A Father’s Comfort

20150215_083502_edited-1On a fairly regular basis, my four year old little girl will come to me in obvious emotional distress. She will have that just-about-to-cry look on her face as she climbs into my lap, cuddles in close and says with a dramatic sigh, “Dad, I’m just havin’ a wuff day.” And though her “wuff day” usually involves extremely minor issues from my perspective, I hold her and comfort her and let her know that it will be ok. Typically, before I am even done enjoying the moment she is back in cheerful little girl form and off to discover some new drama.

I must confess that there are times when that little scenario is an inconvenience and I let it annoy me, but recently I have realized how often I am just like her. Truth be told, we all have rough days and we all need to be comforted from time to time. I am thankful for wonderful people in my life that I can turn to when things are rough, but I am even more thankful for a Heavenly Father that is always waiting to take me in His arms and offer comfort.

One of the primary ways we receive this comfort from our Father is through His Word and one particular passage God has used in my life recently is 1 Peter 1:1-6. Peter is expounding the wonders of God’s character and then says “In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials.” This is where the truth of Scripture and my experience with my daughter have collided to teach me a valuable lesson about my own suffering.

You see, my little girl comes to me just because I’m “Dad”. She has no real expectation that I will change anything or that she even has a fixable problem. She just knows that in that moment, Dad can make it better. She illustrates what I believe Peter is expressing: I can have joy in my most painful circumstances because of Who I am able to turn to for comfort. My comfort and my joy are not bound to my circumstances, but to my Father.

To paraphrase Peter, He is my Holy comforter who knows me intimately. He is a gracious and merciful Savior who is all powerful and forever faithful. He is my protector and He is ready and willing for me to come to Him in my need. That is where I find comfort and joy in my time of suffering. All I need to do is take a page out of a little girl’s playbook and go to Him as His child. He cares and He is more than able to give comfort no matter how rough life has gotten.

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Seeking the Kingdom

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Thanks to pod-casts available on my phone, I enjoy listening to a number of preachers that I would not ordinarily have the privilege of listening to. This became a habit while I was pastoring as a means of being fed myself and also sharpening my own skills. As most habits, though, it is sometimes just that. There are times that the sermon playing is merely a positive alternative to less constructive types of background noise I might otherwise make use of. However, as I was listening recently to a sermon by Charles Swindoll, he made a striking statement that grabbed my full attention with no less force than if someone had slapped me across the face. This is what he said: “A church that has greater memories than dreams will not make a difference…A church that makes a difference is a church that has an ever enlarging willingness to accept whatever challenge God brings.”

His statement struck me as it did because it elegantly summarizes one of the struggles I have had of late with the traditional, fundamental, American church. It saddens (and frustrates) me to see so many of them content to live in the past, attend to their own comforts and have zero impact on their community. Instead of a willingness to accept challenges, they busy themselves avoiding challenges at all costs.

These churches stand as a warning to the rest of us: we must be intentional about making a difference. The fact of the matter is that most of these churches do have great memories. They did have times of effective ministry. They were serving God and their community. This begs the questions: How do we avoid their fate? How do we continue to make a difference in our world?

The general answer is that we must be kingdom oriented. We begin to die spiritually the moment we begin to live for ourselves. Church is not about my comfort or my preference on music or service times. Church (and life in general) is about advancing the kingdom. Paul instructed believers to “set your mind on things above, not on the things that are on the earth (Col 3:2).” Jesus referred to Peter as Satan and called him a stumbling block because he did “not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” If we want to make a difference, we must “seek first the kingdom of God… (Mat 6:33).” Here are some practical thoughts on how we might do this:

