Sunday, December 30, 2012

"...ought never to complain."

The other day I read an essay written in 1702 by Wilhelmus a` Brakel, a Dutch pastor, who was writing about God’s acting through His free grace in bringing people to saving faith in Christ, and the consequent ways in which this faith might show itself in their lives.  Late in the essay a pair of sentences just jumped off the page at me.  They said, “Persevere in seeking the Lord.  And friends, let me add that he who can pray ought never to complain.”
By way of context a` Brakel was writing about the Lord’s directing a believer’s path.  In some cases God’s love may be clearly evident in a person’s life.  But there may also be times when it may please the Lord to lead in a way of darkness.  The story of Job comes to mind as an example of the latter, where Job went through a very difficult and challenging time, a time that was ultimately to God’s glory as Job remained faithful to God.  This is an example of the dark places at which a` Brakel commends perseverance in faith and trust in God.
The phrase of a` Brakel that continues to stick in my mind is “he who can pray ought never to complain.”  According to an online dictionary “to complain” means: “to express dissatisfaction, pain, uneasiness, censure, resentment, or grief; find fault; to tell of one's pains, ailments; or to make a formal accusation.”  By the reasoning of the world Job was easily justified in making complaint to God over his circumstances.
By a` Brakel’s reasoning, if a person can pray then complaint should be removed as an option when their circumstances aren't to their liking.  My human mind wants to rebel at this suggestion.  It wants to keep the option of complaint alive.  It wants to keep the option of complaint inside my toolbox so I can use it as I see fit.  But a` Brakel is wise in suggesting that I discard complaint.  The only reason he gives is that we have available the option of prayer, and that reason alone is more than sufficient.
In Hebrews 4:14-16 we have a biblical rationale for resting in prayer,

"Since then we have a great high priest who was passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.  For we do not have a priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.  Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

 There is a lot of injustice in the world that we will never fully understand this side of heaven.  There are often things going on in my life that I just don’t get, things that I would much rather turn out a different way. 
God’s Word in Hebrews reminds us that Jesus has already experienced everything that we can imagine of the brokenness in the world and in our lives, at least as we see them from our vantage point.  But we don’t have God’s vantage point.
What we do have is Jesus, to whom we can turn, in prayer, knowing that we will always receive His grace and mercy.  And His grace and mercy are infinitely more satisfying than anything that could come from a complaint.

  Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. 

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Book Review: In Remembrance of Him by Guilemus Saldenus and Wilhemus a`Brakel

The phrase “In remembrance of Him” is one that is intimately connected with the Christian sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.  It is frequently used in the worship liturgy and it is written onto the front of many altars and tables in church sanctuaries.  But what does it mean to “remember” Christ when we feast at His table?  Answering that question is the goal of the two essays in the book In Remembrance of Him: Profiting from the Lord’s Supper, by Guilemus Saldenus and Wilhemus a`Brakel (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2012). 

As might be guessed from their names, Saldenus and a`Brakel are not exactly 21st century authors.  They are two pastors/theologians who were active in the Netherlands in the 17th century.  And despite the passage of time, what they have written here has much to say to strengthen and enrich the practice of the Lord’s Supper today.  Saldenus focuses on the efficacy of the Lord’s Supper, first addressing the comfort found at the Lord’s Table and then the way in which taking the Supper nurtures the Christian’s sanctification.  a’Brakel writes in three parts, dealing with the issues of preparation, celebration of, and reflection on, the Supper, followed by a meditation on how the sovereign work of God’s grace is active in the Supper.

I thought that the writing of both authors was filled with relevance for today’s church.  While they both write from a place that theologically is deeply within the Reformed tradition, they powerfully invite Christians of any tradition to consider more fully what a biblically-grounded view of the Supper entails.  Fallowing are examples from each author.

Saldenus, writing on the theme of sanctification and how taking the Supper can lead to a greater abhorrence of personal sin, concludes a very rich paragraph with these words: “It communicates that it is according to God’s will that precisely that body and blood which is set before you in the Lord’s Supper is ordained to be the atonement for your sin.  And if this is true for the least sinful thought, we cannot begin to fathom how utterly abominable and accursed the entire mass of our sins must be.”  (63-4)

a`Brakel, writing on the nature of reflection after partaking of the Supper includes this advice: “We should first of all attentively and calmly reflect upon the steadfastness and immutability of the covenant of grace, and upon all its promises that have been sealed to us by means of the Lord’s Supper, such as forgiveness of sins, comfort, sanctification, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  Additional promises pertain to God’s preservation of believers in the state of grace, as well as to the eternal salvation in heaven that shall be their portion after life.” (108-9)

I found a lot to take from these authors and only a small bit that seemed to me to be less relevant.  The less relevant writing was primarily where they addressed the matter of taking the Supper unworthily, which was a real issue for the early Protestant church as it reformed practices that had been a part of the Roman Catholic tradition.  Yet even in the way they dealt with this issue they did so in a manner that can deepen the way we prepare and approach the Lord’s Table today. 

In sum I highly commend this book to pastors, elders, professors and Sunday school teachers who want to learn more about the powerful way God touches people at His Table and then bring what they have learned to the people they minister among.  And I recommend it to the lay person who wants to deepen their own understanding of the way God touches them through this sacrament, a sacrament that always points to God and His covenantal promises.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Inexpressible Joy

This morning, during worship at our church, our family read aloud the Advent reading and lit the fourth candle on the Advent wreath, the candle for joy.  We had been provided with the reading a few days ago and we looked it over with our daughter, who chose the last sentence as the one she would read.  She is a kindergartner and just learning to read.  The sentence she chose was the last one, which said, “And we are filled with inexpressible and glorious joy.” 

Inexpressible is a mouthful of a word, particularly if the one reading it is on the cusp of being six years-old.  Preparing our daughter to read this sentence in church had two parts.  The first part was teaching her to say the word.  My wife helped her break it into syllables and it didn’t take her too long for her to teach our daughter to be able to say the word clearly. 

But what does ‘inexpressible’ mean, particularly in reference to Jesus’ birth, to a six year-old?  We did the best we could to help her understand it.  A sense of joy that is so great that we can’t really say how excited we are about it.  The birth of Jesus makes us so happy that we can’t even say how happy we are.  The paradox of ‘inexpressible joy’ is that it’s such a marvelously good thing that it is a really hard concept to grasp and explain. 

This last sentence of the Advent reading was derived from 1 Peter 1:8-9, which says:

“Though you have not seen him, you love him.  Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

We have joy, inexpressible and glorious, not simply because of Jesus’ birth, but because of the reason for His birth, the salvation that comes to those who believe in Him. 

On Christmas we remember that God broke into the world in a powerful and unique way.  He arrived, in human flesh, so that through the means of His departure, as the crucified one bearing the punishment for human sin, those who believe in Him would be reconciled with God and receive the salvation of their souls. 

This Christmas may you know the inexpressible and glorious joy that is only found in Jesus.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Friday, December 21, 2012


“That’s how I roll.” 

