Thursday, February 28, 2013

What's In It For Me?

Another Christian pastor was just beheaded for his faith in the Muslim-majority nation of Tanzania. You could read more about it here and here.

I thought about that pastor's sacrifice last night when I read these words from Hebrews 12:4: In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. Thus far in my Christian life and in my service as a pastor, my sacrifices have been small. And sadly the gospel today is often preached only to answer the question, What's in it for me?

But Jesus frequently appoints suffering and even martyrdom for His disciples. I often refer to the writings of Samuel Rutherford, the Scottish Puritan pastor. Among Rutherford's letters was one written to another pastor, James Guthrie. Guthrie, who had been converted by association with Rutherford, took a stand that was branded treason by Charles II, the English king. Guthrie was sentenced to be hanged.

Rutherford wrote to him in prison. Think it not strange that men devise against you; whether to be to exile, the earth is the Lord’s; or perpetual imprisonment, the Lord is your light and liberty; or a violent and public death, for the kingdom of heaven consisteth in a fair company of glorified martyrs and witness, of whom Jesus Christ is the chief witness, who for that cause was born, and came into the world. Happy are you, if you give testimony to the world of your preferring Jesus Christ to all powers.” Rutherford, p.101.

Three months later Guthrie was hanged in Edinburgh, and his head was cut off and fixed to a pike in the public square. 

What if "what's in it for us" is a witness (Greek: "martyr") to the worthiness of Christ with our own blood? Paul, beheaded for his faith, wrote from Roman house-arrest: For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake (Philippians 1:29).

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Reading My Mind

During a recent prayer time I asked the Lord to reveal any sins I had not yet confessed. I was instantly reminded of some displeasing and ugly thoughts. Nobody else would have known about them. They were buried deep, dark-winged shadows that had flitted through my mind but were never acted upon.  

I guess some people believe that thoughts have no moral weight. But Jesus taught that our thoughts can be evil even if their intent is never fully realized. He warned about anger and lust in this regard, for example (cf. Mt. 5:21ff). He said that from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person (Mark 7:21-23).

Jesus knows my thoughts. Numerous times in Scripture the Lord Jesus reads the minds of people.
  • But Jesus, knowing their thoughts…Matthew 9:4
  • Knowing their thoughts… Matthew 12:25
  • But He knew their thoughts…Luke 6:8
  • But Jesus, knowing the reasoning of their hearts…Luke 9:47
Confessing my sinful thoughts gave me fresh appreciation and gratitude for my Savior. He died to atone for the wayward, carnal impulses of my mind, just as surely as He paid for my other sins. All of them were nailed to the cross (cf. Colossians 2:13).

How wonderful and unbelievably gracious is our Savior! His sacrificial kindness renews my desire to take every thought captive to obey Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5b).

Thursday, February 21, 2013


I just read an article about how stoning takes place in Iran. It’s hard to imagine anything more barbaric and ugly. Unless it’s crucifixion.

One common element in both forms of execution is public humiliation. The condemned person not only pays the ultimate price for his crimes, but is demeaned and shamed in the process.

Not all shame includes death, of course, but all shame is terribly diminishing. Some people say that guilt is feeling bad about something you did, but shame is feeling bad about who you are. Not just “I’ve done bad things,” but “I am a bad person.”

In colonial times people convicted of adultery had to wear the “scarlet letter.” Or they might be sentenced to time in the stocks for having stolen. Even today public shame may be part of a judicial sentence. I saw a picture of a man outside a Walmart store, wearing a sign: “I am a thief. I stole from Walmart.”

In the Old Testament, people hoped and prayed that they would make it through life without being put to shame, the ultimate failure.

  • O my God, in you I trust; let me not be put to shame; let not my enemies exult over me. (Ps. 25:2)
  • O LORD, let me not be put to shame, for I call upon you; let the wicked be put to shame; let them go silently to Sheol. (Ps. 31:17)
  • In you, O LORD, do I take refuge; let me never be put to shame! (Ps. 71:1)

I started thinking about shame because of our Savior’s endurance on the cross: who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame (Hebrews 12:2).

Monday, February 18, 2013


Today my wife and I drove up to Lake Murray and took a walk. We had actually come for the first time last week, and discovered that you can’t make a circuit of the lake. You go 3.2 miles up to the dam, and then turn around and come back. So (stay with me, here, non-math people) the whole walking/running/biking route is 6.4 miles.

We just did a short 15-minutes-up, 15-minutes-back walk, but on the way up we met two older men jogging back. I don’t know whether they were completing 6.4 miles, but it sure looked like it. Decked out in running shorts and running shoes, they were drenched in sweat, steadily grinding out the last few hundred yards of the course.

We saw the same two men last week, too. I don’t know how old they are, but they had at least ten years on me, and they were still cranking out the miles.

The Bible talks about life as a race: let us run with endurance the race that is set before us. It’s one thing to make it to the dam, the half-way mark. But we’re called to run all the way to the end, all the way home.

The older I get, the more tempting it is to stop, drop out, take it easy. Let the younger folks run. I’ll amble…shuffle...saunter. Or sit. But I want to be like those two older guys. Still motoring, still cranking out the miles, still pursuing Christ as my number one ambition.

So my question is, how do you keep going to the end. How do you finish well?

Friday, February 15, 2013

Let 'em Go

If you ever drop your keys into a river of molten lava, let 'em go, because man, they're gone. 
Jack Handey, Deeper Thoughts: All New, All Crispy.

Twenty years ago I used to love "Deep Thoughts" on Saturday Night Live. But sometimes humor reveals "deep" truth. "Let 'em go" is good advice. Especially if you're trying to follow Jesus.

