Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Dogged Praying

The Lord knows that my faith weakens often in offering a particular ongoing prayer request. So recently He sent me help to get on my knees and beg anew. Perhaps it may help you.

It came from reading Sean Michael Lucas' biography on Robert Dabney. From a sermon Dabney preached in February 1849 on prevalent prayer, he had a section for parents whose children were "grievously vexed with sensual and devilish lusts." Note how Dabney strings together encounters of the desperate with the Savior to give this urging in praying:

Go to him. Say, have mercy on me, O Lord, thou Son of David. Does he answer you not a word? "Cry after him." Does he seem to neglect you? Fall at his feet and worship him and cry, "Lord help me." Does he tell you, "It is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it to dogs?" Does he say you are unworthy? "Truth, Lord." You have set this child so bad an example that you have no right to expect anything but its ruin? "Truth, Lord." Your prayers are unworthy in motive and kind? "Truth, Lord." Admit all, and tell that such is the glory of the Savior's righteousness, the vilest are so suitable objects of the mercy it purchases as any. "I am a dog, but it was just for dogs, that the crumbs of pardoning mercy are made." Therefore, I ask as a dog.

Yes, I do.

Friday, October 15, 2010


Reading a book called Breath, which tells the incredible tale of Martha Mason. Martha, a fellow Tarheel, spent over sixty years in an iron lung. She had an incredible spirit, seen in such things as her graduating from Wake Forest or managing her own mother's health when senility struck Martha's lifelong caregiver. She went through all this without losing her sense of humor. Commenting on the game show The Price is Right, Martha said the announcer had to have been a former Southern Baptist preacher. Why? His constant "C'mon down!" refrains must have been learned in giving altar calls.


Speaking of books, after a long time of writing and persevering, my friend and fellow congregant Austin Brown has recently published a book called Walking with the Mailman. As I wrote a review on Amazon, I won't say too much here. But I would encourage you to click the picture to read the review and, while you are at it, purchase the book. It's a fun and funny read. And just to demonstrate the unity of the body, I also should note that both the picture on the cover and the dog's leg were contributed by members of the church (of course, I mean by this that the dog is owned by a member, not a member itself).


At a retreat last week where we reflected on the state of theological education in light of cultural changes, I was interested to hear that 60% of churchgoing Americans attend 10% of the churches. In other words, the majority are going to very large churches. The same trend that is seeing large chain retailers push "mom & pop" local stores out of business is putting pressure on small congregations. So what's a little church to do? Avoid the "little man" syndrome of trying to be like the big guys - you know, trying to compete with their programs, or buying a bigger building, or imitating the famous pulpiteer. Instead, concentrate on what any church should always be doing. Praying, preaching, and providing to the poor in spirit. Though the world's eyes may not be, the Lord's eyes are upon such as these. If He sees even the little sparrow fall from the sky, He certainly sees His little flocks of sheep faithfully gathering before Him.


As election season approaches, beware. I read recently that a politician is a person who's got what it takes to take what you got.


Regarding those rescued Chilean miners, this event is such a gospel illustration that even the news commentators cannot help but see it. Repeatedly they use words such as "back from the dead," "resurrection," and "miraculous deliverance from hell" to describe it. If only they can now see their own need for the same.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Hiding Ourselves

Is it not easier to hide who we are than who we are not?
  • To disguise our selfishness is but the work of a moment, whereas the lack of a generous spirit is too big a void to conceal.
  • To covet a neighbor's position can be mostly contained within, but a failure to rejoice spontaneously in a friend's success creates a loud silence.
  • To talk big about prayer and pray big in public can, like a rug over swept-up dirt, mostly hide the fact that we do not pray quietly in private, but it is not a very good cover up for a long distance relationship with God.
Is this not the way of the Pharisee Jesus exposed so devastatingly? Honoring with lips may hide arrogance for a time, but having a heart devoid of God is the dead's giveaway. Tithing mint and dill and cummin may seem like a proper display of righteousness, but a failure to exercise justice, mercy and faith for the poor screams out that you are not compassionate. Cleaning the outside of the cup (shining up our reputation, our interests, our promotions) looks pretty good at the right angle, but life has a way of tipping the cup and showing that the inside (our heart, our soul, our mind) is caked over with self-indulgence and evil desires. Have you not experienced times when you thought you were doing well because you were avoiding the "nots" of the Ten Commandments, only to realize you forgot they are fulfilled with the "doings" of love? Call that getting in touch with your "inner" Pharisee.

Our lifetime of practice makes us great actors on stage at hiding what we are. The unexpected intrusion of uninvited company into our dressing rooms reveals what we are not.

