April 30, 2013

No Pastor Could be as Loved

A letter to my PRBC family (past and present):

These few lines are, perhaps, a little different from those that normally fill this space. This isn’t a biblical exposition or meditation, though I hope there are biblical patterns and principles sprinkled throughout. Really, what I want to write is more of a real-life illustration of biblical principles, lived out in the life of our church.

Pleasant Ridge Baptist Church is by no means a perfect church. We have our warts and blemishes, our shoulda’s and coulda’s, our room for improvement, our sins and shortcomings. And yet I believe I can say that there is at least one area in which we are exemplary – one area, actually, in which you are exemplary. No pastor and family could possibly feel as loved as we do. I have said that to a few people outside our congregation in recent days, and now I want to say it to our congregation. You have loved us well – better than we deserve; better than we could have ever expected; better than I imagine most pastors could ever dream of being loved by a people.

Since Levi’s arrival, it has been amazing how many people have stopped by, or asked his welfare, or showered us with gifts, or brought us food. Thank you. More than all of those things, we have been the subject of many prayers and encouragements during these weeks surrounding the birth of number 6. And this is not the first time we’ve felt like this. Through the years you have continually shown us kindness, generosity, and patience in bunches.

No less has this been the case for many of you who have prayed with me during my recent difficulties with copyright and tax questions. Notes of encouragement, words of encouragement, smiles at just the right moment, scriptures passed along, and prayers prayed have all been noted … not just by me, but by our heavenly Father whose “eyes … are in every place, watching” not only “the evil”, but “the good” (Proverbs 15.3)! He has surely seen a lot of “the good” lately … and I and my family have been the recipients of it.

So I use this little column, this morning, to say thank you. Thank you members and regulars of PRBC. Thank you, also, extended PRBC family, who have moved to other locales, but who continue to reach back and bless us with your prayers and encouragements. I’m writing about you in this article, too! Thank you for loving us so. Many pastors never feel what we have felt from you in recent days. You are a blessing.

April 23, 2013

Announcing ...

   April 23
   8lbs. 5oz.

Mom and baby are well.

For a free, short e-book on John G. Paton, click here.

April 20, 2013

The Active Ingredient in Prayer

"Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." Philippians 4.6-7

Life is full of worries and obstacles isn’t it? Sometimes they feel like a giant rash that just won’t go away. We squirm and scratch. We scrape and rub. But the itchiness of anxiety only gets worse! What we need is an ointment from God that would clear away the redness and the swelling of our souls. And Paul says that the ointment is prayer, leading to peace.

If we would come to God with our itching and irritation of heart … and if we would be honest with Him about how we feel and what we need … the word of God promises us peace! Hope and calm is guaranteed if we would but apply the ointment of earnest, honest prayer! That’s not to say all our problems will magically disappear in a moment. But our anxiety about them needn’t stay (I’m preaching to myself, you understand). Believing prayer, which refocuses our attention on Him who is really in control, is a full-proof medicine for the itch of anxiety. Would that I applied it more!

But I want you to notice something very important in Philippians 4.6-7. The effectiveness of the medicine—"the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension”—is in some ways dependent upon whether or not our prayers are offered “with thanksgiving!” Thanksgiving is one of the active ingredients in the ointment of prayer. If we pray without thanksgiving, we may be simply smoothing lotion onto the skin of our souls. We may feel good for a moment as we massage our own wounds—but there is no true and heavenly medicine in prayers offered with an ungrateful heart.

You see, thanksgiving—especially when we are in the midst of trials—is a test of whether or not we really believe that God knows what is best! If we do not trust God, we may still go to Him in prayer—but merely out of habit. Ours will be murmuring, complaining, and questioning hearts—not thankful ones. On the other hand, the heart that really trusts God is able to take its itchiness to God and say something like this:

Lord, I am really itchy and uncomfortable right now. In fact, I hurt all over. But I know You love me and have good plans for me. You’ve proven it over and over in the past, and especially at the cross. And I trust that somehow, through my irritation, you will do me good again. Thank you for loving me so faithfully. Please give me peace now. Please ease the swelling and soothe the irritation of my heart. Amen.

