Thursday, June 28, 2007

Oh, my Aching Back!

Just a quick blog to say that my back's been out and in fact it's all I can do to sit here now and type this note. Please pray for me and know that as soon as I'm back in commission I'll be blogging again! Thanks for your friendship, and may the Lord richly bless you.

Thanking him always and for everything,


Friday, June 22, 2007

Dealing with Difficult Neighbors

Over the last couple of months we've been having some minor problems with two of our neighbors, and through it all the Lord has taught us some things that we want to pass on to you. To put it into the form of a question, How should a Christian deal with difficult neighbors?

1. "Be filled with the thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Eph. 5:18,20). Kim and I believe that God has a particular design for our souls and his Kingdom in willing that we live next to these particular people. Therefore, rather than automatically reacting to situations, we are trying to learn to stop, pray, and give thanks to God for what's happening, asking for eyes to see his view of the situation. It may be that what the devil, the world, and the flesh mean for harm, God Almighty means for good. So, the most important thing we have learned of late is to always give thanks to God.

2. "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (Matt. 5:44). Generally speaking, the last thing a person wants to do for someone who's just offended them is pray for them. But that's what our Lord and Forgiver, Jesus Christ, has called us to do. And I don't think he means that we should pray for them like this: "Jesus, please get them for what they're doing!" Rather, I think he means that we should pray for them as we would pray for those we love. "For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?" (5:46) There is great blessing in learning to be like Jesus, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and praying for the blessing of those who are making your life difficult. It may be that one of God's designs in allowing us to have neighbors such as these is to shape us all the more into his image.

3. "Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay,' says the Lord. But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Rom. 12:19-21). Having given thanks to God and prayed for the blessing of your difficult neighbor, begin to look for ways to serve and do good to them--whether or not they know it was you who did it. There are times, especially when the threat of physical violence is involved, that it's best simply to stay away from your difficult neighbor. But I think most of the time it is possible to pray that God would open up practical opportunities to serve them.

For example, the other night some kids came through our neighborhood and smeered mustard and ketchup on ten mailboxes and three cars. Kim, Rachel, and I did not make a neighborhood-wide announcement about it, but we went and cleaned up all the mailboxes--including our difficult neighbor's mailbox. They may or may not ever know that we're the ones who did this, but serving people who are making our lives difficult is good for our own hearts before God and neighbor.

4. If you have had any part in causing the problem, humble yourself and confess your sin before God and neighbor. It's amazing how far a little humility will go with people, and even if they don't listen to you, how far it will go in freeing your own soul before God. The main goal of confession is not to change your neighbor's heart but to get your own heart right, and then of course it's right to hope that your honesty and humility will impact your neighbor's heart as well.

Well, for what it's worth, we hope this is a help to you. Please pray for us as we continue to pray for our neighbors and look for ways to serve them in Jesus' name.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Thanks for Praying!

I want to thank those of you who lifted me up in prayer while I was in California--I do not take your partnership for granted. It was a wonderful, fruitful trip from beginning to end and I praise the Lord for his grace to me!

This morning I read Psalm 33, the first verse of which says this: "Praise befits the upright." The Hebrew word for "befits" literally means beautiful, so we could think of this verse as saying, "Praise beautifies the upright." Praise makes us look beautiful to God.

Why is this so? Because the chief thing that characterizes the upright is that they have been given eyes to see the glory of God, and the praise that flows from their hearts is living proof of the same. Their praise of God completes their beholding of God. Praise from the righteous is like a "proof of purchase" which shouts back to God, "By your grace, I belong to you."

And so I want to complete my beholding of God by giving him thanks and praise for all he's done this week. And I also want to complete it by giving thanks to you for caring enough to stand with me in prayer. "The prayers of the righteous avail much," and I can honestly say that your prayers had an effect in my life over the last couple of weeks. So, in the great name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and for his glory, thank you!

Saturday, June 16, 2007

The Right Thing, in the Right Way, for the Right Reason

Over the last couple of days I’ve been reading the early chapters of Job as well as the latter chapters of 1 Kings, and I think I’ve got a word for preachers and teachers: it’s not enough to say the right thing; rather we must learn to say the right thing, in the right way, for the right reason (i.e., with the right application). Or to put it negatively, the right thing said or applied in the wrong way is always the wrong thing.

