Paul says we Christians are running a race. Here's what I'm looking at on my run toward Christ.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Top Posts of 2016

2016 is almost a wrap.  This for me, and many others, has been a crazy year.  I've seen the low of death and the high of new life.  This year, and the experiences in it, has grown me in ways expected and ways unexpected.  Below is an unscientific and likely incorrect list of the top post from this blog month-by-month.  Thank you for reading and I hope you have a great 2017 and enjoy reading these posts today.

January- Let Them Hate a Piece

February- Are You a Bigot?

March- Jesus Loves John

April- My Near Molestation Story

May- The Universe Doesn't Care About You

June- Beauty Wins the Beast

July- See You Later

August- Pray for Your Pastor's Wife

September- The Glory of Infertility

October- Jesus' Answered Prayer

November- An Empty Chair at the Table

December- God on the Inside

Monday, December 26, 2016

Better Than Forgiveness

If I asked you what the salvation Jesus offers is, how would you answer?

Seems like a critical question if this salvation is what our faith is after.

For many, perhaps not you, the answer is "Jesus' salvation is forgiveness from our sins."  And while it is true that Jesus' perfect life, death and resurrection gives us forgiveness from our sins I don't think that is what Jesus' salvation is.  What if forgiveness is part of the means to getting salvation and not the ends?

As I was reading the Christmas story Christmas morning I paid attention to Zechariah's prophesy in Luke chapter 1.  Zechariah's son John the Baptist had just been born and the proud dad was filled with the Holy Spirit as he spoke these words"

"Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel,
because He has come and has redeemed His people.
He has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of His servant David
(as He said through His holy prophets of long ago),
salvation from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us
to show mercy to our fathers
and to remember His holy covenant,
the oath He swore to our father Abraham:
to rescue us from the hand of our enemies,
and to enable us to serve Him without fear
in holiness and righteousness before Him all our days.

And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;
for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for Him,
to give His people the knowledge of salvation
through the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God,
by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
to shine on those living in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace." Luke 1:68-79 (bold added for emphasis)

Zechariah makes it so clear in his prophecy that Jesus is coming to forgive sins but that is the incredible means of giving His people more.

Zechariah says first that Jesus came to deliver us from our enemies.  Sin and death are the chief enemies of mankind and Jesus won victory over them for us.  We have been rescued from the hand of our enemies and one day we will see the full consummation of that.

Zechariah next says that Jesus came "to enable us to serve Him (God) without fear in holiness and righteousness before Him all our days."  He then goes on to prophesy that his son John would prepare the way for Jesus to "give His people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins."

The word "through" in the passage above is very important.  Let's put it like this.  I would not say that I'm giving my wife a trip to Europe through a trip to Europe.  I might however say I'm giving my wife a trip to Europe through a plane ticket.  The ticket and the plane ride are indeed a gift but it is not THE gift (anyone who has ridden a plane for an extended period of time knows this); the trip and experience in Europe is the real gift.

So it is with God's forgiveness.  God's salvation is so much more than forgiveness.  The Bible is ripe with promises about what this gift is, but let's look at what Zechariah says it is.  He says that we are saved FROM our enemies and TO His presence, specifically "to enable us to serve Him without fear in holiness and righteousness before Him all our days."

Forgiveness is the means for Zechariah; serving God in His direct presence without fear is the grand goal.  To be able to be in God's direct presence without being consumed and without even the fear of being consumed: this is the salvation Zechariah is excited about.  As a priest Zechariah had gone into the Holy of Holies and come out mute, so I'm sure this salvation was particularly thrilling.

The psalmist put it this way:

"Better is one day in your courts
than a thousand elsewhere;
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than dwell in the tents of the wicked." Psalm 84:10

For Zechariah forgiveness was the mean to entering God's direct presence without fear.  And salvation is this and more.  Salvation is also adoption as sons and daughters.  Zechariah looked with eager expectation to the day when he could receive forgiveness from sins in order to serve God in His presence, and we get that.  But we also receive salvation so that God can come face to face with us and be a good doting father to us.

Forgiveness is great, but it is not the summation of salvation.  Thank God!  If all God offered was forgiveness it would still be the best news ever.  If all He gave was peace with Him we would still gladly pursue it.  But thank God that Jesus' salvation begins with forgiveness and doesn't end there.  Thank God for what Jesus did for you beginning at Christmas and continuing to His resurrection, today.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Favorite Ghosts of Christmas Past

Here are a few of my favorite posts (from my own blog... pretty messed up) about Christmas.  I hope you enjoy these and they enrich your experience of the miracle of Christmas.

God on the Inside

Truth That Sings

5 Christmas Miracles

Mary's Treasure and Our Pain

He Dwelt Amongst Us

Merry Christmas.  Don't let the wonder of Christmas escape you this weekend.  Ponder the wonderful thing God has done for us today.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Favorite Quotes from "The Great Gain of Godliness"

Here are some of my favorite quotes from The Great Gain of Godliness by Thomas Watson.  Watson was a Puritan who wrote the book based on Malachi 3:16-18  "Then they that feared the LORD spake often one to another: and the LORD hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before Him for them that feared the LORD, and that thought upon His name."

"To profess religion when the times favour it is no great matter... Dead fish swim down the stream, living fish swim against it." p. 6

"Sin is never the better because it is in fashion." p. 7

"One man's zeal is a burning torch for others to light at." p. 8

"If anyone ask what Christ died of, it may be  answered, He died of love." p. 10

"If a lame man laugh at you for walking upright, will you therefore limp?" p. 11

"God is so great that the Christian is afraid of displeasing Him, and so good that he is afraid of losing Him." p. 13

"There is a difference between fearing God, and being afraid of God; the godly fear God as a child does his father, the wicked are afraid of God as the prisoner is of the judge." p. 14

"Lack of the fear of God is the innate cause of all wickedness." p. 19

"Every sin is founded in ignorance,"  p. 20

"All the moral virtues in their highest elevation do not make a saint, but here is his true character, he is one that fears God." p. 25

"... in respect of God's infinite majesty, there will be some of this blessed fear in heaven.  Not a fear that has torment in it, for perfect love will cast out fear, but a holy, sweet, reverential fear.  Though God has so much beauty in Him as shall cause love, and joy, in heaven, yet this beauty is mixed with so much majesty, as shall cause a veneration in glorified saints." p. 29

"Carnal fear is an enemy to religion.  The fear of God frightens it away; it causes courage." p. 32

"... there is more evil in a drop of sin, than in a sea of affliction." p. 37

"The reason men do not fear God is become they entertain slight thoughts of Him."  p. 61

"What men delight in, they will be speaking of." p. 74

"O my soul, shall I admire the drip and not the ocean?  Shall I think of the workmanship, and not of Him that made it?"  p. 79

"The reason our affections are so chilled and cold in religion is that we do not warm them with the thoughts of God." p. 86

"If God is thinking of us day and night, shall not we think of His Name?" p. 89

"Honey is sweet, but the honeycomb is viscous and bitter, and can hardly be eaten; yet such was Christ's love to His spouse, that He ate of her honeycomb, her services mixed with imperfection, and was pleased to take delight in them.  Oh, the love of God, that He should have respect to our offerings that are interlaced with sin!" p. 100

"What an honour will it be to have the names and worthy deeds of the saints mentioned, and God Himself to be the herald to proclaim their praises." p. 110

"He who brought Isaac out of a dead womb, and the Messiah out of a virgin's womb, what can He not do?" p. 118

"God never entered into covenant with the angels when they fell, but He proclaims Himself God in covenant with believers, 'They shall be mine.'" p. 119

