Saturday, January 31, 2015

White-Hot Reveal

What we see at the cross is the white-hot revelation of the character of God, of his love providing the price that holiness requires. The cross was his means of redeeming lost sinners and reconciling them to himself, but it was also a profound disclosure of his mercy. It is, in Paul’s words, an ‘inexpressible gift’ that leads us to wonder and worship, to praise and adore the God who has given himself to us in this way.”
— David F. Wells, The Courage to be Protestant (Grand Rapids, Mi.: Eerdmans, 2008), page 129

HT: Of First Importance

Friday, January 30, 2015

Welcome the Aliens

Brings a whole new meaning to Deuteronomy 10:18-19: "He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing. So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt." - Ed Stezer

Welcome the aliens......but I'd be careful about letting a Ferengi on to your church budget committee.

From Book to App

Do you read the Bible on your phone or pad? If so check out this interesting piece by Tim Challies- The App of God.
The Bible is not a book. I know we talk about the Bible as if it is a book. I know we praise God for giving us his book. I know we tend to buy our Bibles from book stores. But it’s not a book. Not really. We’ve confused the nature of the thing with its form.
The Bible is a collection. It is a collection of all that God meant to communicate to us through inerrant and infallible words. The apostle Peter describes it well: “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21). God spoke, men wrote. Men wrote the exact words of God exactly as he breathed them out. Over 1,600 years they wrote them as histories, as letters, as prophecies, and as poetry. They wrote whatever he spoke until he stopped speaking.
What should be done with all of these writings? The answer was obvious: They needed to be collected and combined to form a canon, the complete works of a single author. In Moses’ day the Bible was words spoken and memorized and passed along through oral tradition. In Jesus’ day the Bible was a collection of scrolls. In Paul’s day the Bible was that same collection of scrolls with handwritten letters added to it. But in every form it has always been the Bible.
Today we know the Bible as The Good Book only because for the past few centuries the book has been the dominant medium through which we encounter it. But it has not always been that way, and will not always be that way. As the dominant medium has changed, so too has its form. Today it is The Good Book, but before that it was The Good Codex and before that The Good Scroll.
Now here is why I tell you all of this: The Bible transcends form. It transcends media. Not only that, but whatever the form, whatever the media, it has proven dominant. The reason we have such confidence that it has been faithfully transmitted through history is that it has been so widely copied and disseminated in every form.

Not too long from now the Bible will transition from being The Good Book to being The Good App. As information migrates to digital media, the Bible will make the shift, just as it as has through every other literary media. But through our little glimpse at history we know that we have nothing to fear from the appification of information. Since the dawn of the printing press, the Bible has been the most dominant book. We have no reason to doubt that in time it will prove the dominant app. And when apps have had their day and we move to whatever is next, the Bible will remain and will dominate.

As one medium gives way to another, we do well to remind ourselves of what the Bible really is. Not a book, but something far better, and far more transcendent. It is the enduring words of God himself.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

What Color Glasses?

From Radio Free Babylon

(Click on image to enlarge)

Broken and Free

Loved this message from Tullian Tchvidjian, talking about his mom (Gigi Graham Tchvidjian, Billy Graham's daughter). There are lessons here fro all of us broken people. - Your Brokenness Taught Me More Than Your Put Togetherness
Mom, your brokenness and your failures have taught me more about grace than any of your put togetherness ever did.
Sometimes we think that being good is the qualifier for us having an effective ministry… The truth is that no one is good. And our ministries become effective when we acknowledge our badness and when we live out of our brokenness. And that’s what you do.
The biblical definition of Christian growth is not what they told us it was. It’s not: I’m getting stronger and stronger, and more and more competent every day so that I need Jesus less now than I did when God first saved me—that’s not Christian growth—Christian growth is: As I get older and become wiser, I become increasingly aware of how weak and incompetent I am, and how strong and competent Jesus is and continues to be for me.
Mom, you’re honest because you’re free. And you’re free because you don’t pretend that you have it all together. And you don’t pretend that you have it all together because you understand that who you are is not anchored in what you do, or who other people think you are. It’s anchored in what Jesus has done for you.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Been There

From Radio Free Babylon
(Click image to enlarge)

Is Your Gospel Too Small?

"A gospel which is only about the moment of conversion but does not extend to every moment of life in Christ is too small.

A gospel that gets your sins forgiven but offers no power for transformation is too small.

A gospel that isolates one of the benefits of union with Christ and ignores all the others is too small.

A gospel that must be measured by your own moral conduct, social conscience, or religious experience is too small.

A gospel that rearranges the components of your life but does not put you personally in the presence of God is too small."

— Fred Sanders, The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), page106

BTW- This is a VERY good book!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Tattooed Truth

