Category Archives: Meditation/Reflections

Seeing through Blindness

While helping a friend return an electronic vision aid he bought for his father at the Lighthouse for the Blind in New Orleans, I was once again taught important refinement lessons without ever asking to enroll in class.  Being purged in an instant is as subtle as being pickpocketed through tight crowds and it brings on a strange self-awareness only after knowing you’ve been hit.

As I paced through the product shelving glancing at things in their store, I was struck by the irony of ‘looking’ at items for the blind.  When shopping, we evaluate our options without much thought as to the gift of sight, but most of their patrons haven’t been afforded that normalcy and instead, have to learn new ways. While patiently perusing magnifying glasses and braille chess boards, I was preoccupied with an empathetic dualism as I tried to imagine not being able to see. Touching minute braille patterns gave me pause to think beyond mere grabbing and each item revealed itself as an agent of mercy.

Then, as if being assaulted by a robbery in progress, a mid-30’s man about six feet tall, darted in past the counter and zipped straight to my face then back to the counter and then up to the watch case and yelped in inaudible spurts and grunts; his hands semi-flailing a bit as he tapped his own watch repeatedly.  My first thought was to defend myself, since he so quickly violated our space until I saw that he couldn’t see. He was legally blind. Then I understood that he couldn’t speak either; nothing beyond a few variant sounds. Suddenly and softly, as if a Linus blanket had been draped over me, my heart shifted.

The store manager, who was preoccupied with our return paperwork at the time, quietly told us that this anxious fellow was an employee.  Apparently, he scares most visitors by his invasive demeanor and impatient stammering. Here, in the midst of what was supposed to be just another routine refund in a retail store, was a vivid picture of life, splendor and corruption. Mercy and grace were dancing right in front of me within a banner of the Fall as I keenly watched his every move.

Beauty and death were exercising in the same parallel, at the same time – strange partners and roommates in a fallen corridor. The random click of cane taps beat out a pattern in the hallway as another visually impaired person passed by. All of us, made in His image, yet carrying the effects of sin in our very bodies.  All around me were crooked backs, high blood pressures, hearing losses, blindness – all remnants of the Eden event where man fell into hopeless disrepair and in the center of this choreography – mercy. There was mercy, grace abounding through tireless effort and compassion. Invention turned to aid. Regular routines transformed into encouragement.

Every ounce of grumbling from the past few months about my own challenges and trials was pressed out of me by the grinding of greater tribulation. I was, again, tutored by new reminders of how God cares for us even when He isn’t obligated to care and how He uses many avenues to bring that grace into our lives. His main instrument is people. We are the conduits of purposed affection and change – agents of mercy sent from His inner sanctum through the empowerment of Spirit as He lives and breathes through our good works.

He chose to do so before you were even born.

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Light in the Pit

In counseling a friend who is struggling with his faith through a battle with gross sin, he followed my encouragement and read Scripture even when he was not wanting to. After reading Isaiah he sent this message to me:

Even though I don’t know why He would permit/allow/plan evil in the world, and all of its pain and suffering upon His own image bearers; and even though I don’t feel like he’s doing everything for His own glory and name is something to be praised… I do know that a God who would send His son to die and become a man for all eternity for the sake of His own is one who probably has a good reason for allowing it, and is worthy of my trust and faith, even if I don’t like it.

A God who would bring about the gospel is not a God who is inherently evil or selfish.

And noticing that half the Psalms were laments… I didn’t feel out of place. I felt like I was experiencing what God puts all his people through.  It was reassuring.

They questioned His faithfulness too, and His love.  It seems it’s part of the faith process, because otherwise it’s just mental assent to facts, not a heart-felt commitment and trust refined through fire.  It’s like the difference between watching Saving Private Ryan and actually being in war.

 

Even in the darkest pits, He shines in mercy and grace.

 “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments. “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you.  I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” John 14:15-18

Slow Six

Six years ago, my oldest daughter was only almost ten years old and my youngest barely over two. We lived in Natchez for a few months while the world settled its focus on a post-Katrina environment of chaos and purposed aid.  It seems like much longer.