  • Engage in regular evangelism. Make it a goal to share your faith in some way each week or each day. This keeps you involved so that God always has current opportunities to use you. It also keeps you aware of what is important. If you are faithfully and regularly sharing the gospel, you are less likely to become consumed with yourself.
  • Engage in biblical decision making. Use the Bible to determine what to hold onto. We must differentiate between what God says must never change and what we are holding onto out of preference. For example – pastors must always preach Christ and that should never change. However, he might not always preach Christ while wearing a suit and tie. He might do it in jeans and a fedora. That’s cool. If we want to make a difference we have to be willing to let go of traditions and methods that are not mandated by Scripture – even if they used to be effective.
  • Engage in the process of change. There will come a time in your life or in the ministry of the church where change is necessary, but it is usually not easy. To be prepared for that time, practice change in smaller and less significant ways. Make change a regular part of your routine. Learn how to present it. Learn how to implement it. Practice the art of change.
  • Engage in meeting needs. The church must always be aware of the changing needs of the individuals and community around them. Many of Jesus’ miracles are introduced with this phrase: “He saw…” Jesus helped so many people because he saw the needs around him. A biblical church says, “How can we serve? What need can we meet?” That doesn’t mean that every church can meet every need, but it does mean we should be more concerned with meeting needs than with holding onto our programs at all cost.

These are just some of the practical ways that I believe we can keep a kingdom focus. If you want to make a difference in your world, join me in evaluating your own heart in regard to these issues and then determine to intentionally engage in practices that will direct your attention toward Jesus.

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/22280677@N07/2504254022″>First Congregational Church of Brimfield</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

Sunday Supper April 26, 2015

 In a feature reminiscent of my childhood in which Sunday supper consisted of a smorgasbord of leftovers and a random assortment of other foods, I bring you an assortment of random items of interest from the past week.

 “I look to the cross, I look to the Bible, and I attempt to discern the next right thing to do for God’s glory.” – Tim Challies on The Messy Matter of Motives

There were a few really good articles about marriage this week. You may not agree with everything in them, but you will certainly appreciate the heart of these men who are so concerned with the state of marriage today. First is A Closer Look at Marriage by Steve Cornell. Then there is another by John MacArthur regarding The Ministry of a Godly Wife. He followed that up with these thoughts on The Christlike Husband and The Unshakeable Love of a Godly Husband.

“As believers, we engage the messiness of this life together. We walk into the dark unknown valleys of this fallen world head on and side by side…We know that real community gets right there on the floor and sits in the dust and ashes of life and mourns alongside the hurting (Romans 12:15).” – Messy Community

Religious Liberty Is Not Freedom from Ridicule – great balance on the liberties we enjoy as Americans and the reality we should expect as Christians.

“As Christians who take the Bible’s teaching on heaven and hell seriously, we are often faced with the tension between the mundane joys of life and the reality of the eternal stakes… How can I experience and enjoy the normal delights of human life when we’re all perched on a ledge with the New Jerusalem on one side and the burning fields of Gehenna on the other, and millions traveling the broad way that leads to destruction?” – Join Them in Their Joy

Challenging and helpful thoughts on When Ministry Success Becomes an Idol.

 Enjoy this random collection of stuff and be sure to let me know what you’ve been reading or watching that is interesting, enjoyable or helpful.

Reviewing Radical

Over the years, I have acquired a great many books. I have stacks and shelves and even boxes of books, many of which I have never read. Beyond that are the many books I have acquired now in digital form and those that I have access to through libraries and other means. And the possibilities are ever increasing. In the “Christian Living” category alone, Amazon shows over 1,800 books released in the last 30 days! With the almost endless possibilities of new books to read, a book would need to be pretty significant to warrant being read more than once.

Radical by David Platt is one of those books. I have just finished reading it for the 3rd time in just over that many years and decided that it might be time to review and recommend it for any who have not yet taken the time to read it. Released in 2010, it is already, in my opinion, one of the most significant books that any Christian could read. The subtitle summarizes the general direction of the content quite well: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream. At the close of the first chapter, the author himself provides us with a simple overview of the purpose of this book.

