Saturday, November 30, 2013

It Must Come To Us

"We cannot go to the kingdom; it must come to us. When we feel the desire to be restored to God, it is natural that we should think of returning to God, and we hope that, after a long journey, we may reach the kingdom. We resolve not to be discouraged by the steepness and length of the road, by its rugged heights and dangerous paths. Prayer, good works, piety (outward and inward), we imagine to be the road to God. But we cannot thus go to the kingdom; it must come to us. The door is before the narrow way, and the door is very nigh unto us—even Jesus Christ crucified for sinners."

— Adolph SaphirThe Lord's Prayer

HT: Of First Importance

Prayer Language

Admit it: Some of you thought I was going to write about speaking in tongues.

No, I'm talking about weird Christianese terminology about prayer; such as "travelling mercies," "hedge of protection," or "we covet your prayers." Whatever do those terms mean?

Confused?  See here for translations.


Thursday, November 28, 2013

A Song of Thanksgiving

 David's Song of Thanksgiving (from 1 Chronicles 16):

    Oh give thanks to the LORD; call upon his name;
        make known his deeds among the peoples!
    Sing to him, sing praises to him;
        tell of all his wondrous works!
    Glory in his holy name;
        let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice!
    Seek the LORD and his strength;
        seek his presence continually!
    Remember the wondrous works that he has done,
        his miracles and the judgments he uttered,
    O offspring of Israel his servant,
        children of Jacob, his chosen ones!
    

He is the LORD our God;
        his judgments are in all the earth.
    Remember his covenant forever,
        the word that he commanded, for a thousand generations,
    the covenant that he made with Abraham,
        his sworn promise to Isaac,
    which he confirmed to Jacob as a statute,
        to Israel as an everlasting covenant,
    saying, “To you I will give the land of Canaan,
        as your portion for an inheritance.”
    When you were few in number,
        of little account, and sojourners in it,
    wandering from nation to nation,
        from one kingdom to another people,
    he allowed no one to oppress them;
        he rebuked kings on their account,
    saying, “Touch not my anointed ones,
        do my prophets no harm!”
    Sing to the LORD, all the earth!
        Tell of his salvation from day to day.
    Declare his glory among the nations,
        his marvelous works among all the peoples!
    For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised,
        and he is to be feared above all gods.
    For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols,
        but the LORD made the heavens.
    Splendor and majesty are before him;
        strength and joy are in his place.
    Ascribe to the LORD, O families of the peoples,
        ascribe to the LORD glory and strength!
    Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name;
        bring an offering and come before him!
    Worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness;
        tremble before him, all the earth;
        yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved.
    Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice,
        and let them say among the nations, “The LORD reigns!”
    Let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
        let the field exult, and everything in it!
    Then shall the trees of the forest sing for joy
        before the LORD, for he comes to judge the earth.
    Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
        for his steadfast love endures forever!
    Say also:
    “Save us, O God of our salvation,
        and gather and deliver us from among the nations,
    that we may give thanks to your holy name
        and glory in your praise.
    Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel,
        from everlasting to everlasting!”
    Then all the people said, “Amen!” and praised the LORD.



Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Everything Else Thrown In

Some of the best lines C.S. Lewis ever wrote:
Give up yourself, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and and favourite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end: submit with every fibre of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. but look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.
                   - C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, page 190

For the Hard Days

...In the grand scheme of things, a stressful morning doesn’t impact life or eternity all that much, but in those longer seasons of joblessness, sickness, financial stress, marriage strain and other ongoing life events, the stress and frustration can seem overwhelming. Here are a few things I’ve learned to remember in those challenging seasons of life that have helped me and I pray they help you as well!
1. Remember that your Character should always be stronger than your Circumstances.
We can’t always control what happens to us, but we can always control how we choose to respond. In those moments when I choose to stop complaining and instead give thanks to God for the good in my life, the parts that seem bad start to seem much less significant. Choose to keep a positive attitude and thankful heart regardless of what you’re going through.
“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
2. Remember that your Struggles always lead to Strength.
Every difficulty in your life, whether big or small, is something God will use to produce more strength, faith and perseverance in you if you let Him! All your pain has a purpose.
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28
3. Remember that God’s timing is always perfect.
God’s plans are almost always different from our plans, but His plans are always perfect! Have the patience to wait on His timing instead of forcing your own.
“For I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord; plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11
4. Remember that God will never leave your side.
You may feel like you’re going through this struggle all alone, but from the moment you ask Jesus to bring you into God’s family, He will be by your side to the end so never lose hope!
“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” Deuteronomy 31:6
I pray that these truths give you the hope and strength to keep going on those days when life is at its worst! 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Holy Love



