Monday, December 23, 2013

One Bad Duck

Sometimes a pond is not big enough to handle the diversity of ducks.

So goes the story of the old duck pond behind A&E Johnson's property in Backwoods, LA.

It started a few years back when 3 ducklings grew up together under the old oak tree's branches that shaded the southern portion of the pond on hot July afternoons. This shade was a place where everyone gathered. It was also where the three duckling friends Duck Bill, Duck Phil, and Duck Jill became the center of the attention.

All three made beautiful calls. All three were humorous. All three loved to party. Ducks would fly in from two counties away just to join the adventurous trio and their flap-happy ways. Sure, Bill, Phil, and Jill were a bit noisy at times. Sure, they bit, bellowed, and splashed their less than ducky compatriots. But somehow everyone wanted to join this inner circle. This ring of feathered fellowship seemed to be the place to be.

Phil was the best (and the worst) of the trio. A spirited and able-flyer he was. He had the praise of many and the envy of others. But all this went to his head. He was a proud duck. A big, bad bird he became. He was insolent, demanding, and selfish in every way. He took advantage of the females, and enjoyed embarrassing the drakes who strutted to his side of the pond.

One day, however, Phil came to his senses. It was like he was re-hatched. He saw that his pride, cruelty, and selfishness were the very things bringing sadness and brokenness to the bunch. He began to tell others about a deeper joy...the way to be a true duck. A true duck couldn't do what they wanted, when they wanted, with whoever they wanted. The ultimate Duck Commander (Creator of all ponds) had spoken the world to be and he wanted it to be a particular way for everyone. Anyone could come to know this Father of the Feathered if they'd quit creating their own rules and submit to His.

At first, the flock loved the duckling-like humility and newness of Phil. He was kinder, unselfish, and walked with a new freedom. Some of the "old Phil" came out here and there. He was no perfect duck, just a new duck. Bill and Jill, on the contrary, missed the old Phil for a full five minutes, but in time began to laugh at Phil's new way of waddling. They mocked him for willingly leaving the inner circle and their feathered fellowship. They thought his new ideas for goodness and integrity were backward and old fashioned. His new-found freedom was a threat to their way of flocking, flying, and frolicking. Phil's quack wasn't quite right.

The only sensible thing would be to chase him out of the pond. Bill and Jill began to quack out to their friends: "Phil needs to go somewhere else with his new-feathered ways. He has no right to speak against the inner circle. He doesn't understand what's right now. I don't care if he used to waddle and quack like us. Now, he's different, and he's the kind of different we cannot tolerate. Fly off Duck Phil and take your ideas with you."

The problem Duck Phil faced was he knew that to stay would offer hope and healing to other proud ducks. To leave would be to abandon this pond and his duck friends to murkier waters of further decay. Phil knew he couldn't leave, but would have to stay amid the jeers, sneers, and tears.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Parents, breathe and feed the kids some sugar...

In an attempt to tame the beast of "Kindergarchy" (the life-draining situation where parents are ruled by the fate or their children), Kevin DeYoung encourages parents to accept the fact that there are no perfect parents. And lo and behold, the world has been filled with not-so-perfect parents for decades and children seem to make it to adulthood just fine.

DeYoung writes in his new book Crazy Busy: A (Mercifully) Short Book about a (Really) Big Problem,

What a world! What a world! My parents were solid as a rock, but we still had a cupboard populated with cereal royalty like Captain Crunch and Count Chocula. In our house the pebbles were fruity and the charms were lucky. The breakfast bowl was a place for marshmallows, not dried camping fruit. Our milk was 2%. And sometimes, if we needed to take the edge off a rough morning, we'd tempt fate and chug a little Vitamin D....one of the best things we can do for our own kids is to find a way of being less frazzled.

Kevin goes on to close off the chapter regarding parenting to encourage us to be faithful to our kids, but ultimately we have to trust the Faithful God to be the One who saves our kids and leads them into the abundant life that only He can bring through Jesus Christ.

So parents, breathe, trust in Christ, and feed the kids some sugar :)

Monday, December 02, 2013

I wanted to change history...

I awoke.

Was it a dream? Or was I being forced to live another day in the hell of my own making?

Two nights ago, I finished the creation of a time machine. As the child of Jewish grandparents, I knew the first evil that needed to be undone was the life of Adolph Hitler. I jumped into my machine and went back to a day after the birth of his mother Klara in 1860. Without a shred of conscious, I snuffed out her life.

Over the next several hours, I eradicated the lives of inventors of the atom bomb and methamphetamine. I purged John Wilkes Booth minutes before he entered Ford Theatre. In fact, I tried to undo all the evil I had ever heard or experienced. I jumped eagerly into my machine to return to my time, looking forward to seeing the great world I had just created.

Back in my time, however, I found it quite the reverse of my expectation. I had tried to eradicate as much pain and suffering  I could fathom. But on the other side, I found a world marked by something I did not expect. In the process of removing evil and suffering, I found a world lacking empathy. I saw a world unwilling to persevere amid trial. I saw a world too comfortable with their own falleness and less willing to cry out for redemption. I saw a world indifferent to others, and with a focus on the increase of personal pleasure. Life was not prized; it was assumed.

I realized now all my handiwork had made a world far worse than the world marked by Another's handiwork. I also realized I had no idea how to undo what I had done. Then I heard a voice...

"You are not the first to attempt to undo my work. You are not the first to believe I have mistaken. Rather than submit to the One whose ways are higher than your ways, you have rebelled and tried to remake what I am doing. All who have gotten close, I have allowed to finish their work. I have allowed them to see the results of their efforts. But to spare those I love, they, like you, have only seen a virtual reality. The world that is in My hands has been preserved. You will awake soon and be glad all is still right in the world, because the Maker of the world is still Righteous in all He does."

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

All is Not Right

Two children were observing an enclosed field at their local zoo. Zebras, giraffes, and a few varieties of antelope grazed throughout the field. So too, you could spot a flamingo and a few other rare African birds making their way around the enclosure.

"Something's not right," said nine year old, Joshua, to his sister, Julie, age 14.

"What do you mean, Josh?"

"Well, I feel like this whole zoo thing is just one big fake."

"Huh? What are you talking about?"

"Julie, seriously, have you ever seen Africa on TV?"

"Yeah, so what?"

"Well, on those shows, the giraffe, zebra, antelope and other animals are always being chased and attacked by the lions. This isn't real. Those animals out there look more like fancy fenced in cows than anything else."

Julie, raised her eyebrows in older sister fashion, "Yes, Joshua, this isn't real. It's a zoo. The lions have their own cages. Those other animals would be sitting ducks if the lions were let in here."

"True, but at least they'd go out with a fight. A world without real danger is a fake world."

"Ok, Joshua...the next thing you're going to tell me is that it's good for animals to slaughter each other."

"I'm not talking about slaughter; I'm talking about life. Is it worth spending your whole life in a cage, when you are giving up everything it really means to be an animal?"

"Alright, Dr. Doolittle, what does it mean to be an animal?"

"Julie, you just don't get it, do you? All is not right because these zookeepers are creating a false world for the amusement of us. We think we're seeing wild giraffes and zebras. What we're actually seeing is a pathetic form of the real thing.  All that is real, wild, and vibrant died the moment the barriers were put up."

"Joshua, it's a zoo; what did you expect?"

"What did I expect? Good question. I guess I'm seeing the unexpected."

