GUARDING ONENESS

“Draining the cesspool of self-centeredness” is the key to a happy and growing marriage. Here’s a great post from one of my former seminary classmates. Curt is a godly man who has known his share of suffering. Wise words here.

Curt Heffelfinger

How to Deal with the Killer of Unity in Any Relationship

My mentor and friend surprised me the other day. I asked if he could recommend a go-to resource on marriage. I figured he would point to any number of more recent publications by major evangelical authors. Not so.

humility word in metal type

He suggested Larry Crabb’s 1991 publication Men & Women: Enjoying the Difference (Zondervan). It just so happens I have a copy in my library. I read it years ago. Never hurts to take another look, so I pulled it off the shelf and began reading again.

It took only twenty-eight pages before these words hammered me:

We will not move very far in our efforts to develop good marriages until we understand that repairing a damaged sense of identity and healing the wound in our hearts is not the first order of business. It is rather dealing with the subtle, pervasive…

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Lessons from the Seat of a Bike

mulberry-from-5th-avenue
Mulberry Avenue in Watseka, IL

Today, I met my goal of 1,200 miles on the bike before the first snow. It was a 13-mile ride that put me over the top. I had to wait out the rain and the thunder but the air was still warm and the wind was favorable for an out and back route. As I rolled by the mostly harvested fields I thought of all the prayers I have prayed from the seat of my bike, all the ideas that have been hatched from that seat, all the confessions I have made to God, and all the things I have learned and am still learning because of undistracted time on the bike.

It may have been one of my last rides in the state of Illinois. Next week we will be packing a truck for our move to South Carolina. So it is a good time reflect on the lessons learned from all my time in the saddle.

  1. Setting goals can be helpful.  There were days when the last thing I wanted to do was get on the bike but the goal drove me forward. What are the things that you know you need to make progress on and need the motivation of a goal to work toward?
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  2. yellow-carpet-rideReaching goals is hard.  Fighting a 15-20 mph wind is not easy on a bike. Riding in 90+ degrees is not pleasant. Riding in the cold is a drag. Crashing and breaking your phone when you are 12 miles into a ride and 13 miles from home is the kind of excitement you don’t want. It takes real effort. And so does plowing the ground of your soul to extinguish everything that entangles your heart and keeps you from growing in Christ. But it is worth it. Jesus is worth it.
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  3. Concentration, when you are in pain is difficult.  After my crash, my hip was severely bruised. But there wasn’t any choice. My phone was broke and I was 13 miles from home. Suck it up and gut it out. But it was much harder to concentrate on praying or even thinking. It took everything to just keep pedaling. People in pain sometimes forget basic truths and simple logic. Have compassion for them and just be there with them in their pain.
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  4. I will miss this flat land and its people. I sometimes complain about how flat it is here and these last 5 years have been painful in many ways. It certainly hasn’t been a cake-walk. But I love the people and the area. Today I road out to the road of one of our former elders at Trinity Church. I thought of all the prayers I prayed for his family, his children, his leadership. I thought of all the prayers prayed and conversations had with so many of the people whose homes I have pedaled by over the years.  But I will miss these flat lands and its people.  Be well Trinity Church family. Go hard after Jesus. Let Him make you into what He wants you to be.
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  5. There’s so much more to say but my 500 words are gone and the CUBS just won the World Series. I’m going to watch their celebration and then get some sleep.

When Repentance Isn’t Repentance

jeremiah

For the past five days, I have been meditating on this haunting text in Jeremiah 4. Three days ago I took a 16-mile ride with verses 1 and 2 echoing through my spirit as I rolled by farmers bringing in their soybeans and corn. Honestly, it was hard to get away from the first two lines. 

The implication of YHWH’s declaration/invitation is that there is a way of “returning” that is NOT a returning to God.

Is it possible that a people could be called to repent, hear that call, know that they needed to repent, begin to move in the direction of repentance, change their behavior in some discernable way, return to some more overtly “religious” patterns of devotion, think that they are somehow doing something good and yet, . . . it all be false, a turning that is for naught, unproductive, even counter-productive?

Listen to Jeremiah’s text. 

