Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Potter

Jeremiah 18
This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: "Go down to the potter's house, 
and there I will give you my message."

My brother Jeremy has recently entered the fascinating world of pottery making. Not having much money to start his venture he has basically built his wheel from scratch and also plans to build his own kiln. He is soaking up as much information as he can from our uncle Geoff who has been a professional potter for years. I am incredibly excited for him. There is something wonderful about seeing a person find "it." Perhaps this is it for Jeremy. Have you found your "it"? The "it" is that one thing you were made to do. I honestly don't know if more than half of us ever come close to discovering "it." There are people that don't believe in "it," but we'll avoid that rabbit trail today.

An interesting theological byproduct of this venture is that Jeremy sometimes gets called Jeremiah like the biblical prophet. Like my brother, Jeremiah learned a profound lesson about the sovereignty of God. He was sent to the house of a potter where he was given a clear illustration of the relationship God has to all things. "Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel." (vs6)

We are not Israel, and we aren't a nation either. We are the body of Christ--the community of faith. We have local responsibility to our congregation and universal responsibility to represent God to the world at large. However, what this text teaches us today is no less sobering. God will not abide sin forever, and the Church is not exempt (see Rev. 3). Divine justice must prevail. God is at work drawing all thing to the ends that serve his perfect purposes. His plans and his purposes are good (see 29:11), and his love endures forever (Ps. 136).

Question: If a prophet came into your life like Jeremiah did in Israel how would you receive him? When the truth of God is spoken into our lives we have two choices. We can either "follow the stubbornness of [our] evil hearts," (vs 12) or "reform [our] ways and [our] actions" (vs 11). Sadly, the prophets were seldom heeded in the scriptures. How much heartache they could have avoided none can tell, but we each should be careful to avoid stubbornness. Unyielding clay never reaches the art gallery.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


Matthew 4:23
 Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness among the people.

The Bible is full of stories of the miraculous from Creation to the Second Coming, From Noah's flood to Daniel in the Lion's Den to the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection. Jesus turned water to wine and of course we remember the story of Jonah and the big fish. To believers they are wonderful confirmation of the power of God, but to unbelievers they are labeled superstitious and silly.

What is a miracle?

During the 1980 Winter Olympics the USA Hockey team defeated the ridiculously favored Soviet team. This event became legendary with the voice of Al Michaels reverberating: "Do you believe in miracles?" From that point forward it has always been known as the Miracle on Ice. But miracles are not well defined as anything unexplainable that happens. That definition is largely the product of lazy thinking. 

Atheistic scientists chafe whenever they hear Christians and others talk about miracles because of two ideas. Firstly, they believe that there exists nothing outside of nature. (Notice how I said the word believe.) For these people things like  the mind and the soul are explained as merely the result of electrical impulses firing in the brain.
Secondly, they claim it is lazy to fill in the gaps of scientific knowledge with the miscellaneous category of miracles. Another way to say it would be that there are people who lazily shove everything that they cannot personally understand or explain into the category of miracles. I happen to believe that no one is all-knowing enough to make the first assertion, but I do sympathize with the second. 

The thinking Christian will be careful to avoid this God of the Gaps trap by not jumping to conclusions about unexplained phenomena. The Christian definition of a miracle is any God-ordained interruption or intervention in the laws of nature. Thus when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead in John 11 or traveled the Judean countryside healing the lame, the blind and the leprous people that crowded around him we can say with conviction "It's a miracle"! But, please, let us not have anyone throwing around the label "miracle" for winning the lottery or surviving an appendicitis. 

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A Lesson Learned while Snowboarding

2 Timothy 1:7

For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and self-discipline.

This last weekend Amy and I took the WBC youth group to Snow Camp in the Adirondack mountains. On Saturday we had a humbling experience snowboarding. I had never done it before and was convinced that I would have fun all the way up to the point of hitting a tree. If that happened, then it would cease to be fun, instantly. A couple of the boys had experience and gave us tips at breakfast, but we knew that the real learning would take place on the mountain itself.

There is something humorous about a thirty-two year old man learning how to skateboard (my adventure last year) and snowboard. Flexibility is no longer an accurate description of my movements and neither is graceful for that matter. But, I want to learn new things and shuffleboard is not exactly on my radar yet. So, off we went crashing, sliding, and tumbling our way down the slope while five and six year olds went whizzing by at embarrassing speeds.