Who knew Tullian Tchvidjian has a tattoo? Tullian’s Tattoo Proclaims Truth That is More Than Skin Deep  I'll never get one, but if I did this would be it!
They are the last words of Jesus from the cross—the words He died by: “It is finished” (Tetelestai in Greek). And for Tullian Tchividjian, pastor and author and sinner, they are the words to live by. Not to mention the equivalent recently tattooed on his arm. With that statement, Jesus pronounced His atonement for the sin of the world and His accomplishment of the work of salvation that is ours to claim by grace, through faith.
“Lots of people talk about justification by grace alone through faith alone in the finished work of Christ alone. But then it’s almost as if that glorious doctrine remains in our past,” Tullian says as he recounts the difficult personal journey that brought him to rediscover the “now” of the gospel.
“I had always believed the gospel is the good news that we are saved from the past, and the gospel is the good news that we will be saved in the future. But what I had failed to grasp at an experiential level is that the gospel also saves us in the present.”
“I have a friend named John Zahl who says, ‘God’s office is at the end of our rope.’ I experienced that firsthand, and my whole life changed. My understanding of Christianity in many ways changed … and what it actually means as we make our way through the grind of life is that God loves us unconditionally—and that Jesus paid it all—and that we live our lives under a banner that says, ‘It is finished.’”
The turning point awakened a new zeal in him for an old message of radical, generous, inexhaustible grace. Think Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation. Tullian asserts it’s time for another—and he’s on a mission to bring the message of sola gratia, grace alone, to a church laboring under the burden of performance-based Christianity.
Beautiful, Painful Liberation
For all his earnestness about church history and theology, Tullian speaks with energetic ease and wry humor. He even jokes that sarcasm is his family’s love language. And then there’s explaining for the umpteenth time how to pronounce his last name: Cha-vi-jin, which rhymes with religion. Even going by first name only—like Usher or Bono or Elvis—would not be easy because people mispronounce that too. It’s TUH-llian.
Yet underneath the jesting swells the powerful, grace-charged liberation of a man unmasked of pride in his identity and reputation. Now forty-two, he’s been candid about the rough-and-tumble behavior that got him kicked out of the house at sixteen and about his return to faith at twenty-one. But it was a series of unfortunate and exposing events in his adult life—as a pastor no less—that brought him to the painful realization he describes as “the best thing that ever happened to me” because it helped him realize what it really means to live an “It is finished” faith.
The realization began to dawn when his parents divorced ten years ago and Tullian was forced to confront the self-confidence he had always staked in his family name: “I was a Tchividjian. My parents were well established in the community, my mother as a nationally renowned speaker and author, the daughter of Billy Graham, my father was the sophisticated European psychologist.”
“I had put my parents up on a pedestal … and as long as I was their son, I told myself, I was someone. So when they announced their separation, it threw me.… I had to go back and reinterpret my entire life. It was painful.” But, he says, “Our response to suffering reveals what we’re building our life on and what we’re depending on to make life worth living.”
“The grief of my parents’ divorce brought me to my knees, and put me in touch with my need for God in a way that nothing else could have at that moment. Grace always runs downhill, meeting us at the bottom, not the top.”

Turning Away From Mean

Great piece by J. Lee Grady - When Christians Turn Mean and Hateful:
..The father of the modern Pentecostal movement, William "Daddy" Seymour, knew that there is a direct correlation between the level of the Holy Spirit in our lives and the way we treat people. He said: "Pentecostal power, when you sum it all up, is just more of God's love. If it does not bring more love, it is simply a counterfeit."
Ouch! What we need today in the church is a revival of genuine love. If you want to see such a revival in your own heart, start by taking these steps:
1. Let go of all unforgiveness. The No. 1 reason people have anger seething under the surface of their hearts is they have not forgiven people who hurt them. Holding resentment in your heart is not only unhealthy for you (it can cause disease); it is also toxic for those around you, because they are subjected to your bitter venom when you speak. Forgive people quickly and allow the sweetness of God's love to neutralize the poison.
2. Get healing from past abuse. Many people are verbal abusers because they were abused, bullied, rejected or judged in the past. If that was your story, you can break the cycle through the power of Christ. Let Him teach you how to love people, even if no one in your past knew how. Also, open your life to a mature mentor who can model Christian love to you, and take the risk of building healthy friendships.
3. Go on a fast from negative words. Many Christians fast at the beginning of each year to ask God for personal revival. But you can fast from sweets, carbs and proteins for 21 days and still be spiritually unchanged if you are complaining, grumbling, criticizing or spewing hateful words from your mouth every day. Ask God to set a guard over your mouth to instantly convict you of unkind words and actions that quench the Holy Spirit.
4. Stop bashing the church. Today there are a growing number of disillusioned Christians who have given up on the church because they were hurt by a pastor or a fellow believer. These so-called "dones" (people who are "done" with organized churches) sometimes feel compelled to vent in public forums about how the church has failed them. Yet bashing the church is never going to make anyone feel better; it will only drive them farther from God and His reconciling power.
We must remember what British preacher Charles Spurgeon said: "You are no lover of Christ if you do not love His children ... Love Christ and you will soon love all that love Him." God loves His church with all of its flaws, and so should you.
5. Let God stretch your love. The apostle Peter wrote: "Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart" (1 Peter 1:22, NASB, emphasis added). The Greek word for "fervently," ektenos, means "stretched." It implies that if we want to love people like God loves them, we will be stretched to the max. Stretching hurts, but in a good way!
God wants to put His very heart inside you, but He can't until you make room by getting rid of every hateful attitude. Open your heart wide, and let His love invade the places you have closed. His fervent love can change a bitter, angry, cynical critic into a kind, gentle, affectionate lover of people.

