They Were Made of Sterner Stuff

Updated: Rambo had nothing on this guy! I am in utter awe of both the man and his God.

On the way to his first mission assignment, a fellow team member suffered the loss of his wife and child. Shortly after arriving, a European nurse died and his own wife gave birth to a still-born c…

Source: They Were Made of Sterner Stuff

Days Without Grace

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She was being interviewed on National Public Radio (NPR). An American actress playing the mother of a special needs child in a new play from London now touring the USA. The play is getting rave reviews as it explores the inner workings of a 15-year-old boy whose parents love, but can’t touch because of his relational/physical/social discombobulation.

I have forgotten her name and the name of the play, and the director’s name (who I do remember also directed/produced the play, “War Horse”), but she used a phrase that I haven’t been able to forget. She was speaking of those times in a mother’s life (a father’s life too) when a parent seems, . . .  overwhelmed.

When it seems that nothing you do is right
Nothing you think is quite enough
Nothing you can say is said right
Nothing you can do is going to protect your son or your daughter
Those times when you can’t help
Those times when you are completely spent
When you feel that there just isn’t enough of you
When you feel that you are not enough
That your family would be better off without you
When you are completely beside yourself with a combination of sorrow and frustration, and anxiety and the deepening darkness chokes all hope from your soul.

“Parenting”, said a famous counselor, “is not for cowards.”

Maybe not, but that is how we parents feel sometimes.

“Those days,” she said, “those days that are days without grace.”

gracelessHave you been there in one of those graceless feeling days?

I have.

Too often to recount. So often, it might shock everyone who knows me.
And the chances are high, that if you are a parent, you have been there too.

You have been in that place where grace, unmerited favor, seemed as far away as Jupiter.

Farther.

Like, the end of the Hubble telescope’s ability to see farther.

It is crushing to feel that way. It is a soul-crushing, tear-dripping, sorrow-without-light, unadulterated pain to feel that way.

And yet,
if we are Christ followers,
it is not true.

It is real, all too real, but it is not true.

It can paralyze us. It can consume us. It can threaten to completely undo us.

But if we are part of God’s family (John 1:12), if we have received the Spirit of adoption (Romans 8:15), if we have been purchased by the blood of a sinless Savior (Acts 20:28: 1 Corinthians 6:19), if we have been sealed by the indwelling Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13), if we have become inheritors of the promises of God (Ephesians 1:11) there is never a graceless day, never a moment when we are abandoned, never a millisecond that we are without hope, or light, or direction (Matthew 28:20; Hebrews 13:5).

It just feels that way sometimes.

And those “sometimes” are when you need the word of God hidden in your heart (Psalm 119:11). Those “sometimes” are when you need a deep pattern of significant meditation in the heart of the gospel and the greatness of what it means to belong to Christ (Psalm 119:9-10). Those are the times when you need the word of Christ to “dwell in you richly” (Colossians 3:16) so that the world, and you too, will see the beauty of Christ and promises of God as your strong tower and the place you can run to for rescue. 

Last Night was The Grammys

Christ is Glorious. 

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Last night was the Grammys, the annual homage to music icons and celebration of the previous year’s “bests”. It is one of the ubiquitous Hollywood celebrations of the arts that is equal parts show, puff, drama, politics, and glorification of music and musicians.

It is part of the machine of the culture that sends thousands of people each year to the entertainment capitals of the United States, New York, and Hollywood, in search of stardom. Dreams of worldwide fame, names in lights, immense wealth, and associations with the world’s rich and famous dance through their heads.

This is not just an American phenomenon. All around the world, there is a love affair with fame and status. America’s love affair with its music, film and TV idols at times borders on insanity. Teenagers have been known to slash their wrists in despair over not receiving a response to a fan letter. People have suffered from exposure and frostbite spending nights and days “camped out” at ticket windows hoping to get close enough to touch their music idols. All this, to express their worship and praise for the achievements of their idols.

worthy-is-the-lambSome adults regularly make pilgrimages to the graves of people like Elvis Presley and John Lennon.

Now the surprising thing about all of this is that, according to the Scriptures, God is the author of the star system. The Scripture makes it clear that He has structured into the universe a flow of attention, adoration, and privilege in which both men and angels are involved. There is something in the way God has created the nature of both men and angels, that must be expressed in worship and praise.

There is an impulse in the human heart to worship. We all worship something. We all desire to worship something. The problem is, we generally don’t worship well or in the right direction.

