Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Therefore, Do Not Worry

In my quiet time yesterday, I came across this song from 1910 that really shows our worrying and anxiety in its proper light: it's out-and-out foolishness.

I don't particularly care for the tune, but the lyrics are gold.

“Jesus Is a Friend of Mine” (or “He’s a Friend of Mine”)
by John H. Sammis

Why should I charge my soul with care?
The wealth of every mine
Belongs to Christ, God’s Son and Heir,
And He’s a Friend of mine.

The silver moon, the golden sun,
The countless stars that shine,
Are His alone, yes, every one,
And He’s a Friend of mine.

He daily spreads a glorious feast,
And at His table dine
The whole creation, man and beast,
And He’s a Friend of mine.

And when he comes in bright array,
And leads the conqu’ring line,
It will be glory then to say,
That He’s a Friend of mine.

Yes, He’s a Friend of mine,
And He with me doth all things share;
Since all is Christ’s, and Christ is mine,
Why should I have a care?
For Jesus is a Friend of mine.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Implications of Christ's Resurrection

But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. (1 Cor 15:20)

Christ is the "firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep." This is a harvest picture. "Firstfruits" is not only the beginning of the crop, it also demonstrates the reality of the crop. Is eternal life possible? Before Christ, who knew? Afterwards, we know absolutely. He is the firstfruits, the evidence that such a crop exists.

For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. (1 Cor 15:21-22)

Christ is the guarantee of the resurrection of the believing dead to a life that is eternal (1 Cor 15:21-22). Comparing Adam and Christ, Paul writes that just as those who are in Adam die, those who are in Christ will be made alive. So, everyone connected with Adam die. We know that. We all know that sometime, unless Christ comes back soon, we will come to our last breath. And as sure as death is, those of us who are in Christ are also sure that we will be made alive. We will be raised to an eternal life.

But someone may ask, "How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?" ...
The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.... The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the man from heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven. (1 Cor 15:35, 42-44, 47-49)

We will be equipped for the new kind of life, for eternal life. We will be raised in resurrection bodies. That is to say, we will have new bodies that are different than what we have now. Different in what way? Descriptions are not specific, but the characteristics listed should give hope: "imperishable," "glory," "power," "spiritual" (as opposed to "natural").

Monday, March 29, 2010

Jesus reveals the Father's stance toward you

In The Knowledge of the Holy, A. W. Tozer writes,

Now someone who in spite of his past sins honestly wants to become reconciled to God may cautiously inquire, "If I come to God, how will He act toward me? What kind of disposition has He? What will I find Him to be like?”

The answer is that He will be found to be exactly like Jesus. "He that hath seen me,” said Jesus, "hath seen the Father.” Christ walked with men on earth that He might show them what God is like and make known the true nature of God to a race that had wrong ideas about Him. This was only one of the things He did while here in the flesh, but this He did with beautiful perfection.

From Him we learn how God acts toward people. The hypocritical, the basically insincere, will find Him cold and aloof, as they once found Jesus; but the penitent will find Him merciful; the self-condemned will find Him generous and kind. To the frightened He is friendly, to the poor in spirit He is forgiving, to the ignorant, considerate; to the weak, gentle; to the stranger, hospitable.

Since such is the case, let us also be aware of this:

By our own attitudes we may determine our reception by Him.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

9 Weekly Habits I'd Like to Establish

1. Cleaning/reorganizing my office (60 mins)
2. Practicing piano (90 mins)
3. Non-urgent reading at the office (2 hrs)
4. Sending 2 notes of encouragement (30 mins)
5. Taking one of my kids out for a meal (45 mins) [Of course, that takes $.]
6. Lunch date with Sara (60 mins) [Of course, that takes $.]
7. Writing (2 hrs)
8. Reading time at KFC by myself with a mashed potato bowl and a refillable pop (75 mins) [Of course, that takes $.]
9. Typing up notes on my recent reading (1 hr)

That adds up to 11 hours. I bet I could find at least some of that time if I looked hard at my schedule. I'm not exactly the most efficient user of time. (That's a euphemism for "I'm pretty good at wasting time.")

Friday, March 26, 2010

Is there any doubt that Christ wants you saved?

The Saviour’s Tears over the Lost
Robert Murray M’Cheyne

Luke 19:41-42
“And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it, saying, If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes.”

I. The gospel is what belongs to a man’s peace.
1. It belongs to your peace of conscience.
2. In a time of trouble the gospel peculiarly belongs to your peace.
3. The gospel gives peace at death.

II. There is a day of grace.
1. The time of youth.
2. The time of a gospel ministry.
3. The time when the Holy Spirit is poured out on a place.