HT @DailyKeller

What To Look For In a Church

What should yo look for when searching for a church home? Here's a good list from R.W. Glenn:
1. Clarity on the gospel of grace. There are many counterfeits, not least the distortions of the gospel that make sin something you need to work off or blow off. Listen carefully for the comfort and the call of the gospel. First and foremost, listen for Jesus saying, "I do not condemn you." But keep listening for "Go and sin no more." The order is very important. The removal of condemnation comes before the call to obedience. But both need to be there for the church to preach the gospel. 
2. Christ-centered preaching. You might have expected me to have said "expository preaching," but it is very possible to give an exposition of a text of Scripture without ever getting to Jesus Christ. This is especially true of preaching from the Old Testament. I don't remember who said this, but if the exposition of the Old Testament you're hearing wouldn't be thrown out of a synagogue, then the preacher isn't preaching Christ. Exposition of Scripture is the means by which we get to Jesus. But it is the means, not the end of preaching Jesus Christ and him crucified. 
3. Theologically informed public worship. Are the basic elements of worship present: public reading of Scripture, exhortation and teaching from Scripture, songs, prayers, the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper? In addition to these basic elements, look for songs with lyrics that exalt Jesus Christ and deepen your appreciation for and understanding of the gospel of grace. I'm not saying that short songs like "I Love You, Lord," have no place in public worship, but what I am saying is that if the content of the songs for public worship as a whole are shallow, it should give you pause. 
4. Hospitable people. If the gospel is really doing its work in a community of Christians, they will love strangers, and not in that smarmy, fake, "I'm-glad-you're-here-because-I'm-supposed-to-be-glad-you're-here" kind of way. I mean that you feel genuinely welcomed and loved by the people as you meet them and spend time worshipping with them.
5. Church discipline. Church discipline has gotten a bad wrap. The discipline of the church cannot be reduced to the final, punitive kind, but must include the formative type as well. Church discipline happens when the members of the church are willing to turn one another back to Jesus in loving calls to repentance, through encouragement in suffering, and exhortations to grow in grace. 
6. Mercy for the poor. First John 3:17 says that if we who have the world's goods and behold our brother in need and close our hearts against him, we don't have the love of God in us. Thus it is a test of bona fide Christianity that the church cares for its poor. More than that, our care for the poor, though it should prioritize the believing community, should move beyond the church to the broader community: "Let us do good to all people, especially those who are of the household of the faith" (Gal 6:10).
7. Concern for the lost, evidenced by a church committed to personal evangelism. And by "committed to personal evangelism" I don't mean a church that has evangelistic programs, but that the people love their neighbors enough to tell them about Jesus. So look for a sincere interest in reaching the lost with the gospel of grace on the part of the pastors and the people in the pew, not as a notch in their belts, but because they are truly lovers of people as people, not as evangelistic prospects.
HT Vitamin Z

Monday, November 25, 2013

Consultant?



From @DailKeller

Our Skewed Misunderstandings

How do you see God? How does God see you? Read this great piece by Sean Norris at Liberate
What is our “view” of God?  What do we think about him?  The flipside of that is: How do you think he views you?  What does God think about you?  The more I talk to people where I am and listen to what is said at our Bible studies and our 12 Step meetings the more I am convinced: a completely skewed view of God is at the center of so much of our struggle as humans. We simply do not see him correctly, and as a result we have no idea how he sees us.  Our skewed view of God has completely messed up both our view of each other and of ourselves.
More often than not I hear people describe God in one of two ways.  First, I hear that he is distant.  He is hard to get in touch with.  I have heard statements like, “I don’t even know if he is listening.”  Or, “I pray and pray, but he does not answer.”  So, he’s hard to reach and he’s kind of inactive, at least insofar as it affects my actual life.  He’s probably doing something, but he is certainly not doing anything for me.
The interesting contradictory view that is often held simultaneously is that God is actually very active and involved when it comes to punishment. I’ll often hear things like, “What have I done to deserve this?” So, the implication is that when we need him to help or to answer our pleas he’s passive, but when we screw up he’s right there to let me have it, to judge me and punish me.
These two somewhat contradictory views form the foundation of our skewed understanding of God.  I don’t think you have to work too hard, either, to see the implicit declaration about how we think God sees us within these views.  He doesn’t care about me when I need him, but when I screw up he sure seems to care: he’s happy to judge me and punish me.  He mildly tolerates us until we really mess up, then it’s curtains.  I wonder if you have ever thought this way about God.  I wonder if there is something in your life right now that you wish he would help you with.  I wonder if there is something in your life right now that has gone wrong that you attribute to his judgment of you......
.....Judgment for sin is real.  It is tragic and uncompromising.  That is the nature of the law.  It is unflinching and absolute…until Jesus.  The law sees sin and condemns it.  In Judah they broke the covenant, so they are sinners and deserve punishment.  But God breaks that ever-so-tight formula in the work of Jesus.  Jesus becomes our sin for us.  He comes down to earth and takes on our frail humanity and says, “Your sin is mine.  Your guilt is mine.  I am going to the cross to deal with the condemnation of the law against your sin once and for all.  I am going to suffer the exile from God for you, so that you don’t ever have to.  I am going to finish the work that is required to set you free forever.”  And he does, and he did.  With his last breaths on the cross he proclaimed, “It is finished.”  Then on the third day he rose from the dead, showing us that the final exile of death will be brought to an end, and we will live forever.
You are loved beyond your own comprehension.  Jesus Christ has called you His own and has bought you with his own blood.  You are worth dying for.  This is who God really is, and this is how he really sees you.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Sacrifice of Prayer

"Prayer is the spiritual offering that has done away with the sacrifices of old.

We are true worshipers and true priests. We pray in spirit, and so offer in spirit the sacrifice of prayer. Prayer is an offering that belongs to God and is acceptable to him; it is the offering he has asked for, the offering he planned as his own.

