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

Friday is for Heart Songs


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.


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.”

Beyond Narnia: Always Christmas, Never Winter (Updated from 2011)

Friday is for Heart Songs

Christmas DecorationsMarketers and mass media, greeting cards and department stores tell us an almost endless number of things about Christmas.

  • Christmas is about giving.
  • Christmas is family.
  • Christmas is togetherness.
  • Christmas is peace and joy.
  • Christmas is about children and toys and etc., etc.

Don’t buy it.  None of those things are bad.  They just aren’t the whole picture. In fact, they leave out the most important person in the picture.

For more see:  Beyond Narnia: Always Christmas, Never Winter.

Why Doesn’t God Make it Easy?

Friday Musings

Psalm 102:1–7 (ESV)

A Prayer of one afflicted, when he is faint and pours out his complaint before the Lord.

Pharoah Eagle Owl in Desert

Hear my prayer, O Lord;
.      let my cry come to you!
Do not hide your face from me
.      in the day of my distress!
.   Incline your ear to me;
.      answer me speedily in the day when I call!
For my days pass away like smoke,
.      and my bones burn like a furnace.
My heart is struck down like grass and has withered;
.      I forget to eat my bread.
Because of my loud groaning
.      my bones cling to my flesh.
I am like a desert owl of the wilderness,
.      like an owl of the waste places;
I lie awake;
.      I am like a lonely sparrow on the housetop.

“Only when we begin to see our need can we begin to probe and discover the still greater depths of our need for God.”

–an excerpt from a recent message at Trinity Church

O Lord, these images are vivid—clinging flesh, days passing away like smoke, withered grass, lonely sparrows, desert owls in wilderness wastes. The psalmist is in the school of affliction. So am I Lord. So is your church. Draw us to Yourself. Hear our cry. Rescue us by showing us how much we need You. Don’t let us settle for anything less than You. I ask it all in the matchless name of the Son. Amen.

To Tremble at Holy Things

Friday is for Heart Songs

Read Psalm 114:1-8

Suggested by a Reading of Psalm 114
Meditating on Psalm 114

tree-cathedral_mainTo Tremble at Holy Things

A people, dirty

.              landless
.              homeless
.              unskilled
.              unsettled
.              rebellious
.              stubborn
.              oppressed
.              pursued
.              hungry
.              thirsty
.              doubting
.              faithless
.              sinful
.              prideful
.              fearful

But also, covenanted

.              promised
.              chosen
.              appointed
.              rescued
.              redeemed
.              loved

You made them, a sanctuary

.              a dwelling place
.              witnesses to a fleeing sea
.              a retreating river
.              weeping rocks
.              moving, burning, glowing mountains
.              a shining face
.              recipients of God-carved stone

The dumb and deaf earth
Awoke and trembled
At the sanctuary that moved above it
A sanctuary that You dwelled within.

Make my heart tremble at Your Holy presence today
Like the quaking ground under Jacob.


Go to Psalm 115

A Prayer before a Preacher

Friday is for Heart Songs

Augustine Icon

Orthodox Icon of Augustine of Hippo

I still remember my Latin professor at the University of Maryland saying, “No man can consider himself educated who has not read The Confessions of Augustine.” Great men like Augustine deserve to be read in every generation. But not everyone has the time or opportunity. That is one of the reasons I appreciate ministries like Kairos Journal that plumb the writings of history’s great minds and pull out gems like this one below.

Remember to pray for your pastor this weekend.  The following is from Kairos Journal.

“A man of prayer before becoming a man of words’”
—Augustine of Hippo (A.D. 354 – 430)

Augustine of Hippo—famous bishop, pastor, theologian, and philosopher—was a superlative preacher. In On Christian Teaching, he shares with his brother pastors his meditations on the sacred art. This famous pastoral manual remains worthy of sustained study, the fourth chapter containing Augustine’s most developed understanding of preaching. This extract contains words that may find an abiding place in the heart of the pastor, as Augustine calls for prayer before preaching, a turning to God before turning to the congregation.

The aim of our orator, then, when speaking of things that are just and holy and good – and he should not speak of anything else – the aim, as I say, that he pursues to the best of his ability when he speaks of these things is to be listened to with understanding, with pleasure, and with obedience. He should be in no doubt that any ability he has and however much he has, derives more from his devotion to prayer than his dedication to oratory; and so, by praying for himself and for those he is about to address, he must become a man of prayer before becoming a man of words. As the hour of his address approaches, before he opens his thrusting lips he should lift his thirsting soul to God so that he may utter what he has drunk in and pour out what has filled him.1


1 Saint Augustine, On Christian Teaching, trans. R. P. H. Green (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), 121.

Pastors: Let’s be men who thirst for Christ in prayer before we thrust our words at his people. Let’s be thirsting souls for God before we speak to souls about him.