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Monday, March 31, 2008

Outside Looking In - A Book Recommendation

Righteous by Lauren Sandler is an overlooked but important book to anyone concerned about Christianity and youth. Sandler is NOT a follower of Christ, but she wrote this book subtitled "Dispatched from the Evangelical Youth Movement."

She traveled the country looking into concerts, skate parks, schools, churches, and more to see what young Christians said, did, and thought. I think she does a great job of maintaining her personal integrity (not pretending to be something she is not; or pretending to agree with something with which she has serious problems). She is a good writer.

The book offers insights not only into the varous strains of youth ministry, but peeks into the mind and soul of the author, a fair representative of non-Christians in North America.

The best recommendation is what militant atheist Sam Harris says about the book: "Laruen Sandler obliterates the naive and complacent hope that keeps most secularists and religious moderates sleeping peacefully each night - the hope that, in twenty-first century America, the young know better than to adopt the lunatic religious certainties of a prior age. The young do not know better. In their schools, skate parks, rock concerts, and in the ranks of our nation's military, our children are gleefully preparing a bright future of ignorance and religious fascism for us all. If you have any doubt that there is a culture war that must be waged nad won by secularists in America, read this book."

Here's a tidbit that may whet your appetite. The author visits a Bible study, and as the meeting concludes the leader asks if the group may pray for her. She nods, and listens as individuals pray for her (as opposed to "preach to her"). As the prayers conclude the author writes, "Each articulation of my particular concerns - each so separate from their own - stokes embers inside my chest, the empathy, wisdom, and foresight of these prayerful men and women filling my eyes with tears. I finally understand: they want to save me just as I want to save them."

This is a very, very good book. And right now you can get this hardcover book from Amazon for three bucks plus shipping. Click below if you wanna get it now!

Sunday, March 30, 2008

A Post-Resurrection-Sunday-Reminder

“The resurrection validated that Jesus was himself sinless and that he died for our sins, just as he said. Acts 2:24 says, ‘God raised [Jesus] up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.’ Why did the justice of God make it impossible for Jesus to stay dead? It was impossible for Jesus to stay dead because he had lived a perfectly righteous life and therefore death, as God’s just punishment for sin, had not crime against God to pin itself to. On the streets of Boston, the kids salute the law of justice by saying, ‘If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime.’ In the case of Jesus, the voice of justice says, ‘He can’t do the time, ’cause he did no crime.’”

- John Ensor, "The Great Work of the Gospel"

Friday, March 28, 2008

Prayer Self-Check

Got a letter today from a friend and supporter. In the midst of family news and such she asked me to pray for a guy who had been stabbed over 20 times in a street fight - and survived! In the process of writing her back I almost automatically wrote, "I'll be praying for Matt."
God thumped me on the side of the head and I realized I had NOT prayed. So I stopped, prayed; and put the note in my "pray through" pile.

Made me wonder how many times I've told someone, in person; over the phone, over the internet, whatever, "I'll be praying for you" and then forgot.
Excuses are like elbows; everyone's got a couple. But methinks this is inexcusable, because the Lord Jesus put on record this reminder in Matthew 12.36, "I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak..."

Interestingly, the same Greek word here translated "careless" is used in James 2.20 where James declares "faith without works is useless" Jesus uses it also in Matthew 20.3 where He speaks of a landowner who saw potential laborers "standing idle in the marketplace."

"Useless." "Idle." "Careless." Words. "I'll pray for you." Commitment. Follow through?

I try to make it my practice to pray immediately when someone asks me person, or however. But if I get rushed (careless) I'll forget...and the Word tells me I'll give an account for those "careless", "useless", "idle" lapses.

So I pray I'll be mindful of Colossians 4.2, "Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving."

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Chicken Tennis

No value, except "a merry heart does good like medicine." (you'll have to "pause" my playlist (upper left) to avoid double sound!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Resurrection is NOT the Focus

“The resurrection . . . sharply defines what it must mean to have faith in Christ. Because Christ has been raised from the dead, we are not putting our faith in merely a historical event but in a living, death conquering, and reigning Savior. Our faith is based on something in the past, but it is placed in One who is very much alive today. Notice how the apostle Paul speaks of faith in terms of a living Christ: ‘I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me’ (Galatians 2:20). Paul is living by faith in the living Christ. And he prays that this would be our normative Christian experience: ‘that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith’ (Ephesians 3:16-17).”

