Monthly Archives: February 2009

The Love of God

The older I get and the more I learn about living as a Christian, there is one thing that astounds me anew and catches me over and over again.  That one thing is the love of God.  The hymnwriter, Frederick M. Lehman, said that we could never possibly write the love of God completely:

Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade,
To write the love of God above,
Would drain the ocean dry.
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.

And I truly believe that it would be a lifelong task to communicate the love of God.  Lately I have been in a reflective mode when I haven’t been trying to finish writing my research papers for school and I have been reading a lot of Rich Mullins old stuff.  I found a great site that has an archive of all of his old magazine columns and the lyrics to his songs and even transcripts of some of his concerts.  The transcripts crack me up and bring me to tears and in some of those moments of off the cuff talking, he said the most amazing things about God’s love and living in this world as His kid.

And I kept thinking, maybe somehow, if I really read the Bible, if I really studied, my faith, that that would give me a sense of belonging, that I would find some kind of home there. And the funny thing is that I haven’t, yet.

People often ask me what I believe. Which always cracks me up, because you always think, well, why would I write that song, Creed, if I didn’t believe it? That should pretty much outline it for ya. They want to know what my millennial view is. I don’t even have a millennial view. I can’t see it. They want to know what I think about baptism. Well, I think a lot of things about baptism, but I don’t really know what I believe about it. My faith isn’t in that. My faith isn’t in Creationism. Certainly isn’t in the Religious Right kind of reasoning. Everything that has ever happened has failed, and it will continue to fail. But I think that’s because God is a jealous God. And He will not share us even with our best ideas about Him.

And when Christ has stripped away all of your ‘phony-baloney’ kind of systematic theology, all of your lame, Protestant kind of stupidity, all of your Catholic hang-ups, when Christ has stripped away everything that we have invented about Him, then maybe we will encounter Him as He really is. And we will know ourselves as we really are. So don’t be afraid that your faith gets shaken. Could be that God is shaking you forward, and shaking you free.

And the issue is not which side of which fence you end up on. The issue is really, has to do with, what does it mean to love Christ? What does it mean to obey Him? And I’m not really even sure what that is. But if there is any meaning in the life of Jesus of Nazareth, it is this: that there is a God who created us, and who loves us so much that He would stop at nothing to bring us to Him.

And I really suspect that of all the things we think we want to know, the only thing we really want to know, is that we are loved. And if Jesus means anything, He means that you are loved. I hope you know that.

You know, ten or fifteen years ago, I was pretty sure I had it all figured out.  I had always been pretty smart and “wise for my age” as a young person.  I had a pretty good handle on who was right and who was wrong.  And a funny thing happened; God shook me forward and He keeps shaking me free from all that I “knew” that I knew.  Believe me after a couple of undergraduate and graduate systematic theology classes with one more about to start, I am convinced that God isn’t willing to share our affections with our ideas about Him.  He wants us to love Him the only way we know how, imperfectly!

There was something else in the concert transcripts that hit me just where I needed a hit:

We are not saved because we’re good. We’re good because we’re saved. Never forget what Jesus did for you. Never take lightly what it cost Him. And never assume that if it cost Him His very life, that it won’t cost you yours. It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to go to heaven. Why? Because God has a really big house, but He’s gonna have a lot of guests and He doesn’t want all that luggage to deal with. If we could lay down our stuff and let God love us, I think we’d pretty nearly be in heaven. And I hope you’re there. That’s where God wants you to be. And maybe you didn’t know that. I think a lot of us think that God is looking for ways to keep us out of His kingdom. Well, if that were the case, then Jesus would be absurd. But, if Jesus Christ is Who the Scriptures teach us that He is, then God wants us to be saved; we know that God wants us to be with Him.

The Bible isn’t a question and answer book.  It isn’t just a book of rules or simply a guide to “better living.”  The Bible is a book that tells us we are loved and it tells us about the One who loved us more than anything or anyone else ever could.