"This has made the saints desire death, as the bride her wedding day." p. 124

"'All men', says Chrysostom, 'are ambitious of honour'; but the true honour comes from God."  p. 127

"All the affections of parents come from God.  They are but a drop of His ocean, a spark of His flame.  God's love is a love that 'passeth knowledge.'  The saints cannot love their own souls so entirely as God loves them." p. 142-143

"Three things may cause boldness in prayer; the saints have a Father to pray to, the Spirit to help them pray, and Jesus Christ as their Advocate to present their prayers." p. 145

"Let us imitate God in this one thing: As God spares us, and passes by many failures, so let us be sparing of our censures of others; let us look upon the weaknesses and indiscretions of our brethren with a more tender compassionate eye." p. 148

"When prosperity makes grace rust, God scours us with affliction." p. 157

"Affliction cannot do the mischief that sin does."  p. 161

"The wicked drink a sea of wrath; the godly sip only of the cup of affliction." p. 164

If this selection of quotes has interested you then you can find the entire book here today.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

December Snow and a New Covenant

As I write this I have my Bible open to Hebrews chapter 8 to my left, a mug of coffee to my right and my chair facing out the big windows at Duos looking out at the snow.

Not everyone is Iowa likes snow, but nearly everyone will admit that new snow is beautiful.  Fresh snow is so amazingly pure.  There is a whiteness and smoothness to a fresh December snow that is unparalleled.

Iowans like myself also know that February or March snow is usually quite ugly.  I'm not talking about the newly fallen snow.  I'm talking about the snow that has been sitting there unmelted for a few weeks or months.  It is grimy and grey, not pure and white.  Given enough time the purity of snow turns ugly and dark grey if not even the infamous yellow.

The story of mankind is somewhat like snow.

Adam and Eve started off so pure.  There was no impurity to be found, like fresh snow in the middle of an empty field.  But as we know this purity would not last long.  God gave them one single command and they rather quickly broke it staining themselves like the snow pushed to the side of the road by a plow.

Humanity has a knack for staining itself and the whole universe with it.  If we're honest while we've created many wonderful things using the raw resources of the world around us, we've probably ruined as much if not more.  There are few places on the planet that are more beautiful because people showed up there (although we were ordained to beautify God's creation).

So, when God made a covenant with us we ruined it.  Read through the Old Testament and you'll see time and again how quickly the people blew it.

What we needed was a covenant not contingent upon us.

"The time is coming, declares the Lord,
when I will make a new covenant
with the house of Judah.
It will not be like the covenant
I made with their forefathers
when I took them by the hand
to lead them out of Egypt,
because they did not remain faithful to my covenant,
and I turned away from them,
                                                                                         declares the Lord.
This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel,
after that time declares the Lord.
I will put my laws in their minds
and write them on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
No longer will a man teach his neighbor,
or a man his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord,'
because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest.
For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more." Hebrews 8:8b-12 (and Jeremiah 31:31-34)

We have so much sin based entropy in us that we naturally ruin things.  So, God made a new covenant with us where He gave us new desires.  He writes His laws on our hearts and in our minds.  He gives us the rebirth necessary to follow Him.  He renews us under the new covenant.  The problem with the old covenant was never God, it was always us; so God solves that problem Himself.

This is why Jesus came to the earth.  We needed Him to initiate a new covenant that we couldn't screw up.  We needed Him to create something purer than December snow that we couldn't soil.  Thank God that He sent His Son to intervene for us.  Give thanks that God forgives our wickedness and remembers our sins no more today.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Christmas Letter 2016

The Apostle Paul said, "sorrowful, yet always rejoicing" Charles Dickens said, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."  These two quotes could sum up 2016 for us.  We had some times we could do without and some times we wouldn't trade for the world.

Both of us lost a beloved grandparent to death this year.  Christine's Grandpa John died in March and Matt's Mimi died in July.  Their presence will be missed by our families this Christmas and from now on.  

We began this year like we ended last year, without a child.  2016 brought with it testing and pills and procedures to try to end our infertility.  After 21 months of trying Christine became pregnant.  She is due May 22nd.  We couldn't be happier and the waiting and frustration seems to have fueled our joy.  

Christine, on top of the euphoria of becoming pregnant, has had an exciting year.  The day before she found out she was pregnant she accepted a job in the Waverly Health Center clinic system.  She had been hoping to get a job in Waverly for quite some time.  She enjoyed her time in labor and delivery at Covenant but is very happy to be working in our hometown.

Matt has been employed at KWAY Radio for over 7 and a half years now.  His role is mostly the same but this year has seen him adjust his responsibilities at work.  He is now doing more of a leading role for the morning show and moved, after nine years on the sidelines, to doing play-by-play for Wartburg College football.  Matt was also thrilled this year to finally see his Cubs win a World Series.

This Summer we got to take a nice mini-vacation to a bed and breakfast near Dubuque.  It was a fun, relaxing trip in a beautiful wooded location.

2016 for us and for many of you was a mixed bag, but as we reflect we once again realize how blessed we are.  God is good to us and the biggest way He has been good to us is through the giving of His Son.  As we waited and prayed for a child and now are excited to meet our first child we are drawn to think about the amazing gift God sent the world in the womb of a young Middle Eastern girl over two thousand years ago.  This Christmas join us is celebrating Jesus the One who will turn all of our worst of times into best of times and all of our best of times into even better times.  

Merry Christmas from the Rays.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

God on the Inside

Christmas season is here.  My wife and I have put up the Christmas tree and the lights.  We've played the Gene Autry Christmas record and soon we will send out Christmas cards.  Christmas season is here and at this time of year I'm drawn to think about the incarnation of Christ.

"The angel went to her and said, 'Greetings, you who are highly favored!  The Lord is with you.'
Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.  But the angel said to her, 'Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God.  You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give Him the name Jesus." Luke 1:28-31

Mary, a young virgin, got amazing and unbelievable news.  She was going to be a mother even though she was a virgin.  I can begin to understand the feeling Mary must have had.  My wife is 15 weeks pregnant.  I remember how when she told me that she was pregnant I was excited and petrified all at the same time; I rejoiced and shook like a leaf all at once.

So, Mary got the extraordinary news that she was pregnant though still a virgin.  But she also got the incredible news that God was to be inside her.

"'How can this be,' Mary asked the angel, 'since I am a virgin?'
The angel answered, 'The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.  So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God."  Luke 1:34-35

God... the immeasurable, ineffable, immortal, invincible... was going to be inside her.  God the almighty was to be God the embryo!  God was going to live inside her.

Having a pregnant wife I can tell you that when a baby lives inside you you experience changes.  Your body changes, your diet changes, your mood changes, when you are pregnant you experience immense changes.  When a baby takes residence inside of you your life is altered.  When Mary had God the embryo in her she ate differently and acted different and felt differently in so many ways.

A person of the Trinity is no longer an embryo but God does in fact still live in us today.

"I pray that out of His glorious riches He may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith."  Ephesians 3:16-17a

"Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you?"  1 Corinthians 3:16

God.. the immeasurable, ineffable, immortal, invincible... takes residence inside you.  Like Mary you can't ever be the same when God lives in you.  Like Mary, God will cause us to change.  Our lives will be altered.

When God's on the inside He makes changes.  Don't fight the changes the almighty makes when He makes His abode with you.  Thank God that He does the miracle to live in you today.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

An Empty Chair at the Table

On July 3rd of this year my grandma died.

Tomorrow will be the first holiday since her death.  There will be an empty chair at the table.