"Huh?"

"I wanted to see and understand the wide and wild world. But I see now that once man-made cages are put up, the wide and wild world is lost. These man-made systems to keep us safe, happy, and content from the wild animals, end up creating a charade."

"A charade huh; you're nine, do you even know what you are talking about?"

"Yes, Julie, I do. Part of being an animal is living in light of fear. Mice fear cats. Antelope fear lions. And if you can bear it, humans are to fear God. Having an appropriate understanding of what is proper to fear, gives us the impetus to live wisely. Once the fears are caged up, we cease to live as we were meant to live."

"I don't think that zebra is complaining that the lions are on the other side of steal bars. He seems to like the free grass and warm sunshine."

"That's the whole problem, Julie. Humans and animals that are satisfied by their stomachs all because the fears are caged up, are just eating their way through a meaningless existence. What's the purpose of eating if all that you are living for is to eat tomorrow? What's the purpose of eating if all you get to look forward to are more cages tomorrow?"

"What if they like the cages?"

"That's what I fear the most, Julie. And unfortunately, we too have taken the cages far too often. We're afraid to leave the cage and live under appropriate fears. We've chosen the "safe" at the cost of what is real. Heck, many animals in captivity die months and years before the average life of animals in the wild. Once the animal loses the will to survive and a proper Fear to fear, it's only time when their soul will die."

"Are you talking about animals or humans?"

"Julie, I'm talking about both. Proper fear is the beginning of knowledge, life, and purpose. The charade of the cage will only last so long. Eventually, we all find out the truth in the end. There are things more Wild, Fearsome, and Powerful than our steal cages can ever keep out."

"A cage is better than death," Julie retorted.

"Death comes cage or no cage. But I'm talking about life. And life only happens when we break out of the cage and subject ourselves to those wild fears worth fearing."

Monday, November 04, 2013

A Forgotten Conversation (fiction)

"Levi, why do you sit here each night, waiting and waiting?"

"This might be Joshua's day, and I don't want to miss it. Besides, Abraham, wouldn't you do the same if Asher was not at home?"

"Levi! It's not like Joshua went to Jerusalem for festival or to Antioch for market. He's gone, who knows where, doing who knows what. What makes you so sure he'll be back?"

"I know he'll be back because he will run out of money soon enough. He didn't have money sense before he left, and with his sinful intentions, I know he isn't going to come to wisdom. My only prayer is he comes home before he dies."

"You know the whole town laughs at you behind your back. They think you should have stoned your son before the court for such flagrant disobedience. How could you give him his inheritance when you did? He basically said he'd rather have you dead and have his inheritance than to see you breathe."

"Yes, Abraham, his folly and selfishness broke my heart. But I was not mad at him; I was mad that the Accuser has such influence over the hearts of those unwilling to heed the voice of the LORD."

"Levi, come to your senses. Joshua is gone; he's not coming back. He wished you dead. Let your dreams die with his disobedience."

"Yes, Abraham, that is it. That is how I will pray--that Joshua will come to his senses. I pray he'd see that the love of his Father is more precious than the arms of a harlot. I pray he'd see the cup of blessing I desire for him is better than a cup of spirits. I pray he'd see that serving me offers greater joy than serving his own selfish ends."

"Levi, seriously, take pride in your other son, David. David works hard, stays out of trouble, and is marked by ambition."

"Yes, David has certainly gone a different route than Joshua. Sometimes though, I feel he is just as eager for the inheritance as his younger brother. There is a coldness and self-righteousness present when he speaks of Joshua. I'm afraid he may work his way to death, whereas his brother will play himself to death."

"Ah, but work is to be commended, Levi."

"Work and play are both gifts that can become deadly when not received with humility. Both are great servants but harmful masters. I pray they both are found by the Master so they are not mastered unto death."


If you are wondering how this story plays out, read Luke 15:11-32

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Halloween 2013

Here are a few pics for those who have requested them.  So much fun!

Charity started the day as a lion (OK, so maybe that was just after her bath...)

Then she hung out in the black cat sleeper until...

Trick-or-treating!!

He informed us he was scary because he scares crows.

Elias as Tigger, complete with a glow stick sword. Don't ask.

Lady bug!!

And a fierce pirate to round out the bunch.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

A Tale of Froggy Philosophy

"There is no water," remarked the aged tree frog, known by his closest friends as Sticky.

"What are you talking about? You were born in water. If you climb high enough into the tree, you can see a whole pond of water just yonder. Heck, what do you call that stuff that fell from the sky last night...oil?" questioned Sticky's less enlightened friend, Leaper.

"Leaper, yes, I did believe in water when I was young. It seemed real then. But as time has gone on, I realize that was only a tadpole fantasy."

"Huh? Seriously, the stuff hit you in the face last night and now you're saying it doesn't exist. I don't get you."

"Leaper, to perceive wetness does not mean water exists. It's merely a figment of our imagination, forced upon us because of our weakened, biological and evolutionary state. In time, you will see water as unnecessary for life."

"Seems, like you're going to deny trees, grass, and bugs next...things all frogs need and love."

"Now that you mention it, those things could simply be explained away as neurological stimuli," reasoned Sticky. "Amphibious brains as small as ours can play all sorts of tricks. Confirmation of reality is simply impossible."

"Confirmation of what? Seems to me that if you keep explaining away things that seem plain to see and to experience, you're going to have a hard time explaining your explanations. Why can't some things just be true, plain, and obvious?"

"Leaper, Leaper, my hopping friend, to believe in truth would require us to live with restrictions, rules, and restraints. Who would want that?"

"Well, Sticky, to be honest, why is it restricting to find life from water, food from bugs, and protection from trees? What if the things you are trying to deny are the very things you need to really live?"



Friday, October 25, 2013

A Hell of a Story (fiction)

"There is no hell," explained the professor in his unorthodox dress of cut off jeans, Birkenstock sandals, and a university t-shirt. "All that religious people are trying to do is scare honest people into belief."

The university lecture all went uncomfortably silent. A few students near the front nodded their heads vigorously. They were members of the Atheist and Agnostic Society and friends (read lackeys) of the professor. A number of kids from various Christian ministries on campus were noticeably upset but unwilling to take the bait. They had seen a few brave, but ill-prepared, peers speak up on occasion, only to leave the classroom in tears.

The professor continued, "Occam's razor says the most likely explanation is usually the correct one. As such, in the case of an afterlife, we must conclude there isn't one. There is no heaven, no hell, just coffins and worm food. We would do well to teach people the brevity of life, rather than offer some sort of afterlife fiction."

This elicited more nods from the front and quiet in the back.

Then it happened...a hand.

"Yes," spoke the smiling professor to a late-teens black girl on the right side of the room. She hadn't ever spoke in the class. Most students had never noticed her before now.

"Professor, it seems to me that a belief in hell might do more good for people than the hope of feeding worms."

"But hell is a fiction, young lady, a myth."

"I'm not claiming to know for sure whether hell is real or not, Professor. I did not grow up going to church at all, but you just claimed that teaching people that life was brief and that doubting an afterlife would be better for people. I just don't think that makes much sense to me."

"Of course, it does not make much sense to you. You are young and inexperienced. I have studied the world and seen what these beliefs have down to others," explained the professor.