Categories: Bible Thoughts, Christianity, Discipleship, Love, Thanksgiving | 9 Comments

Running Blind

One of my absolute favorite passages in all of Scripture is Hebrews 12:1-3:

1Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. 2Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

The image is so vivid and clear.  We are all running the race and we must do so with our eyes on Jesus or we will lose focus, get discouraged and possibly give up running.  But we don’t run alone, and in fact I would say we can’t run alone.  We have a “cloud of witnesses” who have run the race already and a guide who knows the way to run, even when we don’t.

This past week, I saw the most heartwarming story.  It really touched me, and then it made me think.

The story is about a young girl in California who has joined her school’s track team and is training to run the 800 and 1600 meter races.  Which wouldn’t normally make the news, except that this girl is blind.  She has been blind since birth, but that hasn’t stopped her from running.  The other girls on the team run alongside her, helping her through the race.

Rossi runs a mile, Todd runs with her, gently guiding her with the gray belt that is connected to a thicker black belt around Rossi’s waist.
When Rossi slows, Todd forsakes her own training schedule and slows.
When Rossi speeds up, Todd runs even faster to watch for bumps and curves.
When Rossi grows breathless and has to stop, Todd stops too, even if the sophomore could use more work.
“At first I wondered if this was the best thing for me,” Todd said. “Then I realized, this is not about me.”
She smiled, and you want to wrap the sports world in this smile, one born of the basic instincts of teamwork, one that glitters with the very best of sport.

Go and read the story and more than that, soak in the picture that is with the story.  If you are an old softie like me, you might even cry.  But there was an something else that caught my eye.  It was a quote that the young girl gave in answer to the other girls:

The girls ask if she gets scared running in an eternal dark.
“I’ve never seen anything, so I don’t know what’s there, so it doesn’t matter,” she said.

This made me think of the kind of trust we should have in God.  We may not be able to see where the race is taking us, but the One who is guiding us knows and He is trustworthy.

Categories: Bible Thoughts, Christianity, church, devotional, Discipleship, Love | 27 Comments

Boundaries with No Markers

I live pretty close to the border between the US and Canada.  When we travel to Canada, we have to go through a border checkpoint.  I even have a picture of the kids standing next to the marker stone at the border that we took the first time we crossed.  But there is no fence there, and it is hard to tell where the exact “boundary line” might be based on a single marker standing out there.  With more markers visible, the line becomes easier to identify or imagine.

But apparently, this very common sense concept doesn’t translate well for some people.  A few days ago, I happened upon a story with the headline, “Parents Told: Avoid Morality in Sex Lessons.”  A headline that dumb peaked my interest and I had to see what they were saying.  The article itself attempted to show a balance of those who agree with the idea of educating people on “boundaries” without imposing any “markers” and those who recognized the folly of such a view.  Then came the killer quote from a professed expert:

Linda Blair, a clinical psychologist, said educating older children and teenagers about sex had to be a process of negotiation. “We do not know what is right and wrong; right and wrong is relative, although your child does need clear guidelines,” she said.

It is statements like these that make me wonder if people like this listen to what they say or if they just say things and hope to look smart.  How can you give any guidelines on anything when you refuse to accept the idea that there are any concrete standards of any kind?  How can you have a boundary without any markers to define it in any way?

Categories: Apologetics, Truth | 8 Comments

An Arrow Pointing to Heaven – A Must Read

One of my favorite musicians of all time is Rich Mullins.  He had a way with words that drove many people to either frustration or awe.  The man who penned the song “Awesome God” which has inspired and touched many, also penned the song “Jacob and Two Women” which has left many a person baffled and asking why he even wrote it.  rich-mullins-book-cover

Several years ago, I found a book written about Rich’s life by a man who knew him fairly well.  It is written as a “devotional biography,” which means that it is a portrait of Rich’s life intended to spur the reader toward a closer walk with God.  In this respect, the book is spot on the mark.  I have read this book a couple of times and spent some time skimming back through it the past week.  The challenges and insights in this book are oftentimes profound and simple at the same time.  In an era where Christian entertianment and media have sometimes been shallow and questionable, it is refreshing to see a picture of a man who never really got caught up in the whole fame and wealth and popularity game.

Continue reading

Categories: Book Reviews, Christianity, devotional, Discipleship, Love | 5 Comments

From the Pastor’s Desk Column for 2/23/09

I didn’t repost last week’s column because it was actually an edited blog post that I sent in.  Here is the one from this week though.  It is my last one for now until I come up in the rotation again.  Enjoy.

