Thursday, December 31, 2009

Out with the old

In some countries, the end of the year is a time to get rid of stuff, things taking up space, thing we don't need. From a Christian view, ending a year seems a good time to confess sins and put them behind us. We learn from our rebellious ways (hopefully), then move on, wiser for the experience (though I find it preferable to learn from the failings of others). But what happens when we can't move forward? Often the reason is guilt, something that has no place at the start of a new year. Tim Keller writes, "Whenever I hear someone say, 'I know God forgives me, but I can't forgive myself,' it means that person has something that is more important than God, because God forgives them." God's forgiveness is the easy part; forgiving ourselves is often what sets us back from making progress in our pilgrimage. I don't like the sin in me, and so I need to admit it, seek God's help in forsaking it, and keep on serving Christ my Lord...a worthy attitude to take into 2010.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Tidings of JOY

As a Baby, He rested in a different kind of cradle;
As the Lord, He had a different way of ruling;
As a King, He wore a different kind of crown.

Jesus is greater than any ruler,
mightier than any warrior,
nobler than any king,
wiser than any sage,
lovelier than any name;
He is the ultimate Christmas gift!

Would your plans for Christmas need changing if Christ were to spend the holidays at your home?

Saturday, December 5, 2009

"Happy Whatever"

Once again we're faced with our culture's annual attempt to celebrate a secular Christmas and Chanukah. A local Rabbi was pleased that his town relented to having a Menorah on town property in honor of Chanukah; the Rabbi called this another "miracle" nearly was, in today's mindset of "freedom from religion". I wouldn't be surprised to see the end of "Tree lighting" ceremonies, regardless of what the tree is "called".

A friend of mine was buying an expensive TV and said "Merry Christmas" to the clerk, who said, "I can't say that to you." When my friend suggested he by a TV elsewhere the clerk quickly wished him a "Merry Christmas." I hope we don't become like the Japanese, who celebrate all the secular elements of Christmas and none of the religious ones. They learned this from us.

D.A. Carson writes about towns denying religious displays on town property, "If the display is located in a neighborhood where many religious traditions compete, then a great deal can be said for celebrations that inform the entire community of those different traditions. But where there is one whiner worried about loss of self-esteem, one begins to wonder why there is so little concern for community self-esteem, for forbearance within the community, for community pleasure at supporting the majority tradition."

One of my closest friends is a Jewish attorney, who never fails to wish me a "Merry Christmas." He is not offended by my celebration. I, in turn, wish him a "Happy Chanukah." It is, after all, a festival Jesus celebrated, but regardless of that, we ought to respect our differences and show true tolerance. Even atheists ought to be glad that religious people are free to celebrate their traditions and not be offended by public expressions of faith. No offense is intended. I don't have to agree or be indifferent to allow a religious display. As a former Army Chaplain I supported the free exercise of all religious beliefs, even those I felt were completely wrong. Religious liberty is part of our American heritage, which means we are compelled to adjust to a pluralistic society. This means we do not try to take religion out of religious holidays and reduce Christmas to "Happy Whatever."

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Family Blessing of the Christmas Tree

Many families bless their Christmas trees before lighting them. The evergreen of our Christmas trees is a symbol of everlasting life. It stands as a shelter over the Child in the manger. Here is a blessing you can use in your home

Our Lord Jesus Christ died upon the tree of the Cross.
He overcame the sin caused by our first parents,
Who ate of the forbidden tree of Paradise in the garden.
We trust in the sacrifice of Jesus, Whose manger points to Calvary.
If there is no cross in the manger, there is no Christmas.

Prayer: Lord Our God,
We praise You for the light of Creation:
the sun, the moon, and the stars of the night.
We praise You for the Light of Israel:
the Law, and the prophets,
and the wisdom of the Scriptures.
We praise You for Jesus Christ, Your Son:
He is Emmanuel, God-with-us, the Prince of Peace,
Who fills us with the wonder of Your love.
Lord God, let Your blessing come upon us
as we light this tree.
May the light and cheer it gives
be a sign of the joy that fills our hearts.
May all who delight in this tree
come to the knowledge and joy of salvation.

Sing together:
O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree, a lesson you can teach us.
O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree, a lesson you can teach us.
That hope and love and faithfulness, are precious things we can possess.
O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree, a lesson you can teach us.

Scripture reading – John chapter one (excerpts):
In the very beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. He created everything there is. In him was life, and this life He gives to everyone. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not extinguish it…The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him when He came. Even in his own land and among his own people, he was not accepted. But to all who did believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God…The Word became flesh and lived here on earth among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

God of glory, let our hearts’ door be ever open, ready to welcome the newborn King.
Let us offer the best we have, to Him who gives us everything...Amen!

