Peace if possible. Truth at all costs. ~ Martin Luther Wed, 16 Jul 2014 19:27:00 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Written In the Earth? Wed, 16 Jul 2014 19:27:00 +0000
written in the earth“Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:20)

Jesus spoke these words to the 70 disciples whom He sent out on a short-term mission trip, to preach in all the towns and cities where He was about to visit. When they returned to Him after the assignment they were very excited about how God had used them, saying “Even the demons are subject to us in Your name.”

Christians have this tendency to be very impressed with signs and wonders, but Jesus’ response was designed to check that appetite in us. He reminds us that the greatest miracle of all (which in 2014 is happening tens of thousands of times every day all around the world) is when a person comes to faith in Him, and is granted eternal life; their name added to the roll in heaven.

Think of that. We were once laying with the whole world in the lap of Satan (1 John 5:19), but God adopted us as children, translated us into the kingdom of light, and made us citizens of heaven. He raised us up from spiritual death. Every Christian is a miracle.

Now, contrast Luke 10:20 with …

“O LORD, the hope of Israel, All who forsake You shall be ashamed. ‘Those who depart from Me Shall be written in the earth, Because they have forsaken the LORD, The fountain of living waters.’” (Jeremiah 17:13)

Believers’ names are written in heaven. Unbelievers are written in the earth.

Here, then, is the most pressing question of life! … Where is your name written?

Heaven or earth?

In the eternal or the temporary?

With what abides forever, or what is all passing away? (1 John 2:17)

It struck me as I was comparing these verses, and thinking about that question, that this is another thing the world makes a big deal about … the engraving of their names here in the sands of history.

To have your name “in lights” is considered a mark of having “made it”. Broadway, Vegas … your star in the cement of Hollywood Boulevard. This is the great dream for some.

Others want even more; to have their name printed in the history books. To be remembered as a notable figure or a hero.

Some have even aspired to have their name memorialized by a town or city or landmark named after them.

And then there are those who will be content if their friends and family etch their names bold in stone over a marble tomb. To be honored in that way.

Names written in the earth.

But what will ANY of these things matter in the end? You might as well write your name with your finger in the wet sand of the seashore — one wave and it’s washed away. Because this whole world is passing away. All its history will be a distant shadow receding into the forgotten past as the millennia of a glorious future eternity unfolds. God’s purposes will be finally unveiled without the retarding power of sin any longer.

Can you really be so fixated on this fleeting lifetime? “… rather rejoice because your name is written in heaven.”


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The Problem of Pragmatic Evangelism Mon, 30 Jun 2014 01:12:29 +0000
pragmatic evangelismSteve Lenon is a dear friend. We met in the late 1990’s when we were both pastoring churches in the Devonport area in Tasmania. He’s an evangelist at heart. These days we live on opposite sides of the world, and I so miss the face to face fellowship we used to enjoy.

Recently he read my blog post “Missed It By That Much! How Humanistic Preaching Gets the Gospel Wrong.” He wrote me to say how he’d been thinking along the same lines about the state of evangelism.

He kindly accepted my invitation to write the following post that I can now share with you all. Thanks Steve!

I have always had a passion for evangelism. In the 35 years I have been a Christian I have used many different evangelistic tools and programs and although I have seen people won to Christ through all of them, I was never really settled with any one approach. If I discovered a new program that was more effective than the one I was currently using, I would happily make the switch.

Not so long ago, the Lord challenged me to study Jesus and the way He went about evangelizing in the four gospels. I have a conviction that Jesus is our Model for ministry, and I was surprised to find how different Jesus’ message was to the one(s) I had been sharing. It was not that my speech had been loaded with heresy, it was more that it had been lacking certain key emphases that are at the very heart of the gospel. I thought of the theological training I had done, the conferences I had been to, and all the programs I had been involved in and wondered, how could I have drifted so far from the true gospel? One word summed it up, pragmatism.

Pragmatism is a humanistic philosophy that can be simply defined as, “the ends justifies the means.”

Pragmatism judges the value of any idea or program, etc, on its ability to produce a desired result. Like humanism, pragmatism has found its way into the church, affecting many areas of ministry. Its effect is both insidious and far reaching. How so? A.W. Tozer put it well: pragmatism, “asks no embarrassing questions about the wisdom of what we are doing or even about the morality of it. It accepts our chosen ends as right and good and casts about for efficient means and ways to get them accomplished … when it discovers something that works it soon finds a text to justify it, ‘consecrates’ it to the Lord and plunges ahead.”

A wise man once said, “the Lord has not called us to be successful, He has called us to be faithful.” Sadly, the church has not always been faithful to the gospel. Within a generation of Christ’s ascension, churches had begun drifting from the true gospel. The church at Galatia (Galatians 1:6-7) and Sardis (Revelation 3:3) are but two examples.

The church at Sardis was exhorted to “remember what you have received and heard, hold it fast, and repent.” What was the gospel message they had received and heard?