Thanksgiving is not my favorite holiday in theory but it is in practice.  I love the deep religious meaning of Christmas and Easter more by far, but in practice I love Thanksgiving.  There's no gifts, no imaginary mascots, there's just being thankful with and for those you love around the dinner table.  I loved being around my grandma at Thanksgiving and this year she won't be there.

There are others of you with an empty chair at the table this year.  I think especially of my wife's side of the family and my friends the Bakers.  They both will have their first Thanksgiving with an empty chair.

It's not supposed to be this way.

I'm not sad for those who died.  When believers in Christ die they go to be with Jesus and that is a far better place than our Thanksgiving dinner table.  I'm sad for those of us who are left behind.  My uncle said in conversation that Heaven won't just be a big family reunion.  He's right.  Heaven will be much better than that.  At its core Heaven is about getting to be directly and intimately with the Triune God.  Heaven is much more than a reunion, but it isn't less than a reunion.  God is so good that He died to give us Himself and one another.

As I look at the empty chair this year I will keep a couple thing in mind.

"He (Jesus) sacrificed for their sins once for all when He offered Himself." Hebrews 7:27b

Jesus' sacrifice was sufficient for my grandma and it is sufficient for me.  I don't need to worry if she screwed it up in the past or if I'll screw it up in the  future.  Jesus sacrificed for our sins once and for all and this promise is for all who believe.

"... Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!"  Revelation 19:9b

"And this is the will of Him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that He has given me, but raise them up at the last day.  For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day." John 6:39-40

There is a feast coming that transcends tomorrow's.  Thanksgiving dinner will be great but the wedding supper of the Lamb will be the greatest feast ever thrown.  Thanksgiving will have empty chairs at the table but at the wedding supper of the Lamb not a chair will be vacant.  All who are invited to the feast on that day will attend, guaranteed!

Tomorrow my family will have an empty chair at the table for the Thanksgiving feast and so might you.  This is a sad thing and I pray that you have peace in the midst of that sadness.  But at the wedding supper of the Lamb EVERYONE who looks to the Son and believes in Him will be seated and will dine and will drink and will celebrate.

Remember the loved one missing at the table tomorrow.  Give thanks for their life and give thanks that God has great promises for them and for you.  And if you don't have a seat for the wedding supper of the Lamb make a reservation with our Lord and Savior today.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Is Your Sharing Anti-Gospel?

Last Fall I was able to teach a few lessons in a discipleship class series our church created called "The Gospel and Social Media."  During one of the sessions I taught about truth and social media.  It seems that this is more relevant than ever.

The Bible calls the Gospel the "word of truth" (Ephesians 1:13), Jesus calls Himself "the Truth" (John 14:6), the Ten Commandments forbids giving false testimonies.  Truth is a central issue of the Bible.  The Bible is a source of truth and it implores us to "love the truth" (2 Thessalonians 2:10).

So, why is it that so many of us have Facebook and Twitter feeds full of falsehoods?

This recent election has further exposed our lack of love for the truth.  Oxford Dictionary recently name "post-truth" as its word of the year.  Ten years ago Merriam-Webster Dictionary named "truthiness", a term coined by Stephen Colbert, their word of the year.  These words both highlight the trend that more and more what is to be felt right is more important to people than what is right.  The Apostle Paul correctly stated that people gather around them those who will tell them "what their itching ears want to hear" (2 Timothy 4:3).

Many things may be up for debate, but as Christians we should be people who highly regard and love truth.

Too often we post things that confirm what we want to believe.  There is a rash of hyper-partisan "news" sites willing to give us what our itching ears want to hear.  BuzzFeed recently did a piece about this that is worth reading.  The Denver Post had to inform people that the Denver Guardian is not a real newspaper and never has been one in Denver.  CNN's Jake Tapper did a piece about this today.  We must ask ourselves better questions when seeing a news headline than, "does this agree with my opinion?"

Recently an online piece duped left leaning people into reading a remedy for this problem.  It is well worth the read.

I will try to give a bit of a remedy to this as well.

1) Don't post what you can't confirm.
If you can debunk it in a matter of moments on Google then it shouldn't be shared.  Regardless of how much the author insists that they are the only ones that know this piece of information, most news these days isn't picked up by only one source and one source no one has ever heard of at that.  The website snopes.com is a great fact checking source.

2) Check the source.
If you've never heard of the source it needs to be questioned.  This doesn't mean that you're familiar with all legit news sources, but it does mean that we should take "news" from fringe sites with a giant grain of salt.

3) A picture with words on it is not a news source.
There a millions of photos with words on them floating around social media.  Some have correct facts, many don't.  Just because a photo exists doesn't mean the photo or the words that accompany them are true.  Just because it is a map or a graph does not mean it is real or un-manipulated.

4) Inform your friends.
If your friend is sharing a fake news story let them know.  Most people don't want to spread falsities (some do), so let them know the article they've shared is fake.  In this current climate we need to help each other.

Lies are anti-Gospel.  "What fellowship does light have with darkness?"  (2 Corinthians 6:14)

Christians, it is very difficult for us to share the Truth with someone when we recklessly shared a lie moments earlier.  Truth must be a bedrock for every believer.  The Good News and fake news are not bedfellows.

So, think before you share.  This isn't so much a political problem as it is a Gospel problem.  We must be known as people of truth.  This will take more effort, it may not get your post shared as much, but it may be the difference between an open and a closed door in your next conversation with someone who desperately needs The Truth.

Be people of truth today.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Day After Yesterday

So, here we are on the day after yesterday and Donald J. Trump is our president-elect.  As those of you who read this blog know, I didn't vote for either Hillary or Donald out of convictions of character and policies (to be clear I voted for a different candidate).  That being said, we wake up on the day after yesterday with Mr. Trump as our president-elect.  Therefore, I want to say a few things to those who supported Trump and those who opposed him (Pastor David Miller has done a better job if you just want to skip mine and read his.)

To the winners:
Please don't spend all your time, especially all your time online, gloating.  Be gracious.  Your man won and you will see the benefits of that for four years.  Be kind.  There is a lot of anger and name calling again today.  When will this stop?  Don't hate those who didn't support Trump in the election, it's a moot point now.

As Donald Trump said in his victory speech, "Now it’s time for America to bind the wounds of division; have to get together. To all Republicans and Democrats and independents across this nation, I say it is time for us to come together as one united people."

Also, please don't try to paint Trump into a saint.  Mr. Trump is no saint, we know this.  He is a hedonist who at times is crude.  That is part of who he is.  There is no need today to act as if Trump were a great man of God sent to rescue America.

To the losers:
Please don't spend all day scaring each other.  Don't fear.  Don't say "#notmypresident".  Whether we like it our not Donald Trump will be OUR president for four years beginning in January.  We must honor the authority given him (Romans 13:1-7).  There is a lot of anger and name calling again today.  When will this stop?  Don't hate those who supported Trump in this election.

As Hillary Clinton said in her concession speech, "I hope that he will be a successful president for all Americans."

Also, please don't try to paint Trump into a Hitler.  Mr. Trump reflects a demagogue in many ways, but Hitler he is not.  He is better than you give him credit for and I am preaching to myself here.  There is no need to act as if Trump will be installing himself as a dictator because he isn't.

To both:
 Pray that Mr. Trump is worthy of his calling (Ephesians 4:1 out of context).  And work to be worthy of the greater calling we have (Ephesians 4:1-6)

As God said to the exiles in Babylon, "... seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile.  Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper."  Jeremiah 29:7
Mr. Trump's successes in office are now linked to our successes.  If Israel can do this for its captors then all of us can do this for our presidents.

