Thursday, December 31, 2009

If You Want God's Guidance, Be Prepared to Follow It

Johanan was the hero of the hour.

It was only recently that Babylonians had come, saw, and conquered the nation of Judah. Babylon had removed Judah’s king and placed their own appointee in charge, Gedaliah. But the Ammonites had come, killed Gedaliah, and captured the remnant of the Jewish population.

They were taking them into captivity when Johanan and his contingent struck, rescuing their fellow Jews and sending the Ammonites packing.

Now Johanan and all the Jews approach Jeremiah. They ask him to ask God what they should do. Jeremiah agrees and tells them he will report to them everything God says, not withholding one single syllable. For their part, Johanan and the people assure Jeremiah that they will obey God’s direction, whatever it is.

Ten days pass and Jeremiah returns to the people. God’s answer comes in essentially three parts. First, they are to remain in the conquered land under the authority of the Babylonians. They are to settle down, and God will protect them and nurture them. Second, they are not to flee to Egypt, thinking they will escape both war and famine, for if they do, war and famine and plague will hunt every last one of them down.

Now why does God warn them about going to Egypt? They already told Jeremiah they would do whatever God says. The third part of God’s answer is this: he knows that they are determined to go to Egypt no matter what.

Guess what happens? Johanan and co. accuse Jeremiah of lying to them about what God said. They pack up and go to Egypt, even taking Jeremiah with them!

When they arrive in Tahpanhes in Egypt, God directs Jeremiah to place some large stones on the pavement in front of Pharaoh’s palace, and Jeremiah relays to the people that God will call Babylon down to Egypt, and the Babylonian king will pitch his royal pavilion where? Right over these stones. You cannot hide from God.

Obedience is healthier than disobedience.

If you ask God for directions, don’t take a different route.

(Account found in Jer 39-43.)

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

9 Enjoyable Settings

  1. Sipping a bowl of warm broccoli cheddar soup at Panera on a wintry night, sitting across from Sara
  2. Starbucks with Sara and Ben and Jess, jazz playing
  3. Sunday afternoon nap in the La-Z-Boy, no one else around
  4. Watching a good movie at the Rave with Sara or a friend
  5. Sitting on a park bench in Headwaters Park early on a summer morning, reading my Bible or a book
  6. A road trip with Sara
  7. Browsing at Hyde Brothers Books with some money or credit and lots of time to spend
  8. Worshiping at church of high liturgy or at an old-fashioned country-like church
  9. Time Corners KFC or the one at Dupont & Coldwater, alone, eating a mashed potato bowl, drinking a Diet Pepsi, and leisurely reading a book

    PS Another setting I think I would enjoy is the Skinners’ living room, alone for a length of time, reading. I love their living room--the arrangement of the furniture around the fireplace.

Monday, December 28, 2009

30 Great Books

In a recent post I picked my favorite book I read this year. I’ve been keeping track of my reading since 1996. So I decided to go back and pick a one or a few favorites from each year (30 in all). It’s just another way for me to talk about my hobby--reading.

1996 -- The first time I read Tolkien’s The Two Towers, book 2 in The Lord of the Rings trilogy

1997 -- Cornelius Plantinga, Jr.s’ Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin is an enlightening and engaging look at sin, its various forms and effects.

1998 -- I have to mention 4, two by Philip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew and What’s So Amazing about Grace? D. James Kennedy’s What If the Bible Had Never Been Written? is an inspiring look at the Bible’s impact on every aspect of culture and society. My first exposure to Randy Alcorn was through his novel Dominion, and it’s still my favorite Alcorn book. A mystery that taught me a great deal about Heaven.

1999 -- Often asking myself, “What does it mean to be a pastor?” The Contemplative Pastor, by Eugene Peterson, helped me see pastoral ministry from completely new angles. I hesitate to mention Dave Barry Does Japan, but it is our (Sara and me) favorite Dave Barry book thus far. Oh how we laughed!

2000 -- Three stick out: The Case for Christ (Lee Strobel), An American Life (President Reagan’s autobiography), and The Count of Monte Cristo (Alexandre Dumas). Dumas tells a great story.