From the crusted-mud pavements of flooded streets emerged Homeland Missions, a community relief organization based out of our church in Slidell. We were instantly catapulted into unfamiliar roles and unique opportunities to live out what we’d been teaching and preaching for over a decade. It was both a horror and a privilege, the kind of orchestrated dance that only God could have composed in His mercy, grace and unsearchable wisdom for He always knows what we need and when we need it.  I’m reminded of the crucifixion of  our LORD where both realities were juxtaposed in prime view. The greatest horrific crime perpetrated simultaneously with the greatest act of love ever. I’m still floored by the expanse of it all.

Much spiritual growth has happened since that monstrous hurricane came beating us out of our comfort chairs for a mad sprint northward.  Through the  marsh-grass mounds, house muck,  failed promises and sacrificial gifts came new wisdom – an insight into faith-filled perceptions that let us know that  we’re better off for having been shaken to the core.  Sometimes you need a trip to the woodshed to discipline your focus. Sometimes you need to lose what you were taking for granted in order to know what you actually had – a Big Yellow Taxi moment is a powerful teacher. Katrina filled the bill.

Increased faith, more patience, greater grace and an acute sense of our need for others are our fruit stands – evidences of God’s handiwork in molding our hearts towards Christ.  These six years have gone by slowly like the methodical churning of an overburdened dough hook longing to complete the next batch, yet it isn’t over.  Much is left undone and in reality will never get done. Interest is almost nonexistent, funding has evaporated and the bureaucratic overload is so high one is hard-pressed to even see beyond the immediate. However, we press on.

Through many challenges and setbacks, our community work continues as we are able and we  pray that the LORD will continue to use us as He sees fit.  It took a mighty storm to mobilize us from a status-quo congregation into an outwardly-minded fellowship. In between that mobilization has come a greater awareness of His providential provision as well as man’s great need of the Good News. May the next six years bring even more people to the same praise through the Spirit-empowered efforts of our labors and through the help of others just like you. Soli Deo Gloria.  Amen.

On the Focus of Weekly Gatherings

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about church ontology or how we ‘do church’.  Most in our Western tradition have a mentality of church being the geographical presence of God on earth. This has always struck me as interestingly temple-oriented and not found anywhere in the New Testament record of early church life.  They gathered weekly to break bread, learn, pray and encourage one another and were constantly devoting themselves to the apostles’ teachings (Acts 2:42); however, the notion of a formalized ‘service’ as we know it today is not to found in Scripture as the mandated means of corporate gatherings.  We have submitted to a mode of corporate church gathering that has more to do with never getting out of an impersonal, passive audience, we’re-still-thinking-in-terms-of-the-temple type of worship and togetherness.  At least that’s how it seems to me.

I’m not trying to be a renegade nor do I think I can advocate for the dismal of other traditions that I deem as dregs of the not-yet-fully-reformed movement of early centuries.  What I’m after is a form and practice of weekly gathering that actually models what we see in the New Testament descriptions and prescriptions of New Covenant church life.  And I am convinced that we rarely see it.

Enter this article I recently found that actually puts into words where my head has been on this topic. It’s by Rick Owen and I don’t really know him, but I believe what he’s written expresses my current convictions.  Read it and let me know what you think.


The Regulative Principle of Ekklesia

By Rick Owen

Many who love Reformed theology have pointed out that the Protestant Reformation did not go far enough in its reformation of church practices. Its ecclesiology (doctrine of the church) perpetuated the distinction between the clergy and the laity of Roman Catholicism. The clergy were the ordained religious specialists (priests, clerics, preachers, ministers) who dispensed spiritual things to a largely passive laity (average church members). This was and continues to be unbiblical. The New Testament represents the church as one unified body under the headship of Christ — not two groups consisting of clergy and laity. (See “Building Up the Body — One Man or One Another?”) [1]

The word “clergy” comes from the Greek word kleros. The fundamental meaning of this word is “portion, lot, inheritance.” [2] In reference to God’s people, it may allude to the inheritance God has given to His people; or it may refer to God’s people as His own portion or inheritance who belong to Him and have been entrusted to the spiritual care of church leaders (Acts 26:18; Col. 1:12; 1 Pet. 5:3). This word never refers to ordained religious professionals who lead a church or its services, baptize people, dispense the Lord’s supper, or conduct weddings and funerals. This word applies to all God’s people.

