October 29, 2009

I Speak, you Pray

Over the next month or so I have some unusual opportunities to speak for God. If you are the praying kind, would you read through the list below and be praying for me? And if you're really the praying kind ... mark your calendars and pray again on the day of the various engagements!

November 3
I have been invited to speak at the Pleasant Ridge Community Council - our local civic organization that works to keep our community clean, safe, attractive to business and home-buyers, etc. My topic? In ten minutes, what does Pleasant Ridge Baptist Church offer our community? As the only evangelical church in our community of 10,000 ... I have a good answer! To be exact, I am going to work from Acts 2.42 (and our corresponding statement of church values) and offer the community THE BIBLE ("the apostles' teaching"), A FAMILY ("the fellowship"), JESUS (symbolized in "the breaking of bread"), and PRAYER.

Please ask the Lord to use the talk ... especially points 1 and 3. Pray, too, that I'll get it in in the ten minutes, clearly but powerfully.

November 14
A pastor friend outside the city (Stewart Clarke), in an American Baptist Church, is holding a one day conference on "the word of God." The goal is to root his people in the Scriptures as our sole authority for faith and practice, and as the inerrant, trustworthy, word of God. I am giving the opening talk, an introduction to the Bible as a whole - its content, sufficiency, inerrancy, usefulness, divine nature, and Jesus-centeredness (see Luke 24.27).

Please pray for me and the other preachers ... that God would use us to put the firm foundation of His word underneath the building that Stewart is trying to rebuild.

November 21
This time I have the opportunity to speak to a United Methodist youth group as part of a weekend retreat. My assigned topics are:
  • Jesus, Best of All (an overview of Hebrews ... Jesus is better than _____)
  • Twelve Ordinary Men (a study of the 12 disciples of Jesus, and how we can learn from them today)
  • Jim Elliot (a missions talk from this martyr's life)
In each of these messages, I want to make much of Jesus ... and call on these kids to go hard after Him (like Elliot and the apostles). Would you pray that Jesus would, all weekend long, fill up the windshield of their gaze (and mine)?

In addition to all these things, I am continuing the series on Gospel Portraits and Proverbs at PRBC. Pray God continues to grant light and help to me and to our "little flock."

I know some of you will be praying for me. Thank you in advance. I need help from on high in the worst way.

October 26, 2009

Click it

Not much to say (or write) this week ... so I'll just link you up to some folks who are a little more profound and helpful than me right now ...

PsalmTwoTwelve ... for all things Mathenia. I believe Anthony will be posting personal, devotional, and Ethiopi-al thoughts here. Plus its a cool, snazzy looking sight!

The BASICS 2010 pastor's conference in Cleveland. If you enjoy good preaching (or just a good Scottish brogue) these three speakers will float your boat.

And, if you're putting together a Christmas list, check out:

World Vision's Christmas Catalog
Operation Christmas Child
Abba's Living Water

October 19, 2009

Burned for Reciting the Lord's Prayer

“Our Father which art in heaven hallowed be Thy name.” So many of us know those words so well. Our parents or Sunday School teachers taught them to us decades ago … and we can still remember them now – twenty, thirty, forty years on. But did you know that there was a time when those parents and Sunday School teachers could have been burned alive for teaching you those lines from Matthew 6?

It’s true. That is exactly what the Roman Catholic Church was doing in the early 1500’s. Not only was it politically expedient, in the middle ages, for the common man to be prevented from reading the Bible in his own language … but the Church itself realized that many of its practices could not be found in the Scriptures, and would actually be unmasked as heretical and soul-destroying if normal people could actually read God’s word. So the Bible – by both church and political laws – was kept locked in the Latin tongue that almost no one could read. And if you were caught reading, possessing, or reciting the newly (and illegally) published English version … the penalty was uniform: death by burning at the stake.

That was the fate that numerous people suffered in England – for reading or possessing the Bible in English! Included among them were seven parents, in 1519, who dared to teach their children the Lord’s Prayer in their own language.

It may distress some Christians that the Ten Commandments are being systematically removed from public display. But that is almost like nothing in comparison to the 1500’s! We can still display the commandments in our homes and churches. We can still own, read, and teach the Bible freely. We can stand on Fountain Square and read it aloud if we want. But here were seven parents who died for teaching Matthew 6.9-13 to their children … in English. It is absolutely unthinkable. And yet it was real. And it happens, in other nations with other languages, even today. And, oh, how we should pray that God continues to give His suffering people strength.