“In the pages to come, we will together explore the biblical gospel alongside our cultural assumptions with an aim toward embracing Jesus for who He really is, not for who we have created Him to be. We will look at the core truth of a God-centered gospel and see how we have manipulated it into a human-centered message. We will see a purpose for our lives that transcends the country and culture we live in… We will discover that our meaning is found in community and our life is found in giving ourselves for the sake of others… and in the end we will determine not to waste our lives on anything but uncompromising, unconditional abandonment to a gracious, loving savior who invites us to take radical risk and promises us radical reward.”

For me, that paragraph was enough to convince me that I had to finish reading this book and relieve any concerns I might have had about his intent. He is clearly not espousing some sort of social gospel that ignores man’s need for salvation. Instead, this book serves as a challenge to take all of Jesus’ words seriously, commit to obey them and then consider what the implications would be if we did so.

It is not my intention with this review to provide so much detail that you do not need to read the book yourself. Rather, it is my desire to provide a few highlights that give you a desire to read it. With this in mind, let me offer some of my own observations that might prove helpful.

  •  Radical proposes that the biblical gospel, when received, will produce in us a heart that abandons everything to follow Christ. The book is intentionally critical of a Christianity that embraces the American dream, lives for self and has little or no regard for the poor and suffering of the world.
  • Radical clearly and passionately presents the gospel of grace apart from works (p39). Though Dr. Platt is quite adamant that Christians should be sacrificing to meet needs all over the world, he is also quite clear that doing this can never save.
  • The primary message of Radical is total abandonment of self and total devotion to Christ for the sake of the gospel. Meeting the needs of the poor and suffering are seen as a necessary part of taking the gospel to them and not as a replacement for giving them the gospel.
  • Radical challenges the church to embrace our role in God’s plan as the means for taking the gospel to the nations.

My conclusion is that everyone should read this book. However, as with just about any book, there is risk that one might miss the point or draw a wrong conclusion. In regard to that risk, I trust that my above observations will prove helpful. In addition, I would like to say that after reading the book several times, I am convinced that the author is not trying to spell out for each reader a specific way that he must sacrifice or a specific lifestyle he must live. Rather, I believe that his intent is to challenge each of us to ask questions that we never have before about how we use the blessings God has given us. I think he wants every Christian to ask what they can sacrifice and how they can give of themselves for the sake of the gospel, and that is certainly a message that I wholeheartedly agree with. Whether or not you ever read the book, I challenge you to evaluate the impact the gospel has had on your lifestyle and consider what you can sacrifice for the sake of Christ.

Don’t Miss Your Happiness

One of my favorite comic strips is Dilbert by Scott Adams. In one scene Dilbert and his boss are discussing Dilbert’s salary. The boss says, “Studies say your happiness depends on how well your life compares to others. So, instead of giving you a raise, I’m going to show you pictures of people who were attacked by bears.” The final scene shows Dilbert loudly and angrily objecting because “This is working!” I keep that on my desk and the sheer ridiculousness causes me to laugh every time I see it. However, that isn’t why it’s on my desk. It’s on my desk right now as a reminder to not let other people or circumstances have control over my happiness.

 

You see, the reason that cartoon is so funny is because it represents a reality. The reality is perhaps more familiar to you in the reverse form that says, I am unhappy because I want… (fill in the blank). Now I am the first to tell you that happiness should not be our ultimate goal in life, but that doesn’t mean we should never be happy. There are situations in life that simply do not lend themselves to happiness and in those times I am thankful that we have unspeakable joy through Christ. However, most of the time happiness is possible and we miss it because of discontentment. Here are some ideas for avoiding the discontentment that will rob us of our happiness.

 

  • Avoid comparisons. Galatians 6:4 indicates that satisfaction and joy can never come from comparing ourselves to others. Don’t compare your stuff, job, family or life to others. Be content with what God has given you and do not dwell on what He has given others.

 

  • Look at the needs of others. When we do look toward others it should be to serve them and not to envy them. We are more likely to find genuine happiness when we are helping those less fortunate than us.

 

  • Keep your focus on Christ. Hebrews 12:2 says we should each be “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.” He is to be our all-consuming focus. The hymn writer Helen Lemmel said it beautifully: “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.”

