has chosen the good part

Went on a field trip with my daughter on Thursday to a quaint little museum. Part of the tour involved the kids riding a wagon pulled by a horse. The guide warned us to stay out of Jack's way, because he (Jack the horse) wore blinders and could see very little of his periphery.

It is remarkable how easily people justify their bad choices. And it reminds me of that horse with those blinders. We tend to rationalize our lack of will to do good by presenting situations in binary choices that don't show the full range of options available to us. We may let our children wear inappropriate clothing, for example, under the reasoning that it's not as bad as what some other kids wear, and that at least it's under our controlled environment. But the choice was never between complete evil and lesser evil alone; there always exists the choice to do good.

Trust me, friend. No need to justify your choices to me. I'm not the one judging you. But I do warn you this: if I can see the other choices that exist, don't you think the Lord sees even more?


and a light unto my path

Had the opportunity to teach a lesson on the importance of Bible reading yesterday for a men's leadership class. Thought a couple of practical tips would be useful highlighted here.

1. If you have not ever read through the entire Bible once, you really need to do so. At least once. Not just to say that you’ve done it. But because every letter and every word was placed in there for a reason, and it is important that you see the entirety and extent of what He has laid out for us.

2. If you’ve already read through it once, read through it again. You really should read through it in its entirety two or three times if not more. Every time you go through it, you will catch different things and learn different things. Ever watch a movie as a kid and you remember it being completely hysterical, but when you watch it again years later as an adult, you’re like, "Really? I found this funny?"

Words hit us differently at different phases in our life. I always thought John 11:35 was a cute verse, but when I read that verse a few days after my best friend was killed by a drunk driver in college, it wrecked me. The Word of God will hit you in different ways at different times in your life, so you can never, never read through it enough times.

3. If you’ve been reading through the entire Bible for the past several years, add variety:
- Try a chronological Bible
- Try a different translation (by this, I mean ESV. The NIV, The Message, The Living translation, and other loosy-goosy wordplay are strictly from the devil)
- Focus on different books (just NT, just prophets, just Psalms, etc.)
- Create your own reading schedule (MWF Psalm, OT/NT every day, OT in Jan/NT in Feb, etc.)

4. Read the Bible with your wife and children. Imagine that you were their physical trainer. Wouldn’t you want to know what exercises they were doing, and what they were eating? As their spiritual trainer you need to know what goes into them. Your job as the spiritual leader of your house is to shepherd the walks of your spouse and children. How can you do that if you don’t know what they’ve been digesting?

5. Finally, if you’ve already been reading the Bible faithfully every day, pick one day where you spend serious time digging into the Word. Do more than pick up your Bible and read it. Digest it. Take a look at commentaries and see what others are saying. Discuss a passage you read with your accountability group. Memorize the Word. There are lots of ways to deepen your time in the Word beyond simply reading it. Pick one day of the week and commit it to the Lord, that you would spend that time dedicated to really understanding Scripture.


my beloved son

"The father of the righteous will greatly rejoice, and he who sires a wise son will be glad in him." {Prov23:24}


not because you saw signs

A friend decided to emulate Gideon and put the Lord to sign-making work. I'm all for confirming the Lord's leading on your life to ensure that you aren't twisting the desires of your own heart into something divine. I'm also all for sign-searching as it attunes you to the active hand of God in your life.

Big concern: that you have no idea how to set out a fleece or read a wet fleece.

In Luke4, Christ tells liar not to put Him to the test. Now all of the Malachi fans point to 3:10 and say what about this. Well, the Lord has no problems with you testing His eternal faithfulness in keeping promises. But the Lord won't be tested as some rag doll we can manipulate whenever we wish to force issues in our lives. He's not a magic eight ball. Make sure that fleece you're laying down is something He wants you to do. No point in asking for a sign if His response is "Seriously? What did I just say to you yesterday?"


for their own country by

I know others on MemDay are going to be posting flag pictures and "Thank you, heroes" tributes; as well they should be. Honoring those that sacrifice their lives for freedom is the right thing to do, make no mistake about that. Christ Himself says that there is no greater love than to lay down one's life for a friend.

But still a bit troubled that we sang the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" during our worship service Sunday. I don't care what the backstory behind the hymn is, and how God is prominently displayed in some of the lyrics. Sometimes songs come packed with other baggage, and that should be taken into consideration. And the Battle Hymn has a military connection, and is often one of the closing songs at the Republican National Convention.