Have you ever heard that phrase?  I’ve heard it a few times recently.  I used to work with someone and it was one his trademark sayings, something you could count on frequently showing up in conversations with him, often in an amusing way.

“That’s how I roll” is used in reference to the way a person ordinarily does things.  It means “Other people may do something different but this is how I act in this situation. End of story.”

Yesterday I was talking with a person, someone who is going through some adversity, and his very good friend.  During the course of the conversation the friend mentioned that the reason he was there and helping as best he could was “Because that’s how God rolls.”

Whoa!  That changed the direction of our conversation a little bit.  He wasn’t present because he was a good friend, or a loyal friend, and therefore being present was the noble thing to do.  He was there because he was a Christian and as a consequence of his faith he lived his life according to certain values.   Values determined by God.  So he was present to his friend because that was what God was calling him to do. 

As I thought about this the Bible verses that came to mind was Isaiah 55:8-9,

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
   neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
 For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
   so are my ways higher than your ways
   and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

These verses come in the midst of chapter 55, where Isaiah talks about the compassion that God has for his people.  It was a privilege for me to see God’s compassion being lived out in a human friendship, one where both friends knew who the Author of their friendship really was.

And pondering this brings to mind some current things going on in my life and my family where I am attempting to act not according to my “natural” instincts but in a manner more in agreement with the one I call my Lord and Savior. 

Because that’s how God rolls. 

I know that I am best off rolling His way rather than my own.  Where is He calling you to roll with Him?

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Book Review: With Heart and Mouth: An Exposition of the Belgic Confession by Daniel R. Hyde

A number of statements of faith came out of the Protestant Reformation during 16th and 17th centuries, statements that described what constituted belief by a particular group in contrast to the Roman Catholic Church and other groups .  Many of these statements, both catechisms and confessions, were so well-written that they continue to be held as basic statements of faith today.  The Belgic Confession is one of these enduring statements, and it is affirmed by several denominations that identify themselves as theologically Reformed, including the Reformed Church in America and the Christian Reformed Church.

The Belgic Confession was written by Guy de Bres in 1561.  De Bres was a pastor in the Netherlands who had previously studied in Geneva under John Calvin.  De Bres’ intent was to provide a systematic statement of belief, one that demonstrated that orthodox Protestant belief, particularly the theology we know today as Reformed, was thoroughly biblical and consistent with the belief system of the early church, and of no threat to the government.  De Bres may have failed in his intended purpose, for he was martyred in 1567, a victim of the persecution he was seeking to end, but the confession he wrote continues to speak vibrantly today.   Teaching the 21st century church the relevance of a 16th century confession is the purpose that underlies With Heart and Mouth: An Exposition of the Belgic Confession by Daniel R. Hyde (Grandville, MI: Reformed Fellowship, Inc., 2008).

Hyde takes a systematic, step-by-step approach in his discussion of the Confession.  He provides an introduction to the setting, theologically and politically, that led to its writing, and he then goes through each of the Confession’s 37 Articles.  De Bres organized his writing well, outlining in turn doctrines of God, Man, Christ, Salvation, the Church, and the End.  As he explains each Article Hyde demonstrates its grounding in history and its continued relevance to the church today.  Time and again Hyde shows how the questions and problems facing the church in the 16th century are questions and problems that we seek to answer again today. 

One example is in the discussion of Article 14.  De Bres wrote a brief yet thorough and biblically-based statement regarding the creation, fall and corruption of man.  Hyde then explains how de Bres’ words remain relevant today, how despite the passing of over four centuries of theology, philosophy and psychology, we have the same desire to understand the world and our place in it.  Hyde shows that the Confession points the Christian to this conclusion: “So - Who am I?  Where did I come from? Where am I going? This is our message to the world – that we were made in the image of God but have shattered ourselves into a thousand pieces by the fall and our actual sins.  Yet in Christ we have been remade, and a day is coming in which we shall be completely remade and restored.” (194)

In addition to thoroughly discussing each Article of the Confession Hyde has included several study questions with each Article, questions that deepen the reader’s understanding and which may also be used to shape a small group or class undertaking a study of the Confession.

In With Heart and Mind Hyde has taken what many people may consider to be a rather black-and-white topic, a somewhat little-known 16th century confession of Christian faith, and presented it in full color.  I highly commend it to anyone who seeks to understand Christian faith in a robust way, both for their own spiritual growth and as they witness to faith in Christ in the places where they live.  

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Be Still My Soul

Yesterday, while we were driving home from Milwaukee, we learned of the tragedy that occurred in elementary school in Newton, Connecticut.  We were enjoying the morning together, heading home following a week of caring for my mother.  We were a mom, a dad, and a kindergarten-age daughter enjoying a sunny day, remarking on what a good traveler our daughter has become.  And at the very same time there were many parents of similar aged children experiencing the unfolding of something so horrible as to be beyond imagination or comprehension.  I don’t have words that can speak to the pain of this tragedy.

Our practice at bedtime is to read from the Bible with our daughter and then to pray with her.  After the prayer one of us stays with her and sings to her.  We take turns.  We used to hold her and rock her as we sang but now she lies in bed.  Last night it was my turn. 

I sang one song and then I did something that I haven’t done since she was too big to rock.  I hummed a melody.  I hummed the melody known as Finlandia, by Jean Sibelius.  It is the only melody I’ve ever hummed with her.

There are several hymns that use that melody and after tucking her in I looked up the lyrics to the one I am most familiar with, Be Still My Soul, by Kathrina von Schlegel.  Here are those lyrics and I offer them as a prayer to the parents and other people who have been directly impacted by this tragedy. 

Be still, my soul: the Lord is on thy side.
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain.
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In every change, He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul: thy best, thy heav’nly Friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

Be still, my soul: thy God doth undertake
To guide the future, as He has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul: the waves and winds still know
His voice Who ruled them while He dwelt below.

Be still, my soul: when dearest friends depart,
And all is darkened in the vale of tears,
Then shalt thou better know His love, His heart,
Who comes to soothe thy sorrow and thy fears.
Be still, my soul: thy Jesus can repay
From His own fullness all He takes away.

Be still, my soul: the hour is hast’ning on
When we shall be forever with the Lord.
When disappointment, grief, and fear are gone,
Sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul: when change and tears are past
All safe and blessed we shall meet at last.

Be still, my soul: begin the song of praise
On earth, believing, to Thy Lord on high;
Acknowledge Him in all thy words and ways,
So shall He view thee with a well-pleased eye.
Be still, my soul: the Sun of life divine
Through passing clouds shall but more brightly shine.

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever. Amen.” 
Ephesians 3:20-21

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Now what? Going Home, part 6

This journey concerning my mom, our family and our travel with her while she is on hospice is going places I never would have anticipated when it began.  She went to the hospital late one day, was critically ill overnight the second day, and had a test that revealed something very seriously wrong on the third day.  There was one treatment option, a large surgery that carried very significant risks.  She declined the surgery and chose to come home with hospice care. 