- John Ensor

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Why Wilderness Experiences?

by Charles R. Swindoll
Read Exodus 15:22--27
As we consider Israel's first days in the wilderness, perhaps we should remind ourselves of where the Hebrew nation is in Exodus 15. They began their journey in the land of Goshen. If you have a map of that area handy, you might want to glance over it as you pinpoint their location. The Red Sea (or Sea of Reeds) is north of the Gulf of Suez. They crossed that sea, then began a south-southeasterly journey toward Mount Sinai. But before they arrived at the mount of God, they reached the wilderness of Shur in the northernmost section of the Sinai Peninsula. That's where the cloud and fire led Israel into the wilderness, with the shepherd Moses out in front of the flock. It was a vast expanse of desolation stretching south to the wilderness of Etham.
So that's where the Hebrews were. But why were they there? If God took the people through the Red Sea, couldn't He take them immediately to the lush land of Canaan? Of course! If He was able to part the waters, and enable them to walk on dry land, and deliver them from the Egyptians, wasn't He also able to move them swiftly to the borders of milk-and-honey-land? Absolutely! God can do anything. If He can take you and me through our conversion, He can hasten our journey across this earthly desert and swiftly deposit us into heaven. No problem . . . but He doesn't.
Why does God put us through wilderness experiences before Canaan? For one thing, He wants to test us. That's why God led Israel into the wilderness, according to Deuteronomy 8:2: "You shall remember all the way which the LORD your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not." (Read that again . . . only this time, slowly.)

God puts us in the wilderness to humble us, to test us, to stretch our spiritual muscles. Our earthly wilderness experiences are designed to develop us into men and women of faith. Let's face it, our spiritual roots grow deep only when the winds around us are strong. Take away the tests, and we become shallow-rooted, spiritual wimps. But bring on the wilderness winds, and it's remarkable how we grow as our roots dig deeply into faith.

Taken from Charles R. Swindoll, Great Days with the Great Lives (Nashville: W Publishing Group, 2005). Copyright © 2005 by Charles R. Swindoll, Inc

Thursday, March 20, 2008

C.S. Lewis writes:

God, who needs nothing, loves into existence wholly superfluous creatures in order that He may love and perfect them. He creates the universe, already foreseeing – or should we say “seeing”? there are no tenses in God – the buzzing cloud of flies about the cross, the flayed back pressed against the uneven stake, the nails driven through the mesial nerves, the repeated incipient suffocation as the body droops, the repeated torture of back and arms as it is time after time, for breath’s sake, hitched up. If I may dare the biological image, God is a “host” who deliberately creates His own parasites; causes us to be that we may exploit and “take advantage of” Him. Herein is love. This is the diagram of Love Himself, the inventor of all loves.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Failing is NOT Bad

Keep these concepts in mind: You've failed many times, although you don't remember. You fell down the first time you tried to walk. You almost drowned the first time you tried to swim. .... Don't worry about failure. My suggestion to each of you: Worry about the chances you miss when you don't even try.

Sherman Finesilver
(American Judge)

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Test Your Awareness: Do The Test

How aware am I of opportunities to bless - simply because I don't look?

Monday, March 17, 2008

Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem - Brennan on the Moor

Another St Paddys day memory...when I was a junior in high school a bunch of us went to a club to see these guys in between sets there was a new, unknown comedian filling in..his name? Bill Cosby. Probably the most Bible I got before age 26 was Cosby's brilliant "noah" bit!

Riverdance (Lord of the dance)

Happy St Patrick's Day!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Waiting and Learning and Waiting Some More

As we anticipate while we await the buyer of our house to show up, there are times of gritting teeth and wondering "why" and/or "when". "Our times are in His hands," and I am confident the Lord has a plan...but waiting is hard.

My boss dropped some stuff on my desk today asking me to look it over. Lots of material, but I think it providential that one of the writings is titled "A Time to Wait. It is written by Rev. David Hammerle of New Day, Inc.

