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.

You Wouldn’t Fit There Now

Part of  The Poetry Project

Read Psalm 103

Man prayingYou Wouldn’t Fit There Now

You wouldn’t fit there now
But when you were small
So small you fit in a dark and secret place
So small you hid from us and never made a sound
I would wrap my hands around you
I would cradle you tenderly
We were two separate people
Related by blood
Related by love
Separated by the thin membrane of your mother’s belly.

You wouldn’t fit there now
But inside your mother’s womb
Inside the dark mystery of your shaping
I held your form before I beheld your face
I prayed for you
I used David’s words
I cried out with joy and tears
I lifted your present forming
I lifted your future breathing
I carried the wonder of your life
To a womb-opening God
And pleaded to a good and powerful God
.     “Bless the Lord, O my soul
.      and all that is within mom
.      bless His holy name!”
I never stopped.
The prayer has never ended.
It never will.

Go to Psalm 104

Scary Thoughts about Every Idle Word

Friday is for Thinking

RegretThis week I was away speaking on The Art of Biblical Meditation at a retreat for the college ministry of a multi-congregation church from Chicago. Thursday was the last day of my three day seminar. It was a fun, challenging, and convicting time—not just for the students and leaders but for me. I was reminded of Jesus words, that we will give an account for every idle word that proceeds from our mouths (Matthew 12:36). Then there comes the echo of Paul’s words, “let not many of you aspire to be teachers” for they incur a stricter judgment (James 3:1).

At the same time, I was editing an essay for publication on the self-identity of the Christian, (Are we Settlers or Sojourners?). It’s only 7,500 words, but I will have to give an account for every one of them.

Scary.

Here I am writing still more words for which I will have to give an account. I will have to account for both my words and the motives behind them. The weight of being a teacher and wanting to “get it right” lays heavy on my soul.

Then I read psalm 12 this morning and saw these ominous words in verses 3-4:

Psalm 12:3–4 (ESV)

May the Lord cut off all flattering lips,
.         the tongue that makes great boasts,
those who say, “With our tongue we will prevail,
.         our lips are with us; who is master over us?”

My first thought when I read this passage was to see prosperity preachers in this indictment. They are always flattering people and making great boasts. They are always telling people they can have what ever they can name with their “name it/claim it” theology. Arrogant plans are their stock. 

But then I thought a little more.
I meditated a little longer.
I thought a little harder.
I looked for the beam in my own eye.
I got a pen out and listed things to avoid:

  • Flattery
  • Great boasts
  • Arrogant plans
  • Prideful confidence

How often have I been guilty of all of these?

Too often.

That’s what biblical meditation ought to do. It ought to take our eyes off others and focus them on Christ and His Kingdom. It ought to cause us to see God and ourselves more clearly, so that He would increase and we would decrease.

The Scandalous Mercy of God

Begin your 2015 right with a 10 minute meditation on the scandalous mercy of God and how the cross is the answer to how God can hate sinners and love them at the same time. The gospel is deeper than anyone has ever imagined. The love and mercy of God is richer and more mysterious and more wonderful than even eternity will give us time to understand.

Romans 2:4 (ESV)

Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?

Christ is Disguised (Part 2)

Continued from Yesterday

Yesterday, I posted (read it here) the first part of an excerpt from Dorothy Day’s essay on Luke 2:7. Here is part 2 of the very convicting and challenging meditation on the what it means to serve Christ in the world today. I have added a few links to give some information on some of the more obscure references.

It is not likely that I shall be vouchsafed the vision of Elizabeth of Hungary (Wiki bio here), who put the leper in her bed and later, going to tend him, saw  no longer the leper’s stricken face, but the face of Christ. The part of Peter Claver, (Peter Claver bio [1581-1654]) who gave a stricken negro his bed and slept on the floor at his side, is more Dorothy Day 2likely to be ours. For Peter Claver never saw anything with his bodily eyes except the exhausted black faces of Negroes; he had only faith in Christ’s own words that these people were Christ. And when on one occasion the Negroes he had induced to help him ran from the room, panic-stricken  before the disgusting sight of some sickness, he was astonished. “You mustn’t go,” he said, and you can still hear his surprise that anyone could forget such a truth: “You mustn’t leave him–it is Christ.”

It would be foolish to pretend that it is always easy to remember this. If everyone were holy and handsome, with alter Christus [another Christ] shining in neon lighting from them, it would be easy to see Christ in everyone. But he is disguised under every type of humanity that treads the earth.