What struck me afterward-other than the pain of crashing-was a thought that translates to the rest of life. The best way to learn is by trying. Yes, classroom instruction and telephone advice are good, but nothing teaches like the slopes. What strikes me is how true this is in relationship to the life of a Christian--especially the ones who stand at the top of ministry hills and wonder if they have the proper knowledge of the Bible or the proper grasp of communication to talk to people about the faith. But, the truth is that you have to strap on and start going down at some point. And not surprisingly, that's when the real education begins.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Heroes of the Faith: C.S. Lewis

Psalm 16:11

When Walden Entertainment (Disney) started filming for the Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, there was an increased interest in the author of the famous book series by the same name. Now, it seems most people have heard of C.S. Lewis, but not many know the man himself. I do not have the space here to give a full picture of his remarkable life. My aim is to whet the appetites of as many as possible to read his biography.*

Clive Staples Lewis was born in Belfast, Ireland on the 29th of November, 1898. He had a very active imagination and a love for literature. He was sent to a prep school in England because of respiratory problems in 1911 and stayed till 1913. It was during his stay at Malvern College that Lewis abandoned any faith in God.

After serving as an officer in WWI, he returned to studying and joined Oxford and having earned degrees he lectured in literature and philosophy. It was through the influence of his friends at a tight knit group called the Inklings (including JRR Tolkin - author of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy) in 1929 that he "gave in and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed..." He became a Christian two years later.

Jack (the name he was called by his closest friends) wrote many books worth reading on many subjects having a profound influence on all who would call themselves apologists today. His works include Mere Christianity, The Screwtape Letters, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Space Trilogy, and The Great Divorce to name a few.

Time does not allow me to tell of his touching marriage to Joy Gresham who died of cancer at the age of 45 in 1960. His book A Grief Observed was written afterward and remains a powerful perspective on suffering.

Throughout his life, C.S. Lewis remained a wonderful paradox between the imaginative wonder we attribute to children and the grown-up professor. He wrote about this quality in Mere Christianity saying, "God wants a child's heart and a grown-up's head." Perhaps this man, known by some as "the Narnian," knew something we need to learn. He was a man of profound intellect and learning, yet was down to earth and engaging. It reminds me of Psalm 16:11 "You (God) have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand."

* The best biography I've run across (and there are many) is Jack by George Sayer

Note: The picture source is

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Heroes of the Faith: Dietrich Bonhoeffer

DB was born in 1906 to German parents in Breslau. He lived a remarkable life at a very accelerated pace. He became a pastor and theologian by the age of 24 and as a great realist quickly understood the dangers his homeland faced. He courageously spoke out against National Socialism as a brutal attempt to create an empire without God and to found it on the strength of man alone.

As a pastor of two German churches in England he felt it his duty to return to Germany and support the Christians there. In a Memoir by G. Leibholz, Bonhoeffer is quoted as saying, "I shall have no right to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share in the trials of this time with my people...Christians in Germany will face the terrible alternative of either willing the defeat of their nation in order that Christian civilization may survive, or willing the victory of their nation and thereby destroying our civilization. I know which of these alternatives I must choose; but I cannot make this choice in security."

Shortly after making these comments he returned to Germany and joined the underground resistance teaching theology and encouraging the downtrodden.  He was arrested on April 5th, 1943 and soon won the friendship of many guards at the prison. They helped smuggle many of his writings to people on the outside. His book "Letters and Papers from Prison" is regarded a Christian classic.

One of the last messages ever received from him before his death was written at the Gestapo prison in Berlin during very heavy air raids. It was entitled "New Year 1945," and was composed of seven verses. Here is verse five:

   To-day, let candles shed their radiant greeting;
   lo, on our darkness are they not thy light,
   leading us haply to our longed-for meeting?
   Thou canst illuminate e'en our darkest night.

Words like this are powerful reminders that doing the right thing can come with a seemingly heavy price tag. But there are some like Deitrich Bonhoeffer who understood that dying is the only way to life. He said, "When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die." For most of us here in the freedom of the USA this means something different than it did in 1945. Peter explained it as "dying to self" and it is the true cost of discipleship.

  "When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when suffered he made no threats.
  Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the 
  tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed." 
  (1 Peter 2:23-24)

Monday, February 15, 2010

Daddy, Are you Speeding?

Ephesians 4:15

The other day I was driving toward the mall on route 571. My family was with me and Andrew asked from behind me, "Daddy, are you speeding?" I looked down at the gauge and had a decision to make.

This particular road has a 50 mph speed limit for a stretch that drops to 40 mph without a very noticeable difference. I happened to be following traffic and was in the 40 mph zone...going 50. What should I say? Should I tell him that the police don't really travel this road much and therefore we would not get caught? Should I slow down and pretend he didn't ask me till I was going 40? Should I tell him that I'm daddy and he has no right to ask me such questions? Or what about this one, "You'll understand when you're older."