Monday, January 26, 2015


HT: Ed Statzer

Good News for the Abedini's

I've been praying for a long time for Pastor Saeed Abedini to be released from prison in Iran, Encouraging news last week - President Obama met with Naghmeh Abedini and her children.
The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), which is working to secure the release of American Pastor Saeed Abedini from an Iranian prison, said today a private face-to-face meeting between President Obama and American Pastor Saeed Abedini's wife, Naghmeh, and their children elevates Pastor Saeed's plight on the world stage and should send a powerful message to the Iranians: It is time to release this U.S. citizen so he can return home to his family.
President Obama met with Naghmeh and her two young children, 6-year-old Jacob and 8-year-old Rebekka, during a stop in the Abedini's hometown of Boise, Idaho.
"I am extremely thankful the President took the time to meet with our family and told us that securing the release of my husband is a top priority," said Naghmeh Abedini. "The President was focused and gracious—showing concern to me and my children. I know that this meeting could not have occurred without prayer, and I am grateful to the many people around the country and world who continue to pray for Saeed's release. The President repeated his desire to do all that he can to bring Saeed home. That means the world to me and my children and has given me a renewed sense of hope."
The private meeting, which lasted about 10 minutes, occurred in an office at Boise State University, just moments before the President addressed an audience about education.
"We're grateful that President Obama took the time to meet with Naghmeh and speak with her and the children," said Jordan Sekulow, Executive Director of the ACLJ, which represents Naghmeh and her two children. "Pastor Saeed has been wrongly imprisoned for nearly 2 1/2 years. He has been separated from his wife and children. The pain experienced by the Abedini family is impossible to imagine. The meeting between President Obama and the Abedini family is a very welcomed development. It demonstrates the president's concern and compassion for this family. It also underscores the mportance of Pastor Saeed's case, a U.S. citizen imprisoned in Iran merely because of his Christian faith. The face-to-face meeting elevates Pastor Saeed's plight on the world stage—and should send a powerful message to the Iranians: It is time to release Pastor Saeed so he can return home to his family."
Regarding the meeting, Naghmeh said President Obama entered the room, greeted the children and immediately told her that securing the release of Pastor Saeed was a top priority for him. He recalled the phone call he had some time ago with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and told Naghmeh that Saeed was part of that conversation. The President reiterated that bringing Saeed home is a top priority for him.
Naghmeh told the president that she prays for him often. The president smiled when Naghmeh told him that she had refrained from food and had fasted for days praying that God would grant this meeting with him—and that the meeting itself was the result of that prayer.
Naghmeh told the president that she knows that he cares about families and that the face-to-face meeting with the president reflected the care and concern he has for the Abedini family.
Naghmeh told the president that her son, Jacob, had something to ask him. Jacob asked: "Mr. President, can you please bring daddy home for my birthday?" The President responded, "When is your birthday?" Jacob told him March 17th, when he will turn 7. The President said he will try very hard to bring his father home.
The meeting between the president and the Abedinis occurred after more than 100,000 people signed on to an ACLJ letter urging President Obama to meet with the family. Pastor Saeed's two young children—Jacob and Rebekka—have recorded a personal plea asking President Obama to bring their father home. That video is available here

Let's all continue to pray for our brother and his famil.

Friday, January 23, 2015

One Blood

O God,
You have made of one blood
all the peoples of the earth,
and sent Your blessed Son
to preach peace
to those who are far off
and to those who are near.
Grant that people everywhere
may seek after You and find You;
bring the nations into Your fold;
pour out Your Spirit upon all flesh;
and hasten the coming of Your kingdom;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Book of Common Prayer

Tweeking Your Prayer Life

Does your prayer life need a little "tweeking"? Read The Power and Privilege of God's People by David Mathis
Now is the time to take a fresh look at your private prayer life and dream about a tweak or two you could make in the coming days. Typically the best way to grow and make headway is not a total overhaul, but identifying one or a couple small changes that will pay dividends over time.
Or maybe you have little-to-no real private prayer life (which might be as common among professing Christians as it’s ever been), and you really need to start from scratch. You may feel first-hand the weight of Francis Chan’s alarm, “My biggest concern for this generation is your inability to focus, especially in prayer.” Perhaps it’s true of you, and you’re ready for change.
Whether you’re in need of a little self-evaluation, or learning as a beginner, I’d like to offer a few practical flashpoints on private prayer. But let’s start with why private prayer, or “closet prayer,” is so important in the first place.
Praying “in the Closet”
“Closet prayer” gets its name from Jesus’s famous “Sermon on the Mount” in Matthew 5–8. The context is Jesus’s instructions for not “practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them” (Matthew 6:1).
When you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:5–6)
Just as praying in earshot of others had its immanent rewards in first-century Judaism, so also it does in our twenty-first-century church communities, whether it’s in church or small group or just at the table with friends and family. It can be easy to slide into impressing others as the driving motivation for our praying with others, whether its our length, tone, topic, or jargon, all carefully chosen to produce certain effects in our human hearers alone.
It’s a tough line to walk, because we must pray publicly — in church and in our homes and elsewhere — and public prayer should take into account that others are listening; it should have others in mind. But the danger lurks of sidelining God and shifting our focus to making ourselves look impressive.
Test of Authenticity
But “closet prayer” offers a test of authenticity for our public praying. As Tim Keller comments on Matthew 6:5–6,
The infallible test of spiritual integrity, Jesus says, is your private prayer life. Many people will pray when they are required by cultural or social expectations, or perhaps by the anxiety caused by troubling circumstances. Those with a genuinely lived relationship with God as Father, however, will inwardly want to pray and therefore will pray even though nothing on the outside is pressing them to do so. They pursue it even during times of spiritual dryness, when there is no social or experiential payoff. (Prayer, 23)
Private prayer is an important test of whether we are real.Remedy for Inadequacy
But private prayer is not just a test of our trueness, but also an ongoing remedy for our inadequacies and the lack of desire we often feel for God. Prayer, says John Piper, is “not only the measure of our hearts, revealing what we really desire, it is also the indispensible remedy for our hearts when we do not desire God the way we ought” (When I Don’t Desire God, 153).
Private prayer shows who we really are spiritually and is essential in healing the many places we find ourselves broken, needy, lacking, and rebellious.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Overcoming Hopelessness