God can and will use leaders as a balm for nations or as a dagger to nations.  Pray that Mr. Trump be used as a balm.

Finally, remember where your hope is found.  We must not despair because of an election and we must not get too high because of an election.  Our hope, to steal a line from an article in Christianity Today, is not in an elephant or a donkey, but in a lamb.  Today may feel like a great victory or a great defeat, but the cross is where our hope is and always will be found.

On this day after yesterday, regardless of who you pulled for, be Christ-like.  We must as the Church shine more brilliantly.   React to the big news of the day but react in a way that honors Christ today.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Why Patience Works

Today as I was reading Hebrews chapter 6 something jumped out at me.  Now, I've studied this passage before and wrote about the believer's need for solid foodwhat saving faith is and isn't, and about the abundant good news in this passage; but today one section jumped out at me more than ever before.

Why does our faith work?

My pastor has used the illustration of men walking on ice.  Do they need faith to walk on the ice?  Absolutely.  But does their amount of faith keep them from falling through?  Absolutely not.  The thickness of the ice keeps them from falling through.  Our faith is the same way.  The amount of faith isn't near as important as what or who our faith is in.

Why does our patience work?

We are often left waiting for things.  God has left us waiting on many things.  So much of the Gospel is here but not yet.  We are waiting and waiting patiently, but what makes our patience worth it?

Let's look at the life of Abraham.

"When God made His promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater for Him to swear by, He swore by Himself, saying, 'I will surely bless you and give you many descendants.'  And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised."  Hebrews 6:13-15

Why did Abraham's patience work?

Well, if you know the story you know that Abraham's patience was as patient as we would think from a patriarch of the faith.  Abraham was promised descendants that would come through his wife Sarah.  So, Abraham waited patiently and stayed the course with Sarah even though she was very old, right?  Wrong.  Abraham took Sarah's servant Hagar and had a child with her that was not part of God's promise.  Abraham and Sarah weren't patient, in fact Sarah laughed at the idea of her getting pregnant.  Yet Sarah did conceive a son and through him, Isaac, a great nation was created.

So, why did Abraham's patience work if it was so not the definition of the word patience?

Abraham's patience worked because the one who made the promise always comes through.  God swore by Himself that He would do it and there is nothing more sure than that.  That, and that alone, is why Abraham's patience worked.

So, while we wait, and struggle to wait patiently, we must encourage ourselves by remembering who makes patience works.  God has given us many amazing promises and all will be kept because "it is impossible for God to lie."  Our receiving the goodness of the Lord has nothing to do with the quality of our patience.  Our receiving the goodness of the Lord has everything to do with the location of our patience.  If our waiting is in the Lord we have certainty.

This is not to say that God gives us everything we hope for, but it is without a question to say that God gives us everything He's promised.

Wait patiently on God because He never lies, He never fails and He always comes through.  Root your patience in our promise keeping God today.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Verses to Help Us Grieve Death

This has been a rough week in my community.  Death has reared its ugly head taking some young men.  Two young men died in a car crash Thursday and then Sunday morning one of the community's football coaches died in his sleep.

We aren't supposed to die.  It's not supposed to be this way, but with sin comes death to everyone.  Dealing with the aftermath of death is so hard.  

My pastor and I and one of our missionaries put together a list of verses to help us cope with the tragedies.  I will share some of them below.  Take time to read them, pray for others using them and be encouraged today.

"I remember my affliction and my wandering,
the bitterness and the gall.
I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.
Yet this I call to mind
and therefore have hope:

Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed,
for His compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, 'The LORD is my portion;
therefore I will wait for Him.

The LORD is good to those whose hope is in Him,
to the one who seeks Him."  Lamentations 3:19-26

"For men are not cast off
by the Lord forever.
Though He brings grief, He will show compassion,
so great is His unfailing love.
For He does not willingly bring affliction
or grief to the children of men." Lamentations 3:31-33

"Let him who walks in the dark,
who has not light,
trust in the name of the LORD
and rely on his God." Isaiah 50:10b

"I am still confident of this;
I will see the goodness of the LORD
in the land of the living.
Wait for the LORD;
be strong and take heart
and wait for the LORD." Psalm 27:13-14

"God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble." Psalm 46:1

"I lift up my eyes to the hills
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the LORD,
the Maker of heaven and earth." Psalm 121:1

He heals the brokenhearted
and binds up their wounds." Psalm 147:3

"Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are, yet was without sin.  Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need."  Hebrews 4:14-16

"Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope.  We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep with Him." 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14

"Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the LORD,
I will be joyful in God my Savior." Habakkuk 3:17-18

"The LORD your God is with you,
He is mighty to save.
He will take great delight in you,
He will quiet you with His love,
He will rejoice over you with singing." Zephaniah 3:17

"But now, this is what the LORD says
He who created you, O Jacob,
He who formed you, O Israel:
'Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze." Isaiah 43:1-2

"He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." Revelation 21:4

"The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit." Psalm 34:18

"The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,
because the LORD has appointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the LORD
for the display of His splendor." Isaiah 61:1-3

"Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Trust in God; trust also in me.  In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you.  I am going there to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am." John 14:1-3

"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!  In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope though the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead." 1 Peter 1:3

Monday, October 24, 2016

Jesus' Answered Prayer

"During the days of Jesus' life on earth, He offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the One who could save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverent submission." Hebrews 5:7

"He withdrew about a stone's throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, 'Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.'  An angel from heaven appeared to Him and strengthened Him.  And being in anguish, He prayed more earnestly, and His sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground."  Luke 22:41-44

The writer of Hebrews tells us that Jesus prayed with loud cries and tears to the One who could save Him from death and He was heard because of His reverent submission.  In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus prayed until His sweat was like blood.  The writer of Hebrews says that Jesus' prayer was heard, yet Jesus didn't get out of death on the cross.  Jesus had His prayer answered and He was crucified.

Many of us feel that God's answers to prayer get us what we want.

While Christine and I were trying to have a baby we prayed a lot.  We both prayed to the point of tears on multiple occasions.  Christine prayed fervently while recounting great promises of Scripture.  People would hear about our struggle and say things like "no good thing does He withhold from those whose walk is blameless" (Psalm 84:11)

Now Christine is pregnant and we are thrilled.  But is Christine pregnant because we prayed and God answered?

In part the answer is 'yes', of course because only God can make life.  It's yes because if infertility teaches us anything it's that you can do everything right and still not get pregnant.  So yes, Christine is pregnant and that is an answer to our prayers.  But what about others who pray and are more blameless than we are?  What about Jesus?  He was completely blameless and prayed so fervently that He began to sweat blood.  Why didn't He get the thing He asked for?  So, in part, the answer is 'no', she isn't pregnant because we asked and prayed really hard.

Prayer is a mystery.  God is sovereign and has the perfect plan.  He doesn't need us to ask nicely to decide to follow the perfect plan.  He doesn't sit on His throne and all the sudden go, "Wow, there's 200 people praying for this, I better do it."  YET, He is pleased when we pray.  YET, He has ordained that our prayers be a part of His perfect execution of His perfect plan.

So, we pray and we pray hard.  But we realize that sometimes our prayers are heard the way Jesus' prayer was heard.  If Jesus can have His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane answered the way it was, then brace yourself for the same thing.

Let's finish what the writer of Hebrews says about Jesus' prayer:

"During the days of Jesus' life on earth, He offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the One who could save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverent submission.  Although He was a Son, He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him."  Hebrews 5:7-9

Jesus prayed for relief from the cross and didn't get it.  Instead, Jesus got to be the source of all salvation.  If God doesn't answer your prayer the way you think He should, realize that He's got something better in mind to do to and through you.  You may never see it, but know that it's bigger and better than what you had in mind.