Thursday, November 19, 2009


Francis Schaeffer noted, "The beginning of human rebellion against God was, and is, the lack of a thankful heart." Our first parents chose to reject God's desire for them, and in return they reaped fear and despair. Their lives (and ours in effect) didn't improve as the serpent promised.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Prayer for Veterans Day

Lord of hosts, quiet heroes surround us. They are our doctors, our letter carriers, our machinists, our accountants, our co-workers, our fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, our neighbors and our best friends. Under their civilian attire beats hearts that will for a lifetime be proudly wrapped in the uniforms of the United States Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard. We honor their service and do not take lightly the sacrifices they have made to secure freedom from tyranny, fear and oppression. These heroes quietly carry with them the memories of those who did not return home. We especially pray for those brutally killed at Fort Hood. Bring healing to their friends and family...and to us. We owe those who served our gratitude, and ask You to bless them and their loved ones. This we pray, in Your strong and mighty Name, Amen.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Another Wall came Down

20 years ago my family and I were in Berlin watching the wall come down. I'd been in Berlin as a child before the wall, and shortly after it was erected...and now it came full circle. It was the most amazing thing I'd seen. A German handed me a hammer and chisel and told me to take a few whacks at the wall. Had I tried that a year sooner, I'd have been shot. There was a feeling of celebration in the air, and even the East German guards were smiling.

But another wall has come down, the wall separating us from God. A dreaded wall has been torn down by the sacrifice of Christ, who removes our bondage from the tyranny of sin and sets us free. When I departed the 3rd Armored Division, I was given a plaque with a cross made from the rebarb within the Berlin wall and an enscription under my name: "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free", Galatians 5:1. In Him we are free indeed.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

God did something good

In Rogers & Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music, Maria finds true love, and is overwhelmed by her good fortune; she can only suppose that, “Somewhere in my youth or childhood I must have done something good.” That’s not at all how life works. In spite of our sinfulness, God chooses to do something good, and not because of any foreseen goodness in us. We’re unworthy of His love. God takes the initiative; apart from His intervention, we would remain children of wrath.

This doctrine of grace says that we have been chosen by God the Father. This is the Biblical doctrine of “election”. God has a plan to save us. We cannot save ourselves. We don’t generate faith; it is a gift. We were chosen, set apart, according to God’s plan. God has a special use for us. Nothing can happen to us apart from God. We are part of His ultimate purpose. The Apostle Paul says in II Thessalonians 2:13, “from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.” God is sovereign in salvation; our destiny is in His hands.

God isn’t searching for people who are able or willing to accept salvation. He knows that, apart from His involvement, none would. But God is not limited by our choices. Jesus said, “You did not choose Me, but I have chosen you…many are called, few are chosen” (Jn 15:16 & Mt 22:14). Someone said, “God has reasons of His own for choosing me for salvation, but I did not supply Him with those reasons.” It remains a mystery.

It’s important to understand that God does not owe any of us His mercy. If He had wanted to simply be just, He could have condemned the entire human race. Since none deserve salvation, in saving some, God is merciful. Some receive mercy, and others receive justice. No one receives injustice.

Election means that we’ve been adopted, taken into God’s family. We’re given a new identity and destiny as His children. We’re outsiders no longer. Peter says in his first epistle that we have “an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade” (1:4). This is a great comfort.

After considering this teaching, you might wonder: “Am I one of the elect?” The answer to that question is easy: Trust in Jesus as Lord. If you do that, you are one of the elect. God’s free invitation is simple: Look to Jesus, and live.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Churches...different streams

There is much diversity within the Body of Christ, and rather than categorize according to denominations, there are other ways to describe our pluralistic fellowship of believers…

Contemplative~ Quiet listening and intimacy with God through silence, spirituality, and solitude to illuminate the dark.

Holiness~ Striving against sin and seeking after virtue and righteousness

Charismatic~ Yielding to the power of the Spirit to transform us into Christ’s image.

Evangelical~ Proclaiming the Good News of God’s Kingdom.

Incarnational~ Focusing on Christ within us, through symbolism and liturgy.

There is a place for everyone in the Church...we simply find where we best fit.
(adapted from Michael Mangis)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

We don't believe in Hell

I was recently thinking how most evangelicals don't really believe in Hell...being conservative in our theology, we claim we do, but in all practicality, I doubt it. We don't act like we believe in Hell; if we did, we might have a greater sense of urgency in our proclamation of the remedy, Christ's path to life. This is an unpleasant topic, particularly in an age of friendly (kind & gentle) evangelism. We gladly tell the Good News but we're embarrassed by the "bad news". Yet what are we saved from? Punishment. This is something one rarely hears much in preaching anymore. Maybe we've moved beyond this emphasis, perhaps a reaction to the "hellfire & brimstone" preaching of past years? I wish we evangelicals would all read C.S. Lewis' book The Great Divorce and ponder what lies ahead for those who refuse the free gift of eternal life.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude to me is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than success, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, gift or skill. It will make or break a company, a church, a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past…we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it. And so it is with you—we are in charge of our attitudes. –Charles Swindoll

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

"Fear not"

Review: Conquering Fear – Living Boldly in an Uncertain World; Rabbi Harold S. Kushner, Alfred A. Knopf Publishers, 2009.

