Ferguson & Friday

8316fdf799cf77f5891fbddc5177c47eIt’s true.  I typically start listening to Christmas music in October.  I start thinking about putting up a tree in early November.  I can’t help it.  This time of the year, between Thanksgiving and Christmas, with gratitude, great food, a sense of anticipation, deer hunting, gift wrapping, and snow (yes, SNOW) it is my favorite time of the year.

This year, at least for now, I have a heavy heart.  I’m writing this on the eve of Thanksgiving Day.  The past two nights have openly displayed the raw depravity of man’s heart.  How?  Ferguson.

Listen, we in America are conditioned to accept rioting and looting on Thanksgiving weekend.  It’s called “Black Friday.”  You know, that day when people are lured into stores so they can trample anyone and everyone in order to get the stuff you want. (Sorry, I meant to say, “take care of their Christmas list.”)

My heart is heavy watching buildings burn.

My heart is heavy listening to the “race” narrative.

My heart is heavy feeling the simple reality of sin unleashed as it destroys all in its path. (Ferguson or Friday)

In the background Christmas music is playing… “And in despair I bowed my head: “There is no peace on earth,” I said, “For hate is strong and mocks the song Of peace on earth, good will to men.” Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: “God is not dead, nor doth he sleep; The wrong shall fail, the right prevail, With peace on earth, good will to men.”

This world is a mess.  We human beings are a mess.  Why?  Because of our sin (Romans 3:23; 5:12).  If we don’t understand that, then we will not understand this: “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2:10-11

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By the way, you’re not Jesus.

authoritarian-parents-angry-father-scolding-boyRemember that time when your child (spouse or friend), sinned against you and you went to them with eloquent, pointed, correcting words, and they immediately saw their error, dropped to their knees, and apologized with repentant tears?

Wait!  That’s never happened to you either?  I have to correct my children for the same thing over and over and over.  Why don’t they get what I’m saying?  Maybe I need to say it differently, with more force, with more gentleness, with more scripture, with less scripture.  I just need to figure out the right combination of words, then they’ll get it.  Right?

OK, so, you may want to sit down at this point.  What I’m about to say may be hard to hear: We cannot change people.

One author put it like this: “Somewhere along the way, those of us gifted with words will receive a painful reminder that it is Jesus and not our explanations that can change a heart.  Words aren’t strings.  People aren’t puppets. Eloquent speech isn’t magic.”

Only Jesus can change a person’s heart.  We may have all the appropriate biblical ammunition, carefully crafted arguments, and even have righteousness on our side, but none of these things can change a person.

As a dad I can raise my voice, or slow down my words (as if I’m speaking to a foreigner), but none of these things will change my children.  My words don’t have the power to change their hearts.  Only Jesus can do that.

When tension rises in a relationship, we’re immediately confronted with the fact that we are not Jesus.  We cannot cause people to be convicted of their sins, no matter how eloquently or forcefully we speak.  Only Jesus can convict a person of their sins.  Only Jesus can change a person’s heart.

We need to spend more time asking Him to work.  Yes, I mean praying.  He must change our children.  He must work in our spouse.  He must soften our friend.  Trying to do the work of Jesus in the heart of others is both exhausting and frustrating.  I know, I’ve tried many times and failed every time.  We need to (must) let Jesus do his work in his time.

[See: Ezekiel 36:26-27; John 14:10; 15:5]

Day of Discovery

We have really been looking forward to this day!  After lengthy discussions (more like debates), emotional pleas (that sound like “I really want what I want”), and child-like logic (it has to be this way because I want it to be this way) we arrived at the doctors office for the ultra-sound.  The boys wanted another brother.  Hannah and Lydia wanted a little sister.  Grace wants, well, a baby.  And Caleb just wants his space on mommy’s lap, back.

To be honest the week leading up to our day of discovery was a little nerve racking.  I had to take my sweet wife to the doctor’s office twice for unscheduled visits.  It doesn’t really matter how small the matter, when you’re expecting and things are not right, they are just not right.  Thankfully everything was fine and all is well.

Well, the day arrived.  Drum roll please . . . . . We are having a baby boy!  Well, that’s what the doctor said when he looked at the black-n-white kaleidoscope-looking mini-screen that displays shapes, bones, organs, and gender specific anatomy.

Oh wait, I can see a tiny little face!

2014-08-28 14.52.19Incredible.

The drive home was very interesting.  We talked about how the other children would respond to the news. Joy-unleashed would be a good way to describe the atmosphere. That is, after explaining that there were no winners or losers in the “what do you think the baby is” game.

Somewhere along the road my delight intersected with my reality.  I have another son to love, train, equip, and launch into manhood.  Wow.

Something I read recently came to mind: “The family is supposed to be a training ground in loving authority.  It is a ‘ramping-up’ place that God has given us to learn love, respect, honor, obedience, and trust, in order to prepare us for relating to others and ultimately to God Himself.”

Again, wow.  I love being a dad!  Please Lord, help me to be a good dad.