Andrew is seven and quite perceptive. He watches me every day. He knows when I'm sincere and when I'm not. Instantly visions of the future flashed in my mind. I could see Andrew coming home with his first speeding ticket and connecting the dots all the way back to route 571. So, I swallowed and said, "Andrew, I was speeding and I shouldn't have been. I need to be more careful. Thanks for asking."

It occurs to me that the oft repeated biblical phrase, "speak the truth in love," refers not just to confronting people because I love. Sometimes it means admitting the truth because I love them. I'm not comfortable saying this, but if I want my son to become a good man I had better show him how a good man acts.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Pray for Eyes to See

Matthew 9:36

To be like Jesus is to see differently. Paul said that those who belong to Christ "no longer see people from a worldly point of view." (2 Cor. 5:16) I've been thinking, if we saw the world with Jesus' eyes what attitude would we have and what would we do?

In Matthew 9 it tells us that, "Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news...[and] when he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd" (vs 35-36). If we see with Jesus' eyes we will be known for compassion. Our focus will be outward; aiming on meeting needs like soul care and the basics of life. But, how shall we know where to apply this compassion? We don't have God's ability to see into the soul of those we've never met, or to lay our hands on the eyes of the blind and heal. But, through prayer for others God opens our eyes to see from his perspective.

Nate Saint*, the great missionary martyr (pictured right) had a powerful set of eyes. He longed that more of us could see better. He said, "When we weigh the future and seek the will of God, may we be as moved with compassion as our Lord."

Lord, please give me your eyes to see! I want to see the crowds like Jesus did. I want to see their faces and the souls behind their eyes. I want to "desire mercy, not sacrifice," like you do (Mt. 9:13). I want to be an agent of compassion (vs 38).

*Note: the book "Jungle Pilot" is a very worthwhile read from the WBC library. It tells Nate's story.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The World have I hid in my Heart?

Balance. One of the most difficult challenges facing Christians is how to be in the world, but not of the world.  We are called to be ambassadors (2 Cor. 5), and salt and light (Mt. 5), but how do we do that without becoming "of the world"?

I see that some people realize how hard the balance is and decide to err on the side of caution--much caution. Church statisticians tell us that most believers have no meaningful relationships with nonbelievers after five years in the Church. It is quite possible for Christians these days to spend the rest of their lives in a subculture of Christian everything--from t-shirts to rap music. How do they justify this in light of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19ff)? Perhaps we think our checks to missionaries and a "Jesus loves you" bumper sticker is all our part need be. Jesus wouldn't have used the metaphor of salt if that was all  he meant. Salt has to make contact with food to serve its intended purpose. It is no accident that the gospel is best communicated through relationships.

On the other extreme, there are those who think we need to blend in like chameleons. I used to go to church with a lady who was trying to have a ministry to inner city kids. She felt the need to "help" me understand youth ministry one day by explaining how she went about her mission. She would go downtown and attract these kids by talking their talk. Indeed, she said they listened to her because she swore worse than they did. Can any of us picture Jesus doing this?

Jesus knew how hard it would be for his followers and prayed that the Father would "protect them from the evil one" (Jn. 17:15). He didn't want them removed from the world, but he didn't want them becoming like the world either. Fascinating to me is what he prayed for after he made this request. He asked that He "set them apart by the truth." What is the truth? "Your word is truth," he clarified. (vs. 17).

We ought to take from this interaction a profound commitment to the Bible. What sets us apart is the truth and claiming to know the truth is not popular today. The truth for all mankind is in the Word of God. Only when we are set apart through washing and renewing and saturating our minds can we be in the world and not of the world. Remember that powerful verse from Psalm 119 "Your word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin against you."

Let us not hide the world in our hearts. Let us hide the Word in our hearts. Let us shine the light, pray for each other and encourage each other as we interact with those outside the subculture.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Andrew Murray on Intercession

James 5:16 
Pray for each other.

To intercede in prayer for someone is of profound importance. It is arguably the highest act of love in any relationship. Yet, do we know how to go to God on behalf of others? I believe we really need to get better at this. For example, if I told you in the hall of the church to please pray for so and so, what would your reaction be? My guess is that if I asked ten people to pray for the same individual nine of them would ask, "Why, what's wrong with them?" What they really mean when they say this is, "What physical ailment do they have?" I fear we need to learn much about the practice of intercession.