We must dedicate this offering with our whole heart, we must fatten it on faith, tend it by truth, keep it unblemished through innocence and clean through chastity, and crown it with love. We must escort it to the altar of God in a procession of good works to the sound of psalms and hymns.Then it will gain for us all that we ask of God..."

                -Tertullian (2nd-3rd Century AD)

Awakening Faith, page 87

Friday, November 22, 2013

Remembering Jack


As we remember President Kennedy (sometimes called "Jack" by friends) on the 50th anniversary of his assassination, let's not forget the other guy who died that same day: The great author, apologist, poet and scholar, C. S. Lewis (known to his friends as "Jack"). There's a good article about him today at Ligonier:
November 22, 1963, the date of President Kennedy’s assassination, was also the day C.S. Lewis died. Seven years earlier he had thus described death: “The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning.” The metaphor inherent in these words is striking. It comes from the world of students and pupils, but only a teacher would employ it as a metaphor for death. The words (from The Last Battle) bring down the curtain — or perhaps better, close the wardrobe door — on Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. But they also open a window into who C.S. Lewis really was.....
Read it all at the link,

(Picture is the C.S. Lewis Memorial in Poet's Corner at Westminster Abbey)

A Treasure Trove of Devotion

A Review of Awakening Faith: Daily Devotions from the Early Church, by James Stuart Bell with Patrick J. Kelly

I'm a history buff - all kinds of history. I'm especially interested in church history and the history of theology. Therefore, I was overjoyed to hear about this book and to add it to my library.

The average Christian is ignorant of faith history outside of Bible times (and even in Bible times!)  If they know anything at all about history, the average protestant Christian thinks God stopped acting when the last apostle died, and started doing things again in the 16th century. By use of the term "ignorant" I do not mean stupidity; but just lack of knowledge. Frankly, there is not much happening in most churches that could provide that knowledge, but this book can be a great help in that direction. God was doing a lot back then, and those believers have a lot to teach us.

The book consists of 365 daily devotional readings drawn from writers who lived during the first 8 centuries of Christian history, i.e. from the end of the 1st century until about 900 AD. The writers include the greatest theologians, pastors, martyrs, apologists and founders of movements from the formative period of Christian life and belief. Topics include prayer, faithfulness under trial, community life, holy living, spiritual disciplines, fasting, and the Trinity. There is even a statement on justification by Basil the Great that sounds like it was written by Martin Luther! If you are not familiar with Clement, Tertullian, Cyprian, Augustine, Chrysostom, Leo, Benedict or Cyril, here's your chance to get acquainted, Yes, there are a few statements in the book that I do not agree with and consider to be theological errors, but the overall quality of the book more than compensates for those passages. I have underlined many passages and have been quoting them on my blog. What a treasure trove!

Each entry is only a page in length, and thus easy to read. The appendix gives brief biographies of each writer cited, and there is also a Scripture index. I wish the specific work by each author had also been cited, but interested students of church history can easily search citations out via the Internet. The hardcover version of the book I read even comes with a handy ribbon bookmark to help you keep your place.

I have enjoyed reading this book, and look forward to consulting and using it for a long time to come. Five stars indeed!

-------------------------
Note: I received a free copy of this book from Cross Focused Reviews ( See my book review policy)

Thursday, November 21, 2013

We're Curved In On Ourselves

Ever found your "worship" experience to be really more about you and your feelings about God than about God Himself? I know I have- It's a frequent and common issue.  Learning a little Latin phrase (Incurvatus in se) has helped me to understand the problem better, and reminds me to turn my heart upward and outward in worship away from my own feelings and problems.

Good piece here from Zac Hicks (Worship Pastor at Coral Rdige Presbyterian Church):
A Latin Phrase Worth Knowing
I’m a sucker for cool Latin phrases. Incurvatus in se, or “curved in on itself,” is one such phrase, possibly coined by Augustine and definitely expounded upon by Martin Luther.  The Reformer wrote:
"Our nature, by the corruption of the first sin, so deeply curved in on itself that it not only bends the best gifts of God towards itself and enjoys them (as is plain in the works-righteous and hypocrites), or rather even uses God himself in order to attain these gifts, but it also fails to realize that it so wickedly, curvedly, and viciously seeks all things, even God, for its own sake."
Me, Me, Me
It’s such a vivid picture. Incurvatus in se is that self-obsessed tendency in all of us to naval gaze.  Every human being is bent inward, even taking the good things of God and making them “all about me.” For Christians, incurvatus in semanifests itself in unhealthy levels of attention on our own Christian growth and spiritual formation. (Yes, this really is possible, and it may very well be at fever pitch in American evangelicalism.) We become expert self-analysts, tracking every notch of progress and regress, victory and loss, growth and atrophy. We engage in formal and informal scorekeeping of the hopefully upward mobility of our spiritual maturity. Did I spend time in the Word today? How many lustful thoughts did I have? Was my tongue controlled? Was my temper checked? Did I practice the presence of God? Did I exhibit the fruit of the Spirit? Was my prayer intentional and purposeful? Diagnostic questions like these aren’t bad in and of themselves, but they become destructive and antithetical to the Gospel when they are our dominant pattern. If “Christian living,” for you, is defined by your constant asking and answering of such questions, you are probably suffering from a severe case of incurvatus in se, because Christian living at its core has nothing to do with these things.
I-Can-Do-It Worship
Unfortunately, because this incurvature is such a fundamental reality for all of us, it has crept into our worship, preeminently in the songs that we sing and in the way that we sing them. Elsewhere, I and others have called such songs, phrases, and lyrics elements of “triumphalism”—that obsession with how we’re living for God, loving God, giving it all for God, etc. It’s in the “surrender” language we often employ, and it’s in the “I’m doing it all for you” and “I’m giving it all away” lines that we gush. It’s painfully ironic that as we sing such lines, though we’re singing to God, we may be actually reveling in ourselves.... 
Much more at the link.

