Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Let's go!

Earlier this evening we returned from another trip to Milwaukee.  Depending on who’s traveling/driving and the number of stops it is a 4-5 hour trip.  Between Robin and I we have spent 10 days there in the last 3 weeks, with Robin and Kat planning to go back again the day after tomorrow, for about 4 days.  The reason for all of this travel and time away from home is that there has been an acute need for us, and my siblings, to help out our mom.

We are thankful for all the people who have supported our family and prayed over this situation.  I am very thankful for the help that my brothers, sister, and their families have provided to our mom and to my family during this time.  Robin and I are glad that God has restored my mom’s health to the point where she will be returning to live at home.

Tonight, at Kat’s bedtime, we sat with her and read from the Jesus Storybook Bible.  (on Facebook here.) The story we read tonight was titled “Let’s Go!” and is drawn from Matthew 4, Mark 1 and Luke 4-6.  In short it occurs right after Jesus is baptized.  He goes into the desert, fasts and prays in preparation for his ministry, is tempted by Satan, and then gathers his disciples. 

In Mark 1:17-18 it says,

“Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him.”

Jesus calls his disciples and says “Let’s go!” and they follow Him, beginning an adventure that is beyond their ability to even imagine, an adventure that we know will reach its fulfillment in the visions of unending praise in Revelation 7 and redeemed creation in Revelation 21.

Robin, Kat and I have been able to help my mom over the past few weeks because at some time in the past Jesus said to each us, “Let’s go!” and off we went.  If this current crisis had happened at a point in my life before I had faith I know I would have done my part, but it would have been for a different, and infinitely lesser, purpose.  It would have been because I had a particular sense of duty, or an ability or responsibility.  And looking back I can see an event in my life where that is exactly how I responded.

But this is different, not because I am any more skillful or responsible, but because I am the Lord’s, and no matter what the outcome may have been in the situation with my mom I see God’s hand all over it, and many ways for the faith in my head and heart to be lived among my family, to God’s everlasting glory. 

How is God reaching and calling you?  Where is He leading your life with His call of “Let’s go?

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, October 29, 2012

Book Review: The Supremacy of God in Preaching

“People are starving for the grandeur of God.  And the vast majority do not know it.” (107)  These words begin the conclusion to John Piper’s short and excellent book, The Supremacy of God in Preaching (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2004), a book where he lays out a vision of God that he believes should drive the words that pastors bring to their pulpit, not just occasionally but every time that they rise to speak from the Bible the words that God has laid on their hearts.    

Piper wrote the first edition of this book in 1990, drawing from two lecture series, given in 1984 and 1988, and the book is divided accordingly.  In Part 1 he discusses the topic “Why God Should Be Supreme in Preaching,” beginning with preaching’s goal, the glory of God, which he believes is rightly paired with the Christian’s delight in God.  He summarizes the connection between God’s glory and the believer’s joy with these words: “God’s deepest commitment to be glorified and my deepest longing to be satisfied are not in conflict, but in fact find simultaneous consummation in his display of and my delight in the glory of God.” (29)  The task of the preacher is to make God’s glory so central, and essential, to faith that the Christian is fully satisfied in God and finds every other desire wanting in comparison.

Piper uses a Trinitarian framework in Part 1.  God’s glory is in relation to the Father, the Ground of Preaching is connected to the Son, and Gift of Preaching is derived from the Spirit.  A deep understanding of this theology of preaching will guide the preacher to approach his or her task with both gravity and gladness.  He writes, “Gladness and gravity should be woven together in the life and preaching of a pastor in such a way as to sober the careless soul and sweeten the burden of the saints.” (55)

The topic of Part 2 is “How to Make God Supreme in Preaching.”  In this section Piper does not offer his own wisdom but turns to a preacher he has had a life-long admiration for, Jonathan Edwards.  As Piper discusses Edwards and Edwards’ ministry the twin keys are Edwards’ grasp of, and submission to, God’s sovereignty and a consequent, and constant, desire to proclaim God as supreme.

Everything that Edwards understood of God flowed from his sovereign nature.  Piper writes, “For Edwards the infinite power; or absolute sovereignty, of God is the foundation of God’s all-sufficiency.  And his all-sufficiency is the fountain of his perfect holiness, and his holiness comprehends all his moral excellency.  So the sovereignty of God for Edwards was utterly crucial to everything else he believed about God.” (78) 

Understanding the otherness of God’s nature in relation to humanity then is the basis for preaching and delighting in his sovereignty. “In summary, then, when Jonathan Edwards becomes still and knows that God is God, the vision before his eyes is of an absolutely sovereign God, self-sufficient and all-sufficient, infinite and holiness, and therefore perfectly glorious.” (82)  That is an amazing vision of God!

Are people, people who believe in God as made known through Jesus Christ, starving for God’s grandeur?  Generally speaking I would have to agree with Piper.  Living after the Fall we are so broken, and our gaze is so inward, that we rarely look beyond ourselves to glimpse the glory and majesty of God as made known in the Bible.  And when we glimpse it, even rarer are the moments when we savor it. 