The word “laity” comes from the Greek word laos. The basic meaning of this word is “people.” [3] In reference to the church, this includes all God’s people — those who lead as well as those who are led. Every believer is part of God’s people (Matt. 1:21; Luke 1:17, 68, 77; Rom. 9:25-26; 2 Cor. 6:16; Titus 2:14; Heb. 8:10; 1 Pet. 2:9-10).

The Reformed “Regulative Principle of Worship” speaks of approaching God in the only way He has approved and appointed: through Christ alone, in spirit and truth. This part of the definition is important and essential. Unfortunately, there is more embedded historically in this concept than this. The underlying assumption is that a worship service consists of people in the pew (the laity) sitting in front of specialists in the pulpit (clergy) who preach to them, pray for them, pronounce certain blessings upon them, and then part from them, as each one considers his or her religious duty completed for the week. The specialist’s role is similar to that of an Old Testament priest standing before a congregation of Israelites. In addition to these underlying assumptions, it is considered a ‘given’ that the reason a church meets is to have such a worship service. These ideas are apparent in this fairly typical article on this topic: “The Regulative Principle of the Church.” [4]

Worship in the New Testament

The New Testament never states that the reason a church meets is to have a traditional worship service as we usually conceive of this and practice it in the modern church. This is not to deny that Christians should worship God in various ways when they come together. How can Jesus’ disciples help but honor and glorify God as they consider the amazing truths of Scripture together, sing His praises, fellowship in His Spirit, share the Lord’s table, encourage and exhort one another, and pray? Such collective activities clearly constitute meaningful spiritual sacrifices or expressions of worship (literally, “service,” Greek: latreuó) to God. God-centered devotion should be the overarching purpose and outcome of all we do in the Christian life (Rom. 12:1), including when we assemble as Christ’s church. But this is like saying a husband should love his wife all the time. Loving his wife is not (or should not be) limited to special occasions.

My point here is that the New Testament never states that a worship service (whether we conceive of this as an orthodox, traditional or contemporary service) is the reason for Christ’s brethren gathering as His church. As Daniel Thompson has written,

“There are few doctrines in the New Testament that give us as much surprise as the doctrine of worship. One might even say we are stunned. Although there are references to worship in the Gospels, the book of Acts and Revelation, the New Testament Epistles — the doctrinal/explanatory part of the New Testament — is completely silent as to worship. This is all the more incredible when we consider: First, 1 Corinthians chapters 12-14 is an extensive treatment of church life and interaction with no mention of worship. Second, 1 Timothy was an epistle written to make known ‘how thou [Timothy] might behave thyself in the house of God.’ Surely one would expect a reference to worship here, yet there is none. Third, our Lord tells the Samaritan woman that ‘the hour is coming … and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in Spirit and in truth: for the Father seeks such to worship Him’ (Jn 4:21-23). With such a definitive statement of future devotion, it is inconceivable that worship would be passed over completely in the instructional part of the New Covenant, the Epistles, yet this is exactly what we find.” [5]

Old Covenant Model versus New Covenant Model

Advocates of the regulative principle often say we should not offer “strange fire” (or do unapproved things) in approaching God. (This is an illustration from the Old Testament cited in “The Regulative Principle of the Church” referenced above.) This imagery, however, applies primarily to the removal of sin in salvation. It is true that we cannot approach God any other way than He has appointed through Christ. But this paradigm was fulfilled by Christ through the offering of Himself once for all time (Heb. 10:10-14). We gather as Christ’s people on the other side of the Cross. The veil of the holy of holies in the earthly temple was split in two when Christ offered himself to God in the holy place of heaven (Heb. 9:11-12). The days of sacrifices are over. Christ is seated now at the right hand of God, ruling with all authority until His enemies are made His footstool (Heb. 10:12-13).