The gospel Jesus announced carried four key themes:

1. There is the good news – God’s kingdom is here.

2. There is the bad news – mankind has fallen short of God’s righteous standard and is not worthy of the kingdom.

3. There is the solution – Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.

4. And there is the challenge – commitment to God’s rule.

In wanting to maximize evangelistic results, I had been using evangelistic tools that neglected themes one and four. It is not that these tools necessarily ignored them altogether. Rather, they neglected to give the necessary weight as found in Jesus’ preaching.

The good news

Jesus said, “The time has come. The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15). Essentially, the kingdom of God is God’s rule and Jesus was announcing that it was near, in fact, it “has come to you” (Luke 11:20). So Jesus’ call was a call to repent and submit to the rule of God.

The Jews had been waiting centuries for God’s kingdom to come. They were expecting an earthly kingdom which would see God setting up His throne in Jerusalem and reign from Zion. They did not understand that Jesus was announcing a kingdom that was far more glorious than they had ever imagined. Jesus would baptize His followers with the Holy Spirit and God would rule not from the Temple in Jerusalem, but from within the very hearts of men and women. Anyone who has experienced the rule of God in their hearts and the love, joy, and peace it brings, will testify how inexpressibly wonderful life is under God’s rule.

The emphasis that the gospel is essentially about God’s kingdom rule in our lives is missing from much evangelism today. It is missing from pragmatic evangelism because it is a direct challenge to the rebellious spirit making people uncomfortable and a “response” less likely.

The challenge

Ephesians 2:8 says, “for it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.”  The pragmatist typically builds a gospel presentation largely on this verse. The audience is encouraged to take the free offer of salvation with the impression that it costs you nothing and you have everything to gain.

Now it is certainly true that salvation is a free gift. Since we are unable to achieve God’s righteous standard, it could not be otherwise. But how do we receive this free gift? This is where the pragmatic gospel departs from the teaching of Jesus. Jesus said, “if anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me.” (Luke 9:23). The cross was a symbol of death. Jesus calls for nothing less than a total surrender and abandonment of our lives – death. The old life must come to an end before the new life under God’s rule can begin. We must counsel those responding to consider this cost (Luke 14:27-29).

Salvation is a gracious, free, undeserved, and unmerited gift, but it will cost us everything we have.

We may do well emphasizing the bad news that we are helpless sinners unable to save ourselves, and we may do well presenting God’s solution – His Son the Savior Jesus. But unless these truths are placed within the context of God’s kingdom rule, it is not the gospel at all. Speaking of God’s rule and the cost of commitment may not be popular, but it is Biblical.

But does such an evangelistic approach work? Oh how we want to ask that question! How persistent is the spirit of pragmatism! A Christian’s only concern should be whether it is Biblical or not and not how well it “works”. But I will say this, with a new emphasis on God’s rule and the cost of commitment, my words and prayers in evangelism now have a power they never had before.

– Steve Lenon

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The Ministry of the Ascended Lord Thu, 29 May 2014 18:57:33 +0000
Jesus intercedingToday is “Ascension Day”.

Acts 1:9 … “Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight.”

And what a sight that must have been. The disciples had recently seen their crucified Lord risen from the dead, and very much alive. They’d witnessed Him appear miraculously in a locked room. But I don’t think any of those experiences could have dulled the effect made upon them by seeing Jesus lift off the ground, taken back up into heaven.

John Macarthur says about the ascension of Jesus:

He then took His glorified manhood straight into heaven, all the way back to where He had come from in a completely different dimension than time and space. But He went back different than He had left. He had left as pure Spirit, He went back as pure Spirit and pure glorified humanity. No more just Spirit but glorified humanity. And this is proof that heaven is a place which accommodates glorified humans and it will accommodate us.

Which brings us to a vitally important truth that is part of the great mystery of BOTH the Incarnation and the Ascension: The continuing incarnation!

Peter Lewis:

As the Father loves Christ in His Divine nature, so He also loves Him in His human nature: and as Christ Jesus can no more cease to be man than He can cease to be God, this is the golden and unbreakable link between God and man.  In Christ … deity and humanity, uncreated God and created man, yes even Spirit and flesh, are everlastingly joined.

Why is this so important? As our forefathers of the faith used to say, “We have a Man in the glory!” …

1. Our Forerunner

Hebrews 6:19-20, “This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil,  where the forerunner has entered for us, even Jesus, having become High Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.”

Ephesians 2:6 says that we “sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus”.

In other words, says Myer Pearlman,

This hope of the believers is no delusion, for already they feel the tug of the anchor chain – they are conscious of the drawing power of the glorified Christ.

Have you felt that tug?

2. Our Intercessor

How are the roles of “Intercessor” and “Mediator” different?

A mediator brings two alienated parties together. But an intercessor goes even one step further – He positively appeals on the behalf of one to another!  This is Jesus work today!  He is BOTH Mediator (1 Timothy 2:5) and Intercessor (Hebrews 7:25).

And what a glorious truth to know that our Intercessor is a High Priest “touched with the feelings of our infirmities” (Hebrews 4:15).