Pray fervently with confidence and know that God will do what's absolutely best today.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Work Hard to Rest

The book of Hebrews was written to racially Jewish Christians.  So, you would expect to find a lot of Old Testament references in the book, and you'd be right.  Let me share one from Hebrews chapter 4.

You may remember the story of the Exodus.  Moses was leading the Israelites from slavery to the Promised Land, a land flowing with milk and honey, a land of rest from slavery.  Moses and the people approached the Promised Land and so Moses sent spies into the land (Number 13).  The twelve spies went and came back with a report.  They said that the Promised Land was as good as promised, however all but Joshua and Caleb thought that the people in the land were too tough for the Israelites to defeat.  The people rebelled against Moses and wanted to go back to slavery in Egypt.  So, because of their unbelief God made them wander in the desert for forty years until that unbelieving generation died.  That unbelieving generation was not allowed to enter the Promised Land.

The writer of Hebrews reminds the readers of this story to make sure that they don't repeat their own history.  As George Santayana famously said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

"Therefore, since the promise of entering His rest still stands, let us be careful (*fear) that none of you be found to have fallen short of it.  For we also have had the Gospel preached to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard it did not combine it with faith."  Hebrews 4:1-2 (*'fear' added because practically only the NIV softens the language to 'be careful')

"Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience."  Hebrews 4:11

The Israelites of that unbelieving generation didn't enter the rest of the Promised Land because of unbelief.  Their inability to believe in God's promise kept them from enjoying God's promise.  The very same people that saw the 10 Plagues, the parting of the Red Sea, the pillar of fire and that ate the manna and quail from heaven failed to believe God could complete His promise.  The same God that had already defeated an army of the most powerful nation on earth was by their side, yet they lacked belief.

The Israelites lacked the belief necessary to enter the Promised Land and the writer of Hebrews warns us of the same thing.  Our unbelief can keep us from enjoying God's rest so we work hard to overcome unbelief in our life.

The same God who parted the Red Sea and raised Himself from the dead is by our side, yet we lack belief sometimes.

"...without faith it is impossible to please God..." Hebrews 11:6

We must work hard to maintain our faith.  We must work hard to enter God's rest.

Here's the good news.

First, the rest God offers us is so much more complete than the Promised Land.  The Promised Land was a prototype, if you will, for what is to come.  Our Promised Land is the New Heaven and New Earth.  Our Promised Land is a land of perfection where we can once again walk with God and live in eternal bliss.  This land of rest is more than worth any effort we need to make.

Second, the work of staying faithful is done with God's power not ours.  We must make an effort to stay faithful to Jesus, yes.  Staying faithful to Jesus is a community but it isn't something we do with our own power.  God gives us the mercy and grace to stay faithful to Him.  The saints will persevere but it won't be by sitting on their butts on the sideline.  We will stay believing Jesus like the Israelites could have stayed believing God, by going into battle sure of victory.

And when we find ourselves struggling to believe, and we will, let do as the writer of Hebrews encourages us to do:

"Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and grace to help us in our time of need."  Hebrews 4:16

Heaven is wonderful.  Entering God's rest is transcendent.  Let us work hard to enter that rest today.

Monday, October 10, 2016


Last year Christine and I bought our first house.

Having gone through the home buying process and now some of the minor home repairs that go along with being a homeowner we have found an interest in HGTV.  We especially enjoy House Hunters because we can relate to what the people on the show are going through.  A few years ago the idea of watching House Hunters seemed ridiculous, but now the only reason we don't watch is if we've seen that episode before.

Now, House Hunters can be annoying because of some of the silly things they say they want in a home, but we see on that show how much people care about a home that will be theirs.  When the home is yours and you are spending lots of money on it you want it to be a certain way.  You look at a wall and say, "We'll need to take this wall out" or you say to the kitchen, "Oh, that will have to be redone."

For that reason HGTV has a lot of remodeling shows.  We love watching people take a rather unremarkable home and renovate it into something beautiful.  This is why we watch shows like Fixer Uppers, Flip or Flop, Property Brothers and Love It or List It.  We enjoy watching the creativity of a designer beautify a space that really needs it.

Now remember this as we look at Hebrew 3:6.

"But Christ is faithful as a Son over God's house.  And we are His house, if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast."  Hebrews 3:6

The writer of Hebrews calls us God's house in this metaphor.  Earlier in Hebrews he/she said that we were part of God's family otherwise known as His house or household, but in this passage he/she is referring to a house like the building.

Jesus as our creator is the builder of the house and worthy of great honor because of that, but He's also entitled to repair the house.

Jesus is faithful as a Son over God's house.

When I rented a house HGTV didn't appeal to me at all, because as the renter I couldn't do any of those changes to the house that I saw on TV.  However, as Son over God's house and as heir of that house, Jesus has every right to make changes to the house.

Sin has made us dilapidated and we as God's house need to be ready for renovating, cleansing, repairing and beautifying on the inside and out.  Jesus will make His Father's house so much better than the best HGTV result.  And Jesus will do it because we are His family's house.  We are not some house to be flipped and sold to the highest bidder.  No, we were bought with a price and the owner now is going to fix us up so He can take residency in us.

"Jesus, replied, If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching.  My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him."  John 14:23

If you think the personalities and crews on HGTV are good, wait until you see what the Man on JCTV will do.  The one who made the universe does amazing work in home renovation.

We together are His house so hold on to your courage and the hope of which you boast today.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Jesus Is Our Unashamed Brother

Jesus is fully God and fully man.  I'm reading through the book of Hebrews and if you were to very simply summarize Hebrews chapter one you would say, "Jesus is God."  If you were to simply summarize chapter two you would say, "Jesus is a man."

Jesus being fully God and fully man has many implications but I want to focus on one in particular.

"In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering.  Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family.  So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers."  Hebrews 2:10-11

God the Father sent Jesus to bring many sons to glory.  This means that we who are Christians are sons and daughters of God Himself!  This is amazing.  If I am a son of God the Father that means that I am in line to receive everything from the Father that a son would expect to receive.  This is incredible.  God did so much more than save me from death.  God did so much more than save me from slavery to sin and what Hebrews calls "slavery by their fear of death."  God didn't just save me, He adopted me.

But wait, there's more.

Jesus is our brother... and He's not ashamed of us.

"Both the one who makes men holy (Jesus) and those who are made holy (us) are of the same family."  *Parenthesis added. 

Jesus and I are in the same family.  This is incredible.  This means that the same love that the Father has for Jesus He has for me.  This means the same thanksgiving feast the Father is preparing for Jesus is for me, too.

"So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers."

Jesus is not only my brother but He's cool with that.  He's not ashamed to have a weak punk like me for a brother.  And He's not ashamed to have you as a brother/sister either.

This begs the question: why am I ashamed of Jesus?

If Jesus isn't ashamed to be my brother, why am I ashamed of Him sometimes?  Jesus has every reason to be ashamed of being my brother; I mean, He had to die to cover for me.  But I have never and will never have a legitimate reason to be ashamed of brother Jesus.  Jesus has never and will never be anything other than awesome, yet I am at times ashamed.  I've worried that others will think less of me because of my love for my brother Jesus and that is shameful.  If Jesus can be unashamed to be my brother then I should be ecstatic to be His brother, especially since He died to enable the Father to adopt me.