The Roman Catholic church re-sacrifices Christ in the mass as if an Old Testament priest were presenting an offering to God on behalf of a gathered assembly for the forgiveness of sins. This is an idolatrous misuse of an Old Covenant paradigm which became obsolete when Christ fulfilled it (Heb. 8:13). New Covenant believers gather together to remember, proclaim, celebrate and share in the New Covenant realities they now possess together in Christ (1 Cor. 3:21-23; Rom. 8:32), as God’s inheritance and chosen people, through the perfect and complete work of Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:15-23). The church is not reenacting the Day of Atonement when it gathers as God’s people. It celebrates the blessings of Pentecost poured out by a risen Savior (Gal. 3:14). God’s people live now in light of the good news of an empty tomb and a reigning Lord (Heb. 12:22-24).

The Regulative Principle of Ekklesia

The first disciples were told to wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit to be sent to them in a powerful way after Jesus’ ascension and session at the right hand of God. The outpouring of His Spirit resulted in specific Christ-magnifying practices which remain with us today as the core essentials for New Testament churches. We might call this the regulative principle of Christ’s ekklesia (the New Testament Greek word for God’s “called-out assembly”). This is the New Covenant model which the church should practice when it gathers as God’s people.

“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42 ESV). This is how Jesus began building His church (Matt. 16:18). And He continues the same work in the same powerful way today as His followers obey His command to “make disciples of all the nations” (Matt. 28:18-20).

1. “the apostles’ teaching” = revealing Christ from Scripture

2. “the fellowship” = relinquishing our spiritual and material gifts to God and one another

3. “the breaking of bread” = remembering the Lord in His covenant meal

4. “the prayers” = relishing God (adoration, confession, petition, thanksgiving, intercession)

These elements represent an interactive matrix which connects us to God and one another. They form a cohesive process which nurtures us as the body of Christ toward spiritual maturity. These four areas are not strictly divided. Various activities mentioned in the New Testament easily intermingle and overlap.

For example, Ephesians 5:18-20 connects singing with being filled with the Spirit and fellowship. Colossians 3:16 connects it with the word of Christ dwelling in us richly as we teach and admonish one another. Romans 15:8-12 connects singing with praising and worshiping God in prayer (cf. Heb. 13:15; Rev. 5:9). Likewise, the Lord’s supper is connected to both symbolic and verbal proclamation of Christ (1 Cor. 11:26). Such proclamation could include Christ-centered teaching, singing, praying and conversation (1 Cor. 10:16-17; 5:8).

Jesus died to save people who would praise God (Rom. 15:8-12). Each activity of Jesus’ called-out assembly is meant to magnify the Lord and build up His body to God’s glory.

1. The apostles’ teaching

Teaching is obviously very important in the church. But this involves much more than preaching traditional sermons to a passive audience. The word of God is God’s gift to Christ’s entire body. The whole church is the pillar and ground of the truth (1 Tim. 3:15). Every believer is to earnestly contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3). Therefore, not only should pastors and teachers encourage and instruct God’s people, as the apostles originally did. Each member of Christ’s body should encourage, instruct and admonish his or her brethren at some level according to sound doctrine — not necessarily as an appointed teacher, but — as a fully-functioning member of God’s royal priesthood who has been set apart by God to proclaim His excellencies (Acts 20:32; Rom. 15:14; 1 Cor. 14:1, 31; Col. 3:16; 1 Thess. 5:19-21; Titus 2:3-4; Heb. 5:12; 10:23-25; James 3:1; 1 Pet. 2:9).

Hermeneutically sound, Spirit-enlightened, Christ-revealing teaching is not limited to expository sermons. It can employ several kinds of speech and engage other believers in the body of Christ. We find the apostle Paul using three types of communication on the same occasion when addressing the church in Acts 20: lecture (Greek, logos) and dialogue (Greek, dialegomai) in verse 7, and personal conversation (Greek, homileo) in verse 11. The last two obviously include other people. All speaking and teaching, of course, should be done in a way which edifies the church (Rom. 14:19; 15:2; 1 Cor. 14:12, 26; Eph. 4:15-16, 29; 1 Thess. 5:11). Wise and effective church leaders use a variety of methods in teaching; and they train others to do the same so that God is magnified through His word (2 Tim. 2:2; Titus 2:14; 1 Pet. 4:10). Jesus gave us an example in making disciples as He walked, talked and served alongside His brethren.