Feeling hopeless? Read Psalm 108: The Key to Overcoming Hopelessness by George Wood,
When you're depressed, about the last thing you want to do is get out of bed and rise to face the morning. Here's a psalm to counteract hopelessness and help you welcome a new day with courage.
If you think the words of Psalm 108 sound familiar—they are. Look back to Psalm 57 (vv. 7-11) and Psalm 60 (vv. 5-12) and you will find Psalm 108 simply repeats the endings to these two earlier psalms. Psalm 57 begins with David hunted; the setting for Psalm 60 is David defeated. Yet, both psalms end, not in despair, but in confidence that God has a brighter day ahead. It's those positive endings that are joined together in this psalm.
Aren't you glad to know that tough moments in your life, when you feel trapped or beat up, don't last forever—that later you'll focus upon God's promises fulfilled rather than your present pain?
A Wake-Up Song
Are you so excited about living that you can't wait for the dawn of a new day? David is. He's up and singing, musical instruments in hand (v. 2), expressing the sentiments, "When morning gilds the skies, my heart awaking cries, may Jesus Christ be praised!"Maybe you don't face your days like that. You had a sleepless or troubled night, filled with dread or anxiety. The last thing on your mind is cheerfully getting up.
You really need to tune in to the fundamental truth conveyed in this psalm and all of Scripture. Your day will go better if you begin with praise to the Lord who made and redeemed you.
Remember the apostle Paul? In prison he wrote, among other things, the letter to the Philippians. It's a letter of abounding joy and the assurance that he could do all things through Christ who strengthened him (4:13). I used to be troubled by that phrase "all things," thinking maybe Paul was using a cliché. After all, there wasn't much he could "do" in prison—no preaching, church planting or mentoring of pastors. In fact, he could do very little within the confines of his cell. Then it dawned on me one day—the toughest, most difficult thing God ever asked him to "do" was prison. And through Christ, he found he could "do" even that. Surviving unjust incarceration was one of the "all things."
Are you going to compound your misery by having a miserable attitude or will you decide to sing instead (vv. 1-2; Phil. 4:4)?
What's there to sing about? That you're not lost or alone in God's great universe today, that you are part of a vast assembly on earth who lift their voice to praise Him (v. 3). The Lord has not permitted you to fall outside His grace by your own weakness, stubbornness or rebellion. He folded you to Himself even as you ran from Him—otherwise, how would you know His love reaches to the heavens and His faithfulness to the skies (v. 4)?Jesus' love is no come-on. He didn't cross His fingers behind His back when He said it. At no point has He considered retracting His love for you or breaking the bad news to you that He doesn't love you anymore. He loves you today. He loved you yesterday. He will love you tomorrow.
Open your heart and voice to God in response: "Be exalted, O God, above the heavens, and let your glory be over all the earth" (v. 5).
Confidence for the Day
What gives you hope to live this day? Is it not God's past performance? Isn't the best predictor of what a person will do in the future what he has done in the past?
The psalmist reviews God's track record with geographical references to camping places (Shechem and Succoth) where the Lord sustained Abraham and Jacob (v. 7), as well as the names of a sampling of the tribal territories of Israel (v. 8) and historic enemies God has defeated (v. 9). All these references relate not only to God's past deeds but also constitute promises of present and future aid. With confidence David can ask for help because of what the Lord has already done (v. 6). The Lord's consistent character can be relied upon.
Challenges to Meet
David ends the psalm by recounting the most difficult task facing him—the fortified city of Edom (v. 10). Such a place lay impregnable because of its walls, battlements and defenses.
You may have your own Edom—an absolutely impossible situation. You don't have a clue as to how you can crack through the fortifications of your problem. David didn't know the "how" either, but he knew the "who"—the Lord Himself.
But, here's the catch. What if the Lord says, "Not you. You failed Me. You didn't listen to Me, so why should I pay any attention to you?" David faced that prospect head-on (v. 11), but did not let it deter him from asking the Lord for help anyway (v. 12). The very God who refuses to assist you when you are stubborn, rebellious and self-willed turns toward you when you are vulnerable, humble and penitent.
He'll give you strength to make it through this day (v. 13).

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Delayed Reaction


Stop Fighting Your Brokenness

From Darryl Dash - The Benefits of Brokenness
I have a pastor-friend who is unflappable. I think it would be impossible to tell him something that would surprise him. I know, because I’ve shared some things with him that might have raised some eyebrows. His never moved; he responded with the grace and strength that I needed at the time.
It’s hard to surprise my pastor-friend, because there isn’t much that he hasn’t experienced himself. He’s had the parenting problems. He struggled with an episode of major depression and burnout. He’s failed and succeeded in ministry. He’s stayed faithful over the long term, but he’s battered and bruised. He’s got a credibility that only comes from those who have stayed in the battle long enough to know that it’s tough.
He reminds me of another older man I met through Serge, the ministry started by Jack Miller. “There’s nothing you could tell me that would shock me,” he said. “There’s no way that you’re a worse sinner than I am.” Some could say that as a platitude; he said it as a truth. When you have been around long enough to have been humbled, and are still walking with God, you have a grace and a strength that’s hard to fake.
The older I get, the less I’m surprised by the struggles and foibles of others. I no longer have the quick answers and the simple advice. I am accumulating the wounds that I hope will one day give me the credibility that is able to stand in the middle of suffering and to say much without saying anything.
I’m no longer fighting the process of being broken. I’m learning what I couldn’t have known when I started ministry over twenty years ago: “It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until he has hurt him deeply” (A.W. Tozer)

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Sustaining Motivation

The piece below was written by Tony Merida, author of Ordinary (which I reviewed here):- Good Doctrine Wins People, Not Arguments. Good theology is necessary to sustain ministries for social justice.
Social causes come and go like bad fashion trends, sometimes quite literally: what color bracelet are you wearing this month?

