Sunday, October 22, 2017

Your Phones and Your Soul


Every generation of Christians faces new obstacles for clinging to Christ. In our lives today, one of the most deadly tools Satan uses for destroying our souls is our phones. These precious technological devices go with us wherever we go, promising that all boredom can be undone, and connectivity is a click away. At the same time, they zap us from deep meditation on Christ, slow prayer before the LORD, and presence before God and others.

The Southern Baptist Seminary recently posted an article by a pastor from Alabama. This pastor has been on the same journey as me (reading almost all the same books this year) regarding technology and the Christian. His insights are worth our time and meditation.

Click here to read, and as you read, consider 1 step of application you might enlist to grow closer to Christ: http://equip.sbts.edu/article/take-cross-put-phone-follow/

Tips for Technological Sanity and Respect (for you and others):

- Turn off all notifications from email, social media, and apps. Don’t invite distractions into your life.

- Keep phone and messaging on silent or vibrate as much as possible.

- Have periods each day (1-3 hours periodically throughout the day) and each week (24 hours) where your phone is totally off or on silent and you avoid a computer or tablet.

- Leave phones in designated locations for the evening (not your pocket). Be present with the people in your home.

- Leave phone in car (best) or turned off in purse/pocket during appointments, meals, concerts, movies, and meetings. Use the “emergency rule” sparingly. The emergency rule allows you to inform your host or guest that you need to leave your phone on for an expected and important call. If you haven’t utilized the “emergency rule,” do not look at your phone until the event is over.

Friday, October 20, 2017

False Teaching and those Who've Found the Light...

I sent this to my congregation today; thought you'd find it interesting if you hadn't come across it yet...

Since many of you have relationships with friends and family influenced by the dangerous heresy of "Health and Wealth" (also known as "The Word of Faith" movement), please give this 90 minutes podcast a listen. This is an interview of Costi Hinn, the nephew of the false teacher Benny Hinn. Costi has left the Health and Wealth movement and has embraced the Christ who calls us to pick up our cross to follow and suffer. The reason I so appreciate this interview is that Costi Hinn still loves his uncle and those who haven't seen the light. It's a thought-provoking interview. There was also a September 20th, 2017 Christianity Today article by Costi Hinn entitled, "Benny Hinn is My Uncle but Prosperity Preaching Isn't for Me."

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Hugh Hefner's Legacy in My Life

The man has been dead for many weeks. His business almost stole my soul. He was not and is not my enemy, for my Enemy is not flesh and blood. By the grace of God, my first look in Hefner's deadly magazine was not the last word on the man God is making me to be.

More on God's redemption in my life can be read here...warning: this is not PG.

https://blog.efca.org/blog/theology-culture/how-i-started-road-pornography-and-how-i-got-free

“I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I want to be, I am not what I hope to be in another world; but still I am not what I once used to be, and by the grace of God I am what I am.” 
― John Newton

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Tragedy Fatigue

With a new crisis of epic proportions every week, I have felt the weight of tragedy fatigue. Just in the past days, two twenty year old died in a car crash in our county and over 50 people died a horrific death in Las Vegas. In the past several months, there have been other shootings, natural disasters, and international conflict. How is a finite person able to face all of these and still function?

On top of the fatigue, we experience social expectations to Tweet this or Post on Facebook that in order to show our solidarity. Woe to us if we forget to mention it or speak on another subject because then we'll be insensitive or uncaring. That adds a whole new layer to the sense of guilt and obligation on facing tragedies.

I offer two words on this...

The first is, "Loving your neighbor" is primarily about the real people, in plain sight, that need your care and attention. Though the world clamors at you to worry about "the big stuff" in "the big places," we need to minister to the wounded around us. You don't need to go running for regional and national emergencies; they will find you one day in your backyard. So today, a good way to respond to tragedies afar is to look for the just as real wounded among you. Love them, encourage them, call them, and be available to them.

Second, prayerfully consider simple acts of kindness to those afar. In the New Testament, Christians from all across Europe were sending money to famine-effected Jerusalem. There is a precedent for intentional care beyond your geographic locality. But don't feel guilty for sending a generous cash donation and bowing before the LORD in prayer. It may be all you can do...and it may be exactly what is needed. God will raise up "helpers" in each place. Churches have developed disciples in these locations for these very purposes. Support them in prayer...ensure they have the resources they need to love the neighbors among them.

