will:

It would, perhaps, be impossible to select from the Bible a single chapter in which were crowded so much sublime, evangelical, and sanctifying truth as this eighth of Romans. It is not only all gospel, but it may be said to contain the whole gospel. In this brief but luminous space is embraced an epitome of all the privileges and duties, trials and consolations, discouragements and hopes of the Christian. Commencing with his elevated position of No Condemnation from God, it conducts him along a path where flowers bloom, and honey drops, and fragrance breathes, and music floats, and light and shade blend in beautiful and exquisite harmony to the radiant point of no separation from Christ. And amid the beauties and sweets, the melodies and sunshine of this glorious landscape of truth, thus spread out in all its panoramic extent and magnificence before his eye, the believer in Jesus is invited to roam, to revel, and delight himself.

Would you join PRBC in prayer as we do a little roaming, reveling, and delighting on Wednesday evenings?

P.S. - Winslow's book is on sale now for $6.60 (an amazing bargain). Get it while you can.

July 28, 2008

A Frightening Verse

I came across a verse this morning that knocked me back a little bit – namely, Luke 6.40:

A pupil is not above his teacher; but everyone, after he has been fully trained, will be like his teacher.

The part of the verse that frightened me a little bit was the later half: “Everyone … will be like his teacher.” Because it occurred to me that, as I am the primary teacher for the little group of pupils at PRBC, lots of people are going to be like me (for better or for worse). They may not even want to be like me, but in some ways they will. Because it is primarily me who instructs, encourages, rebukes, and trains them how to think biblically. And I am also the one (again, for better or for worse) who sets the tone for how a Christian should live. And because their eyes are so often on me, and their ears are so often listening to me, they will in some ways become like me – without even realizing that they are becoming so. That is not to say there will be 65 or 70 Kurt clones running around (I can hear the collective sigh of relief even as I type that). We all, in most respects, remain our own quirky selves. But it does mean that many of my character traits, thinking patterns, beliefs, and attitudes are rubbing off on my people almost imperceptibly.

Now it doesn’t seem like it would be true. It seems like any one of us could listen to a teacher (or observe his example) and then take the good, throw out the bad, and not really have to become like him. But the reality (both biblical and observable) is that we humans don’t always divide our lives up like that. That is why we become like the people we listen to most – even in characteristics we don’t like about them. And we’ve all seen it – teams take on the persona of their coaches, children act a lot like their parents, PhD candidates imitate their mentors, and congregations become like their pastors. I’ve seen examples of this … and perhaps you have, too. A pastor has a certain strength (be it theological or practical), and the church eventually develops an overabundance of people with similar strength. Another pastor has a particular weakness, and the congregation often follows him in that train as well. Perhaps some outside our fellowship are far enough removed from PRBC so as to see these kinds of things working out in us (although the comment section of this blog is not the appropriate format for pointing these things out!).

So I got a little unnerved this morning. ‘Am I really the kind of person that I want people to turn into?’ Not nearly as much as I would like. So I write this simply to remind you to pray for me, or for your own pastor. Are there ways that you see he needs to grow? Then please, please pray for him. Or are their ways that you need to grow? Pray that the Lord helps him to teach and to live in such a way that, in becoming like your teacher, you would become whom you need and want to be in Jesus. Overall, I think, just pray that your pastor would be like and speak much of Jesus. Then none of us would have to worry about becoming too much like the teacher.

July 22, 2008

Running on Batteries

As I type these words, I am sitting in a dark office. The only light that allows me to see my keyboard is coming from the few rays of the sun breaking through the pear tree outside my office window … and from the monitor of my laptop. Why? Well, there is currently a nice sized tree, splintered like a toothpick and laying across Ridge Avenue, just down the hill from the church. Power lines are strewn around like broken rubber bands. And we have been completely without power for eight or nine hours now. And yet here I sit, typing an article on a piece of electrical equipment. How? One word: batteries! We use them all the time: in cell phones, in MP3 players, in laptop computers, etc.! Too bad they don’t come in air conditioners! But today I am thanking God for batteries … particularly the one Dell inserted into this little computer. It would be hard for me to get much done today without batteries!

Now thinking about these things got me to thinking about spiritual batteries … and the need for keeping them charged. We would all like to stay plugged in to Christ’s all day every day … to have beautiful devotionals every morning and find ourselves sending up prayers of praise and petition here and there all day long. But the reality is that some days a tree falls into our schedule. Something unexpected happens and quiet time is cut short, or is distracted or flat. And on those days, though we know Christ is with us always, the immediate source of power seems to be shut off. I would guess you have more of those days than you might like to admit. I do.