Surely our consumer-conditioned attention spans have something to do with this, but let’s be real: when you care about something enough to devote serious time and energy, it can be discouraging when the anticipated results never materialize.

Many people know they should care for the poor, the marginalized, and the oppressed, but few are motivated to do this over the course of a lifetime. Jesus reminds his followers, “You always have the poor with you” (Mark 14:7). In other words, we ain’t gonna solve poverty anytime soon.

How in the world can we keep up the good work when it feels like a lost cause? Good theology.

Theological types often get stereotyped as all head and no heart. This is unfortunate because a few key doctrines of the faith provide the sustainable inspiration we need for a lifetime of good works.
If we believe that everyone is made in the image of God—imago Dei—then everyone is worthy of dignity, love, basic human rights, and hearing biblical truth.

Those who abuse people made in God’s image through enslavement, torture, rape, and grinding poverty, are dehumanizing people and insulting God Himself. Many victims of human trafficking and abuse report how they felt inhumane after being oppressed.

Those who believe in the imago Dei should live out their theology through practical acts of love for the oppressed and vulnerable.
The Bible records for us the story of God coming to save people. When we were enslaved, He freed us. When we were orphans, He adopted us. When we were sojourners, He welcomed us. When we were widows, Christ became our groom.

The mercy and justice of God meet at the cross, where our redemption comes from. We needed His redemption because we cannot live up to the standard God has set. But One did. Jesus Christ is the ultimate display of a life of righteousness and justice. Through repentance and faith in Christ, we are clothed in His righteousness.

Now, as believers, we have power to live just lives, and when we fail, we know God won’t crush us, for He has already crushed Christ in our place. Now we pursue justice because we love God, and have already been accepted in Him.

We want to show mercy. That’s what God’s redemption has done for us.

Monday, January 19, 2015

In Print


Faith Boost

Need a "faith boost" for the new year? Then read this piece by George Wood at Charisma
Have you ever heard a healing take place? I have. I listened to an audio tape of Duane Miller teaching his Sunday school class from the text of Psalm 103 at the First Baptist Church in Brenham, Texas, on Jan. 17, 1993. Duane prematurely retired from pastoring three years earlier because of a virus which penetrated the myelin sheath around the nerves in his vocal cords, reducing his speech to a raspy whisper.
He experienced firsthand the awful distress described in Psalm 102, the counterpoint to the joy found in Psalm 103.
eaching his class that day with a special microphone resting on his lips, he reaffirmed his belief in divine healing and that miracles had not ended with the Book of Acts. Listening to the tape, at times you can barely understand his weakly spoken wheezy words of faith. The miracle happened at verse 4 when he said, "I have had and you have had in times past pit experiences."
On the word "pit," Duane's life changed—the word was as clear as a bell, in contrast to the imperfect enunciation of the preceding word "past." He paused, startled; began again and stopped. He said a few more words—all in a normal clear tone—and stopped again. The class erupted with shouts of joy, astonishment and sounds of weeping. God completely healed him as he was declaring the truth in this psalm. (You can read the full account in Miller's book, Out of the Silence, Nelson Publishers.)
Consider His Benefits
Like Duane Miller, perhaps you have spent a lengthy time in the despair found in Psalm 102; but Psalm 103 shows that the Lord has a deep healing to match your deep hurt. Psalm 102 ended with a sense that God's blessings would skip over you (v. 23) and benefit instead your children and their descendants (v. 28). Psalm 103 says God will not forget you.
No wonder the psalm begins with gratitude (v. 12). Look at what the Lord has done (vv. 3-5).
1. He forgives all your sins. Sins, like legal wrongs, are of two kinds: those arising from intention and those stemming from negligence. God forgives both our acts of commission and omission. He frees you to start over after failure, cancels all indictments against you, and discharges all your debts.
2. He heals all your diseases. The sticking point for many is that they have not yet experienced a healing like Duane's nor that assured in this psalm. But as believers in Jesus, we must take the long view when miracles do not immediately occur—that ultimately in Christ healing will come even if you must wait for the glorification of your body at the resurrection. God is committed to stamping out all disease; but in His providence, He has not yet banished death nor the instruments of illness which lead toward it.
Please broaden the definition of disease to include any deterioration which diminishes your well-being and wholeness. A disease can just as easily be a bad attitude, an unforgiving spirit, a bitter heart, an eruptive and angry tongue, a fundamentally flawed will that does not resist addictions. In Jesus, the good news of the gospel works to liberate us from these deformative and degenerative diseases so that on the inside our personality and disposition increasingly resembles that of Jesus.
3. He redeems your life from the pit. The pit represents the abyss from which you cannot escape. God reaches His long arm into the pitch-dark hole of depression or despair where you lie helpless and imprisoned, grabs you strongly, pulls you up and sets your feet on solid ground in the sunlight of His presence.
4. He crowns your life with love and compassion. A crown of righteousness, life and glory waits for you in heaven (2 Tim. 4:8; James 1:12; 1 Pet. 5:4). Right now, the Lord wants you to wear a crown of love and compassion. Let others seek the crown of success, riches or power. God has a better gift for you.
5. He satisfies your desires with good things. The principal horror of depression is its total lack of hope. But God is committed to bringing good into your life—no matter what. The subtlety of temptation is that it bids you to believe you are headed down into the pit of nonfulfillment if you obey God, when the opposite is true: "At Your right hand there are pleasures for evermore" (Ps. 16:11). There's no disappointment in Jesus.
6. He renews your life like the eagle's. Trap an eagle and confine him to a dark cage. He won't live long. He lives best when he flies free. You're no different—and that's why the Lord has provided "all His benefits" (Ps. 103:2 ) for "all the oppressed" (v. 6). Note the word "all." Our Lord is not a God who has pets nor is He a respecter of persons. His favor applies to all who call upon Him.
Our Basis for Confidence
How can we be sure God is like this? We have the records of generations to whom He has revealed himself (v. 7). His character is seen in how He helped Israel and what He's done for you (vv. 8-12). And if that's not enough to convince you, observe His tender parenting (vv. 13-18). Your life has a fixed center of stability because the Lord reigns (v. 19).