God cares about the big hurts and the little hurts. He sent His Son to end the suffering by suffering on the Cross. Jesus' resurrection confirms that one day all will be made right. Those who know and believe in Jesus today can rest in the sure knowledge that Heaven is coming...a New Earth will dawn. Until then, we seek God's blessing on all aspects currently impacted by the Fall.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Can I really pray about THAT?

In rereading C.S. Lewis' "Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer," I was struck by Lewis' rebuke of Malcolm who squabbles over if we should only bring "big prayers to God." Sometimes I too wonder if my prayers are of the sort that a Christian man should be bringing to God in the first place. Lewis' corrects Malcolm (and me) by reminding me that God can sort through the "rightness" or "smallness" of my prayers. He'd rather me show up before Him honestly with what is on my heart and mind than put forth only "fancy-dress" prayers that are of a "higher nature."

Lewis concludes: "And perhaps, as those who do not turn to God in petty trials will have no habit or such resort to help them when the great trials come, so those who have not learned to ask Him for childish things will have less readiness to ask Him for the great ones. We must not be too high-minded. I fancy we may sometimes be deterred from small prayers by a sense of our own dignity rather than God's."

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

A stirring song...Johnny Cash


The Man Comes Around

"And I heard, as it were, the noise of thunder
One of the four beasts saying,
'Come and see.' and I saw, and behold a white horse"
There's a man goin' 'round takin' names
And he decides who to free and who to blame
Everybody won't be treated all the same
There'll be a golden ladder reachin' down
When the man comes around
The hairs on your arm will stand up
At the terror in each sip and in each sup
Will you partake of that last offered cup
Or disappear into the potter's ground?
When the man comes around
Hear the trumpets hear the pipers
One hundred million angels singin'
Multitudes are marchin' to the big kettledrum
Voices callin', voices cryin'
Some are born and some are dyin'
It's alpha and omega's kingdom come
And the whirlwind is in the thorn tree
The virgins are all trimming their wicks
The whirlwind is in the thorn tree
It's hard for thee to kick against the pricks
Till armageddon no shalam, no shalom
Then the father hen will call his chickens home
The wise man will bow down before the throne
And at his feet they'll cast their golden crowns
When the man comes around
Whoever is unjust let him be unjust still
Whoever is righteous let him be righteous still
Whoever is filthy let him be filthy still
Listen to the words long written down
When the man comes around
Hear the trumpets hear the pipers
One hundred million angels singin'
Multitudes are marchin' to the big kettledrum
Voices callin', voices cryin'
Some are born and some are dyin'
It's alpha and omega's kingdom come
And the whirlwind is in the thorn tree
The virgins are all trimming their wicks
The whirlwind is in the thorn trees
It's hard for thee to kick against the prick
In measured hundredweight and penny pound
When the man comes around
"And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts
And I looked, and behold a pale horse
And his name that sat on him was death, and hell followed with him"
Songwriters: JOHNNY CASH
© BMG RIGHTS MANAGEMENT US, LLC

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

"We're broken, but we won't bend."

What does it mean to be a Christ-follower?

Such a question creates a series of debates. Those on the left claim those on the right "aren't real Christians," and likewise, those on the right question the legitimacy of those on the left. Catholics dubbed Protestants the "estranged brethren" who meet in "eccliastical communities" (which aren't a part of the real Church nor are real churches). Protestants wonder if Catholics have drowned the gospel in a sea of Papal Encylicals, Dogma, and Sacramants.

The banner I'm choosing to wave is that "Christ followers are broken before God but unbending before the world." Those who come to God the Father through the Lord Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit believing that salvation is by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8-9) can be assured of God's mercies. As the great St. Augustine reminds us, “God gives where he finds empty hands.” When we come broken before God, we find a God who loves to save.

But with brokenness, there must be a courage to not bend. If there is a God, a God known, and thus known through the written Scriptures, we must heed that voice above all others. We bow and bend before God and His Word, but we do not bow or bend to the influences of the world (Note: the Bible uses the term "world" to refer to the fallen, God-opposing, God-repellant culture that permeates every society, generation, and century.) 