My prayer for Ukraine…

A week after 9/11 (2001) a small group of us spent two weeks in Kiev and Odessa Ukraine with Slavic Gospel Association.  It was… incredible.  (Though no-one prepared me for being greeted with “a holy kiss”…over and over and over…everywhere we went.)

The pastors we met were dedicated (and godly) men who love the Word, cherish the Son, exalt the Father and yearn for their friends and neighbors to come to Christ.  Whole communities came out for the 3-4 hour long services that often included 2-4 sermons.  People arrived early, quietly prepared their hearts before the service and tearfully sang with rapturous joy in their hearts.

We also visited orphanages full of children.  I will never forget the little boy Uri who approached me and in broken but clear English said, “My name is U-ri. Vhat is yours?”  I wish someone could have taken a picture of his expression when I said, “Clegguart” (pronounced clay-gert) … I was ready to adopt him on the spot (along with the rest of the children).

I often find myself praying for the pastors we met and the churches in which we ministered.  One in particular stands out in my mind. Outside of Odessa and down rough dirt roads (I’m being generous) and across several fields lay a tiny little village where church was held every week, in a garage.

Packed in like sardines and using a little Casio keyboard for accompaniment, we gathered for worship.  After the service we walked a short distance down the road to a pile of rocks (not finely crafted bricks – random rocks).  The enthusiasm and anticipation was almost unbelievable.  This was to be their new church building.  They were building, stone by stone, piece by piece, mostly with their bare hands, a church.

I don’t know the political ups and downs of the current situation in Ukraine.  I do know that God is still on His throne and the Gospel still saves.

My prayer for Ukraine: May God’s people be faithful, God’s Word be proclaimed, God’s Spirit be unleashed, God’s Son be exalted and God be glorified!

To my pastor friends in Ukraine… Remember: Preach the Word, love the people and trust the Lord!

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Praying for Pastors tonight…

pulpit_frontPraying tonight for those men who stand in the pulpit to give faithful exposition of the word of God… most of us will spend our lives in earthly anonymity.

That’s OK!

Tomorrow is Sunday. The Lord’s Day. The gathering of the brethren in order to feed on the word, to hear from the Lord, and to commune with one another. Most important of all they will gather in order to engage the heart, ready the mind, and prostrate the soul in worship of the living God.

Brothers: Preach so as to please God, not men!

“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; therefore be shrewd as serpents, and innocent as doves.” (Matt. 10:16)

“I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober- minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” 2 Timothy 4:1-5

“This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful.” 1 Corinthians 4:1-2

Additional Food For Thought:

Isaiah 6:1-8; 2 Timothy 2:1-7; 15; Revelation 4:10-11; 5:8-10; 7:11

The wisdom of John Wayne

ed-clark-actor-john-wayne-as-marine-sgt-platoon-leader-in-scene-from-the-movie-sands-of-iwo-jima“Life is tough,

but it’s even tougher if your stupid.”

~ John Wayne (Sands of Iwo Jima)

“How Long, O naive ones, will you love being simple-minded? And scoffers delight themselves in scoffing and fools hate knowledge?”

Proverbs 1:22

Christmas: Sorrow & Hope

christmas-candles-wallpaper-290x290Tis’ the season to be jolly, right? While the entire world seems to glitter in tinsel, some people will be sitting in caves of sorrow during the holidays. It’s easy to forget that grief does not take a vacation at Christmas.

Chances are someone you know has lost a loved one in the past year. This Christmas will be the first one since their death. Everything will be different. All the celebrations will actually prompt mourning. And the family gathering won’t quite be complete. It’s a challenge to muster up seasonal vibes when all you can think about or feel is the loss and grief from the past year or more.

The challenge? Make sure that we mourn with those who mourn – even during the holidays.

Stop for a moment and think of those who might feel as if they have less reason to rejoice than others. And when the Lord has brought them to mind, think about how you might remember, include, bless, or serve them in some way.

Remember, what began in a manger culminated in a cross where Jesus “destroy[ed] the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil” (Heb. 2:14). One day God will put an end to all pain, suffering, loss and tears.

Our great hope is that Christ will come again, not as a helpless baby in a manger, but as a magnificent king on a throne! A king who will be close enough, and gentle enough, to wipe every tear from our eyes. He will personally put an end to everything that has brought his people pain. He will “raise the sons of earth” by transforming “our lowly body to be like his glorious body” (Phil. 3:21) to live with him forever on a gloriously renewed earth.

Praise & Thanksgiving

sing-praise-thanksgiving-550x320“O My God,

Thou fairest, greatest, first of all objects, my heart admires, adores, loves, thee, for my little vessel is as full as it can be, and I would pour out all that fullness before thee in ceaseless flow.

When I think upon and converse with thee

  • ten thousand delightful thoughts spring up,
  • ten thousand sources of pleasure are unsealed,
  • ten thousand refreshing joys spread over my heart, crowding into every moment of happiness.