Earlier this week I learned from my brother that the surgeon expected that her body would fail in 2 to 8 days.  Today is her 25th day at home. 

The day that she came home I slept in her room and her breathing was so labored that I wouldn’t have been surprised if she had died overnight.  And there were two other nights in those first two weeks where I went to bed with the same sense of anticipation, thinking it to be as likely as not that she would die overnight. 

I have been back with her now for six days and things are very stable.  Her breathing is normal, in the sense that it is regular and quiet, so that I don’t have a constant awareness of it.  Her pain is improved to the point that her use of pain medication, which at its highest was much less than what was permitted for her, is currently at zero.  Her last pain medication was 18 hours ago. 

She is still quite tired, napping frequently during the day.  She isn’t eating much but she is eating what she wants, when she wants to, so that in regard to rest and nutrition she is getting what her needs met her way.

I spoke with the coordinator of her care through the hospice agency and they are of the opinion that her precipitating medical condition has, unexpectedly, stabilized.  Her overall physical condition continues to qualify her for hospice care.  The nurse will make daily phone calls but likely be checking on her personally less often than she has over the past three weeks.

When our mother came home from the hospital my siblings and I put together a plan for one, and often more, of us to be with her all of the time.  That has worked well to this point but one of the “Now what?” questions for us is how do we continue to care for our mom, whose death does no longer seems imminent but who will still require 24 hour supervision and assistance? 

These last 25 days have been at times arduous and wrenching on my siblings and our families.  They have tested our relationships with each other, and speaking for myself, have strengthened them. 

This has also been a rich time for me to be present with my mom.  I think that I will always treasure the memories of being with her during this period of her life.  The sheer number of days with her has been a gift.

And this has been a rich time for my mom to visit with friends and family.  It has been a privilege to be present and to hear their stories.  

 I am not certain what is coming next in this journey with our mother, but I do know Who to ground myself in as we seek to find our way.  I join with the Psalmist in saying:

“Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you.  Show me the way I should go, for to you I left up my soul.” Psalm 143:8 NIV

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Christ, our righteousness

The book I am currently reading is With Heart and Mind: An Exposition of the Belgic Confession by Daniel R. Hyde.  The Belgic Confession is one of a number of Protestant confessions, or basic statements of belief, that came out during the Reformation.  The confessions were attempts to articulate what various Protestant groups believed, particularly in contrast to the beliefs held by the dominant Christian group, the Roman Catholic Church.  Two other major confessions are the Augsburg and Westminster, from the Lutheran and Reformed branches of Protestantism.  The Belgic, Augsburg and Westminster Confessions were so comprehensive and clearly written that they are all still held up as statements of faith today.

I could say more about the Belgic Confession and the rich, powerful story that underlies it, but that will wait for another post and/or the book review when I finish my reading.  Tonight I want to talk just a bit about something powerful I read today.

As Hyde explains Article 23 he talks about the negative and positive aspects that come for the person who has faith in Christ. 

Negative benefits to faith?  That took a bit for me to understand, but it was really quite simple.  Negative is in the sense that the believer loses something.  And what the believer loses is his/her sin and the consequent condemnation that the Bible teaches all sinners are due.  In receiving forgiveness the Christian has lost the thing that they will be eternally glad to be rid of.  That is the kind of loss we should rejoice in…often!

So then the positive aspect of faith must be forgiveness, right?  Well that could seem to be the case but Hyde shows us that the positive aspect is so much more.

The first sentence of Article 23 says, “We believe that our salvation consists in the remission of our sins for Jesus Christ’s sake, and that therein our righteousness before God is implied; as David and Paul teach us, declaring this to be the blessedness of man that God imputes righteousness to him apart from works.”

God “…imputes righteousness...”  Imputes means that God gives something to believers, and specifically this means that God gives righteousness to believers.  We are not merely cleansed of our sin but we are clothed in righteousness, the righteousness of Christ. 

Hyde explains, “In his wisdom and goodness, our heavenly Father not only completely forgave all our sins but replaced them with something: the righteousness of Jesus Christ.” (306)

He then says, “Our blessedness is founded on the truth that every single acceptable, good, holy and righteous work that Christ did during his life was imputed to us,” adding “In fact, Christ’s entire life of obedience to God and his law; every single moment he lived in which he loved God with his whole heart, soul, mind, and strength and his neighbor as himself in thought word, and deed; and every single moment he lived in which he hated sin, is imputed to our account and reckoned as if we ourselves had done the work.  Since Christ’s merit is infinite, we have an infinite holiness, righteousness, and goodness before God.” (308)

In his second letter to the church at Corinth Paul wrote:

“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”  2 Corinthians 6:14

I don’t know about you but as I ponder the image of God viewing me not as I may think of myself before Him, a sinner saved by grace, someone wholly undeserving of God’s mercy, but as someone washed clean of sin and clothed with every good and perfect work of Christ…well, that image is too powerful for me to truly grasp.  It is a vision that leaves me breathless. 

While I can’t really grasp the fullness of being clothed in the righteousness of Christ it is an image that brings forth from my heart and mouth thanks and praise to God, the God who alone could do something so wonderful for me and for all who would call on Him in faith. 

May you know this gift of righteousness as well, a gift that is perfect in every way and one that will endure forever.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

“This Jesus…is the Christ.”

It is a quiet morning at my Mom’s house.  My brother-in-law stayed the night and left for the day at 7:30.  Mom was up about 6:30 but by 8 she was lying on the couch, asleep.  So here I am, with my Bible, some coffee and my computer.  If you haven’t read my blog before, or recently, here is the most recent installment of the story about my mom.

This morning I read Acts 17 and 18.  In my Bible the book is titled The Acts of the Apostles, which it rightly is, but I tend to think of it more often as The Acts of the Holy Spirit, because the presence of the Spirit permeates everything that takes place in the book. 

These two chapters are rich in describing the activity of the Holy Spirit as Paul and his companions travel through Greece.  One of the verses that jumped out at me this morning was Acts 17:3.  Paul had spent three Sabbaths at the synagogue, using the scriptures of the Old Testament as he taught about Jesus.  The verse concludes with Paul saying,

“This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.”

Just yesterday I saw a news story where a prominent public person stated that Christianity was not a religion, but a philosophy.  He made this claim, clearly and deliberately, at least twice in the interview segment that I saw so there can hardly be the chance that he misspoke or was misquoted.  And it seems a bit ironic that I read Acts 17 this morning, because verses 16-34 describe Paul’s visit to Athens, where his teaching was given publicly to the leading philosophers of the day, many of whom received it as just one interesting idea among many.

But Paul brought all of the teaching regarding Jesus together with one definitive claim, one that we still need to be mindful of again and again.  “This Jesus…is the Christ.”

Jesus is not just a good teacher, someone who tossed some new twists on the best ways to live in the world, reminding us that we should all work to get along with each other, at home and throughout the world. 