2. The fellowship

Our fellowship connects with all we share together in Christ through His word, breaking bread and prayer. It includes loving and caring for one another by meeting both spiritual and physical needs (Acts 2:44-45; 4:32-35). We see the early church doing this enthusiastically. Through a process of generous, loving hospitality and joyous fellowship, God added more people to the church (Acts 2:46-47). Jesus was building His church and expanding His kingdom as He said He would, and He was doing so in very personal and practical ways. Christian love proves that we are children of God as we care for even the least among Christ’s brethren according to His new commandment (Matt. 25:40; John 13:34-35; 1 Cor. 11:22; 1 Jn 3:11-24).

3. The breaking of bread

The Lord ’s Supper is called “breaking bread” and “the Lord’s table” in the Bible. To break bread meant and still means to share a real meal. The Greek word deipnon is used to describe the Lord’s supper. [6] This word consistently refers to the evening meal (dinner or supper), or a banquet or feast. Breaking bread (or the Lord’s supper) was a primary reason — in fact, the only reason stated as a purpose clause in the Greek — for meeting on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 11:20, 33). Most churches need to learn how to make a church meal of the Lord’s supper — as a Christ-centered covenant feast — and make the Lord’s supper of their church meals. (See “The Table of the Lord” for more on this.) [7]

We see from Scripture that the meal begins by breaking and distributing one loaf representing the sacrificed body of Christ which brings us eternal life. This is followed by eating the bread and meal together. Then “after eating supper” (from the Greek deipneo), the meal is completed and concluded by dividing and distributing the cup which represents the New Covenant which was signed, sealed and delivered in Jesus’ blood (Matt. 26:28; Mark 14:24; Luke 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:25). So the biblical pattern is bread > meal > cup. On whose authority or by what better tradition than that of Jesus and Paul should the church vary from this?

4. The prayers

Christians are to pray not only in their daily walk with God (1 Thess. 5:17), but especially when gathered as His people (1 Thess. 5:25). This is because believers in Christ — all believers — are fellow priests who should praise and petition God and intercede for one another (2 Thess. 3:1; 1 Tim. 2:8; Heb. 13:18; James 5;16). God delights to answer prayer (Luke 11:9-13). He brings glory to Himself as we rely upon Him to do what we are unable to do (2 Cor. 1:11; cf. John 17; Heb. 5:7).

Prayer should never make a spectacle of us (Matt. 6:5). It should focus on God’s greatness and goodness (Luke 11:2). God opposes the proud, but He gives grace to the humble (1 Pet. 5:5). Therefore, we should humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God when we pray (1 Pet. 5:6-7). We gather to call attention to God through Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:26-27; 15:6; Eph. 1:18-19; 3:14-19; 6:18; Jude 20).

Putting This Into Practice

The New Testament does not give us a specific meeting agenda to follow — only the various elements of what happens when the church gathers. Here are a few suggestions for encouraging the church to function as a body instead of an audience in front of a platform with a keynote speaker.

An average-size congregation (anywhere from 50-150 people) can implement these core church practices very simply, but it will take commitment from the whole body to follow through with this and learn how to do it well over it time. The biblical role of elders is to encourage and cultivate these practices as mentors and co-participants in (not substitutes or proxies for) the New Covenant priesthood. [8] They are to be examples to the flock, showing God’s people how to do these things (1 Pet. 5:2-3).

Instead of setting up the church meeting with conventional auditorium seating, try using an arrangement similar to a prayer breakfast, business luncheon, or wedding banquet. This creates a clear visual for what the New Testaments states is our purpose in gathering as Christ’s people. We “come together to eat” (1 Cor. 11:33, ESV) or “break bread” (Acts 20:7) in Jesus’ name — to remember, celebrate and proclaim Him, as we feed by faith upon Him as the true Bread from heaven. A room full of tables highlights Christ’s gathering as a time of mutual participation in Him (1 Cor. 10:16-17).