2001 -- I don’t think anyone does worldview like Chuck Colson, and his How Now Shall We Live? is helpful in seeing the implications of various worldviews.

2002 -- Bruce Catton’s Grant Takes Command was the first to cause me to become a big fan of Gen. U. S. Grant. John Piper’s mini-biographies of John Bunyan, William Cowper, and David Brainerd, highlighting especially their suffering, make The Hidden Smile of God a great read, helping one to think through suffering in the Christian life, and in its various forms (Bunyan--prison, Cowper--severe depression, Brainerd--poor health).

2003 -- James Dobson’s excellent Bringing Up Boys was an education for me in so many ways and helpful to me with regards to Andrew. Brennan Manning’s portrait of God’s amazing love in The Ragamuffin Gospel continues to impact my view of God. John Piper’s Don’t Waste Your Life helped me see how I use a lot of my resources and energies to protect and serve myself instead of spending myself out for God.

2004 -- Several to mention from this year: Jesus in Beijing by David Aikman, Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret by Dr. & Mrs. Howard Taylor, and The Art of Pastoring by David Hansen. The latter helped me to see Peterson’s view of pastoring fleshed out.

2005 -- Wesley Duewel’s Heroes of the Holy Life highlights several saints (one per chapter) who were filled with the Spirit and powerful prayer warriors.

2006 -- I mention 3: Sara and I found Alexander McCall Smith’s The Finer Points of Sausage Dogs to be hysterical. Also very good are A Patriot’s History of the United States, by Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen, and The Divine Conquest, by A. W. Tozer.

2007 -- Doris Kearns Goodwin pictures Abraham Lincoln as a political genius in Team of Rivals. George MacDonald’s fantasy, Lilith, is an amazing portrayal of spiritual struggle and transformation, I think, but don’t ask me to describe it. The book is more experienced, I think, than completely understood. Ruth Tucker’s Left Behind in a Megachurch World affirms small churches, which I appreciated. (I even corresponded with her briefly about it.) Stephen Ambrose’s To America: Personal Reflections of an Historian is a fascinating look at a dozen or so specific events and individuals in American history.

2008 -- Steven W. Mosher helped me see more clearly the evil of China’s communism in A Mother’s Ordeal. Hats off to Roger E. Olson’s clear and able defense of Arminianism in Arminian Theology. Gladys Aylward’s autobiography (Gladys Aylward: The Little Woman) is brief, powerful, and convicting. And Gladys, a 20th-century missionary to China, is an able storyteller.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Welcoming Christ the Newborn King

It has become a personal tradition to go to the 11pm Christmas Eve service at Immanuel Lutheran (downtown on Jefferson). I don’t make it every year, but I go this year.

I fight sleep. I was tired even before I decided at the last minute to go. After I doze through a hymn verse, I pray to be awake.

Lutheran church liturgy differs significantly from my own church’s; perhaps that makes this Christmas Eve service more meaningful. It may also be meaningful because of my desire to humble myself before the Lord who humbled himself for me. What does he, the Master of the Universe, the Divine Warrior, think of all the sentimentality over his birth? Does he regret stooping so low as to become a baby, a baby that is “ooh”ed and “aah”ed over?

I want to get something out of the service, something that will move me closer to Christ. The prayers we read are meaningful; so is the Introit, where we sing/chant parts of Psalm 2, a wonderful psalm about the kings of the earth not being able to overthrow God’s anointed.

Also helpful to me are the Christmas hymns. Some I’m not very familiar with, like “Once in Royal David’s City.” Others are new to me, like “Now Sing We, Now Rejoice.” Others are re-presented to me with alternative tunes, like “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”

Something else that moves me toward Christ is the reverence paid him throughout the service. The service is clearly Christ-centered, plus we are gathering at an inconvenient time in order to worship him, plus the atmosphere is reverent--the candles, the dress, etc. To be sure, there are some who are not reverent. They are talking with one another during the message or clearly going through the motions. But overall …

At some point in the service I remember that while it may be good to seek a meaningful experience in the service, ultimately I should be most concerned about what I am giving to the Lord. Is my worship heartfelt and pleasing to him?