Jesus is not a philosopher presenting another system for us to understand the world and our place in it, such as the Stoics and Epicureans of Paul’s day or the Existentialists of a more recent time.

Jesus is the Christ.  He is the long-awaited Messiah of the Jews.  The One anointed by God.  The promised and expected Deliverer of God’s people.

Jesus doesn’t come to just teach us about God but to do the one thing that we most certainly can’t do, which is to bridge the gap between a fallen humanity and a holy God. 

I am thankful this morning that “This Jesus…is the Christ” and that I can pray to God knowing that amidst the brokenness in which I continue to live that I am also held closely by God’s Anointed.  And my prayer of thanks to Him includes the request that He holds you too.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

“How’s your mom?” Going Home, part 5

“How’s your mom?”  That is a question I have heard numerous times since I last saw her, four days ago.  Nearly everyone who has asked it already knows something of her situation. 

Some asking the question know only that she is not well.  That she has been in the hospital a few times recently and is now at home.  And others who ask know enough of the fuller story.  They know enough that they don’t expect an answer such as “She’s coming along” or “She’s doing fine.”  She may be doing both of those things, but not in the ways that most people would understand those answers to suggest.

I usually start my response by noting that she is slowly failing.  Then I add that she is at home, where she wants to be.  Her pain is being managed.  As best as she can she enjoys the people who visit her.  The person asking and I are usually gently nodding our heads at this point, understanding what these statements mean without having to say any more.

My siblings and I are taking turns caring for her at home.  We are doing so with excellent support from Horizon Home Care and Hospice.  After being away for four days I am back now for a five-day shift.  One of my brothers, who lives nearby, will be checking in and giving occasional relief during my stay.

Our mom is visibly weaker today than when I saw her last, and at that point she was weaker than when she came home from the hospital and began hospice care.  Tonight I learned that her physician anticipated that at that time she would likely live no more than 8 days.  In what has now been nearly three weeks there have been three nights where I slept in her room and she seemed to be having so much trouble breathing that I thought the night could easily be her last. 

I sometimes wonder what is keeping her alive.  Is there any particular reason her failing body has not exhausted itself?  It can’t be because of a tenacious inner desire to live as long as possible.  If that were the case she would not have declined the surgery she was offered.  She would have accepted the risks inherent in it and gone forward. 

It also seems very unlikely that she is “waiting” for a last visit from a particular person.  The people dearest to her, living both far and near, have all been to see her since beginning hospice. 

“Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there were none of them.”

I can speculate on the “reasons” my mom is sleeping in her bedroom right now, rather than resting in the eternal grasp of her Lord and Savior.  But all of my speculation doesn’t change the fact that all of her days, even this one, were known by God before a single one of them came to be.  He has His reasons, and as I care for my mom on this visit I do so knowing that His reasons are always best. 

“How’s your mom?”  “She’s fine.  She’s resting for the journey home.”

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Random Thoughts: Going Home, part 4

If you are new to this story this is the short version: My mom has been home and receiving hospice care for the last 10 days or so, with her various children staying with her.  Here are the links to part 1, part 2 and part 3

It is Thursday morning and I have been back with her since Tuesday evening.  She is gradually declining.  Today is a better day, although that is a very relative term in these circumstances.  Yesterday she slept virtually the entire day.  Today she is awake and we are having some conversation fragments.  They are fragments because she is driving the conversation, so to speak.  We talk when she wants to, about what she wants to, changing topics as she wants to.  So my reflections this morning have a bit of a random feel to them.

I have been following a one-year Bible reading plan and today’s section was Ecclesiastes 7 and 8.  As I was preparing to read I was hoping that God would have something that would speak clearly to me this morning, something that would give me just what I needed to hear. I wasn’t sure what I needed to hear, but my inner voice was skeptical that it would be in Ecclesiastes.  I figured that after reading the assigned text I would turn to read something more familiar and dearer to my heart.  But God is a God of surprises and this morning’s surprise took a bit of time to unfold.

The first past was Ecclesiastes 7:26:

“And I find something more bitter than death; the woman whose heart is snares and nets, and whose hands are fetters.  He who pleases God escapes her, but the sinner is taken by her.”

That verse reminded me of being a sinner and the tenacious grasp of sin in my life.  And while this verse suggests that resisting the allure of the things that draw me away from God is my responsibility, the fuller message of the Bible is that God has already won the battle.  The redemption any Christian receives is not through their own effort but only through the work of Jesus on their behalf.  That is truly Good News!

Which led to another random thought.  As I was looking at some things online I came across a link to this blog post on the Gospel Coalition website.  After scrolling through the pictures of grooms as they get a glimpse of their bride on their wedding day there are a few well-written paragraphs about the wedding of the Bride and Groom in heaven, the wedding day that the best in earthly weddings point towards.  Jared Wilson writes:

“For Christ and his Bride will have this moment of rapturous wedding joy for all eternity. The Lamb will receive the reward of his suffering, and of his love — the infinite worshipful devotion of his spotless bride.”

As I sit with my mom the words of Ecclesiastes and Wilson connect.  I, and all Christians, will continue to wrestle with sin, seeking the forgiveness of a Lord who is infinitely rich in mercy, and trusting in his unfailing promises. 

And I wrestle knowing that the best days lie ahead.  The battle has been won and the eternal union that Christians will know with Him will be glorious in ways that we can barely imagine.  Indeed, the very best is yet to come.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Book review: The Creedal Imperative by Carl R. Trueman

Are the creeds and confessions of the Christian church a thing of history, a thing of the past era in which they were created, and now essentially archaic and anachronistic in our day?  Or are they something different?  Are they statements of faith that were deliberately crafted to speak to the church at a particular time in its history and still speaking to it authoritatively today?  Carl R. Trueman, writing in The Creedal Imperative (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), answers the latter question with a resounding ‘Yes!’

Trueman’s target persona, as he writes, is the pastor standing in front of his congregation, open Bible held overhead, declaring “I hold to no creed except the Bible!”  That may be the target as he writes, but what he writes is instructive for the church at large, including someone such as myself, who belongs to a denomination that holds to several creeds and confessions, something that I’m glad that we do. 

He begins by addressing the cultural concerns of modern evangelicalism against creeds, laying out the case that to declare “no creed” is to implicitly declare a creed.  Following this are chapters addressing the foundation of creedalism in the post-apostolic church; a brief review of the classic Protestant confessions found within the Anglican, Lutheran, Reformed and Baptist branches of the Protestant tree; a discussion of the aspect of praise that confessions bring to worship; and a final chapter on the multiple ways in which the classic creeds and confessions continue to strengthen the church today.