The entire group can be addressed by elders, teachers, and any others who might speak, while everyone is seated comfortably at each table. Singing, prayer and the Lord ’s Supper can flow in any order which works best. Instruction, discussion, fellowship, prayer and praise can easily precede the Lord’s supper or follow it to the conclusion of the meeting. Children can be included and the whole process can flow as naturally and simply as a family gathering.

May the Lord give us wisdom, discernment and grace as we seek to understand and follow His will.

—————————-

FOOTNOTES:

[1] http://www.searchingtogether.org/articles/zens/bodybldg.htm

[2] http://www.studylight.org/lex/grk/view.cgi?number=2819

[3] http://www.searchgodsword.org/lex/grk/view.cgi?number=2992

[4] http://www.apuritansmind.com/puritanworship/mcmahonregulativeprinciple.htm

[5] http://www.solidrock.net/library/thompson/worship.php

[6] http://www.studylight.org/lex/grk/view.cgi?number=1173

[7] http://comingintheclouds.org/church/basics/table_of_lord.pdf

[8] http://www.bible-researcher.com/knaub.html

Professor Saddle Bur

It’s been a long blog recess.

In the last year, since Michelle’s health condition requires an avalanche of co-pays and prescription costs; I began working as a manufacturer’s rep with a restaurant and hospitality supply organization.  On only a non-profit/church income our financial vessel became so tight that our home was waterproof. Compound that tightness with the current Obama-nation of Desolation in our land, and the trickles of support had created a serious dehydration effect.

I’ve learned plenty in the last five years.

Most of it coming through supreme aggravation and a sovereign two by four graciously applied to my forty-plus year old forehead.  The Divine woodshed is a mighty teacher.  God made me an extrovert who is energized by people and social interaction, but those same people can cause me to wince and repel, becoming burs under my saddle. I’ve come to further understand that my impatience with life and the burs is a reflection of a prideful heart that isn’t content with what God has given me.  It’s in the intensity of a purifying flame that I’ve come face to face with my own inadequacies and imperfections and my great need to turn my resentments into teaching moments; not just for myself but for others as well.  Through all of it, I’ve learned that grace is supreme.

The more I’ve been put down to the ground, the greater my compassion for those who are out. The more I’ve found people weak in areas where I’m strong, the greater my desire to instruct and impart rather than becoming resentful towards them. Gifts are to be used not as a club, but as an aid.

I live as a visionary with many hats and with that comes frustration, for the world rarely sees what I see and I constantly see what others are afraid to dream and few keep a steady, enduring pace.  Sometimes I admire the simpleton for with large gifting comes large responsibility. I continue to see my holes and cracks as He keeps a well-polished mirror in front of me.

Aloneness is a leader’s companion when he’s yet to fully understand; and I know I’m still in school.  Not biting off more than I can chew isn’t just a pithy slogan for me; it is a daily personal duty to restrain yet another thought developing down a newly inspired path.  If I were currently being raised under the pop-psych reign of terror, I’d be the ADD/ADHD poster boy for sure. However, I know that self-control and mental discipline go a long way in staying effective amidst the whirlwind.

So here I sit.

Grace and understanding grow in and through me as only He can bring about and wisdom’s spray mists where I’m planted. There is much to do, but I’m not so bent of driving it faster than I see it happening. I’m glad that His love is greater than my pride. I’m happy that His grace is ample. I’m ready to stay plodding the fields wherever that may take me.

 

Beyond the Waterline

It’s hard to imagine that it’s five years later.  In some ways it feels like it has been a lifetime of swimming through concrete.  In other ways, it seems like just yesterday we came back home to a new normal – freshly renovated by the hand of God and a fist of furies.

As you travel through the tri-parish neighborhoods, you see a suffering urban triad. New homes sit next to empty lots that lay in between yet-to-be touched properties.  Blight sits like an ugly blind date among two other more attractive choices.  Much has yet to happen, but no one seems to want to dance.

There is an ADD view of charity in America. While we do give abundantly through many benevolent organizations, we are still a nation of distraction. One day our attention lingers over one disaster and then, just as quickly, it shifts over to a new area with little thought about long-term commitments. Devastated cities are not rebuilt quickly and people take even longer.