A Complete Savior


We must be holy, because this is the one grand end and purpose for which Christ came into the world [2 Cor 5:15; Eph 5:25-26; Titus 2:14]… Jesus is a complete Saviour. He does not merely take away the guilt of a believer’s sin, He does more – He breaks its power (1 Pet 1:2; Rom 8:29; Eph 1:4; 2 Tim 1:9; Heb 12:10).

       - J.C. Ryle, Holiness


(Good article with recommended books at the link)

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Finish As You Began

"Every day I find it most healthy to my own soul to try and walk as a saint, but in order to do so, I must continually come to Christ as a sinner. I would seek to be perfect. I would strain after every virtue, and forsake every false way. But still, as to my standing before God, I find it happiest to sit where I sat when first I looked to Jesus, on the rock of His works, having nothing to do with my own righteousness, but only with His.

Depend on it, dear Friends, the happiest way of living is to live as a poor sinner, and as nothing at all—having Jesus Christ as All in All. You may have all your growths in sanctification, all your progress in graces, all the development of your virtues that you will. But still I do earnestly pray you never to put any of these where Christ should be. If you have begun in Christ, then finish in Christ. If you have begun in the flesh, and then go on in the flesh, we know what the sure result will be. But if you have begun with Jesus Christ as your Alpha, let Him be your Omega. "
— Charles Spurgeon   The Blessing of Full Assurance: Sermons on 1 John


HT: Of First Importance

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Impossible Task


HT: Tim Challies

Down Dog, Down!

"If we have sinned, it is wonderful consciously to say, ‘Thank you for a completed work,’ after we have brought that specific sin under the finished work of Christ. The conscious giving of thanks brings assurance and peace. We say, ‘Thank you’ for work completed upon the cross, which is sufficient for a completely restored relationship.
This isn’t on the basis of my emotions, any more than in my justification. The basis is the finished work of Christ in history and the objective promises of God in the written Word. If I believe Him, and if I believe what He has taught me about the sufficiency of the work of Christ for restoration, I can have assurance, no matter how black the blot has been. This is the Christian reality of salvation from one’s conscience.
For myself, through the thirty years or so since I began to struggle with this in my own life, I picture my conscience as a big black dog with enormous paws which leaps upon me, threatening to cover me with mud and devour me. But as this conscience of mine jumps upon me, after a specific sin has been dealt with on basis of Christ’s finished work, then I should turn to my conscience and say, in effect, ‘Down! Be still!’ I am to believe God and be quiet."
           — Francis Schaeffer True Spirituality

Monday, November 18, 2013

Using the Family Prayer

"Let us pray as God our master has taught us. When we approach the Father with the words his Son has given us, and let him hear the prayer of Christ repeated with our own voices, we recite a family prayer. Let the Father recognize the words of his Son. Let the Son, who lives in our hearts, be spoken from our lips. He is our advocate before the Father; when we ask for forgiveness for our sins, why not use the words given to us by our advocate. He tells us: 'Whatever you ask the Father in my name, He will give you' (John 16:23) What could be a more effective prayer than the words of Christ's own prayer?"

- Cyprian of Carthage (3rd Century AD)

Awakening Faith, page 5

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Healing Wounds of Love

"So we ask that we might know you better and more fully, and that you give us nothing but yourself. For you are our all: our light, our life, our salvation, our food and our drink, our God. Inspire our hearts with the breath of your spirit; wound our souls with your love, so that the soul of each and every one of us may truthfully say 'Show me my soul's desire,' for I am wounded by your love...

...So let us ask Christ, the good and saving physician, to wound the depths of our souls with a healing wound - the same Jesus Christ who reigns in unity with the Father and the Holy Spirit, forever and ever. Amen"

         -Columbanus, 6th Century AD

 Awakening Faith, page 56

Friday, November 15, 2013

Breaking Chains

Watch this. Just watch and listen. All the way through.





May the truth said and portrayed here soak in our hearts... and set us free.

The Way of Light

"Consider now the way of light. All who are intent upon reaching their appointed goal must be very careful in everything they do....

...Love your neighbor more than your own life. Do not kill an unborn child through abortion, nor destroy it after birth. Do not stop disciplining a son or daughter, but bring them up from childhood in the fear of the Lord. Do not set your heart on what belongs to your neighbor, and do not give in to greed. Do not associate with the arrogant, but cultivate those who are humble and virtuous......."