One of the things I was taught by through this book was how the early creeds that emerged from the ecumenical councils, specifically the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds, and the Apostles Creed, to a lesser extent, each came about as aspects of Christian belief were worked out by the church at large.  As the church wrestled with the idea of Jesus being fully divine, they then had to understand how he could be both fully human and divine simultaneously.  These aspects of doctrine, and things such as the Trinity, are not specifically addressed by the Bible so the creeds, and the latter confessions, helped the church understand the connections and subsequent implications of things that the Bible suggests but does not clarify.  Trueman states several times that while creeds and confessions establish the boundaries of what is orthodox belief, and what is not, they do so only under the guidance of Scripture.

Another gift of this book is the reminder of the ways in which the creeds and confessions glorify God.  In using them purposefully in worship we not only are taught solid doctrine but also collectively participate with the church past and present in bringing glory to God.

In the conclusion Trueman responds to the hypothetical, ‘Bible only’ believing pastor (and Trueman and I both know these are not merely hypothetical persons) thusly: “It seems to me that, in the absence of any credible alternatives, creeds and confessions are imperatives for the church that takes the Bible seriously, not optional extras and certainly not something that can be decried as sinful, wrong, or unbiblical.” (188) 

And this leads to his statement that “Creeds and confessions at their best present the church with beautiful summaries of biblical teaching, which are designed not simply to preserve the faith but also to be part of the very life of the worshipping community.” (189)

Carl Trueman has written a compact book on a topic that the modern church needs to hear and put into practice.  I highly commend this book to anyone looking to strengthen their own faith, the worship life of their church, and consequently, the church eternal.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Birthdays: Going Home, part 3

My mom’s birthday is tomorrow.  After work I’ll be heading down to spend a few days with her.  I expect that I will arrive after she has gone to bed.  Too late to wish her a “Happy birthday!”, at least in person, and I think I will just stay away from putting those two words together at all.  In the current circumstances they just don’t seem to fit.

What makes for a ‘happy birthday’ when you are receiving hospice care and gradually declining?  At this point is it necessary that any one particular day on a calendar be made more significant than any other day?  She may be having a 78th birthday but it is virtually certain that there won’t be another one, something that nearly everyone involved with her is aware of.

Suffice to say, getting a card for her this year was more challenging than usual.  I have never done the “You’re the sweetest mom ever” kind of cards, partly because I remember all too well that I haven’t always been the most wonderful son.  I usually go for humor, but that doesn’t seem quite right either.  And no matter what kind of card a person gets, the celebration of one birthday subtly points to celebrating the next one, and we all know that this road is approaching its final bend. 

To this point I have been thinking and writing about birthdays in purely human terms, but as a Christian there is an entirely different way to consider them.  For the Christian the end of this earthly life is also the moment of passing into eternal life with Christ Jesus.  My mom’s earthly birthday, likely her last, is near, but a moment of infinitely greater importance is approaching over the horizon.

It goes without saying that I have known my mom all my life, and in that time I have seen her faith in Jesus acted out in many different ways.  She grew up in the Lutheran church, was baptized as a child and confirmed as a teen.  She was a mom who took her children to church, had them baptized, took them to vacation Bible school and sat through their own confirmations.  And she has been through a long period of life where her faith, as observed by me and as best as I can tell, has been dormant.  While in the past 10+ years my own faith has become more vibrant and the central way to understand who I am, I am uncertain where my mom’s faith is at present, and consequently of where she stands before the Lord. 

Does my mom believe in God as made known through Jesus, or not?  That is my great question.  Last night I awakened many times, and each time I said a prayer for my mom, that God would relieve her pain and give her peace, and that in His timing He would be gracious and call her to be home with Him. 

Romans 10 says some significant things about the nature of saving faith, particularly in verse 9, where Paul writes:

“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

Within my own faith tradition, which is Protestant and of the Reformed variety, the Fifth Point of Doctrine of the Canons of Dort teaches that those once saved by God will be held fast by Him until the end of human time and into eternity.  By way of analogy, an apple tree that no longer bears fruit remains an apple tree. 

My mom professed faith in Jesus at the time of her confirmation, believing that He was raised from the dead, meeting the standard of believing faith set by Romans 10:9.  These two points are also professed every time one recites the Apostles Creed, a faith statement which is widely used by the Christian church. 

I have no idea how God is at work inside my mom right now but I also have no doubt that He is able to be at work in her, whether I can discern visible fruit or not.  As I pray for her tonight I can do so confidently, knowing my mom is held by the promise of Philippians 1:6:

“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” 

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Saturday, November 24, 2012


One day earlier this week I woke up in the middle of the night with a song rumbling about in my mind.  It was Forever, by Chris Tomlin.  The part I kept ‘hearing’ was a line that repeats throughout the verses, “His love endures forever.”  In the manner of call-and-response the song says something about God’s nature, the ‘call,’ followed by ‘His love endures forever,’ the response. 

I don’t know the story about how Tomlin came to write this song but I do know of a Psalm that has this very pattern within it, including the affirmation of God’s enduring love.  Psalm 118 opens powerfully, repeating “His steadfast love endures forever” four times in its first four verses. 

With the song in my mind I opened my Bible to read Psalm 118, where verse 14 seemed to jump off the page at me.  It says:

“The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.”

This verse contains some very basic truths to it, but they are truths that I need to be reminded of frequently. 

The Lord, made known to me in the person of Christ Jesus, present within me by the power of the Holy Spirit, is the true source of my strength in the world and the place of my deepest joy.  The wonderful and marvelous ways in which I know joy in daily life, ranging from the more ordinary experiences, such as finishing a good workout this morning, to the more exquisitely delightful ones, like hugging my wife or one of our children, have within them the ability to point me towards the more perfect joy to be known in Christ. 

Best of all, the last part of verse 14 reminds me that my salvation is the work of Christ, and not through anything I’ve done.  My salvation is in no way dependent on my effort.  I didn’t have to earn it.  I don’t have to ‘work hard enough’ or ‘be good enough’ to keep it.  It has been given to me, a free gift flowing from God’s gracious hand.  A gift that He guarantees, time and again in the Bible, and that he reminds me of in diverse and delightful ways. 

“His steadfast love endures forever.”

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Book Review: Gospel-Powered Parenting, by William P. Farley

Raising children is a complicated business, one with no sure-fire route to success, however the parent or the culture define success.  Amazon carries about 100,000 titles on the subject, with the subset of Christian parenting accounting for nearly 8% of them.  One only needs to look at the recent election cycle to see that issues of families remain at the forefront in many states, and to a lesser extent nationwide. 

As a parent with nearly 30 years of experience and one child, a kindergartner, remaining at home I still have questions about how to raise my children well.  Answering those questions is at the heart Gospel-Powered Parenting: How the Gospel Shapes and Transforms Parenting, by William P. Farley (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2009).

Farley’s approach is a bit different than most parenting books, as is clear from his title.  Rather than presenting a particular developmental theory or a how-to manual to address specific behaviors, he grounds his approach in the bedrock of Christian belief, which is that through the death-and resurrection of Jesus the world is fundamentally a different place to live for those who call on Jesus in faith.  Because of whom Jesus is and what Jesus did, everything the Christian does is affected, and perhaps nothing more so than parenting.