At the center of God’s design is the exaltation of Christ.

One day, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess, that Jesus Christ is Lord (Isaiah 45:23; Romans 14:11; Philippians 2:10). Some will worship Him with joy – because they know Him to be their Lord and friend, forgiver and lover. Some will worship him in terror – because they never recognized Him as the Lord and Savior of their life.

Six times in the Bible, God says that he is a jealous God. He desires and deserves worship and praise and Glory. In fact, the praise of His name and the glory of His person will one day fill the earth. Here’s how the prophet Habakkuk puts it Habakkuk 2:14:

14 “For the earth will be filled
             With the knowledge of the glory of the Lord,
                     As the waters cover the sea. [1]

All of time and space is moving toward that moment when His glory will fill the earth. So in the book of Revelation, you have this description of the scene in heaven at the end of time.   

Revelation 4:8–11 (ESV)

And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say,

“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty,
who was and is and is to come!”

And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, 10 the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying,

11  “Worthy are you, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they existed and were created.”

And then one chapter later . . .

Revelation 5:6–14 (ESV)

And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying,

“Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain,
and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
10  and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth.”

11 Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, 12 saying with a loud voice,

“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
and honor and glory and blessing!”

13 And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying,

“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”

14 And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped.

Knowing that that is where all of history is headed, the apostle Paul is zealous to protect the purity of worship. He wants the churches in his charge to pursue Christ with a passion that never loses sight of the wonder and glory of the Savior. And that is what the book of Colossians is all about–the glory of Christ. In the end, there will be only one true “star.” His name is Jesus.

[1] The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, (La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation) 1996.

THE GOSPEL GRACE OF WELCOMING

One of my former classmates, a man who knows loss and sorrow, and victory and joy, Curt Heffelfinger wrote a great little article the other day that I thought was worth passing on.

If you have sometimes struggled with loving your brothers and sisters in Christ or even the members of your own household, this will be helpful to you.

Curt Heffelfinger

How Embracing Others with Differences of Conscience Protects Church Unity

I have always felt that this little ditty hits a little too close to home for comfort:

To live above with the saints we love, oh, how that will be glory; but to live below with the saints we know, now that’s a different story.

Welcome mat with black and white sneakers

Quote that to any follower of Jesus with any length of time invested in His church, and that person will likely smile, wince, or both from a history of painful experience.

The New Testament prescribes numerous–what I call graces of gospel community–which we must apply in church fellowship, if we expect to eagerly preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:3).

One such intricacy of love–lesser known than many of the others but oh so important–is welcoming one another. Paul’s epistle to the Romans addresses this issue toward the…

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There is No God.

Read Psalm 14 (esp. 1-3)

Another offering from THE POETRY PROJECT

humility word in metal typeThere is a raw quality to some of the psalms of David, a brutal non-political, non-politically correct confidence in the total dependability of God that progressive thought despises and David and other biblical writers could not care less about. Psalm 14 is one of those psalms that breathes those vapors.

Far wiser to say “I have doubts” than to say “I know that there is no God.” Far wiser and nobler to be an agnostic than to declare the religious dogma of atheism. Pray that your atheist friends would be wise and declare for agnosticism. It would be a step away from foolishness and toward wisdom. Pray that they would be humble.

Blunt Truth

No God
There is no god.
I know that there is no god.
So I will organize my life as if he is not, 
because there is no one above.
I will be the master of my time.
I will be the lord of my moments.
I will be the commander of my conscience.

No god will rule me.
No god will condemn me.
No god will stand in my way.

I will not bow my knee.
I will be the master of my destiny.

I will not follow his path.
I will not listen for his voice.
I will ridicule his followers.
I will despise his precepts.
I will seek other devotions and pursue other joys.
I will not delight in a god I don’t see 
or a path that restricts my inclination.
I will turn aside to what his followers label corruption.
and glory in my freedom and progress.

And when worm-food I become.
I will feel nothing,
know nothing,
and regret nothing.

I will simply be gone.

“Alright then,” said the God you will not acknowledge, 
“Have it your way. Fool.”

But there was a tear in the Son of God’s eye.