              - Epistle of Barnabas, 2nd Century AD

Awakening Faith, page 58

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Serious Business



HT: @DailyKeller

Pray for All

"...If you pray only for yourself, you will be praying, as we said, for yourself alone. But if you pray for all, all will pray for you, for you are included in all. In this way there is great reward; through the prayers of each individual, the whole body intercedes to God for each member. In prayer there is no pride, but an increase of humility and a richer spiritual harvest."

           - St. Ambrose of Milan (4th Century AD)

Awakening Faith, page 46

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Stupid Links

Today is the birthday of St Augustine of Hippo. Happy birthday, old brother!

What can Augustine, who lived in the 4th century AD, teach us about 21st century internet habits? Tony Reinke has the answer in "Why We Click Stupid Links."
By “stupid links,” I mean hyperlinks on the Web that do nothing but tap our kneejerk curiosity. They do little for us because they have little to offer. We click, we read, we watch, and often we feel dumber for it.
Such clamorous links litter the Internet, offering up celebrity gossip, bizarre crime stories, violent videos, and sexual images — each link asking for little more than a click (such a petty request).
So just how pervasive are these links? As I write, the CNN home page features these seven hyperlinked titles as “Top Stories”:
  • Crack-smoking mayor won’t quit
  • Was pushed husband blindfolded?
  • Woman killed in cougar attacks
  • Misquotes fuel Tom Cruise attacks
  • Deer pierced in the face by arrow
  • Guess who’s back in skinny jeans?
  • Do astronauts clean their undies?
Augustine and Idle Curiosities
The magnetic pull we sometimes feel to headlines like these predates the Internet and the evening news. It was a concern taken up by church father Augustine, born on November 13, 354 A.D. (more than 1,650 years ago).
Augustine reflected on the temptations clouding and distracting his own heart in his classic of church history, The Confessions....
Curious? read the article at the link.

Righteous Boast

"Boasting in God is perfect and complete when we take no pride in our own righteousness but acknowledge that we are utterly lacking in true righteousness and have been made righteous only by faith in Christ."

                 - Basil the Great (4th century AD)

Awakening Faith, page 26


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

He Isn't Interested in Your Best Life

Jeff Dunn at IMonk hit a home run this week with "The Homily" 
...I hate to be the bearer of reality, but not everything in this life is going to go your way. Even more to the point, God does not have your best interests in mind. God has his own best interests in his mind. And at times, his interests make our lives miserable. You want an example? Look at Job. God wanted to prove to the Accuser that Job would still praise God even if all of his “blessings” were taken away. God’s glory was on display, not Job’s comfort or prosperity. Do you want another example? How about Mary? God chose this young, engaged-but-not-yet-married girl to bring his Son into the world. How did that “bless” Mary? Her life was forever changed from what she had most likely envisioned.
The Gospel of Jesus does not guarantee us to become winners. As a matter of fact, Jesus championed losers. In his parables, he presented God as one who is constantly seeking after what has been lost. A lost coin. Lost sheep. A lost son. Jesus came, he said, to seek and to save the lost, not the found, not the blessed. Not the winners.
As a matter of fact, Jesus said the greatest loss we could ever experience would be if we sought to save our lives, to become winners. Luke tucks an interesting verse into Jesus’ teaching on his second return: Whoever seeks to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it. Winners become losers, and losers become winners...
....St. Paul tells us that God’s power is perfectly seen in our weakness. And that when I am weak is when I am truly strong. So I will rejoice in my sicknesses, in my distress, in my despair. I will rejoice when things are not going my way, when my life is turned upside-down by unforeseen circumstances. When I realize I am a loser, then I can take comfort in knowing Jesus has come to seek and to save me. This is the Gospel of Jesus.
This morning, remember that God is focused on his glory. And as hard as that may be to understand, and even harder to accept (for we are a very selfish lot), we are to be focused on God’s glory as well.

Enlarged Capacity

"It might perplex us that God asks us to pray, when he knows what we need before we ask him, if we do not realize that our Lord does not want to know what we want - for he cannot fail to know it - but wants us rather to exercise our desire through our prayers so that we can receive what he is preparing to give us. His gift is very great indeed, but our capacity is too small and limited to receive it. "

                  -St Augustine of Hippo (4th century AD)

Awakening Faith, page 9

Monday, November 11, 2013

2013 Veterans Day Salute


Today is Veterans Day in the USA. November 11 was originally called Armistice Day, in memory of the end of World War I. It is now called Veterans Day in honor of all U.S. military veterans.I wish to make special recognition today for and to:

1. My Dad (Col. B.F. Simmons, USAF, retired), my late Grandfather (Jefferson L. Simmons, Mississippi National Guard in WWI in France), my late Uncle Franklin Simmons (Navy "Sea Bee" in WWII), Uncle Charles Shirley (Air Force), Uncle Hal Shirley (Army National Guard), my late Uncle Cranford Nelson (Navy), Cousin Harry Nelson (Navy), Cousin Jimmy Walters (Marine Corps), Cousin Shain Vice (US Army), Brother-in-law Gary Meier (Army), nephew Dale Meier (Army, 82nd Airborne), and any other family members I'm forgetting.

2. All our men and women serving and protecting us on the front lines of Afghanistan, and many other dangerous places around the world.

3. All current and retired American veterans.

4. The families of those lost in Vietnam, Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan, and so many other places.

