Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A life well lived

Last week, Manute Bol died of skin disease and kidney failure. At 7’7”,  Manute was the tallest person to play in the N. B. A. He was born in Sudan and did not have the greatest career. But Manute Bol was so much more than a basketball player. He was a devout Christian who lived a life of sacrifice. This aspect of Bol’s life and career was often overlooked and misunderstood. One remarkable exception to this appeared in last week’s Wall Street Journal. Even if you do not like basketball, you will enjoy reading about this man's generous expression of living the life of a servant of Christ. Read more here

Monday, June 28, 2010

Busy day at the Supreme Court

Today, the Supreme Court ruled that a college or university has the right to deny a student group official status if that group does not allow homosexuals as leaders. The implications are far reaching for Muslim groups as well Christian groups. Without question, many see this is a severe attack on freedom of religion and freedom of speech. Read here for more information

Also, in a ruling that is of importance to many Chicagoans, the court ruled by a 5-to-4 vote,  that Americans have the right to own a gun for self-defense anywhere they live in the U.S. More information here...

Friday, June 25, 2010

Another reason to fast and pray for America


Please pray for America. Our greatest threat is clearly not terrorism; we are becoming our own worst enemy. Without question, we are in what St. Paul calls the "last days."  Members of the Provincetown school board in Massachusetts voted on an unbelievable policy that allows children in grades 1-6 to receive condoms. What were these people thinking? This is a case of liberalism at its worse.

"Provincetown school district superintendent, Beth Singer, who wrote the policy, said she wanted to ensure students of all ages requesting condoms get information on their use.
"Sex has no age limit. It's an individual scenario for each person," Singer said. "We can't put out an age for using condoms." 

We are reaping the fruit of  moral chaos that comes from decades of sowing seeds of moral indifference. A morally indifferent society has no category for personal sin. What happens to a society when it believes that sexual activity is allowable at any age? Paul give a clear answer from his letter to Timothy.

But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.  (2 Timothy 3:1-5 ESV)

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Poison of Gossip

Why do so many of us savor and enjoy gossip as if it were a morsel of sweet bread?
Dr. Ray Ortlund defines one of the church's most popular and acceptable sins:
Gossip is our dark moral fervor eagerly seeking gratification.

Gossip makes us feel important and needed as we declare our judgments.

It makes us feel included to know the inside scoop.

It makes us feel powerful to cut someone else down to size, especially someone we are jealous of.

It makes us feel righteous, even responsible, to pronounce someone else guilty.

Gossip can feel good in multiple ways. But it is of the flesh, not of the Spirit.

Gossip is a sin rarely disciplined but often more socially destructive than the sensational sins.

Gossip leaves a wide trail of devastation wherever and however it goes – word of mouth, email, blogging, YouTube.

It erodes trust and destroys morale.

It creates a social environment of suspicion where everyone must wonder what is being said behind their backs and whether appearances of friendship are sincere.

It ruins hard-won reputations with cowardly but effective weapons of misrepresentation.

It manipulates people into taking sides when no such action is necessary or beneficial.

It unleashes the dark powers of psychological transference, doing violence to the gossiper, to the one receiving the gossip and to the person being spoken against.

It makes the Body of Christ look like the Body of Antichrist – destroyers rather than healers.

It exhausts the energies we would otherwise devote to positive witness.

It robs our Lord of the Church he deserves.

It exposes the hostility in our hearts and discredits the gospel in the eyes of the world. Then we wonder why we don’t see more conversions, why “the ground is so hard.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Heart of Worship

A central part of my pastoral work is helping to lead worship. Recently, I reread Matt Redman's little book, The Unquenchable Worshiper: Coming back to the heart of worship. Many of Matt's songs are sung in churches all around the world:
  • Heart Worship
  • Blessed be your name
  • Let everything that has breath
  • Never let go
In his book, Matt says, "There are ways we can lose something of the fire of worship."

Just as water can put a fire out, so too the pressures and the trials of this life can dampen our hearts of worship. It's so easy in a time of hardship to cool off a bit and lose that sense of wonder and trust. We ask why God would let such things happen to us and we wind down our worship, kidding ourselves that we'll start up again when things are better. 

There is a kind of worshiper who "always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres" (I Corinthians 13:7) and who gets through the storms of life with a heart still blazing. Sometimes it comes down to a simple choice. We may be hard-pressed on every side, weary and not able to sense God. But then a choice faces us--to fix our eyes on the circumstances or to cling to God and choose to worship Him, even when it hurts. 