Many people seem to think that becoming a Christian or being a Christian means that you must be perfect. I am not sure where that idea got its start, but it has to be one of the biggest lies around. This idea lies behind the old saying that the church is full of hypocrites. The truth of the matter is that anyone who goes to church thinking it will make them perfect or expecting everyone there to be perfect is fooling themselves. If you are perfect, why even bother to go to church? The very act of coming together with other believers is an admission that I can’t do it all on my own, that I don’t have it all together, and that I am not perfect. The picture of God that emerges from the Bible doesn’t show any indication of a need for perfection in those He calls His own.

From the Bible it is apparent that God is far more capable of handling imperfection than we(humans) ever give Him credit for. He is committed to working through imperfect people in imperfect ways at every turn it seems. God uses a lying, thieving, scoundrel (Jacob) as the father of the twelve tribes of His chosen people. He uses a stuttering, cowardly guy (Moses) who wouldn’t take the job until God said his brother could help him to liberate His people from Egypt. He takes a king (David) who commits murder and adultery, and gives his family the honor of being the line He would send His own Son to be a part of. Cover to cover, the Bible is the story of one imperfect person after another portrayed in less than flattering pictures that display the grace of God that we cannot fully comprehend. Frankly, if we were going to invent a God to follow, this one isn’t believable. But He is who He is and if I have learned one thing in life, it is that He is not what I would have expected or sometimes wanted Him to be. This is part of the reason that I always laugh when I hear people say that Jesus is a fable or a made up character or that God isn’t real. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob who sent His Son, Jesus Christ, is the most improbable character in all of human history. Any man who could have dreamed this up, would be the greatest thinker in all of time.

Which brings me back to the original thought. God isn’t waiting for us to get better or be perfect before He will love us or accept us. He loves you already and you cannot make Him love you any more than He does, and you can’t make Him love you any less either. The Bible says it this way, “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6-8) God didn’t wait for you and I to get better; He took the initiative and loved us first. “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 John 4:10) You can’t earn God’s love. He has given it freely through His Son, Jesus Christ, the one who burst into human history so that the imperfect could be perfectly loved.

Categories: Cavalier County Republican pastor's desk column, Christianity, Gospel, Grace, Love, Salvation | 5 Comments

Sunday Morning 2/22/09

Here is the link for Sunday morning’s sermon.  You can also click here if you would rather have it as podcast.

This is our second week in 1 Corinthians and touches on chapters 3 and 4.  Chapter 4 contains one of the toughest teachings for prosperity gospel preachers to overcome.  The notes from the bulletin insert are below.

Solid Foundations

Sermon Notes for 2/22/09 (1 Corinthians 3-4)

  1. Growing up and maturing in faith

    1. Learning the value of peace

    2. Learning the work of God’s Kingdom

  2. Building projects

    1. There must be a firm foundation – v. 11

    2. There are two ways to build – v. 12-15

      1. Gold, silver and precious jewels (Heb. 12:29)

      2. Wood, hay and stubble

    3. We are the Lord’s Temple – v. 16-17

  3. Everything we have has been given to us by God – ch. 4:7

  4. The folly of the prosperity preachers – ch 4:8-21

    1. Those who teach that God wants His followers to have their best life now or to always prosper and/or be healthy are liars

    2. Paul says they are to imitate him – 4:16

      1. Paul was not wealthy – 4:8; Philippians 4:11-12

    3. The life of God is not about talk, but about action (power)

Categories: 1 Corinthians, Sermon | Leave a comment

It Just Happened

Sometimes, when my kids do something here in the house that causes a problem I ask, “what happened?” or “how did this happen?”  Oftentimes, I get an answer that boils down to, “I don’t know” or “it just happened.”  I am a little too smart to fall for that.  With Darwin day or whatever it was having just passed here recently, I was reminded of the most famous instance of “it just happened” as an answer in history.  In all candor, I have almost always been skeptical of Darwin, because of my faith in God and because of His track record of being proved right over and over again.  But increasingly, my skepticism of Darwin is based on the fact that his theory hasn’t yet found a leg to stand on in all these years.  There are no transitional forms in the fossil record, that he said would have to be found.  And his tree of life is being chopped down by scientists.  But the main reason, I find the whole thing bizarre is that simple common sense tells us that complexity requires design.  Complex patterns and structures don’t just happen haphazardly and our human mind knows this instinctively.