But is there such a thing as a spiritual battery? Is there a way to, as it were, overstock your spiritual supply so that, even when the week is long and the quiet time is short, there are reserves to draw upon? I think we all would say that there is. It’s called Sunday! Sunday is the one opportunity in the week to plug your heart into the wall all day long and build up reserve energy for the week. That is physically the case. But it is also the case spiritually. The Lord’s Day, like no other day, affords an opportunity to be taught God’s word. This day of rest from your normal activities, like no other day, offers time and opportunity to read God’s word and to meditate on it; to read good Christian literature; to pray. Sunday is the day to plug in so long and so well that the battery icon on your soul is fully colored in.

We all know these things. But let me ask you: How are you actually using your Sundays (especially outside the walls of the church building)? To stock up on all the things that necessarily knock down the power lines the rest of the week (household chores, work catch-up, weed-eating)? To fill up on diversions like sports and television? Or are you using the Lord’s Day to plug in to the gospel for as long as you possibly can – both in public and private worship – so that your battery will be charged the rest of the week?

“If because of the Sabbath you turn your foot from doing your own pleasure on My holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight, the holy day of the LORD honorable, and honor it, desisting from your own ways, from seeking your own pleasure and speaking your own word, then you will take delight in the LORD, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; and I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken” (Isaiah 58.13-14).

Are you riding on the heights of the earth? If not, could it be that you have forgotten to charge your battery?

July 17, 2008

Follow Me - A Prayer Request

Hello all. Just checking in to request your prayers. Friday night, from 7:45-8:15pm ET I will be speaking to a handful of Vacation Bible School parents, encouraging them to follow Jesus. The text will be Luke 5.27-32 (one of our theme passages from this week).

Please pray that there might be a Levi or two in the crowd tomorrow night.

July 16, 2008

Why won't they Believe?

Tommorrow I have the honor of giving the weekly devotional to the staff at Answers in Genesis. I have been asked by one of their leadership personnel to speak briefly and devotionally about what it was like presenting Genesis 1-11 in Ethiopia. And it occurred to me that the brief words I am preparing to share there might be encouraging to some folks around here. Here’s the short version.

I assumed, given the 3rd world setting of the men at PTI, that there would be no real need to hammer away extensively at evolution. Most of the guys have probably never even heard of Charles Darwin. So I said to Anthony, ‘I guess I don’t need to go into great depth undercutting evolution, huh?’ His response was: ‘Not so fast. Many of the men probably believe it.’ Why? Because Ethiopia is the land of Lucy, the ancient ape-like fossil hailed by some scientists as the evolutionary link between us and the monkeys. And, while I doubt any of the men at PTI are clued in to the science of it all, for many Ethiopians (including some of the trainees, I suspect) Lucy is a great symbol of national pride. Lucy allows them to say: ‘Ethiopia is the cradle of civilization. Man had his origins right here in our country.’ So, though they may not know the ‘science’ behind evolutionary thinking, they have a personal interest (a national pride, really) that causes them to lean toward evolution, or at least to see it as a respectable alternative within the church.

But what does that have to do with the staff at AIG, or with you, for that matter? Well, though the external reasons for rejecting biblical truth may be different, the Ethiopians are not all that different from the folks that AIG is trying to convince. How can people (even some who appreciate the Bible) go through something like the Creation Museum, and still walk away skeptical? Not because the facts are unconvincing. But because they have a personal interest that makes evolution more appealing to them. In this case it is not national pride, but personal pride. If a person accepts AIG’s science, they have big problems. Because if the science of Genesis 1-11 is correct, so probably is the theology. And that theology says that I am accountable to God, that I am a sinner, and that I am under a death sentence. And the natural man wants to reject these ideas at all costs. That is why he cannot believe creation science. That is why evolution is so appealing to people. Not because they really understand the ‘science’. But because, if they allow themselves to believe that we exist merely by chance and do not belong to a Creator, then there is no need to feel guilty or to repent.

People reject well-explained and well-researched biblical truth – not because the truth isn’t clear enough – but because they have personal reasons for doing so. And that is true of that co-worker or classmate with whom you are trying to share the good news of Jesus. The gospel is so plain … and attractive. Why won’t they believe? Not usually because you have not presented the facts clearly enough. But because they have a personal interest in keeping things just as they are. Their desire not to change keeps them from seeing obvious truth.

So what is the upshot? As important as clearly, winsomely sharing truth is … it is not enough. If it were, everyone who ever heard the gospel would be saved. But they aren’t because clearly presenting the truth is not enough. That is NOT to say truth is deficient. But rather to say that, if the Spirit of Truth does not come and open people’s eyes to the truth, they will never see and believe. Because it is in their best interest (they think) not to. They are internally biased not to see the truth. So as you share Jesus with friends, don’t get fed up and say to yourself: ‘It’s so obvious! I don’t see how anyone could reject this!’ Instead remember that there are all sorts of interests of the heart that blind the eyes. And make sure that you not only speak the truth of the Spirit, but pray that the Spirit of Truth would come along beside you and help them see!