Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Soul-Healing

Toward the end of the year my blogging has been light. For a lot of people, me included, December is frantic with obligations and pressures, most of which are supposed to be infused with holiday joy. So I’m hoping to write a little more regularly in this new year, Lord willing.

But I wanted to end this year by reflecting on a small book I've been reading. John Bunyan, best known for The Pilgrim’s Progress, wrote a great deal on prayer. I've been slowly reading his The Throne of Grace, first published in 1692. Bunyan spends 100 pages on one verse of Scripture:

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:16)

The other night I was reading how he distinguished the “throne of grace” from other thrones. What he said was so encouraging. Here's a quote (my emphasis).
It is with the throne of grace, as it is with the waters of Bath, and other sovereign and healing waters; they are most coveted by them that are diseased…So, I say, is the throne of grace; its waters are for healing, for soul-healing; that is their virtue (Ezek. 47.8,9). Wherefore, as at Nature’s waters, the lame leave their crutches, and the sick such other tokens of their recovery as may be a sign of their receiving health and cure there, so at the throne of grace, true penitents, and those that are sick for mercy, do leave their sighs and tears…(pp. 89-90)
If you find your soul…
  • Stained by sin, the throne of grace is soul-cleansing.
  • Ragged with the sickness of this broken world, the throne of grace is soul-healing.
  • Struggling with weariness, the throne of grace is soul-refreshing and -renewing.
  • Parched and dry, the throne of grace is soul-satisfying.
In this new year, may you draw near, over and over again, to the throne of grace, and may you find all that your soul needs in Christ!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Standing in the Path of the Storm: The God of the Storm (Part 4 of 4)

My last three posts have been about Standing in the Path of the Storm:
I've been pointing to the amazing story of King Jehoshaphat in 2 Chronicles 20, and suggesting that his desperate prayer for his nation is a great model for our own lives. So far I mentioned five lessons to learn from Jehoshaphat. Here’s one more...

6.  Expect Complete Victory.
When God delivers, He does so decisively. Here’s how 2 Chronicles reports it:

As they began to sing and praise, the Lord set ambushes against the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir who were invading Judah, and they were defeated. The Ammonites and Moabites rose up against the men from Mount Seir to destroy and annihilate them. After they finished slaughtering the men from Seir, they helped to destroy one another. (vv. 22-23)

In the end the voluminous provisions these invaders had brought, with the probable intent  of repopulating Judah, instead became  an abundant overflow of God’s blessing.

When the men of Judah came to the place that overlooks the desert and looked toward the vast army, they saw only dead bodies lying on the ground; no one had escaped. So Jehoshaphat and his men went to carry off their plunder, and they found among them a great amount of equipment and clothing and also articles of value—more than they could take away. There was so much plunder that it took three days to collect it. (vv. 23-25)

If you summarize this victory, you have to include:
            Enemies destroyed;
            Super-abundant plunder;
            God’s people rejoice;
            God’s reputation is exalted.
            And the kingdom enjoys peace!

God doesn't always win the victory the way we’d prefer. But He is the God of the storm. Even the wind and the waves obey Him. And in the end, He brings His people to safety and to blessing. 

Monday, December 8, 2014

Standing in the Path of the Storm: Praying in the Middle of the Storm (Part 3 of 4)

King Jehoshaphat faced a leader’s worst nightmare: his nation was about to be invaded by a huge coalition of three enemy armies, and Judah’s defenses stood no chance of repelling them. Jehoshaphat brought his people together and led them in desperate prayer. I tried to tell a parallel story from our own history - surviving a tornado. Last time I shared some lessons about prayer  and here are a couple more. (And if you haven't reviewed the story in 2 Chronicles 20, you should check it out here.)

3. Wait for God to Communicate.

When Jehoshaphat finished his prayer, there was nothing more to say. While the enemy army drew nearer, “All the men of Judah, with their wives and children and little ones, stood there before the Lord” (v. 13). They simply waited.

And God spoke through a man named Jehaziel (v. 14).

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Standing in the Path of the Storm: Prayer for the Gathering Storms Ahead (Part 2 of 4)

Last time I spoke of surviving a tornado, and the lessons about prayer I began to learn from studying Jehoshaphat’s example and leadership in 2 Chronicles 20. (If you haven’t read this chapter recently, you should. Click here.) 

I have five lessons I’d like to share in the next few posts. For today, the first two…

God’s response to Jehoshaphat’s desperate prayer was gracious and powerful. Looking at desperate times through the lens of the king’s example, I began to see some principles of prayer for the gathering storms ahead.