Rabbi Kushner offers encouragement to all who suffer fear and dread, and he addresses various types of fears; not phobias, but anxieties common to the human condition. His objective is to achieve mastery over (not the absence of) fear. He states, “Our goal should be to recognize legitimate fears, dismiss exaggerated fears, and not let fear keep us from doing the things we yearn to do.”

Naturally he encourages spiritual resources, and especially prayer--not to seek removal of things we fear, but to ask God to be present, so that we may be less alone as we face our fears. We can then be happy in an unsafe world. “Fearful people cannot be happy.” We may even find that we hurt less by resting in God’s care.

Topics include: terrorism, ageing, rejection, job-loss, natural disasters, end-of-the-world anxiety, change, failure, and fear of death. He points out how God does not explain why life hurts (there is much we cannot grasp about God’s ways); instead He challenges us to respond with hope and rebuild our lives.

I found this an engaging, encouraging book. While I didn’t agree with every point, I felt enriched by Rabbi Kushner’s wise insight, born of experience.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A taste of Heaven

I thought I'd share my wife's best recipe, for Goldrush Brownies...
2 cups graham cracker crumbs, 1 can condensed milk, 1 cup chopped walnuts; 6-oz bag of chocolate chips.
Put ingredients in a bowl, adding the milk last. Combine till mixed. Grease bottom of a small rectangular pan. Spread mixture on bottom. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes. Cut into squares and remove from pan before refrigerating. It doesn't get better than this.

Monday, September 28, 2009


What do we mean when we talk of being "saved"? According to Peter Kreeft, When Protestants speak of salvation, they are describing justification; when Catholics speak of salvation, they are describing sanctification (Because God is Real). In other words, a follower of Christ can say "I was saved" and "I am being saved." One describes the action of God in making us right with Him, of reconciling us and cleansing us on the basis of the Cross...the other action describes the process of growth the Holy Spirit is performing in the life of the believer.

Friday, September 25, 2009

A prayer of dedication

Almighty God,
As I cross the threshold of this day
I commit myself--body, soul, affairs, friends--to Thy care;
Watch over, keep, guide, direct, sanctify, bless me.
Incline my heart to Thy ways.
May I engage in nothing in which I cannot implore Thy blessing,
and in which I cannot invite Thy inspection.
Let those around see me living by Thy Spirit...
-trampling the world underfoot,
-unconformed to lying vanities,
-transformed by a renewed mind,
-clad in the entire armor of God,
-shining as a never-dimmed light,
-showing holiness in all my doings.
May I speak each word as if my last word,
and walk each step as my final one.
If my life should end today, let this be my best day.

~from The Valley of Vision

Thursday, September 24, 2009


When I was a young, inexperienced Army chaplain, I went to see a chaplain who’d been in the Army over 20 years. I asked if he could give me some career guidance, and his answer was, “I don’t know what to tell you.” He either didn’t know much about the military, which is impossible (you don’t make Colonel by being ignorant), or he didn’t wish to impart his knowledge. All chaplains have supervisors, but they are not always mentors. Knowledge is power, and in a competitive military some people don’t want to share. What amazed me was that I was hardly a threat to this Colonel. Nonetheless he didn’t want to pass on his wisdom. I may have over-reacted to this unsatisfying conversation. As I gained experience and understanding, I shared it with others, often whether they wanted my knowledge or not. Not long ago I wrote an article on “ministry of presence” and emailed it to chaplains I know. It’s not an ego-thing, it’s simply trying to be helpful and generous. I hope for the most part my sharing is appreciated. I try to tell the chaplains I oversee as the Ecclesiastical Endorser for the Military to pass on their learning with others, to be a true mentor. As a retired chaplain I mentor seminarians seeking the military chaplaincy. I tell lots of “war stories” and give materials I’ve compiled to help them do well in this unique ministry. If we all did this, we’d all be a whole lot smarter and more effective. The question is: why don’t we? Do we feel threatened, are we being selfish, or do we think we have little to offer? When was the last time you shared a good idea with others? Let’s take the time to build one another up for the sake of God’s Kingdom.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Loving the unlovable

I attend a monthly clergy roundtable at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Here's a great quote from today's discussion...
"Anyone can be nice to people who are nice. We need to learn to love people who are difficult to love without expecting anything from them."

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Rally Day

Sunday, September 20th is Rally Day, which marks the return of Sunday School at 9:30 am (classes for all ages, including adult) & morning worship at 10:45 am.

Monday, August 31, 2009

What is your name?