III. Christ is willing to save even the hardest of sinners.
1. His tears
2. His words

I Was Profiled

If you saw a man walking down your sidewalk, dressed in khakis, button-down shirt and casual shoes, and reading a book, would you make an assumption about his profession?

Such a man was I Wednesday, and a man grilling stopped me to ask me what church I was with. I answered Mr. Holmes. He then told me when he sees people carrying their Bibles he likes to ask them what church they’re with. I asked Sherlock about his church, we invoked God’s blessing on one another, and I continued my walk-and-read to the church.

The curious thing was that I wasn’t carrying a Bible. Rather, it was a copy of A Canticle for Leibowitz, and the back cover that he saw was a rather bold yellow.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Jesus on the Age of the Earth

My brother put me on to an article by a Dr. Terry Mortenson that highlights Jesus' perspective on the age of the earth. The article focuses on 3 Gospel passages, explains them, and then surveys 61 scholars--theologians, commentators, etc.--as to how they interact (or fail to) with these texts.

The Texts:

"But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’" Mark 10:6 (NIV)

"because those will be days of distress unequaled from the beginning, when God created the world, until now—and never to be equaled again." Mark 13:19 (NIV)

"Therefore this generation will be held responsible for the blood of all the prophets that has been shed since the beginning of the world, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, this generation will be held responsible for it all." Luke 11:50-51 (NIV)

While in each case, Jesus' main point wasn't the age of the earth, yet nevertheless his understanding (and we note that his understanding was/is flawless) was that "man has existed essentially as long as the entire cosmos has" (Mortenson, p. 7).

Thus do these verses seem powerful evidence that Jesus believed the earth to be significantly younger than many biblical scholars (many of whom I respect) do today.

Jesus would know. After all, not only is he God (Jn 1:1), he was with the Father in the beginning (Jn 1:2), and he created the earth (Jn 1:3).

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A Divided America Not Surprising

A debate with a friend on Facebook yesterday brought to my attention how deeply divided Christians and non-Christians are. My worldview and my friend's worldview are very far apart.

My friend was celebrating the triumph of the Democrats and nationalized health care, and she was rejoicing in our debate that the pro-lifers were unable to legislate their morality this time, like they're always trying to do.

"If pro-lifers are against abortion, then they shouldn't have them," was the gist of some of her argument. In other words, let me live my life the way I want, and you live your life the way you want.

I suppose that's ideally the way a pluralistic society should function. But it can't function that way, because her lifestyle overlaps with mine. Yesterday her morality was legislated for me. My tax dollars will go to fund abortions that I believe are wrong.

Not only that, but the carrying out of her morality, though she doesn't see it this way, makes my God angry with this nation and brings his hand of judgment in various ways. (The Romans didn't like the Christians because they wouldn't worship their gods, thus potentially invoking the wrath of the Roman pantheon against Rome.)

What's more, my morality is not just inward-looking, but it's outward-looking, too. My morality, which I get from the Scriptures, points me in the direction of influencing my culture for righteousness. My friend would like me to curb that part of my morality because it affects her morality.

Given these overlapping moralities, it's no wonder we're deeply divided.

Monday, March 22, 2010

A Book about Books

To this book lover, a book about books by someone who loves books is a treat. Further, the author shares some of my passions, and so the books about which he writes are the kinds of books I'd be interested in.

Eugene Peterson's Take & Read: Spiritual Reading, An Annotated List has been sumptuous fare. I picked it up some 9 years ago according to the receipt tucked in the pages.

Under various categories Peterson talks about books that he loves and gives a brief description of each. I have a running "books wish list" on my computer, and I have added several titles just from reading Take & Read.

Part of the fun in reading the book, too, was seeing the books I already have or have already read.

There are 20 categories and include such titles as "Classics," "Prayer," "The Psalms," "Jesus," "Novelists," "Poets," "Pastors," "Mysteries," "Place," and "Sin and the Devil." There are roughly 10-15 books in each category.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Joy of the Lord

Today at NMC, we are reading Psalm 126 during the service. I preached on that chapter 3 years ago. Here was my outline for that morning.

The fountain of joy is found in God.

1. The joy of the Lord is the real thing (1-3).
2. The sorrows of the godly lead to fullness of joy (5-6).
3. If you are a child of God, abundant joy is sure to come again (4-6).

A Praying Life Great Book on Prayer

A Praying Life (Paul E. Miller) is cut from a different cloth than other books on prayer I've read, like E. M. Bounds, Andrew Murray, R. A. Torrey, and Paul Cedar. Those books were all good, to be sure, but A Praying Life connected with me in ways that the others didn't. (Again, not that they didn't connect with me, but not at such personal levels as Miller's book.)