I am thankful and grateful for your service and sacrifice.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

More Sighs Than Words

"Excessive talking should be kept out of prayer, but that does not mean that one should not spend much time in prayer, as long as a fervent attitude continues to accompany the prayer. To talk at length in prayer is to perform a necessary action with an excess of words. To spend much time in prayer is to knock with a persistent and holy passion at the door of the one upon whom we call. But in our day-to-day life, the task is often accomplished more through sighs than words, more through weeping than speech. He 'places our tears in his sight, and our sighs are not hidden from him' (Psalm 38:9), for he has established all things through his Word and does not need human words."

                   -St Augustine of Hippo (4th Century AD)

Awakening Faith, page 50

Prayer for Pastors

Have you prayed for your church's pastors and elders this week? Pray that they can do this:
“The weekly task of pastoral ministry: read yourself full, write yourself clear, pray yourself hot, preach yourself empty.” -Kevin DeYoung

Friday, November 8, 2013

Meditations for Advent

A review of Why Christ Came: 31 Meditations on the Incarnation, by Joel Beeke & William Boekestein.

I've often thought that one of the big disadvantages of not being raised in a liturgical denomination is having no idea how to do Advent. Every year I hear and read so many complaints about the commercialization of Christmas, and the absence of Christ Himself from the celebration of His incarnation. But every year I also hear of the blessings received by those who have a planned devotional period leading up to Christmas through the celebration of Advent. Some do this because of participation in liturgical church traditions; some by personal choice. Every year I say to myself that I need to do something like this to get more out of the Christmas season, and every year Christmas just seems to sneak up on me and I miss out on a season of spiritual preparation. I want to do this. I need to do this.

When I saw Why Christ Came on the list of books available for review from Cross Focused Reviews, I immediately decided to read it with the hope that this might be a way to actually do spiritual preparation this year. The book consists of 31 individual meditations on the reasons for the incarnation of the Son of God. Chapter titles include "To Do the Will of the Father," "To Seek and Save the Lost," "To Reveal God's Love for Sinners,""To Bring Great Joy," "To Bind Up Broken Hearts," and "To Reveal God's Glory." Each chapter is full of Scripture references, drawn from the entirety of the Bible. I've enjoyed reading it, and plan to read a chapter every day beginning at Thanksgiving as my first attempt at keeping Advent. I also plan to spend time praying and being thankful each day for the Lord's coming to save me, to save us. I'm really looking forward to this!

On Amazon I gave the book four stars in recognition of the excellence of its subject matter and its usefulness for Advent/Christmas devotions. I did not give five stars only because it is not outstanding literature. However, for its purpose it does not need to be. This book is highly worth having and reading.

(I received a free copy of this book for review- See book review policy)

Motives

"Rest assured, if motives fetched from the gospel will not kill sin, motives fetched from the law never will. "

— Charles Spurgeon    The Christian's Glorious Inventory: Sermons on 1 Corinthians


Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Biggest Scandal

"Grace is the biggest scandal in church history. It is something none of us deserve; something we’re given when we’re hiding in our sin and we meet our Saviour at the well. He offers us life, love, and hope: not condemnation. What will help someone who’s fallen “Go and sin no more?” Our gossip? Our assumptions? Our self-righteousness? Or our love, our encouragement, and our prayers?"

              -Anne Marie Miller

At His Feet..

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Taking a Break From Jesus

Ever wanted to take a break from Jesus? Can we take vacations from God? If you try an do so, does it change you? Can you take a leave of absence from following Jesus, from living right, from discipleship and devotion, and just come back an pick up where you left off?

Uh, No!!!

The material below is from an interesting article by Derek Rishmawry at The Gospel Coalition:
....I always tell my students they need to be aware of the myths and stories they tell themselves about reality, because the story you think you're in determines the character you become. Neutral time is a particularly popular story. It goes something like this:
I've been a good kid in high school. I've done my homework, been to Bible study, and didn't mess around too much or anything. Now, though, I really want to go out and enjoy myself a bit. The "college experience" is calling, and I can't be expected to go and not let loose a little bit. I mean, I really love Jesus and my faith will always be a big part of my life, but you know, I'll just go off for a bit, maybe a semester or two, have my fun, and then be back around. You'll see.
Many assumptions underlie this story, but the main one seems to be that faith is unchanging, timeless, and perennial. Your walk with Jesus is something you can leave alone for a while and, once you've done your own thing for a bit, pick up again. "Neutral time" is like calling timeout so you can go the restroom or take a break in the middle of the game; when you come back the score, time, and possession is just like where you left off last.
Magic (Or, Nothing Works That Way)
I call this explanation "magic" because basically nothing else in life works this way. If I decided, "You know, for the next few months, I'm not going to watch my diet or work out or take vitamins or anything. Then I'll just pick it up again and be right back where I am now." If I think that's how it will work, I'd be sorely deluded.
Or take human relationships. Imagine one day I looked at my wife and said, "Honey, for the next few months we're going to cut back on this whole 'communication' thing. I love you, and our relationship is really, really important to me, but you shouldn't expect more than a text message every couple of days. I'll be out traveling with the guys, catching up on hobbies, and just having a good time. When I'm done, though, we'll pick it up seriously just like it is now." Again, does anybody think this approach will actually work?
In both cases, despite calling "neutral time" on my diet or my relationships, the landscape will seriously shift beneath me. Biological and relational reality doesn't just stop because we say it will. Excessive eating will inevitably add fat to my frame, and lack of exercise will lead to muscular atrophy. Purposely not talking to my wife for a few months will put a strain on our relationship, no matter how important I say it is. If I'm not constantly engaging her, sharing life, hearing her heart, and being involved, some distance will enter the equation.
Jesus Is No Different
As I Lay Dying had a song a while back called "The Only Constant is Change" whose chorus says, "The only constant is change / nothing remains the same. The only constant is change / there's only growth, or decay." This is obvious for most of our life. But for some reason we think our relationship with Jesus is the only place it doesn't apply.
I'm not exactly sure where this assumption comes from, but I'll hazard a few guesses. For some, it's probably because we have an overly cognitive idea of faith where, if we keep believing certain propositions (with no necessary correlation to behaviors or habits), we can be confident we're still Christian. It could be a trivialized version of assurance where we think, Well, you know, I prayed that prayer, and I'm not explicitly ditching Jesus, so it's all good. Or maybe they've so compartmentalized their faith that they've disconnected from the real world. Whatever the case, because faith is a part of reality, things don't work that way.
Don't get me wrong here: this is isn't because Jesus won't take you back; he truly is the God of the prodigal son. But not every alleged son comes to his senses, or even wants to. And after a while, spiritual inertia sets in such that your time away not only hinders your ability but even changes your desire to come back. Jesus' open arms also don't always cancel the harsh, temporal consequences of life lived in sin.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