Last week I read the Christian atheist, by Craig Groeschel, (my review is here). His central assertion is that there are many common ways in which people professing Christian faith live in ways that suggest their faith is often in something else.  Groeschel offers valuable and practical wisdom to strengthen the faith of faltering believers and their witness in the world. 

In The Supremacy of God in Preaching John Piper offers something equally practical and necessary to today’s preacher, which is encouragement and wisdom so that every sermon is one that is saturated with a vision of the glory of God, a vision so majestic that God’s people may find the satisfaction of every need in God alone.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Book Review: the Christian atheist

What does it mean to call oneself a “Christian” today?  I imagine that the number of variations in answers would be equal to the number of people who respond “yes” when they are asked if they self-identify as a “Christian.”  And can a person who calls themself a Christian also be an atheist, someone who simultaneously believes that God does, and does not, exist?  While this latter possibility may be rare, as far as one person saying that both Christianity and atheism are true for them, Craig Groeschel believes that such a combination is the functional faith of many Christians.  These are the people he writes for in the Christian atheist, which bears the apt subtitle: Believing in God but Living as If He Doesn’t Exist.

Groeschel speaks from personal experience, although his credentials wouldn’t make you think so.  He is the founding and senior pastor of a multi-site church in Oklahoma.  He is also married and the father of six children.  Yet as he takes a look at his own life he sees many of the same issues of professing belief in one thing but living in a different manner in his daily life, something that he also sees within the congregation he pastors and in Christians throughout the United States. 

Each of the chapter titles begins “When you believe in God but…”  The “but” demonstrates the disconnect between faith and an aspect of life, such as “…but don’t really know Him,” “…but are ashamed of your past,” “…but not in prayer,” “…but still worry all the time,” and “…but not in His church.”  Groeschel walks through each of his topics, demonstrating the difference between how people often live and what they believe.  He then discusses what the Bible says about the topic and then provides examples of what life could look like, examples that call his readers to a more mature expression of their own faith in God.  And he does this all in a manner that I find to be very gentle and pastoral. 

One example is found in the chapter on dealing with the shame of one’s past, where he writes, “We are not our sins.  And we’re also not what others have done to us.  Rather, we are who God says we are: his children.  We are forgivable.  We are changeable.  We are capable.  We are moldable.  And we are bound by the limitless love of God.” (52) 

Groeschel has a humble tone and knows well each of the areas he discusses, from both his own personal life and the lives of those he shepherds in his congregation.  His guidance is practical and faithful to Biblical teaching.  I could go on and on but instead will close, giving this book an unreserved recommendation.  If there is a disconnect in your own life as a Christian, Groeschel has written something that will likely help on your journey.  Even if he doesn’t address your specific issue a thoughtful reader will be able to adapt his wisdom to their particular situation.  And in the end it is not really so much about our personal faith but the way in which we bear witness to God, they ways in which we serve and glorify Him in the world.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


First things first.  I was wrong about Lance Armstrong.  I now believe that he cheated his way to the top of his sport.  I was not an ardent defender of him as he was being investigated but if anyone was interested in my opinion I would freely state that I felt he was a clean competitor during the “era” when he dominated the main event of professional cycling, the Tour de France. 

He was drug-tested frequently and had never failed a test.  Besides, I didn’t believe that there was enough money in cycling to drive people to commit the level of deception that would be needed to “effectively” cover-up any cheating Armstrong would have to be involved in, if he was cheating.  I had no problem in believing the evidence when his contemporaries fell to scandal.  But I was certain that Armstrong had reached a previously unknown level of success the old-fashioned way, through combination of extraordinary physical gifts that perfectly suited his chosen sport and an indefatigable inner drive to find the boundaries of his limits.  I loved to watch him ride.

The evidence is now clear that Armstrong pursued a different path, which is also a well-worn one, traveled over and over by so many of us, myself included: the path of pride. 

Pride encourages us to relish the achievements of the present in such a way that we make sure that others take note of them as well.  And when there is nothing particularly prominent in our life now pride makes sure that we point attention to some storied moment in our past, when we were really “special.”

What I have become aware of recently, through the grace of God, is my affliction with, and my affection for, pride.  I think that if I had been asked if I was a prideful person I would have denied it, something that now seems to be an obvious sign of its presence, at least in my case.

And this awareness of pride is making me aware of what I really need more of.  Not more of myself, or of my memories, but more of Jesus and the memories of the grace God has provided in my life.  A grace that suits His purposes perfectly, even though at any moment it may not suit mine. (Think of Paul’s thorn.)  

So today I feel God inviting me to attend more to the relationship between He and I, and to allow Him to shape me more into the image of His Son.  John the Baptist summarized the changing relationship between himself and Jesus with these words:

“He must increase and I must decrease.”

An increasing self-awareness of my pride reminds me of whom it is that should really be exalted in my mind, in my heart, in my words and in my actions.   Not myself, but the one in whom, and for whom, all things were made. (John 1)

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that 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, forever 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.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Real freedom

I’m reading a book about Harry Hopkins, who worked in a variety of roles for Franklin Roosevelt while Roosevelt was president.  Among the things that Hopkins did was to write and edit many of Roosevelt’s speeches.  In the book there is a brief reference to one particular speech, the “Four Freedoms” speech, which Roosevelt gave before Congress in January, 1941.  The four freedoms were things that Roosevelt believed should be held by everyone in the world.  Specifically they were freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear.  It was this last freedom, from fear, which I found myself pondering.