Sunday, January 18, 2015

From A Pastor Who Loves Pew Sleepers

Wake Up, O Sleeper! - an appreciation of pew sleepers (like "Mr. Bean" in the photo) by Bart Barber at SBC Voices:
Second only to baptisms in frequency and hilarity, funny church stories often concern people who fell asleep in church. A man I knew from little Bethabara Baptist Church of my childhood went to church one winter morning. More than the real estate market, wintertime seating in that church building was all about location, location, and location. Too close to one of the Dearborn heaters meant you would roast; too far away meant you would freeze. Crook Hurdle (I grew up there, and the nicknames don’t seem strange to me at all) had chosen wisely—optimum range. He sat on the outside seat of the pew, just three rows forward from the heater on that blustery day. Time came for prayer. All stood. Crook leaned up against the wall, basking in perfect warmth. The prayer overflowed, and then overflowed some more. After the lengthy oration was complete (no, it wasn’t me!), everyone sat back down. Everyone, that is, except for Crook Hurdle. He, leaning up against the wall, was sound asleep standing up.
I’ve been in churches where there were some people who reliably fell asleep every week during the sermon. We all knew who they were. When I was a teenager, my friends and I would joke about them sometimes.
Now I’m no longer a teenager; I’m a pastor. For many years, this has been my approach to the sleeping saints:
1.) I show appreciation toward those who fall asleep during the service. From time to time I’ll say, “If you’ve been around here for very long you already know this, but I love people who fall asleep during church.” The first time people hear this, I get the strangest looks. Nobody expects the pastor to say this. I continue, “You see, most people who are that tired are at home. They didn’t come today. But you, in spite of being so fatigued, came to church anyway. You’re my hero. I love people who fall asleep in church.” 
2.) I do not take anyone’s lapse into slumber as commentary about the quality of my sermon. I once fell asleep during a Peter Jackson film. That didn’t mean ANYTHING about how much I liked or did not like “The Desolation of Smaug.” It just meant that I was tired. Period. A great many people are sleep-deprived. Don’t take it personally
3.) Falling asleep during a church meeting is biblical. Eutychus did it in Acts 20. If you find in that passage any disdain toward him for his somnolence, then you’re reading it differently than I do. In fact, it was only because of his fall and his need for healing that the incident is mentioned at all, not because he was asleep. The early church did not, as far as we know, have nurseries. I imagine Pauline worship services as gatherings in which mothers were rocking babies, people were shifting about in makeshift seating or on the floor, etc. I’m guessing that people fell asleep quite a bit, especially in gatherings that lasted all day or into the night.
So, give a break to the poor guy who’s snoring on the fourth pew. And give a break to yourself if there are a few people nodding during your hard-fought exposition of Colossians 1. Sleep happens. We’re a family. Love one another and move on.
This is a very brief post for me, but I don’t want you to get bored and…

Saturday, January 17, 2015

On the Nature of True Christian Friendship

St. Gregory Nazianzen, writing about his friendship with St. Basil the Great:
/Our single object and ambition was virtue, and a life of hope in the blessings that are to come; we wanted to withdraw from this world before we departed from it. With this end in view we ordered our lives and all our actions. We followed the guidance of God’s law and spurred each other on to virtue. If it is not too boastful to say, we found in each other a standard and rule for discerning right from wrong. Different men have different names, which they owe to their parents or to themselves, that is, to their own pursuits and achievements. But our great pursuit, the great name we wanted, was to be Christians, to be called Christians.