1. Measure the Storm by the Character and Promises of God.

Jehoshaphat brought his people together in grave recognition of the nation’s peril. But then he led them to focus on Almighty God, claiming His power and promises.

First he focused on God’s attributes. O Lord, God of our fathers, are you not the God who is in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. Power and might are in your hand, and no one can withstand you” (v. 6).

When we gauge the fury of the storm by the power of Almighty God, the storm is absolutely dwarfed!

Then Jehoshaphat reminded God of His promises to His people. “O our God, did you not drive out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel and give it forever to the descendants of Abraham your friend? They have lived in it and have built in it a sanctuary for Your Name, saying, ‘If calamity comes upon us, whether the sword of judgment, or plague or famine, we will stand in your presence before this temple that bears your Name and will cry out to you in our distress, and you will hear us and save us.’” (vv. 7-9).

Jehoshaphat echoed the words of King Solomon, who prayed to dedicate the temple a century before. The night after the ceremony, the Lord appeared to Solomon and made a promise that His people have been claiming ever since. It must have been on Jehoshaphat’s heart in the middle of the storm:

If My people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14).

Centering our thoughts and emotions in the Scriptures will help us pray through the storm. Passages about His wisdom, power, mercy, faithfulness, and goodness strengthen and equip us to ride out the storm in confidence.

We may begin with “Have mercy!” But from there we can learn to proclaim aloud the beauty of His holiness and the power of His promises.

2. Demonstrate Helpless Dependence on God.

Judah’s assembly was an eloquent testimony to their dependence upon the Lord. Whole families stood together, babies in arms, praying and fasting  (cf. v. 13). They knew God was their only hope.  If He didn’t intervene, they would be destroyed.

Jehoshaphat ended his prayer with this humble statement: “ . . . we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you” (v. 12).

The storm forces us to this place of dependence, confessing that nothing else has the slightest chance of saving us. Not our possessions or our connections, not our personalities or our education. Not our religion or our luck.

Letting God know we know that He is our first, last, and only option is a good thing. While it is true that we can pray from any position, our posture can mirror the attitude of our hearts. Sometimes I feel the need to pray, flat on my face. Other times standing with hands raised to heaven. Similarly when we say no to food or to sleep for a time, we remind ourselves, and God, that we are counting on Him, and Him alone.

Corporate prayer, fasting, and confession allow us to say, while the storm rages around us, our hope is in You, Lord. Only You.

For next time: Praying in the Middle of the Storm

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Standing in the Path of the Storm: Learning to Pray through Desperate Times (Part 1 of 4)

In my last post I mentioned an old Bible of mine that always opens to 2 Chronicles 20. This is the story of why.   

What do you do when you’re standing directly in the path of a tornado?

I found out on June 29, 1998, as I huddled in the darkness of the basement, our house shuddering from the force of the wind as it cut a swath through the northern Des Moines metro.  In only minutes the sky went from a serene blue to an angry charcoal. Rain, whipped by nearly 100-mile-an hour winds, plastered shredded leaves to the sides of our house and poured through an open window. Broken glass sliced through my office as the window casement was wrenched away. Trees were snapped off fifteen feet above the ground or torn out by their roots. My neighbor’s camper ended upside down in someone else’s backyard. Shingles sailed by like flocks of Frisbees.

As the thunder and lightning escalated, the power went out, and the entire house began to tremble. Sirens started to blare, a warning to seek cover. As I headed for the basement, my mind flashed on the movie “Twister”—the scene where a man is ripped out of a storm shelter and sucked into the mouth of the monster wind.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Just an Old Bible

A pastor friend of mine told me when he’s called to do a funeral, he always asks to see the Bible of the person who has passed on.

My friend likes to see what passages they underlined or highlighted. What promises were precious to them, what notations are written in the margins? He tries to intersperse these into his funeral message.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Five Terrible Truths About Hell

One of my early mentors was a man named Jim Dolin. Jim was a silver-haired Southern gentleman from West Virginia. He always dressed in a tie and sport coat, and he had a way of making friends with everyone, including total strangers.

Jim didn't become a Christian until he was in his late 20’s. He was a pilot and tactical training officer during WWII, and was badly burned in a plane crash. He spent a year in the hospital recovering from his burns. Early in his hospitalization, he had a vision of hell.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Four False Assumptions About Life After Death

On November 1 Brittany Maynard, age 29, took her own life, as she had planned. I wrote about her story here. I hope and pray for God’s mercy and peace upon her family.