But as we approach the 492nd anniversary of the beginning of Protestant Reformation (10/31) … we should thank God for these martyrs for the English Bible. Yes (praise God!) Luther, Calvin, and others rediscovered the biblical and liberating doctrine of salvation by grace, through faith in Jesus alone (and not by works of the law). But we English speakers might have totally missed the blessing were it not for a few brave men and women who dared to get the Bible into English – against the law. Men like John Wycliffe, William Tyndale, and Miles Coverdale translated it – and Tyndale was martyred for doing so. Countless cloth workers smuggled the English Bible into England hidden in bales of cloth sent over from the European continent. And then there were those brave men and women who lost their lives for simply possessing the word of God. Their deaths were not in vain. For such cruelty always arouses the attention of the public to the injustices of those in power … and fans the flame of hunger for God’s word, and for justice!

So this October 31; this Reformation Day – remember these English translators, cloth-workers, and martyrs. And thank God that we have the Bible – and the message of salvation, full and free in Jesus alone – in our own language!

To read more on this topic, check out Piper's bio on William Tyndale (where I got most of this info).

October 14, 2009


Addicted gamblers are 200 times more likely to ATTEMPT suicide than the general populous, not two hundred times more likely to COMMIT suicide. This according to Casino Watch.

200 Times More Likely to Attempt Suicide

That is what gambling addicts are, compared to the general populous. And their spouses are little better off. Those are just a couple of the astonishing facts from the two year old response (re-posted below) to a question about gambling and the Bible. Since we are about to vote on whether to legalize casino gaming in Ohio (Issue 3, November 3) ... I thought I'd tack it to the memo board once again ...

Tunica County, MS (where I ministered from 2000-2002), is one of the largest casino gaming communities in America. We Mississippians aren’t at the top of a lot of lists (not good ones anyway), but we seem to have developed gambling into an art form! So, living in that kind of community, it was easy to give powerful (although painful) illustrations if anyone ever asked about the propriety of gambling. Rampant crime, failed dreams, and broken lives were pretty easy to spot in the neon glow of Tunica. It was the girl next door, not the statistics in the paper, that helped persuade an open-eyed few of the ills of gambling.

Five years later, I find myself settled into another gambling hotbed—Cincinnati. No, the Ohio isn’t studded, like the Mississippi, with stapled-down casinos (though it might be soon). But Cincinnati is a place where Powerball, Pick 4, and other lottery tickets dominate the cash wrap at your local gas station. Cincinnati is on the outer fringe, too, of the nation’s biggest horse-racing hotbed. And Roman Catholic Cincinnati, to this deep southern boy, sometimes feels like one giant bingo hall. Gambling may be nearly as popular here as it was in Mississippi. It’s just much less glitzy; much more sedate; and thus (for the time being any way), seemingly, much less problematic.

But with casino gambling on the docket this election period, it is important to ask questions like:

Is gambling really wrong? How is it any different than pumping money into a new plasma TV, or investing in the uncertainty of the stock market?

Not the deepest spiritual questions we could ask, but worthy of answers, nonetheless. So what can we say about gambling … and more importantly, what does the Bible say about it? Well…nothing, directly. But there are some principles that keep most Bible-believing Christians away from the bingo halls and lottery tickets.

1. The problem of stewardship
Jesus teaches us (Matthew 25.18-30) that our money is not our own; that we are stewards of God’s resources, and that we shouldn’t bury them in the ground (much less pour them down the drain on Powerball … or at Circuit City)! Here our gambling friends have a point. It is just as wasteful to throw money away needless possessions as it is to drop it into those money sucking slot machines! The solution, however, is not to say gambling is no big deal … but to realize that all forms of wastefulness are sin … and to put down the credit card along with the bingo card!