Today I want to step aside and let one of the classic authors tell it better than I can. Andrew Murray wrote some of the most clearly practical works on prayer that we have in the English language. Indeed, he wrote more than 240 books as a South African pastor and missionary in the 19th century. Here is his understanding of intercession:

"There is value in intercession. It is an indispensable part of prayer. It strengthens our love and faith in what God can do, and it brings blessing and salvation to others. Prayer should be mainly for others, not for ourselves alone. Begin by praying for those near and dear to us, those with whom we live, that we may be of help to them and not a hindrance.
Pray for your friends and all with whom you come into contact. Pray for all Christians, especially for ministers and those in responsible positions.
Pray for those who do not yet know the Lord as their Savior. Make a list of the names of those God has laid upon your heart and pray for their conversion...Pray, too, for all poor and neglected ones. Pray for mission work. Use a mission calendar with daily subjects of prayer. 
Do you think this will take too much time? Just think what an inconceivable blessing it is to help others through your prayers. Look to the Holy Spirit for further guidance. If morning is not the best time for you, schedule another time later in the day. Cultivate the attitude: 'I am saved to serve.'"

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Prayers and Doubt

James 1:6-8
Do you ever spend time trying to convince yourself that you believe? You alternate between doubt and faith, doubt and faith, back and forth ad nauseum and getting nowhere. If faith is a boat in a sea of doubt I've had my share of motion sickness.  Thankfully there have been men like C.S. Lewis, Josh McDowell, Ravi Zacharias and Tim Keller who have helped me find the intellectual justification for my faith. However, there are often times when I cannot seem to feel what my mind accepts as true. 

Asking questions is good. In fact, those that live by the principle "ignorance is bliss" must be very careful to walk around with their eyes closed, humming with their fingers in their ears. This ultimately spells faith disaster in my experience.  However, for those on the outside of Christianity looking in things are different. Questioning seems to be the religion of a large segment of society. For these people claiming to know something is a form of snobbery that ought not be tolerated. Funny, they know you can't know. There's some thick irony there!

But, in my day to day existence, I pray. And, I must come to grips with the balance between faith and doubt because doubt is a prayer killer. James says,
"But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways." 
Are there not people who reject the notion of a loving God because he has not "answered" their prayers? To make belief contingent upon a positive answer will never work. Why? because faith must precede the positive answer.For those are waiting to believe until God answers their request, whatever it may be, they will eventually give up. The problem is not God. The problem is with their understanding of prayer.

Do you believe when you pray?

Monday, February 08, 2010

Did God not Hear?

James 4:2b-3

Once there was a boy who lived on the same street as a kind and generous man. The boy, whose name was Timmy, loved to ride his bicycle up and down the street under the shade of leafy maples in summer. Timmy had an unusual ability for his age-he could focus his attention on a goal he had for the future. He aspired to be number one in his class upon graduation and he bent all his thoughts toward this goal which, in fact, was really just a means to a greater end--a career in politics!

Timmy knew that if he wanted to catch the eye of the scholarship writers he had to not only have a robust academic record, he would also have to show a long list of charitable deeds done for the betterment of his community and the world. It was about this time that word came across the sea of an orphanage in need, and Timmy, having his radar up for all such news, formulated his plan to raise money for these destitute children.

The first person Timmy thought to approach was the kind and generous man that lived down the street. He peddled down the bumpy sidewalk and practiced his speech till he arrived. Mr. Lewis was home and Timmy was invited in. Timmy sat down opposite his neighbor and poured out his plea for the orphanage. Mr. Lewis was moved enough to make a $1000 donation to Timmy's cause, but knowing the boy and his plans, he provided one condition: Timmy was not to write down his involvement with the orphanage on any application.

The boy was offended. "How dare Mr. Lewis judge my motives!" he said. "This is a worthy cause. Why does it matter why I want to do it? He has the money and the children need it. It is his duty to give to projects such as this. Mr. Lewis must not be the generous, loving and kind man that I took him for. Either that or he really is poor and powerless to answer the way he aught. And what of my career? Is it not a noble one? Yes, I want to be noticed. Yes, I want my name in the papers. But, if  I'm accomplishing good in the process everyone wins, don't they?"

Timmy left in a huff without the money and told all his acquaintances that Mr. Lewis was really a crotchety old man who didn't really care about less fortunate people.

"You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures." 

Friday, February 05, 2010

An old Tennis Ball

Colossians 1:17

He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.    -Paul

When I got home at 4:30 yesterday afternoon I took Andrew outside to gather sticks and logs for the fire. The orange sun setting across Bowker Field cast a glow on the bare trees and leaf strewn yard. After rotating the older wood to the left side of the pile we filled two aluminum wash tubs with cherry and maple. During this process we uncovered an old tennis ball. Andrew exclaimed, "Daddy, let's play catch!" I woke up in that moment.