When that song is sung, it almost never is in the context of worshiping God; it is usually worshiping some other ideology, and it is difficult for me to separate that side of it from the song so I can focus on Him in the sanctuary. Love your country, sure. But Lord always come first, and those aren't always as overlapping as you might think.

[Note: this post was influenced by InternetMonk's insightful look at Christianity and patriotism. See this and this, and also this really good one.]


of speech Jesus spoke to them

"Wise Up About Words" {Prov13:3}
* We are nation of talkers
- Avg man: 20,000 wds/day
- Avg woman: 30,000 wds/day
- Talk shows, cell phones, talk radio, et al
- 120+ verses in Prov (1 of 8) about words
* Power of words
- In WWII, loose lips sink ships -- words can do damage to self & others
- Prov11:9: can destroy
- Prov12:25 can cheer or heal
* Avoid words that wound
- Gossip (truth that hurts) or slander (lies that hurt) {Prov11:13,16:27-28,20:19,26:22}
- Angry words {Prov15:1,29:22}
- Lies {Prov6:17,12:19,12:22,11:3}
- Flattery {Prov26:28}
- Hasty words {Prov29:20}
- Boasting {Prov8:13,27:1-2,30:32}
- Rash promises {Prov20:25}
- Complaining {Prov21:19}
* Choose words w/ wisdom
- Think before speaking {Prov12:18,15:28,29:20}
- Talk less {Prov10:19,17:28}
- Speak gently {Prov15:1,25:15}
- Cut others more slack (not same as overlooking sin) {Prov12:16,19:11}
- Always speak truth {Prov12:19,24:26}
- Choose words which heal & encourage {Prov12:18,12:25,15;4,16:24}
* Application
- Make things right
- Yield your tongue to God {Ps141:3}
- Ask God for a new heart {Matt12:34}
- Feast on the Word of God {Ps119:11}


this, not because he was

My brother called me the other day to express amazement that "everything was falling into place" for him. He was doing well with his job. Things that he'd been working on were paying off. Despite his recent success at work, he was expressing some concern with the long-term future of his company, and "suddenly" he received a call from another company looking to set up some time to chat. So he called just to stress his happiness that things were clicking.

My response was that nothing is coincidental and everything happens for a reason -- an obvious indirect reference to the working hand of God. His response to me was, "I don't go to church and do good things like you. Why would God make anything line up for me?"

A fine question. It's really the polar opposite of (but very clearly related to) "Why do bad things happen to good people?" And it's part of that grand subset of questions, "I don't understand why God does what He does." And frankly, even for a believer, there is no clear answer to that question.

The Lord can make things line up for His enemies -- and that is the very definition of grace and love in Rom5. The Lord can make things tough for those who love Him -- the definition of trial told throughout the Gospels. The question should never be "why?" The question should always be "Who?" and "What now?"


completely on the grace

I'm going to suggest a novel interpretation of Matt19:16-30 (or perhaps it's simply novel to me). I've always read the story of the rich young ruler as a caution against wealth, and have heard it preached as such. v21 has been held up as proof of Christ's love for the poor and His desire to assist them. And while His heart for the poor is fact, I don't believe that is what this story is actually about. Rather, it's about whole-hearted devotion to God.

When the rich young ruler goes away grieving, Christ states that it is tough for a rich man to get into Heaven. His point is that wealth is too often too big a priority in people's lives. But imagine the scene differently. If an obese person had been in place of the rich young ruler, perhaps Christ would have instructed him to eat less and give all of that food to the poor. And that man goes away grieving and the warning is against gluttony. If a ruler with a harem had come before the Lord, perhaps Christ would've instructed him to send away all his wives but his first, and command the others to serve in the temple. And that man goes away grieving and the warning is against polygamy.