Near the end of Jacob's wrestling match with the Angel of the Lord (Genesis 32), the Heavenly Wrestler asks, “What is your name?” The last time he'd been asked that, Jacob lied, claiming to be his brother Esau. Jacob's name can be translated "deceiver." This time, Jacob tells the truth. Until we answer, “My name is bitterness, greed, unfaithfulness” we can’t be healed. “My name is indulgence, depression, unforgiveness.” When we’re ready to come clean, God will make us clean. Until then we’ll remain just the way we are, untouched. God may be wrestling with us to rid us of our self-reliance. God may be saying to us, “You are manipulating your life, making your own arrangements; My child, what is your name?”

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Ch (MAJ) Tim Vakoc, RIP

Chaplain (MAJ) Henry Timothy Vakoc, the Army's sole chaplain to have been severely wounded in Iraq, died June 20, five years after an improvised explosive device injured him on the drive back to camp from celebrating Sunday Mass for Soldiers in the field. The IED attack occurred on the 12th anniversary of his ordination as a Roman Catholic priest, May 29, 2004, as he drove along the road returning to his unit, the 44th Corps Support Battalion in Mosul. The roadside explosion gravely wounded him, taking his left eye, paralyzing his left side and leaving him with a traumatic brain injury. He was evacuated to Germany and later to Walter Reed Army Medical Center, and then to the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Minneapolis, near his hometown of Robbindale where he continued to have numerous surgeries and infections. He was later awarded a Purple Heart, the Bronze Star and the Combat Action Badge before being medically retired. In an email to the National Chaplain Register before he was wounded, Chaplain Vacoc referred to his ministry of presence: "I live with the soldiers, work with them, eat with them, care for them, listen to them. They know if you're real and genuinely care or not. The soldiers see me out there with them and that makes a difference." We'll all miss you, Fr Tim.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


When I served at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, I had a clunker of a car. I got to know my mechanic well, and one day he asked me about my ministry. I explained that I was a Clinical Resident Chaplain and spent a good deal of time on various wards. He looked at me with a pained expression. "I could never do hospital work; I care too deeply about the pain of people; it would hurt too much to see them suffer." I smiled and said, "The challenge for the medical staff is that occasionally a few act like they've got your job." We can treat people as problems, or as individuals with unique needs and hurts.

The way to help people is not to be dispassionate, nor to be empassioned, but to show compassion. The English word compassion is derived from a combination of two Latin words, com and pati, which together mean "to bear with" or "to suffer with" This means caring about people's pain--but with a plan to help them through it. Just having the right words to say isn't enough. We need to spend time with those who hurt; compassion is often a non-verbal ministry. Just being with them can be just what the doctor ordered.

Henri Nouwen claims that, "We learn compassion through the life of Christ, who clasps Himself to us in our moments of greatest pain and who is our companion in suffering." As we identify with our Savior's woundedness, we become, in Nouwen's words, "wounded healers."

Friday, July 10, 2009

Blended Worship

In between traditional and contemporary worship is "blended" worship, a blend of formal and informal elements. This is similar to the "General Protestant" worship I conducted as an Army Chaplain, trying to cover all the bases of diverse military congregations. I sometimes refer to this as semi-formal worship, in that there are elements of liturgy but also informality (and the liturgy is written in modern language). The old hymns are sung, accompanied by our pipe organ, along with modern praise choruses, done accoustically (unplugged). This seems to best meet the needs of people, respecting the styles of old and new. Some churches hold two separate services--one traditional, the other contemporary. I suppose that's not a bad idea, but I like bringing what I think are the best elements of both styles together. The intent is to be all things to all people, and to make worship meaningful, while recognizing that our "audience" is God. He is worthy of our praise, and our goal is not to entertain but to honor our thrice-holy Lord.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Grief and Creationism

While I was preparing a funeral message, I happend to be reading Madeline L'Engle's Genesis Trilogy. Shortly after the death of her husband Hugh, Madeline got involved in the debate over origins, how the world came to be. She pointed out that the only question worth asking is whether or not the universe is God's. How the world came to be isn't as important. She stated...

"If I should find out tomorrow that God's method of creation was something quite different from either creationism or evolution that would in no way shake my faith, because that is not where my faith is centered. Thank God. If my faith were based on anything so fragile, how could I have lived through my husband's dying and death? How would I continue to live a full and loving life? My faith is based on the wonder that everything--all the laughter, all the pain, all the birthing and living and dying and glory, all our stories, without exception, are given dignity by God's awareness and concern."

Because this is God's world, life and death both have meaning. How do people who see human existence as an accident find any comfort in death? My comfort is that expressed by CS Lewis who said, "there are better things ahead than anything we leave behind."

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Mark Twain on GRACE

Hardly a theologian, nonetheless Twain had a pretty good concept of God's grace:

“Entering Heaven is a matter of grace, not merit. If entrance were based on merit, your dog would get in and you would not.”

