My Shuffle-footed Neighbor

Friday is for Heart Songs

Backyard 3

A Restful Friday

Shrill the voice from beyond the trees
Unseen but loud
“Out of there, get out of the flowers”
And lifting my head
I see him, the “old man” next door
Head bowed, brown-backed and shuffle-footed
He humbly searches for other prey
Sniffing the freshly mown grass
And hoping for one more adventure.
We are not so different 
Me and the pooch beyond my yard.

What Does It Mean to Pour Out Your Heart?

Friday is for Heart Songs

Alexander WhyteI just got off the phone with a brother in Christ who is a stage 4 colon cancer patient living on miracle time. He is a man learning how to pour out his heart to God (Ps. 62:8). He is also an inspiration and this week we will interview him in our services so that our congregation can celebrate with him what he is learning in this season of sorrow mixed with surprising joys. I thought of him today while reading an old and yellowed, almost 100 year old book out of my personal library. 

Alexander Whyte, a preacher from the late nineteenth century, was one of the best expositors of his generation. I have long benefited not only from his wisdom but his craft with words. In a sermon titled, “THE HEART OF MAN AND THE HEART OF GOD” he has an extended exposition of of Psalm 62:8. The quote below got my attention.

Psalm 62:8 (ESV)

Trust in him at all times, O people;
.       pour out your heart before him;
.  God is a refuge for us.                        Selah

“Whatever else we have or have not, we all have hearts; and all our hearts are of the same secret, solitary, undiscovered, unsatisfied kind. And then, along with our hearts, we all have God. Wherever in all the world there is a human heart, God is there. And He is there in order to have that heart poured out before Him. And out of that, out of the aloneness of human heart, and out of the nearness of God to every human hear, there immediately arises this supreme duty to every man who has a heart,—that he shall at all times pour his heart out before God. . . . It is every man’s duty, and every man’s privilege.”

Alexanger Whyte, Lord, Teach Us to Pray, 28-29.

What does it mean to pour out your heart? Dr. Whyte tells us:

“Only let us pour out all our loneliness and all our distress, and all our gloom, before God, as David did, and all will immediately be well. For either, He will remove our trouble at once and altogether; or else, He will do better,— make His love and His peace so to fill our heart that we will break out with David and will sing: ‘In God is my salvation and my glory; the rock of my strength, and my refuge is in God [Ps. 62:7].'”  (p. 30)

My brother in Christ is getting the “either” of that quote. He is getting “the better”. He is getting the peace and presence of Christ. And in the process he is doing more than teaching me/us how to die in Christ. He is teaching us how to live.

A May Day Story Worth Remembering (Scottish Covenanters)

Friday is for Heart Songs

Scottish CovenantersJohn Brown was poor farmer in Scotland whose great hope was to become a pastor and preach the gospel. Unfortunately, but he had a bad stammer and had given up on that dream. Possessing a brilliant mind, he put his love of the Bible into the service of the youth of his community teaching theology at the family farm. 

At the same time, Brown’s Presbyterianism was not in favor. In fact, they were outlawed and persecuted. “Being a Scottish Covenanter meant being willing to give up his life for Christ at any moment, and Brown taught his students not to fear persecution but rather to consider it a joy to suffer for Christ. Students came for miles to be inspired by the gifted teacher.”

It was a sobering time; a time when life was precarious and standing for the gospel was costly. Here’s the part of his story that brought me to tears:

In 1682 Covenanter pastor Alexander Peden performed the wedding ceremony for John Brown and Isabel Weir. After the ceremony Peden said to the bride, “Isabel, you have a good man; but you will not enjoy him long, Prize his company and keep linen by you to be his winding sheet; for you will need it when you are not looking for it, and it will be a bloody one.”

On May 1, 1685, the king’s troops came to Priesthill [Brown’s home] looking for Peden. They surprised Brown in his field and brought him back to his house and ransacked it. Finding some Covenanter literature, they began to interrogate him. Speaking in a clear, stammer-free voice, Brown’s confident answers made the chief officer ask whether he was a preacher. When told no, the officer replied, “Well, if he has never preached, much has he prayed in this time. Go to your prayers, for you shall immediately die.”