"Well, professor, I may be young, but where I grew up, I wish people did believe in hell. Most of my girlfriends were raped before they were fourteen. My brother was shot because he helped a friend leave a gang. My dad left my mom when I was four. I think most of the people who did all this believed along the lines you've been describing. They thought life was short and there was no afterlife. They did what they wanted, when they wanted, with whomever they wanted. To be honest, I only hope they are justly compensated in the next life for all that they've done."

"Ah, my point exactly. Your belief in the afterlife gives free reign to your anger. You want vengeance, rather than peace. Just like every religious person I've ever m...," the professor was interrupted.

"You aren't listening professor," the college co-ed was getting a bit flustered, "I'm not religious, but I'm getting to a place in my life where religion seems to offer a whole lot more answers than your textbooks. Without religion, I would pursue vengeance. I'd believe the only way to make things right in this world was to use my own hands to bring vindication. But these religions we've been studying allow folks to wait for a more just, and divine retribution."

"Which divine do you want to bring this retribution? Haven't you realized all of these religions are vastly different from each other?" demanded the professor in a sneering tone.

"You know Professor, despite all your attempts to persuade otherwise, I think the peasant prophet from Palestine looks to be the wisest route to go. Seems like a God willing to die for His people and make provision for anyone willing to repent of their wrong-doing, is the only person who would be able to exact vengeance fairly."

"Jesus? You dare to claim that Jesus is fair in my classroom. You even call him God?? Ridiculous. I won't hear of it."

"Professor, I don't mean to make you angry. I simply think an afterlife with heaven and hell and a God willing to die for others seems a bit more beautiful and life-giving than a future of coffins and worms. One way of believing will lead to reckless self-indulgence until death; the other just might lead to the pursuit of sacrificial love and justice. Seems like those religious people are trying to scare us into living a whole lot better life than what you suggest is true." At this the girl, grabbed her books and exited the class.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Rabbit Theologizing

Two rabbits were munching on Farmer Bill's carrots.

Tim, the darker of the two rabbits and the one prone to philosophical ramblings, paused and looking quite disconcerted made this quandary, "Phil, do you think we are stealing?"

Phil, the lighter of the two rabbits and less prone to philosophical discourse said, "No."

"But we did not buy the seeds for these carrots, plow the garden, plant the seeds, or water them."

"Agreed, but we are here to eat them," answered Phil, while an orange morsel fell from his mouth to the ground.

"Doesn't that prove my point--we are stealing!"

At this juncture, Tim came to understand that a quiet rabbit is not necessarily an unintelligent rabbit for Phil slightly turning his head to the left explained, "My dear Tim, we are fulfilling our evolutionary role. Farmer Bill has both the dexterity and intelligence to perform the said functions of buying, plowing, planting and the like. Our task as less-developed mammals (ignoring the fact that my vocabulary is quite robust and our story-creator has the audacity to put speech upon the lips of dumb animals) is to survive. The whims and worries of conscience should be no impediment for the procuring of food."

"Ah Phil," questioned Tim, "If that line of reasoning is correct, we are also at the mercy of that fox thirty feet of away."

"True," said Phil.

"And Phil, since I happen to move faster than you do in open terrain, I have no moral responsibility to assist in your escape. Evolutionary process has given me permission to leave you for that fox's supper."

"Exactly," said Phil.

"Ah, Phil..."

"Yes, Tim."

"Despite your sound reasoning and surprising ability to engage in philosophical discussion, I have decided that morality does exist. We are stealing, and I don't want you to die."

At this Tim ran straight toward the fox and laid down his life for his friend.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

A Mythological Debate

"You don't know what you're talking about kid," said the man in the nice dark suit and power blue tie.

"But Dr. Schultz, I feel like my evidence should be weighed in this matter," spoke the young boy, appearing to be about age 10.

"What you are saying is not possible, probable, or verifiable," sneered Dr. Schultz, "Science is about facts, not allegations. You say your father is the cause of this; I say, you cannot prove it."

"But Dr. Schultz, you just gave a lecture today on the importance of hearing and challenging every hypothesis. You claimed today that your theory of the sun's central heat being produced by those eleven different atomic reactions is the greatest advancement in solar research in two decades. You showed the weakness of every opposing theory to date. I only want to challenge the newest theory, even if it is yours; it's for your own good," petitioned the young boy.

The dark-suited professor was now losing his general irenic spirit, "You are not giving theories; you are dealing in superstition, myth, and religion. Enough with you and your 'father'."

"But sir, NASA has speculated for years that advanced life-forms may be the cause of numerous inter-galactic and solar activities. What makes you so sure that a person or god like Apollo doesn't really have charge of our sun and it's daily activities before the human eye?"

"Apollo is a myth, and myths contain no truth," ejaculated the now red-faced professor.

"Professor, it seems you are unwilling to allow for hypotheses of all sorts, if you refuse to consider ideas beyond your scope of knowledge."

"Beyond MY scope of knowledge," bellowed the doctor, "I have two Ph.D.s and been tenured for twice as many years as you are alive. What makes you think my scope of knowledge is sub-par?"

The young boy, turned, speaking almost under his breath, but just loud enough for Dr. Schultz to take in the final words, "You too would doubt the knowledge of university education if you awoke each morning as the son of a god. Professors long ago abandoned their ability to see beyond the pages of their own books, and thus the insight to kneel before the power of the gods. Since they quit looking beyond their own brains for answers to the world, all they seem to see anymore is the answers in their own brains."

A Tale of Brides and Dresses

                
Once upon a time there was a bride set to be married to a handsome king. She herself was born into rags, was unbecoming in many ways, but for some reason known to the king, he had chosen her to be his bride.
                The bride was excited, honored, and humbled. But her insecurities, doubts, and fears remained. She believed the only way this wedding would ever really happen was if she wore the perfect dress. She thought also, How could the townspeople believe I'm the King's bride if I don't look the part? So she collected all the money she had and commissioned a royal tailor to craft the perfect dress. After many days, the bride came to try on the perfect dress. When she walked into the tailor’s shop, the dress looked perfect upon the hanger. Sadly, however, when she tried to put on the dress, her body-shape just couldn’t fit into the dress. She yelled at the tailor and bemoaned that the dress wasn’t right. She charged him again to make the perfect dress.
                The bride left and spent the next week exercising, trying on various corsets to adjust her body shape, and even enlisted the help of the most expensive stylist in the kingdom. Every night she came home, to find that the king had come to visit, but her frenzied activity never allowed for her to return his calls.
                On the following week, she returned to the tailor. Another perfect dress hung upon the hanger, but again, the bride’s body couldn’t fit into the perfect dress. She paid the tailor her every penny, walked out, head hung low--broken, and dejected.
                As she walked the road home, the King approached upon horseback. He called her to look to him. But she refused to look up into his face. He demanded to know why she refused His call and command. To which she replied that she could not fit into the perfect dress. She was not beautiful and would never deserve the King’s hand. And the townspeople would never believe her to be the King's queen.
                To which, the king replied: “My beloved, my love comes in three forms. First, it only comes to the undeserving and the unlovely. Second,  my love for the unlovely is not designed to make the townspeople eye the Queen, but for they, themselves to look upon their King and believe they too can receive His love. And third and finally, my love produces a beauty that no shell of a wedding dress could ever seek to cover. It’s an unfading beauty that befits those who wear rags. Why waste money on clothes that can be eaten by moths when I offer a beauty that lasts forever?" 
                At this the bride looked up again into the face of her King, and it was there that her soul was beautified to be all that it was meant to be. She took His reaching hand and was wrapped up into His love. She spent the remainder of her days a living testimony for all the townspeople that the King takes those in rags and makes them royalty. And rather than bemoan her unbecoming figure or frame ever again, she delighted that the King's unconditional love was evident to all because of her welcome.