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Sproul on Justification

(from a taped lecture)
"In the final analysis, no one is justified by faith; we are all justified by works, but they’re not our works, they’re Christ’s works. We put our faith and trust in the One who alone fulfilled the terms of the covenant of works in our behalf. Jesus fulfilled all righteousness as the New Adam. The fact that God enters into a covenant with us is gracious. Our only work is to believe." –R.C. Sproul

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


I had the privilege of attending a pastors' roundtable at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary today, to discuss The Surprising Work of God with the author, Dr. Garth M. Rosell of the faculty. This excellent book describes the evangelical movement in America focusing on Billy Graham and Harold Ockenga. During our discussion, Dr Rosell shared the following...

Genuine renewal/revival depends on:
  1. Repentance--that starts with me.
  2. Faithful teaching/preaching and obedience to the Scriptures.
  3. United, believing prayer

In his book, Dr Rosell states (p. 13) that unity among believers comes from a shared theological focus (the Cross), a shared authority (the Bible), a shared experience (conversion), a shared mission (worldwide evangelism) and a shared vision (the spiritual renewal of church & society).

May our sovereign Lord bring about revival!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

the power of HOPE

A cancer patient was told she had a slim chance of survival. With justifiable defiance she replied, "Statistics are for dead people. I'm not dead." When I served as Chaplain to the Oncology ward at Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas, I thought I'd be encouraging patients; most of them encouraged me. They shared their stories of hope and courage. There's no such thing as false hope. I discovered that when people are confident in themselves, their treatment, and in God, their bodies often cooperate with the healing process. While no one gets off the planet alive, it seems that we can combat disease and possibly live longer and happier through hope.

Faith in God is an important part of healing. A medical doctor remarked that to withhold prayer was like withholding a necessary drug or surgical procedure. Faith is trusting God, the Great Physician, in spite of our confusion, in spite of unanswered questions, all the time knowing that God loves us and wants what's best for us, even when we're unable to understand the purpose of our suffering. God may not change our situation always, but He can change us. Faith accepts the outcome/answer to our prayers as what is the best possible outcome, because God's answers are wiser than our prayers.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Our childish gods

A woman lost her faith because she prayed for healing and healing didn’t come, as if prayer could control God’s will. She said, “The God of my childhood died.” Our childish gods need to die. We need a childlike faith but not a childish faith that cares more about magic than submission to the perfect will of a loving God.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Pass it on

An elderly man, Luigi Tarisio, was found dead in his home. It was discovered that he had stashed away a remarkable collection of 246 priceless violins. The pinnacle of his collected works was a Stradivarius. He obviously cherished these instruments, but his love for them deprived the world of the beautiful music they would’ve produced. We have a treasure that people need to hear--not kept to ourselves.

We reach out to others because we’ve seen the light--we’ve had a “spiritual awakening”. The Good News of Jesus has changed our lives and we believe it has the power to change others. We’re like the people Jesus healed, who go and tell others of the Master’s touch. “I once was lost but now am found; was blind but now I see.” There are only two kinds of people: sinners, and recovering sinners. Christians aren’t “better” than unbelievers; we’ve simply accepted the remedy for all of life’s pain and hurt, and we want others to have it. The kindest thing we can do for someone is to introduce them to Jesus.

Being a silent witness isn’t enough. St Francis allegedly said, “Preach the Gospel and, if necessary, use words.” We have to live our faith before we can give it...but if the media followed this approach they’d be obligated to report the news without words. We need to communicate the Good News and this means telling people facts they need to know. We need to seek opportunities to share Christ, teachable moments. There’s something wrong when we can’t talk about Someone we love.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Prayer to the Son

Jesus, divine Son of God and Son of man,
You are more wonderful than we will ever be able to say.
We cannot "do You justice";
Hymns, prayers, sermons, and theology can at best bow in wonder.
We love You and confess You as Lord.
You are the son of all sons,
The ultimate embodiment of unfallen humankind.
You carry the image and essence of the invisible God.
You radiate glory as the exact, full representation of God.
We desire to know You as our friend, our brother, and yet our Lord.
We are in relation to You because You have initiated this connection.
We are Yours, not due to our grasp of divine knowledge;
Not because of any superior righteousness.
We have nothing to boast of, except Your grace,
Giving us what we don't deserve;
And Your mercy,
Not giving us what we do deserve.
You chose us while yet estranged sinners in dire need.
You are our Bridge to life.
Cause us to ever celebrate Your person and work,
And to live as Your devoted followers always.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Machen's Mandate

Gresham Machen gave this advice to Harold Ockenga as he was beginning his ministry:

"The whole world is your province as a preacher of the Gospel of Christ. Be interested in the teachings of science, in literature, in philosophy, and art. Do not be content with a superficial study of the Holy Book, but be a scribe who has become a disciple of the Kingdom of God. Do not be content merely with a chance acquantance with the Book, but seek to study it in the light of the grand, exegetical tradition of the Christian Church. Then you will know that nothing, no hostility of the world, no adverse decisions of souls and bodies of the visible church, no defections, no hostility can ever separate you from the great heritage that God has given you and these people in this Book."

