Monday, May 21, 2018

Inability to Excise

No, I said it right, "excise" not "exercise." I remember a time when my daughter was about two years old, and had the biggest splinter in the history of mankind, save the one in this picture, in her foot. We had to read her a story, do everything we could as we prepared to hold her down if necessary, as I worked with a razor blade for an hour to slowly get it out. A similar story happened to the people of God in the Old Testament with the opposite result.

In the story of the people of Israel, God had given them the land, they just needed to go and make that a reality. There was a conquest. They were to divide the land among the tribes where they would settle. However, before that could happen, they must take the land.

God gave them specific instructions that they were to drive out the peoples that inhabited the land. The Lord promised his presence, and his power to fight on their behalf to ensure that all the "-ites" were gone. A couple of reasons necessitated the removal of the nations. First, their sin demanded justice, and it was God's timing to meet out his wrath upon them. Second, God knew that the gods of these peoples would draw the hearts of the Israelites away from purer obedience and love for Him.

As I read the story again this morning, I saw a pattern of disobedience to God's command. In verses 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, and 33 of chapter one, the bible explicitly states in each verse that they did not drive out the inhabitants of the land completely. Names and places were given, tribes were called out, but their disobedience to drive out the nations was widespread. Made me wonder the reasons, why the children of God did exactly what he told them not to do? Many of the remaining tribes were turned into forced labor (probably in exchange for remaining in their homes). Israel probably saw an opportunity for free help in a new land to become prosperous on the backs of others. Maybe spoils of cities and women? Just speculation. However, when they stayed so did their idols.

So God said, " have not obeyed my voice. What is this you have done? 3 So now I say, I will not drive them out before you, but they shall become thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare to you." -Judges 2:2-3. His judgment was that they would be a recurring pain in the neck, a chronic snare, a source of continual suffering to the people. This judgment came to pass then and continues to come to pass today. Over and over Israel was led astray by the gods of the nations until the point where God judged them with destruction from the king of Babylon. They spent seventy years on the banks of the river, crying to God to let them go home to their holy city, which was flattened and burned.

Sin in our lives destroys us, yet most of us attack it with the goal of obliteration. We use peashooter regulations in our lives as check boxes to see if we can avoid outward expressions of sinful behaviors. We feel bad about not reading our bibles, and not praying "enough," but we never examine what might be the underlying cause. Rarely are we willing to cut off the hands and gouge out the eyes to drive out the sin and its roots from our walk with Christ. Israel was disobedient, yes, but the root cause of their sin that brought them to destruction was their lack of love for the Lover of their souls.

Like the people of God then we who are the people of God now, still have a love affair with many idols because we leave them in the land of our hearts. The reason that we have no victory is neither a lack of time nor a lack of discipline, nor too many engagements and commitments, it is a lack of love. We must fight worldly pleasure with a greater one, the pleasure we gain from our love with the Shepherd of our souls.

When we find immense and ultimately satisfying pleasure in Him, the things of earth (including the sin that you lazily fight) will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace. Not only that, but a watching world will see the true worth of Christ as your treasure and glorify your Father in heaven even when they don't know him. So turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full at His wonderful face and pursue it, knowing with confident assurance that satisfaction and victory over sin lies in Him.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018


I am sure there is a way to make this font turn red, but I don't want to take time to figure it out. Besides, it probably wouldn't look good on this background. The reason that I would want it to be red would be that people typically associate love with the color red. Last week was Valentine's Day, so there were verses on our sign about love, people on the street corner selling red and pink gifts for those who have personal convictions against Wal-Mart, and others who went to Wal-Mart to pour over cards and giant teddy bears and spend thousands of dollars.

We love lots of things. We love chocolate (2.8 billion lbs. consumed in America each year!). We love baseball (the first MLB spring training game starts tonight). We love our pets. We love our friends and family. And we love God. There so many other things that are loved, pleasures, past-times and people top the list in whatever flavors suit you. We know that we are supposed to love God most, but this kind of love, unlike chocolate, pets, and people, is harder to actualize, harder to describe, harder to make concrete or tangible. It is, however, deadly serious. "If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed." -1 Cor 16:22

Whether pleasures, past-times, pets, people, or God, a common denominator is desire to have or experience or be near. It is also true that our love for God should be the highest among our loves. If we apply measuring tape of desire to God alone, we examine our desire to experience and be near him to gauge our love for him. Do you miss him if your life squeezes him out for a day or a couple of days or a week? Do you think about him regularly? Do you look forward to his presence being manifested experientially? Is there a thirst for him in you like that of the deer who is searching diligently for water in a land of drought?

Psalm 63:1-4 give us a picture, and also a clue as to what the basis is for the psalmist's love/desire. He knew God. He knew that God's love was better than life. This was not only an intellectual value judgment (if it were, it would also be accurate), but a personal, experiential knowing of the God of glory. He knew about him, what he had done in the past and his character and attributes. He also knew the comforting touch, the satisfying presence, and blazing glory that transformers a man into humble, hungry, bold, lover of the Lover of His soul.