So, whether left, right, Protestant, or Catholic, can you cry out with me, "We're broken, but we won't bend."

Jesus says anyone can come, with any burden, for a rest that no one else can give. He also says that if we refuse to honor His name and Lordship before our earthly audiences, he will refuse to honor us before the heavenly audience.

Matthew 11:28-29 "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
Matthew 10:32-33 "Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Christians, remember that those who identify as "transgender" are people...

Despite a person's cultural, moral, and religious views on transgenderism and gender dysphoria, we must continue to uphold the dignity of human persons. Jesus warns against anger, name calling, and "blowing off" other persons (Matthew 5:21-26). Those who lash out with cruel lips are in danger of the fires of hell. Rather, let us engage people and issues with tenderness and truth.

I particularly appreciated this recent post by Andrew Walker,
5 Things Every Christian Must Know About the Transgender Debate

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Insights from Pastor John Welch

“Pray for your pastor. Pray for his body, that he may be kept strong and spared many years. Pray for his soul, that he may be kept humble and holy, a burning and shining light. Pray for his .ministry, that it may be abundantly blessed, that he may be anointed to preach good tidings. Let there be no secret prayer without naming him before your God, no family prayer without carrying your pastor in your hearts to God.”

Please lift up your pastor (and me) in this way :)

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Delight


The faith of a child is a faith that says this moment is enough; I'm safe; I'm protected; I'm loved.

I saw this dependent delight as I rode for the sixth time down the same water slide in the Wisconsin Dells with my 5 year old. He was with his dad, on a mini yellow raft, and the joy was palpable. The joy didn't weaken after each ride; it deepened.

Like others before me, my mind went to some famous paragraphs from the pen of G.K. Chesterton:

The sun rises every morning. I do not rise every morning; but the variation is due not to my activity, but to my inaction. Now, to put the matter in a popular phrase, it might be true that the sun rises regularly because he never gets tired of rising. His routine might be due, not to a lifelessness, but to a rush of life.

The thing I mean can be seen, for instance, in children, when they find some game or joke that they specially enjoy. A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, "Do it again"; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony.

It is possible that God says every morning, "Do it again" to the sun; and every evening, "Do it again" to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we. The repetition in Nature may not be a mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical encore.

Orthodoxy, 1908

Thursday, July 06, 2017

How Christians Should Celebrate Independence Day...

Those who know me personally know that I'm not keen on trying devotion to Jesus and patriotism. Certainly, patriotism in and of itself isn't a vice. It is much better to love your fellow citizens and honor government, than to embrace martial law and indifference to civic responsibilities.

That being said, morality exists on a fluctuating scale. For instance, isn't loving all people and nations and honoring all people and nations more noble than giving favoritism to a particular people group (even your own)? Why should Americans have the right to life and liberty but not Liberians? I'm not saying that America has any plan to destroy life and liberty globally, but I do wonder sometimes if our attitudes and expectations for American freedoms extend beyond our geographic borders. Likewise, I wonder sometimes if we baptize American action without comparing it to honor, character, virtue, and love. Thus, this blog post gives a bit of my political meanderings on the back side of our nations' 1776 declaration:

#1: We should mourn the beginning of rebellion and bloodshed. 1776 was a day when mostly British citizens rebelled against their king and country, committing treason, and entered into mortal combat with their nation's comrades. Was their action justified? Well, that depends on if you believe a country has a right to tax and control its colonial interests over a large body of water (think Guam and Puerto Rico). Now, since the Enlightenment, the rule of the governed is supposedly given by consent, so yes, citizens have a "right" to revolt. But the same arguments were used by the Confederacy during the Civil War when the Federal Government acted in similar British fashion to believe this type of succession was not justified. All this to say, beware of a black and white history. The choice to declare independence was a grave one (even if justified). Lives, families, and nations were torn in two at a very high cost. This should be a holy day of profound sobriety, not a reckless day of jubilation and glee.