It's Too Early For Christmas...

Not That Complicated...

Grace is the means – God extends His undeserved mercy, forgiveness and truth.
Repentance is the result – I accept, submit and change.
Separate grace from repentance, and we pervert grace.
Separate repentance from grace, and we pervert repentance.
Don’t be bamboozled.
It’s really not that complicated…

Monday, November 4, 2013

Pray for Pastor Saeed Abedini

Let us not forget that there is a Christian Pastor, who is also an American citizen, in prison in Iran for the crime of simply being a Christian. Our brother and his family need our prayers and support. From a post at  National Review by David French:
Today marks the “Grand Day of Death to America” in Iran – the anniversary of the 1979 embassy takeover  – and one American pastor held captive in Iran is facing an immediate threat to his life.
Saeed Abedini, an Iranian-American pastor from Idaho who visited Iran to assist in building an orphanage, has been imprisoned for more than a year simply because of his Christian faith. Initially held in Evin Prison – where Iran holds hundreds of political prisoners – he’s been abused and pressed to sign “confessions” and convert to Islam. Showing courage few American Christians can comprehend, he’s steadfastly refused to “confess” (to crimes he didn’t commit) or convert.
At the American Center for Law and Justice, we represent Pastor Abedini’s familyand have worked closely with members of Congress, the administration, and countries in the European Union and beyond to bring pressure on the Iranian regime. These efforts culminated not merely in a series of strong congressional statements and statements from Europe but also in the president of the United States directly addressing Pastor Saeed’s plight with Iran’s president Rouhani.
While these developments raised hopes for Pastor Saeed’s release, today brought devastating news. As the Revolutionary Guard appears to be flexing its muscles,Pastor Saeed was transferred from Evin Prison (which is brutal enough) to Rajai Shahr prison outside Tehran. Here’s how a Dutch diplomat described Rajai Shahr:
Rajai Shahr is the place where political prisoners who are seen as a nuisance, are stowed away. Going to Karaj is a severe punishment. Once in there one stops to be a human being. One is put out of sight, even of human rights activists and the press. In Raja├» Shahr, political prisoners have to share cells with dangerous criminals like murderers, rapists and drug addicts who don’t hesitate to attack their cell mates. They have nothing to lose: many of them are condemned to death anyway. Murders or unexplained deaths are a regular occurrence.
In other words, Pastor Saeed – an American citizen — may be about to become one of the “disappeared.”
It’s time for President Obama to reengage, to declare definitively that Iran cannot kill an American — either directly or indirectly by knowingly placing him in direct proximity to murderers. Pastor Saeed is “guilty” of nothing but Christianity, and that should not be a capital crime for anyone – least of all one of our own.