Remember His wonderful words to Peter.  It was the night of the last supper, and soon Peter was going to betray the Lord. Jesus knew it in advance, and warned Peter, but He said something so beautiful … “Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.” (Luke 22:31-32)

That’s His ministry TODAY!  He’s interceding for His Church.  If no-one else in the world remembers to pray for you … Jesus is praying for you!  He is bearing us before the Father.

In the Old Testament, the High Priest used to go in to the holy of holies, and as he did so there were precious stones on his shoulders and over his heart, and on those stones were inscribed the names of the 12 tribes of Israel. He brought them before God.  The writer to the Hebrews says that Jesus is now our High Priest; we need no other.  And what is He doing? He is bearing us on His heart, and on His shoulders, before the great throne of grace.

John Owen, the Puritan divine, wrote:

He leads not in heaven a life of mere glory, majesty and blessedness, but a life of office, love and care also. He lives as Mediator of the church; as the King, priest and prophet thereof.  Herein do our present safety and our future eternal salvation depend.

Dr. Doddridge was a man of God in England, many years ago. He learned of a poor Irishman accused and convicted of sheep stealing, which carried the penalty of death. Doddridge was not convinced of the man’s guilt so sought to plead his cause and secure his release, without success. The day came when he encountered the procession that was leading the condemned man to his death. The march came to an abrupt halt, when the prisoner beheld his friend who had interceded so fervently, and flung himself at his feet, saying, “Dr. Doddridge, God bless you! Every drop of blood in my body loves you, for you tried to save every drop of it.”

That poor man loved an “intercessor” THAT FAILED. Jesus, on the other hand, has never lost a case – and He will never fail in His advocacy!

The Conclusion of the Matter

Revelation 1:18 –  The words of the Ascended Lord: “I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death.”

And to the disciples He promised: “I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.” (John 14:2-3)

In the words of the Apostles’ Creed:

I believe … He ascended into Heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father almighty;

Happy Ascension Day!


Missed It By That Much! How Humanistic Preaching Gets the Gospel Wrong Thu, 15 May 2014 21:11:33 +0000
Christian preaching v humanismBrowsing through the latest issue of “Preaching” Magazine this week (always at least 1 or 2 helpful articles), I was troubled again to read the page of suggested illustrations for spicing up sermons.

Here’s an example:

“Have you heard of any of these famous failures as reported in ‘Mental Floss’ magazine? Author Jack London was rejected almost 600 times before selling his first story. In Tom Landry’s first season as a coach, the Cowboys did not have a single victory. Steven Spielberg was denied admission to film school three times. Lucille Ball, before her breakout sitcom, was in so many bad movies that she was called ‘The Queen of the B’s’. Theodore Geisel’s (Dr. Seuss) first book was rejected by 27 publishers.”

How many stories have you heard like these from your preacher lately? They are pretty common fare. In fact, preaching built around stuff like this has become 90% of the diet of many congregations.

Now, first let me say that I too find stories and quotes like these inspiring. I really enjoy reading them. But they represent a huge problem we have in today’s church:

Much of our preaching is not Christian, in the historic sense, at all. It is humanism.

Think about the suggested illustrations above. The underlying message they are being used to present is “the importance of perseverance”. Now, is that a theme found in the New Testament? Sure it is:

“And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.” (Galatians 6:9)

“For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise:” (Hebrews 10:36)

… and so on. There are numerous verses we could cite.

But hold on a minute.

To my knowledge, none of the examples given — Jack London, Tom Landry, Steven Spielberg, Lucille Ball and Dr.Seuss — ever suggested that the reason they were able to persevere, nor the reason for their ultimate success, was faith in Jesus Christ. And furthermore, the successes they achieved were all temporal things (what the Apostle Paul would have referred to as “perishable crowns”, 1 Corinthians 9:25).

The New Testament, by stark contrast, teaches that both (1) the doctrine of perseverance in salvation, and (2) the virtue of persevering in the believer’s life, are the products of God’s sustaining power, and that ultimately they lead to God’s eternal glory.

Do you see what’s happened?

We’re illustrating a Divine grace by using examples from the realm of human will. But nothing in the Christian gospel is of human origin. As John 1:13 states plainly, nothing of the Christian experience is of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”

You might accuse me of straining at gnats, but on the contrary, the confusion that this all leads to is no small matter. Just look around at the church today and you will see the appalling results everywhere.

A lot of what is passed off as “gospel preaching” today is merely self-help talks aimed at reforming people into the best examples of themselves that they can ever become. We’re interested in “churching” people; getting them to rub shoulders with us long enough until their morality and self-discipline improves.

That is so far removed from the gospel the apostles preached that I’m not sure they would even recognize it as being related to their message which turned the world upside down.

The New Testament gospel is not an attempt to improve people at all, but to kill them! To bring them to the place where they recognize that there’s nothing they can ever do to be acceptable to God, and that all their best attempts at it are like dressing themselves up in filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). Only when they come to see their total INability can they embrace the true gospel which calls them to die to all their own human (sinful) efforts, and trust completely in Jesus Christ. He alone is God’s provision to save us, and we can add nothing to His accomplishments for us.