Regarding fear, Roosevelt said this: The fourth is freedom from fear—which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor—anywhere in the world.” 

Roosevelt delivered this speech while war was raging in Europe and Asia, a war in which the US would join later in the same year, following the attack on Pearl Harbor. 

Freedom from fear, both in the US and the world, remains an elusive goal.    We who live in the US today, post-911, know something of the kind of fear that Roosevelt referred to on a daily basis in the form of the War on Terror, where US troops are engaged in multiple foreign countries and the Department of Homeland Security is active at home. 

But we who live in Christ know something else about where we may find freedom from fear, and that is in God’s word.

Yesterday I was reading Psalm 118, and it spoke directly to fear and our source of freedom, real and abiding freedom.  Verses 5-7 say:

            “Out of my distress I called on the LORD;
                        the LORD answered me and set me free.
            The LORD is on my side; I will not fear.
                        What can man do to me?
            The LORD is on my side as my helper;
                        I shall look in triumph on those who hate me.”

The Psalmist isn’t saying that we will never suffer harm.  The things we fear may bring about very real physical and emotional harm to our bodies and minds.  But even so, God will always be God and the promises of His word will always be true.  The Psalmist reminds us of this in the verses that bracket the Psalm as both its opening and closing words:

                        Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
                        for his steadfast love endures forever!

The abiding love of God, revealed in Christ, is the true source of peace and the freedom from fear, both in the world and throughout eternity.  May you know His peace each and every time fear arises in your 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.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The joy of God’s house

Last night my wife and I read Psalm 84.  The heading in the ESV Study Bible that we read from says, “My Soul Longs for the Courts of the Lord,” and it is a psalm proclaims the joy that is anticipated as the psalmist approaches God’s designated place of worship. 

The notes in our study Bible include these comments about the psalm:

“[It is] very much like the hymns in praise of Zion as God's special place (e.g. Psalm 122), although this one focuses especially on the delight of going to worship there.  The purpose of singing this psalm is to cultivate that delight, to open the eyes and hearts of God's people to the staggering privilege of being a welcome guest in God's own house, and to write deep into their souls the conviction that wickedness offers no reward that can even remotely compare to the joy and pleasure of God's house." (p.1043)

Those comments nearly take my breath away as they point out the joy and delight, the deep senses of peace and of pleasure, which we can know as God’s guests in the place where He gathers us as a people for worship.  Frankly, that isn’t always the orientation of my mind and heart when I “go to church.”  

These words remind me that worshipping among God’s people isn’t about me or the baggage I’m bringing along as I enter church.  It is about the Lord God Almighty, who has invited me to lay my baggage down, enjoy His presence, feast on His word, and to forget that my baggage ever existed as I walk back out into His world.

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, October 3, 2012

God’s glory at home

“Shout for joy, all the earth;
    sing the glory of his name;
    give to him glorious praise!”

Those words are the first verses of Psalm 66.  Today, with the weather forecast strongly suggesting that today was the last summer-like day of the year, reading those words reminds me of the particular beauty we have seen in this place that has been our home the past six months.

We are in a house that is 120 years old in some parts.  It sits on nearly 6 acres of land, adjacent to a freeway.  There is one standing barn, one collapsed barn, a building for Robin’s glass shop, a garage and several sheds.  We are renting, and between our stuff and our landlord’s stuff, the cars have to park outdoors. 

There is a U-shaped driveway lined with a variety of crab apple trees, trees that bloomed wonderfully shortly after we moved in.  There are a lot of other trees.  One is a tree the kids have frequently climbed in and there are two more that we hung swings in.  Others drop sticks, large and small, whenever the weather turns sour. 

All year we have seen large numbers of rabbits and squirrels.  There is a woodchuck, and also several raccoons.  An adult cat has frequently passed through.  She must have been pregnant, because one month ago our daughter found a baby kitten that we have taken in.  Two of the kitten’s siblings were briefly seen last week.  They were pretty skittish and we don’t need another inside cat.  We’ve seen mice near the house and the outside kittens seemed to be getting along okay.  As the fruit on the crabapple trees has matured, and fell, deer have been much more frequent in the front yard. 

Yesterday Robin saw, and blogged, about the amazing presence of God as she was outside before sunrise for the first time since July. 

And all of this is just outside our door, next to a freeway, well within the city limits.

When we sold our house and moved to our present location it was to be a temporary stop for us, and it still is.  We expected things to be different from our home of 19 years, and they certainly have been.  In six months we have acquired a lot of stories.  We have coped with, and adapted to, many things that we never could have imagined.

One thing we didn’t expect was the sheer diversity of nature in this one small place.  Diversity that, with rare exceptions, has been delightful.  And as summer gives way to fall it is right for us to join the psalmist and praise God, who once again has surrounded us with His presence.  An earthly glimpse of beauty that points us to His eternal Glory.

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.