Friday, November 27, 2015

Happy Day After Thanksgiving: Some informative links for your review...

So much going on, so little time to get to the heart of various matters. But thankfully, there are people smarter than I am who are doing a great job of reading, analyzing, and writing that help. So, if you are spending your day after Thanksgiving online instead of in stores, you can read these at your interest or leisure.

Presidential Politics--Rosenberg's "Final Four." For those following the Republican primary campaign, Joel Rosenberg has done us all a favor by reporting and opining on the seven candidates who came to a forum in Iowa and discusses their faith and its impact on their lives. More than that, Rosenberg looks at field and comes up with a "Final Four" that deserve serious consideration by those holding a biblical worldview, and he explains why. I largely agree with his analysis. You can find his article here.

Mars Hill Loses Another Pastor to an Edgy FaithI'm not surprised, but the successor to Rob Bell at Mars Hill Bible Church has resigned. Being pastor of the megachurch seems to have convinced Kent Dobson that he isn't really sure what we mean when we refer to "God" anymore. You can read the depressing story here. What is very sad personally to me is that Kent is the son of the late Ed Dobson, long time pastor of Calvary Church, Grand Rapids, whose faithfulness in engaging hard issues, including his fatal battle with ALS, was such a tremendous testimony to grace and truth.

Survey stating "religious" kids were mean and stingy was "flawed," according to researcher. News outlets and social media fell all over themselves featuring a study that proclaimed non-religious kids were nicer and more generous than religious ones. It was trumpeted by many whose opposition to religion and its effects are well established. Now, another report has come out looking at the study and the reporting on it and concludes that the study was flawed and the reporting was over the top. Surprised? Here is the report on the study.

One Pastor's Call for Action in Response to the Chicago Shooting. Thabiti Anyabwile is an African American brother who pastors in the Washington, D. C., suburb of Anacostia and is a part of The Gospel Coalition. He has gained a bit of a reputation of calling the larger evangelical movement to greater concern for issues related to racial divides and injustices. He has responded to the release of the video of the 2014 shooting of Laquan McDonald and the charging of the Chicago PD officer who shot him with murder with a call to action on the part of pastors. Read his blog and see what you think. I'm seriously pondering his points. The blog is here.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Thoughts on Fire

Fire has been a part of life for most of us who have lived in southern California. My wife's family lost their home and all their belongings (as did three hundred other families in San Bernardino) just before Thanksgiving, 1980. A dozen years ago, our family lived through the worst set of fires that southern California had experienced. It affected our city, even to the point that some stood at the top ridge of our church property and watched to see if we would still have that property the next day. It was much worse to the east and south. I was reminded of this when I came across the following essay I wrote about those days as they were finally coming to a close. I thought that you might enjoy reading it, too, and so I've reproduced it below. Remember, I wrote it a dozen years ago, in a different church and setting, but it still has, I think, some encouragements for us today.
Thoughts On Fire
            “It looks like Armageddon!”
            “Wow, fires, winds, now solar flares disrupting communications.  What next—pestilence?”
            “It’s all gone.  There’s nothing left.  Everything I had was in that house.”
            “She tried to escape, but got disoriented in the smoke, drove into a ravine, and died when the fire swept through.”

    These are all remarks I heard from people personally and on the radio coverage of the fires that just swept through our region.  The disasters have demanded and captured our attention, as we all have listened intently to see if our homes or those of our family and friends were in danger.  I’ve had calls and emails from around the country asking about us, and we’ve made a few ourselves to people in danger areas.  While most reports have been of safety, some have not been so fortunate.  Friends in San Diego Country report the deaths of neighbors when the firestorm swept through at 2:00 in the morning and caught people trying to get away.  A ministry friend told me of families in a church he served that lost their homes.  Many of you know people whose stories are similar, and we don’t yet know the full extent of damage to homes in the affected areas, camps in the San Bernardino mountains, favorite recreational areas, and so on.

            Among the many reactions I heard, those that reflected on biblical imagery were, of course, intriguing for me to hear.  As you might guess, they got me thinking about where those images come from.

            Some mentioned Armageddon and “end of the world” type scenarios.  Of course, our local disasters pale in significance compared to larger scale devastation (world wars) or biblical descriptions of the end times.  However, as I drove to an elders’ meeting on Monday night and could see the hillsides beyond our valley lined with flames, I understand the thoughts people had.  There is a greater fire coming to the earth, and it will mark the culmination of the age and of God’s wrath upon a rebellious world.  Sadly, most do not take seriously the truth that Peter shares in 2 Peter 3:10:

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up.