Here is part of what I read:

The fact is that the waiting period is the most difficult time of any dream. We are a people who are so bound by time limitations that we want things to happen yesterday. However, the waiting period is where changes take place in us. It is during this time that our faith is defined and brought to maturity.

Maturity in the natural world is marked by a growth toward independence. This is not so in the realm of faith development. The mature faith is the faith that becomes more dependent. The waiting period causes us to realize how little control we have of the circumstances surrounding our life. It is here that we learn to abandon our need to control everything around us and surrender to God’s infinite wisdom and divine control. During the waiting period we learn the value of the prayer that Christ taught and lived – “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

The waiting period also affords time to develop a different view of things. Paul prayed three times for God to remove what he calls a “thorn in the flesh.” God’s answer to his request would bring about a change in Paul rather than a change in his circumstance. Consider the text of 2 Corinthians 12:9 – “And He said unto Me, ‘My grace is sufficient for thee: for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’ Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”

God would rather teach Paul the value of trials for the purpose of bringing spiritual growth than to remove obstacles from his pathway. The teaching would need time to work. The work of the Holy Spirit often centers more on changing lives than on changing things…

Failure to see what God is doing during the waiting period does not mean that He is doing nothing. Your faithful service can sharpen your vision and enable you to see the workings of God in the midst of your difficulties more clearly than when simply biding your time while waiting for God to make a change in your circumstance.

Good stuff sent by God to kick me in the rear and get my thumb out of my mouth!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Timely Insight (for me) from a Great Devotional

This morning's reading from Great Days with the Great Lives by Chuck Swindoll focuses on Moses feelings as the Lord commanded him to go to Pharaoh.(Ex 5.22 - 6.12) As you recall, Moses felt woefully inadequate, unqualified, and, well, scared!

Here's the section that both rebuked and encouraged me:

"I'd like to underline a major truth in this world of ours that I don;'t pretend to understand. Here it is: the best framework for the Lord God to do His most ideal work is when things are absolutely impossible and we feel totally unqualified to handle it.
That's His favorite circumstance. Those are His ideal working conditions...
Time after time, He brings us to our absolute end and then proves Himself faithful. That, my friend, is not only the story of my life, it's the story of the Bible in a nutshell."

If you are in the market for a devotional to supplement (NOT take the place of) your Bible reading; I highly recommend this book:

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Fort Pastor March Out

For too long "conservative" Christians have forgotten that the social gospel is not all bad; that in fact ministering to people means offering tangible help in the Name of Jesus. This band helps us refocus...

Adoption Is Greater Than The Universe - John Piper

As Jane and I have two adopted children (Janelle, 13; Jacob, 5) in addition to our two older sons (Josiah, 24; Joel, 21)...adoption is especially special to us. Piper reminds us of both horizontal and vertical adoption. Well worth watching...

Most Important Question

The most important question is also the first question posed in Scripture…

Let’s set the stage: Genesis 2.15-17, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

The remainder of chapter 2 describes the creation of other living creatures, climaxed in the formation of Eve. Eve was not present when God instructed Adam about the trees of the garden.

Chapter 3.1-3 says, “Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die’.”

Now, are either of those alleged quotations correct? No. God did not say they couldn’t eat “of any tree.” Neither did he say, as Eve states, “neither shall you touch it.”

Satan misquotes intentionally; Eve adds. Where did she get the “neither shall you touch it.” From her own imagination? Or did Adam, perhaps in good intentions, tell her that God actually said that, thinking that he needed to add to God’s instruction? Scripture does not provide an answer.

Satan’s question is exceedingly important. “Has God really said?” The danger to the faith is not the atheists; the danger is from people who say they are Christians who play games with the Word of God; either by denying and deleting certain verses; or by adding to the Word, in sometimes very subtle ways.

The virgin birth. The trinity of God. The substitutionary death of Jesus. The resurrection. These and more “fundamental” doctrines are under attack…and increasingly so.

What do you think? What has God said about these and other subjects? Don’t tell me what your pastor, denomination, or favorite author says…what do you say?