To see how far one realizes this, it is a good thing to ask honestly what you would do, or have done, when a beggar asked at your house for food [or on the street corner]. Would you–or did you–give it on an old cracked plate, thinking that was good enough? Do you think that Martha and Mary thought that the old and chipped dish was good enough for their guest?

In Christ’s human life, there was always a few who made up for the neglect of the crowd. . . . 

We can do it too, exactly as they did. We are not born too late. We do it by seeing Christ and serving Christ in friends and strangers, in everyone we come in contact with. For he said  that a glass of water given to a beggar was given to him. He made heaven hinge on the way we act toward him in his disguise of commonplace, frail, ordinary humanity.

Did you give me food when I was hungry?
Did you give me a drink when I was thirsty?
Did you give me clothes when my own were all rags?
Did you come to see me when I was sick, or in prison, or in trouble?

And to those who say, aghast, that they never had a chance to do such a thing, that they lived two thousand years too late, he will say again what they had the chance of knowing all their lives, that if these things were done for the very least of his brethren they were done to him.

Questions and Thoughts:

  • How will you cultivate “seeing Christ” in the people you meet?
  • We don’t live too late to give Christ a meal or a drink to satisfy his thirst. What can I do today to put this into practice?

Learning from the Bumps on Other Heads

Friday is for Heart Songs

Bumps on the Head

How much are we, “we” meaning “Christians,” influenced by the culture around us? How much do we absorb from what is going on in the culture? How much do we color our decisions, our choices, our thoughts even, in the thought stuff and flavors of the culture around us?

Because we read our Bibles and go to worship on Sunday, and have our devotions, and pray regularly, and try to take every thought captive to the obedience to Christ (2 Cor. 10:5), are we immune or protected from the “spirit of the age”?

I doubt it.

The world around us is the juice in which we swim. We are, in too many ways, like cucumbers being slowly turned into pickles. That is not to say that we have no defense against the insidious creep of the world. But it is statement about the sobering reality of the battle.

It is relentless and requires vigilance.

I was reminded of this recently by a paragraph from Ben Tertin’s Leadership Journal article, “The painful lessons of Mars Hill.” Ben draws attention to a “Seattle mindset,” an atmosphere, an ether, an intoxicating brew of ambition, arrogance and hipness that seems to saturate the landscape like the rains that nourish the nearby rainforest. Here’s the quote:

Welcome to the whole Seattle mindset, . . .  “Some say, ‘Let’s deliver packages,’ but Seattle says, ‘No. Let’s make it Amazon.’ Some say, ‘Let’s have coffee,’ but Seattle says, ‘No. Let’s make it Starbucks.’ ‘Let’s have a grocery store.’ ‘No! Let’s make it Costco.’ Microsoft. Google. Boeing. Seattle is about power, expansion, and world domination.”

“The Painful Lessons of Mars Hill”, Ben Tertin
(Leadership Journal), December 8, 2014

That last sentence is haunting isn’t it? 

“Seattle is about power, expansion and world domination.”

Ben Tertin’s point is that, a mighty work of God, Mars Hill Church (and Mark Driscoll as well), imbibed this quest for power and expansion and were derailed, undone, and brought to a crumbling-shame by that intoxicating brew that is essentially Seattle. I think he is right. Decide for yourself. The article is long, but it is worth reading every word, slowly, and thoughtfully.  Here’s the link: “The Painful Lessons of Mars Hill.”

Here’s some of my take-aways:

  1. Cultivate humility. All Christians, not just pastor and elders, need to continually cultivate humility and fight against the ambition to be be great. (“He must increase; I must decrease” ought to be our greatest ambition. [John 3:30])
  2. Work hard at simple faithfulness. Let God take care of growth and influence. Let Him “be the glory and lifter of your head” (Psalm 3:3) if he wants to. “Let another praise you and not your own lips” (Prov. 27:2). Be faithful. Your Master knows and will reward. That ought to be enough.
  3. Learn to live for an audience of ONE. How much hurt and pain and shame and sorrow would be avoided in life and ministry if Christians just lived for the smile of God rather than the approval of others?

“Oh Father, help the whole body to learn well these lessons. We, the body of Christ and the world at large are so tired of these failures and sorrows. Rescue Mark (Driscoll). He is Your servant. You have used him powerfully in the past. Would You in Your mercy and grace use him in the future as well. Even if no-one knows him and he drifts out of pop-culture prominence, draw his heart to You. Protect his family. And use him to proclaim Your marvelous grace. In the name that is above all names I ask it, Amen.”