Persecution in 2013

From Joe Cater - 9 Things You Should Know About the Persecutions of Christians in 2013:
1. Christian churches around the world have set apart the month of November to remember and pray for the persecuted church, through the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church (IDOP).
2. According to the U.S. Department of State, Christians in more than 60 countries face persecution from their governments or surrounding neighbors simply because of their belief in Christ.
3. With the exception of four official state-controlled churches in Pyongyang, Christians in North Korea face the risk of detention in the prison camps, severe torture and, in some cases, execution for practicing their religious beliefs. North Koreans suspected of having contact with South Korean or other foreign missionaries in China, and those caught in possession of a Bible, have been known to be executed.
4. In Syria, Christians are increasingly becoming the target of violent attacks. Catholic and Orthodox groups in Syria say the anti-government rebels have committed "awful acts" against Christians, including beheadings, rapes and murders of pregnant women. A special 'Vulnerability Assessment of Syria's Christians' conducted by the World Watch unit of Open Doors International from June 2013 warned that Syrian Christians are the victims of "disproportionate violence and abuse." They warned further that Christian women in Syria are particularly vulnerable to sexual abuse.
5. In August 2013, Egypt faced what has been called the the worst anti-Christian violence in seven centuries: 38 churches were destroyed, 23 vandalized; 58 homes were burned and looted and 85 shops, 16 pharmacies and 3 hotels were demolished; 6 Christians were killed in the violence and 7 were kidnapped.
6. The bloodiest attack on Christians in Pakistan's history occurred in September 2013. Two suicide bombers exploded shrapnel laden vests outside All Saints' Church in the old city of Peshawar. Choir members and children attending Sunday school were among 81 people killed. The attack left 120 people wounded, with 10 of them in critical condition.
7. During an attack on a shopping mall in Nairobi in September, Islamic terrorists asked people for the name of Muhammad's mother or to recite a verse from the Quran in order to identify non-Muslims. One of the terrorists announced, "We have come to kill you Christians and Kenyans because you have been killing our women and children in Somalia. Any Muslims can go."
8. Four Christians in Iran will get 80 lashes each this month for drinking wine during a communion service. Ahmed Shaheed, UN special rapporteur on human rights in Iran, said that it is common practice for Christians to be punished for violating theocratic laws. In the UN report Shaheed wrote: 'At least 20 Christians were in custody in July 2013. In addition, violations of the rights of Christians, particularly those belonging to evangelical Protestant groups, many of whom are converts, who proselytize to and serve Iranian Christians of Muslim background, continue to be reported.'
9. An average of 100 Christians around the world are killed each month for their faith. (Note: There are several sources that claim the numbers are as high as 100,000+ a year. In the absence of solid evidence for those numbers, though, I chose to go with the more empirically verifiable estimate.)

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Apostle Want-To-Be's

Thinking about putting the title "Apostle" on your business card? You should probably read this article by J. Lee Grady first - The Sign of a True Apostle (It’s Not What You Think)" 
...The late Arthur Katz, who was a prophetic voice to our movement for many years, wrote in his 1999 book Apostolic Foundations that nobody should be eager to step into an apostolic assignment or to treat such a task flippantly. “God is jealous over the word apostolic,” Katz wrote. “It is a word that has fallen into disuse and needs to be restored, and that restoration is not going to be cheap.”
We are so carnal, so power hungry and so enamored with status and position that we don’t have a clue what apostolic ministry really is. Most charismatics think it is about authority, and many men who claim to be apostles build top-down pyramid structures that abuse people. Others think apostolic leaders are marked primarily by sensational miracles. Yet I see something we have entirely missed when I look at the life of the apostle Paul. 
Paul told the Thessalonians that love is the true hallmark of any person who is sent on an apostolic mission. Therefore, if we want apostolic power or authority (which we should), it must flow through apostolic love or it is a counterfeit....
Read it all at the link.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Loving As We Are Loved

Loved these "Five Facts About Loving God" by Jason DeRouchie at Desiring God. He is referring to Deuteronomy 10:16-19, which reads:

Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longerrstubborn. 17 For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords,the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. 18 He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. 19 Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.


1. Loving God with all is a heart issue (verse 16).
Moses first charges Israel to “circumcise the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn” (Deuteronomy 10:16). Israel was hardhearted, and hardhearted people cannot love God. Indeed, their hardness went deep, controlling the core of their very identities. As Moses said in the previous chapter, “You are a stubborn people. . . . From the day you came out of the land of Egypt until you came to this place, you have been rebellious against the LORD” (Deuteronomy 9:6–7). Until their hearts got fixed, love would not be evident.
2. Loving God with all is an idolatry issue (verse 17).
The reason why hardheartedness is such a problem is because God rightfully demands all our allegiance, and any hardness toward him is an idolatry problem. “For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God” (Deuteronomy 10:17). Yahweh is the only God in the pantheon of heaven (Deuteronomy 5:7;6:4), and therefore he alone holds the right to our absolute surrender (Deuteronomy 5:8–10;6:5). He alone is the preeminent savior, sovereign, and satisfier, and therefore misplaced affections are foolish and suicidal. God is to be the sun in our solar system, not one of the planets circling us. Idolatry separates us from love.
3. Loving God with all is about being like God (verses 17–18).
It is at this point in Moses’s sermon that we begin to see more clearly how intimately he tied the call to love our neighbor with the call to love God. Indeed, implied in the text is that those who have hearts of love toward God will ultimately begin to resemble God himself, who “is not partial and takes no bribe. He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing” (Deuteronomy 10:17–18).
Idolatry of the heart is seen in a failure to love as God loves. Love for God is displayed in whether we are willing to love our neighbor, even those who are most difficult to love –– to sacrifice our time, treasures, and talents for the sake of those whom God loves.In my own life, I feel that only recently have I begun to understand what it means to love God in this radical neighbor-love way. Over the last five years, my family has journeyed the road of trans-racial, international adoption, seeing the curse of orphan status broken in the lives of three little treasures. By faith the saints of old “were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, . . . were tortured . . . suffered mocking . . . of whom the world was not worthy” (Hebrews 11:34–38).
Radical neighbor-love magnifies the worth of God, regardless of the cost, and displays the type of love God himself has shown. “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant . . . even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve” (Matthew 20:26,28). “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:12–13). May God help us love this way.