Occasionally, we Americans have moments of sense where time slows down just enough for us to catch something real. In my case a longing for simplicity rushed into my soul. The cares and plans, the strategies and problems, all seemed to be chased away in the elemental activity we then began. In those few moments life was reduced from all its complexity down to a man, his boy and a ball we found by chance.

But, my theology and my experience prevent me from believing in randomness. It stands to reason that God, who knows how many hairs are on my head and senses when any bird falls to the earth (Mt. 10:29-31) is not just involved in the big newsworthy events. No, even the finding of a tennis ball is woven into the fabric of my life by the Grand Weaver (to borrow a term from Ravi Zacharaias). Have you ever stopped to wonder about things like this?

Trace this with me for a moment. By God's design, a tennis ball was ordained to give a mind weary man an opportunity to find simplicity. Therefore, the means by which the ball came to rest under the leaves was also the design of God. If we trace it back to the beginning and then work our way to the present it might go something like this: The tennis ball, molded in some country across the ocean, came to the U.S. by boat. The boat was most likely unloaded in Baltimore or New York. The ball, packaged with two others like it, was driven by truck to some store like Modell's, purchased by either a tennis player or a dog lover, taken to the park by my house, picked up by one of my children sometime last summer and misplaced. It was then forgotten until February fourth at 4:45pm in the year 2010. And to think the ball may have been made years ago and recently pulled out from under a couch!

Truly, the power to bring about this kind of intricate detail is awe inspiring. Who but God could do this? My response is like that of Job who said, "Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know." (v. 42:3)

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Favorite Praise Song

Psalm 149:1 
Praise the LORD. Sing to the LORD a new song, his praise in the assembly of the saints.
Music is powerful. None of us deny it. It can lift us up when we are down. It can make us think. It acts as a vehicle to carry information. Praise songs have become incredibly popular in Christian culture, and there are some that think this is a bad thing and others who think it's wonderful. I think some praise music is silly, but there is a level of depth and personalization to the best praise songs that you won't find in your hymnal.

Do you have a favorite praise song? If so, drop a few lines of it into a reply and send it back. I'll get the ball rolling with mine. BTW-Tomorrow I'll ask about your favorite hymn.

Mighty to Save (Hillsongs)

vs 2
So take me as You find me
All my fears and failures
Fill my life again
I give my life to follow
Everything I believe in
Now I surrender

Savior, He can move a mountain
My God is mighty to save
He is mighty to save
Forever, Author of salvation
He rose and conquered the grave
Jesus conquered the grave

I love the themes of humility and redemption, of dependence and adoration.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

I Dare you to Trust My God

Hebrews 10:23
I worked on a project with my grandfather the last time we went to Colorado as a family. When I presented him with my idea for a wooden box for our mantle he liked the idea so much that he selected one of his choicest pieces of maple for the task. It would be just a little too shallow for a facial tissue box to hide, but definitely long and wide enough. The box would serve as a memorial of God's faithfulness to our family containing pictures, letters and a notebook to record accounts of "God moments."

The project took all week. I loved watching him use his skill and wished I had some of the knowledge he had. One of the decisions we had to make was on the styling of the Bible verse on the front. I had selected Hebrews 10:23 as the reference, but it seemed like a difficult cut. My grandfather asked if another verse would do, but I was reluctant to give it up. He asked what the verse said and I quoted it for him, "Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful." He agreed that there could be no other verse.

My aim is to teach my children by example that I'm willing to wager everything I've got for the promises of God. This means giving when I don't think I have enough; this means going when I don't think I can go; serving when I don't think I can serve; and believing when I don't think I can believe. Yes we must be wise. Yes we must count the cost. Yes we must be shrewd. But, I'm convinced we really haven't felt the weight of faith until we've heard a few people tell us we're crazy.

Who do you trust? What foundation lies under your faith? We all have faith in something. I'll place my faith in God. I dare you to do the same.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Encouragement for those who Read the Soils Series

Ephesians 2:8-9
If you read any of my post from the last week you may have come away a little anxious. For some that may be a good thing. But, on the whole, we need to remember the principle of grace. Nobody has ever deserved God's grace. Nobody has been smart or wise enough; nobody has been good enough. Remember this: It is not how many good works you do that makes you pleasing to God. It has more to do with your heart attitude than anything else. If you boil down the four soils from Luke 8:1-8, you will find that the root problem of each of the three poor soils is control which is the outworking of pride.
Keep this in mind: boasting and grace are incompatible (James 4:6).