I forgot they collect an offering at this service. Had I remembered I probably would have prepared before I came--you know, stuck a smaller bill in my wallet. After all, most of my tithes and offerings belong to my local congregation. As the ushers begin to pass the plates, I decide not to give. I give to my church, I reason, and funds are really tight right now, and I was going to put that particular bill toward another obligation. But then the Lord’s Spirit reminds me that he has given and given to me. “What are you celebrating right now?” he prompts. And he reminds me that he provides for me, and he reminds me that he blesses the generous. So I pull the bill out of my wallet and place it in the plate. At this moment I think, “How can I not give to my Lord who has given so much for me?”

I don’t go forward to take communion. The first year I attended I wasn’t allowed. This year I’m allowed, but I don’t go because I’m not exactly sure of the procedure. I remain in my pew.

The lights are turned off. The candles shine. The organ plays. We begin to sing “Silent Night” in German. “Stille nacht, heilige nacht …” Then we sing it in English.

I walk out into the bright crisp air. It’s 12:30, and the Lord has come. God’s wondrous gift has been given. O Lord, I hope my worship has pleased you.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Presents

Here's a hodgepodge of "Christmas presents."

I was lamenting a few weeks ago to Sara that we way overshot our Nov gasoline budget, and so we dipped significantly into Dec's budget to cover all of Nov's expenses. The only 3 that knew about our "gas crisis" were the Lord, Sara, and myself. I guess that was enough. In the last couple weeks we have received from others $75 in Speedway gift cards.

Joyce, a woman here at church battling cancer and enduring chemotherapy, called me yesterday. The brain tumors have remained shrunken; the tumor in the lymph nodes is gone; the bone cancer is practically gone. She's officially in remission. What a Christmas present!

Wilhelmina Holle, a Christian elementary school teacher imprisoned in Indonesia for allegedly blaspheming Islam last December, is supposed to be released today. Let's hope it happens.

In November Marzieh and Maryam were released without bail after 259 days in prison as "anti-government activists" (read: "Christians"). Praise God that he opens prison doors. The charges against them have not been dropped, so there's still need for prayer.

Just this month Gulsher Masih and his 21-year-old daughter Sandul Bibi were released from prison in Pakistan after a court found them innocent of blasphemy charges. They had been in for one year on trumped-up charges of ripping a Koran. (The real reason they were in prison was because of their vibrant faith in Christ.)

The vote is in. The government is giving us health care reform, and it wasn't even on our Christmas list. In fact, it's the one thing we told the government we didn't want for Christmas. This is one Christmas present I would love to return and get the money from.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Blessings of Prison

In One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, by Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Alyosha, a Bible-reading Christian, is one of the minor characters. Toward the end of the book, Alyosha and the main character, Shukhov, converse about God and religion. When Shukhov raises as an objection the excessively wealthy priest with whom he is familiar, Alyosha decries that Orthodox brand of Christianity.

“Why are you talking to me about priests? The Orthodox Church has departed from Scripture. It’s because their faith is unstable that they’re not in prison.”

Later, when Shukhov wryly observes to Alyosha that all his prayers have not shortened his term one bit, Alyosha points out:

“Oh, you mustn’t pray for that either … Why do you want freedom? In freedom your last grain of faith will be choked with weeds. You should rejoice that you’re in prison. Here you have time to think about your soul.”

He goes on to note, “As the Apostle Paul wrote: ‘Why all these tears? Why are you trying to weaken my resolution? For my part I am ready not merely to be bound but ever to die for the name of the Lord Jesus.’”

Postscript: Solzhenitsyn said of his own prison experience, "Bless you prison, bless you, for being in my life, for there, lying on the rotting prison floor, I came to realize that the object of life is not prosperity, as we are made to believe, but the maturing of the human soul."

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Theology Matters

A 31-year-old father in Scotland committed suicide in October to be with his 9-year-old son, so that "he would not be alone."

When their son died as a result of a car crash, the parents decided that one of them should take their own life in order to be with him, the other parent remaining behind to care for their 13-year-old daughter.

I suggest that their faulty theology led to this unnecessary compounding of their tragedy. If the kid is in Heaven, he is not alone and not uncared for. If in Hell, there's nothing an earthly father can do for him; there's not even a guarantee of reunion.

Just another example of how practical theology is.