I'll just highlight some of the stuff that was helpful to me.

For one thing, I liked his take on childlike prayers. Think of how a child talks with an adult. They talk about what's on their mind. They jump from topic to topic. They aren't stoic. They aren't eloquent. If something bothers them, they let you know.

Pray like that, Miller says. When it comes to prayer, don't try to be something you aren't. Be who you are. Is your life messy? Then come to prayer messy. God can handle it. "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest" (Mt 11:28). Are you burdened? Then come to prayer burdened.

Miller also deals with the incredible promises of Scripture (like, we will receive whatever we ask for in prayer) head-on. He says that is his experience most of the time. And since then I've found some of the same reality in my life. (Miller also acknowledges the reality of unanswered prayer and talks about how God uses even that in crafting our lives.)

Where the book perhaps resonated most deeply with me--and again, it connected with me at many points--was with the topic of parents praying for their children. Miller says he does his best parenting through prayer.

He talks about his realization that he cannot get into his children's hearts. Wow! Just the very thing I want to do! I want to get in there and tinker and make sure they are seeking, trusting, and growing in Christ. And I can't! But by prayer, the Spirit weaves into our kids' lives the things we desire. (How I've seen God doing this recently!)

He talks about the fluctuation parents exhibit between being demanding ("They must change, and I will make them") and despair ("They can't change; I give up"). My personal experience? Been there, done that. Miller says (and I am finding) the middle road, and the best one, is prayer.

And what do you know? His son's name is Andrew, and he prays for some of the same things for his Andrew that I pray for mine. (I told you this book connected with me at very personal levels.)

This is turning into a long review. Let me sum up by saying that this book, because of its personal approach and authentic illustrations from the author's family life, has probably had more immediate impact on my prayer life than any other book on the subject I've read.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

One Mile Each Way

March 18. Warm enough to walk home for lunch and then walk back afterwards.

Walking back and forth to the church accomplishes a number of things.

*It allows me some much-needed exercise.

*It helps in my current efforts at losing some pounds gained during the winter holidays.

*It affords me some one-on-one time with raw nature.

*It gives me a chance to read (today--Kevin DeYoung's Just Do Something).

Monday, March 15, 2010

An MK's Perspective on the US

We had a missionary couple and their 15-year-old daughter at church yesterday. At one point the daughter was asked about any culture shock over the last year as she has been a freshman at a public high school here in the states.

Her answer was interesting. She indicated the US is far more un-Christian than she realized. She said she was surprised at how much profanity she hears at school and how much taking of the Lord's name in vain she hears. And she also said that there is far less respect for parents and elders here than her own culture.

It's something to think about a sending country being more godless than a mission country.

Friday, March 12, 2010

In Praise of Thinkers

One of the delightful things in reading the writings of thinkers is that their writings are chock-full of thoughtful thoughts.

I mean that in two ways. Of course, what they have to say about their primary subject is rich and savory.

But even their "incidentals," their supporting illustrations and arguments, reveal that they have thought long and hard about other subjects as well, and it makes one want to read them discourse on those other subjects as well.

C. S. Lewis was such a thinker. In ch. 2 of Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, he responds to the charge that praying in one's own words is far better than praying the ready-made prayers of others. Lewis argues that both have value, and, while he prefers praying in his own words, he finds that also praying the "ready-made" prayers of others preserves a sort of balance to his prayer life, and he explains why.

Lewis argues his point well, and I can't say I disagree in the least, (which is why I have enjoyed using prayer books myself, like The Valley of Vision and A Diary of Private Prayer).

But not only does he argue his subject well, he drops other thoughts in support of his argument, thoughts which reveal that he has spent much time thinking about a lot of things.

  • "Heaven will display far more variety than Hell."
  • "The more 'up to date' the book is, the sooner it will be dated."
  • "I think the 'low' church milieu that I grew up in did tend to be too cosily at ease in Sion [sic]. My grandfather, I'm told, used to say that he 'looked forward to having some very interesting conversations with St. Paul when he got to heaven.' Two clerical gentlemen talking at ease in a club! It never seemed to cross his mind that an encounter with St. Paul might be rather an overwhelming experience even for an Evangelical clergyman of a good family ..."

I find these statements tantalizing. Who knows if I'll ever get through Letters to Malcolm? If I read it too fast, I may miss a lot.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Church Attendance Isn't What It Used to Be

Our attendance on a Sunday morning has decreased some, but the number of people who are a part of our church hasn't. What gives? Several of the people who are a part of our church don't come as much as they used to.

