Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Narcissism Epidemic

If you are raising kids, grandkids, or mentoring children, you definitely want to listen to this insightful conversation between Professor Michael Horton and Jean Twenge, author of Generation Me and The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the age of entitlement.

See if you can set aside 35-40 good minutes and you will learn so much about the culture of narcissism that plagues churches, families, schools, and just about every sector of American society. Click here to listen and learn

A parable of Grace

This story has made the rounds on the internet for quite some time now. I am not sure if it is true, but it has a profound Biblical truth about God's grace:

A store owner was tacking a sign above his door that read "Puppies For Sale." Signs like that have a way of attracting small children and sure enough, a little boy appeared under the store owner's sign.

"How much are you going to sell the puppies for?" he asked. The store owner replied, "Anywhere from $30 to $50." The little boy reached in his pocket and pulled out some change.

"I have $2.37," he said. "Can I please look at them?"

The store owner smiled and whistled and out of the kennel came Lady, who ran down the aisle of his store followed by five teeny, tiny balls of fur. One puppy was lagging considerably behind. Immediately the little boy singled out the lagging, limping puppy and said, "What's wrong with that little dog?" The store owner explained that the veterinarian had examined the little puppy and had discovered it didn't have a hip socket. It would always limp. It would always be lame.

The little boy became excited. "That is the little puppy that I want to buy." The store owner said, "No, you don't want to buy that little dog. If you really want him, I'll just give him to you." The little boy got quite upset. He looked straight into the store owner's eyes, pointing his finger, and said, "I don't want you to give him to me. That little dog is worth every bit as much as all the other dogs and I'll pay full price. In fact, I'll give you $2.37 now, and 50 cents a month until I have him paid for." The store owner countered, "You really don't want to buy this little dog. He is never going to be able to run and play with you like the other puppies."

To this, the little boy reached down and rolled up his pant leg to reveal a badly twisted, crippled left leg supported by a big metal brace. He looked up at the store owner and softly replied, "Well, I don't run so well myself, and the little puppy will need someone who understands!"

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Home Sweet Home

My wife and I spent a very challenging week in Jamaica handling all the details of her father's funeral. The service celebrating the life of Garth Thomson proclaimed the hope of the resurrection through Jesus Christ. It was wonderful to be with family and friends and find mutual hope encouragement through Christ.

But we are glad to be home! Thanks for your prayers, cards and support.

This Could Happen To Us!

Just a few days ago, the Lutheran Church (ELCA) voted to allow the ordination of clergy who are in "publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships." My dismay upon hearing this news was immediately followed by the realization that "This could happen to us." Friends, let our prayers for our Lutheran brothers and sisters be joined with stronger-than-ever determination to preserve both a biblical view of marriage and our own constitutional integrity! Click here to see the entire article

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Death where is your victory?

For those of you know us, I would like to ask that you pray for my wife's family. This past Tuesday we heard the sad news that her father, Garth Thomson died of what seems to be a heart attack in Jamaica. Judith has now lost her brother, mother and father. We are confident that God does all things well Isaiah 45:7.

Her father was a believer in Jesus Christ and we are resting on the promises of God's word, Philippians 1: 21.

It is hard for all of us here in America and especially for her family in Jamaica. We do not grieve though as those who have no hope. "For we believe that since Jesus died and rose again, God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep" I Thessalonians 4:14.

Without the hope of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, our loss would be unbearable! I Corinthians 15: 17-19: And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Beheaded for their faith in Jesus Christ

I read today that three Nigerian pastors were behead during recent clashes between the Nigerian government and Islamic extremists. Go here

A few reactions after reading the story:

1. Christians in America are blessed. We have the freedom to worship and serve God, yet the American church is spiritually cold. Go figure!

2. These men did not die in vain. Jesus said, "Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord" Revelation 14:13. Indeed, all who would live godly in Jesus Christ will be persecuted. 2 Timothy 3:12

3. Pray for these dear pastors' families, their churches, and that the cause of Christ would exponentially grow in Nigeria because of the deaths of these men of God.

Serving the needs of vulnerable children

Dr. Wes Stafford, president and CEO of Compassion International, is one of the most compassionate servants of God I have ever heard! Out of a childhood of physical and sexual abuse while a missionary kid in Africa, Dr. Stafford was called by God to serve the needs of the world's poorest children.