If we lack true love for God, it may be because we lack the knowledge that Paul spoke of in Philippians 3:8-10, where he counted all things in this world a loss for the surpassing worth of knowing Christ in the power of his resurrection, the fellowship of his sufferings, and being conformed unto his death. He knew the worth, therefore had the affections.

Practically: seek to know him in the word and in prayer. No, really seek him. Seek him alone in worship, and with the body in worship. It is truly a surpassing worth. We are to continually raise our affection for Christ and seek to raise the affections of others around us for his beauty. Look to see with spiritual eyes and discernment; ask God to reveal himself, so that you may want him. Confess your lack of love, and ask God to change your heart, wooing you to his awe and worthiness.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Expectation and Unbelief

Speaking of the Holy Spirit, Horatius Bonar said, "We have not honored the Spirit of God. It may be in words (only) that we have recognized his agency, but we have not kept this continually before our eyes..." He is saying that we have only paid lip service to the Holy Spirit's work. This is also true, but my thought today as I write is not about the working of the Spirit, but about prayer.

We had a speaker last night at our annual Valentine's Banquet that our church gathers to share, and he made a comment that he did not know what to make of a Christian who prays, but does not expect to be actually heard and answered. Lip service to the God of Heaven and Earth when Christ died to split the veil and give us access, baffled him. I was convicted by the Spirit immediately.

There are many reasons that our prayers are not heard or answered. We could have a besetting sin in our lives that breaks us from close fellowship with God and keeps us from prayer. We could be praying for the wrong things, praying "amiss" as James calls it, seeking only selfish things to heap upon ourselves. We may not being fervent or persistent enough. We simply might not be asking, as Jesus told us that we do not have, because we do not ask. Peter says that if husbands do not live with their wives with understanding and honoring her will not have their prayer heard. However, maybe the greatest hindrance to prayer being effective is our unbelief.

We know that unbelief caused Jesus to do no miracles in Nazareth. We know that it caused Jesus to be astonished at some Galilean cities when they saw miracles and explained them away. It constantly brought judgment throughout the Old Testament who did exactly what God told them not to do, or did not do what he told them to do. In the case of the Pharisees, it caused most to be lost forever, even though they were the most religious people in Israel.

Think about it. They knew that they were commanded to pray; so they did. They knew that they should want to pray; so they prayed. They knew that they were supposed to live holy lives of moral purity and ceremonial obedience to be heard in prayer; so they worked hard. Yet, they did not believe that Jesus was the Christ. They did not believe that God could raise up children to Abraham from stones or make them cry out in praise if he desired. They did not believe that Jesus was a prophet because he healed on the Sabbath. One moment after death, how many wished that they had cried out with the epileptic boy's  father, "help my unbelief."

We know we are supposed to pray; so we pray as many minutes as we can for as many things as we can think of. We try to be unselfish by praying all too generically that God would bless this or that. We go through the motions, but do we truly believe that God hears, and God will answer? Do we truly believe that God can and will move in a situation? Are we fervent and persistent only when there is a very desperate situation that directly affects us or a close friend? Do we believe when we pray, or just going through the motions to make ourselves feel better, as though God was pleased that we gave lip service to intimate communion with him?

Maybe we should all (myself being the chief of offence) pray the prayer of the father, "help my unbelief," and repent from our lack of faith, trusting in the gospel and the transformed life it brings to aid us in pursuit.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Losing the Wonder

Went to the Georgia Baptist Evangelism Conference yesterday. Had a great time with our staff on the way there and back, at Krispy Kreme, and discussion and reflection. One thing that stuck with me, that I have continued to ponder last night and this morning was something that one of the presenters said in the first session. He is the son and co-pastor of a mega-church in Columbus, GA, about my age, and said many things that large church pastors say about growth and such, but then something out of the ordinary.

He said "never lose the wonder of your salvation." Wow!

Thomas answered him,
“My Lord and my God!”
-John 20:28 
Think about it. Never lose the awe of the gospel of the reconciliation that God has performed. Never cease to be astounded that he wound reach down in the greatest sacrifice to rescue the undeserving and incapable. Don't stop being amazing that he chose you from before the foundation of the world to put on display the riches of his grace as a trophy of redemption of a loving to toward and unlovely man. Never lose the astonishment of being blind, but then seeing; of being lost, then being found. Never lose the joy that came when the God of the universe broke open the darkness and shed his light upon you, and changed you forever.

Listen to the words that Jesus spoke to a seemingly and externally strong church, to whom he gave great praise, but had a heartbreaking problem:

“I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first..." -Revelation 2:2-5

All through the scripture we are shown the glory of God, weaving its way in a multitude of aspects to allow us to see his awesomeness and the unspeakable plan of redemption. Ephesus had experienced it, seen it, tasted it, and yet become lethargic, indifferent, and unimpressed with their salvation and the God who saves. We crave awe and wonder in our very being. We just tend to find it in other things. They found it in good things, but just not the best thing.