I have been watching the season 3 trailers for Way of the Master.  They have several funny bits where they ask atheists on the street to make milk or honey starting with nothing.  The clips are on YouTube and are amusing to say the least.  And over at Ray’s old blog, he constantly gets into trouble with atheists for asserting that they believe that “nothing” made “something.”  They can’t stand it because it is absurd, but it is what modern science asserts.  Ray finally just gave them a link to a scientific study from Cornell that says it in plain English:

We can define the universe as everything there is, so in that case there is nothing outside of it. We also say that space and time both started at the Big Bang and therefore there was nothing before it.

Even that old 70s song knows this is impossible, “nothing from nothing leaves nothing” you know.  But this week I found another example of a person who sees order where there shouldn’t be any and assumes that someone (in this case citizens of the lost city of Atlantis) must be responsible.  Check out the article here, but this is the quote that caught my eye:

Bernie, 38, of Chester, said: “It looks like an aerial map of Milton Keynes. It must be man-made.”

Google today claimed the criss-crossing lines were sonar data collected as boats mapped the ocean floor.

But the internet giant said “blank spots” within the lines could not be explained.

Science has strayed far from its modern origins.  People like Newton, believed that an ordered universe was the product of a Creator who designed things in an ordered manner.  Scientific observation was and still is predicated on the idea that the order of things can be figured out and explained.  “It just happened” isn’t a good answer from my kids and it isn’t a better answer for the universe either.

Categories: Apologetics, Atheists, Truth | 10 Comments

Effort Doesn’t Guarantee Results

I know that statement sounds pretty obvious, but apparently it isn’t.  There are way too many students who seemingly don’t understand this concept according to a recent article.  Apparently, colleges are finding that students feel they should get good grades based on the amount of work they put into their classes rather than based on their ability to show any actual learning has taken place.  Don’t believe me?  Take a look at these stellar examples:

In line with Dean Hogge’s observation are Professor Greenberger’s test results. Nearly two-thirds of the students surveyed said that if they explained to a professor that they were trying hard, that should be taken into account in their grade.

Jason Greenwood, a senior kinesiology major at the University of Maryland echoed that view.

“I think putting in a lot of effort should merit a high grade,” Mr. Greenwood said. “What else is there really than the effort that you put in?”

“If you put in all the effort you have and get a C, what is the point?” he added. “If someone goes to every class and reads every chapter in the book and does everything the teacher asks of them and more, then they should be getting an A like their effort deserves. If your maximum effort can only be average in a teacher’s mind, then something is wrong.”

Sarah Kinn, a junior English major at the University of Vermont,
agreed, saying, “I feel that if I do all of the readings and attend
class regularly that I should be able to achieve a grade of at least a

The problem here is not with effort, but with results.  What good did it do to sit through every lecture and read every book if you are no different or not demonstrably “smarter” in some way?  If, at the end of the class, you are given a test and you can’t answer a single question right; did you learn anything at all?  Academic grades aren’t a measure of effort; they are a measure of learning or of change if you will.

This got me to thinking (which can get me into trouble) about a post that Will had put on his blog a day or two ago about repentance.  I never managed to put anything into the comments, but my thoughts are running along these lines.  Stay with me for a minute here before deciding I am off the deep end.

The Bible makes it plain that we cannot earn favor with God.  Our works are like filthy rags in His sight.  All of our effort, amounts to nothing.  But many times, man approaches religion and God in the same way these college students approach their classes.  We feel that God should recognize our “efforts” and reward us for trying really hard to do the right thing.  Look at almost any world religion and you will see a system that rewards effort no matter what the results.  Then you get to Christianity.  In Christianity, the result is the only thing that matters and no amount of personal effort can achieve the proper result.  That goes against the grain of human thinking. Man’s thinking is, “I can make my own way or I am good enough.”  The Bible doesn’t say that; it says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.” (Pr. 14:12 and 16:25)

No other religion talks like that or thinks like that.  When Isaiah says that all of our righteousness is like filthy rags he is essentially saying that even if you have all of the right answers for the “test” you still aren’t good enough to pass it.  You can “do” all of the right things and still not pass.  The effort isn’t what is required, even if it teaches you all the right things.  Why does Jesus say that there will be those who will talk about all of the “effort” they have put forward and expect to enter eternal life only to be turned away? (Matthew 7:21-23)  Did they not do any of those things?  Of course they did them, but effort doesn’t matter.