I bless thee for the soul thou hast created, for adorning it, sanctifying it, though it is fixed in barren soil;

  • for the body thou hast given me,
  • for preserving its strength and vigor,
  • for providing senses to enjoy delights,
  • for the ease and freedom of my limbs,
  • for hands, eyes, ears that do thy bidding;
  • for thy royal bounty providing my daily support,
  • for a full table and overflowing cup,
  • for appetite, taste, sweetness,
  • for social joys of relatives and friends,
  • for ability to serve others,
  • for a heart that feels sorrows and necessities,
  • for a mind to care for my fellow-men,
  • for opportunities of spreading happiness around,
  • for loved ones in the joys of heaven,
  • for my own expectation of seeing thee clearly.

I love thee above the powers of language to express, for what thou art to thy creatures.

Increase my love, O my God, through time and eternity.”

~ The Valley of Vision

What do you see? SHEEP!

Many people look at the people around them in their church and see:

often confused,

easily wandering,

mostly dirty, 

sometimes gullible,

always needing to be hand-fed,

SHEEP.

This is more like what I see…

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If all you see when you look at your brethren in Christ is their mistakes and missteps – then you are not looking at them as God looks at them; through the soul-cleansing blood of Christ.

From God’s perspective His children are clean, colorfully unique and on their way to heaven.  Not because of anything that we have done in order to earn heaven, but rather because of what God has done through His one and only begotten Son, Jesus Christ (see Acts 4:12; Romans 3:23; 6:23; 10:9-10; 1 John 5:10-13).

The Apostle Paul, speaking to and about the PEOPLE in Thessalonica, said: “For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not YOU? For YOU are our glory and joy.” 1 Thess. 2:19 (emphasis added)

Are you kidding me, Paul?  People should be our glory and joy?

Yes.

The only thing we can take with us into eternity are other sinners – by grace alone, through faith alone (see Ephesians 2:8-10).

Thus saith the Lord ~ J. Gresham Machen

Image“A prophet was a man to whom God had directly spoken, who appealed to no external authority, but said simply, ‘Thus saith the Lord.’ There are those who claim to be such prophets today. But few of us, I think, will be inclined to accept their claims. True prophecy, in the supernatural, biblical sense does not exist today; like other miracles it has ceased. Why it has ceased we may not perhaps be able to say; the ways of God with men in the Christian religion constitute not a scheme that we can work out according to principles of our own, but, as Chesterton says, for us at least, a story, a romance, full of strange, unexpected things. Perhaps, indeed, we may see a little way at this point into the purposes of God, we may perhaps understand a little of the reason why prophecy has ceased. There is a wonderful completeness in the revelation that the Bible contains. We have in the Bible an account of the great presuppositions that should underlie all our thinking — the righteousness and holiness of God and the sinfulness of man. And then we have an account of the way in which God saved man once for all by the redeeming work of Christ. That redeeming work was not partial but complete. It needs to be applied, indeed, by the Holy Spirit; but the redemption that is to be applied was accomplished once for all by Christ. It is hard to see, therefore, what need there is of supernatural revelation until that great day when the Lord shall come again to usher in His kingdom in final power.

But although no fresh supernatural revelation is given in the present age, it would be a great mistake to disparage the dispensation under which we are living. That dispensation is the dispensation of the Holy Spirit: even the absence of new revelations is itself in one sense a mark of glory; it is an indication of the wondrous completeness of God’s initial gift to His church. In Old Testament times there was prophecy, because then God’s redemptive plan was still in the process of unfolding; but we are the heirs of the ages and have the Saviour Himself. Only one great act remains in the drama of redemption — the mighty catastrophic coming of our Lord in glory.

Meanwhile we have the Holy Spirit, and we have the Scripture of the Old and New Testaments that the Holy Spirit uses. Much mischief has been wrought in the church by false notions of ‘the witness of the Spirit’; it has sometimes been supposed that the Holy Spirit makes us independent of the Bible. Just the opposite is the case. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth. He does not contradict in one generation what He has said in another. He does not contradict the Scriptures that He himself has given. On the contrary, what He really does is to make the words of Scripture glow with a heavenly light and burn in the hearts of men. Those Scriptures are placed in your hands. You may not say with the prophets of old: ‘God has spoken directly and independently to me; I appeal to no external authority; when I speak it is “Thus saith the Lord.”’ But you can do something else. You can mount your pulpit stairs; open reverently the Bible on the desk; pray to the gracious Spirit to make plain the words that He has spoken; and so unfold to needy people the Word of God.

Do you think that that is a low function? Do you think that it involves a slavish kind of dependence on a book? Do you think that it means that advance and freedom are to be checked? The history of the church should be the answer. Again and again history has shown that the Bible, when accepted in the very highest sense as the Word of God, does not stifle life but gives life birth; does not enslave men, but sets them free. Those who talk about emancipating themselves from the slavish doctrine of what they call ‘verbal’ inspiration are not really emancipating themselves from a tyranny, but they are tearing up the charter upon which all human liberty depends.

And so, after all, you can say in a high, true sense, as you draw upon the rich store of revelation in the Bible: ‘Thus saith the Lord.’ If you accept the Bible as the Word of God you will have one qualification of a preacher. Whatever be the limitations of your gifts, you will at least have a message. You will be, in one respect at least, unlike most persons who love to talk in public at the present time; you will have one qualification of a speaker— you will at least have something to say.”