But something Ms. Maynard said just a few weeks ago continues to nag at me. She told CNN that when the day came to kill herself, she would tell her family, “Come say goodbye as I pass into whatever's next.” Without any disrespect to her or her memory, those words seem to point to certain assumptions about life after death.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Why Forgiveness is Frightening

Did you ever think that being forgiven by God would or should induce fear? It seems more likely that being forgiven should make us feel joy, gratitude, humility, or peace.

But I was reading the Psalms the other night and I was surprised by Psalm 130:3-4 (with my emphasis) -

If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
O Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness,
That you may be feared.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

My Hero

One of the finest compliments I ever received was from a woman in my church. She said, “You remind me of Father Tim.” That was years ago, before she got to know me. Sigh

Father Timothy Kavanagh is a retired Episcopal priest who lives with his wife Cynthia in the North Carolina town of Mitford. He’s retired now, in his 70’s, and when he served as a pastor, he didn't have a big church and he wasn't a well-known speaker or writer. But still, he’s one of my heroes, and it would always be a compliment to be compared to him.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Painting the Dragon Red

Years ago some church planting friends asked my wife to be on their prayer team. They recruited thirty-one people who promised to fast and pray one day a week for the new church. Dionne’s day was the 11th of the month.

As she prayed on one of her designated days, she suddenly felt that the Holy Spirit was warning her about a demonic plot to sneak a deceptive and disruptive person into the baby church - someone who could do great damage.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

When Your Faith is Weak

When I was a young Christian a friend of mine named Pat was brutally beaten in a gang fight. He ended up in a coma and was not expected to live. Pat's family knew I was a Christian and they asked me to pray.

It was overwhelming that people were counting on my prayers to help my friend. My faith, what there was of it, seemed so small and weak. 

Monday, October 13, 2014

When I Come to Die - The Story of Two Women with Terminal Cancer

Brittany Maynard is a 29-year-old wife with terminal cancer. Her story has been all over the internet, including her own first-person account on the CNN website here. Brittany has a form of brain cancer that is particularly aggressive, and those who have it usually die within 6 months.

She and her husband moved from California to Oregon, a so-called “right to die” state, because she wants to end her life on her own terms. She plans to do so on November 1, and is spending her last days as an advocate for the right of all people to commit suicide when and how they wish.

Here’s one quote from the CNN article: "When my suffering becomes too great, I can say to all those I love, 'I love you; come be by my side, and come say goodbye as I pass into whatever's next.'"

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Because He Was There

Sometimes you forget who your Savior is, or at least I do. I guess it’s a little like having a friend who just happens to be the President or the King. You’re used to being around him, having access to him, and you don’t always remember he’s also the most powerful person in the world.

I remember seeing President George W. Bush’s daughter Jenna on a talk show while her dad was still in office. The talk show host said something like, “So you could just call him up right now?” And the daughter took out her cell phone, punched a number, and started talking to the President of the United States. Pretty amazing.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

When You're Spinning Out of Control

We all have weeks when it feels like everything that could go wrong does. You begin to think God has taken a break from watching over your life, and you’re on your own, spinning slow-motion like a hydroplaning car on a mountain road, heading for the cliff.

Maybe that’s overly dramatic, but you probably know what I mean.

Christ hasn't gone anywhere, of course, and what you have to do is ride it out. Keep praying, and ignore the sense of vertigo you feel when it seems like your circumstances are spiraling out of control. And, of course, continue to read your Bible.

You never know when a very familiar, or seemingly dull, portion of holy Scripture may be just the encouragement you need. This week, for example, the Lord helped me through a genealogy. Usually you think of long lists of names – So-and-So begat Such-and-Such – as the boring verses you skip to get to the action parts of the Bible.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Is God Unfair?

Why does God permit beheadings of innocent people, the Ebola virus, child abuse, and government fraud? It doesn’t seem fair.

And many of us would be tempted to charge God with injustice in our own personal lives, too. How come my computer crashed and I lost all my work on the same day I had a flat tire? That doesn't seem fair. Why was my sister the pretty one? Not fair.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Why the Lord Wants to Help You, Even When You Mess Up

I’m reading through the Psalms at night. And a couple nights ago I read Psalm 106, which gives many examples of how God’s people have messed up over the years, ignored Him, griped and complained against Him, worshiped idols, disobeyed His word, and generally behaved so rebelliously that they usually ended up in a mess of their own making.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Day of Trouble

A couple weeks ago we spent six hours in the emergency room. I was having some unusual tightness in my chest, and to be on the safe side, we went to get it checked out. The blood tests, EKG, and chest x-rays were all normal, and later I had a stress (treadmill) test that was also normal. I’m fine and my heart is healthy.