The Gospel invites us into a privileged family.  As the old song says, "I'm so glad I'm a part of the family of God."  I'm blessed to have God as my Father, Jesus as my big brother and every Christian from every race, tribe and tongue as my brothers and sisters.

Thank God that Jesus is our unashamed brother today.

Monday, September 26, 2016

We Must Be Christocentric

In our culture today you won't get much backlash if you talk about God.

Some of you are thinking, "Yeah, right"  But stay with me.  Our culture has little problem with God, if fact, our culture accepts much talk about God.  However, bring Jesus into the conversation and you get a different reaction.

Jesus divides people.

"Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth.  I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.  For I have come to turn
'a man against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law
a man's enemies will be the members of his own household.'" Matthew 10:34-36

This does not mean that Jesus did not come to bring people from every race, tribe and tongue; but it does mean that the person of Jesus will divide people.

The church today must be Christocentric rather than Theocentric (Christ centered rather than God the Father centric).  Not because the person of the Son is more important than the other two persons of the Trinity, but because Jesus is what sets Christianity apart from every other religion in the world.

"In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, and through whom He made the universe.  The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of His being, sustaining all things by His powerful word..."  Hebrews 1: 1-3a

Jesus is God.  He is the EXACT representation of His being.  He IS the radiance of God's glory.

When we speak of God many will find common ground, or so they think, because "we all worship the same God."  But when we speak of Jesus we say that only a God who is Jesus is God.  All other gods are false.  This is highly offensive to the world, but absolutely essential to Christianity.  So, if someone says they worship the same God as you, ask them if Jesus is God.  If they say "No" then you are not worshipping the same God/god; they are worshipping a false god.

The book of Hebrews invites us to make Jesus supreme (because He is).  It invites us to hold fast to all that Jesus is.  We Christians must take up this call.  We must be Christocentric.

Take time to read Hebrews chapter one.  And as you speak of your faith speak of Jesus today.

Monday, September 12, 2016

The Glory of Infertility

Yesterday in church my pastor said something that landed on me like a ton of bricks.  My pastor is dealing with Crohn's Disease and he had a bad week.  Toward the end of his sermon on Matthew 5:11-16 he said, "I don't want to waste Crohn's."

That line was like an arrow to my heart.

My wife Christine and I have been trying since December of 2014 to have a baby.  Both of us are sick of waiting.  We've done multiple tests, taken drugs and done procedures, some of which she's written about before.  But here we are approaching two years later and nothing has changed.  And this situation is why what my pastor said bothered me in such a great way.

I don't want to waste infertility.

I don't want to waste infertility.  This MUST shine and glorify God.  If He is the light of the world and we are the light of the world then He must shine in us through infertility.  If everything works for my good and His glory then infertility must, too.

I don't want to waste infertility.

I can't let my experience be only grumbling.  Will we grumble to God about this?  Absolutely.  Where else can we go with our trouble?  But I refuse to only grumble about this.  Is infertility in and of itself a good thing?  I don't think so, but I know that God is up to something grand.

There must be glory in infertility.

I don't know how but I trust that when I look back on this it will be like flipping a cross stitch over from back to front.  I trust that God not only knows what He's doing but that what He's doing will be glorious.

I trust that if and when Christine gets pregnant it will be with OUR child planned for us from before creation.  I trust that when we adopt we will adopt OUR child planned for us from eternity before eternity.

I trust that God sees our tears, hears our groans and feels our pain YET loves us enough to give us only the best.  God is good all the time and all the time God is good.  I know this and hold on to this.

This doesn't mean we'll stop trying.  This doesn't mean each month's cruel negative announcement doesn't deeply hurt.  But this does mean that I don't want to look back at this period of infertility and realize I wasted it.  I, by the grace of God, will live, either in this life or the next, to experience the glory of our infertility.

I don't want to waste infertility.  Please pray that Christine and I won't waste it today.

* We feel no ill will toward you who are pregnant.  Please celebrate if you are.
* If you are dealing with infertility, know you aren't alone.  It's not something talked much about but 1 in 8 couples deal with it. 
* If you're experiencing infertility and can't find the ability to trust God in it most days, welcome to the club.  This post was written on one of my good days.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Going to Work With Dad- A Repost

Here's a post from four years ago.

Going to Work with Dad

A short story:

Today Tommy woke up excited.  Today he didn't have to go to school.

But that wasn't why he was excited.

Today Tommy woke up excited because he got to go to work with his dad.

Tommy's dad called the school secretary on Monday to tell her that Tommy would not be in class with Mrs. Meiers on Friday.  And today is Friday and Tommy is excited.

Tommy woke up excited and sprang out of bed.  Without his mother's nagging he shot up and went straight to the bathroom to shower.  After showering he brushed his teeth, without being begged to do it.  After brushing his teeth, Tommy put on his work clothes including the jeans with the carpenter's hook for his hammer.  Tommy was ready and excited to go to work.

When Tommy's dad got to the front door to leave he didn't have to yell for Tommy because Tommy was there with his shoes on and half a Pop Tart in his hand and the other half in his mouth.  Tommy was ready and excited to go to work.

So, Tommy and his dad walked out to the driveway where Tommy's dad's big F-250 truck awaited.  Tommy climbed into the passenger side which was no easy task for a young guy Tommy's size.  Tommy then quickly put on his seat belt and sat ready and excited to go work.

As Tommy and his dad drove to the worksite, Tommy looked out his window down at the little Prius and Civic next to them at the red light stop.  Tommy felt like a big man on his way to work.

Once they reached the worksite Tommy and his dad got out of the truck.  Tommy was ready and excited to work.  They went straight to work and Tommy's dad handed him a hammer, which Tommy promptly slid into the carpenter's hook in his jeans.  It was finally time for Tommy to do some real carpentry work.

Tommy's dad started several nails into the board and said, "Alright, I need you to finish hammering these nails into the board.  This is a very important job."

Tommy pulled his hammer out of his carpenter's hook in his jeans and approached the first nail.

"Clap" "Whack" "Clunk" "Whack" "Clap" "Dunk" "Dunk" "Dunk" "Whack" "Dink" "Whack"

Tommy's hammer hit the board just as many times as it hit the head of the nail and when it did hit the nail the nail bent to the side and Tommy had to straighten it and whack it again.  The board had little hammer halos surrounding the nail Tommy had just driven into it.

"Good work, buddy!" said Tommy's dad as he continued to keep a close eye on Tommy.

Tommy beamed.  He was ready and excited to keep working with dad.  And guess what?  Tommy's dad let him work with him all day.  And even as Tommy worked he was ready and excited to work with his dad again on another day.

Could Tommy's dad have gotten the work done faster without Tommy?  Did he need Tommy's help to get the job done?

We all know the answers to those questions, but to Tommy it doesn't matter because he got to go to work with his dad.

It's the same way with us and God.  He allows us to go to work with Him even though He could do it faster and better and even though He doesn't need us to get the job done.  The question is, are you ready and excited to go to work with Dad?

Be ready and excited to go to work with Dad today.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Pray for Your Pastor's Wife

The old saying says that, "behind every great man is a great woman."  I'll submit that behind every great married pastor is a great wife.  Being married is by no means a requirement for someone to be a great pastor, but if a pastor is married his having a good wife is very important.

As a church member and as the son of a pastor I know that pastors' wives face high expectations and low exaltations.  Let me give you three reasons that you should pray for your pastor's wife.

1) She Supports Him at His Lowest.