Christianity is all based, from beginning to end, on HIS merits — none of our own.

What are we preaching instead? Humanism. That’s all.

hu·man·ism noun \ˈhyü-mə-ˌni-zəm, ˈyü-\: “a system of values and beliefs that is based on the idea that people are basically good and that problems can be solved using reason instead of religion.”

Mirriam-Webster Dictionary

So, what is the answer?

Well, my first prescription would be that we preachers need to recognize the problem and repent. I say “we” very purposefully, because humanism is so insidiously subtle, and so appealing to our sinful nature, that it manages to creep in with all of us. I know I’ve regularly seen its shadow lurking in my own preaching, and have to expel it.

One of the big problems is that pastors today have been taught that the way to be really helpful is to do “topical preaching” (otherwise known as “behavioral preaching”). So they begin their sermon preparation by thinking of a topic or an idea that’s on people’s minds, and try to figure out what they can say about it from a Christian perspective.

When you do that, you’re already in huge trouble. Why? Because the next obvious step is to go hunting in the Bible for a verse you can preach your topic or idea from. That’s what we call “proof-texting”, and that’s how cults are born. Because you can preach just about anything from the Bible if you’re willing to “proof-text”.

It’s all back-to-front, you see. The only right way to start sermon preparation is to let your Bible reading and study suggest the theme you’ll preach on. You teach the truths that God’s Word lays down, and with the proportion and emphasis that it gives to each one. To do that you have to systematically teach the Bible.

We have to stop being so enamored with giving people what they want, and come back to our calling which is to proclaim the gospel that people need. The church (and her ministers) is meant to be a prophetic voice that confronts, challenges and leads the culture. Instead, we have settled for being a mere echo of our culture — and all too often a mediocre one at that.

One day we will stand before the Lord and have to give an account for every sermon we preached. Imagine trying to explain to the Lord why we laid aside His glorious gospel to take up the bankrupt squeaking of humanism.


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I Find No Fault in Him Thu, 17 Apr 2014 15:49:36 +0000
Ecce Homo“Pilate then went out again, and said to them, ‘Behold I am bringing Him out to you, that you may know that I find no fault in him.” (John 19:4)

History has not been kind to Pontius Pilate. He was prefect of Judea from AD 26-36, but ultimately was recalled to Rome in disgrace by Emperor Tiberius after his brutal suppression of an uprising among the Samaritans. The Roman historian Eusebius recounts that, after the death of Tiberius, Caligula banished Pilate to Gaul and that he ultimately committed suicide in a lake in Vienne.

But these other incidents in his ignominious life pale beside the events that he is most remembered for. History would barely remember him at all, except for his role in the trial and crucifixion of Jesus. The gospels portray him as not wanting to order the execution, but that he capitulated to the will of the mob incited by the Jewish religious leaders.

Many, therefore, have regarded him as sympathetic to Jesus — perhaps even personally affected by the Lord as He stood before him — but a coward who didn’t have the courage of his convictions.

I wonder if that’s not reading too much into the story.

Pilate certainly did give in to the mob, but I’m not sure that he was ever as concerned about Jesus as he was about his own political position. The Romans did not allow their regional authorities to be a law unto themselves. There were strict rules meant to ensure the peace of the empire. On the whole, nations under Roman occupation were allowed their religious and other freedoms, as long as law and order was maintained.

The fact is, the death of Jesus — even the scourging He endured before the Cross — was unlawful by Roman standards. There was no real charge established against Him. Pilate’s words “I find no fault in Him” is a legal opinion. He repeated it twice (verse 4 and verse 6), and it forced the Jewish leaders to come up with the bogus charge of sedition against Rome. “If you let this man go you are not Caesar’s friend. Whoever makes himself a king speaks against Caesar.” (verse 12).

They knew what button to press, and it was enough to get Pilate to act. His act of handwashing (which Matthew records) was perhaps more out of his fear he may be violating Roman law than any great sympathy with Jesus.

And yet his words remain a powerful testimony, don’t they. “I find no fault in Him.”

The Bible tells us that there was no fault to be found by anyone. Jesus is God among us, and perfect in His holiness. The only man who ever lived on earth without any sin. He is the pure and spotless Lamb sent to death as the sacrifice for all our sin.

As Alli and I read the Pilate story together this week in the lead up to Easter, it struck me that the world today is full of people like Pontius Pilate. Talk to them about Jesus, and they will assure you that they “find no fault in Him”. He was a good man. A great teacher. They appreciate some of the things they’ve heard He said, and just wish people might live a bit more according to things like that.

But their focus is not on Him at all. Like Pilate, their concern is themselves, and their lot in the little world around them. In the movie of mankind’s life on earth, Jesus is to them just an “extra”, a stand-in.

Not many people want to be thought of as an enemy of Jesus. No, they find no fault in Him. They may have an issue with “organized religion”, with the church, but Jesus is okay. Nice, even.

Listen, however, to Jesus’ own words: “He who is not with Me is against Me” (Matthew 12:30).