But that doesn't mean it wasn't a difficult evening. Dionne and I have been in the ER too many times over the years not to feel a certain dread at going there again. If stress was the cause of my chest discomfort, hours spent in the waiting room doesn't help much.

We didn't get home till close to midnight. Before we went to bed, I read Psalm 86. Verse 7 seemed to be just for me: In the day of my trouble I call upon you, for you answer me.

The day of trouble will come to all of us. Jesus warned us: in the world you will have tribulation (John 16:33). The day of trouble may come from many directions - from the stress of life, from the infirmities of our frail bodies, from bad choices we or others make.

But our God watches over us, knows when the day of trouble is coming, and promises to get us through. And soon the day of trouble will be over forever, and the day of joy and peace and eternal fellowship with our Savior will begin.

May the LORD answer you in the day of trouble! May the name of the God of Jacob protect you! Psalm 20:1

For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble: he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will lift me high upon a rock. Psalm 27:5

"...call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me." Psalm 50:15

In the day of my trouble I call upon you, for you answer me. Psalm 86:7

The LORD is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in him. Nahum 1:7

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Five Transforming Truths about Salvation – 5. He Protects Us and Brings Us All the Way Home.

If it were up to any of us, we’d never be forgiven because we’d never seek after God, never turn from our sins, and never trust Christ. And just as it is God’s sovereign grace that brings us to Him in the first place, it is His transforming power that gives us the desire for holiness and His overcoming faithfulness that brings us all the way home.

Sometimes people call this “Perseverance of the Saints,” meaning that one of the defining marks of true salvation is that you persevere to the end. But again, that’s due to the initiative and protection of our God, not to any special fortitude in us.

I’ve actually written about this subject a lot, including a six-part series earlier this year. For the last part in this series, I’m going to revisit something I wrote on March 15. And then at the end, I’ll provide links for some other articles you might find helpful on this subject.


"To Him Who Is Able to Keep You From Stumbling" 

I tripped and fell a couple days ago while I was on my run. One minute I was going at my normal (i.e. slow) pace, and the next minute I was plunging downward into the gravel. I caught myself on my palms and my right knee. Beside a few scrapes on my hands and a bloody knee, I was none the worse for wear.

I don’t know what happened. I didn't trip over anything unless it was my own feet. And it’s not like it was an unfamiliar route. I figure in the last five years I've been around this track over 600 times. I just fell, kablooey.

And as I stood to my feet, wiped my hands on my running shorts, and surveyed the abrasion on my knee, a Scripture verse popped into my head. Now to Him who is able to keep you from falling.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Five Transforming Truths about Salvation – 4. God’s Way IS the Highway.

The wind blows where it wishes...John 3:8
When we think of the grace of God in salvation, it’s not “my way or the highway” so much as “God’s way is the highway.” When God sets His mind to something, it will happen. And when it comes to saving sinners, His grace in Christ is irresistible.

Now the minute you use the term “irresistible grace” someone will point out that people resist God’s grace all the time. As Stephen said (right before he was martyred), You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you (Acts 7:51). Of course that’s true. Unsaved people always resist God and none seeks him (the subject of my first post in this series: We Have Fallen and We Cannot Get Up).

But God’s grace becomes irresistible when God decides to call a person to Himself, and overcomes the sinner’s fallen resistance. And actually this sovereignly compelling grace is the only way anyone ever comes to Christ.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Five Transforming Truths About Salvation: 3. Jesus Died to Save His Sheep – Not Just Make Them Savable.

When we talk about Christ’s atonement, all Christians can agree that Jesus’ sacrifice is infinitely precious and valuable. The Savior’s redemptive work is more than enough to save every person who has ever lived a million times over. And that’s why we can say with great confidence, For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).

But although Christ’s death is more than enough to save everyone who has ever lived, why is it that not everyone will be saved?

Monday, September 1, 2014

Loss

Yesterday I read a novel and one of the characters, an elderly Holocaust survivor, told the story of his time in the Nazi death-camps. Like all good fiction, it was true. It made me cry. And so I wrote this.

Oh, loss. You hard and dull drag of a thing, you constant ache, you impairing crippling relentless howl.

I hate you.

I smell your smoking ovens, hear your cackling grave-watch, feel your creeping decay, see your black eye-sockets

Oh, loss.

You shyster, you faker, you shape-shifter, you fraud and counterfeit. Your dull drone drowns a song.

You sudden shimmering flashing horror show, you ugly painted harlot, you hammering knocking pretending stench.

Oh, loss.