Thankfully the Lord not only exposes but offers. That offering is what the psalmist found after he stopped trying in a wrong-headed way to cover or hide his sin. "You are my hiding place," he said to the Lord in Psalm 32. O the paradox that is the gospel! When we lose self, He saves. When we say we are blind, we see. What we are not, Jesus is. When we stop hiding with fig leaves, He hides us with blood.

We are most hidden when we are exposed for what we are not.

Friday, September 10, 2010

On Qu'ran Burnings

Because of what the Bible teaches, I do not think the pastor in Florida, who appears to be vacillating on whether to burn Qu'rans or not, should do so. Why?

Well, it is not because I believe that the Qu'ran is a holy book. To be as direct as possible, in its denunciations of Christ as the Son of God and crucified Redeemer; its upholding of a polygamous charlatan as the prophet of God; and its teaching that men are justified by works (i.e. keeping the Five Pillars of Islam), I believe the Qu'ran is a book that contains Satanic lies and is leading millions to the eternal doom of the burning flames of hell. Yet I still do not think he should burn them or Christians should participate in this type of demonstration. Again, why?

First, it is not consistent with the Scriptures on book burning. The Biblical proof-text Pastor Jones might offer for holding book burnings would come from Acts 19:19, where we are told this about the people of Ephesus who had responded to the gospel:
"And many of those who had practiced magic brought their books together and began burning them in the sight of everyone; and they counted up the price of them and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver."
Note that this book burning was done by people who had been under the influence of witchcraft and then, when converted to Christianity, burned their own books as a demonstration of their repentance. Paul did not burn copies, but preached the gospel by the power of the Spirit in such a way that they voluntarily offered this sacrifice to the Lord. The proper application of this passage would be to pray and live in such a way that Muslim communities and nations would be so powerfully converted to the freedom of Christ they would voluntarily throw off this yoke of blindness they are under and recognize it for the deception it is.

Second, it does not follow the example of Moses, Gideon or Elijah. There are "showdown times" when God calls His people to expose the false gods of the day. The Lord used Moses to expose the falsity of the Egyptian deities through the plagues. Gideon tore down his father's idols. Elijah taunted the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel to call their god to light the altar with fire from heaven, then showed God's power to consume not only the sacrifice but the altar itself. The missionary Boniface in the eighth century did something similar, as he chopped down the oak of Thor and made a chapel out of it for the numerous converts from the Germanic tribes. Perhaps Pastor Jones thinks he is standing in the line of these men. However, I do not think so for one important reason.

Each of these men had given their lives in service to minister to the people they were seeking to deliver. How has Mr. Jones actually ministered to the Muslims? How has the pastor of the "Dove World Outreach Center" actually reached out with dove-like love to Islamic people? Rather than a "showdown time," this has more the appearance of "showtime." I find myself agreeing with the president on this one, who referred to it as a "stunt."

Thirdly and finally, it does not have the aroma of Christ in it. To the same church at Ephesus who did the book burning, Paul said, "Walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, and offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma" (Ephesians 5:2). This planned event does not have Christ's love. I know those who have given years of their lives in humble sacrifice to minister to Muslims who, I am sure, would say this act will do nothing but offend and raise barriers. Muslims will see this as an act of Christian hatred, not love. As it is stirring up frenzy and hostility worldwide, it also does not have His wisdom. Jesus carefully avoided inciting crowds in His ministry, knowing that crowd frenzy does not spread the kingdom of God. And as the media circus proves, it does not have the sobriety of Christ needed in true gospel ministry. Whenever Jesus was speaking to an individual or multitudes, the seriousness of what was at stake always was preserved. Though He spoke directly against it, He did not burn the Talmud that was misleading the Jews. He knew He was dealing with the souls of people destined for an eternal existence, so He went after their hearts.

As it looks like all of us will be having to engage the Muslim world more and more, why not learn how to do so? For starters, read how one Muslim in Hamas was converted by the fundamental difference he saw between Islam and Christianity - the love of Jesus for His enemies - in the book Son of Hamas. Then order a copy of my friend's book, Pastor Aaron Goerner's Is the Qu'ran the Word of God?, as he as an American has made the effort to engage hundreds of Muslims worldwide in serious, confrontational, but loving dialogue to show them the truth.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Impurity of Worship

Interesting what you come across where you least expect it.