John Brown fell on his knees, asking  God to spare a remnant of believers in Scotland. The officer cut him short, accusing him of preaching rather than praying. The officer later confessed that he could never forget John Brown’s powerful prayer.

Brown then said to his wife, “Now, Isabel, the day is come that I told you would come when I spoke to you first of marrying me.”

She said, “Indeed, John, I can willingly part with you.”

He replied, “That is all I desire. I have no more to do but die. I have been ready to meet death for years past.”

As he said his good-byes and kissed his wife and baby, the officer broke in and ordered the troops to shoot him. The soldiers were so moved by the scene that they would not comply. The officer angrily pulled out his pistol, walked over, and shot John Brown in the head.

“What do you think of your fine husband now?” he asked Isabel.

Through her tears she answered, “I ever thought much good of him, and more than ever now.”2

Wow! That is the kind of men and women we need in the church today. I want to produce John and Isabel Browns through my ministry. Will you pray with me toward that end? Will you pray that I become like John Brown?

Footnotes:
1  E. Michael and Sharon Rusten, The One Year Book of Christian History: A Daily Glimpse into God’s Powerful Work. (Tyndale, 2003), 244.
2  Ibid., 244-245.

Emaciated Souls

Friday is for Heart Songs

The Imitation of Christ“One does not know love wihtout pain.

Book 3 Chapter 16,
The Imitation of Christ, Thomas aKempis

“The worth and excellency of a soul is to be measured in the object of its love.”

The Life of God in the Soul of Man
Henry Scougal, 1677

Our soul’s become emaciated when they are affixed to anything less than God. Our heart’s shrink when they are fed by things, and accomplishments, and goals, Anything less than the God who created us is lacking in vital nutrients for the soul. Our soul’s need God even when we don’t know we need God.

Lord, for the sake of Christ and in His Name, help me to train my soul to feast on You. Amen.

April 17, 1521: An Example for Believers in America on How to Change the World

Friday is for Heart Songs

Luther at the Diet of Worms, by Anton von Werner, 1877
Luther at the Diet of Worms [1521], by Anton von Werner, 1877
It was 4 P.M. when Luther arrived at Worms, 40 miles south-southwest of Frankfort, Germany. Luther had been told that his views would be heard, but instead a stack of his books where arrayed on a table and he was asked two questions: 

  • Are these your books?
  • Will you recant what is in them?

Luther was shocked. This did not sound like a hearing at all. This was a demand to recant. Luther said the books were his but in answer to second questioned he responded:

“This touches God and His Word. This affects the salvation of souls. Of this Christ said, ‘He who denies Me before men, him will I deny before My Father.’ [Lk. 12:8-9] To say too little or too much would be dangerous. I beg you, give me time to think.1

Luther was given a one day reprieve. On that evening, 494 years ago today, Luther spent the evening in prayer, preparing a careful and studied response for his inquisitors. At 6:00 P.M. the next day he gave his famous answer:

“Unless I am convinced by the testimony of Scripture
or by clear reason (for I trust neither pope nor council alone,
since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves),
I am bound by the Scriptures I have cited,
for my conscience is captive to the Word of God.
I cannot and will not recant anything since to act against
one’s conscience is neither safe nor right. I cannot do otherwise.
Here I stand, may God help me. Amen.”
2

Luther’s example is a model for us. Against powerful forces arrayed against him, Luther stood his ground on the Word of Truth and would not budge. And the result was? The world changed. The Gospel was set free from the shackles of tradition and millions upon millions heard the life changing power of the gospel with fresh ears. The Bible began to be widely disseminated and read by common people for the first time. When Thomas Linacre (pronounced, “Lynaker”) a British humanist and physician read the New Testament for the first time, he exclaimed, “Either this is not the gospel, or we are not Christians.”  Indeed.

That’s what the Bible unleashed, the Bible believed, the Bible proclaimed, the Bible rightly understood does to a man or a culture. It gives them eyes to see and ears to hear.  Woe to us if in our time, in our opportunity, with all the forces of the media and the cultural elites stacked against us, we fail to stand for the unadorned truth of the gospel for our generation and the generations yet to be born.  