                

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Books Read, 2013 Update (May to present)

The purpose of this list is to help me remember what I've been putting through my brain as well as give you possible titles to consider in your upcoming reading:

"The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert" - by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield - I highly recommend this memoir of a former tenured English professor and practicing lesbian who had a whirlwind conversion to Jesus Christ. She calls it her "train wreck conversion" in which in a nutshell, she lost everything, except her dog.

"Me, Myself, and Bob" by Phil Vischer: The creator of Veggie Tales traces his rise and fall in the professional world (up to 2004). This is a fantastic book for leaders, artists, pastors, and the like. I highly, highly recommend it.

"The Otherworld" by Jared Wilson - a fun sci-fi, fantasy thriller set in modern Texas. Wilson crafts a tale with a bit of aliens, a bit of demons, and a daring journey of good vs. evil.

"The Sword" by Bryan Litfin: This is a post-apocalyptic adventure book with a great storyline. It's only the first book of three, but I'm planning to move on to #2 soon with excitement.

"Redemptive Divorce" by Mark Gaither: a helpful book that gives hope to any spouse who has suffered long at the hands of an offending love one. This book models both truth and grace, believing in the power of the Gospel.

"The Meaning of Marriage" by Tim Keller: One of the absolute best books on marriage that is out there.

"The Most Important Thing Happening" by Mark Stevens: I loved (loved!) this fiction book that weaves together a series of short stories into one epic tale. This is great writing and worth your time.

"The Light Princess" by George MacDonald: A short fiction book about a person who has lost any sense of gravity both physically and spiritually. This book serves as a helpful reminder to a cynical world that a world without gravity is a world incapable of love, hope, or joy.

"How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth by Fee and Stuart: An ok introduction to reading through the Bible.

"Out of the Silent Planet" by CS Lewis: Book One of Lewis' space trilogy (a read aloud book with Carrie).

"Prodigal God" by Tim Keller: Maybe one of the best books introducing people to Jesus.

"Lectures to My Students" by Charles Spurgeon: a must-read book for any Christian leader, also a book that should be reread every 5 years.

"Ben-Hur" by Lewis Wallace: a wonderful book tracing a fictional character during the time of Jesus Christ.

"The Life of Martyn-Lloyd Jones, 1899-1901" by Ian Murray: A fun introduction to one of the greatest 20th century preachers.

"Charles Hodge: The Pride of Princeton" by Hoffecker: I wouldn't really recommend this unless you are a lover of all things Princeton, Presbyterianism, or Reformed theology. To be honest, it ended up being a disappointing book for me.

"Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry" by Paul David Tripp: A good book for those who love and support pastors and for the pastors themselves. 

"The Great Divorce" by CS Lewis: This is Lewis fiction at his best, depicting the ultimate choice of each person for Heaven or for Hell.

"The Art of Pastoring" by David Hansen: a beautiful book that traces the theological nature of what it means to be a shepherd in the modern church.

Any recommendations out there for me to close up 2013 or as we move into 2014?


Thursday, September 19, 2013

My shocking sin...

Rosaria Champagne Butterfield writes in her memoir, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, “Are our testimonies honoring to the whole landscape of the Christian journey? Not if they only speak of the ‘how-shocking-was-my-sin-before-I-met-the-Lord’ story. (As though the sin I commit today is less shocking.) Not if they only share the safe feelings, rehearsed responses, and good ‘decisions’ for which we give ourselves unearned credit.”

In other words, if you tell someone how you became a Christian and in so doing you make yourself look good, you've failed miserably.

This was a nice introduction to a book that describes her journey from being "a leftist, lesbian professor" (her words) into a life of following Jesus Christ (and in so doing leaving behind her former life).

As I reflect personally, I confess that I was a sin-infested young boy when I became a follower of Jesus. Today, with eyes wide open after walking with Jesus for 20 years, I still feel the sin infestation alive and well. I still need grace, redemption, and the good news of the Gospel. My sin is more shocking than it was before...because I'm less ignorant to what I'm doing to God, others, and myself.

I need a Savior today just like I needed Him the first day I cried out to Him.


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

A Millennial Remembers 9.11

There have been loads of news reports about and mini-autobiographies by millennials lately; I thought I'd add to the stack. By the way "a millennial" is someone born between 1981-2000, and studies show we like to talk about ourselves, so here I go...

On September 11, 2001, I was a junior at Iowa State University. I woke up late for class that day, and ran in and out of my fraternity's kitchen to grab a bite to eat. At the counter sat our fraternity mom (60 some years of age) transfixed to the television screen like normal. She made mention of planes, buildings, and terrorism. I looked at the screen for all of 5 seconds and then headed on my way.

I'm not proud of it, but world news did not mean much then. As a senior in high school, I sloughed off a massacre at Columbine. I could see its affect on others, but to be honest, I didn't get it. Three years later, a tragedy in New York was simply news that did not affect me. I jumped on my bicycle and headed to class where something significant was at hand...learning Classical Greek.

I think it was on my bike that things began to sink in. First, I noticed a holy hush over the campus. There was a sense of paralysis felt by the professors. By noon, I knew that the world was no longer "out there," but next door. That night I joined hundreds of other classmates in prayer in the center of campus. Candles were lit; prayers were offered; and cries for peace and justice were heard.

I grew up a bit that day. Though my first reaction was obliviousness and self-absorption, by the day's end I realized one person or just a half-dozen people can be the instigators of great evil or great good.

I'm shamed by my first reactions, but thankful that they were not my last reflections. Millennials are notorious for not growing up. I think the reason is that it's easier to be self-consumed. It's easier to focus our lives on the newest I-phone arrival rather than on a Middle East crisis, a world hunger crisis, and a sexually transmitted disease crisis. But the day we grow up is the day we actually contemplate the pain, sorrow, and anguish of "the other."

9-11 was one of the first days in my life that 'the other' became a real person, a person like me. People who were just a year older than me had walked into work but never walked out. People flying on airplanes for fun and vacation met their Maker that day. It could have been me.

I wish 9-11 never happened. I wish no tragedy ever to strike this country or another again. But I know that in a fallen world, sinful people will bring more destruction. My hope for myself, my fellow Millennials, and the generations before and after us won't linger so long in obliviousness and self-absorption. Rather, let us care for the other, or as the wisest man who ever walked this planet said: "Love your neighbor as yourself."

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

To blog or not to blog---that is the question

So, I'm moving to a time of prayer on whether to keep this thing alive. So too, I'm receiving counsel.

Having a guaranteed weekly outlet for sharing my heart and soul from the pulpit, I've found fewer compulsions to write here.

But if this has been helpful for you to think through subjects I may continue. So let me know...