Yet, even through the confused difficulties and mire of mountainous and lethargic bureaucracy, we can see light. Hope was transported by God’s grace through thousands of churches and car after truck after van of volunteers. FEMA, the military, Red Cross and other agencies showed up week after week to help and assist in cleanup and recovery.  We were overwhelmed by a continuing trail of faithful servants who helped us sew up wounds and re-lay new foundations and in spite of all the delays, political pandering and illogical insensibilities; help arrived. Mercy is beautiful even when born next to death.

In long-term urban relief ministry, we’ve seen a juxtaposition of opposing truths that seem to wage war in a paradoxical fist fight.  Great blessings coexist with intense trials. One hand seeking to serve and love like Christ, while the other demands a better menu and preferential work projects.  One hand is grateful for whatever help it receives, while the other is never satisfied with the free labor it gets; even though it could never afford in the first place.  Grace and demand live as sneering neighbors sobering up those who pay attention.  Sometimes it seems like a miracle that anything gets done.  It is.

Beyond the waterline, we’ve learned much about our own weaknesses and self-interests and have been made clearly aware of our ongoing need for sustaining grace – the grace that only Christ can bring.  When funds disappear and interest wanes, the real fiber of your heart is tested.  As promises laced with good intentions break away into disappointment’s wake, it is through His sufficiency and new provisions that we press on. In the long haul, you notice both your utter dependency and inadequacy. God uses hard-baked vessels to bring truth and life, even when they are bruised and cracked.

Establishing our internship program at Homeland Missions has been a deep passion as we have sought to anchor and transfer the heart attitudes and practicalities that we’ve learned in half a decade. We know we are mere pups, but He’s taught us so much already.

As we move past another August 29th and into more unknowns; one thing has not changed. We are even more committed to sustaining a generational beacon of salt and light in our community. We aren’t sure about exactly what the end product will look like, but we are faithful to see it through. He never abandons us no matter how much the darkness feels empty.  Pray for us. Pray for the people we help. Come lend a hand. We need you.

See Him

If you’re reading this and feeling low, remember who is forever High. When you see yourself in iniquity’s mire and your heart is captured by this weak and weary world, remember the One who has overcome this life.  Never forget you are defined by Christ and His righteousness and not by a meritorious deeds stick.

If you’re reading this and feeling high, remember who was perfectly Low. When you see yourself in pride’s grip and your heart is captured by fame’s vainglory fantasy, remember the One who is the only one worthy of great position.  Never forget you are not the centerpiece for the Lord Jesus is our only peace.

If you’re reading this and feeling down, remember who could never be kept in the grave. When you contemplate that final breath at the edge of your days, remember that Christ has risen and so, too, will you for if you have died with Him you shall live with him forever.

If you’re reading this and feeling trampled by life, remember who suffered under the world’s hands.  When you see yourself as a victim, remember the One who was the only innocent One. Our vindication comes when He comes again as mercy and death is metered out perfectly before the throne.

If you’re reading this and understand the Words of Life then join me now in praying for all of those who will read this and don’t. May the Lord open their hearts and their give them eyes to see. Amen.

A Prayer for Pulpits

I’d like to call all believers to pray for a simple request – that the Word of God be preached clearly and precisely in our churches.

Pray that those men whom the Lord has entrusted with the privilege, duty and honor of preaching the Word of God on a weekly basis, will actually do just that.

Pray that the lure of personal story and staged humor will be replaced with a desire for pure milk and solid meat.

Pray that proof texting to prove a predetermined point will be substituted with carefully derived truth.

Pray that sermons will come from dedicated effort in exegetical study done to the glory of God and not from psycho-pop drivel and mystic self-help manuals.

Pray that pulpit words will be fueled by the Holy Spirit and derived from what God has said and not from what they wish God would say.

Pray for the dismantling of tradition-blinders when it becomes an affront to hard and simple biblical truths.

Pray for the heralding of Christ as a real savior who really does rescue sinners from hell without fail.