            When someone says they lost it all in the fire, I wonder how many of us would say the same if all our possessions were gone.  Having gone through this before with other families, I have seen Christians who lose their homes and still trust God, rebuild, and get on with serving the Lord.  I have seen others who mourn as if their children had died instead of their goldfish, and seem to think God has betrayed them by letting them suffer.  Two passages come to mind—one that was last Sunday’s text:
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you...(1 Peter 4:12).

…[E]ach man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work (I Corinthians 3:13).

            To some extent, preliminary fires (literal ones) are reminders of two important truths for Christians.  First, that we shouldn’t be surprised that the Christian life involves suffering, even when we are doing right—but that such suffering is meant to purify us.  Second, the things that last for eternity cannot be consumed by fire, but living for the stuff that burns is, well, foolish.  I heard from someone who moved away from here a number of years ago.  He said that when he lived in southern California he was caught up, like everyone else around him, in the new car/new house/new clothes pursuits.  God took him through a fire-type experience.  Now he has a small old house, the same clothes, and a 1987 car—and he’s happy.  Do you think we need fires to tell us this?
            I have always thought that fire would be one of the worst ways to go—and stories of people perishing in fire are especially disturbing to me.  Yet that is the imagery that Jesus warns us with in describing the punishment that comes to all who have not repented from their sins and cried out to him for mercy.  It is Jesus himself who will say to such people,

“Depart from me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels…(Matthew 25:42).”

            He tells us,

“The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 13:41-42).”

            Finally, there is a question that Peter asks right after that first verse I cited, about the elements being destroyed, and the earth and its works being burned up.  It is a query that we ought to be asking ourselves.  He says,

            “Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be… (2 Peter 3:11).”

            It is a good question!  Yes, my house is still standing, but someday it and everything I have in it will be gone.  I can build monuments here, landscape gardens and parks here, preserve forests here—but none of it will stand the fire that comes.  Will this reminder that all the things that everyone prizes so highly and works so hard to acquire will disappear and have no lasting value speak to us?  Since what has been saved this time will undoubtedly go sooner or later, what kind of person are you going to be?

            Peter answers the questions by saying that the solution is to be found

“…in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat (2 Peter 3:11)!”
            Our behavior should be changed by our faith:  holy conduct is NOT clinging to that which is ashes in the making.  Godliness is living like Jesus lives, for eternal purposes.  By doing so we speed along the coming of that great final fire.  But why would we want to do that?  Peter tells us in the next verse.
 “But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells (2 Peter 3:12).”

             The reason we look forward to that last conflagration is that it is the only way that the better life, the eternal one, will finally come.  There is nothing wrong with wanting a dwelling place and things that last.  There are such things.  But they come to us after this age, not in it.

              Sometimes it takes a fire to remind us of what will never burn. 

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Deepening Your Devos: Tools to Make Your Time with God Stronger

One of the most common questions I face is how to improve one's regular (hopefully daily) time in prayer and God's Word. Yes, I know that there is no specific command to read the Bible daily (something that people before the printing press would not have been able to do at any rate), but we are told to desire it like a baby desires milk in order for us to grow (1 Peter 2:2), and it is to be light for our path (Ps. 119:105), and light and food are needed daily, so I have no hesitation commending daily intake of God's Word, and warning against not doing so.

Similarly, we all need to pray, if for no other reason than to remind our own hearts that God is there and is ready to listen. 

So, you've set out to have that daily time, but you don't know where to read. Or perhaps you read a passage and then say to yourself, "I have no idea what it is that I just read," or "I don't really understand a lot of what I'm reading." Rather than becoming discouraged, may I encourage you to consider one or more of a number of tools I have used myself over the years and found helpful. Not all would be good for everyone, but my guess is any number of them would be helpful for most people.

Here are some of the tools I have been encouraged by.

Devotional Magazines/Booklets
There are many others than those I will list below, but I have actually used all of these, so I can testify to their value.

Daily Walk and Closer Walk. These two devotional magazines are published by Walk Thru the Bible and take you through the whole Bible or the New Testament in one year, respectively. Each day there is reading to be done, and a devotional to follow. I've used both, and when I want to read through the Bible they offer structure as well as instruction in the page long devotionals. You can subscribe to either, and see other specialized devotional magazines, at

Tabletalk Magazine. Published by Ligonier Ministries (the ministry of R. C. Sproul), each month's magazine goes through a section of scripture with lessons developed out of the specific passages read. It is theologically deep (and be aware that it reflects Sproul's strongly Reformed theology). You can order it through

Our Daily Bread. This was one of the first devotionals I ever knew of, and it still offers a short passage to read and a brief story to go with it. It isn't going to take you very deeply into Scripture, but it might be a great first step for those who are trying to get started. It is available on our information table.