A group of leaders from FPC heard this man's moving testimony yesterday at Willow Creek's Leadership Summit. Reading his book, Too Small To Ignore: Why the Least of These Matters Most is a worthy investment of your time. To learn more about Wes Stafford and other Summit speakers, go here

Prayer and Politics

Reading Psalm 58: 1-11, I couldn't resist thinking about the character of some politicians in our nation. The writer seems fed up with irresponsible leadership. Psalm 58:1-2 encapsulates the theme of the song.
"Do you indeed decree what is right, you gods(rulers)?
Do you judge the children of man uprightly?
Sadly, the answer is no.

Political leaders are first and foremost servants. All decisions, private and public should reflect concern for constituents. Unfortunately, the writer sees leaders whose hearts and hands focus on devising wrongs and dealing out violence. Psalm 58:2

Psalm 58: 3-5 describes their character: deviancy and falsehood are their birth-inheritance; they carry a poison within, and are incorrigible like a deaf cobra that stops its ears. In other words, they are insensitive to those they serve.

Psalm 58:6-9, the writer appeals to God. Much of what's here is not literal but symbolic. Is it unchristian to pray this way for unjust political leaders? It's like praying for God to bankrupt those leaders and countries that protect sex-trafficking; who sell arms to other countries; who profit from the cocaine industry. If these rulers, so set in their ways and policies, refuse to side with mercy and compassion, what is wrong with asking God to bring them down?
Notice the five word pictures:
1. Water running off the surface of the ground, or they come to nothing Psalm 58:7
2. A discharged arrow which withers and falls to the ground Psalm 58:7
3. A slug that goes away melting, leaving only an empty shell Psalm 58:8
4. A pregnancy that issues in stillbirth Psalm 58:8
5. Before a pots feels heat from thorns set ablaze, God blows them away, Psalm 58:9

Finally, he holds out hope of vindication, Psalm 58:10-11. This is also pretty rough language and rattles our modern sensibilities. How do we pray these words? The answers aren't all clear, but we'll keep reading for more insight. One thing we do know, there is a God who judges the earth! Psalm 58: 11

Father, you are the only true and just ruler. All your thoughts toward us are good. Teach us how to engage responsibly in the politics of our day. Teach us how, as ordinary citizens, to hold elected officials accountable. We know that earthly governments are flawed, so while we work, we await the fullness of your government Isaiah 9:6-7. Come, Lord Jesus, come. Amen

Friday, August 7, 2009

A song from a cave

Psalm 57: 1-11 is the "cave" psalm. David pleads to God for mercy because Saul, his enemy is closing in on him I Sam. 22:1. From the shadows of he cave he takes refuge in the shadow of God's wings. I like his play on words: he runs into the cave knowing full well that real refuge is found solely in God.

May I encourage you to continue reading through the Psalm? Sit with David; speak to God through his speech. Internalize his words and make them yours. So when he says, "I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfills his purpose for me," own these words because the same God who encircled David in the dampness of that cave, still listens to our prayers, our laments and our pleas for mercy.

David is a realist. He doesn't have a "Pollyannish" view on life that expects God to immunize us from enemies, and trouble. Psalm 57: 4 Rather, he seems to understand that our world and its people are flawed by sin. He does not look for salvation in or through the world. He looks to the Maker of heaven and earth: God will send from heaven and save me, Psalm 57: 3

While he is fully awake to the dangers of the hour they do not restrict the mainspring of his heart: the exaltation and worship of Almighty God. Psalm 57: 5, 10-11. This is what I wish for all of us as we make our pilgrimage through this world filled with danger.