1 “If you return, O Israel,” declares the LORD,
.  “Then you should return to Me.
.   And if you will put away your detested things from My presence,
.   And will not waver,
2  And you will swear, ‘As the LORD lives,’
.   In truth, in justice and in righteousness;
.   Then the nations will bless themselves in Him,
.   And in Him they will glory.”
3  For thus says the LORD to the men of Judah and to Jerusalem,
.   “Break up your fallow ground, 
.   And do not sow among thorns.
4  “Circumcise yourselves to the LORD
.   And remove the foreskins of your heart,
.   Men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem,
.   Or else My wrath will go forth like fire
.   And burn with none to quench it,
.   Because of the evil of your deeds.”

jeremiah-2The nation was far from God. Israel had turned from God and lived in idolatry, apostasy, and become hardened in heart toward both truth and justice and as a result, righteousness was not a high priority. As a judgment, God was about to send the nation into exile in Babylon. And He told them that when they returned to the land at the end of the exile it was imperative that they also return to Him. So even before they go into their 70-year exile, God pleads with Israel to repent and return to Him.

In fact, the whole chapter is an earnest plea for the nation of Israel to get serious about repentance. And that earnest plea seems particularly relevant not just for ancient Israel but for 21st Century America as well. And what would that look like? The second part of verse 1 tells us.

  • We will put away detestable practices to God.
    (That will require understanding what is detestable to Him).
  • We will not waver in our commitment to eradicate these things from our lives.
  • We will swear as God is our judge.

Just as with Israel, 2,600 years ago, God is calling His people to put away detestable practices and declare our allegiance to Him as our sovereign and only Lord.

He is calling us to put away anything that stands in the way of obeying Him. He is calling us to love truth, justice, and righteousness. He is calling us to swear by His name that we will live lives that are pictures to the world of an earnest pursuit of God, and His Kingdom and His righteousness.

Israel did not heed the call. 

Will the church of America in 2016?

Will you? Today?

Being Dead is a Process of Living

 

John Stott
John Stott

In the early church, the understanding was that if you were alive to God you were a new man. Not a perfect man or woman but new–changed. Romans 6:4 says we walk in newness of life–that we have been baptized into a new life. John Stott in his commentary on Romans 5-8 (Men Made New) writes that when a man enters upon the Christian life he is committed “to a different kind of life.” He has died to one and been born to another.

Understanding this is not always easy. Explaining it to a new Christian can be particularly challenging. There is nothing magical about the process of being dead to sin but alive to God (cf. Romans 6; Galatians 2:19-21). So if you are struggling with continuing sin in your life, good. Keep struggling. Don’t let sin reign in your body. But don’t forget that grace is greater than all your sin. Go and read the sixth chapter of Romans and enjoy this little dialogue as well. 

Older
Christian:     [With great confidence]  “Now that you’re a Christian you’re dead to sin.”

New
Believer:       [With great surprise]   “I am!”

OC:   “Yep.”

NB:   “I’ll never sin again?!”

OC:   “No, I didn’t say that.”

NB:   “You didn’t say that.”

OC:   “No, I didn’t say that?”

NC:   “I don’t understand. Didn’t you just say that I was dead to sin?”

OC:   [Losing some confidence] “Yep.”

NC:   “Can a dead man do anything?”

OC:   “Well . . . no . . . but . . .”

NC:   “If I’m dead how can I do something sinful?”

OC:   “Well you see . . . it’s kind of like being alive!”

NC:   “Oh great! Now you’re telling me that being dead is like being alive.”

OC:   “Let’s try this from another angle.”

NC:   “Yeah, let’s.”

OC:   “How do you feel?”

NC:   “Well I woke up with a sore throat . . .”

OC:    “No, no . . . not how you feel phys . . .”

NC:    [Interuppting]                              “Didn’t you just ask . . .”

OC:    [Interuppting]                                             “I mean spiritually . . .”

NC:   “Well you should have said so!  I guess I feel okay  spiritually.” 

OC:    “Do you feel any closer to God?”

NB:    “Well, I guess so . . .”

OC:    “That’s because, spiritually speaking, you’re alive.”

NC:    “Tell me something.”

OC:    “What’s that?”

NB:    “Didn’t you say that I was dead to sin?”

OC:    [With great confidence again]  “Yep.”

NB:    “Now you’re saying I’m alive.”

OC:    “Alive to God.”

NC:    “What does that mean, ‘spiritually speaking?'”

OC:    “It means you’re dead to sin.”

NC:    “Back to that again.”

OC:    “You need a lot of closure don’t you?”