2. The problem of addiction
The apostle Paul says (1 Corinthians 6.12): “I will not be mastered by anything.” Yet statistics and anecdotal evidence both say that gambling addiction is a major problem. As Alistair Begg says: “The gambling addict will gamble on anything. Two rain-drops are sliding down the windshield, and he says: ‘I’ll bet you the one on the right reaches the bottom first.’” The result of such compulsion? Crippling debt; empty dinner tables for children; addicted gamblers who attempt suicide 200 times more often than the average American; and spouses who do so 150 times more often than their peers. Is gambling worth that kind of gamble?

3. The problem of theft
Just listen to the advertisements purveyed by casinos and lottery commissions. Aren’t they designed to make the average Joe think he is destined to hit it big? It isn’t true. But it doesn’t have to be. The gambling industry and its higher-ups prey upon the ignorant, the foolish, and the desperate. Their industry is just a organized form of theft! And every dollar you and I plunk down supports their schemes. And not only are we party to these thieves, we are also their victims! For Proverbs 28.22 reminds us that “the man with an evil eye hastens after wealth and does not know that want will come upon him” (emphasis mine). That is just it! Gambling execs ply their trade—tantalizing you to “hasten after wealth”—to make money, not for you, but for themselves! And before many a gambler awakens to this fact, poverty, debt, and want have come upon him!

As an aside, the difference between gambling and investing is that Schwab and Northwestern Mutual are trying to make money, but not by deceiving you. Your investing consultant lays out for you percentages, projections, and history so that you can make an educated decision. But doesn’t the gambling industry do the opposite? They don’t give you the stats - because the facts would show that you are more likely to be struck by lightning than to hit it big at lotto. No, instead of stats, they show you Joey from Norwood who just won $10,000 on Powerball. Nevermind that, the day before, that $10,000 dollars belonged to a lot of other Joeys and Janes who are now a little poorer, and a little more addicted! So the difference between investing firms and gambling outfits is one of honesty, disclosure, and motive.

4. The problem of idolatry
Some people defend the lottery and bingo night because, they say, ‘the money goes to a good cause.’ Let’s not kid ourselves. If we were really concerned about causes — that public schools had enough books; that scholarships were funded; that The Sisters of the Poor were funded, we’d just outright give money to those causes. The reason people play bingo and the lottery is not for the sake of the schools, but for the thrill of gambling and the love of money! But isn’t the love of money “the root of all forms of evil” (1 Timothy 6.10)? And doesn’t Hebrews 13.5 teach us to “free from the love of money, being content with what you have, for He has said: ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’”? According to Hebrews 13.5, the antidote to the love of money (and the gambling that grows from it) is trusting God — that He will take care of us; that He will never leave or forsake us; that He, in His Son, is our treasure!

So then, for those who love money, money becomes a substitute for God! We love it more than Him. We pursue it more than holiness. We trust it more than we trust our heavenly Father. That is why we gamble!

Closing Advice
I believe gambling is one of those destructive habits that must be spoken against. Are you convinced? If so, let me urge you to speak to your friends in love. Sure — give them the reasons why gambling is so problematic; explain to them (from the Bible!) why it dishonors the Lord; urge them to trust Christ for their provisions — both here, and especially in the world to come. But, by all means, do so in love! For though you may be a convinced abstainer when it comes to the lottery, the casino, the bingo hall, and the track … you, too, need a Savior! So let us be sure, while we may see the silver shavings of a scratch-and-win lotto card in our friend’s eye, that we are also willing to take the log out of our own.

Best Slots in Town

"Best Slots in Town!"

Slogans like that lined the highway between our home and Buck Island Chapel, in Tunica County, Mississippi (where I ministered before moving to Cincinnati). Every Sunday, I’d see the latest picture of some nice-looking fellow who’d hit the jackpot … and be urged that I, too, could “WIN BIG at GOLDSTRIKE CASINO!”

It’s a great advertising campaign! You see, most of the people I knew in Tunica, MS (one of the largest gaming communities in the U.S.) were living below the poverty line. It’s always been that way. The county used to be the poorest in the country. But then came the casinos — promising big jackpots, and money for local schools, and more jobs, etc. Sound familiar?

After nearly twenty of gaming, the county’s crime rate has increased exponentially. Violent crimes, which had previously been almost unheard of, are now commonplace. Addiction (to gambling, and to the alcohol that often goes with it) is rampant. Pawn shops litter the surrounding area … fleecing those who cannot afford to gamble, but have to find a way. The schools have beautiful new buildings, but are still among the worst in the state! But statistics cannot really scratch the surface of the wreckage gambling brings with it.