I know you and dread you and try not to think of you and you won’t leave.

Oh, loss, loss, loss.

You dead and dying creeping crying decaying braying plaguing pretender.

Jesus will undo you, Jesus will erase you, Jesus will make me forget you forever and ever.

Have your fun now. Your time’s coming.

Oh, cross, cross, cross, where my Savior lost and lost and lost and sent time spinning and evil running and life coursing and coming.

Oh, grave where is your sting?

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Five Transforming Truths About Salvation: 2. God Chooses First.

Last time I tried to show that “we have fallen and we cannot get up.” Total depravity is one term to describe humankind’s predicament – that we are all sinners, fallen short of God’s glory, and that we are unwilling and unable to get ourselves out of the mess we’re in.

This is a blog about Christ, of course, so you won’t be surprised that I say the answer to our terrible dilemma is Jesus. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved (Acts 16:31) are some of the sweetest words in all the world.

But remember that the Bible says no one seeks after God (Romans 3:11). On our own, nobody will trust Jesus and be forgiven. Scripture says we were dead in our trespasses in sin (Ephesians 2:1), that we were blind to God’s truth (2 Corinthians 4:4), and that we had hearts of stone (Ezekiel 36:26). Dead people don’t believe; blind people don’t see; stone-hearted people don't respond to God.

So how does anyone get saved?

Friday, August 29, 2014

Five Transforming Truths About Salvation: #1. We Have Fallen, and We Cannot Get Up

With this post, and the next several, I’d like to share “five transforming truths” about salvation. God has used them in my own life to increase my love for Him, to deepen my humility and gratitude, and to heighten my desire to live for Him. I wish the same for you.

Do you remember that commercial for a medical alert company? It showed an elderly person lying on the floor, moaning, “I've fallen and I cannot get up.”

Today's understanding of sin is that we have fallen, but it’s not that bad. It’s really more of a slip than a fall, a temporary loss of balance. You could say we’ve fallen, but we can certainly get up. We can choose to change our lives.

But the Bible teaches something radically different, and infinitely worse. It says we have fallen and we cannot get up.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Six Reasons Why God’s Love is Better Than Life

When I was in college we used to sing a Maranatha! chorus,
Thy loving kindness
Is better than life
Thy loving kindness
Is better than life
My lips shall praise thee
Thus will I bless thee
I will lift up my hands
Unto thy name.
The song comes from Psalm 63, which in the ESV is Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands. Ps 63:3-4.

I have probably sung the chorus dozens of times, but I don’t remember ever thinking much about why. Why is the Lord’s loving kindness better than life? That’s a pretty big claim.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

What Jesus Says About Beheading an Innocent Man

By now everybody knows that the dedicated followers of the “religion of peace” beheaded an American photojournalist named James Foley, and posted the video on the internet. Years ago I made the mistake of watching a video of another decapitation by Muslim terrorists, and it was the most horrific, disgusting, and beastly thing I’ve ever seen.

So I won’t watch another terrorist video if I can help it, and recommend that you don’t either. But since this is a blog about Christ, I do want to ask the question, what does Jesus have to say about the beheading of an innocent man by religious zealots?

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Who Does He Think He Is?

I like knowing that Jesus is Lord, because it means He is big enough to forgive all my sins and to deliver me from any threat. I like Jesus' being Lord when I think of heaven, and how He has prepared a place for me. I like Christ's lordship when life seems out of control and I remember that He still rules.

But when He claims authority over me, tells me what to do, says no to me, or sends me in a direction I would never have chosen, well, then I guess I don't like His authority as much.

Friday, August 8, 2014

knowing God's Will

If you could pose one question to God and be guaranteed He would answer, what would you ask? Chances are most of us would want to know about His will for our lives. What shall I do when I finish school? Should I get married? And if so, to whom? What sort of job would suit my gifts and personality? Where should I live?

We say we want to know God’s will for our lives, but if we’re honest, what we really want is a map of our lives, stretching out ahead of us, drawn to scale, with all the turns clearly marked and a destination highlighted in red. But God’s will in the Bible isn't really like that. God’s will in Scripture is not so much a map to follow as it is a person to become.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Why Christians Love the Name of Jesus

The other night I was flipping channels and caught about 10 minutes of a movie about professional baseball. Toward the end of the movie an undrafted rookie pitcher got a try-out before the skeptical owner and manager of a major league team.

The young man’s blazing fast ball and treacherous curve ball provoked an amazed baseball scout to whisper our Savior’s name. But he wasn't saying it as a prayer.