Friday, January 16, 2015

How To Fret

Do you worry? Do you fret? That's a little like asking "Do you breathe?" Since we all do it, here's a good piece by Jonathan Parnell at Desiring God- Three Facts For Your Fret:
We tend to fret.
It is a fact about creatures that we are derivative beings who can’t ultimately control the world around us. We have questions about whether we should do this or that, and about what might happen if we do this or that, which quickly turns into worries about how badly this or that might turn out. Before long, we’re in the storm of outright anxiety. It begins to bear down on us with hurricane-force winds — all the facts and would-be’s, the haywire of things gone sideways, and our incapacity to determine results. What are we supposed to do?
Remember God. That is what we are supposed to do. We remember that these worries are as ancient as our earliest forefathers, and that God has been in the business of answering them since the beginning, and better, that the way he answers them is not by ignoring the complexity, but by stepping into it. In short, we should know we’re not alone, that God hears, and that God works in the middle of our mess.
1. You’re Not Alone
The psalms are incomparable in making this point. Not only do they show us again and again that God cares, but they, in one sense, come alongside us to feel what we feel. We can forget sometimes that the psalmists were real people like us, and that their situations were as literal as anything we’d experience. We shouldn’t lose that in the poetry. When David says, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil” (Psalm 23:4), we should remember that actual enemies were trying to kill him. Now, that’s a beautiful metaphor — the valley and the shadow and all that — but it works only because death was seriously all around him.
The psalms are real life, and that’s why they help us. Whatever circumstances we are going through, as different as they might be from the psalmist’s so many years ago, there are wonderful similarities. Psalm 37 stands out.
The psalm opens: “Fret not yourself because of evildoers; be not envious of wrongdoers!” (Psalm 37:1). Again, “Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil” (Psalm 37:8). The point is that we don’t worry. Granted, there are various reasons for why any of God’s people might worry over the course of centuries, but the command not to worry and the basis of not worrying are the same. Whatever worries we have, we are not alone. Our brothers and sisters have been there.
2. God Hears You
A psalmist is writing about fret, which means it’s happened before. But also, and more specifically, the psalmist is exhorting God’s people about fret, which means God knows what’s going on. God isn’t a stranger to this. He has heard his people then, and he hears us now.
The psalms as a whole make this wonderfully clear. It is even thematic, as I think we can see in the first few psalms. What begins to stand out when we read the first handful together is that David has this unremitting confidence in God’s nearness — that God listens to him and cares. “I cried aloud the the Lᴏʀᴅ, and he answered me from his holy hill” (Psalm 3:4); “The Lᴏʀᴅ has set apart the godly for himself; the Lᴏʀᴅ hears when I call to him” (Psalm 4:1, 3); “O Lᴏʀᴅ, in the morning you hear my voice” (Psalm 5:3); “The Lᴏʀᴅ has heard the sound of my weeping. The Lᴏʀᴅ has heard my plea; the Lᴏʀᴅ accepts my prayer” (Psalm 6:8–9).
This is the great reminder that even in the thick of our fret, we never find God “indifferent or helpless or caught by surprise.” And that even when it seems like no one else hears, that our friends have all deserted us, we can turn the page with David to Psalm 38:9, “O Lord, all my longing is before you; my sighing is not hidden from you.” God hears, always.


From @ChristineCaine on Twitter

Thursday, January 15, 2015


From Verge Network; 3 Temptations That Will Sabotage Any Ministry by Aaron Ivey.  This article was written primarily for worship team leaders, but applicable to any ministry.
I’ve been leading a band for over 10 years. I’ve made countless mistakes over the years, but now more than ever I see the crucial role of a worship leader to not just pastor their flock, but to also pastor and shepherd their band. We’re going to take a three part look at everything this entails.
What does it mean to shepherd?
We think feeding the sheep means a heroic, lone-wolf, sort of saving the sheep. I don’t think that’s the example Jesus gives us. I think what we actually see is a sort of community shepherding. In Mark 6, Jesus doesn’t send the disciples out by themselves. He sends them out two by two.
Our old bass player Steven Bush likes to say that a shared table is a shared life. Jesus broke bread with those He led, and there’s something radically compelling about sharing life, food, drink, laughter, and struggle with those you lead.
You also need to be a person that’s worth following. Here are 3 temptations will sabotage any ministry:
(Adapted from In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership by Henri Nouwen)
The Temptation to be Relevant
You cannot measure your worth by your twitter followers. Your sheep don’t need you to be culturally relevant. Our culture is marked with loneliness, isolation, lack of friendship and intimacy, broken relationships, boredom, feelings of emptiness and depressions, and deep sense of uselessness. A culturally relevant shepherd will lead his sheep off a cliff.
Tweet This: A culturally relevant shepherd will lead his sheep off a cliff. @aaronivey #shepherding
Are you in love with Jesus? Do you know the heart of God? Answering those questions should come well before questions about how far your influence reaches.
The Temptation to be Spectacular
We crave approval of the masses. And this plays out in how we lead. It can become more important getting people to buy our CD than making those in our immediate community feel cared for. This is fatal for any shepherd.
Your band doesn’t need a boss most of the time. They need vulnerable brothers and sisters who know and are known, who care and are cared for, who forgive and are asking for forgiveness far more.
Your band doesn’t need a spectacular shepherd; they need a faithful, devoted, shepherd to lead them.
The Temptation to be Powerful
The long painful history of the church is the story of people tempted over and over again to choose power over love, control over the cross, and being a leader over being led. Matthew 20:28 gives us a different picture:

The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.
Have you developed healthy, intimate relationships with the sheep you lead? Or have you opted for power and control of them instead?

Holder of the Keys

"The descent of Christ could be no lower. He fathomed the fathomless, and met sin’s consequences at its last dark frontiers. He tasted death to its limits and tasted it for every man.

There is nothing in death or judgement He has not borne. In all its vast extent and utmost extremity, our Lord has answered it. There is no area in the vast abyss left unexplored. He holds the keys to death and hades.