#2: We should honor the honorable actions of both Americans and Brits, and deplore the heinous actions of both Americans and Brits. On both sides of this conflict, many men and women distinguished themselves with heroism and sacrifice. On both sides of this conflict, guilt and cruelty abounded. Thankfully, good historians have corrected the history books to show that we had a mixed bag on both sides of the conflict. This sort of attitude should extend to the almost 250 years of war history of our country. Not every conflict and not every soldier have distinguished themselves with honor. Certainly, many have been noble, but not all. Woe to Christian Churches, in particular, who ignore this reality. Our hero is Jesus Christ who gave himself for the guilty. We do injustice to the Gospel when the greatest honors on Sunday mornings go to military personnel. Soldiering is just as morally challenging as business and parenting and plumbing. You can do it sacrificially, or selfishly, heroically, or hedonistically. I've been personally blessed by the great veterans of our country, and I thank you. You've entered dangerous zones to serve those who cannot defend themselves. Note well, that I am also certain that some of your actions were done sinfully. The shed blood of Jesus Christ can cover your sins. You can be free of guilt for your actions. No calling, even soldiering, is rosy or baptized, but the cleansing power of Jesus (marked by baptism) is for all peoples and all callings. Grace is available to you. Lord, forgive us as well, for the sins of our nation. We are not guiltless. Be merciful, yes, O God, and bless America (and Great Britain, China, and Indonesia).

#3: We should hold our country's privileges with gratitude, discernment, and humility. First, say thank you, that this country has things many countries do not. These are gifts from God. Second, hold all privileges with discernment. It's possible we use freedom to lose freedom. We can grant so much indulgence to individuals that we become slaves to our indulgence. Freedom, like electricity, is costly and powerful and should be held carefully. Finally, be humble. Seeming peace and order can be stolen in a moment. Bombs fall, dictators rise, and rebellions spring up. At a fundamental level, all these spring from the condition of individual human hearts. So, how's your heart? Are you caring for your neighbor's soul? Are you willing to speak hard words in hard situations so we don't fall prey to the mindless, "patriotism" that has sprung up in countries that began to believe their country had the right to extend itself into other lands "for their good" or "the global good?" Oh, that we'd be grateful, discerning, and humble. Give us wisdom when we seek to help other nations. Give us grace when we fail.

Pray for our leaders. They have a difficult job. Pray they know the love and mercy of Jesus Christ.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Three sermons still resonating in my soul...

I just read a blog about one person's 5 most impact sermons in their life, so it got me thinking and I could think of 3.

1. First, I remember attending my first or second college meeting of the Iowa State Navigators in the Memorial Union. Ron Shimkus, a mid-50s, staff leader spoke from Revelation chapter 2. The passage included Jesus' direct words to the 1st century church in Ephesus. The entire sermon focused on Jesus' declaration that the church in Ephesus had "lost its first love." A "Christian church" that had quit loving Jesus is a church about to become defunct. It's true of churches and it's true of Christians. I was convicted that Jesus needed to be my first love. I needed to pursue Him in prayer, the Word, and obedience. The temptations of college grew dim in the light of the glory of Jesus.

2. The second "sermon" that stands out is actually a recorded lecture by Tim Keller that he first presented in 2003, but I listened to it sometime in 2008-2009. It's one of the few things I've ever listened to that I immediately relistened to, and then again, and then again. I've told people over the years that I've had 3 or 4 conversions in my Christian life. I believed in Christ Jesus for the first time around age 10-11, when I first heard of God's forgiveness through the Cross of Jesus and my need to personally repent and receive Jesus as Lord and Savior. I had "another conversion" when I was 15 or 16 when a preacher helped me totally rest in God's grace for salvation. I didn't need to "do good, Christian things" to be saved; I needed to find my only hope, peace, and joy in the Triune God--Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then in college, I was converted again through the various teachings of John Piper and college pastors and ministries in Ames, Iowa, that rightly taught that God is glorified most when I find my deepest satisfaction in Him. Worship was no longer duty, but a delight. My 4th conversion occurred, while jogging on the South Platte River trail in Littleton, CO, while listening to Pastor Tim Keller talk to me about the depths of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. You too can be "reconverted" by listening to this powerful lecture: http://www.gospelinlife.com/what-is-the-gospel-4621 (After you listen to this lecture, spend some time on the gospelinlife.com website, taking in all the free sermons available.)