Our heavenly Father loves us with an extravagant abandon. Passionate, undignified worship is our only reasonable response. Matt Redman (worship leader at Soul Survivor Church: Watford, England)

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Death to Christians?

The Church of Jesus Christ has always known persecution and hardship. Over two thousand years ago, a young religious zealot by the name of Saul of Tarsus (Turkey), attacked the church in Jerusalem like a wild animal, causing the young, growing church in Jerusalem to scatter to other parts of the world. We now know that God allowed his saints to be persecuted for the spreading of the gospel. See Acts 8:1 and 2 Corinthians 12:10

Today in Afghanistan, the story of the persecuted church continues:

"Afghan Christians living in New Delhi issued the following statement: “We do not know how the whole world and especially the global church is silent and closing their eyes while thousands of their brothers and sisters are in pain, facing life danger and death penalty and are tortured, persecuted and called criminals.” Read here for more details...

Please pray everyday that Christians in Afghanistan would remain faithful to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Let's not close our eyes, and lose ourselves in wanton pleasure while our brothers and sisters suffer unspeakable horrors. 

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Slow down-Don't be quick to judge

Dr. Katrina Firlik was the first woman admitted into the neurosurgery residency at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. In her book, Another Day in the Frontal Lobe,  the doctor gives a front row seat into the training of a brain surgeon. In one chapter she shares a story from the last year of her residency—a time when she was already becoming jaded to the tragedies of neurological devastation:

I walked into yet another examining room … a brand-new consult from out of town: 18-years-old, cerebral palsy, spasticity. Okay, okay, I've seen this before, I just need to get a good history before my attending walks in. Efficiency is key. I looked at the patient for a second: very skinny, special wheelchair, arms contracted, head support in place, mouth hung open. It was clear I wasn't going to get the story from him, so I turned to the parents, my back toward the patient, and started to take down the history. …
[When my mentor walked in], I cringed. … He sat down on the examining table, the only seat left in the cramped room. After introducing himself, he surveyed the compact scene—the patient, the parents—and then focused his gaze back on the patient. After what seemed like several, almost uncomfortably quiet seconds, he looked the patient in the eye and asked, "So, when did you graduate from high school?" The young man's face lit up like I had no idea it could.
My mentor had noticed something I had missed. The patient was wearing a large high-school ring, so large that it looked a little silly on his bony finger. His body, far more than his mind, had borne the brunt of his cerebral palsy. He was a proud, beaming high-school graduate, who used a specialized computer to help him communicate. For the remainder of the visit I sat in the corner, duncelike, humbled by the enormity of this ring now staring me in the face.

We make snap judgments everyday. Many are innocuous, dealing with the routines of life. But God is always speaking, especially in our everyday routines. When we pre-judge another person and assume we know their story, choosing not to listen to their verbal and non-verbal communication, we make the saddest mistake of all. It's so easy to view people as a statistic and not as a person for whom Christ died.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Latest on Abortion-it will surprise you

While the nation’s economy, immigration in Arizona, and the Gulf oil spill dominate the headlines, a recent study from the Barna Group examines a major fault line in American social life: abortion. President Obama’s nomination of Elena Kagan for the Supreme Court as well as the upcoming mid-term elections represent settings where the current debate between ‘choice’ and ‘life’ will be played out. The Barna study revealed five insights about abortion-related public opinion.
Read on for more details...

What I am preaching this summer

Last Sunday, I started a new sermon series, Why? Pursuing Answers to Life's Questions. The aim of the teaching series is to wrestle with some of the questions that Followers of Jesus have difficulty handling in our truth-averse culture.

Each Sunday I will deal with questions such as:
Why believe in God?
Why believe in Jesus alone?
Why believe the believe the bible?
Why did Jesus die?
Why believe in prayer?
Why believe in heaven?
Why believe in hell?

Enemies of the gospel aggressively attack tenets of reformed faith trying to misrepresent biblical teaching as silly fairy tales of fools and simpletons. These constant attacks have weakened the resolve of those who would bear public witness to Christ or try to give a reasoned defense for the faith.