There’s no neutral ground when it comes to Jesus. You don’t get to choose whether or not you consider Him. If you ignore Him, or patronizingly tip your hat to Him, He says that you’ve made a choice.

The Bible declares in no uncertain terms that He is your God, Your Creator. You can submit to Him, and worship Him, or you can call it all a lie and reject Him. But you must deal with Him. The “I find no fault in Him” plea is not nearly good enough.

Again this Easter — and every day of the year besides — I walk away from Pilate’s corner, and all the world who huddle with him. Instead I stand with Peter, and all the Christian Church through 2,000 years, and say “Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”

Happy Easter.

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“Eating Up the Lights”: The Challenge I Saw in a Painting Thu, 06 Mar 2014 21:31:28 +0000
Eating Up the Lights

“Eating Up the Lights” by Gary R. Lucy

The painting featured at the top of this post is entitled “Eating Up the Lights” by artist Gary R. Lucy. The story behind it is remarkable. (Click on the image to get a bit closer look.)

I came across this painting recently when I traveled with my friend, Bill Beattie, to the town of Washington, Missouri, where we were both speaking at a men’s event. We happened to wander into Gary Lucy’s art gallery. It probably would have been a 5 minute distraction, except that Gary happened to be there and we ended up spending the better part of an hour talking to him.

What an interesting man. A large part of Gary’s art captures the history of life on the inland waterways, and also the expeditions of Lewis and Clarke. Some of his work hangs in the Smithsonian.

But to get to this painting in particular, here’s what Gary has to say about it:

“Travel by steamboat at night was very limited and rarely attempted. Hidden snags, shifting sandbars, and dangerous currents were only a few of the ever present obstacles to navigation. At night, all hazards were greatly magnified.

On occasion, pilots would find themselves only a few miles from the next landing after sundown. In order to navigate through any menacing areas, the crew would test and mark the waters using a technique they referred to as ‘EATING UP THE LIGHTS’.

“A crew of men would board one of the steamboat’s skiffs and spearhead the attack on the uncharted waters ahead. The pilot would choose a knowledgeable associate to supervise the activities. He would also need several men with strong backs to provide propulsion, a man to take depth readings, and an individual to manipulate the lighted markers.

“After a clear channel with a safe depth was found, one man would light a candle and affix it to a piece of wood by dripping hot wax on the wood and placing the candle in it. To protect the candle from the wind, a piece of paper would be placed around the candle and adhered to the wood with wax as well. A string with a stone attached to the other end for an anchor would be tied to the wooden float.

“After this procedure was repeated a few times, a long procession of marker lights would highlight the safest path through an otherwise hazardous and unpredictable river. With confidence in his lead crew, the boat’s pilot would gently advance into the darkness toward this path of lights. With fascinated passengers leaning over the rail of the forward boiler deck, the graceful steamer would glide over the floating markers, consuming their light under her bow. Thus she was EATING UP THE LIGHTS.”

Gary told me that I was not the first preacher to be struck by the spiritual application as I looked at his painting. I told him, “That’ll Preach!”

Psalm 119:105 tells us that God’s Word is “a lamp to our path”. However treacherous the road (or waterway) before us, there are markers laid down in the Bible that are designed to guide us safely to our destination. All we need is the desire to ‘eat them up’, that is to eagerly look for and follow the principles of God’s Word.

What further struck me from this painting, however, was the need for people willing to get in the skiff and go set out those lights to be followed. That must have been a difficult job in the dark, on a freezing cold night on the water. Yet it needed to be done, and committed people did it.

I think of the “lighters” in my own life who have set out God’s Word for me to follow:


It is Christian parents above all who must realize our calling to set out the lights for our children, and for the next generation. Don’t expect anyone to teach your family the Word of God if you neglect to do it. I will be eternally grateful for the legacy my parents laid down for me in this regard.


In my case, my father was my preacher. His faithfulness in the pulpit, week after week faithfully teaching the Bible changed my life and the lives of so many others. I’ve also been blessed by the ministry of other faithful pastors and teachers since. In 1 Timothy 5:17 we’re told that we should honor the elders of the church, “especially those who labor in the Word and doctrine.”

Sunday School Teachers

We often think of folks like these in all our lives who have helped teach us the Bible. This would also include small group and youth ministry leaders, and so on.

So let’s not forget to honor those who have rowed ahead and helped to set out the lights of God’s Word before us. And we should also take it as a call to each one of us. Are you a mature Christian? By that, I don’t mean you have to be a theologian, but have you received a deposit of Christian truth that is directing your life? Who can you now pass that on to?

Think of this painting and remember, we simply cannot have too many “lighters”.


5 Simple Keys to a Regret-Free Marriage Mon, 03 Mar 2014 21:24:34 +0000
wedding ringsTomorrow, Alli and I will celebrate our 25th Wedding Anniversary. I am so very grateful for our life together. It’s wonderful, and that’s largely because Alli is the best person I know. I feel like I cheated the rest of the world to nab her. (But I’m not sorry.)