Some people won't show for weeks at a time, and then we'll see them a bit. Some seem to be on an every-other-week schedule now.

I don't think that's healthy. I remember when Sara and I moved to Illinois. The day after we moved, I decided we wouldn't go to church that morning. We were too tired. We needed to get settled into our apt. Etc. (And this after God had worked several minor miracles to get us to Illinois in the first place!) I wouldn't make that decision now. I would go to church.

As a pastor, I pretty much have to be at church every Sunday. But even if I weren't, here would be my approach: I'd be in church, along with my family, every Sunday I could be, barring illness.
When a kid is sick, he should definitely stay home, for his own sake and the sake of others. As it turns out, given the nature of my relationship with our church, Sara always stays home with the sick kid (if they're too young to be by themselves). There's been times when she's missed 3 Sundays in a row as illnesses get passed around from kid to kid to her.

Corporate worship to me is more than just spending time with other like-minded believers. It is that, but it's spending time with other believers for a purpose (or several purposes). We gather together to edify one another, to build one another up in the faith.

A couple verses in tandem are key for me here: "But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness" (Heb 3:13). "Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another--and all the more as you see the Day approaching" (Heb 10:25).

The world around us, the daily grind, the secular people around us who are more passionate about the Superbowl or the latest video game or last night's reality TV show episode than Christ--these wear on our faith and are constantly working to shift our focus from spiritual eternal realities to earthly ephemeral ones. Being with God's people recharges our spiritual batteries (as do other things, like being in the Scriptures and prayer, etc.).

But even more than that, ultimately I go to corporate worship once a week for God, not for me. We gather together to worship him publicly. Worship is about him; it's about what he's done. He's done so much for us--everything--that we get up, get ready, scrape the windshield, drive to church, sit in the pew and worship--sing to him, pray to him, give to him, attend to his Word as it is read and as it is preached.

The Sabbath is to be different than the other days; it is to be "unto the Lord." The Israelites were to use it to remember their great redemption--when God brought them out of Egypt. We also use it to remember our redemption--when God atoned for our sins and reconciled us to himself through Christ.

He is my Master; I am his servant. He is my Savior; I am the one he saved. What right do I have to take a Sunday off and not come before him to worship as he has asked? What an affront?! What does that say to him?

Illness takes you out of the game. But you don't come to worship to sleep in? To hang out with the family? (Bring the family with.) To go to Cedar Point?

Church attendance is important. That's my take on it anyway.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Night at the Local Christian Bookstore

Warning: Some sarcasm ahead

One night the six of us ventured over to our local Christian bookstore. (Sigh) I found it fun. Some of the girls found it more embarrassing, I think.

Since there were virtually no other customers, I decided to use my outside voice, and I told the Scantlin ladies so. They did not think it a good idea, which of course solidified my resolve to continue to do so.

It’s amazing the number of non-Christian books you can find at a Christian bookstore. Maybe I should say “pseudo-Christian”; I think they mean the same thing, except that the latter makes a pretense at being Christian.

“What non/pseudo-Christian books?” you ask. Like Joel Osteen’s books for instance. (Now what’s that title? God Wants You Happy, Healthy, and Wealthy, or something like that.)

Then there’s Joseph Prince’s new book, Unmerited Favor. I admit, I was a little suspicious before I even opened the book, given Prince’s cover picture in a black leatherish jacket and … is that a Manga T-shirt? (Yes, I was judging the book by the cover … and the author by his covering … and his great hair.) But the title sounded good; “he must be talking about God’s grace.” But scanning the chapter titles, it seemed it was a success book. God’s grace will make you successful. That’s true. But I’m not sure Prince is talking about the same kind of success the Bible talks about.

There seems to be a large number of how-to books. I wonder what percentage of those books talk about the Holy Spirit and prayer. I’m learning from the Bible that I cannot do anything apart from abiding in Christ.

At one point, I announced to the girls with shock registering in my voice, “Hey, they have Bibles here!” I grabbed a leather-bound copy of the large ESV Study Bible. “Here’s a real pulpit thumper! I bet it’s $80!”

“What?!” Andrew said.

I found the price eventually. “Oh, it’s only $75.” Welcome to the world of commercial Christianity, son. The hardback was cheaper: $50.

It seems everything is becoming Christianized for profit. I was incredulous some years ago when I first came across a pack of Testamints. Their website verse is Rom 10:9, and I guess it would be helpful if you didn’t have halitosis when you’re witnessing in an elevator, but do we really need Christian mints? Is the fresh-smelling air that comes from these that much more rarified than Certs, for instance? (And truth be told, I don’t want anyone breathing on me—bad breath or good.)