 

While there is no magic formula to achieve happiness, discontentment is absolutely certain to prevent it. Consider these tips next time you are tempted to look around and become unhappy. Perhaps there is happiness to be found if we simply look in the right direction.

Sunday Supper April 19, 2015

In a feature reminiscent of my childhood in which Sunday supper consisted of a smorgasbord of leftovers and a random assortment of other foods, I bring you an assortment of random items of interest from the past week.

 I read an article this week about electronic tipping and the effect it has on increasing the standard tip. This was interesting because I am one of those who are manipulated by guilt. I don’t want to be the guy that doesn’t tip well or I feel bad about the mess my kids make. As a result, I tend to over-tip. What are your thoughts on this trend in electronic tipping or tipping in general?

In another helpful article about marriage called Submission Isn’t a One Way Street, John MacArthur does an excellent job of explaining biblical submission. You should read it, but here’s a sample: “In Scripture, submission among believers is a two-way street. And when that rule is violated, it affects everyone on the road. While God’s Word commands submission within His design for the family, it’s a mutual submission between the husband and wife, one that seeks to put each other first (Philippians 2:3). That kind of submission is a far cry from the caricature of oppressive husbands and timid wives that the world mocks and despises.”

“God wants you to have something far better than riches and gold, and that is helpless dependence on Him.” – Hudson Taylor. I found that quote in an excellent article asking the question: Are You Weak Enough for God to Use You?

Does Calvinism Discourage Evangelism? An excellent question and a well written article explaining the scriptural and historical connection between election and evangelism.

Here is an 8 point communication agreement by Steve Cornell over at Wisdom for Life.

Here are a couple of (very different) thought provoking parenting articles. First, 7 Reasons We Hate Free-Range Parenting talks about the increased paranoia in society toward unsupervised children. Second, Check Your Investments encourages us to prioritize the spiritual disciplines and qualities we want to see in our children.

Thom Rainer offers a brief list of Six Ways Millennials Are Educating Their Churches Theologically.

“[W]hat if we saw the ‘one anothers’ in Scripture as imperatives (commands from Christ), essential to real Christianity, and not re-categorize them as suggestions, conveniences, and when-you-get-around-to-its?” – from Who Can You ‘One Another’ Today?

 Enjoy this random collection of stuff and be sure to let me know what you’ve been reading or watching that is interesting, enjoyable or helpful.

Taking a Stand

Let’s face it. The world we live in is not an easy one to navigate from a moral perspective. A casual assessment of our culture and society in America, or world events in general, could produce a host of topics that create controversy and confusion as to how God’s people ought to view or react to them. Some examples might include topics like evolution, gender roles, homosexuality, gay marriage, terrorism, immigration, America’s international military presence, etc. More than likely, that list included topics you’ve made up your mind about, ones that you are thinking about and probably some you didn’t even know you needed to make up your mind about. Though I as well have opinions, my point here is that there are an abundance of sides to be taken and we as Christians will inevitably find ourselves doing so at one point or another. I recently posted some thoughts for Christians to consider as we make decisions on when we should take a stand and how to choose those issues, so now I want to offer some advice on how to take a stand once you’ve decided you should.