I was traveling with a pastor friend to attend a conference last week, and we were talking together about what a blessing our wives are; what a joy it is to be married. Don’t expect to hear a whole lot of songs on the radio that say that though. But that’s because marriage has been so criminally devalued by our society over the past few decades. We may be up in arms now about new laws that are attacking traditional marriage, but I think we’ve done a pretty good job of that ourselves anyway. We’ve done it with our attitudes. Marriage as a blessed partnership for a lifetime is not celebrated. It’s somehow not considered exciting or romantic enough.

Well, you can keep your shallow, skin-deep, high school hallway versions of romance. The real thing actually turns out to be a story that you have to spend your lifetime writing. Other quick-start versions are just a shadow of it. Our culture of instant gratification has tried to have the richness of life’s afternoon pulled forward to be enjoyed in the first few minutes of a hurried burst of sunrise. But you can’t. Love takes time, that’s all.

Reflecting on the past 25 years with Alli, our lives have gone through several stages: (1) newly-weds, (2) young parents with young children, (3) tired parents with teenagers, and (4) where we are now, parents beginning to see the child-raising finish line on the horizon.

The realization is gradually setting in that one day in the not too distant future we will have come full circle. We’ll be older, and hopefully quite a bit wiser, but it will be back to the two of us again.

I’ve known people for whom that is a frightening prospect. If the only thing holding your marriage together is the kids, then that day spells big trouble.

It doesn’t have to be that way, though. It shouldn’t be that way! There are some things that I, for one, am actually quietly looking forward to.

Now, don’t get me wrong, there’s a part of me that dreads the thought of our kids making their own lives beyond our nest. I can’t imagine not seeing each of their faces every day.  But my melancholy is not because there will be an empty void left behind when they go. There won’t be.

I thank God that Alli is still my best friend, and our empty nest promises to be pretty great actually. We have a lot of things we want to do together with our future days of renewed freedom. Throw in regular visits with the kids, and hopefully grandkids (after all, I’m told that’s where it’s REALLY at), and I’m looking forward to something p-r-e-t-t-y fine.

After 25 years, and watching too many marriages given up on too soon, that comes as a joyous relief.

So I say all that to introduce a few random bits of advice for younger married couples. Not a play-by-play manual, but just some things that occur to me on the eve of our 25th:

  1. Put your marriage at the center of your lives. Make sure everything else orbits around you as a couple; your careers, friends and family. Don’t make the mistake of putting your relationship into orbit around others — not even the kids.
  2. Put the proper value on your relationship with your spouse. Don’t treat your marriage with contempt by giving other things higher priority.
  3. Breathe: it’s a marathon. Your son getting into trouble at school, or your daughter’s grades slipping, are not the life threatening crisis they can seem to be in the heat of the moment. These things too shall pass.
  4. Raise your kids to be independent. A good friend of ours told us when our kids were very young that we should imagine their lives as a 21 inch ruler. Every single year you need to cut off an inch of their dependence on you. That was good advice I think.
  5. Be grateful to God every day. Holy gratitude changes your view of everything.

As I think about it, I can perhaps summarize all this advice very simply. Just make sure through each passing year that your spouse is still your best friend.

“Marry the one you love” is pretty good advice. Here’s some that’s even better: “Love the one you marry.”

Happy anniversary, Alli!  (And thankyou.)

P.S … The very best book I know of on marriage (apart from the Bible) … “Love and Respect” by Dr. Emmerson Eggerichs


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Stress Is Harmful? Maybe Not So Much After All [Video] Tue, 11 Feb 2014 04:30:10 +0000
over stressWe’ve all been told repeatedly that stress is bad for us. Deadly in some cases.

But Health Psychologist Kelly McGonigal presents fascinating new scientific evidence that challenges this idea that stress is the big bad ogre. Studies now indicate that it’s not actually stress that is likely to kill you, but rather it’s the BELIEF that stress is harmful that is the real problem. Seriously!

Not only that, but she goes on to explain how when you experience stress, your pituitary gland releases the hormone oxytocin, which acts as your body’s way of “nudging you” to reach out for supportive relationships with others. Just one of the positive results of stress.

McGonigal made her presentation as a talk at TED Global 2013, which you can scroll down and watch below. (Go on — it runs less than 15 minutes and will probably lower your stress level, maybe even save your life.)

As I watched the video I was struck by the fact that it confirms several things that the Bible has been teaching for thousands of years:

  1. Stressing your mind and body with challenging work is good for you. In fact it’s a blessing. (Genesis 2:15; Exodus 23:12; Proverbs 10:4; 2 Thessalonians 3:10)
  2. Your thoughts are very powerful, either for good or evil. Fear and worry over situations are far worse problems than the situations themselves. (Job 3:25; Matthew 6:25-34; Philippians 4:6)
  3. God made us for relationships, and He wired us to reach out for community with one another. (Genesis 2:18; Ecclesiastes 4:9-12; John 13:34; 1 Thessalonians 5:14)

Enjoy the video!