Farley believes that the parent’s primary focus in raising their children should not be on behavior modification or developing productive members of society, but on developing the heart of each child to embrace the Good News of Jesus.  That means that focusing on the heart of the child to know deeply and personally the love of Jesus for them, the work that Jesus did for them, is the goal of parenting throughout each stage of the child’s life.  We should parent in the present, but always with one eye on eternity, working to guide our children towards a heavenly destination.

Farley believes strongly that fathers are vital in shaping the lives of their children.  As a pastor he knows full well that there are many families where fathers are absent, or where they just plain do a poor job.  However, recognizing that the presentation of the Bible is families led by fathers, some of whom he admits are pretty poor role models, he holds up the model of a two-parent family, led by the father, as the best model to emulate whenever it is possible.  He spends several chapters talking about the ways in which God is presented as a father figure in the Bible and how those images can shape the leadership given to families by modern fathers.

A corollary to a strong father in parenting is for the father and mother to jointly model the Gospel within their marriage.  This does not mean that he advocates things like blind submission, as may be found in a caricature of a Christian marriage, but he encourages couples to look at their roles in marriage as being complementary to each other.  He notes how clearly children can sniff out hypocrisy in marriages where God is followed on Sunday but ignored during the remainder of the week.  A child’s heart is drawn to God when the child sees God at work on a daily basis in the life of his or her parents.

Farley has written an organized and focused approach to parenting, one which I find much that I agree with.  His writing is easy-to-read and it is evident that he has read widely.  His recommendations are not just from his own experience or observations but are synthesized with the perspective of many other Christian pastors, counselors and theologians. 

One area where I had persistent disagreement with his suggestions was in the area of discipline, where he seemed to suggest that in certain stages of a child’s life that immediate corporal punishment was the proper, perhaps even the only, appropriate way to change behavior.  My opposition to this approach is two-fold. 

First, in my own experience, with my older children as well as the youngest, was that time-out can be used to very good effect.  The root meaning of discipline is “to teach,” which can be done in more ways than just punishment.  Secondly, the notion that all infractions must be punished, as a part of teaching a child obedience, which embracing the Gospel calls all Christians towards, denies a fundamental truth of the Gospel, which is that every sin a Christian commits is not punished directly.  The sin is indeed punished, but the punishment is not born by the Christian but by their Lord and Savior, Christ Jesus.   

I recommend Farley’s book, particularly with its emphasis on shaping the heart as the primary goal of parenting.  Read it, read your Bible alongside it, and perhaps read some of his references as well.  Children are indeed a gift from the Lord and perhaps our greatest way of receiving that gift is to shape the child to pursue and embrace their Creator.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Welcome Home: Going Home, part 2

Last night I wrote a first installment about my mom and the journey we are on with her as she has gone on hospice.  I think it will be an irregular topic, under the title of Going Home.  Part 1 is here.  I had no idea that the next chapter would come so soon.

My siblings and I grew up in the 60’s and 70’s.  There are five of us and we range in age from 51 to 59.  We know what the stereotypical family should look like because there were frequent images of it on display in the culture at the time.  We also know that the stereotypical family is rare.  In that case we are very normal, because there were many events in our growing up and subsequent lives that don’t fit into any stereotyped ideals. 

At this particular time we are a mixed bunch relationally.  Including our parents there are four living generations, with a very complex structure of who is close to who, who talks to who, who doesn't talk to who.  And it goes on.  The structure is endlessly complex, unique to our family but perhaps not very different from what is present in many families.  And complex relationships are not unique to our place in time.  The book of Genesis, read as a narrative story, is a broad survey of both healthy and dysfunctional relationships. (Disclaimer – Genesis is much more than a narrative of human relationships.  Send me a note if want someone to read it with you to see the power, majesty and purpose of God in it.)

Long story short, in the past two days I have been able to reconnect with someone who has lived a very long time outside of direct contact with almost every one of us.  And not just myself but several of us have connected with this person, and I have had the opportunity to share their story, as I know it, with several others, casting a few more strands onto the complex, perhaps web-like, structure of our family. 

I have been able to hear this person’s story and to share some of my own.  I don’t need to know all of their details.  I am just glad to have had the conversation.  And I hope there will be more conversations.  And maybe one day a face-to-face reunion.

The story of someone coming back to our family brings to mind the story in Luke 15:11-32, the Parable of the Prodigal Son, particularly the part where the son is welcomed home unconditionally and with great enthusiasm by the father. 

Dealing with my mom’s approaching death is something that we are all processing in differing ways.  I never would have anticipated that as we anticipate a loss that we would also be celebrating a return.  As Thanksgiving approaches among the things I am thankful for is the way  God is at work.  He is bringing people in our family home, in a relational sense, a movement towards home that points us to the unconditional and enthusiastic “Welcome home!” awaiting His children in heaven.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Going home, part 1

While it is said that “No one gets out alive,” from life on this earth, that is, some of us are palpably closer to death than others.  It is something that I know from my work at the hospital, where on an irregular basis I find myself working with people who die while in the hospital or shortly after leaving.  Right now it is a reality that I’m being reminded of in a more personal way.

My father-in-law has a slowly progressing cancer.  Day-to-day he looks much the same, so that when I see him in person I rarely think of his illness.  I do remember it daily during the prayer time my wife and I share, as we pray for our parents.  I know that one day, barring some other unforeseen event, the cancer will take him from us.

My mother’s life is reminding me of life’s end in a different way.  She had been in her normal health until some things happened in September that resulted in two brief hospital stays, followed by two weeks of rehabilitation.  At the end of those two weeks she was clearly stronger physically than I had seen her all year.

The trips to the hospital had provided us with some information about her health, but also with a lot of questions.  Vague diagnoses with vague prognoses.  As a family we got her back to her condo and took turns checking in on her. 

Then things changed.  An unforeseen event.  Similar symptoms but also different symptoms.  Another trip to the hospital.  An acute crisis, some tests, improvement, new diagnosis.  New prognosis.  And a new word for our family…hospice.

On Sunday my mom got out of the hospital and back to her condo.  She wants to die at home.  Between the excellent care and support of the hospice agency and some of my mom’s friends, and the cooperation of my siblings and our spouses, we intend to support her in that desire.   

As I write this the first full day at home is drawing to an end, and it has been a good day.  Mom was physically better and in the afternoon we spent a lot of time looking at old pictures.  And when that began to wind down there were two sets of visitors, two couples that my mom has known for decades.  More stories, more memories.

One of those couples included a retired Lutheran pastor, and he brought the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.  An eclectic gathering of believers seated around a table.  Catholic, Lutheran and Reformed.  A Jewish observer.  For me it wasn’t a time to think about the things that divide us, but a time to look forward to the promise that we were being so tangibly reminded of as we took of the Bread and the Cup.