  • Be humble. This is necessary even if there is no doubt you are right (a clear biblical statement), but especially important on those “gray” issues that are not specifically addressed in Scripture. You can humbly form strong opinions about a variety of social or political issues, but please understand that there are good people who disagree with you and humbly allow for the differences.
  • Be loving. My encouragement would be that if you choose to take a stand on a political or social issue, please do it with love. The need to take a stand for a biblical principle does not give license for being mean. In fact, the more serious and potentially controversial your stand is, the more attention you should give to demonstrating love while taking that stand. Paul urged believers in 1 Corinthians 16:14 to “do everything in love.” I think this manifests itself in two important ways. First, we must demonstrate love toward those who we feel we must oppose or “take a stand” against. Second, please show love to your fellow Christian who does not choose to stand on the same issue. Christianity has embarrassed itself on numerous occasions through the fighting of its constituents.
  • Be respectful. Much of the offense attributed to Christians is because they take their stand in disrespectful ways, particularly through speech. There is no reason to name-call, use vulgar or disrespectful terms or be mean-spirited with your words. Kindly explain your reasons and then leave it alone if possible. Debate is generally an ineffective means of changing someone’s mind. Even worse is the horribly impersonal form of debate found in the medium of social media. Whatever the context in which you find yourself discussing your position, be nice and respectful.
  • Be evangelistically minded. Use the stand you take to point others to Jesus. Never forget that the most important issue is that of one’s eternal state. If you must take a stand on an issue, make you sure that to the best of your ability you do it in a way that does not leave them less open to the gospel. You may actually be able to take your stand and present Christ at the same time.

My concern as I observe the church today is not that we are taking a stand for what is right, but that we are attacking those we should be loving and disappointing the God we are claiming to stand for. We must take to heart Paul’s statement in Colossians 3:17, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Paul’s reference to the name of Jesus means “as His representative.” My desire is that when we take our stand it is not an act of fear, selfishness or spite, but rather an act of loving ambassadorship for the One who gave Himself for us.

Little Lost Zeke

20150407_142447_edited-1 While visiting family in Delaware recently, we had an opportunity to visit the Delaware Children’s Museum. It was a great place to visit and we had a wonderful afternoon running from one interactive exhibit to another. In the midst of the fun, we had a few moments of excitement involving Zeke and one of my nieces. The culprit himself really wanted to tell this story, so here it is in his own six year old words.

First, we were at the maze. Then we came to the exercise room. Then after a while, I got bored. And I got tired with [my cousin] so we went to the restaurant room. I was watching a TV that was telling you how to be nice and give things to people. Dad found me in the restaurant room and said, “Oh Zeke we were looking for you.” So we went back to everyone else. And then we went to the construction room with mom.

 It all sounds so simple and calm to hear him tell it doesn’t it? It almost sounds logical, as if they 20150407_135849-copy_edited-1should have wandered off. But you can imagine that we were not nearly that calm. There were only 8 kids to four adults, which in our world is a pretty good ratio but still a lot of kids to keep track of. Then there’s the confusion of which adults had which kids. I remember scanning the room for the kids and missing one. I’m not an overly fearful or protective parent, but that little nagging thought of the worst case scenario pops into your head none-the-less. However, he wasn’t supposed to be with me, so I wasn’t that worried. Until, that is, I saw my wife a few minutes later and she said, “Isn’t Zeke with you?” Now I was worried.

 You’ve already heard the outcome, but those few brief moments of gathering the other kids to keep them safe and swiftly scouring the entire museum were pretty intense. Who knew that so many terrible thoughts and fears could go through one’s mind in such a few short minutes? Fortunately, God protected them and all is well. However, even when there’s a positive outcome, those situations stay with you for a while.

As I thought more about the experience, I was reminded of the parable of the one lost sheep in Matthew 18:12-13. It’s really more of a hypothetical question than a full parable, though that label certainly fits. Jesus simply asks, “If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off.”

My experience with Zeke combined with this parable from Jesus served as a powerful reminder of the great love of God for me. Despite having many better sheep, He persisted in chasing me until He found me so that I could experience His love the way His children do. He still pursues me when I wander off. I’m so thankful that He loves me enough to come after me.

It also challenged me to join the Father in pursuing the lost. Imagine if upon discovering Zeke was lost I had simply left him. After all, I have 3 other kids. Seventy-five percent is still pretty good. We can’t even fathom a parent that might think that way, yet that is exactly the attitude we have toward our lost friends and neighbors and our wandering brothers. How dare we decide that they aren’t important enough to pursue? We must be the hands and feet of Jesus and go after that lost sheep with the same intensity and desperation with which I sought my little lost Zeke. After all, “your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish (Matthew 18:14).”