Like the presentation? You might be interested in:
How to Deliver a TED Talk: Secrets of the World’s Most Inspiring Presentations

Some Things Are Worth Fighting For Tue, 04 Feb 2014 16:55:17 +0000
tug of war“And when there had been much dispute …” (Acts 15:7)

Isn’t this a little embarrassing to be included in the Bible?

Paul and Barnabas arrived back in Jerusalem to get answers from the other apostles. There had been a growing debate about the new gentile Christians, and what was to be required of them. Did they have to convert and live as Jews before they could be considered Christians? Was Christianity, indeed, an appendage of Judaism, still requiring one to keep the covenant of Abraham and all the laws of Moses.

The debate got pretty hot for a while there until the council in Jerusalem came to its decision.

The early church was clearly having a bad day; you’d think that God would have arranged for Luke to just sweep this incident under the carpet, and not include any mention of it in the record, right? Just forget the whole thing ever happened. Too embarrassing.

You know what I’ve discovered about God? He doesn’t get embarrassed about things like we do. He has no problem with airing a little dirty laundry – remember that it’s always OUR dirty laundry because of OUR foolishness or sin.  God is wiser and greater than any of it.

And some things are worth fighting for.

1. TRUTH is worth fighting for

Had this dispute not been worked through and recorded – had they swept the matter under the rug and opted for “peace”, or tried to placate those who were teaching falsely – who knows what aberration of the gospel might be in our hands today.

The truth in the balance was grace versus law; the sufficiency of Jesus Christ, and our freedom in Him. These things are way too important.

The tag line of this blog is a maxim that Martin Luther once laid down: “Peace if possible. Truth at all costs.”  Truth is always worth fighting for.

2. THE WORK OF GOD is worth fighting for

God was doing great things among the gentiles. The future of it was now being jeopardized by this challenge from the Judaizers.

Paul’s future missionary endeavors would be affected by the outcome. Would he have the Council’s support to freely preach the pure gospel (the endorsement of “those who had been with Jesus”)? And would he continually have men following after him preaching “another gospel” and disrupting the work of God?

3. PEOPLE are worth fighting for

This whole dispute at the end of the day was not about incidental doctrine. Precious young believers were in the balance.

The passage ends with another dispute – between the two close friends, Paul & Barnabas.  Paul was still absorbed with point 2 (the work of God is worth fighting for).  He was zealous for God’s call, and now John Mark was “the weakest link” in the team.  But Barnabas saw him as someone worth fighting for.

This next dispute was resolved by a parting of the ways. How embarrassing yet again. But God used it to create two ministry teams out of the one.  If we are prepared to continue in love, God can even use our disagreements to further His cause.

Later on Paul was greatly blessed by the stand Barnabas took.  John Mark had become “useful to (Paul) in the ministry” (2 Timothy 4:11)

Some things are worth fighting for.  Truth … The Work of God … People.

We are not called to be  contentious, and we should always want resolution and peace. Sometimes, however, the price of our comfort and convenience may just be too high.

“The Renegade Pastor” by Nelson Searcy [Book Review] Mon, 03 Feb 2014 16:00:49 +0000
RP-Book-3DThis book review is, I guess, of most interest to my colleagues in ministry (although it would make a great gift for your pastor!)

By my count, The Renegade Pastor, is Nelson Searcy’s 12th book in print, not including scores of other ebooks and digital resources he’s produced. But THIS book is probably the one I would recommend as the best starting place if you’ve never read anything of his before.

Nelson is a working pastor in the trenches of daily ministry, but he is also a pastor’s coach. In fact he has coached more than 2,000 church leaders over the past few years, with thousands more buying his books and resources. He has a unique gift of being able to “put handles on the job” so that a pastor hits the office running every morning knowing exactly what he has to do to create an environment for church health. And church health leads to church growth.

In this book, Nelson really outlines his overall approach to pastoring; his philosophy of ministry. It’s based around 7 commitments of a “Renegade Pastor”:

  1. Follow the Lord (Doing the Work of God Without Destroying God’s Work in You)
  2. Love Your Family (Refusing to Sacrifice Your Family on the Altar of Ministry)
  3. Fulfill Your Calling (Becoming All God Has Called You to Be)
  4. Manage Your Time (Taking Control of Your Most Limited Commodity)
  5. Shepherd Your Flock (Demystifying Your Job Description)
  6. Maximize Your Church (Structuring Your Church for Maximum Impact)
  7. Expand God’s Kingdom (Embracing Your Place Within the Bigger picture)

Throughout the book, the reader is introduced to the 8 Systems every church NEEDS to have in place in order to be healthy. There are then recommendations of specific resources that will help with this.

No pastor can do the job without seeking the Lord in prayer, and being obedient to His voice. This book will help pastors effectively deal with the unavoidable practical issues so that they are actually freed up to spend more time praying and studying God’s Word.

No two churches are alike, and “cookie cutter” models do not work. They are ultimately only frustrating and waste a lot of time and resources. Nelson focuses on principles over mere methods. Any church will benefit from the insights he offers.