(Read the news story.)

9 Simple Pleasures

1. Watching a movie at a theater
2. Napping by the lit Christmas tree, Christmas music playing
3. Sitting in a park on a sunny day
4. Re-reading an enjoyable novel
5. Heart-to-heart conversation with Sara
6. Knowing I don’t have to get up early in the morning
7. Lunch with a friend
8. Cookies and milk
9. The first good snow

Snow Sculptures

Found in my neighborhood

Monday, December 21, 2009

Christmas Charm

Upon the snow
see the snowman grow,
the reindeer play,
Baby Jesus in the hay.
Watch little Ted
clinging to his sled.
Holding mittened fingers
young couple lingers
on ice-covered pond,
other skaters gone
the tree to light.
How it joys the night!
Cold are the toes
and red is each nose,
but hearts are warm
for familiar Christmas charm
again brings joy,
even to
40-year-old boy.

Friday, December 18, 2009

A Good Day in a Siberian Prison Camp

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich details a single day in January in a Siberian prison camp in Stalin’s Soviet Union. The day begins with reveille at 5am in the morning and ends with the prisoners dropping into bed late at night. In between are the actions of the day largely dictated by those in charge of the camp.

Shukhov (the protagonist) and the men in his prison squad attempt to exert their freedom within the system in small ways throughout the day: a few stolen moments by the stove to warm up, working the social system among the prisoners to gain an extra 6 oz. of bread, concealing a nice trowel for future days when masonry work will be called for.

And constantly on their minds is food. Receiving very little a day (and the kind of food at which we would turn up our noses), they are constantly thinking about how to get the best part and the most of the food they can.

Shukhov was a soldier in the army, got caught behind enemy lines, and was able to escape back to the Soviet Union. But he “confessed” to being a German spy. (It was that or be killed, he realized.) Now he’s 8 years into a 10-year term, but his hope of being released is compromised by the Soviet whim of renewing terms for another 10 years.

At the end of this one day, we are surprised at Shukhov’s assessment: it was a good day.

"He’d had many strokes of luck that day: they hadn’t put him in the cells; they hadn’t sent his squad to the settlement; he’s swiped a bowl of kasha at dinner; the squad leader had fixed the rates well; he’d built a wall and enjoyed doing it; he’s smuggled that bit of hacksaw blade through; he’d earned a favor from Tsezar that evening; he’d bought that tobacco. And he hadn’t fallen ill. He’d got over it.

A day without a dark cloud. Almost a happy day.

There were three thousand six hundred and fifty-three days like that in his stretch. From the first clang of the rail to the last clang of the rail.

Three thousand six hundred and fifty-three days.

The extra days were for leap years.”

Thursday, December 17, 2009

New Christmas Tunes

Here are some of my favorite new Christmas tunes this year. (At least they're new to me.) Warning: All these links take you to youtube to hear the songs.

Mandisa's rendition of "Children, Go Where I Send Thee." I've not really heard her before; she's powerful, and this arrangement is fantastic. (Caution: This link takes you to youtube.)

Casting Crowns' new arrangement of "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day." Wow! How this new tune and chords improve this familiar song!

The lyrics of Downhere's "How Many Kings" are fantastic. Lyrics like:

Cause how many kings, stepped down from their thrones?
How many lords have abandoned their homes?
How many greats have become the least for me?
How many Gods have poured out their hearts
To romance a world that has torn all apart?
How many fathers gave up their sons for me?

Another good one is Sarah McLachlan's haunting "O Little Town of Bethlehem."

And here's a fun one that's not new to me, but it may be to you: "I Yust Go Nuts at Christmas," by Yogi Yorgesson.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Recollections of My 2009 Reading (Part 2)

In conjunction with our Bible Study focus on 1 & 2 Samuel this year, I read through a few commentaries. Dale Ralph Davis’s were my favorite. 1 Samuel: Looking on the Heart and 2 Samuel: Out of Every Adversity are scholarly, theological, practical, and readable. In just about every chapter of Leap Over a Wall, Eugene Peterson brings a different, helpful and reverent perspective to David's story.

Sara and I found Night Light: A Devotional for Couples by the Dobsons to be great some nights and okay other nights. But marriages vary greatly; the fact that some topics weren’t issues for us wasn’t surprising.