No weapon fashioned against us will succeed, Isaiah 54:17. David believes that the nets and the pits fashioned for his destruction will in the end become a source of punishment for the enemies of God. Psalm 57: 6

Knowing that God is greater than all the plans of evil people, he chooses to be steadfast; he sings; he makes melody right in the cave, that could potentially be his grave. Psalm 57: 7-9

Oh God, the troubles of this world surge high above our heads. We often despair for our safety, and for the safety of those we love. We are not being hunted by Saul, but you have told us that the Devil, like a roaring lion is on the loose, seeking to devour your saints in the world. Like David, we pray for a steadfast heart, a heart filled with signing, melody, and complete trust in you. All that matters for us is that now and for all time, you will be exalted O God above the heavens, on the earth, and in our lives. Amen

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Jesus was not seeker sensitive

I am not trying to be controversial or insensitive, but I can't help but notice how Jesus' direct, demanding call on people's lives differs from our 21st century, low-grade, anemic, anything-goes approach to discipleship. John 6: 26-27,53-58

His demand to believe, turn from dependence on human ability, to complete reliance on His words caused many to turn back and no longer walk with him. John 6:66

I am so weak and wishy-washy. Deep down I would be troubled if people walked away from me or left the church. My need to be needed so clouds my ministry to people. I am least helpful as a pastor when my goal is to tell people what they want to hear. I am most effective when I give people the words of Jesus, not my words. I am most helpful when I serve the way Jesus served: he placed truth above popularity and human praise.

They say the truth hurts and I agree. If telling the truth results in people being offended, leave the church or become angry, I think I am doing faithful gospel ministry. What do you think? Is it possible to speak the truth and lead from this basis without people being offended? Would love to hear your thoughts.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The lies we believe

Have you ever heard of the human potential movement? It flowered in the 1960’s; its basic premise says there is a vast, untapped, reservoir of power, divinity within human beings that needs to be tapped in order to live a happy and successful life.

A very famous TV celebrity is trying to convert the world by encouraging everyone to read a book called The Secret. On their website this is what they say:
The Secret reveals the most powerful law in the universe. The knowledge of this law has run like a golden thread through the lives and the teachings of all the prophets, seers, sages and saviors in the world's history, and through the lives of all truly great men and women. All that they have ever accomplished or attained has been done in full accordance with this most powerful law. Without exception, every human being has the ability to transform any weakness or suffering into strength, power, perfect peace, health, and abundance. The Secret reveals the natural law that is governing all lives. By applying the knowledge of this law, you can change every aspect of your life.

Sadly, elements of the Christian community have bought into this big, juicy, satanic lie. Scores of health and wealth preachers on TV are busy hawking this lie to countless millions of gullible hearers.

According to Hebrews 2: 6-8, there is no question that we are made in the image of God; there is no question that human beings possess amazing, wonderful, exquisite beauties; we are made a little lower than the angels!

But what the secret won’t tell you is that since the fall of Adam and Eve and sin's corrosive effect on every human being since, the world is not on a path of love and harmony, and peace. Check the annals of history pockmarked with two World wars, Holocaust, civil wars, Vietnam War, Korean War, Iraqi War, 911, and numerous daily local, personal atrocities.

There is no hidden "secret" to improving the world that lies in mankind just waiting to be mined. The solution for life, for the world, does not lie within us; we are part of the problem. The solution comes from outside of us.

Hebrews 2: 9-What do we see? We see him – namely Jesus, who was also made a little lower than the angels, he was crowned with glory and honor so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. Instead of seeking some mystical, hidden secret, seek Christ who is the way, the truth, and the life!

Watch out for cheap grace

Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting today for costly grace.
Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like cheap-jack's wares. The sacraments, the forgiveness of sin, and the consolations of religion are thrown away at cut prices...

Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.
From The Cost of Discipleship By Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945)

Monday, August 3, 2009

Making the most of the Lord's Day

Christians believe that everyday belongs to the Lord. Christians do not subscribe to the view that Sunday is holier than other days of the week. The Lordship of Christ means He has dominion over every square inch of our lives. The same God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is worshiped on Sunday, remains constant, all seeing, all powerful, Monday through Saturday.

Worship is a lifestyle and never an event, or an episode that Christians do on certain days of the week. Christians dedicate all 168 hours of the week as an expression of what it means to live under the sway of God's kingdom. Paul, speaking to the intellectual elites of Athens said, "For in him we live and move and have our being" Acts 17: 28. Therefore, "Whatever we do in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him" Colossians 3:17.

Taken together, these two verses and many others, form the basis for why Christians live with the constant awareness of being in the presence of God.

However, there are dedicated times for corporate worship. On the first day of the week Jesus was raised victoriously over death and the grave. In light of the resurrection of Jesus, early Christians eventually transitioned away from Sabbath worship to worship on the first day of the week. In Acts 20:7, Paul met with Christians in Ephesus before departing for Jerusalem. This is the first reference in Acts to worship on Sunday.