Footnotes:

1. The One Year Book of Christian History, E. Michael and Sharon Rusten (Tyndale, 2003), 216.

2. Ibid., 216f.

The Church in America has Alzheimers

Good Friday Meditation

The Church in America has alzheimers. She and the culture she resides in have forgotten their heritage. And as a result, she doesn’t understand what is going on around her. The Church is confused and exists in a fog and can’t be trusted to make decisions that are in her and her Lord’s best interest. But unlike alzheimers of the brain, the church’s alzheimers of the soul has a cure.

And it just might come from Ireland and a Celtic perspective on how to overcome our loss of a Christian memory. 

Celtic Evangelism“The Church, in the Western world, faces populations who are increasingly ‘secular’—people with no Christian memory, who don’t know what we Christians are talking about. These populations are increasingly ‘urban’—and out of touch with God’s ‘natural revelation.’ These populations are increasingly ‘postmodern'; they have graduated from Enlightenment ideology and are more peer driven, feeling driven, and ‘right-brained’ than their forebear[er]s. These populations are increasingly ‘ne0-barbarian'; they lack ‘refinement’ … and their lives are often out of control. These populations are increasingly receptive—exploring worldview options from Astrology to Zen—and are often looking ‘in all the wrong places’ to make sense of their lives and find their soul’s true home.”

So begins the Preface to George Hunter III’s, The Celtic Way of Evangelism. I was rereading this book for some talks I am preparing and reexamining some of the notes and highlights from my last read and found this first notation in the margin: “Completely on point.”

And because it is completely on point, we in the modern church have got to relearn how to take the gospel to our culture. Frustration will not do. Laziness will not do. Giving up will not do.

A great place to start is to read this book and learn from a previous generation that faced similar if not exact circumstances and overcame them for the glory of God. You can expect more from my re-reading of this book to appear here on the blog in April.

Why? Because we want to help our neighbors find their soul’s “true home” in Christ. And because we want a cure for spiritual alzheimers.

Fighting the Urge to Live for Comfort, Security, and Convenience

Friday is for Heart Songs

endurance9
The Shackleton expedition to Antarctica is a testimony to human endurance and determination. Where is that spiritual commitment to endure in the American Christian?

I love my country. Flaws and all, I love it. I think, on balance, it has been a force for good in the world, even with all of its missteps and corruptions.

But it is dangerous to live here. Dangerous to the soul.

Our affluence, our comforts, and the long favor of the church in our history clouds our perspective. It causes us to think that what has been is normal when in fact the experience of Christians for almost two-thousand years has been much more precarious. Persecution was their past and it is likely our future.

Today I was rereading a book on endurance and ran across the three paragraphs below. They highlight one of the principle dangerous to our soul–the idea that we deserve a trouble-free, pain-free life.

“There is mind-set in the prosperous West that we deserve pain-free, trouble-free existence. When life deals us the opposite, we have a right not only to blame somebody or some system and to feel sorry for ourselves, but also to devote most of our time to coping, so that we have no time or energy left over for serving others.

The mind-set gives a trajectory to life that is almost universal–namely, away from stress and toward comfort and safety and relief. Then within that very natural trajectory some people begin to think of ministry and find ways of serving God inside the boundaries set by the aims of self-protection. Then churches grow up in this mind-set, and it never occurs to anyone in such a community of believers that choosing discomfort, stress, and danger might be the right thing–even the normal, biblical thing–to do.

I have found myself in conversation with Christians for whom it is simply a given that you do not put yourself or your family at risk. The commitment to safety and comfort is an unquestioned absolute. The demands of being a Christian in the twenty-first century will probably prove to be a rude awakening for such folks. Since we have not embraced the Calvary road voluntarily, God may simply catapult us onto it as he did the home-loving saints in Acts 11:19: “Those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phonenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word.'”

—John Piper, The Roots of Endurance:
Invincible Perseverance in the Lives of John Newton,
Charles Simeon, and William Wilberforce,
p. 18
(Crossway, 2002)

I highly recommend the book by John Piper and its three short biographical accounts of the how the grace of God is enough. For my own book along similar lines see this link. It is also available on Kindle.