Pray that pastors are not afraid to say the H-word.  Pray for their courage. Pray for their humility. Pray for wisdom. Pray for your hearing.

May your weekly church gathering be filled with the power of the Trinity through the purposed preaching of the Scriptures.  Amen.

Pressing On

I haven’t written on this page in quite some time. For a little bit over a year now I have been readjusting my entire life’s routine around the infiltration of chronic illness. As I’ve mentioned in other posts, my wife has an autoimmune disease (polymyositis) that has sent familial shockwaves throughout our household.  The task of coping has been sketchy as schedules and everyday habits have had to change and uncertainty stares at us like a puzzled thief waiting for the next opportunity.

However, as only God can do, beyond the stressful change has come goodness. Through her misery as I watch my wife struggle, I see my own limitations and flaws and absolute need for His grace and divine strength. Sometimes I feel like I’m being beaten with a disappointment stick. Sometimes I can’t believe that yet one more thing has gone wrong. Sometimes I can’t believe that my life is what it is when this is not what I had planned. Not even close. Sometimes I want out.

But it is here in the recess between my own wisdom and the One who made me, where humility is bred.  He alone knows what is best and without the challenges set before me, I will always come back to a wrong position.  The pride of life is a vicious weed and we can’t always trust our feelings.  As Luther wrote, “Feelings come and feelings go, but feelings are deceiving… my warrant is the Word of God, naught else is worth believing.”

So, I will pray and I will believe, but not because I always believe and not because I always obey or rest in His understanding.  I will live by faith because there is no other option.  Faith is a gift that overrides our sinful desires to ignore it.  He intercedes for me and He sustains me in spite of my empty tank for as the Word of God reveals, “If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself” and in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.  In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words;  and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” ( 2 Timothy 2:13; Romans 8:24-27) Amen.

Heaven is our final place

Heaven is God’s abode and those who endure to the end will be with their Creator, Savior and Friend forever, continually basking in perfected glory. Those who, by faith, completely trust in the completed works of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins will be made whole. There will be no more need of the sun or stars or moon for Christ will illuminate each moment. Day and night will cease and all tears shall be gone, evil erased and punished and this present life forgotten.  Nothing will remain as it is for Christ will make all things new. (Revelation 21:5)  God’s elect sin no more and the Israel of God will sing songs of beauty and praise in harmony with angelic choruses.

The scene of heaven given to us from Scripture is both brilliant and vague as John’s visions at Patmos were recorded mostly as similes. We are told of the erasure of the old and the inauguration of the new; each symbol referencing capstone completions of Old Testament prophetic visions. These symbols in motion point us to the victory of the Lamb of God over sin and death and the final security of each member of the New Covenant.

Like most biblical truths, our heavenly estate is frequently misrepresented. More people seem to find their theology in jokes and bubble gum wrappers than they do from the Word of God. For example, no where in Scripture are angels ever described as anything but male yet buttons, medals, plagues and other supposed depictions present them constantly as female beings or chubby little babies.  The same type of fiction is true for heaven.

The truth of the matter is that there is much talk about heaven in the bible, but those discussions are described to us through intense symbolism.  One must first know the Old Testament well before they dare dip their sensibilities into John’s final bookend epistle lest they end up in a deep vat of fantasy and false presumption.  Another added dimension is the complete disconnect between this life and the next, the finite and the infinite, material to immaterial. Our entire earthly construct including our language and cognition is wrapped and forged through a sin-cursed veil.  We cannot understand this side of glory what awaits us in a perfected state.

As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “…EYE HAS NOT SEEN AND EAR HAS NOT HEARD, AND which HAVE NOT ENTERED THE HEART OF MAN, ALL THAT GOD HAS PREPARED FOR THOSE WHO LOVE HIM.” 1Co 2:9

What we do know is that we will be in a “place of utter felicity that is filled with the radiant majesty and glory of God.[1] Justice will have been rendered and His people will have been vindicated. All blasphemy and mockery and deceit and danger is gone. There will be no more sickness, hatred or anxiety.  The curse of sin has been reversed. Isn’t that enough for us?


[1] R.C. Sproul, “Now, That’s a Good Question!”, p. 285