In 1 Cor. 16:2 the phrase, first day of every week reoccurs. This is a Jewish expression for Sunday, and similar to the phrase used in the Gospels to describe the day of the week on which Jesus rose from the dead (Matt. 28:1; Mark 16:2; Luke 24:1; John 20:1). This shows that Christians gathered for worship on Sunday, not Saturday (cf. Acts 20:7; Rev. 1:10), in order to acknowledge the crucial importance of Christ's resurrection.

In one sense, Sunday is the Christian's Sabbath. Not in the legalistic sense of the Old Testament, but in the sense that we show our devotion, our love, and our commitment to Jesus Christ. Sunday is the day we commit ourselves to the church gathered in worship. Gathered as one people, our main project is that together we may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 15:6

Unfortunately, family life today is one of struggle against the pressures of busyness and the loss of a sacred center. Our culture does not care about the values of gathered worship on the first day of the week. We should not expect any special favors from our culture. We do not look to culture for help in living transformed Christian lives. We take our cues from Scripture's invitation to live a radical discipleship that runs counter to the values of culture.

This means we ask ourselves and each other very hard questions such as: should we support sporting events, work, shopping, or other major commitments that bind us and keep us from gathering with the family of God for worship and nurture? Should we allow dominant culture to dictate key priorities, and then give God what's left?

There are no easy answers here! We are not under law but under grace Romans 6:14. There will be times when we do things on a Sunday, such as vacation, time with family, work, etc. that prevent us from being part of a worship gathering. But if we claim to be under the Lordship of Christ, yet his will has no influence in how we expend the 168 hours of each week, then it's time to re-examine the depth of our faith.

Here are some ideas for making Sunday central to your family
1. Make it your goal to be with God's people in worship each week
2. Try to schedule all your work and recreation in the first 6 days of each week
3. Prepare for Sunday worship as early as Friday - make sure clothes are ready, food is prepared, and especially on Saturday night, try to get to bed by a decent hour so that everyone wakes up rested and ready to give honor to the Lord.
4. Pray for the pastor and the church staff through the week. Pray that God's Spirit would empower those who have a vital role in leading worship, preaching and teaching, playing music, greeting and ushering.
5. Review the Scriptures for each week's worship ahead of time
6. Involve your children where possible. Encourage your family to prepare their tithe/offerings ahead of time. Help them understand that giving is a joyful response to God's bounty.
7. Gather with a readiness to sing, pray, encourage others, confess, and listen to the word of God read and proclaimed
8. When the worship time ends, worship doesn't end. Follow up at home with added discussion. Review the worship, the message, and talk about how to obey the Word God in one's daily life.

We are what we worship. Where our treasure is there will our heart be also (Matt. 6: 21. Make God our treasure and worship becomes the active pursuit and enjoyment of Him, the lover of our soul.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Fear and Faith

In Psalm 56 David running is and hiding from King Saul. As a safety measure, he decides to hide among the Philistines of Gath. While there, the servants of King Achish exposed his identity (1 Samuel 21:10-15). David was much afraid of Achish the King of Gath. He thought they were going to either kill him or hand him over to Saul.

In that moment of crisis, David prayed for God's grace to intervene and protect him from his enemies.Psalm 56: 1-2

In the very next breath he moves from fear to faith: When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me? Psalm 56: 3-4

Have you ever been so afraid that you felt your mind and body shutting down? What kind of circumstances are you going through right now that you think will defeat you?

Weaving in and out of the Psalm, David moves repeatedly from crisis to confidence in God. He faces his fear, names it, prays about it, and acts in a way that is counter to his fear. Psalm 56: 8-9

In the end, crippling fear is destroyed by robust theology: I know that God is for me, Psalm 56: 9. Sound theology comes from time in God's word. David finally shows in Psalm 56: 10-11,the relationship between trusting God and knowing his word. That's the key to ovecoming fear.

Gracious God, in these days when so many things are happening to induce fear and anxiety - a failing economy, personal debt, deadly viruses - help us to take our eyes off the circumstances and focus on your sovereignty as revealed in your precious Word. Amen