Thanks,
Matt

Monday, July 22, 2013

What is possessing your soul? (repost from the Generosity Monk)

AUGUSTINE OF HIPPO: DON'T LET AVARICE OR LUXURIOUSNESS POSSESS YOU; RUN INSTEAD TO GOD

6. Sometimes two opposing mistresses have possession of a man, avarice and luxuriousness. Avarice says, “Keep;” luxuriousness, says, “Spend.” Under two mistresses bidding and exacting diverse things what can you do? They have both their mode of address. And when you begin to be unwilling to obey them, and to take a step towards your liberty; because they have no power to command, they use caresses. Their caresses are more to be guarded against than their commands. 
What says avarice? “Keep for yourself, keep for your children. If you should be in want, no one will give to you. Live not for the time present only; consult for the future.” 
On the other hand is luxuriousness. Live while you may. Do good to your own soul. Die you must, and you know not when; you know not to whom you shall leave what you have, or who shall possess it. You are taking the bread out of your own mouth, and perhaps after your death your heir will not so much as place a cup of wine upon your tomb; or if so be he place a cup, he will drink himself drunk with it, not a drop will come down to you. Do well therefore to your own soul, when and while you can. 
Thus avarice did enjoin one thing; “Keep for yourself, consult for the future.” Luxuriousness another, “Do well to your own soul.”
7. But O free man, called unto liberty, be weary, be weary of your servitude to such mistresses as these. Acknowledge your Redeemer, your Deliverer. Serve Him, He enjoins easier things, He enjoins not things contrary one to another. 

I am bold further to say; avarice and luxuriousness did enjoin upon you contrary things, so that you could not obey them both; and one said, “Keep for yourself, and consult for the future;” the other said, “Spend freely, do well to your own soul.” Now let your Lord and your Redeemer come forth, and He shall say the same, and yet no contrary things. If you will not, His house has no need of an unwilling servant. 

Consider your Redeemer, consider your Ransom. He came to redeem you, He shed His Blood. Dear He held you whom He purchased at so dear a price. Thou dost acknowledge Him who bought you, consider from what He redeems you. I say nothing of the other sins which lord it proudly over you; for you were serving innumerable masters. I speak only of these two, luxuriousness and avarice, giving you contrary injunctions, hurrying you into different things. Deliver yourself from them, come to your God.”

Augustine of Hippo (354-430) from Sermon on the New Testament 36.6-7. 

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Ron Shimkus with Jesus: My Friend, Mentor, Hero

Ron Shimkus - Top Left - Zimbabwe 2005
I learned yesterday morning that Ron Shimkus passed away in Zimbabwe of a heart-attack. Ron was in his late-60s (I think) and leaves behind a beloved wife, 3 adult children, grandchildren, and spiritual children and grandchildren all over the globe.

Not surprisingly, Ron died while on the front-line of ministry. For the past several years, Ron has poured his life in sharing Christ in Zimbabwe, caring for orphans and widows, and seeking justice for the poor. I met Ron in 1999 while attending Iowa State University and was blessed to have him pour into my life off-and-on the past 14 years.

As a life-long laborer with the Navigators, Ron has modeled for me what it means to preach the Gospel and to do good to neighbor. Ron was a heavenly man on earth, and now, based on his profession of faith in Jesus Christ, he is a heavenly man before His Father hearing, "Well done, my good and faithful servant."

The most remarkable thing I remember about Ron Shimkus is the transformation I saw between 2002-2006. When I first met Ron he was marked by passion, determination and a clear focus on reaching hell-bound people for Jesus. On one occasion, Ron remarked, "If we're not sharing Christ with lost people, what the hell are we doing?"

Soon after this conversation, as a grown man just around the age of 60, Ron  identified serious areas in his soul needing God's touch of grace. He took a sabbatical for a year. He met with counselors. He read his tattered Bible and listened to the Holy Spirit. In the prime of his life, he didn't rest on his laurels or accept the status quo. He wanted to be like His Savior Jesus, and he opened himself to the work of God in his heart and life. And what happened?

In a just a few years, I saw a new man. He still desperately cared for hell-bound people. He desperately desired us to be faithful to Jesus' Great Commission. And yet, there was a tenderness, compassion, and empathy that oozed out of his veins. I saw the fruit of the Spirit in him like in few I've ever met; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control flowed out of his person.

I knew that this man had been with Jesus. And his being with Jesus has led to almost another decade of faithful service to His Lord and Savior. My heart aches to see him go.

A friend of mine and my wife both remarked, "I never thought he would go." Ron seemed invincible, unstoppable, a constant pace-setter, all-powerful even. And yet, he wasn't. He was just a man, a sinful man. His body was weak and broken both spiritually and physically. He knew this. He taught this truth to others. It's what led him to trust in Jesus alone as the one who is all-powerful. Jesus the all-powerful one let (let!) His body be broken to save men like Ron, and you and me, from our sin and brokenness. Ron knew there was no hope for salvation anywhere else (Acts 4:12). He trusted in Christ, and he taught me and anyone willing to listen to trust in Christ as well.

I love you Ron; I miss you Ron; and in Christ, I believe we will meet again.

To the glory of God the Father.


Tuesday, July 09, 2013

My disappointment after 3 years as a senior pastor

On June 21, I celebrated 3 years of pastoral service at Cornerstone Church. On a recent vacation my wife and I reflected on what we've seen as the joys and sorrows of 3 years of service. Let me fill you in on what I've been learning and seeing:

1) First, I am privileged to work with other servant leaders. What I thought were weaknesses in my first 12 months, I realize were mostly personality differences. What caused frustration in my first 12 months, I now appreciate. We've gelled as team because we don't try and do each other's jobs but do the best job we can with the resources God has provided.

2) Second, God has been so gracious to bring new faces into our body. Some are people new to Christ and Christianity. Other have a deep faith and history of growing in Christ-likeness. I'm always shocked to find that someone is growing or enjoys or feels at home and wants to serve with our church family. My shock is related to myself (I too enjoy and feel at home in this family). But I'm constantly aware of my own short-comings and yet I realize my face, my ideas, and my leadership are a major part of what shapes this body (praise God, I'm not the only influence). Thus, whenever someone makes this church their home, it's a pure delight and joy to my heart.

3) Third, I've have seen God's mercy time and time again. People have forgiven me for foolish and sinful words. People have forgiven me for leadership mistakes and rookie errors. God's been merciful to use me and the rest of my broken church family to minister life through the Spirit to one another. We have it so so good. God's mercies are new, apparent, and real every morning at our church.

So what's my sorrow; what's my disappointment?

My only disappointment in 3 years of service is that I have not been the pastor I want to be. I've not prayed enough. I've not been doing the work of evangelist enough. I have not listened well. I have not served well. I have not used my time well. I have not loved well. God has been merciful, and yet, I don't excuse any of my failures. By God's grace, my 4th year can and will be different. God provides sufficient grace (future grace) to lead me unto holiness and faithfulness. To this gracious God I turn for empowerment.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

The Boy Scouts made a consistent decision

Most are aware that the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) recently made provisions to allow scouts from all sexual orientations to be in the program. It's likely this will follow in the coming years with allowing scout leaders of all sexual orientations and practices as well.

I believe both decisions are consistent with existing BSA beliefs and practices. Let me explain:

1) The BSA does not remove scouts or scout leaders for engaging in pre-marital or extra-marital sex. It seems a bit hypocritical then to disapprove another form of sexual activity that is not condoned in the Bible. If you don't hold all scouts and all scout leaders to a standard of abstinence outside of marriage and fidelity in the marriage of one man and one woman, you do not have a leg to stand on to oppose homosexual activity.