I have been reading the first volume of a trilogy on the 26th President's life, The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris. My purpose in reading it has been simply to enjoy learning more about this larger-than-life man. Never did I expect to have to examine my own heart regarding worship the way I did when I came across this excerpt from a letter of Roosevelt. Listen to what then Civil Service Commissioner Roosevelt said about President Benjamin Harrison following a meeting they had just had:
"Damn the President! He is a cold-blooded, narrow-minded, prejudiced, obstinate, timid old psalm-singing Indianapolis politician."
Though Roosevelt's rant is typical of him when he did not get his way, it is interesting how he related the President's action with his worship practices - in Indiana, no less!

This reminded me of a similar line I had read long ago but not forgotten in Gene Stratton-Porter's (born in Indiana) classic book Freckles. At this point in the story the main character Freckles, a one-handed orphan learning to work the once-great lumber lines of northern Indiana, is recounting his experience of how people used to treat him in the orphanage:
"There had been people at the Home, who exchanged a stilted, perfunctory kindness for their salaries. The visitors who called on receiving days he had divided into three classes: the psalm-singing kind, who came with a tear in the eye and hypocrisy in every feature of their faces; the kind who dressed in silks and jewels, and handed to those poor, little mother-hungry souls worn toys that their children no longer cared for, in exactly the same spirit in which they pitched biscuits to the monkeys at the 'zoo,' and for the same reason —to see how they would take them and be amused by what they would do; and the third class, whom he considered real people."
Ouch! Yet another line relating Indiana, hypocrisy and psalm singing. Enough to make this pastor, who lives in the first, practices the third, and is vulnerable to the second, give pause.

On the one hand, this should not surprise me. I have often told the congregation here to make sure they practice not only purity in the form of worship but purity in the heart of worship as well. After all, the Pharisees were psalm singers. Yet on the other hand, if anything should come from singing God's Word, it is purity of practice. When so much of the material of the psalms speaks of a holy, just, loving God who cares for the orphans and widows, then so much of that should be the material of the singers' lives as well.

How do I know if I am practicing purity in worship? I must look not only at what I am holding in my hands in the sanctuary, but at how I am using those hands during the week.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Summer Sparks

Setting sun, in its finale,
Drenching clouds with changing hues;

Glowing bits like shooting stars,
Fly up then fade from the backyard fire;

Rising fireflies o'er darkening fields,
Myriads of tiny angels, signaling the news:

Soon gone are summer sparks,
Brief joys of which we never tire.

Slapping thighs, along with a few mosquitoes,
As stories meander in the dimming light;

Water's magnet still attracting
Splashing children too soon grown;

Even quieting voices sharing crosses
Make hearts glow in the peace of the stilling night;

Summer sparks become dying embers
Unless remembrance be over them blown.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Funny How

Funny how -
What I see now:
On her back the ladybug
Struggling against little thugs,
Ants, not gentlemen,
with a goal,
"Drag her down into the hole."

Funny how -
What I see now:
This micro tragedy
Reminder of my own trajectory,
Sin and death, no gentlemen,
with a goal,
"Drag him down into the hole."

Funny how -
What I see now:
Tiniest red and black providence
Reminder of my own recompense,
Christ, the Gentle God-Man,
with a goal,
"Take Me instead into the hole."

Funny how -
What I see now.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Fatherly Grief

In a mountain garden at time’s birth,
Lions with lambs played, as in a dream,
A river flowed forth watering the earth.
Then one awful act poisoned the stream.

A perfect son in that perfect lea
Raised his hand against the Perfect One,
And with one taste from the illicit tree
Man’s heart - and Heaven’s - came undone.

In ancient days on a mount called Moriah,
This grief of heaven was expressed.
For a trembling knife, raised, fell for ire;
Its target a bound and beating chest.

Yet with a call from heaven above
The deadly blade was not plied;
A father left learning of divine love,
Seeing in a ram “The Lord Will Provide.”

On the mount the prophets call Zion
In these last days a child, raised as His own,
All his days told of the Lamb now Lion,
Ruling upon His eternal throne.

Alas, the world’s dark waters beckoning,
Allured yet still another prodigal son.
A father left grieving, weeping, reckoning,
“Will horizon gazing ever be done?”

Yet to the top of Calvary’s knoll
The eye of faith must always return,
And know that pain is not a toll
Borne forever by those who yearn.

For on that day of darkness and quake
Earth itself spoke of the Father’s grief.
A veil ripped in two. O! The ache!
A twain message also promising relief.

So when the heavenly Jerusalem’s mount
Shall descend, then fill the earth,
No more tears! For there the fount
Will flow unpolluted with the new birth.

So for now, question’s verdict still unknown,
With hope in his own Father’s love he clings,
Each new dawn, he arises, but not alone,
Waiting to see what this day brings.