I wonder sometimes why Jesus’ name is used as a curse so frequently. Maybe in a weird way it’s a twisted acknowledgement of His deity. (Does anybody curse by saying “Oh, Buddha!” Or, “Mo-HAM-med!”)

The name of Jesus is important to Christians for all sorts of reasons. It is the name we love the most, the name that we cling to when things go wrong, the name we whisper when we feel afraid, the name we shout when we worship, the name we softly pray over our sleeping children, the name we clasp to our hearts when we face sickness and death. Jesus. Our Jesus.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Five Steps Toward Humility

We all have a pride problem. We come into this world believing we are #1 and that our wants, needs, and desires should be everyone’s top priority. Our hardwiring tells us that we deserve to be at the center of the universe and that other people – even God – should do our bidding. This is, as a famous politician put it, an inconvenient truth. Nobody wants to admit it, but it is still true.

Another part of our pride problem is that the God of the universe hates pride and loves humility. Which puts us all in a very bad position. For example, But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble." Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.  (James 4:6, 7) That the Lord opposes something should make us want to be on the other side of whatever that something is. Especially since, in contrast, He gives grace to the humble.

Those of us who follow Christ should want to pursue humility. But how?

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Rejoicing in Small Things

What small thing is God doing in your life? And how do you know it is “small?"

How do you measure God’s power and blessing? Numbers and size don’t always do it. For example, some churches have an attendance of 50,000. Does that mean God has withheld His blessing if the church you attend has an attendance of 85?

When Jesus healed a blind man, was that a lesser miracle than the parting of the Red Sea? Did Christ’s turning water into wine for a small wedding deserve less praise than when He fed the 5000? Was the raising of Lazarus less praiseworthy than the “many” who came out of their graves (Matthew 27:52-53) after Jesus' resurrection?

Saturday, July 12, 2014

My First Colonoscopy

This past week I had my first colonoscopy, long overdue. I didn’t even intend to have it. I quite innocently asked my family doctor, "So does Kaiser still do colonoscopies for people my age?" And he said, "I’ll set it up." (Wait…what just happened?)

Colonoscopies seem to make quite an impression upon people. You never forget your first one – though, of course you try through years of therapy. Just kidding. It’s similar to, I suppose, your first roller coaster, or maybe your first car wreck.

Anyhow, I thought I might share some of my reflections, for the benefit of you who are yet uninitiated, and perhaps to the fond recollection of those who are.

Monday, July 7, 2014

What Makes God Laugh?

Does God have a sense of humor? Well, sure! He made us, right?

Lots of people say the Lord likes a good joke, and maybe He does. But there’s only one place in the entire Bible where God laughs. Psalm 2:4: He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision.

But this isn’t a pleasant, affectionate, indulgent laugh, like the chuckle you get watching children play. This is a mocking, ridiculing, scoffing kind of laugh. The NET Bible translates Psalm 2:4 this way: The one enthroned in heaven laughs in disgust; the Lord taunts them.

Monday, June 30, 2014

A Prayer for the Difficult Person in Your Life

All of us have people in our lives who challenge our civility, who make life harder for us, who rub us the wrong way, who push our buttons. And sometimes, more often than we would like to admit, we are the problem. Or at least we bear responsibility for a lot of it.

God’s word says "If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all" (Romans 12:18). Evidently it is not always possible, but we should try.

The Bible gives us guidelines about confronting when we think we've been wronged (Matthew 18:15-17), and speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 4: 15). It tells us to confess our own sins (James 5:16) and forgive one another (Colossians 3:13). 

So this prayer is not a substitute for any of that.

But years ago I wrote out a fairly lengthy prayer that I have prayed many times when I've had a "difficult person" in my life. I've found that praying for someone softens my heart toward them, and is part of God's plan to humble me and possibly (but not always) to heal the relationship.

This is a prayer specifically when the difficult person is (or claims to be) a member of the Christian family.

Maybe it will be helpful to you. 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

What If You Believed in Vain?

Recently I attended a funeral where the officiating pastor gave an invitation to salvation. He told us Jesus came to give us abundant life. As we bowed in prayer, he promised all we had to do to receive this abundant life was “step over the line!” To do this, we were to raise our hands.

After the amen, the minister announced that many people had “stepped over the line.” “Whoo-hoo!” he shouted.

We have a great gospel to proclaim. Those who receive it are saved unto eternal life. But the Apostle Paul raises a very disturbing question about our faith: Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain (1 Corinthians 15:1-2, my emphasis).

How is it possible to believe “in vain?”