2) Those who hold to a traditional view of marriage who desire to see the BSA stand for Biblical principles regarding heterosexual activity in the confines of marriage between one man and one woman have only one recourse. They need to be consistent with their principles. For example, they might impose consequences for failing to be marked by sexual purity as it is outlined in the Bible. Maybe a Scout loses rank? Maybe a scout leader is asked to take a year or two sabbatical for adultery or fornication? And maybe if repeated, and unrepentant sexual activity outside of marriage continues, a scout or leader would be removed from membership.

3) These are the principles and practices of most evangelical churches with regard to purity and sexual integrity. Admittedly, even the church has failed (see a compelling article here: http://christianthought.hbu.edu/2013/06/28/homosexual-behavior-and-fornication-intimate-bedfellows/), but consistency is the key. It is bigoted for Christians in and outside the BSA to say one form of sexual sin is disapproved while condoning other sexual sins.

4) What does this mean for the BSA? Well, it could mean it's too late for the Christians to see a change in the BSA's direction. It would be awfully difficult in the 21st century to stand up for and promote the Bible's expectations of sexual purity. Let alone have a majority vote to pass in a secular organization for such principles of sexuality. But who knows? Even secular researchers have begun to see the devastating effects of the sexual revolution and the breakdown of the family so just maybe in time the world will see once again that God's laws are not burdensome but actually principles to bring blessing.


Monday, July 01, 2013

The power of vision (learning from D. Martyn-Lloyd Jones)

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones  (MLJ), 1899-1981, was a Welsh physician turned pastor who ended up serving Westminster Chapel (a Congregational Church) in London for the better part of his life. I'm about to wrap up Iain Murray's one-volume biography on MLJ.

One thing to note is that MLJ was an opponent of the mid-20th century efforts of ecumenicalism. That is, he believed any true Gospel-preaching pastor and church should not willingly stay connected to pastors and churches who had denied the Gospel. At the time, this was very unpopular. Godly men, like John Stott and J.I. Packer, believed evangelicals needed to stay connected to bodies like the Church of England to be salt and light. MLJ, however, spoke vehemently against those who tried to align with churches and pastors who denied the accuracy and authority of the Bible, the substitutionary atonement of Christ, and the veracity of miracles (like the virgin birth, Christ's resurrection, etc.).

The major reason for this view was that MLJ believed you couldn't be in fellowship like this with people who were clearly not Christians. They might call themselves "Christians," but to remove themselves from historic Christianity meant they were Christians in name only. What fellowship could then be had between light and darkness?

I give all this background to make a few simple points:

1) Packer and Stott believed the presence of evangelicals in denominations filled with heretical pastors and teachers would bring about an evangelical renaissance. History has not proven this to be true. In fact, several "evangelicals" abandoned Gospel-truths in order to advance up the church ladder.

2) The spirit of the age in the 20th century was all about unity, ecumenicalism, and the like. MLJ had the courage to go with Scripture rather than public opinion. It is wise to be on "the side of history." But history is not decided by textbooks or opinion-makers but by the holy Judge--the Triune God.

3) As we move forward as Christians in the 21st century, our goal is not to align with the spirit of the age or be on what humans believe is "the side of history." We live before a holy Judge and live in light of His holy statutes. Beware of making decisions that seem wise or winsome to the world if these decisions are not in alignment with Biblical truth. So says Isaiah, "The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the Word of our God lasts forever."

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Principles for Healthy Sexual Intimacy: Post 4 of 4

(This comes from a handout I've previously given to couples entering marriage.)

#4    The question, “what kind(s) of sexual intimacy are appropriate?” is not easy to answer.

Some general ideas:
A.    Uniqueness: Every relationship and every person in the relationship is unique. Sexuality is different for each couple. Some people have physical problems that make normal sexual intercourse impossible or painful. Some individuals have varying levels of sexual drive at different times of the month or for extended seasons of their lives. Sexual activity (in these cases) is not necessary for a healthy marriage. Admittedly, sex is a gift from God so it is not wise to take or leave God’s gifts based on our own preferences. And yet at the same time, we live in a fallen and broken world. This brokenness impacts many bedrooms. We should pursue redemption, restoration, and healing, but there is no guarantee of “glorious restoration” until Christ’s glorious return.
B.     Mutuality: Sexual pleasure for both husband and wife should be the goal of each sexual encounter. A husband should not demand an orgasm without committing to bring a similar pleasure to his wife (likewise for the wife). This unselfish aspect of sexuality suggests that certain practices of domination, sado-masochism, and bondage fall out of line with appropriate sexual behavior.
C.     Sacrificial: Similar to what is listed above, sexual activity is not easy. Men need to be patient with regard to the amount of sexual activity, foreplay, and clitoral stimulation. Orgasms do not come as easy for the woman. Time and tenderness are necessary. It has been wisely encouraged that husbands should commit to bring their wife to full orgasm or to the brink of orgasm before moving to penetration. This will help the man stay focused since it is difficult for some men to stay engaged after orgasm. The wife should also be sacrificial, often encouraging sex more often than she feels like it. It takes sacrifice for a woman to intentionally focus her mind, heart, and body on sexual activity.
D.    Pleasurable: If any part of sexual activity is painful, scary, or deemed inappropriate by one spouse, the other spouse should honor their spouse’s feelings immediately. If in time the spouse thinks the activity should be acceptable, they should discuss it with their spouse outside of the bedroom. If necessary, outside counsel should be pursued.
E.     Spousal-centric: This means that arousal, passion, and mental focus should be centered on the spouse with regard to sex. The use of pornography, fantasies, or other partners (for example, orgies) goes against God’s intent for intimacy. Intimacy and attraction are to be fueled and fostered between one man and one woman. God designed the husband’s and wife’s body to work together to bring about deep unity and pleasure. Early in your marriage and at points in your marriage (illness, before/after pregnancy, etc.) you may need the help of lubricants, but beware of bringing in sex toys and other non-natural elements to the bedroom. Your spouse is enough.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Principles for Healthy Sexual Intimacy: Post 3 of 4

(This comes from a handout I've previously given to couples entering marriage.)

#3 Sexual intimacy is properly experienced when a husband and wife both give of themselves for the pleasure of the other on a regular basis.

NIV  Proverbs 5:18 May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth. 19 A loving doe, a graceful deer-- may her breasts satisfy you always, may you ever be intoxicated with her love.

NIV  1 Corinthians 7:3 The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. 4 The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. 5 Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.

NIV  1 Corinthians 13:4 Love is patient, love is kind… it is not self-seeking…. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8 Love never fails. 

Friday, May 24, 2013

Principles for Healthy Sexual Intimacy: Post 2 of 4

(This comes from a handout I've previously given to couples entering marriage.)

#2 Sexual activity is the unifying act that serves as the climax of an outward covenant and emotional intimacy.

NIV  Genesis 2:24 That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.

We leave all former relationships and join, by way of promises and covenants, our lives with another person.  The “leaving” is a public act…what is traditionally known as a wedding ceremony, the signing of documents, and the establishment of a home. The “cleaving/uniting” is the emotional intimacy that is necessary as the foundation of any relationship. Sex, without any promises, leaves risk for abandonment and abuse. Sex, without any emotional intimacy, becomes a selfish pursuit for pleasure. Leaving, cleaving, and becoming one flesh are like 3 legs to a stool. If any one leg is missing, the stool will topple.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Principles for Healthy Sexual Intimacy: Post 1 of 4

(This comes from a handout I've previously given to couples entering marriage.)

 #1: Intimacy is heightened when it is only shared between a husband and wife.