3. The third "sermon" is once again, not a sermon, but a short message from Larry Austin to a leadership training class on a random Thursday evening Spring 2007 at the First Evangelical Free Church in Boone. I don't remember much, but I remember this line, "There is a huge difference between productivity and fruitfulness." That is, Christians and churches and pastors can do a lot of stuff, but it might end up having no eternal or spiritual value. All fruitfulness flows from intimacy with Jesus Christ (cf. John 15). If our souls become disconnected to Jesus, we offer nothing to those under our care. The teachings of Peter Scazzero (a fantastic 2-day event while I was at Denver Seminary plus his books), Dallas Willard (a week long class in seminary and a 2-day encounter in Green Lake, WI, plus his books), and Henri Nouwen (books alone) have helped me believe and practice this more and more.

I listen to 3-10 sermons per week while driving and jogging. Though I can't at the moment think of another sermon that stands out, I am indebted to the preaching ministries of Dan Leman, John Piper, Tim Keller, Mark Dever, and so many others (Dick Lucas, Alistair Begg, Paul Tripp, Zack Eswine, Don Carson, and the print sermons of Charles Spurgeon, Charles Simeon, Jonathan Edwards, Alexander Maclaren, John Calvin, John Wesley, and so many others.)

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Pain of Ministry

The pain of ministry ever lingers,
  As sheep shepherds keep watch,
The Enemy reaches with creeping fingers,
  Condemning all for every botch.

We spy wolves seeking success,
  Attack the fold, they make a mess,
The flock sees not persistent duress,
  They mistake claws for sweet caress.

Oh my finite impotence,
  Oh my inability apparent,
I save none outside the fence,
  Nor bring any into God's tent.

Like all, my weakness I must bring,
  Each transgression's weight too much,
To the bloody cross of suffering,
  I seek healing, a potent touch.

There alone is the soul's content,
  There alone each sheep must flee,
Where the Father commanded Son sent,
  Where life bought for me, for thee.

So, now I go and bring my sorrows,
  To a King crucified, not dead,
The one who holds all the morrows,
  I, a member, He, the Head.

Friday, June 16, 2017

A fascinating USA Today Article that questions "Born This Way"

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2017/06/16/born-way-many-lgbt-community-its-way-more-complex/395035001/

On about page 4, one researcher (labeled as an "activist-academic in sex") argues that sexuality is biopsychosocial (related to biology, psychology and the social world). That's one of the best descriptions I've ever heard from someone in the scientific community regarding the dynamic of human personality, preferences, orientation, etc. 

One key difference in the scientific community and Christianity is that science studies what "is," and has no category for what "should be." Christianity believes in ethics and norms. Genesis chapters 1-3 reveal that the world is not as it "is" supposed to be. We've lost our connection to God, the earth, and one another (we see these explained in Genesis 3). There's been a breakdown within our selves. The term for this is "original sin." There's also a breakdown in the world; it is "fallen." It doesn't function as it is supposed to (think natural disasters, climate change, disease). Likewise, relationships are corrupted by shame, pride, and abuse.

So, let's go back to this term biopsychosocial, which I think is a useful label for the make-up of a human person. Christians would be ok with this term, but put it in the context of original sin and a fallen world. Thus, our biology is corrupt; our minds are corrupt; and our social world is fallen. Thus, we should question the summation of our biopsychosocial make-up. Every aspect of our world and lives and minds is "off" at some level (including our gender and sexuality--whether LGTBAQ, Straight, or something else). 

This is why we all need Holy Scripture to detail what is right, good, true, and beautiful (because we need an accurate scale to judge our world and souls). Likewise, we need the Holy Spirit to convict us of our sin and unrighteousness and then empower us by His grace to turn away from all that is "off" from God's Word and turn toward the path that leads to life, beauty, holiness, and love. We see life, beauty, holiness, and love most preeminently in the life of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, a perfect human who honored the commands and teachings of God and then offered His life for the sins of others. He lived the life we were supposed to live, and then He took the death we deserved.

Heal us Jesus. We're all off at multiple levels, prone to wander, prone to leave the God we love...take our hearts and seal them, O Lord, seal them for the courts above. Praise God, His grace is big enough to save and sanctify anyone.