The liturgy the pastor used included a reading from John 14:1-6a, and of that passage verse 3 really stood out to me:

“And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”

Christ Jesus, the one who reigns eternally as Lord and Savior of all who come to Him by faith, promises that he has prepared a place for those who follow Him.  It is an eternal dwelling that is perfect in ways we cannot do more than dimly imagine.  It will be exponentially better than anything we can conceive of.  And exponential is a word that doesn’t really describe how much better eternity in heaven will be than the best things we know of the world in which we now live.

I understand what my mom means when she says that she wants to die at home.  But in the taking of the Lord’s Supper today God also reminded us, or at least me, that earth is a temporary dwelling, a place where we can know God’s presence and love as He prepares us for our true home with Him.  A place that is being made ready now for us, as we are also being made ready for it.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Geese and God’s glory

I was driving home from work this evening and glanced up at the sky as a small group of geese flew overhead.  We see geese year-round, with particularly large numbers of them in the fall.  There were 6 or 7 in this group, flying in an unbalanced V formation, drifting a bit this way and that as they moved across the sky.

What they were doing was, in its own way, perfect.  They were moving the way they were designed to.  Geese seldom fly alone.  Sometimes there are just two of them and other times they are in much larger groups.  They don’t fly side-by-side but always with one goose leading and the others occupying the slipstream.  It is the way they fly in Rochester, where we live, if they are just going a few miles out to feed and then returning for the evening.  And it is the way they fly when they leave Rochester for their wintering ground in southern Illinois, a distance of nearly 600 miles, which I understand they may cover in one day.

And looking at geese, flying in the way they were designed to, something which, as they do it is perfect, pointed me towards God, who is perfect in each and every one of His characteristics.  Psalm 19 opens with these words:

“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.”

This evening, for me, it was a flock of geese that pointed towards God and His perfect glory.  How and where is God making Himself known to you today?

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Being prepared

I live in southeast Minnesota and our weather has changed dramatically over the last two days.  On Saturday it was unseasonably warm, reaching 73 degrees.  That was really nice however a change in the weather was in the works as the sun set.  Yesterday’s warmest moments were in the early morning, when it was in the high 30’s and a light rain was falling. 

And this morning?  Well, let’s just say that winter is pretty much here now.  There was no snow when I got up but the temperature was in the low 20’s.  I had set out clothing last night to wear when running this morning, clothing based on a forecast into the low 20’s.  So I stretched a bit, got dressed, and headed out the door. 

There was a light breeze as I went down the driveway and out onto the street.  A quarter mile from home the road turned a bit and I felt the wind with greater intensity.  This, being the beginning of my 27th Minnesota winter, was not exactly welcome but also not exactly unfamiliar territory.  Over the next few months I expect to run in weather much worse than what was out this morning, the kind of weather that will make me long for today in the same way that today I had a longing for the warmth of two days ago.

A mile-and-a quarter from home and the road turned again, so that I was basically running into a steady headwind.  I later learned that the wind speed was close to 20 MPH, with gusts of 30.  My original intent was to run to a point four miles away from home and then turn around and head back.  My face was cold and I was beginning to think that perhaps a face mask would have been a good thing to have.  And while my face was cold, it was my hands that felt colder, to the point that I considered turning around early.  I had dressed for 20 degrees, but not a windy 20 degrees. 

A number of years ago I developed the habit of opening and closing my hands in coordination with my pace when running in winter weather.  Open-and-close the right hand twice.   Then the left hand twice.  Repeat.  And repeat again, until the run is over.  It is a method that keeps blood moving in my fingers and keeps my hands warm.  It works well, when I have the right mittens or gloves on my hands.  And today, running into the wind, I certainly did not.

My face was cold.  My hands were cold, and getting colder.  Then I reached the point in the road four miles from home and I turned around. 

What a dramatic change!  Still cold, but also very calm.  When the wind briefly gusted it felt like a tailwind, something that was moving me towards home without really making me feel any colder. 

And this Bible verse, 1 Peter 5:8, came to mind:

“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”

I thought about how running into the wind this morning was similar to living during times of adversity, times when we know we are best off staying grounded in the Bible.  There are seasons of life that can be so turbulent that God’s word is the only place we can find refuge. 

But those seasons don’t always last.  They may be unpleasant, they may be long in duration, but they will also pass away into more peaceful times.  And as that happened in my run, as I turned from running into the wind to running with it, I was reminded that while it was now much more peaceful I still needed to be mindful of the overall conditions. 

I still needed to open-and-close my hands to warm them up.  I still needed to watch for debris on the roads.  I still needed to be mindful of cars going by me. 

The words of Peter aren’t a call to live in constant fear as we navigate life.  They are a reminder to be mindful of God and the promises of His word, promises that are our sure place of rest and refuge, no matter what the season of our life.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Psalm 99:9

Last night Robin and I read Psalm 99.  It is a short psalm, just nine verses, which praise God for who He is.  While they are worded slightly differently, verses 5 and 9 concisely tell God’s people what they are to do and why they should do it.  They are to exalt, or highly praise, God, because He is holy.  Verse 9 says:

“Exalt the LORD our God, and worship at his holy mountain; for the LORD our God is holy.”

Generally speaking, I am not crazy about excerpting parts out of Scripture, such as times when a worship prayer may be derived from a Psalm and rather than using the whole Psalm, or a whole section of it, the prayer uses selected verses and skips other verses.  It makes me wonder what the verses that are being omitted say, and what God may have to say to us today through those verses.

With that disclaimer in place I’m going to do exactly that type of cutting out with Psalm 99:9, dropping the middle phrase and leaving us with:

“Exalt the LORD our God…for the LORD our God is holy.”

We don’t have to wait for a designated time of worship, or for a gathering with other Christians, in order to exalt God.  We can do it at any time or place where we may be.  We can do it no matter whom we are with at the time. 

The Lord God is always holy.  He is always perfect, pure, without defect, without beginning or end.  His love is always perfect and without limit to those He pours it out on. 

Has God lavished His love on you?  Give Him the thanks and praise that only He deserves.

Not sure if God loves you?  Ask Him, and He will most certainly touch you.  And if you want a companion for the journey I would be glad to accompany you, just send me an email at

“Exalt the LORD our God…for the LORD our God is holy.”

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Book Review: Forgotten God by Francis Chan

When thinking of God, or praying to God, what is it that Christians usually have in their minds?  Quite often the image is “God” as a somewhat generic supreme being, if God can be considered generic in any way.  Another image is of God as “Father,” one where God is again supreme and also embodying all of the best qualities a person may think of in a parent, without having any of the human characteristics that are somewhat unsavory and may be found even among the best persons, such as fits of temper when exasperated. 

And there is always “Jesus” as the God to whom we pray.  Jesus lived on earth as God’s divine Son, and lives today in heaven at “the right hand of the Father,” to cite the Apostles Creed.  There are numerous Bible verses that instruct Christians to pray to, and through Jesus, so praying to Jesus is another easy image to hold in mind as we pray. 