Point is it is not wealth that is the issue in the story; it is whatever idol holds greater sway than Christ in your life. It is why in v27 Peter remarks that they have given away everything to follow Christ. They have literally chosen God over all things. Your career, your family, your material things, your own talents and gifts, your heart, soul, strength, and mind -- Christ wants all of that, all of it. Otherwise, prepare for that headshake and comparisons to dromedary needlepoint.


is to remain forever

The clip below shows Brian Doerksen singing the song he wrote that we sang this past Sunday at our church. Wonderful melody, especially towards the end when the eternal, immortal, invisible nature of God is proclaimed. What I like about the clip below is that when they get to that part of the song, and the massive choir begins to chime in the proclamation, they do so gathered around a massive cross that is center stage. That cross doesn't look too big to me. Nor does the crowd seem to think it too garish. Lesson to be learned.


you are speaking plainly and

A sister came over recently and spoke about her talent in sign language. She specifically was thankful that she had (as she called it) her own personal worship language. That is a great phrase. I've said all along that one of the great things about our faith is how God makes us all feel unique, like we're the only one in the universe with Him. And so it doesn't surprise me that each of us has a special and personalized language with God.

As I led our small group study of John last night, I felt as I always do when teaching or preaching -- that as He is speaking through me, He is also speaking to me. I hear Him most clearly when I am attempting to convey Him most clearly. Teaching His Word is my personal worship language. It is why I so enjoy being before others. It's not that I want to be the center of attention. It is because I long so much to hear His Spirit. I suppose there could exist no better reason for full-time ministry....


others have labored and you

"Wise Up About Work"
* Avg person works 150,000+ hrs in lifetime (40%) -- no wonder Solomon speaks much about work throughout Prov
- Principles apply whether working outside or inside home, w/ or w/o paycheck
- Lots of dissatisfaction about work in our culture -- not supposed to be like that despite curse of God in Gen3
- Work being more difficult under curse does not mean work no longer good
- Col3:23, Eph4:28
* Wrong views about work
- Workaholism {Prov23:4, Ps127:2} (working lots not same as working hard)
- Protestant work ethic -- moral positive in work
- Laziness {Prov6:6-11, 26:13-16} -- leads to disgrace {Prov10:4-5}, poor habits {Prov12:27}, and poverty {Prov20:4, 24:30-34}
- Not all poverty due to laziness
- Desire to get rich quick {Prov28:20, 12:11, 13:11} -- motivated by envy and/or greed
- Gambling equal to get rich quick scheme; poor disproportionately affected by gambling
* Godly view of work (turning curse into blessing)
- Diligence {Prov10:4, 12:24}
- Integrity/honesty {Prov11:1, 13:11}
- Provision: God supplies our needs {Prov6:6-8}
- Respect: God brings us honor {Prov22:29}
- Satisfaction: God gives us contentment {Prov13:4, Eccl5:18}
* Summary
- God provides for us
- God uses work to make us more like Christ
- God uses work for opportunities to reach others for Christ


delivered over by the predetermined plan

Curious thing when everything falls into place. Often, it might look like the hand of God is at work. Many consider the pieces clicking to be a sign of His will, and most times that is so. But couldn't aligned stars also be something other?

That man with the troubled marriage. One day that attractive co-worker begins flirting, and suddenly they're assigned a work trip together, and one thing leads to another, and is that the hand of God? That woman with the debt and the shopping addiction who works in finance, and suddenly a new accounting process gives her easy access to untracked loose cash, and one paid debt later, and is that the hand of God? That person who longs to begin a new life because this one is too hard, and suddenly there is this chance to pick up and leave and that temptation matches the desire of his heart, and is that the hand of God?

God's a Shepherd with a staff used for correction. You'll know if it was His will not at the start, but down the road when either reward or consequence comes your way. Easy to interpret those initial events as something divine. Easy to forget that liar is as clever as they come.


mixed with fire, and those

I wrote about the connection between Christianity and American Idol last month. I forgot to mention the Idol contestant voted off for blasphemy. So I guess I shouldn't be surprised by the clip below that I stumbled across on Godtube. It depicts three former Idol contestants at this year's Dove Awards (including one with a current single in the Christian top 20). Of course, I still am surprised that the connection twixt religion and popular culture exists. However, there is no surprise that the contestants are singing with Smith and Grant. That was a given.


from very costly wood

Mentioned a beautiful song we sang over a week ago. Didn't mention that we also sang another great one that same Sunday, and sang it again this past Sunday. Full lyrics can be found HERE. A wonderful version of this song can be found on this album. (Although why would anyone buy an album in this day and age when they practically give away iPods in cereal boxes, they're so cheap.)