Because it's a serious question: how do you keep going in this life of faith? Following Christ is not a sprint, but it is a race. We’re supposed to run with endurance the race that is set before us (Heb. 12:1). But how?

Well, one thing is to lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely.

“Weight” (NIV: “everything that hinders”) means mass, bulk. In the ancient world it was sometimes used of a person’s pretensions. Pride adds a lot of unnecessary weight. But really any bulky thing that keeps us from moving toward Christ needs to be dumped.

And “sin that so easily entangles” pictures a guy trying to run in long robes. In the first century world, you had to “gird your loins” – hike up your robes to keep your legs from getting tripped up.

Sin will entangle and ensnare us, trip us up, just like the weight of our own egos. We've got to let them go. Following Jesus is too important.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


A couple days ago I read a story about former Army Staff Sergeant Clint Romesha, who was just awarded the Medal of Honor. The Army’s narrative of Romesha’s actions during a long day of fighting reads like the script of an action movie, but the bravery and leadership of this young soldier are the real deal. 

Do yourself a favor, and read the whole thing by clicking here. It made me proud that we still have men like this. We all need heroes, but the right kind.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

That's Amazing!

Could we just stop using the word "amazing" for a while? Just take a break?

With everything we've already labeled as "amazing," do we really need to describe anything else with this word?

The Amazing Spider Man! 
My boyfriend is amazing!
Who made this amazing cheesecake?
You should see him play air guitar - amazing!

When everything is amazing, nothing is amazing. Both Aerosmith and Kanye West have songs titled "Amazing." Magicians use the word as part of their act: The Amazing Kreskin, The Amazing Johnathan. TV shows are amazing: The Amazing Race, The Amazing World of Gumball.

Is “amazing” just a word we use when we really like something?.
That bean-dip was…amazing!
When I had the hiccups and you jumped out and scared me, that was, like, amazing.

The Bible is very sparing about calling anything amazing. The more common word is a verb: amazed. The Greek words that are translated “amazed” mean to marvel, to be overwhelmed, astounded, or astonished. And in the Scriptures, what brings this kind of amazement is the teaching and power of Jesus. (See, for example, Matthew 7:28; Mark 6:6; 10:24; Luke 8:56).

Now there’s a worthy use of the term amazing: our wonderful Christ. Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now am found, was blind, but now I see.

And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, "Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations!(Rev 15:3)

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Blood on the Door

You know the story of the Passover: Israel enslaved, Pharaoh's hardened heart, God's ten terrible plagues, the death angel's final flyover.

The Lord told His people to slaughter a spotless  lamb, and then to daub the blood on the lintel and doorposts of the house. This simple, graphic action would protect the family within the home. The Lord said, The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt. (Exodus 12:13)

But why would the blood be a sign for you? God said that when He saw the blood, He would “pass over” the home. But what were the people themselves supposed to see when they saw the blood?

Well, they were to see that their security and safety were because of the sacrifice of another. They were to see that, though they were no better (or maybe even worse) than some of the Egyptian families, it was the sacrifice of the lamb, and not their inherent worthiness that saved them.

Look at the blood and remember. Your rescue and protection depend not upon your vigilance or holiness, but upon the vigilance and holiness of God. The Lamb's sacrifice is what you must look to.

Maybe this sounds obvious. But we Christians are notoriously forgetful. We forget that what saved us and what keeps us is not us. It's always Jesus.

I feel chagrined that our Lord had to say, Do this in remembrance of me. But He knows us better than we know ourselves. The blood is also a sign for us

Monday, February 4, 2013

How to Control Your Own Destiny

This morning I read a story in the paper about a Navy commander who has written a book on leadership. The article included a picture of the author with this quote in big letters: “It’s all about controlling your own destiny.”

 So I thought to myself, I would really be doing a great service to the readers of my blog if I told them how they, too, could control their own destiny. Even without reading the commander’s book.

So here’s how to control your own destiny:

The white space is a little bit of sarcasm. Because there is no “how to” that will enable you or me to control our destiny. The idea of literally “controlling your own destiny” is a joke. Like an ant looking at a mountain, and declaring, “One day this will all be mine!”  Words like delusional, grandiose, and inflated self-importance come to mind. Only God can control destiny. You and I can barely control a sneeze, let alone a destiny.

Now of course people probably don’t mean it literally. Maybe it only means, “Stop playing the victim and blaming other people for your lousy life. Make choices that will move you toward your goals.” That’s good advice. But it's a long way from the lofty claim that you control your destiny.

Our Christ is the One who truly controls the destiny of all things. Hebrews says of Him, he upholds the universe by the word of his power (Hebrews 1:3b). Submitting to Him may seem like the opposite of control. But placing your destiny in the hands of Someone who is infinitely wise and powerful, and who is absolutely committed to the blessing of His own, is the best way to take responsibility for your life.

Friday, February 1, 2013

When I Almost Lost My Mind on a Prayer Retreat

This week I got away for a prayer retreat. I had a motel room near the ocean, and I planned to spend the better part of two days and nights praying for my family and for guidance for the new year.

 The first afternoon I sat with my laptop, beginning to list all the things I wanted to pray about. I got up for a drink of water, and suddenly I heard a “beeping” sound. It seemed to be coming from the bathroom, but it stopped when I went to investigate.

I turned around and heard it again. Beep, beep, beep. Maybe it was the smoke detector, I thought. I walked back into the bedroom—more beeping. But when I stood in the center of the room, nothing. I started to sit down on the couch, and beep, beep, beep.

Maybe it was coming from the room next door. I listened at the wall, resisting the urge to put a glass to my ear like they do in the movies. Wouldn’t want to get carried away. But no, the neighbors were quiet.

Honestly, this is the kind of thing that drives me nuts. I am overly sensitive to noise, and have been known to hunt down crickets at night because they were cricking under my window.