God has designed certain aspects of the body and soul to be preserved for marriage. These are special treasures that lose their uniqueness and specialness when openly shared with others. You can lose intimacy by sharing details of the marriage bed with others or by sharing your body and/or soul with another. The covenant of marriage is the protective covering for rich intimacy.

NIV  Proverbs 5:15-17 Drink water from your own cistern, running water from your own well. 16 Should your springs overflow in the streets, your streams of water in the public squares? 17 Let them be yours alone, never to be shared with strangers.

“Multiple partners create mistrust, performance anxiety, and comparison evaluations that are barriers to the deepest levels of intimacy.”
-          From a helpful article by Louis and Melissa McBurney entitled “Christian Sex Rules” found at www.todayschristianwoman.com/articles/2008/september/4.34.html?paging=off

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Are we as counter-cultural as 2nd century Christians?


“They share their table with everyone, but they don’t share their bed with everyone.”

This little description of 2nd century Christians has been preserved in the Epistle to Diognetus, an ancient document that gives us a feel for how the Christians were perceived in their early days.

This little description is as counter-cultural today as it was then.

We have "liberals" who share their table (think health care, social services, etc.) and their bed (think sexual license).

We have conservatives who don't share their bed (think sexual restraint/morality) but don't share their table (think conservative policies that let the rich get richer and the poor, poorer).

Those who believe in Jesus, however, should be different. 

We do have moral standards we honor. We do submit to the authority of God's Word. I don't have "freedom" to do whatever I like, with whomever I like. 

And yet, I believe in Jesus who died for the undeserving (Romans 5:8). We were all "poor in spirit," bankrupt with no means of pulling ourselves up by our own moral bootstraps. We were a charity case of the most pitiful kind. Jesus didn't teach us to fish. Jesus didn't make us come halfway before he gave us grace. Rather, Jesus did everything. He lived the life we couldn't live and then died the death we should have died. This good news makes anyone who believes it committed to sharing their table with anyone in need. There is no such thing as "deserving poor" or "undeservering poor." There are just people who have needs...and I'm here to meet them.

May our generation of Christ-followers be known as our ancestors were: “They share their table with everyone, but they don’t share their bed with everyone.” 



Thursday, May 09, 2013

Definitions by Dallas

Spirit is dis-embodied personal power.

Beauty is goodness made manifest to the senses.

A disciple is anyone whose ultimate goal is to live as Jesus would live if he were in their place.

Dignity is a value that creates irreplaceability.

Joy is a pervasive sense of well-being.
Work is the creation of value.

Play is the creation of value that is not necessary.

--From the mind of Dallas Willard (professor USC), whose life was taken by cancer May 8, 2013: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2013/may-web-only/man-from-another-time-zone.html?paging=off

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

But my faith is feeble, fragile, and fragmented...

I often resonate with the panicked father who heard Jesus' demand for faith in order for his son to be healed of demonic possession. The father responded, "I believe, help my unbelief" (Mark 9:17-29).

God rarely works apart from human faith. Our trust and confidence in God's power, holiness, and goodness are God's standard  means of working in the world. Similarly, salvation is by grace alone through faith alone. No faith, no salvation.

But where does that leave us? For on too many days, I want to throw in the towel. On too many days, my faith is feeble, fragile, and fragmented.

John Calvin rightly works through this issue in Book III, chapter 2, paragraph 7 of The Institutes of the Christian Religion: "But the human mind, when blinded and darkened, is very far from being able to rise to a proper knowledge of the divine will; nor can the heart, fluctuating with perpetual doubt  rest secure in such knowledge [i.e. faith]. Hence in order that the word of God may gain full credit, the mind must be enlightened, and the heart confirmed, from some other quarter. We shall now have a full definition of faith if we that it is a firm and sure knowledge of the divine favor toward us, founded on the truth of a free promise in Christ, and revealed to our minds and sealed on our hearts, by the Holy Spirit."

Even faith is God's gift. I cannot manufacture faith. I cannot maintain faith. It is God's gift through the Holy Spirit. So even on the days when my faith is most fragile, I must remember that God will support and sustain me. In the darkest hours of my disbelief and in the valley of death, I need not fear evil for God is with me. Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

"The grace of God does not find men fit for salvation, but makes them so." - Augustine

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Books Finished April 2013

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo -- The final chapters may be some of the most beautiful words in the human language outside of the Bible that describe the pain and joy of sacrifice, the marks of true humility, and the power of redemption. If only Victor Hugo would have left out the hundreds and hundreds of pages of useless French history, this book would be one of my most favorite of all time.

Evil and the Justice of God by N.T. Wright (a wonderful work on the nature of evil, the justice of the Cross, and the power of forgiveness that can make the future new heavens and new earth a more likely possibility in the here and now)

The Sower by Gary Hoag and R. Scott Rodin (a fantastic book on generosity and raising kingdom resources for kingdom work)

Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God by J.I. Packer (I believe this is the best book on these two important subjects. His 3 summary applications to the book are simply this: Be bold, be patient, and be prayerful.)

Harry Potter (Book 7) - Carrie and I read this whole series aloud over the past several months. There is something beautiful about the evil enemy being vanquished by the sacrificial hero willingly choosing death to save his friends.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

An Open Letter to the Pastors in the Cedar Rapids Metro Area:

Pastor friends,

And yes, I mean friends. I have served in the area for almost 3 years. When I arrived, I was 29 years old. I was called to pastor a church of 65 people (80 if we counted the stuffed animals in the nursery) that didn't, and still doesn't, have a permanent church facility. I was and am a small church pastor.

And yet, I have been loved, blessed, and served by dozens of pastors in this area. You have coached me on church leadership. You have prayed for me. You have bought me lunch. You have challenged me. You have shared your building and facilities with my church family in times of need. You have cared for me.

I love that pastors in this area work against "sheep-stealing." Instead, when people attempt to move churches in the area, we call each other and make sure godliness and grace are at work.

I love that pastors of different theological stripes can lovingly disagree with one another on the minor theological differences, and yet we cling fiercely to the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

I love that we gather our churches together to pray for this city, care for its citizens, and share Christ graciously and winsomely.

To be honest, I am so impressed by the godly pastors, churches, and ministries in this area. God has set a rich banquet of goodness in the heart of Linn County. You are mighty men and women of God. You have great churches. You are great preachers, shepherds, and servants. I feel bad for anyone trying to choose a good church in the area...because they have lots of great choices. Thanks for making the work of "church shopping" so difficult. Thank you also for preaching against church shopping.

I wouldn't want to serve in another area. This is home.

I'm excited to lock arms with you for the sake of Christ and this city for years to come.

Your indebted friend and servant for Christ's sake,
Pastor Matt Proctor
Cornerstone Church, Marion (www.cornerstone-marion.org)
April 30, 2013

Monday, April 29, 2013

In God's economy...

You can do more on 6 days of work and one day of rest (the Sabbath) than in a 7 day work week.

You can do more with 90% (or even 75%) of God's money in your pocket than with keeping all of it. The giving of tithes and offerings releases the God who likes to take loaves and fishes and prepare a feast.

You can do more by serving others than serving yourself.

You can do more through forgiving enemies than holding onto bitterness.

You can do more through having seasons/days/hours of no food (fasting) than in living a life marked by always having your stomach filled.

You can do more with a vehicle and home you can afford than a vehicle or car that puts you in great debt. God says to owe no debt than the debt to love one another.