~from The Surprising Work of God, Garth M. Rosell

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Renewing our minds

Romans 12:1-2, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--His good, pleasing and perfect will.”

Paul speaks of spiritual renewal “in view of God’s mercy”, the theme of the previous eleven chapters. Our standing before God is entirely due to His initiative mercy. We “offer” or “present” ourselves; the aorist tense indicating once-for-all time, like the commitment of a bride and groom…or like a soldier; our response to God’s mercy is giving up our old life and reporting for duty! We are set-apart for God, at His disposal, to work through us.

Why are we “living sacrifices”? Or perhaps a better question, What is a living sacrifice? R.C. Sproul notes: “There is a New Testament sacrificial system. It is not a sacrifice that we give in order to make an atonement, but a sacrifice that we give because an atonement has been made for us.” We respond with gratitude to the One who gave His all for us, Who provided all we need for this life and for the next. The faith-response is commitment.

What hinders us from doing this? Our priorities; God doesn’t have 1st place in our lives; we haven’t died to self; “my will” is #1; we haven’t committed to living for God.

Paul wants us to “conform” to God. As military personnel, we’re accustomed to conformity. But as followers of God, we are non-conformists. We have a distinctly different worldview & lifestyle.

The Phillips translation renders verse 2: “Don’t let the world squeeze you into its mold.” We live in culture; we're affected by it, yet warned in Scripture against it. We live and function in two worlds--the Kingdom of God and the fallen world about us…these are at odds with one another frequently, and we at times have to appraise to what extent we have become “worldly”. We’re so well-adjusted to our culture that we may fit-in too well.

To be “transformed” means to be changed from the inside-out…an indicator of true conversion. Paul uses the same Greek word used to describe Christ’s transfiguration, where we get our word metamorphosis. Not conformed but transformed. Do we have a distinctive spiritual identity, or have we adapted to a secular worldview? We need to be counter-cultural; in the world but not “of” the world.” By God's grace, we can.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

What Easter does...

The resurrection does many things...

>First and foremost, the resurrection happened. This historic event was visibly observed by over 500 witnesses, proving that this was not some fable or legend. Even the Jews and Romans knew that Jesus was dead, and also that the tomb was empty on Easter morning. They all knew that it was heavily guarded and blocked with a 2-ton stone sealing Jesus’ body within. They knew Jesus was heavily wrapped in cloths that were soaked with myrrh, enough to suffocate anyone. They had seen the severity of his scourging and execution. And without doubt, they knew Jesus had returned to life. The empty burial clothes were left behind as a testament to His victory over death.

>The resurrection takes away our fear….A father and son were driving along a country road on a warm spring day, when suddenly a bee flew into the car. The boy was deathly allergic to bee stings, and began to panic as the bee buzzed inside the vehicle. The father reached out and caught the bee in his hand, then winced in pain. He opened his hand and showed his son the stinger still in his palm. “Relax, son,” he said. “I took the sting—the bee can’t hurt you anymore.” The empty tomb is God’s way of saying to us, “Relax, My child; I took the sting—death can’t hurt you anymore.”

>The resurrection gives authority to our witness in the world. In every evangelistic sermon in the book of Acts, the early church leaders pointed to the fact that Jesus was risen from the dead. This Easter event gave weight to their message that Jesus was, in fact, the Messiah and Savior of the world.

>The resurrection gives powerful significance to the Lord’s Supper. Without Easter, this meal would be no more than a memorial service. But when we remember Christ’s atoning death, we also recall His resurrection, the death of death. Holy Communion is a victory banquet! The resurrection gives us hope for the future. Without Easter, Communion--and life itself would be meaningless. Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, we break bread with our risen Lord, and our eyes are opened, our hope restored.

>The resurrection unites all Christians, even our Eastern Orthodox friends, who observe Easter on a different day. We may worship differently, we may not see eye-to-eye on all issues…but one central belief unites and inspires all Christians. We are united in our celebration that the power of death has been forever conquered through the resurrected Christ.

>The resurrection showcases Jesus’ authority. In Oscar Wilde’s play Salome, King Herod learns about the raising of Lazarus and is enraged. He cries out in protest, “I forbid Jesus to raise the dead. This man must be found and told I don’t allow people to raise the dead.” Herod the tyrant felt threatened; he knew that if somebody is going around raising the dead, then his power has met a greater power.

>The resurrection matters. We may differ on minor doctrines, but this is a critical, essential truth of our faith. Scripture tells us that the payment of sin is eternal death: “the soul that sins will surely die”. We all deserve eternal death…but when we look at the empty cross we have a reminder of God’s promise that we are forgiven.

This key fact of history is something we cannot be neutral about. Everyone knows about Jesus, but not everyone knows Him in His saving power. For that to happen, we have to respond to His love by trusting Him for salvation.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Are all?