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Three Stark Contrasts Between Religion and Christianity

Last time I spoke about discovering that religion and Christianity are two very different things. This came home to me again as I studied the story of the woman whom Jesus healed of a terrible back problem. It’s a long passage, but worth your time to read.

10 Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. 11 And behold, there was a woman who had had a disabling spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not fully straighten herself. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said to her, “Woman, you are freed from your disability.” 13 And he laid his hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and she glorified God. 14 But the ruler of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, said to the people, “There are six days in which work ought to be done. Come on those days and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day.” 15 Then the Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it away to water it? 16 And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?” 17 As he said these things, all his adversaries were put to shame, and all the people rejoiced at all the glorious things that were done by him. (Luke 13)

The way the religious establishment (in this case the lay-leader of a synagogue) responded to this healing illustrates three stark contrasts between religion and Christ.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Losing My Religion and Gaining My Savior

I grew up in a home where going to church and practicing religion were regarded as part of your civic duty. It’s what good people did. I was taught that it didn’t matter much what religion you chose – “all roads lead to the same place. Just get on one of them and stay on it.” So I did.

But then my father got very sick and we were unable to attend church on Sundays. After he died, we never went back. By then I didn’t care about civic duty. My religion left me empty and I was done with it.

Monday, June 9, 2014

How to Wait on God While You Wait

I hate to wait. Slow traffic, grocery lines, plane delays, doctor’s offices – all drive me a little nuts.

Today I decided to get my hair cut. (Insert your own joke here. I still have some hair to cut, okay?) My favorite barber had another guy in the chair, and somebody was ahead of me. It turned out to be a forty-five minute wait.

But I’m learning to “wait on God” while I wait, so today I didn't fret and fidget like I usually do. I had a good prayer time with the Lord.

Why don’t we pray while we wait? Lots of reasons, I guess. It’s hard to pray with so many distractions. People talking, traffic noise, waiting room TV’s blaring. Plus, with the advent of the iPhone, it’s just as easy to text, surf the net, email, check the scores, or even catch up on reading.

Why not pray? Maybe “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17) is meant for just such opportunities.

So, while it's hard to pray in a room full of people, or during a hot, honking traffic jam, it can be done. In order to overcome the noise and the chaos of waiting, I think you need two things: a prayer plan, and a way to focus.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Mighty Fortress

My fears, my sins, my pride
Rage and foam and crash,
Broken against Your eternal shore.

I recede, spent and fading,
Until I run again
But gentled against the smooth warm sand.

You stand serene and steady,
A mountain in the frantic sea,
Mighty fortress.

I finally slip and sigh
And feel Your granite, forged eternal
Above and below me.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

"What is God's Promise?" - Casting Your Burdens on the Lord, Part 3

When we cast our burdens on the Lord, what happens? What does He promise to do about our distress and pain? Cast your burden on the LORD is His command, in Psalm 55:22. And His promise follows: and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.

God’s promise in Psalm 55:22 is in two parts. He makes a promise for right now, while we’re struggling with our burdens, and He also makes a promise for forever, for any and all burdens we might experience in the course of our lives.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Casting Your Burden on the Lord - Part 2: "What are Your Options?"

Everybody has burdens, and Psalm 55:22 tells us what to do with them. Cast your burden on the LORD, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.

Last time I asked “what is your burden?” Burdens may seem heavy, wearisome, painful, unfair, and destructive. But they are also given to us by our wise, kind, loving, and all-powerful Heavenly Father. 


So in this post I want to focus on how we’re supposed to deal with our burdens.

What are your options?
As in most things, there are only a limited number of possibilities to deal with the burdens of life.
  1. Resent them. Sometimes people express their resentment at the burdens they carry by bitterness and blaming. But resentment only increases the weight of the burden. Not to mention that ultimately the resentment is aimed at the God of the universe. Not a good option.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Casting Your Burdens on the Lord - Part One: "What is Your Burden?"

When I became a Christian many years ago, one of the first verses I ever “hid in my heart” was Psalm 55:22: Cast your burden on the LORD, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.

At the time, those words seemed almost too good to be true. They helped me deal with my problems and encouraged my growth in grace. I read them over and over, memorizing them without even trying. Now, four decades later, Psalm 55:22 is even more precious to me. Its truth and comfort and promise remain constant, even though my life circumstances (and burdens) are much different.

I thought it might be a blessing to share the verse that has been such a blessing to me. My plan is to focus on asking and answering three questions: for this post, what is your burden? Next time, what are your options? And for a final post on the verse, what is God’s promise?