I used to work in a Christian bookstore as a teen, and I saw then the trend toward Christianizing merchandise. At the time I made the prediction that one day I would see Christian socks. I must be a prophet, because they’re here!

(My current prediction is that very soon we will hear of churches accepting advertising dollars to change their names. We’ll hear about corporate-sponsored churches like Xerox Christian Praise and Worship, the Verizon Church of Faith, Hanes Presbyterian Church, and the Certs Temple of the Holy Ghost [no Testamints allowed on church grounds]. I suppose a smaller church might knock down a local sponsorship, like Bud’s Bait Shop Community Church.)

Another problem with the local bookstore: How come I can buy Joyce Meyer books by the case, but I can’t find one A. W. Tozer book, not even The Knowledge of the Holy or The Pursuit of God?

The kids section had some cool action figures, like a buff looking Samson and a modern-looking Barbie-like figure named Abigail. I covered her name and showed the kids: “Look, Samson and Delilah action figures.” They were non-plussed.

With the absence of competing customers, we just let Callie do her own shopping. Periodically she would bring us a video and announce that she was getting it. When she saw that Anna was getting a shirt, she picked one out, too. It read “Princess.” We finally settled on an item for 99 cents.

But as with most good things, this trip came to an end. We paid and left, but not before being offered a choice of several wonderful uplifting items ($5 each, please).

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Gettin' My John Wayne Fix, Pilgrim

Recently I had a hankerin' for a western. And not just any western would do; I needed a John Wayne western. I've seen others, and I enjoy others, but John Wayne is the gold standard in my book.

Eventually I made it over to the downtown library and checked out Rio Bravo, one I hadn't seen before. But as I watched it I realized I had seen it before, at least I had seen it in a different incarnation. Andrew, my son and John Wayne fan, felt the same way.

Rio Bravo is so much like El Dorado, another John Wayne flick (and probably my favorite). Or perhaps it's the other way around, since Rio Bravo came out in '59 and El Dorado in '67.

--Both movies are directed by Howard Hawks and star John Wayne.

--Both movies feature sheriffs and their deputies defending themselves against hired guns while trying to keep a prize prisoner in jail. (Wayne's the sheriff in Rio and a deputy in Dorado.)

--Both movies have a nicknamed, music playing, elderly deputy who is often squawking about the sheriff's ill-treatment of him (the harmonica-playing Stumpy in Rio and the bugle-blowing Bull in Dorado).

--In both movies a young man named after a state who can handle a weapon with deadly accuracy joins the sheriff to help him against the overwhelming numbers of the hired guns (the pistol-packing Colorado [Ricky Nelson] in Rio and the knife-throwing Mississippi [James Caan] in Dorado).

--At the beginning of both movies one of the good guys is a recovering drunk (Deputy Dean Martin in Rio and Sheriff Robert Mitchum in Dorado). The back story in both cases is that this good guy was one of the best gun-handlers ever, but then a girl came to town, and he was snared, hook, line, and sinker. The girl then threw him over, and he turned to the bottle. He has become the object of ridicule all around town, especially at the bar where he must go to get his regular bottle. During the course of the movie, through tough love Wayne and the others help him regain his confidence as well as his sobriety.

--Apparently drunkenness is associated with a neglect of personal hygiene, because in both movies the old guy (Stumpy and Bull) nags the drunk (Martin and Mitchum) into finally taken a bath for the good of the morale in the jail.

--I suppose it goes without saying that John Wayne has a love interest in both movies. And in both cases it seems to develop against his will, or in spite of reluctance, or whatever.

Now after naming all these similarities, I suppose you think I'm disappointed. Not at all! I enjoyed both movies. The good guys face overwhelming odds, but they stick to their guns (he he) and win in the end. My personal opinion is that El Dorado, the later movie, is the better one.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Best Kind of Assurance

I wonder what prosperity preachers like Joel Osteen, Frederick K. C. Price, and Marilyn Hickey would say about John Calvin.

Just the title of section 28 of Book 3, ch. 2 of his Institutes may be enough for the TV smile to momentarily droop: "Faith assures us not of earthly prosperity but of God's favor."

The point is just what the title suggests. God didn't promise us a rose garden, but we can rest assured that he loves us.

And that's better anyway. If we were healthy and wealthy but uncertain of whether God loved or hated us, we would be miserable. On the other hand, full assurance of God's favor toward us brings us happiness even in the midst of difficult circumstances.

In Calvin's words: "In short, if all things flow unto us according to our wish, but we are uncertain of God's love or hatred, our happiness will be accursed and therefore miserable. But if in fatherly fashion God's countenance beams upon us, even our miseries will be blessed."