Related to yesterday's post on our wickedness, there are lines in this song that destroy me. "Oh, to see my name written in the wounds" -- the imagery of my initials embedded into His palms instead of nailholes wrecks me. The knowledge that my "Ev'ry bitter thought" and "Ev'ry evil deed" is what crowns His brow? It's a wonder that tears ever stop flowing. Been a good week meditating on the Cross and its effect on my life and my heart. Shouldn't every week be like that?

[Note: The clip below shows a perfect match of the song to scenes from The Passion of the Christ. Not for the faint of heart. By "faint of heart", I mean "not ready to face what your sin did to your Savior."]


speaks from his own nature

In an ABF yesterday on John, we poked around John12, and we see Judas crying over spilled nard. A friend reacted viscerally to Judas, and as I listened to his anger & hatred of the betrayer, I cautioned him against dwelling too much on Judas as some supreme emblem of betrayal.

"Judas sinned not sure Jesus was or was not the Son of God. I know He is the Son of God, and I sin every day. Which is the worse betrayal?"

Saturday night in a farewell for friends, I noted that one of the qualities I admired most about one of the departers was her openness to her true nature -- that "she'd be the first to admit that at base she was terrible, and that it is only by the redemptive power of Christ does she stand." The Catholic in me shares the same quality -- recognition of my wretchedness, and recognition of His saving grace.

Christ cautions us against judging a brother without first taking the log out of our own eyes. He certainly makes that statement to ensure we're not being hypocrites, sure, but I think he also wants to remind us of Rom3:23. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. All.


and mother we know

"Famous Mothers of Bible Prophecy"
* Elizabeth {Luke1}
- Saved (righteous & blameless): had faith to do what God called her to do
- Satisfied w/ what God called her to do (though previously barren)
- Submissive to His plan
- Spirit-filled (blameless = knew His Word): Word-filled mother
- His plan for Lizzie? To fulfill prophecy (JtheB=Elijah to point to Messiah)
* Sarah {Gen16}
- Not satisfied or submissive
- Result? Hagar & her descendants (Muslims)
* Rebekah {Gen25}
- Not satisfied or submissive
- Result? Two nations (Esau=Palestinians)


that everything You have given

Prepping for a farewell party for friends tonight and searching through Paul's letter for an opening salvo. Came across Philemon. In Phil1:6, Paul prays "and I pray that the fellowship of your faith may become effective through the knowledge of every good thing which is in you for Christ's sake."

Interesting statement by Paul -- that every good thing is in us specifically for Christ's sake and not our own. Many believers realize their talents and skills are meant for His glory, which is why so many folks thank God whenever they reach some pinnacle of success. But Paul is clear that not just our best talents, but every good thing, every little bit of good is for His sake.

Don't think this is somehow fundamentally life-changing. Just a reminder that when He asks for our all, He literally means our all.


on the cross on the sabbath

We sang a beautiful song Sunday. The full lyrics can be found here. But wanted to focus on the chorus.
And You've won my heart
Yes, You've won my heart, now I can
Trade these ashes in for beauty
and wear forgiveness like a crown
Coming to kiss the feet of mercy,
I lay every burden down
At the foot of the cross
The term "game-changer" refers to something that alters your perspective on things. And certainly, if anything is a gamer-changer, it's the cross. An anecdote is told of Robert E. Lee praying at an altar after the Civil War. A freed slave approaches the altar and decides to pray several feet away from him. Someone comes up to Robby and tells him that an African-American is near him, to which Robby replies, "My friend, all are equal at the foot of the cross."

Only way ashes become something beautiful, only way we become something more than wretches, is through the cross of Christ. Finding yourself dragging, in a rut, unsure of your life? Perhaps you're looking at things from the wrong angle. Try looking up.


silence in heaven for

Yesterday's reading in Matt15 includes an interesting little occurrence. In v22, a Gentile woman calls out to Christ that her daughter is possessed. His response in v23 tells you what you need to know about why there is suffering in the world: "But He did not answer her a word." He says in v24 that His mission was different from what His disciples might have thought -- it was not to heal all, but to seek lost Jews. Later, of course, He heals her due to her faith.

It is easy to see suffering as either proof against His existence, or proof of His weakness. It is difficult to see suffering as something He allows to happen according to His own plan of response. A massive cyclone kills 100,000+ and we cry foul. Our marriage goes awry and we claim injustice. Our health goes south and we question the heavens.