Because I liked it so much when I read it the first time, I read Chaim Potok’s The Chosen to Sara. She liked it, too. (See my previous comments.)

As with Master and Commander and Post Captain, Book 3 of Patrick O’Brian’s series on the British navy at the beginning of the 1800s, H. M. S. Surprise, is great literature. Though the storyline continues to follow Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin, book 1 is still my favorite and book 2 my least favorite. But in truth, all 3 are great. (I recently acquired book 4, and my dad gave me book 10 some time ago; he found it for a buck.)

Richard Wurmbrand’s chapter in The Triumphant Church on intentionally preparing for persecution is eye-opening in the most shocking sense of that phrase. He doesn’t mince words about preparing for imprisonment and torture; very heartening. And John Piper’s chapter on suffering is also good.

I think Walter Wangerin’s way of telling a story in The Book of the Dun Cow of a barnyard’s struggle against supernatural evil is fantastic and thought-provoking. (See my post on the book.)

Tuesday the Rabbi Saw Red, a mystery novel by Harry Kemelman about Rabbi David Small, whose Rabbinically-trained mind helps him reason out a murder case, entertained me enough to want to read another one in the series. Tony Hillerman’s Dance Hall of the Dead, my second adventure with Navajo Detective Joe Leaphorn, was equally entertaining.

Always interested in biographies of pastors, Jonathan Edwards and the Ministry of the Word by Douglas A. Sweeney didn’t disappoint. Neither did A Passion for God: The Spiritual Journey of A. W. Tozer by Lyle Dorsett. (I blogged a few times about this bio.)

Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich is not sensational. It doesn’t have to be. It’s straight-forward portrayal of one day at a prison camp in Siberia makes one wonder at man’s cruelty toward his fellow man.

My best read of the year was another preacher biography: David Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The First Forty Years 1899-1939, by Iain H. Murray. This book has “stayed with me,” in a sense. It moved me then; it moves me now. If I become ½ the man Lloyd-Jones was, it will be a miracle. (I posted about this book, too.)

Monday, December 14, 2009

Recollections of My 2009 Reading (Part 1)

Phillips Brooks, pastor, author of “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” and contemporary of President Lincoln was known for his preaching. But I found his sermons in Addresses to be ponderous.

Considering myself woefully undereducated when it comes to Shakespeare, I have a goal of reading one of his plays a year. Macbeth demonstrates his genius with plot intricacies.

Sara, Andrew, and I all discovered P. G. Wodehouse this year. Jeeves and the Song of Songs is brilliant comedy. And the way Wodehouse shows the complete idiocy of Wooster even as he is narrating the story in his own self-assured way is genius.

I believe it was The Spy Who Came in from the Cold that put John LeCarre on the map, so to speak, but I found it just okay.

The Resurrection File, Craig Parshall’s legal thriller surrounding an ancient document disproving Jesus’ resurrection is entertaining, but a little too long for its quality and isn’t as good as Paul Maier’s, A Skeleton in God’s Closet.

I was challenged and inspired by both The Best of E. M. Bounds on Prayer and Andrew Murray’s With Christ in the School of Prayer. They challenged my prayer habits, which I expected, and they challenged my perspective on prayer, which I didn’t expect. At this time they have yet to win me over on a couple points. (But I fully admit that I am probably the one with the wrong thinking.)

The Cross of Christ by John Stott is an all-encompassing and well thought-out work. Stott’s outlines are logical and memorable, his arguments both comprehensive and concise. And the subject matter is inspiring.

The final book in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Return of the King, did not disappoint me on my third read-through. (See the post this read-through inspired.)

On Being a Pastor by Derek Prime and Alistair Begg both sharpened my perspective and gave me some good ideas.

J. I. Packer’s Keep in Step with the Spirit is an excellent theology on the Holy Spirit. I found his explanations of Romans 7:14-25 and of our relationship to sin to be helpful.

Richard Preston’s The Wild Trees draws up a very readable picture of some biologists in love with Redwoods. I learned a lot of fascinating things about trees and about people who love them. (See my post about this book.)