I know I sound like a fan. I am. Nelson Searcy has helped me tremendously with the practics of daily ministry. I am sincerely grateful to him, and I can point to specific examples in our own church of fruitfulness that is the direct result of having implemented his advice.

The subtitle of The Renegade Pastor is “Abandoning Average in Your Life and Ministry”.  Read it and be challenged to do just that.  Get your pastor a copy today!


Overcoming the Death Grip of Bitterness Wed, 29 Jan 2014 16:27:47 +0000
building gallows“So Haman went out that day joyful and with a glad heart; but when Haman saw Mordecai in the king’s gate, and that he did not stand or tremble before him, he was filled with indignation against Mordecai ….. so he had the gallows made.”  (Esther 5:9, 14)

The story of this man, Haman, is a stark warning to all of us. He was a man absolutely consumed with bitterness. A bitterness that was actually centuries old in his family, but one that he in turn embraced and nurtured in his own heart. At first it was toward all Jewish people, and then in time it became focused more and more on one man in particular — Mordecai.

On the particular day that the verses above refer to, things could not have been going better for Haman in terms of worldly success and promotion. He was extremely wealthy and second in power only to the king. But he could not enjoy any of it, because of this raging bitterness in his heart. It controlled him so completely that the Bible tells us he was plunged from joy and gladness to seething anger at a single sighting of this man, Mordecai, that he had made his nemesis.

Those words at the end of verse 14 ought to haunt us … “so he had the gallows made”.

It was Haman’s intention to go the very next morning and ask the king to execute Mordecai. He got everything ready — so sure of his ability to exact revenge, so smug in his belief that he was fully justified in doing it.

If you know the story, things didn’t turn out the way Haman planned. Within 24 hours he himself was dead, dangling at the end of the very same noose he’d strung up for his enemy.

And this is inevitably the way. When you harbor bitterness in your heart, you end up hanged on your own gallows! Stay bitter — let that thing go unchecked, eating away at you — and you know what you’re doing? You’re building gallows.

You think you’re punishing that other person you’re mad at, but in the end all you achieve is the poisoning of your own soul. It fogs your judgment, and it drains the life and joy out of you.

I’m feeling drained right now just talking about this guy, Haman, and his bitterness. Let’s turn our attention elsewhere. Haman’s life is a warning, but let me remind you of another man in the Bible.


“Then it came to pass, at the end of two full years …” (Genesis 41:1)

This refers to the length of time Joseph continued in prison after he interpreted the dreams of the king’s cupbearer and baker. Two full years passed before he was finally summoned by Pharaoh.

It’s easy to think that these were 2 unnecessary years. What a waste! If only the cupbearer had remembered Joseph.

We mustn’t forget, however, that all the dreams in this story — the cupbearer’s, the baker’s, and then Pharaoh’s own dreams — came from God. So the timing of it all was in God’s hands. God’s children are never at the mercy of men; “the steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord”  (Psalm 37:23). It’s all directed in His wise providence.

Nevertheless, 2 years languishing in prison sounds like a long trial. But it was actually even worse than that. The ESV Study Bible comments that Joseph’s total imprisonment, as indicated by the Genesis narrative, was about 12 or 13 years! He went in at around 17 years of age, and was there until around age 30. Almost half his life to that point was behind bars. And when you think about it, his entire adult education and preparation for being Prime Minister was in a prison.

God’s ways are not our ways. Moses may have had a world-class Egyptian education in his youth, but his 40 year “schooling” in God’s hands came in the backside of the desert tending sheep. Surely his preparation consisted of much “unlearning” first; forgetting the world’s wisdom and ways.

God’s tools of education include obscurity, hardship, humiliation, loss, and trials, but in the end He produces men and women that the world can’t. People of faith and patience. Men and women who trust nothing but God.

Joseph could have become a hateful, bitter man during his prison years. It’s certainly happened to others. He didn’t, however. He emerged from that crucible composed, humble, ready to be used by God.  It’s an old, maybe overworked saying, but it is nevertheless true, that tough times can either make you bitter or they can make you better.

It would be easy to reflect on that, and come up with a lesson about your attitude, and how you respond to things. That would be the “self-help” answer.  Christianity, though, is NOT a self-help religion. The truth is that the difference maker in the lives of Joseph and Moses (and countless others) was not in themselves at all. It was Who was with them that made the difference. One was in a prison and the other a wilderness, but the constant companion of both was God.

Haman was living in the lap of luxury, but he did not walk with God at all. He didn’t know that divine difference of God working on him and in him. Paradoxically, his bitterness created a cage and a wasteland around him and ultimately destroyed him. The meekness of Joseph and Moses eventually brought them through their trials, and in God’s hands they were raised to great positions of leadership.ESV Study Bible

Is there any bitterness burrowing it’s way into your heart? It won’t stop, you know. It’ll keep on going until it has a death grip  on you. Ultimately it will drive you to malice and revenge, and you’ll be building gallows before you know it.

Stop. If you don’t, you’ll end up swinging from that rope yourself.