Let me encourage you to trust God—and yes, to find reasons to thank God—in the midst of your trials. Prayer is wonderful medicine if we do not rob it of its active ingredient!

April 17, 2013

Psalm 131

A trusted friend recently recommended Psalm 131 to me ... and I thank her for it! I have been grazing in these fields in recent days, and wanted to pass along just a few snippets. But first, the psalm in its entirety:

A Song of Ascents, of David.
O LORD, my heart is not proud, nor my eyes haughty;
Nor do I involve myself in great matters,
Or in things too difficult for me.
Surely I have composed and quieted my soul;
Like a weaned child rests against his mother,
My soul is like a weaned child within me.
O Israel, hope in the LORD
From this time forth and forever.

A couple of things have stood out to me in this simple little poem.

First is that, so often, our anxiety stems from the fact that we involve ourselves in matters that are too difficult for us (v.1). We take as our sole responsibility things that ought to be handed to other, more capable, people; and, even more so, that ought to be cast as burdens upon the Lord. The internet is a great problem in this regard, it seems to me. With so much information at our fingertips, it is easy to search, and read, and end u tangling ourselves in matters that are beyond our competency and/or emotional wherewithal. Does that sound familiar?

Instead, David says, we should lay these things down. We should not dig into matters which are beyond our abilities. Is this an excuse to be irresponsible? To just drop subjects that really do need dealing with? Of course not. The point that David is making is that he has learned that there are some things that he must simply put into someone else’s (or Someone Else’s) hands, rather than into his own. I haven’t often been very good at that. And I need to learn to trust – especially to trust the Lord; to cast my burdens on Him. There are so often decisions that seem too big for me; tasks that seem too difficult; obstacles that seem too high to hurdle. And there has to be a way in which, without shirking responsibility, I can yet say: “Nor do I involve myself … in things too difficult for me.”

The second thing that has grabbed my attention in recent days is the picture of the weaned child resting against his mother (v.2). “A weaned child” (emphasis mine) – a child that no longer needs its mother’s milk. A child that can crawl or toddle around the house on his or her own. A child that can get into all sorts of things and has achieved some level of independence. Yet in this case, the child chooses to rest against his mother. He decides to compose and quiet his soul … even though he could be bouncing around, doing other things.

Here, I think, is part of the cure for anxiety. We could be doing other things, with the measure of independence that we think ourselves to have achieved. We could be fretting, calculating, internet searching, or fixing. But, like the child in David’s mind eye, we deliberately choose to quiet our souls before the Lord; we deliberately set aside the “things too difficult” in favor of climbing in our Father’s lap; we intentionally go to God instead of the internet, the telephone, the calculator, the anxious thoughts, and so on. This, too, is a challenge for me. I seem spring-loaded to try and fix things myself; and therefore to fret when I don’t seem to be able. But I must be “like a weaned child.”

“I do not involve myself … in things too difficult for me,” says the king. Instead, “I have composed and quieted my soul; like a weaned child rests against his mother.” And if the incredibly competent king of Israel could say those things, how much more must you and I! But, O, how often I have failed! And how often David’s example seems to go against everything inside of me. Even as I type these words, I feel the tension in my heart (‘surely it’s not really this simple, is it?’). Yet there is wisdom – profound wisdom – in the simple faith of Psalm 131. Let us seek the Lord’s help in applying it.  "O Israel, hope in the LORD."