  — Geoffrey T. Bull, The City and the Sign (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1970), page 95

Wednesday, January 14, 2015



HT: Crossway Books

Holy Folly

You Turn Worldly Wisdom into Holy Folly 

From Your hand, O Lord,
we receive everything.
You stretch Your powerful hand,
and turn worldly wisdom into holy folly.
You open Your gentle hand,
and offer the gift of inward peace.
If sometimes it seems that Your arm is shortened,
then You increase our faith and trust,
so that we may reach out to You.
And if sometimes it seems that You withdraw Your hand from us,
then we know it is only to conceal the eternal blessing which You have promised -
that we may yearn even more fervently for You.
         - Soren Kierkegaard, 1813-55.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Desire in Formation

Found this well-done post, "Faith and Human Desire," from Jen Pollock Michel (by way of Amy Simpson). Her book Teach Us To Want sounds quite interesting:
Here’s a conversation with my friend Jen Pollock Michel (you can read more about her and her wise book, Teach Us to Want, at the end of this post). As Christians we often assume our desires are something to be denied, but Jen gives us a different perspective–one that considers how our desires themselves can fuel our spiritual growth.
Desire is at the heart of Christian formation, but we tend to focus on belief and behavior more than desire. Why do you think we tend to do this?
We owe our emphasis on rationality to the Enlightenment. When Descartes introduced the idea “I think, therefore I am,” we began putting cognition at the center of human personality. This philosophical shift affected our theology, and the project of spiritual formation became something very rational. Certainly there are many Scriptures about belief (Romans 10:9, for example), so it’s not unimportant that we believe in Jesus. It’s just that belief must be held in proper balance with what Jesus named as the two most important commandments: love God and love neighbor. These commands make desire central to spiritual formation.
Behaviorism, of course, has long been a part of humans’ attempts at religion. In Jesus’ day, the Pharisees were the ones who measured virtue by externals. They were fastidious about their rule-keeping: washing hands before meals, observing the Sabbath traditions, etc. As long as they could keep their “behaviors” in check, they assumed all was well. But Jesus disagreed, as we know. He called them “whitewashed tombs.”
Maybe we all prefer to emphasize belief and behavior in spiritual formation because these suggest something we can more handily manage. We feel in control of our beliefs and behaviors. But the moment we mention desire, suddenly we’re aware of the deep work of transformation needed. When we talk about desire, it’s as if we put our finger on an exposed spiritual nerve. Do I want Jesus? Is he my greatest treasure? Those are challenging questions we would sometimes prefer to avoid.
Churches that value truth tend to focus on cognitive models of change. Why is this approach insufficient?
I was raised in a church that emphasized Biblical knowledge, and I currently attend a church that emphasizes good theology. I’m grateful for both! But as you’ve said, Biblical knowledge and theology, when viewed as ends rather than means, will prove to be insufficient. We need to know God’s Word, and we need to develop good theology. But we need to do both of these in order than our desires for Christ and his kingdom may be formed. Otherwise we’re on the way toward becoming Pharisees ourselves. Their example reminds us that we can know a lot, even obey very carefully, and somehow miss the divinely intended point. We can strain gnats and swallow camels (cf. Matthew 23:24).
We usually don’t think of The Lord’s Prayer as having much to say about our desires. What made you choose that as your guide?
It’s been many years now that I’ve been studying–and praying!–the Lord’s Prayer. This is funny, I guess. I grew up Baptist, and we certainly did not make it a practice to pray the Lord’s Prayer together! But in my own spiritual life, I’ve loved the prayer for its simplicity. So often, I make things more complicated for myself than they need to be. I tend to get tangled up in my own thoughts. The Lord’s Prayer has been an invitation into what’s most elemental about God’s desires for me and for the world. It’s a prayer I find myself praying a lot, especially when words and understanding fail for a particular situation. When I don’t know how to pray, I remember that Jesus said, “Pray like this!”
But I have to credit Ben Jolliffe, who was an intern at our church for a couple of years, for really shaping the book’s use of the Lord’s Prayer. We were studying the Lord’s Prayer together as a church, and he preached that what we so often get wrong about prayer (and I think, desire) is the tension between, “Our Father” and “Hallowed by your name.” First there’s this beautiful invitation toward God’s generosity and love when we call him our Father. Jesus is saying, “Ask! You can’t believe how much God wants to give!” But right on the heels of this invitation is this necessary caution: God’s name must be made holy. Don’t ask thinking God owes you your wildest dreams.
When I heard that sermon, I had been working on the book already, but it gave me really clear language for the tension of human desire in the context of faith. We should want from God because he is so unbelievably good. And yet we should want very soberly, knowing that God isn’t dedicated to the project of making our lives easy and convenient. Instead he’s committed to his kingdom, his own glory.
How has a deeper understanding of desire changed your approach to your own spiritual growth?
I use the question “What do I want?” as a way forward into understanding my own heart. Here’s an example: maybe I've been irritable with the kids. It’s easy enough to confess that irritability. But maybe there’s something worthwhile about digging into the desires, which promote that irritability. Maybe there are good desires that are being obstructed. Maybe one of my children is being persistently disobedient, and God is calling me into greater courage and consistency in my parenting. But maybe I have disordered desires, which need to be confessed. Maybe it’s my insane craving for quiet and order that makes me irritable, and I need to embrace that my children are children and not adults! As I understand what I want, for good or for bad, it informs the way I pray and then act.
Here’s another example: in my marriage, maybe I want greater intimacy with my husband. But maybe I also want to avoid the real work of participating in that growth. Maybe in asking myself the question “What do I want?” I recognize that at the end of the day, I’m most interested in crawling into bed with a good book!
When I pray, considering my desires, I can see my heart’s contradictions and bring these before God for healing. I don’t ever trust myself to change my desires. I simply look for God’s grace to be active in their transformation. I ask him to help me want and will what he wants and wills.

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