That requires thinking...devoting time to not only scripture reading but biblical thinking. And, like all thinking, that requires time, work, effort. And it displays obedience to 2 Peter 3.18, "But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Icy Thoughts About Sovereignty

The Lord God reigns supreme.
I do believe that. I don’t “get” it…when young dynamic Christians are killed in car wrecks; when a loving Christian couple loses a pregnancy; or when evil actions dominate the daily news.
But if God isn’t supreme (omnipotent), He is not much of a God.
A “minor” (relatively) inconvenience today…I was set to host the final regular season Bible quiz for the Bath league; to be followed by the selection process for the four teams we will take to the National tournament in April.
Then came the storm yesterday. This morning I arose at 6 and it wasn’t bad; a few inches on the ground. Checked the various weather sites, the storm “warning” downgraded to a “watch.” I began shoveling the driveway. As I concluded ice began dropping.
Called a couple coaches; one was good-to-go; another said it was too icy. Decided to go with it; left the house; got a couple other calls; spoke with my wife; prayed…cancelled.
Now we flop it all over to next Saturday…which was scheduled to be our tri-league tournament. Now we won’t have a tournament.
But God is supreme, sovereign, and solid.
And good.
And as much as I love Bible quizzing, I love quizzers more…and I’d rather lose a day of quizzing – with all it’s inherent scheduling difficulties and so forth – than have a quizzer in a ditch…or worse.
Now…what would I think if I later learn that some quizzers decided to go sledding since the quiz was cancelled, and one was seriously injured…or worse…?
I’d know God is supreme, sovereign, and solid.
And good.
And, prayerfully, like Job; I’d say “blessed be the Name of the Lord.”

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Trials are Part of the (Real) Deal!

A staff member jokingly said, “Well, Jack, you must have misread the Lord’s leading or your house would have sold by now.” At least I think he was joking.

Regardless, his statement is laughable.

Following God’s leading does not mean a smooth path. In fact biblically and historically the opposite holds true; after all, “All those who desire to live Godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.(2 Tim 3.12)”

My family and I are not doing a whole lot of suffering; especially in comparison with believers in dire circumstances both in the United States and especially world-wide.

But to think I “misread” the Spirit’s leading because we haven’t sold the house yet is fuzzy, foggy, frightful “theology.”

“Exalt in your tribulations (Ro 5.3)” says the Word. “Consider it all joy when you encounter various trials.(James 1.2)” Paul (who knew some stuff about suffering) wrote to the church at Philippi, “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in Him but also suffer for His sake…(Phil 1.29)”

Peter echoes those thoughts with “For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.(1 Pe 3.17)” Later Peter says, “Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.(1 Pe 4.19)”

What, pray tell, does the “prosperity” preacher do with such verses? Ignore them.

I certainly am capable of “blowing it.” But I remain confident that God has called, even prodded me, to join the Midland Ministries staff. Would I like a quick and fantastic sale of the house? Duh.

But I’ll rest in Him, His timing, and His plan.

If it’s His will, it’s His bill. When I’m to hit the trail, He will arrange the sale!

And it is certainly okay (and requested) that you join us in prayer for the buyer to show up - quickly!

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Monday, March 3, 2008

A fro-less Keith Green (age 11!)

I still remember picking up the Kansas City paper on a Saturday afternoon and, in the third section, several pages in, reading a blurb describing the death of Keith Green. Keith wrote and sang music that genuinely ministered, and was a long way from "seeker sensitive" or "sanctified cotton candy."
I just found this and laughed my way through it.
If you are not familiar with Keith Green, look up his music, read his writings, and prepare to be challenged.
And, if you are a Keith Green fan, this will bring a smile!

Saturday, March 1, 2008

THINKABOUTIT - The Uniqueness of CHRISTianity

“Christianity alone among the world religions claims that God became uniquely and fully human in Jesus Christ and therefore knows firsthand despair, rejection, loneliness, poverty, bereavement, torture, and imprisonment. On the cross he went beyond even the worst human suffering and experienced cosmic rejection and pain that exceeds ours as infinitely as his knowledge and power exceeds ours. In his death, God suffers in love, identifying with the abandoned and godforsaken. Why did he do it? The Bible says that Jesus came on a rescue mission for creation. He had to pay for our sins so that someday he can end evil and suffering without ending us.”
- Timothy Keller