I found Perspectives on the Doctrine of God: Four Views alternately enlightening and dizzying. I still find Calvinism ultimately unconvincing and open theism disturbing if not heretical (though John Sanders argues his case well).

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ collection of sermons on Psalm 73, Faith on Trial, are a wealth of theology and practical insight.

Throughout Original Sin: A Cultural History, Alan Jacobs shares story after story of how individuals and cultures have embraced, rejected, or modified the idea of inherited sin. Interesting, but not a can’t-put-it-down.

More recollections to come ...

Friday, December 11, 2009

Why President Obama Deserves the Nobel Peace Prize

Watching Jay Leno last night while doing Christmas cards, I laughed out loud when he said this:

"A lot of people don't understand why President Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize. Look around you. Our factories, peaceful. I went to the mall this week. Peaceful. They had an open house near my house. Not one person came in. It's a peaceful economy here."

Thursday, December 10, 2009

A Christmas Tradition I Enjoy/Despise

Christmas letters.

For the past several years, at least since 1994, I've sent out a Christmas letter with many of our Christmas cards.

I know the Christmas letter is mocked and belittled as a tradition, kind of like fruitcake; but, like fruitcake, it remains popular, and I suspect that it's because many people actually enjoy it. If I didn't think people enjoyed reading about our family's--and mainly my kids'--doings, I wouldn't go to the trouble of researching, writing, editing, copying, folding, stuffing, and mailing it.

Well, I'm a bit ahead of my traditional game this year. The letter's already written, copied, and mostly stuffed. Many of the cards are already addressed. So that's a good feeling.

I generally go with a traditional Christmas color for the paper; green, red. But not always. I did hot pink one year and blue another year. This year I told Sara I wanted to do a bright yellow so it would be like a ray of sunshine bursting from each Christmas card in the midst of December's gray. I went to Staples, and they had just what I wanted. And the price was right, too. (Okay, maybe free would be right; but the price wasn't outrageous.)

Last year I put the Christmas letter on my other blog and simply included the web address for the letter in Christmas cards. This year I decided that was actually kind of cheesy. I wish I could recognize cheesy before I do it instead of afterwards. I do have a cheesy detector. It's called "Sara." But it doesn't quite catch everything.

This year's letter is a bit longer than my average; it's because my kids are over-achievers, and hence there's so much to write about. Or it's because brevity isn't my strength. Maybe both.

Well, that's enough about Christmas letters. Oh, except one other thing. I enjoy reading other people's Christmas letters. So send me yours. If I'm not on your list this year, put me on it.

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Heavenly Minded, Earthly Good

In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis debunks the idea that to be heavenly minded is to be of no earthly good.

"If you read history, you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth “thrown in”: aim at earth and you will get neither."

Monday, December 7, 2009

In-Step with Christ Means Out-of-Step with the World

The Beatitudes are beautiful, but they are radical. They are hard to live out; no wonder we can’t do it apart from becoming a new creation.

They are beautiful because they shine brightly against the world’s values.

Blessed are the proud, the positive, the self-made, the self-assured, the prosperous, the powerful, the respectable. These are ugly, are they not? Yet are they? Isn’t it true we wouldn’t mind being these? We don’t mind being these?

The world finds the Beatitudes weak, pitiful. Anti-theist Christopher Hitchens believes Pastor Douglas Wilson has saddled himself with a heavy burden of misery in believing in his sinfulness from his conception. What is so appealing about being poor in spirit? Isn’t rich in spirit far more blessed?

Why are the mourners blessed? Because they will be comforted. But isn’t it better not to have had to mourn in the first place?

The path of the Beatitudes is the path of Christ. The devil’s temptations of Jesus in the wilderness were the temptations of the world. The world sees no problem with satisfying your hunger right then and there, no problem with self-promotion in order to gain a following, no problem with compromising with the enemy in order to gain power.

If you’re in-step with Christ, you will be out-of-step with the world. You cannot have it both ways. Do you grasp that? Do I grasp that?

If I’m spending some of my resources--time, energy, money--on being in-step with Christ and some on being in-step with the world, what will I get in the end? A big fat zero. Negatives and positives cancel each other out. I’ll be out-of-step with both. Christ won’t recognize me, and the world won’t have any use for me.