April 9, 2013

Baby Talk

Any day now, Tobey and I hope to bring home our sixth little one. So, while I anticipate that day, I thought I’d reprint some old thoughts on the subject, written back when we were anticipating number two! Here goes …

You can learn a lot from having a baby in the house. I think God intended it that way. He has given us relationships with others —parents, children, siblings, spouses, neighbors, friends, church family — all so that we might better learn how to relate to Him … and how He wants to relate to us. Let me share some things I see more clearly since I began to have little ones running around my ankles …

1. I’ve learned how God loves His children unconditionally. No matter how bad children disobey (and they DO disobey); no matter how much they may disappoint, slow down, or exasperate their parents … dad still loves them. Not because of what they do, but because of whose they are. So it is with our heavenly Father. “See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God” (1 John 3.1).

2. I’ve learned how much God’s children ought to rely upon Him. You never realize just how helpless a child is until you are the one completely responsible for his/her care. It seems the only thing a newborn can do for itself is breathe! Everything else must be planned, prepared, and performed by mom and dad. What a picture of how we ought to rely on the Lord! “Like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation” (1 Peter 2.2).

3. I’ve learned to interpret tough times as God’s loving discipline. Sometimes our kids don’t learn as quickly or smoothly as they should. That means we parents have to help them learn the hard way. And God fathers us the same way! Now I see that more clearly than ever … and have learned to understand that there is love behind ‘the rod.’ “For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines … It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline?” (Hebrews 12.6-7).

4. I’ve gotten a deeper glimpse at how much God gave up at the cross. “For God so loved the world, that he gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3.16, emphasis mine). I’ve known that verse since before I can remember. But I could not fully comprehend it until I had a daughter and son of my own. And even now, I can’t get my mind all the way around it. I would be hard-pressed to give my children up for another person. But I can at least imagine what it would feel like. And when I do, I understand that God loves the world more than I ever before understood.

April 1, 2013

Eternal Springtime

Spring time is coming, ever how slowly!  And isn't the spring wonderful? All winter long we wait eagerly for that first warm weekend. And when it comes, people are on every street walking their dogs; the ice cream line at UDF is jammed; the car washes are overflowing; Frisbees® and kites are flying on the breeze; front porch swings shake off the winter’s rust. Young and old alike cannot wait to get out into the fresh air. Everybody loves spring!

Now why is that? Well, we could be simple and say…because people like warmer weather, fresh air, sunshine, and the scent of flowers. But why do people like those things? I think it’s because God has put eternity in our hearts (Ecclesiastes 3.11)! God has designed His universe so that every year around April (or February if you’re from down south), each of us would feel an intense longing for better days that lie ahead.

Every spring God gives us just a little taste of what eternal life must be like. And near the end of every winter, He gives us a taste of how we ought to be aching for the eternal country! We are to long for the return of Jesus and the restoration of earth the way we long for spring—and a thousand-fold more! That is perhaps one reason why God made the seasons – so He’d have a metaphor to help us understand our desires for eternity!

Listen to how the Bible uses the sights and smells of spring to make us long for the new heaven and earth:

●So let us know, let us press on to know the LORD. His going forth is as certain as the dawn; and He will come to us like the rain, like the spring rain watering the earth. Hosea 6.3

●The wilderness and the desert will be glad, and the Arabah will rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it will blossom profusely and rejoice with rejoicing and shout of joy. The glory of Lebanon will be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They will see the glory of the LORD, the majesty of our God. Isaiah 35.1-2

●On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. Revelation 22.2

Did you hear that? Gentle, irrigating, life producing rain. Crocuses that blossom like fireworks on the fourth of July. Tress so large that whole rivers can flow between their roots. Fresh ripe fruit that sprouts every month of the year! That’s what eternal life is like. After a long winter in these sinful bodies and on this sinful planet … perpetual springtime! I hope you long for eternity the way we all long for spring!

If you don’t … here’s a practical suggestion: Enjoy the springtime! Pick some strawberries. Taste some honeysuckle. Walk in the park. Plan a picnic. I bet you’ll enjoy it. And when you do, say to yourself: 'If spring here on earth is so great … how amazing must God’s eternal country be?'