  • Are all politicians corrupt?
  • Are all pro athletes on steroids?
  • Are all journalists biased?
  • Are all soldiers war-mongers?
  • Are all lawyers unethical?
  • Are all CEO's pragmatists?
  • Are all Christians hypocrites?

When people disgrace their profession, rebuke them, not their profession or what it stands for. Don't dismiss theism because some "professing believers" aren't living their faith.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Daily Devotions

At my monthly clergy roundtable at Gordon-Conwell Seminary, we went around the table sharing what we did in our personal devotional time, what works for us. One of our group made this observation:

"Are we close to God because we have this comforting (devotional) activity or because we love God? We can become selfish in our spirituality. We should have a daily devotional time for God and not for what we get out of it. We need to stay dependent on God, not on our devotional habits."

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Taming the Tube

TV consumes a lot of our time. It has been called the “plug-in drug.” I wondered what the Bible might have to say about all the time we spend in front of the tube. I discovered some principles:

-Proverbs 15:14 advises, “A wise man is hungry for truth. The fool feeds on trash.”
-In Psalm 101:3 we read, “I will set no unclean thing before my eyes.”
-And in Philippians 4:8, “Whatever is true, right, pure, lovely, admirable or praiseworthy, think on such things.”

All television is “educational”; it expresses a (sometimes subtle) worldview that may well be quite different from the values we hold. The more we watch, the more we’re influenced. A 4-year old child was told by her mother, “It’s past your bedtime.” Dancing in front of the TV the child called back, “Mom, it’s not bedtime; it’s Miller Time!” Many TV shows push the envelope of decency. What was unthinkable ten years ago is commonplace today. How will things be ten years from now? Not a pleasant consideration.

What should we do to tame the tube? Here are some suggestions...

-Have a family night without TV. Play games, do craft projects, get out the photo album, have a sing-along, tell stories—creative and constructive activities.

-Make a log of what you watch for a week; this will help you decide if TV takes up too much of your life and help you make changes.

-Regulate what you watch. Get a TV guide and circle what you intend to watch, and watch only that. Regulate how much you let TV into your life.

-Watch TV with your kids; don’t use it as a babysitter. Tell your children that they can watch an hour of TV for every hour they spend reading.

-Keep it off during family mealtimes (another good rule is to let your answering machine get the phone during meals).

-Record the programs you want to see and view them when the time is right.

-Watch actively—discuss the shows, ask questions like, “What is this program trying to make me believe?” “What is this show’s viewpoint on sexuality?” “What is the characters’ basis for morality?”

-Turn off the sound during commercials. Lessen their influence and annoyance. Hurray for the mute button!

-Write to stations and sponsors to support good programming and to “vote against” harmful shows.

Consider your home a sanctuary and your TV set a guest. Your home is a refuge, set apart from the onslaught of negative influences of society. If a guest in your home were to tell dirty jokes to your children or use God’s Name in vain, encourage them to drink beer, or describe acts of graphic violence, you’d ask this visitor to stop or leave. Why should TV be any different?

Our need to unwind and be entertained is legitimate, but we have to be careful how we meet that need, by not watching whatever happens to be on. We should make better use of our precious time.

I heard someone complaining recently about having to go to church and I thought, “What a small investment in a person’s week.” I wondered how many hours this person spent watching television every week, compared to the time spent in worship, reading the Bible, and in prayer.

Be in control of your free time, and don’t become a couch potato!

Friday, March 6, 2009

a mild rant...

When I send my sermons out by email, people gain the text of my message.

They lose:
-The verbal and non-verbal energy of the delivery;
-The satisfaction of receiving the Bread and Cup; they've missed an important meal!
-Fellowship, connecting & encouraging--they need ours, we need theirs!
-A structured, intentional focus of dynamic praise to our worthy God (corporate worship).

Which would you prefer: a “love letter” or to spend time with & in the presence of your beloved? “Where two are three are gathered in My Name, I am in their midst.”

Friday, February 27, 2009

LENT>>don't just give up something, do something!

Display a picture of the death of Christ in your home or office space.

Make a list of ten people you’ll pray for daily during Lent.

Memorize Bible verses about Jesus’ sacrifice, recite them when saying family grace.

Make a table-top Easter Egg tree (the egg represents new life) with Christian symbols.

Display a palm cross in your home or on your front door, and/or a banner proclaiming the victory of Christ.

Observe a family Passover Seder or foot-washing in your home; include singing.

Construct a crown of thorns for display and contemplation.

Pin sequins on a thick candle; on one side, a cross, on the other, spell out JOY.

Make (or buy) hot cross buns.

Play a recording of Handel’s Messiah or attend a sacred music concert.

Read a devotional book; give one to a friend.

Participate in a small group Bible study; carry your Bible with you.

Give up something pleasurable during Lent to show repentance for your sins. This is not to gain favor with God but to show we’re under His Lordship and we identify with our Savior’s sufferings.

Wear religious jewelry as an expression of your faith.

Visit an art gallery, taking special note of its sacred art.