So, let’s put a face on the destructive hoax that is the gaming industry. Consider "Kristy", a young law student from Florida who took a semester off and moved to Tunica to “earn a little extra money, gamble it up, and return to law school” the next year. When I met her, she had been in Tunica for over a year, had moved in (with a new, abusive boyfriend) to one half of a ramshackle, duplexed, single-wide trailer — trapped by gambling debts! That’s what the love of money will do. And the gambling industry greedily throws fuel on the fire.

I have come to think of the casino owners and their promoters as Psalm 10:8 describes the wicked: “He sits in the lurking places of the villages; in the hiding places he kills the innocent; His eyes stealthily watch for the unfortunate.”

You see, all gambling does is make the rich richer … and take advantage of the unfortunate with dreams of gold-strikes that never materialize. It lurks behind empty promises, and devours those whom Jesus came to rescue with good news (Luke 4.18). It brings lots of cash to a city or county … but lots of blight and despair with it. And now they want to bring the blight and despair to Ohio!

So, when you see the commercials promising all sorts of wonderful benefits riding on the casinos’ coat-tails; when you enter the voting booth next month; and especially when you pray … would you remember Tunica? Would you remember "Kristy", and the hundreds of Ohioans destined to repeat her story if issue 3 goes through?

October 6, 2009

Down to Egypt

Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help and rely on horses, and trust in chariots because they are many and in horsemen because they are very strong, but they do not look to the Holy One of Israel, nor seek the LORD! Isaiah 31.1

The Judeans were just doing what any geo-political entity would do when outnumbered, out-equipped, and running out of time against an approaching enemy army. They were doing what some in Europe did during the dark days of the Second World War … looking south and west, and hoping help would come. After all, Assyria was marching in, like the Nazi’s, from the north. They had already conquered nearly all of the significant nations of that day. And Judah and Jerusalem seemed to be next in the master plan. But they were no match against the fearsome Assyrians. Their little armies and meager fortifications couldn’t stand against the world super-power of their day. So who would blame them if they sent some ambassadors to the southwest – to Egypt – and sought to make a pact with Pharaoh and his much more powerful horses, chariots, and men?

Well, apparently, God could blame them! Why? Well, not least among the reasons must have been the fact that He had instructed them, long before, never to go back to Egypt again (Deut. 17.16). But it seems to me that God may have had a similar quarrel with His people even if it weren’t Egypt to whom they were running for help. I believe He may have said the same things had they been seeking help from Babylon, or Ethiopia, or whomever. Why? Because the issue in Isaiah 31.1 was trust. The Israelites sought reinforcements from Egypt because they trusted in the size and equipment of Egypt’s army … and did not trust the Lord. They sought help from man (which isn’t always a bad thing, e.g. WWII). But they, emphatically, did not seek help from their God. And that was the real problem.

Now I read Isaiah 31 a few days back … and verse 1 seemed to strike me like a well-aimed arrow. Because there are problems in my life – ministry, family, and personal – that I recognize; that I know need solving; that I want to get right. There are plenty of areas in my life in which I worry about doing the right thing; which I try, with all my human strength, to fix; which I talk to others about … and sometimes get their helpful input. But, regarding some of these very areas of concern, I am not always spending a great deal of time on my knees. Is it that I trust in my own brainstorming and hard work, sometimes, more than I trust the Lord? Apparently so. Is it that I have more faith in the counsel of trusted friends than I sometimes do in God? Must be. And the Bible says “woe” to someone like me.

What does the Bible say to you? Do you find yourself, sometimes, doing and fretting … but not praying? Do you find yourself asking everyone’s advice but God’s? Or maybe not asking any advice at all? In what areas of your life are you going “down to Egypt” … and trusting in human solutions, rather than in the Lord? Don’t just read those last few sentences and say: ‘Wow. Those are good questions.’ Sit there for a moment, in front of your computer screen, and really answer them! That’s right. Go back to the beginning of this paragraph and re-read it. Answer the questions. And then begin to seek the Lord! And remember that “He who did not spare His own Son” (Rom. 8.32) will surely provide everything else you need!