Devotional Books:
Most of these tools use Scripture as a basis for reflection, to encourage, or to guide prayer, and may be in addition to regular reading through a book of the Bible.

Handbook to Prayer. This is one of a number of similar books by Ken Boa, one of my favorite teachers on the subject of spiritual formation and growth. This book uses selections of Scripture for prayer, organized around a number of themes so that, if you follow the book through a week, you will have prayed through most of the major facets of prayer that should be a part of your prayer life. Praying Scripture is one of the best disciplines I have been taught, and whenever you are uncertain what to pray, using the Scriptures is always profitable and safe. Boa also provides a daily email with a similar structure that has elements from a number of his books. You can learn more at

The Valley of Vision. This collection of Puritan prayers has been great balm for my soul in its amazing depth and scripture saturated prayers. 

Daily Light on the Daily Path. This is a classic of scriptures brought together around specific themes, one set for morning and one for evening. You are not reading lengthy passages here, and the downside is you are not moving through a book or section of the Bible. However, the upside is that ever since this collection was pulled together, its words have powerfully blessed people. I still remember times when I used it and was amazed to have a collection of verses to read that day that applied so perfectly to my own condition or setting. I wouldn't use it forever, but a season in this book would be beneficial for most everyone.

My Utmost for His Highest. No consideration of devotionals can bypass this classic by Oswald Chambers. His reflections on verses of Scripture contain so many encouragements, I can overlook a few theological quibbles I have with some of the entries. You will be blessed going through this gem.

On This Day in Church History. Robert Morgan has provided a daily tour through church history, and each day's reading introduces a theme or person of importance in the life and history of the church. This should not replace scripture and prayer, but offers a great addition to your devotional time.

I know this is a VERY partial list, and you will probably think of things I've left off immediately, but these resources have all been a help to me in different ways and different times, and I commend them for your consideration to help you grow.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

The Paris Attacks and Praying Christians

This morning, we are still reeling from the news of the attacks last night in Paris, seven different incidents resulting in the deaths of over 120 people, most of whom were in a music hall attending a concert. The instantaneous coverage around the world make us all feel as if we are in the middle of the crisis, and thus the impact of the attacks was even higher for those aware of the news last night. 

Within hours, social media was abuzz with stories, comments, hashtags, and memes. Calls for prayer were intermixed with outcries of rage and revenge toward ISIS. As I scanned many of the responses, I was uncertain what to do. I was appalled, sad, angered at the evil evidenced, and bothered by some of the inane analysis that seemed to lack a category for such evil being perpetrated in the name of religion (other than Christianity, which many can easily demonize in other settings). We can pray for those injured and the families of those who were killed, and of course we must keep up a continued crying out for the Lord to come and bring his kingdom, but our normal responses to help aren''t really necessary. France doesn't need our food, our bandages, our military, or our medical teams. 

But France does need our prayers. The nation is one of the least evangelized in Europe, and while churches are being planted and revitalized, the knowledge of the gospel and the hope that only comes through faith in Jesus Christ is rare. The two mission efforts we have supported are far from Paris, even though the whole nation has undoubtedly been shaken by these events. Prayers should include our brothers and sisters in the Baptist Church of Caen, France (pastored by Jamel and Yvan, disciples of Dan Lacey), and the church planting team in Lyon, France that includes Jesse and Ashley Leightenheimer. Pray that they have great wisdom in speaking into the lives of many who may feel their world has been undone by this, not to mention those with family and friends affected. If you know other gospel workers and believers in France, this is a critical moment for them and they need your prayers.

Pray for gospel witnesses to be grace-filled and proactive wherever they are in the greater Paris area. We may not know them, but they are still family and they have a window of opportunity; and pray for any believers who have been hurt or suffered loss.

Finally, we need to pray for our enemies--in this case those people who identify with ISIS and its work, who are in desperate need of salvation. Make no mistake, I will pray for them, even as I pray for the success of those who would hunt them down and defeat them. They are dangerous and deadly and must be treated as such, but they are also sinners who are not beyond the reach of the grace of God. 

I don't hold out a lot of hope for our world, and for peace in the Middle East. Attacks like this will continue, and the Bible doesn't encourage us to think things will get better before Jesus returns. But Jesus will return, and that hope (along with the gospel that explains how to have hope in his return) is what keeps us looking forward and looking up, weeping with those who weep in these moments but undeterred in our commitment to see France and the rest of the world hear the message of Jesus.