Set aside a day for prayer and fasting.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Choices - Changes

Our choices reveal what we truly are. Our choices affect our outcomes. We become unwell when we act irresponsibly. Behavior is controllable—things don’t “just happen.” Becoming well means learning to live a disciplined life.

Many things that provide pleasure cannot provide happiness. For happiness we need God, and the company of fellow believers. We may feel better with artificial means, but only in God can we overcome life’s hurts. Our discomfort in life stems from our choices; lifestyles don’t choose us. We’re either the recipients of our good choices or the victims of our bad choices. We can choose something better: God’s will. God alone can help us start a new life.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Didn't you ask?

At a local coffee shop one of the regulars mentioned that he knew John Updike; he used to see him regularly at his home here in the North Shore. I was impressed, and asked if he'd discussed Updike's books. "No, I never did, and I never read any of his books." Now I suppose this was good for Updike, to have an acquaintence who wasn't wanting to know about his literary style, yet I admit it would have been fascinating to spend time with him. This got me to thinking about prayer. We have access to God, yet we don't take advantage of this privilege like we should. We could at least spend time in God's presence, but normally we mostly pray when we want something. I'm convinced that even among devoted believers prayer is easier for some than others. There's lots of ways to pray, and some work better for some than others. I prefer to write my prayers, which helps me to better focus and concentrate and say what I really mean. This works, but I ought to do it more, be more consistent--especially when I simply want to spend time with my Lord.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Affection for God

We love God...or at least we try to. CS Lewis noted, "God's love for us is a much safer subject to think about than our love for Him." If we're honest with ourselves, we'll have to admit we usually love a lot of other stuff more than God. We may be faithful to church, but do we have a passion for God?

Jonathan Edwards pointed out: "As there is no true religion where there is nothing else but affection, so there is no true religion where there is no religious affection." It's possible to have zeal yet lack true faith that transforms one's outlook and lifestyle.

Are we inclined toward God? Do we delight in God's glory and majesty? The affection we have for God now is a foretaste of our heavenly happiness.

Friday, January 30, 2009


Christianity Today has a cover article on Science Fiction. My take is that SF often tries to answer the question of origins by saying aliens seeded our planet, which only delays the question rather than answer it. If life on earth came from another planet, where then did that life come from? Also SF tends to portray aliens either as hostile invaders or benevolent messiahs (Close Encounters is basically a religious movie), or both (To Serve Man). SF can replace trust in Christ with the hope of an ET rescue and/or the godlike evolution of humankind, believing the serpent's lie. CT aptly says that "progress is not our redemption".

aOne positive note: Fox has decided to pick up the next Narnia Movie (the Dawn Treader)!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Defining "tolerance"

Christians are often accused of being intolerant. Being tolerant of people doesn’t mean we have to approve of their behavior. Tolerance means we disagree but accept others. Tolerance is not indifference or giving up one's moral convictions. Today many people seem to tolerate only whose who endorse their positions, and they're intolerant of any who disagre with them. I believe I can be tolerant while maintaining that I have moral issues with certain worldviews and lifestyles in today’s society. Tolerance is is valuing the right of another person to hold beliefs that we believe to be wrong. We’re not tolerant of something unless we object to it. We don’t have to tolerate views we accept or are indifferent to.

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Good Palestinian

I was preaching Sunday on the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Most people know that the Samaritans and Jews didn't get along; in fact, if the Jewish victim of the story spotted a Samaritan, he'd have avoided any contact. They weren't friends. So Jesus tells a story to get us to expand our definition of neighbor to anyone whose need we see. Today if He were telling the story, I don't think He would mention the Samaritans--there are very few left. Jesus would likely tell about the "Good Palestinian". The problem with many people today is they have some group in mind where the name of the group and "good" would hardly be used in the same sentence. The point of our Lord's story isn't simply that we ought to be rendering "good deeds" to those in need, but to recognize that everyone we meet is our neighbor, regardless of their ethnicity, gender, faith or social status...they are people we need to "love as ourselves."

Friday, January 9, 2009

Why pray when you can worry?

4Paul counsels the Philippian believers to to be anxious about anything (4:6), but instead to channel their worries into prayer. We need to let our troubles be God's concerns...easier said than done. But if anyone ever had cause for worry, it was Paul, facing a Roman judge for treason, disloyalty to Caesar (for insisting that Christ alone was Lord).

Worry becomes a form of atheism because it tries to manage life apart from God. Or we could say that worry is praying to the wrong god. Regardless of what we claim to believe, when we worry we are practicing a subtle form of distrust in God. And it becomes a fear that can paralyze us. Anxiety ought to be a reminder for us to pray. God is handling our troubles and doesn't need our help. "In quietness and confidence shall be your strength" says Isaiah (30:15). Worry is SIN in that it is questioning God's love and purpose. Prayer combats worry by building trust. By spending time with God we take a break from our cares and gradually gain peace and learn serenity.