Read Romans 6. You’ll figure it out.

Why Christians Don’t Read Their Bible

Boots and BibleI ran across this video by Skye Jethani and had to pass it along. In the years since I came to Christ in January of 1974 one of the major changes in my life is simply this–I read my Bible. One of the first things that occurred in my life after my conversion was that I suddenly wanted to read the Bible. I wanted to understand it. I wanted to know the storyline and theme of each book in it and how each book fit into the whole story of God’s plan to redeem mankind.

In the years since I came to Christ in January of 1974 one of the major changes in my life is simply this–I read my Bible. One of the first things that occurred in my life after my conversion was that I suddenly wanted to read the Bible. I wanted to understand it. I wanted to know the storyline and theme of each book in it and how each book fit into the whole story of God’s plan to redeem mankind.

I didn’t know then, but that hunger to know more was fueled by the Holy Spirit working in my heart to draw me into deeper intimacy with Christ. I became a Bible reader and over the years have read through the entire Bible probably more than 50 times and the New Testament, many more than that.

Both at New Song, the church I planted, and Trinity Church I have sought to encourage strong Bible reading plans for the whole congregation. At New Song, it was because I couldn’t imagine starting a church that wasn’t built on a sound knowledge of God’s word and at Trinity because when I first came I found a lot of good people who loved Jesus but who had a lack of Bible knowledge and understanding. They were trying to survive in a world bent on destroying their faith on a verse a day or only opening their Bible on Sunday morning–if that.

(Side Note: one of the reasons non-Christians won’t listen to Christians is that when Christians talk about their faith they simply don’t make much sense because they don’t read their Bibles!)

So, in the interest of helping my readers change their habit patterns and begin to truly sit under the authority of the Word of God, here’s a short video to help you understand why you may have a problem reading your Bible regularly and some suggestions on what you can do about it.

Special Note:  Skye also comments on one of the most misused and misquoted verses in the Bible which I have also written about here.

Now, I have to get back to my study of Galatians.

Humility and Pride

Wednesday is for Thinking

CS Lewis on Humility

Much of the best progress in the Christian life involves finding new opportunities to be humble and to beat down our pride. It is part of striving not to grow weary in well doing (Gal. 6:9). Sometimes, it’s hard and I am so glad I have my long-suffering bride to help me move toward holiness.

This from The Christian Hymn Book:

What grace, O Lord, and beauty shone
.       Around Thy steps below;
What patient love was seen in all
.       Thy life and death of woe!

O give us hearts to love like Thee
.       Like Thee, O Lord, to grieve
Far more for others’ sins than all
.       The wrongs that we receive.

 The Christian Hymn Book, (1876)

Those last two lines speak of a universal tendency. 

  • We focus on the wrongs we receive (or think we receive) rather than grieve the sins of others and the weight of judgment being mounted on unrepentant lives. 
  • We focus on our own pain rather than the pain inflicted on others.
  • We focus on our own suffering rather than the suffering of others.

But the battle is that we would have hearts like the heart of the Savior and so grieve over sin that we, like him, would incarnate the gospel, and become compassionate preachers of righteousness and the Kingdom of God. Let’s keep battling for holiness together. Let’s obey Galatians 6:9-10 (ESV).

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. 10 So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.

More and Better Disciples: HOW?

Wednesday is for Discussion

Discipleship, Dare to beI want to prime the pump of our minds with a question and start a discussion.

What would we do differently in our churches if we were really serious about raising the bar on what it means to be a disciple?

Here’s a list to prime the pump of our thinking: I think we might start with …

  • expecting a greater involvement in reaching the lost from the the very start.
  • giving more opportunity earlier for them to demonstrate faithfulness.
  • putting them in faith stretching situations earlier.
  • emphasizing eschatology–Jesus is coming again to judge the living and the dead. (1 Thessalonians is written to baby Christians.)
  • expecting and exhorting them to holiness, love and sacrifice.
  • baptizing them earlier than we do (generally).
  • preparing them for persecution.
  • teaching them the sermon on the mount as the normative goal for their behavior.

    The Call to Discipleship
    It’s Not a Suggestion
  • cultivate in them a shema-lifestyle – loving God with all their heart, mind soul and strength and their neighbors as ourselves.
  • expecting them to fall and lovingly stand with them when they did.
  • always pointing them to the cross not their failures.

Now, what would you add?