Let’s go back to the classroom analogy for a minute.  Imagine that you have been given God’s final exam.  You have the blue book that you prepared for this day and then Jesus walks up to your desk and hands you His blue book.  He has already filled it out.  He has done all of the work and even wrote your name on it.  It is perfect (I would hope that goes without saying) and He just gives it too you.  You can still try and fill out your own if you want.  You can even try to copy the answers that He just handed you.  But when God comes and collects the test booklets, which one do you think you should hand Him?  The one Jesus did for you or the one you tried to handle yourself? If you are struggling with the answer let me mention Romans 10:11, “As the Scripture says, ‘Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.'”

Someone may look at this and say that I am using decision language or implying some kind of work, even in the mention of handing in the test booklet.  If you think that is work or effort, I can’t help you.  Jesus did every last bit of it including handing it to me.  All I “did” was ditch my own plan and effort because I trusted His to be all I needed.

Categories: Bible Thoughts, Christianity, church, Discipleship, Gospel, Grace, Love, Salvation, theology, Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Write Your Own Bible

No, I am not talking about revising God’s Word to match your own theology.  I am talking about a story I saw today about a project being done by Zondervan publishers in honor of the 30th anniversary of their NIV translation of the Bible.  They have been going around the country having people hand write the Bible a verse at a time in 2 copies to create a handwritten NIV Bible.  I actually think this is a neat idea.  It reminds me of something we did back in my college days.

Every year we would do a New Testament Read-a-thon with our college Baptist Student group.  We would set up a table in the student union on campus and have two readers at a time alternate reading chapters from Matthew to Revelation out loud.  It always took us all day, but it was a great experience.

Categories: Bible Thoughts, personal | 17 Comments

What If It Were You?

There were a couple of stories that I ran across today that have me grasping for words.  Both stories revolve around the abortion issue and called to mind a song I used to listen to by a Christian punk group.  The song was about Operation Rescue and it included the line, “what if they were killing you?”  I have never forgotten that song or the feeling in the pit of my stomach when I think about all of the babies that are murdered day after day in our world.

Today, there was a story of a 12 year old girl in Canada who took the opportunity of a speech contest to speak out about the issue.  You should absolutely go and watch the video of it.  The article I read with the video embedded is at WorldNetDaily.  She says in the video:

“What if I told you that right now, someone was choosing if you were going to live or die?” the seventh-grader begins in a video recording of her speech on YouTube. “What if I told you that this choice wasn’t based on what you could or couldn’t do, what you’d done in the past or what you would do in the future? And what if I told you, you could do nothing about it?”

All I could hear was the words of that song, “what if they were killing you?” over and over again in my mind.  Even I as type this, I am feeling somewhat melacholy and emotional.  But is that all I would do if my life were in danger?  This girl has the courage to speak out and the conviction of truth.  May her message reach many who need to hear it and may their hearts be softened by the conviction of the Lord to see the truth.

On the other end of the spectrum in some ways, is the story of a pastor in Oakland who is awaiting sentencing for holding up a poster that reads, “Jesus loves you and your baby. Let us help you,” outside an Oakland abortion clinic.  There is video of him as well.  It is incredulous to think that he was even found guilty as it is reported that one of the witnesses against him perjured herself on the stand.

We recently had the baby bottle drive in our church for the nearby pregnancy help center, and I am certainly outspoken about the tragedy of all of these murdered children.  But I find myself wondering if that is all I would be doing if it were me.  What do you think?  Is there more we can do?  What if they were killing you?

Categories: Abortion, Christianity, Discipleship, Love, Persecution, Truth | 6 Comments

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