"... mourn with those who mourn."  Romans 12:15b

Few people exercise that command more than pastors.  Pastors are alerted to medical emergencies, church infightings, failing marriages, unfulfilled longings and much more on a monthly, weekly and daily basis.  Pastors often bring that sorrow home with them.  Pastors face immense pressure and spiritual combat.  LifeWay has reported that 1 in 4 pastors have struggled with mental illness.  The pastor's wife is there to support your pastor at his lowest.  In his struggle with sorrow she often preaches to him.  In his darkness her love often reflects the love of God to him like the moon reflects the sun.

2) She Sees Him at His Worst.

Your pastor is not perfect and no one knows that like your pastor's wife.  More Sunday mornings than you will ever know he has been a jerk to her at home and then she has sat and listened to him preach to her and the whole congregation.  The pastor's wife knows third only to the pastor himself and God  Himself the sins that best grip her husband's heart.  The humility she has to listen to what God is saying to her through the vessel that she uniquely knows the vast imperfections of is not a humility that is easily had.

3) She Sees You at Your Worst.

Pastor's wives get the experience of seeing congregants at their worst.  They have to know about that barbed e-mail you sent her husband and still treat you with respect and honor.  Much like pastors, elders or any church leader; pastor's wives get to see the sometimes ugly inner workings of church relationships and it can be difficult to see the beauty of the local church when the gunk creeps to the front of their minds.

Pastor's wives face high expectations and low exaltations to be sure.  She's many times unfairly expected to be a perfect wife, mother and all around great woman.  Yet those in the church too often forget to say thank you or too many don't know all the reasons to be thankful for them.  In fact, how many of you knew there was such a thing as Pastor's Wife Appreciation Month?  I didn't either.

So, let's pray for our pastor's wife (pastors' wives).  Let's lift her up in prayer and ask Christ Himself to encourage her.  And let's be an answer to our own prayers.  I encourage you to pray for your pastor's wife and to encourage them in some way.  You could send a card, get a small gift, have a conversation with her or send her a note, e-mail, text, etc.  However you do it, I ask that you let your pastor's wife know that you appreciate all that she does, seen and unseen, today.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Steeple Prayers

The Church is the bride of Christ.

"...Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to Himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless."  Ephesians 5:25b-27

The Church is the bride of Christ and we should treat her as such.

The Church, through the power of God, is also a major instrumental in bringing about change in the lives of individuals and nations.  We should treat her as such.

I firmly believe that one cannot reach Christian maturity without being a part, a.k.a. member, of a local church and loving the Church Universal.  Being a member of the church is so important and the local church is the way that we can effectively do that.  This post isn't about that, but here's a link to a post that is.

What I want to share today is a practical way to love the Church Universal.  When I say the Church Universal I mean every Christian in the world versus local church which is the local body of believers that has covenanted to love and serve one another and Christ.

We pass a lot of church buildings every day.  As you drive if you take notice you'll see a number of steeples.  Many times we fail to notice them; other times we notice them and think of all the reasons we're not a member of that church, we think of the theological differences, musical styles or dress codes that keep us from going into that church building on Sundays.  Often when we point out these differences in our minds or out loud to another we think we're mature because we just dissected all the reasons a "true Christian" wouldn't go there, when in fact we are being wildly immature and are picking apart the very bride of Christ.  We aren't more mature because we put down a local church, we are less mature and I'm guilty of doing this.

So, here is the practical way to practice love toward a small part of the Church Universal:  when you see a church building pray for that local church.  I call these Steeple Prayers.

Steeple prayers don't have to be long and complex, a sentence will do fine.  The complexity of a prayer doesn't make it effective, the One prayed to does.

Here's some examples of Steeple Prayers:

"God, I pray for the unity of Peace U.C.C.  Give them unity with you and with one another."

"Dear Lord, give Heritage Methodist. a love for your truth.  Let them hold on to it firmly."

"Heavenly Father, use St. Paul's Lutheran to reach the people of this town with the Gospel."

"God, please help the Vineyard understand how wide and long, high and deep is love of Christ for them."

"Dear Lord, strengthen the leaders of Riverwood to lead the church well.  May they grow in numbers and in depth of love for you."

"Lord, give St. John Lutheran the wisdom to know how to use the many gifts you've given them.  Make them effective in furthering your Kingdom in our community."

Steeple Prayers don't need to be complex, but I guarantee they will be effective.  God will answer your prayers for that local church in His infinite power wisdom and He, through your own prayers, will grow your love for the Church Universal in, as Al Roker says, your neck of the woods.  It is hard not to love and cheer for people you're praying for.

Do this for me, try Steeple Prayers for one week.  I promise that you'll be surprised by the number of church buildings you see and the way your excitement for the successes of the local churches around you will grow.  Who knows, after a week you may have a new powerful habit.

Offer Steeple Prayers with me this week and let's begin today.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Happy Anniversary, Christine

"He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the LORD." Proverbs 18:22

Today is our 3rd anniversary and I know this proverb to be true.

Christine is perhaps the most tangible demonstration of grace God has ever bestowed on me.  There are many times I look at her and am thankful for the favor I've received from the LORD.  There are many times when I think about what a good woman I have.

See, before I started dating Christine I wondered if what type of woman I would end up with.  I'd begin to wonder if I'd need to settle.  I thought I could either find a woman that was nice and fun but someone I was less than completely attracted to or I would find an attractive woman who was less than what I dreamed of in every other way.  Then I found Christine and was amazed that I didn't need to settle, in fact I got more than I ever wanted.  Christine is everything I ever wanted in a wife.

My wife is my definition of beauty.  She is so beautiful and I can't believe some times that someone that looks like she does loves me.  What's even more amazing is that I occasionally have to try to convince her that she's beautiful... I'm teaching her though.

My wife is a woman of incredible character.  To quote Jack Nicholson, Christine "you make me want to be a better man."  I am a more understanding and patient man because of Christine.  My wife pursues God with more effort than I ever have and that inspires me.

A year before I met Christine I wrote this and she's been an exact answer to this prayer:

"What I want is someone to hold my hand as we run toward Christ together.  I want a companion who will encourage me to run with more endurance and speed than I am now.  I want to pick up the pace every day as we run side-by-side."

Happy Anniversary, Christine.  We've only been married three years and we've not had a hard season yet, but know that I meant what I said on August 17, 2013: I will be here.  There will be tough days ahead I've been told, but I will always be here.  I will choose to love you for the rest of my life and when I find that difficult I will remind myself that "He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the LORD."  You are a gift of God with skin on and I cherish that.

Happy Anniversary, Christine.  And for the rest of you, thank you for your continued prayers, love and support.  May God bless you nearly as much as he's blessed me today.

Monday, August 8, 2016

You Say Goodbye, I Say Hello

I finally finished the book Heaven by Randy Alcorn.  It took me forever, not because it is a difficult read, but because I loved thinking and imagining Heaven after each chapter.  More than answering all of my questions about Heaven, which Alcorn did attempt to do, Heaven ignited my anticipation for the New Heaven and New Earth.  I highly recommend the book to anyone who wants a more Biblical understanding of Heaven or to one who has a Biblical understanding but wants their passion for it increased.

This isn't the tone of most of the book but let me share with you a short story that Alcorn shared in the second to last chapter.  This piece is variously attributed to Henry Scott Holland and Henry Van Dyke.

I'm standing on the seashore.  A ship at my side spreads her white sails to the morning breeze and starts for the blue ocean.  She's an object of beauty and strength and I stand and watch her until, at length, she hangs like a speck of white cloud just where the sea and the sky come down to mingle with each other.  Ant then I hear someone at my side saying, "There, she's gone."