While We Were Sinners

There’s been a lot of discussion lately about the Christian response to homosexuality and gay marriage in particular. Much of the discussion centers on the issue of Christian business people demonstrating their protest (or “taking a stand”) by refusing services to gay people. As you suspect by now, I have some thoughts I want to share in the hopes they might be helpful.

  • You should do what is right (as determined by God, not you) whether it is legal or not. In the Old Testament book of Daniel, Daniel continued his pattern of prayer even when it was outlawed and his 3 friends refused to worship an idol even though it was required by law. They also willingly faced the consequences of their stand (the lion’s den and the fiery furnace respectively) and trusted God for the outcome (deliverance on both accounts).
  • You have the “right” to take a stand on any issue you want. This goes beyond simply doing what is right. As an individual with the capacity for choice, you can take a stand on anything. Just don’t confuse standing up for your issue with doing what is right. Remember, too, that you are also choosing to face the consequences of making that stand. Additionally, your spiritual liberty frees you to forego your rights for the benefits of others.
  • There is a difference between taking a stand for what is right and protesting what you believe to be wrong. As I understand it, I am biblically mandated to do the former but not necessarily always supposed to do the latter. In context of our current discussion, I would certainly say you should “take a stand” if someone tried to force you to marry a person of your same gender. I’m not so certain that we are required, or that it is best, to protest someone else’s sin (especially if they are an unbeliever) by refusing services (cake, catering, photography, etc.) to that person.
  • Not everyone who takes a stand against gay marriage is a bigot, but neither is everyone who opposes it a biblically minded follower of Christ. The fact of the matter is, there are bigots and those who are prejudiced on both sides of major issues. It is unwise to defend or condemn everyone who holds a given position, because the same conclusions can be drawn for a variety of reasons.
  • Christians should love all righteousness and hate all sin. One of the biggest problems I see recently is that many of the Christians who are suddenly so concerned with taking a stand are inconsistent. I cannot judge the heart, but this inconsistency makes it look as if Christians are simply masking bigotry with Bible verses in the same way many early Americans supported slavery from Scripture (a position which, for the record, is stupid).
  • Unbelief is the primary sin I should target for change in unbelievers. As a believer, there are certain sins (sexual ones are certainly included) that the Bible indicates are more detrimental to me and to my walk with the Lord. However, in dealing with the sinful world, the only sin I should be concerned with is their rejection of Christ. Until then, convincing them to stop a specific sin doesn’t save them. Once they believe, then maybe the Holy Spirit could use me to help them deal with other sins.
  • Remember that “God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8).” God did not reserve His love until we deserved it or until we agreed with Him or even until we quit sinning. I think we should follow this example as much as possible.

I realize that my thoughts have the potential to create controversy, but that is not my desire. It is also not at all my desire to dictate to others what they should or should not take a stand on or to appear as if I have all the answers. I do not and I personally still wrestle with how to handle some of these unique cultural issues. My only motivation in sharing the above thoughts is to perhaps aid in the process of making the difficult decisions about where to draw the line when it is not obvious.

Sunday Supper April 12, 2015

In a feature reminiscent of my childhood in which Sunday supper consisted of a smorgasbord of leftovers and a random assortment of other foods, I bring you an assortment of random items of interest from the past week.

Tim Challies offers a great perspective on Proverbs 14:4 and wise words in regard to The Best Tool for the Job.

Found a wonderfully helpful article for pastors about prioritizing your daily schedule.

Read an interesting post called “Don’t Raise a Narcissist.” I’m not a big fan of the frequency with which labels of personality disorder are applied, but this helps identify some of the self-centered attitudes and behaviors that parents should avoid and discipline.

John MacArthur wrote an excellent piece called “The Fallout of Failed Marriages.”

Also on the topic of marriage is this brief but helpful article on communication in marriage.

Check out Thom Rainer’s observations on why churches don’t practice church discipline.

Enjoy this random collection of stuff and be sure to let me know what you’ve been reading or watching that is interesting, enjoyable or helpful.