You can do more on a regular pattern of good sleep (7-9 hours) than refusing to go to get good rest. Allow the Sovereign God of the universe to take care of the details and go to bed.

And yet, you can do more on losing 30 minutes of sleep to engage in Bible study and prayer than you can if you spend those 30 minutes under the covers.

Most of all, you can do more by confessing your sin and turning to Christ for salvation than by taking the road most traveled, a wide road of rebellion against God, that is fraught with peril, pain, and ultimate destruction.

Jesus said, as recorded in Matthew 16:24-26 Then Jesus said to his disciples, "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?

Monday, April 22, 2013

I want to quit making this mistake...

As a Christian, one of my primary goals is to help others become followers of Jesus Christ too.

And yet, I keep making the same mistake over and over again. And it's a big one...

**I fail to ask people to turn from their most besetting sins and receive Jesus as Savior and Lord.

What do I mean? Simply this: one of the greatest joys of being a disciple of Jesus is that we can turn from sin. Christ is so amazing, so wonderful, so gracious, and so beautiful that He attracts us to Himself and all that is good and simultaneously away from that which is evil, destructive, and deadly (sin).

We do a disservice when we let people hold onto their "pet sins." Because these "pet sins" are actually vicious monsters that are eating our bodies and souls piece by piece, day by day. When I preach the Gospel (especially to someone I know), I call them to Christ and from their most besetting sins.

To the rich, young ruler, Jesus told him, he had to get rid of all his material wealth and come follow Him. The rich, young ruler had to leave behind worldly riches to find the One who was richness in the flesh.

To the woman caught in adultery, she had to leave her life of sin.

To Saul (also known as Paul), Jesus said he had to quit persecuting the church and start serving the church.

To Peter Jesus demanded that he had to leave his (seemingly successful and difficult to leave) fishing business --a summons that had to be repeated, which suggests Christ will have to call us to leave behind our besetting sins more than once.

What about the people in our world?
  --To some men, we'll need to tell them they need to leave the netherworld of pornography and adultery and come follow Jesus.
  --To some women, we'll need to call them to leave behind vanity and fashion for Jesus.
  --To some adults, we'll need to challenge them leave behind a life of gluttony and drunkenness for Jesus.
  --To others, they will need to quit fornicating, stealing, being lazy, etc.
  --To others, they will need to get rid of their 401K and "financial stability" and cling to the true Rock, Jesus Christ.

Warning: Jesus says "Judge not, lest you be judged." This doesn't mean we cannot call sin sin, and call for repentance in the lives of others. It means, we ought not point out another person's sin without being fully honest of our own sin. And not just honest, but willing to confess it as sin and commit to repent, and keep repenting as more and more sin is made known to us.

Praise God, when someone challenged me to follow Jesus, they told me I had to quit stealing. They told me my pornography had to go. They told me I had to quit lying. In the end, my turning from sin didn't save me. But Jesus Christ empowered me to turn from sin and to find salvation in Him. Each day, I have more to repent from, and yet each day, I see that the way of Jesus is so rich, wonderful, and joyful that I don't want to sin. Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy upon me, a sinner.

More on the topic of repentance here: http://mattproctor.blogspot.com/2013/03/repentance-everyones-favorite-word.html

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Books Finished mid-Feb through March

Ten Keys for Unlocking the Bible by Colin Smith (best summary of the story-line of Scripture in miniature)

Church Membership by Jonathan Leeman (great little book on the importance of membership in a local church - best line: "God doesn't command you to join a church but to submit to a church.")

Portraits of a Radical Disciple edited by Chris Wright (an interesting compilation of about 40 friends of John Stott, writing about his life and ministry--I'd suggest finding a different biography unless you are a lover of all things Stott.)

Harry Potter (books 5-6)

Ongoing Books:
Les Miserables
The Institutes of the Christian Religion
Toxic Charity
Lectures to My Students
Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters
Center Church
Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down
The Sower
Harry Potter #7

We'll see if I can actually finish some of these books in the next month or so :)

Monday, April 08, 2013

Grappling with the Marriage Equality Debate, Some Reflections

Because of all the press the “marriage equality” debate has caused, I want to say a few things here and then encourage you to read four more reflections if you desire.

First, I pray that as Christians we are marked by love whenever we engage in this debate (Matthew 22:34-40).

Second, I pray that Christians allow God’s Word to be the final authority on what is right and fair. Our task is not to make the Bible work for our lives; rather, our task is to make our lives fall in line with the Bible.

Third, as Christians, we must first take the log out of our own eye. Admittedly, we have failed in our own marriages. We have failed in God’s call for purity and intimacy. Let us confess our failures and sins, and receive God’s forgiveness and power to live the righteous life. God does not leave us in slavery to sin, but changes us into new people who can live a new life with power to say no to sin and yes to righteousness (1 Cor. 6:9-11; 2 Cor. 5:17; Romans 6:1-23).


Thursday, March 28, 2013

Repentance - everyone's favorite word!

J.I. Packer writes, "The repentance that Christ requires of His people consists in a settled refusal to set any limit to the claims which he may make on their lives."

The Biblical word "repentance" is extremely important. The English word "repent" comes from both a Hebrew word and a Greek word. The Hebrew word from which we often translated "repent" means "to turn, change direction, or return." The Greek word means the changing of the mind that leads to a change in behavior.

Salvation is dependent on repentance (see Luke 13:1-9; Acts 2:39; 3:19; 17:30). We must have a change of mind about our pattern(s) of life, turn from our sin(s), and return to God. Admittedly, without proper faith in Jesus Christ's life and work, repentance is not sufficient. But so too, we can believe in God like the demons and yet remain rebellious (just another term for unrepentant) and unsaved.

In the past few weeks, I've run across a number of examples where people seem to excuse continued patterns of sin. The husband who no longer visits strippers is satisfied with "only" indulging in soft core pornography. The young person who uses "white lies" rather than outright deceit thinks this still fulfills, "Honor your father and mother." The bigamist excusing their sexual intercourse with two spouses because they all made vows at an altar. The thief excusing tax evasion because big government is a monstrosity.

Effectively, we redefine Biblical commands to suit our own desires of the flesh. We allow ourselves to believe some repentance is sufficient for salvation but then go on to allow patterns of sin to continue all in the name of grace or our sinful plight prior to new creation (contra Romans 6:1-5). We ignore Paul's stern warnings that those engaged in unrepentant sinful behaviors will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9-10; Gal. 5:19-21).

But here's the hope...

NIV  1 Corinthians 6:9-11 Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (my emphasis)

Sinful patterns are not the end of the story. God changes people, transforms people, washes people, and justifies people all in the power and name of Jesus by the Holy Spirit. Admittedly, the lingering power of sin may remain, but this in no way gives us the freedom to willingly indulge in said patterns or give free reign for others to do so (Rom. 1:32).

"I can't stop..." is not in the vocabulary of the Christian. Nothing is impossible with God (Mark 10:27). To accept any continued pattern of sin is to say we don't believe the gospel. And if we don't believe the gospel, there is no power for God's righteousness to come upon us from first to last (Rom. 1:16-17).

This is why the opening quote is absolutely true: "The repentance that Christ requires of His people consists in a settled refusal to set any limit to the claims which he may make on their lives." --J.I. Packer

If I refuse, set limits, or make claims contrary to Jesus, I am lord and He is not.