Gone where?  Gone from my sight, that is all.  She is just as large in mast and hull and spar as she was when she left my side.  And just as able to bear her load of living freight to the place of destination.  Her diminished size is in me, not in her.

And just at the moment when someone at my side says, "There, she's gone," there are other eyes watching her coming, and there are other voices ready to take up the glad shout, Here she comes!"

And that is dying.

"If you read history, you will find that the Christians who did the most for the present world were just those who thought the most of the next."  C.S. Lewis.

So read the book if you'd like, but one way or another I invite you to be heavenly minded, I implore you to think about life and death in a Biblical way and let that Heavenly thinking affect your earthly life today.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Is Voting 3rd Party Wrong?

This presidential election we've been told that we must choose between the Republican Donald Trump and the Democrat Hillary Clinton.  For much of the nation that seems to be an untenable position to be in, but we've been told that that is our choice.  Many of us simply will vote for against one of them rather than for one of them.

But what about voting third party?

Well, voting third party for many feels like not voting and some have painted voting third party as part and parcel to voting for the candidate you despise most.  "A vote for third party is a vote for Hillary... a vote for a third party is a vote for Trump."

I am a Christian and a conservative who finds voting for Hillary a non-option based on my political and religious convictions.  I cannot vote for a person who promotes and defends abortion as she does and I disagree with her political ideology in many ways, hence I'm not a Democrat.  I also cannot vote for Trump even though I am a registered Republican.  I cannot support a man who is as morally deficient and untrustworthy as he is.  The man who is, as Ted Cruz said, a serial philanderer.  The man who owns strip clubs and brags about his sexual conquests and unfaithfulness in marriage in his books and on programs like the Howard Stern Show.

Christians Republicans, I can understand why you don't want to vote for Hillary Clinton.  What I can't understand is how we can vilify Bill Clinton for his adultery and lying and then claim that we can give Donald Trump our full support.  What I don't understand is why we give Mr. Trump so many passes that we would NEVER give a Democrat or even another Republican.  The only word that seems to explain it is hypocrisy.  The only way I can explain it is that we've bowed down to a golden elephant and disregarded our supposed moral values in the process.  Donald Trump is not only a flawed candidate; he is perhaps the most unfit candidate since George Wallace in 1968.

So, I cannot vote for Hillary or Donald.  But is voting third party acceptable?  Theologian Wayne Grudem says "no." He says voting for Donald Trump is a morally good choice and voting third party is therefore immoral.

I disagree with Dr. Grudem, but let's look further into that.

Has voting third party in the past worked, if our definition of worked is getting a third party elected?  The answer in the modern two party system is, no.  Have the voters of a third party succeeded in only getting the person they most disagreed with elected?  Yes.  In 1992 conservative voters cast a huge percentage (third party huge that is, 19%) for the Reform Party headed by Ross Perot and that led to Republican George H. W. Bush being defeated by Democrat Bill Clinton.  In 2000 liberal voters cast enough votes for Green Party candidate Ralph Nader to tip the scales in favor of Republican George W. Bush over Democrat Al Gore.  So, it would appear that voting third party backfires.

But what if voting third party wasn't simply about this election?

I believe that the candidate for the party I'm registered with is the worst candidate the Republicans have ever nominated.  We need to keep that in mind, because we aren't simply talking about conservatives that are less than pleased with their candidate and considering a third party.  We are talking about conservatives that are watching a man slam the family of a fallen soldier, make one racially charged comment after another, one who repeatedly offends women and has often used them as sex objects, one who mocks the service of a man like lifelong Republican and war hero John McCain and one who has a history of supporting partial birth abortion... to name only a few of his major flaws.

If the Republican Party moves from being the party of Lincoln to the party of Trump then I'm done.  I'm voting third party to send a message to the Republican Party.  I'm voting third party as a warning shot to the Republican Party.  When I registered Republican it wasn't a life sentence.  I have not nor will I pledge allegiance to a party, I've pledged allegiance to my God and because of that I cannot vote for Mr. Trump.  I will be voting for a third party candidate as an effort not to affect the next four years, but to affect the long-term political future for conservative people and all people across this nation.

I believe we should vote third party for the good of America's political future.  If we accept the prison of two choices no matter what, then Republicans and Democrats can continue to nominate candidates that we can only begrudgingly give our votes.  I say we vote third party, and that includes those of you disliking your choice on the other side, to say to the two major parties that we expect better.

This November please vote.  If you support Hillary or Donald then vote for them.  But if you cannot vote for them in good conscience then don't get guilted into not voting for a third party candidate.  Our civic responsibility is to vote, not to vote for one of two choices.  So, give a hard look and pray about who you should cast your vote for this election.

(Below are a few resources for thinking about this subject.)

Check out http://www.isidewith.com/political-quiz to find out who you might want to vote for.

Dr. Albert Mohler and Dr. Russell Moore's thoughts on why they can't vote for Trump.

My thoughts about the ideal conservative party as printed in the Cedar Rapids Gazette.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Removing Racist Logs

A black man working as a therapist at a group home watching an autistic man was shot by police in Florida while trying to get the autistic man back to the group home.  You can hear his story here.

This story hits home for a few reasons.  One is that my sister does a very similar thing as this man does.  And two is that this is yet another incident that fits into the surging storyline of blacks being treated unfairly by police.

I want to begin by saying a few things.  First, I am not anti-police at all.  I respect the men and women who put on bullet-proof vests daily in the service of their communities.  These men and women deserve respect and honor.  Secondly, the murder of police officers that we've seen lately is abhorrent. Thirdly, I am not going to claim to understand all that is going on in this storyline nor will I pretend to know all the answers.  There are a lot of factors conflating this issue from lack of respect for authority to blatant racism.  Policemen and women are generally honorable but the profession, like all professions is not free of sin.  And certainly not every black man shot by police has been an innocent victim, but more than a few have.

I believe that these situations are causing us to have a good discussion about racism.

Everyone seems to be offering their opinion about racism in this country.  For better or for worse, recently our dialog has been about black men getting shot by police, police getting shot by madmen or Pokemon Go (because we desire one meaningless topic in a dark world).

This discussion reminds me of a story told about the great Catholic writer G. K. Chesterton.  According to the story, the London Times ask influential authors to answer the question "What is wrong with the world today?"  A variety of answers were given but Chesterton is alleged to have responded, "Dear Sirs, I am.  Sincerely, G. K. Chesterton."

I feel that needs to be my response for who's responsible for the racism in the world today.

"You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye." Matthew 7:5

Of course, there needs to be actions taken on a grand scale to end racism in our world and specifically in our country, but I need to remove the racist log from my own eye.  See, I'm not a Klansman but I've got prejudices in my eye that must be removed.  For instance, ashamedly I admit that I react differently internally to a young white man walking by me in the dark with a hoodie on than I do a young black man in the same outfit.  I have prejudicial tendencies in my own heart that need to be extricated.  I need to mortify the sin in my own life first.  I hate that I have this sin in me and I must fight it to the death.

Gandhi famously said, "Be the change you wish to see in the world."  Too often we don't do this.  We instead take to removing the speck from our brother's eye while explaining away the log in ours.  This does not mean that we are to be OK with sin that exists outside of ourselves, but the first sin that needs to die is our own!  George W. Bush recently said in Dallas, "Too often we judge other groups by their worst examples while judging ourselves by our best intentions."

I long for a New Heaven and New Earth where racism is a memory and police work is a non-necessity in a sinless society.  I long for the day when Jesus eliminates all sin, but until then I must face the ugliness that exists in me and I must purge it from me.

Hate racism, remove the racist log from your own eye today.