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Four Steps to Climb Out of a Pit of Depression

Mark Alan Williams, one of my oldest and closest friends, has a great blog you should read called Making Life Count. Here's a guest post from Mark that should encourage all of us. Thanks for writing this, Mark!

While planting my first church I experienced the worst depression of my life. It seemed as though I had worked so hard with such minimal results. I felt like a terrible failure.

At meals I hardly spoke and stared blankly. I was too embarrassed to share my feelings. I suffered silently, miserably and alone.

Sadly, I even doubted God’s love and His Word. This caused me to question whether I should be a pastor. My negative doubts and thoughts threw me into a tailspin of confusion and despair.

I was stuck in the pit of depression.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Jesus, the Judge, and You

You stand there before the bar of God’s justice. You feel anxious and your heart is pounding. Right next to you is Jesus. He looks at you, and His smile is kind, but somewhat sad. He doesn't say anything.

Seated facing you, across that holy bench, is God the Father. He looks at Jesus, and smiles with radiance and love and fatherly pride. You know His deepest delight is His Son. “This is My Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased!” Then He glances at you without speaking.

The Judge of all the earth is holding in His hand a stack of papers, and you can see that they are a list of many, many sins. With dismay you realize this is a personal list – an exhaustive description of all your sins.

The Father begins to read. “Lying.” The word hangs there, like a rude noise in a still room. You immediately remember a half dozen times where you lied just recently. You’re about to confess, when Jesus speaks. “I did it.” “What?” the Father says. “You’re the liar?” Jesus nods.

The Judge returns to the paper. “Pride, and treating other people with contempt.” Again you flash on many occasions when you've been guilty. But again Jesus confesses. “That’s Me. I did it.”  The Father seems to be looking at Jesus differently.

He keeps reading – a whole string of things: lust, murder in your heart, cheating, anger to manipulate others, blasphemy, callousness toward the pain of others, coveting and envy. You know in each case that you did all these things multiple times.

But Jesus says, “Yes, that was Me. I did them all.”

A dark cloud seems to cross the Father’s face. He stares at Jesus for a long minute. “You? You did all these things? I am of purer eyes than to look upon sin. You disgust Me.” And even as He turns away from Jesus, He pronounces sentence: “You’ll be punished to the full extent of the Law, even unto death.”

Then the Father looks at you. His smile is radiant as He says, “My beloved child, in whom I am well pleased.”

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:21

Monday, May 5, 2014

The Signs of the Filling of the Holy Spirit

What does the “filling of the Holy Spirit” look like? What signs or evidences mark the Spirit’s fullness in the life of a Christian?

Some Christians might be inclined to answer, The signs of the fullness of the Spirit are ecstatic utterances, or prophetic words of knowledge, or supernatural power. But the passage that gives the most complete answer comes from Ephesians 5:18-21. And the real evidence of the Holy Spirit’s fullness might surprise you.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Are You "Filled with the Holy Spirit"?

Are you “filled with the Holy Spirit?”

And what does “full of the Holy Spirit” mean, anyway? What does "the filling" look like?

I’d like to tackle those two questions in this post and the next one. And to do so, I’ll rely upon the most definitive passage on this subject in the Scriptures, Ephesians 5:18-21.

18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

So first, what is the filling of the Holy Spirit?

Here are four key words that summarize my understanding of the Holy Spirit's filling: 1. Contrast. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but…Paul points out a striking difference between two experiences: alcoholic drunkenness versus Holy Spirit filling. Instead of of abandoning ourselves to a drug, we are to yield ourselves to the Spirit. Instead of being an embarrassment (debauchery) to the name of Christ, we are to be under the sway of His Spirit.

2. Control. Essentially Paul is talking about who or what is the dominant influence in the life of believers in Jesus. When we repent of our sins and believe in Christ, the Holy Spirit takes up residence in our lives (see Romans 8:9). He is the one who supplies the power to live our faith in Jesus. Spirit-filled Christians are people who submit to the Holy Spirit.

3. Command. Be filled with the Spirit. Scripture lists the fullness of the Spirit not as a suggestion or a good idea to investigate, but as God’s directive for all His children.

4. Continuous. Literally, God’s command is “be continually filled with the Holy Spirit.” Some people speak of the Holy Spirit’s filling as an event that happened to them, but God’s word describes it as an ongoing flow of life. More like water flowing through a pipe than water being poured into a container.

The filling of the Holy Spirit is God’s desire (His command) for all believers in Christ. Obeying His command that we be filled is not complicated. Simply pray, confess any known sin, and yielding by faith to the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

And for next time, let’s talk about the evidence of the filling of the Holy Spirit.