“For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they become fools,”

Romans 1:20-22

Go to Psalm 15

Great Quotes for a Sunday Morning

I love opening older books and finding new gems to energize and inform my life. This week I had the pleasure of finding such a gem in a devotional book. Lloyd Ogilvie writing on Mark 6:5 where the gospel writer tells us about the time Jesus did no great works because of the people’s unbelief says this:

“Tell me what makes you discontent and I will tell you what drives you. Show me your indignations and I will show you the imperatives by which you live. Tell me what stirs you enough to change things, and I will tell you whether you are living while you are alive. This inventory can show us quickly whether we are dealing with soul-sized issues or piddling about in the eddies of irrelevant self-pity.

In a devotional published in 1981, Ogilvie writes words that seem tailored to the world situation in 2017.

Jesus affirms a creative discontent as a major characteristic of discipleship. This is a part of life as it was meant to be. A driving dissatisfaction with ourselves, our relationship with God, and the world in which we live is evidence that we are in touch with the Holy Spirit. If a dominant desire is in us to grow, to live more fully, to heal the wounds of the world, to bring justice to the dispossessed and suffering, [emphais added] then the Lord is at work in us. Too few of us have a fermative unrest, disturbed with the inconsistency in ourselves and society.

Jesus took His listeners from an abstraction about God and brought them to the concrete evidences in them and society which indicated that they had no right to be satisfied. They were proud of their growth, but He showed them that they had hardly begun; they were proud of their Hebrew heritage, but He showed them the tremendous responsibilities they had in sharing the secret of God’s love with the world. When our dissatisfactions are in harmony with Christ’s, then we know that we can depend on His power to find an answer.

God’s Best for My Life: A Daily Devotional, (Harvest House Publishers, 1981), devotion for February 18.

Let’s stop “piddling about in the eddies of irrelevant self-pity.” Let’s change the world for Jesus and the hurting, the hunted, and the suffering of the people around us. Let’s be the change that so many are unconstructive complaining about. Let’s love better and serve better than those who don’t know Christ. Let’s “really live while we live.” Let’s live passionately for and like Jesus.

When a Knock on the Door Changes a Life Forever

 

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Paul Becker

Paul Becker is the founder and President of Dynamic Church Planting International, probably the most prolific and effective church planting ministry in the history of the church. When I was a young church planter Paul used the galleys of the book that eventually became Dynamic Church Planters Handbook to mentor me as a church planter.

For a week I stayed with Paul and his family and then Paul encouraged me and acted as a sounding board for some of my crazy ideas during the months of our pre-natal development of the new church.

That was 27 years ago. Today, The New Dynamic Church Planting Handbook* starts out with this story on page 2.

Paul was leading a day of community surveying with forty college students. After worshiping the Lord, they prayed for receptivity as they prepared to go door-to-door in the target community. The group then dispersed into the community in teams of two.

Paul and his partner went from house to house, listening to people and tabulating their answers to survey questions. By mid-afternoon they were ready to head back to the bus and return home. But they decided to knock on one more door.

A smiling woman in her late thirties greeted them and said, “I am so happy you’ve come. I’ve been looking for a church.”

Brenda, a single mother going through a divorce, had two children—Justin, age 15, and Bettina, age 12. Within a short time all three put their trust in Jesus.

The small family became regular in church activities. Justin was a fine young man, and helped organize and build the youth group.

After a year, Paul’s ministry in the church plant came to an end. He moved on to plant another church. [Marty’s note: This was from a period of Paul’s life when he planted four churches in eight years while living in the same house! Basically, Paul would take a church through it’s pre-natal year and its first year of growth and then turn the church over to another pastor and start all over again.]

A year passed, and then Paul recieved a call at his office.

It was Brenda, and she was weeping. Through her sobs she was able to say, “Justin was driving with three other boys, and they had a terrible accident. Justin is dead.”

Paul’s first reaction was shock. A vibrant young man was gone so quickly, so unexpectedly.

But then he thought, “What if we hadn’t taken the time to do one last survey that day? And what if that new church hadn’t been planted at all? Would Justin have heard the gospel in the two brief years of life he had left to him if it weren’t for that new church?

Justin is home in heaven now. He is saved for all eternity, in the glorious presence of Jesus. And that’s all because a new church reached out to his community with the good new of Jesus Christ.

Some lessons for all of us:

  1. Never underestimate what God can do with the simplest of interactions.
  2. The hope of the gospel is a real balm in the hard realities of life below heaven.
  3. Church planting and all the work it takes to make it happen really does make a difference.
  4. Nothing done for Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit is wasted. Nothing.

* The New Dynamic Church Planting Handbook is available as a free download in pdf format from the DCPI.org website.