Don’t stay on the fence. Throw in, heart, with Christ. Recognize the heat you’ll take from the world and accept it.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Thankful for Body Blessings

Ears that hear and eyes that see—
the LORD has made them both. (Prov 20:12 NIV)

I think of that verse often. I am thankful to God for both gifts.

Pulling into a parking place at Target last night, Sara and I noticed a woman walking gingerly into the store. "That was me a few years ago," Sara said, "when my neuropathy was bad." She said she notices people struggling to walk.

Oddly enough, it's something I've noticed quite a bit lately, too.
  • Like the man at the restaurant last night struggling to stand himself over his walker, stooped.
  • Like the woman next to him trying to help him, though she herself was quite unsteady even with her cane.
  • Like the man at Scott's who was practically bent to a 90-degree angle at the waist.
  • Like the woman barely moving with her walker in the cold breezy air, her speed condemning her to chilled bones despite her winter coat.

Thank you, Lord, for legs that work right now. Thank you, Lord, for bringing significant healing to Sara.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Ever Insightful Thomas Sowell

Since this is an era when many people are concerned about "fairness" and "social justice," what is your "fair share" of what someone else has worked for?

Here is a math problem for you: Assume that the legislation establishing government control of medical care is passed and that it "brings down the cost of medical care." You pay $500 a year less for your medical care, but the new costs put on employers is passed on to consumers, so that you pay $300 a year more for groceries and $200 a year more for gasoline, while the new mandates put on insurance companies raise your premiums by $300 a year, how much money have you saved?

No one likes to admit having been played for a fool. So it will probably take a mushroom cloud over some American city before some Obama supporters wake up. Even so, the true believers among the survivors will probably say that this was all George Bush's fault.

--Excerpts from his recent column, "Random Thoughts." You might want to read the whole thing.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Stay or Run?

If it comes to the point where we experience severer forms of persecution in the good ol' US of A, will you stay or run?

I've heard talk of moving to Australia if persecution gets intense here.

But is not persecution typically the lot of believers? Certainly many verses can be marshalled for that belief (like 1 Thess 3:3-4; 2 Tim 3:12; Php 1:29; Mk 13:13, etc.).

And is not persecution sometimes the means by which the preaching of the gospel is especially effective? John Piper argues that as the meaning of Col 1:24. Consider also the close connection between Matt 5:10-12 and 5:13-16.

What touched off this thinking in my mind is the latest issue of Voice of the Martyrs magazine. The cover story reports on Christians who stay in a heavily persecuted (Muslim-inflicted) area of the Philippines, on the island of Mindanao.

Writes Patrice Johnson:

"[A] small band of evangelical pastors and their flock are determined to stay in this war zone. They say the only way to stop the violence is to show the love of Christ to Muslims--even as they face the relentless persecution ...

"'It is hard to win Muslims to Christ,' says [one pastor].... 'But I love Muslims, because behind [that violence] they are longing for love. And I can share the love of Christ with them.'"
("Lambs among Wolves," Oct 2009 issue, p. 4)

What a perspective, and what a heart! May the Lord help me love my friends as much as that pastor loves his enemies.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Ever Prayed Backwards?

Have you ever prayed backwards?

Since God is eternal and knows the future precisely (unless you’re an open theist), and since “your Father knows what you need before you ask him,” then isn’t it reasonable to pray that a certain situation would turn out one way after the situation is resolved?

Here’s an example. Wednesday I checked at the library for a book Andrew had put on hold. He really wanted it Wednesday so he could read it some on Thanksgiving Day. As I was walking into the library, I prayed something like, “Lord, if it be your will, please have Andrew’s book in.”

Now in truth, the situation had already been resolved; I just didn't know the resolution. Before I prayed, the librarian had already performed the action that would either make or not make the book accessible.

But, before the librarian had performed the action with regards to the book, the Heavenly Father knew my prayer, though it was uttered after the librarian's action.

This isn’t the first time I’ve prayed backwards.

Another key ingredient is my own ignorance of the situation’s outcome. If I already know the outcome of a situation, I don’t pray backwards that God would make it a different outcome.

Incidentally, God answered my prayer. He said No. The book wasn’t there.