But to be Christian is to also know that God has revealed himself as Triune, having three distinct persons of Father, Son and Spirit, and yet always being God.  This last person of the Triune God, the Holy Spirit, is the subject of Francis Chan’s Forgotten God: Reversing our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit (Colorado Springs, CO: David Cook, 2009).  Chan’s thesis is that the Holy Spirit is frequently neglected among Christians and the aim of his book is to help Christians understand the absolutely essential nature of the Spirit to being a follower of Jesus.  He wants us to love the Spirit as deeply as any other aspect of God, including Jesus, and to be empowered to discern the presence and follow the lead of the Spirit in every aspect of our lives. 

Chan is a gifted preacher, with the ability to clearly express deep and powerful thoughts in ways that make his audience want to love and follow God more than anything else.  His writing has a similar style, and in the seven chapters of this book he leads his readers to a greater understanding of who the Spirit is, what the Spirit does, and what the Spirit can do in the lives of Christians today, should they take the time to listen and follow God’s voice as made known in the Spirit.

Each chapter addresses a way in which the Spirit impacts Christian living, such as why Jesus alone is insufficient, or what a personal relationship with the Spirit might look like for the person who doesn’t yet have one.  Each chapter also includes a brief story of someone that Chan knows who is living in a way that demonstrates the Spirit at work in their life. 

Chan believes that many Christians often look to God to meet their own needs, rather than seeking God and submitting themselves to God’s purposes.  He writes, “[God] wants us to know that His gift of the Holy Spirit is really not for our own pleasure or purposes.  The Spirit is meant to lead us toward holiness.  The Spirit is here with us to accomplish God’s purposes, not ours.” (93)  It is the Spirit, living within Christians, that guides, strengthens, and comforts Christians for a life of joyful submission to God in the world, come what may. 

I really liked this book and thought it was a good follow-up to his preceding book, Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God.  In Crazy Love Chan wrote about the greatness and goodness of God, a God so wonderful that, in faith, we should be head-over-heels in love with him.  In Forgotten God we are shown that it is the Spirit active in us that makes that type of love of God possible. 

Forgotten God ends with this heartfelt word of prayer, “Come, Holy Spirt, come.  We don’t know exactly what that means and looks like for each of us yet, in the particular places You’ve called us to inhabit.  But, nonetheless, whatever it means, we ask for Your presence. Come, Holy Spirit, come.”

Monday, November 5, 2012

Better than 'okay'

I know someone in ministry out in New York who is seeking some suggestions for prayers to use with victims of Hurricane Sandy.  Among the types of things that may be appropriate and meaningful are words of lament and words of hope.  I think that the goal is to find things that are emotionally honest in speaking to God what comes to our mind when sudden and dramatic suffering occurs.  The Psalms are saturated with these types of thoughts; thoughts that are honestly, painfully expressed by God’s people to God.  My friend’s request was also specific in what was not wanted, i.e. “not any cheesy “It’s all gonna be okay” prayers.”” 

Which got me to thinking…

In times of suffering is it acceptable to pray “It’s going to be okay” in some way?  Living through a Sandy, or Katrina, or 9/11 or any other catastrophe, be it large or small, affecting hundreds or thousands of people, or even just one person, amidst any other prayer we would offer in those circumstances can we also include “It’s going to be okay”?  Should we include “It’s going to be okay”?

I think that part of the answer lies in where our vision is cast.  Are we only looking around at the place where we are at and remembering what once was?  In that case there is no way we can say, or even guess, that things will turn out to be okay. 

Another part of the answer is found in the place where we are looking from.  If we are looking from a place that is very firmly fixed in this world as the only form of existence, then to pray “It’s all gonna be okay” is to speak empty words into empty space, hoping to find something solid.  And it won’t happen. 

But if we are people who know God as revealed in Christ Jesus, then both the place where we are standing and the place we are looking towards are profoundly different.  The place where we are standing is temporary and the place we have an eye towards is eternal.

The place where we are standing, or sitting, or crying, or wailing, even screaming out in hurt and brokenness is our home but for a time.  It is a home that will one day be redeemed.  And that redeemed home is the place where our vision is truly set upon.  In Revelation 21:5 the promise of God is:

“And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”” 

Bringing comfort into a painful place is a difficult thing and the Christian does well to seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit before speaking into those moments.  And while it may take the passing of a great deal of time before the situation looks hopeful the Christian can know, with complete confidence, that the outcome won’t just be okay, but that in the end, God’s end, it will be so much better than “okay” even hints at.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Friday, November 2, 2012


This morning my Bible reading was the Old Testament prophet Nahum.  This is not a book of the Bible that I have read often, nor one that I could have told someone what the gist of the book was about without first reading some explanatory notes. 

As I read I tried to pay particular attention for anything that really “jumped out” at me.  A word, phrase or verse that clearly spoke with a richer, deeper meaning.  And as I read I found such a verse, 1:7, which says:
“The LORD is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in him.”

That verse leapt out at me with a word of comfort, comfort from God about God’s enduring, everlasting goodness.  It reminded me of the refuge that He always offers in our trials, and lastly that He knows, that God knows deeply, those who seek their refuge in him. 

Good stuff.  Really good stuff.  So I posted the verse to Facebook, using my phone, which only allows the posting of a single verse at a time.  And that is where the tile of this post, “But…” comes in.

Nahum 1:7 is a wonderful verse and a whole sermon could be preached from it, except that it doesn’t stand completely by itself.  There are biblical words that follow that go hand-in hand with this verse.  Nahum 1:8 reads:

“But with an overflowing flood he will make a complete end of the adversaries, and will pursue his enemies into darkness.”

God not only has full knowledge of those who take refuge in Him, He also has full knowledge of those who don’t, and these people are being characterized by Nahum as God’s adversaries. 

An adversary is an opponent.  It is someone, or a group, that opposes and attacks someone else.  The dictionary source I checked even had an entry for “The Adversary,” i.e. Satan.

Now the dictionary is not the Bible and is not inspired by the Holy Spirit by any means.  However in this case it does speak with the truth when it helps us understand that God’s adversaries are directly linked to God’s greatest adversary, his most visible opponent since his entry into the biblical story in Genesis 3

So evangelical and Reformed Christian that I am, what am I to make of these two joined verses from an Old Testament prophet?  Do they still speak today?  I believe that they do.  They speak with vibrancy and power.

Verse 7 will continue to provide me with great comfort in God’s control and protection in all circumstances, no matter how difficult they may appear.  And verse 8 is, for me, a reminder to do what I can, in the places where God has placed me, to bring this word of comfort to those who are otherwise God’s adversaries. 

In this life I often have no real idea who God is reaching out to include within His promise of redemption, nor do I know the means in which He will touch people.  So I think that best choice may be to touch people in His name and let Him use that touch as He sees fit.

Here is a link to a video of a song, Whom Shall I Fear [God of the Angel Armies], from Chris Tomlin’s upcoming album.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.