God keeps silent sometimes, fact of life. This woman keeps her faith through the silence, and it eventually gets her an answer. How much patient faith do you have in the middle of divine quiet?


witnesses of these things

This article might possibly be the single best article you'll ever read on ESPN. Given the choice to downplay Tebow's great faith, or describe it honestly, the writer chooses truth. And when a light shines as brightly as Tebow's light does, it would have been difficult to neuter the message. Instead, the writer includes Tebow's pitch to the inmates, including mentioning Jesus.

A great many red-blooded American males would love to switch places with Tebow right now. And why not: he's young, athletic, famous, good-looking, surrounded by co-eds, and bound for riches. But most that desire these same things would switch places only so they could take advantage of the privileges. Tebow sees the gifts God has given him and knows the platform must be used for glory.

Our study of John15 yesterday examined vines that bear fruit compared to those that don't. Tebow's case is clear. And yours?


in the strength of His might

An incident occurred this weekend.

Fortunately, that certain party was rescued (sans Nutella) before things could get out of hand. Now the rescued one stands firm with his brethren, defying the forces of tyranny and daring them to strike again. Sir Edmund Burke once stated that "all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." We shall not let the terrorists win.


the key of knowledge

"Wise Up About Foolishness"
* Fool a type of person, not confined to foolish acts
* The Simple, the Fool, the Mocker {Prov1:22} -- same person, diff names
- Fool not person of low intelligence like we might think
- Fool = person w/ no use for God & His wisdom {Ps14:1}
- Kesil - Dull & close-minded {Prov10:23, 17:24-25, 26:11}
- Ewil - Corrupt & unreasonable, never learns {Prov1:7, 15:14, 13:16}
- Nabal - Stubborn {Prov17:7, 1Sam25:17}
* Characteristics of Fools
- Closed mind {Prov1:7, 12:15, 26:12}
- Careless feet {Prov14:16} -- fall repeatedly
- Quick to fight {Prov20:3, 29:11, 20:16} -- note: Christ silent during His persecution
- Loose lips {Prov18:6, 14:3, 10:14} -- gossip, slander, speech that provokes
- Roaming eyes {Prov17:24} -- looking for new & better & different
* Counsel about fools
- We need His wisdom to know how & when to respond to fools {Prov26:4-5}
- The answer to foolishness is wisdom {Prov8:11, 2:1-3}
- Christ the personification of wisdom
- Walk w/ wise
- Avoid fools


your Father who sees what is done

Love the new Aaron Shust single "Watch Over Me." Check out his site for the full lyrics, along with his musing on the inspiration & meaning for the song. The clip below isn't of great sound quality, but you can't really go wrong with acoustic versions of great songs, can you?


do not know which to choose

I read a whiny, self-involved post the other day that contained two things I like to discuss: the TV show "Lost" and the problem with modern American faith. You might ask me where modern American faith is in the article. I might respond with a digressive story about a midget clown dressed like a panda bear whose favorite food is veal cutlets, I don't know.

In any case, faith. In the middle of the whining, the author states that "But [Ben's] become the central focus of the show—and I didn't sign up for Ben when 'Lost' started."

A TV show can do whatever it wants. It can fire stars and hire new ones. It can write whatever dialogue it wants. It can change its music. It has the right to define itself however it wants to. You'll like some of its choices, and you won't like others. But giving up on a show because you don't like its choices, because it doesn't do what you want it to do is symptomatic of everything wrong with people in general.

It's easy for Americans who've grown up in the land of ease and comfort to give in to their sense of entitlement. Americans have always had choices, and so if something doesn't meet your expectation, you go pick something different that satisfies your needs like the hedonists we are. And that attitude is the opposite of faith.

Selfish choice says you can change TV shows any week you don't like what you saw. Faith says I chose to watch the show early on, and I will see it through to the end it chooses. Selfish choice says this church doesn't play enough hymns for my liking. Faith says God led me to this body and I will support it and grow it until He leads me elsewhere. Selfish choice says I am tired of going to church and reading the Bible when my job is hard and my marriage is failing and I have this illness and I have too much debt and I want more and I want better. Faith says God is enough for me; Christ is all-sufficient.

Everything won't meet your expectations or desires. Neither one matters in the long haul, Luke. The sooner you learn that lesson, the better.