In 2 Corinthians 4: 1-6, the apostle Paul gave some solid advice to Corinthians disciples in that ancient pagan society that still rings true today:

Do not lose heart

Renounce any and all disgraceful, underhanded ways (this incites the world to call the church hypocrites)

When facing whithering criticisms and ridicule never tamper with God's truth in order to appear relevant. The message of the cross will forever be scandalous to those who are perishing, I Corinthians 1: 18

Remember that the god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. Their resistance to truth is a spiritual problem, so don't be alarmed.

Focus the message on Christ and never on ourselves. Proclaim Jesus, never a system or a personality

God who created light at the dawn of creation is the same God who sovereignly causes the light of the gospel to shine into the dark places of the human heart!

Until His return, the Way of Christ will forever be maligned by satan. But in the end, we have the assurance that the power belongs to the Lord.

Pray that the Lord would use the sermons and the sermon discussion groups to glory of His name and bring many to a saving knowledge of Jesus.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

How Marriage teaches Sacrifice

Yesterday, I did my first wedding at First Pres Evanston. The text I used to encourage the young couple was I Peter 4: 7-11. The text has nothing to do with marriage but it speaks persuasively about the way Christians are to live in light of the imminent return of Jesus.

Peter says, "the end of all things is at hand." Since Christ is coming soon what manner of people should we be?

Be self controlled

Be sober minded so that we are disposed to prayer

Love one another constantly because love covers a multitude of sins. This is so helpful to me in my own marriage. I tend to see the flaws of my wife and turn a blind eye to my sin. When I see her with the eyes of Jesus, God's love, working through me, covers her imperfections. Praise God, she does the same for me.

Our relationship is not based on perfection or works, but on grace. Just as I do not deserve and can never earn God's love, I do not deserve and will never be able to earn Judith's love. So she covers me in the blanket of agape love.

The greatest source of conflict in marriage happens when couples operate out of a standard of perfection that is long on works and short on grace or forgiveness.

Whether we are married or single, through marriage, we see clearly the love Jesus has for his church (Ephesians 5: 25). He laid down his life joyfully and sacrificially for his church, his bride. Sacrifice and unconditional love are the matrix for the marriage that resembles the cross bearing life of all disciples.

Daily, the couple is called to take up their cross and follow Jesus (Matthew 16:24). They die to themselves, their urges, their wants, their needs and they focus on the will of Christ in every area of their lives. This is truly a paradox, isn't it? Your greatest joy comes through sacrificing for the joy of the other. Try it!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

John Wooden known for more than basketball

John Wooden, the Wizard of Westwood, the greatest to ever coach the game of basketball, who turned boys into men, not just coached athletes, died on Friday.

As one who played basketball through high school and college, the name Wooden is the gold standard among players and coaches.

Wooden's many accomplishments
Winner of 10 consecutive NCAA Championships at UCLA, this feat will stand forever

Won 88 consecutive games

Coached NBA hall of famers like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Walton

40 years of coaching at the high school and college level with only one losing season--his first year.

More than a basketball coach
Coach Wooden was more than a college basketball coach; he was a father, married to the same woman for over 40 years

Rick Reilly of Sport's Illustrated tells an impressive story of Wooden's devotion to his wife. This article is worth reading!

On Tuesday the best man I know will do what he always does on the 21st of the month. He’ll sit down and pen a love letter to his best girl. He’ll say how much he misses her and loves her and can’t wait to see her again. Then he’ll fold it once, slide it in a little envelope and walk into his bedroom. He’ll go to the stack of love letters sitting there on her pillow, untie the yellow ribbon, place the new one on top and tie the ribbon again.

The stack will be 180 letters high then, because Tuesday is 15 years to the day since Nellie, his beloved wife of 53 years, died. In her memory, he sleeps only on his half of the bed, only on his pillow, only on top of the sheets, never between, with just the old bedspread they shared to keep him warm.

A Man of deep faith
He also said, "Material possessions, winning scores, and great reputations are meaningless in the eyes of the Lord, because He knows what we really are and that is all that matters.

Coach Wooden once said. “It is of small importance in comparison to the total life we live. There is only one kind of life that truly wins, and that is the one that places faith in the hands of the Savior.” Wooden’s faith strongly influenced his life and career as a legendary basketball coach. He read the Bible daily and was faithful in church. He said that he hoped his faith was apparent to others. Said Wooden, “If I were ever prosecuted for my religion, I truly hope there would be enough evidence to convict me.”