We must repent of our familiarity, boredom, and dullness. We must confess our need of fresh light and heat, and plead with God to grant favor toward us, showing us his glory. We must renew our minds with scripture and gospel-centered song. Join me in my own fight against this condition to which none of us are immune, and to which there is no vaccine; only (and sufficiently) hope in Christ!

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Thinking You Are Just Fine

I went to a bible study last night taught by one of our elders. It was the first in the series of ten that Matt Chandler has done on Psalm 119. One of the topics drawn out of the first sixteen verses was the Christian being one of continual repentance. Repentance is a posture in which we live out our communion with Christ. A mindset or life that is lived under the knowledge that our feeble efforts are never enough, and even on our best days, serious faults surface is uncommon. We are fine just where we are.

My observation is that in church life down here in the south, we affirm regular repentance in theory, but pay it little more that lip service. Two examples that testify to its misunderstanding are 1) crushing convicting and true repentance if we commit a huge and terrible sin ONLY, and 2) tacking that phrase onto the end of our public prayers: "and forgive us of all of the many times we've failed you, in Jesus' name, Amen." True realization and heartbreak over deep sin leading to repentance, even though it may seem "minor," are rare for most of us. We are fine just where we are.

Sins of pride, anger, gluttony, rebellion, gossip, lust, lack of concern for others (both for our brothers and sisters and for the poor and needy) are glossed over in complacency. Improper motivation for why we do things, how we approach our ministry to our family, our church, and our community, apathy, greed, failure to love without which all is useless are not things that we bring up much, nor give much contemplation toward. Deep pleas for the Holy Spirit to search our hearts for discord with others, without which we are not to worship before clearing our offense. We are fine just where we are.

I have been reading a book that killed it this week. Words to Winners of Souls by Horatius Bonar includes a chapter about confession of sin. The first half of the chapter is extended excerpts from a intense confession from a group of Scottish ministers from 1651. It deals with lightness in conversation, to attitudes about ministry, to ease of which we find excuses, loving pleasure over loving God, trusting our own abilities, and attitudes toward our opponents. Those were just the title headings, paragraph after paragraph under all those headings. Eating me up. Very humbling.

If we are to grow in our conformity to Christ, the Holy Spirit will chisel away the rough edges of sin that surround the likeness to our Master. Cry out with David, "Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!" -Psalm 139:23-24. Listen carefully, think deeply, look beyond the surface, let the Spirit search your soul. Know that you are not fine. It is OK not to be fine. Run to Christ as you turn from that sin.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

It's Been A While

It has been more than a year since I have blogged. Most of you have not missed it, some of you now will read my blog for the first time. I also stopped journaling, and probably several other things that I used to have time to do, this year I didn't (or at least it was a good excuse). This year was a year that I probably should have been writing and journaling the most, so that I could gain from the twists and turns that we've experienced. I would not say that this has been the most difficult year we've ever had, because it hasn't, but it certainly has been different.

Lots of different. I could write really extended accounts of all the major things that happened, but I have forgotten so much of the small, but bright, examples of God's faithfulness. I have learned so much from the difficulty we've faced, but God has been constantly, providentially present in our lives, even if we couldn't see it. If you have questions, please feel free to email me. Or if you only know parts of stories, and we can shed more light upon, or share more fully now, please call, email, or text.

However, for now, let's just make a long story short. I feel like I am doing what God wants me to do, in the place where he wants me to do it. It has finally come to pass, that which we have prayed for, and that which God has ordained. It's like something you know theologically, but experience in reality, and it's altogether different. God is sovereign, and works all things after the counsel of his will, not violating the genuine volition, but bringing about all things by his design for his glory.

I intend to start blogging again for both of you who read it. Thanks for all of you who prayed for and supported us through a tough year!

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Stirring The Pot

Glad the elections are over. Still, however, I have a rant that I would like to share. Two posts from Christians this week have been extraordinarily inflammatory, one because of supposed academic debate, and the other because of supposed racism.

Notice both those reasons start with "supposed." The worst thing about either is that they were put out by Christians, and carried all over the world with social media. Christians stirring pots that don't need to be stirred.

Why is that so sad you may ask? Just a few reasons: these seven things the Lord hates...he that sows discord among the brethren, as best you can live at peace with all men, do all things without grumbling or complaining, why not rather be wronged than to drag a brother before the civil magistrates, do nothing from selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility count others greater than yourselves and do not only consider your own interests, but for the interests of others, a dishonest man sows strife and a whisperer separates friends, for lack of wood a fire goes out as without a gossip quarreling ceases, have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies, you know that they breed quarrels.

James and John indicate that this kind of stirring the pot, when the pot is fine, will harm/destroy a church. Proverbs says it can destroy a friendship. Reality is that it can destroy larger entities. Christians should more carefully consider their ways.