This train of thought sounds too familiar to be original with me, but it popped into my head as I was contemplating the early chapters of Job and a sentence I had written in the margin of my Bible: “Isn’t it amazing how a person can say so many things that are right, and yet be totally wrong.”

Let me show you what I mean. In Job 5:8-18, Eliphaz says to Job: “As for me, I would seek God, and to God would I commit my cause, who does great things and unsearchable, marvelous things without number: he gives rain on the earth and sends waters on the fields; he sets on high those who are lowly, and those who mourn are lifted to safety. He frustrates the devices of the crafty, so that their hands achieve no success. He catches the wise in their own craftiness, and the schemes of the wily are brought to a quick end. They meet with darkness in the daytime and grope at noonday as in the night. But he saves the needy from the sword of their mouth and from the hand of the mighty. So the poor have hope, and injustice shuts her mouth. Behold, blessed is the one whom God reproves; therefore despise not the discipline of the Almighty. For he wounds, but he binds up; he shatters, but his hands heal.”


Eliphaz says so many things that are right, but he says them with a haughty spirit and he draws completely erroneous conclusions about Job, and what is more, about God. In this way, he makes a mockery of truth, he further wounds his friend, and he besmirches the glory of God. Indeed, the right thing said or applied in the wrong way is always the wrong thing. It’s like multiplying by zero: no matter how great a number you start with, or how long a string of numbers you pile up, multiplying by zero nullifies them all.

But how are we to learn to say the right thing, in the right way, with the right application? This may sound simplistic, but in life at full-speed it’s not—we must learn to say only what God would have us say, in the way he would have us say it, and for the reasons he would have us say it. We must learn to have the same unflinching commitment to the Word of God as did the prophet Micaiah.

In 1 Kings 22, King Ahab was preparing to go up and take a little city called Ramoth-gilead. In preparation for the battle, he called in his prophets and asked them what they thought about his plans. To a man, they came back with the consensus that he should go up and take the city for, they said, the Lord would give it to him (v. 6). But Jehoshaphat, Ahab’s partner in battle, pressed him to find another prophet upon whom they could call. Apparently, Jehoshaphat was not impressed with ear-tickling prophets! Ahab gave a classic answer, “There is yet one man by whom we may inquire of the LORD, Micaiah the son of Imlah, but I hate him, for he never prophesies good concerning me, but evil” (v. 8). Translated meaning: “This one always tells me the truth, and I don’t like the truth!”

So they sent for Micaiah, and in the exchange between him and the man who went to get him we find the answer to our question: “And the messenger who went to summon Micaiah said to him, ‘Behold, the words of the prophets with one accord are favorable to the king. Let your word be like the word of one of them, and speak favorably.’ But Micaiah said, ‘As the LORD lives, what the LORD says to me, that I will speak’” (vv. 13-14).

There it is, preacher: learn to wait on the Lord, listen carefully to His Word by his Spirit, and then speak ONLY what you hear him say. In this way, you will learn how to say the right thing, in the right way, for the right reason.

“I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another” (1 Cor. 4:6).

Friday, June 15, 2007

Today's the Last Day!

Well, we've finally come to the end of the pastor's conference, and it's been a good one. Pastor Jack made a statement at the beginning of the conference that set the tone for the whole thing: "The issue of administrative processes and management is the most pivotal one in establishing the long-term success of a ministry."

Of course, he would concur that things such as the Word of God, prayer, worship, and holiness are foundational to administration, but the point is well taken that without serious attention to administrative matters the ministry cannot run and will not last. Perhaps this is why the Bible designates administration, not as a task to be done, but as a spiritual gift to be employed for the glory of God (1 Cor. 12:28).

Thus, we have talked at length about staff, communications, ministry management, legal issues, finances, taxes, and such like things, all in the atmosphere of prayer, worship, and the Word of God. It has been very informative and up-building.

In addition to formal instruction, we are required to have all of our meals together for all five days. This creates an atmosphere where relationships can develop, and mutual encouragement can be shared. I have had two or three very substantial conversations with colleagues and I am very eager to return home and put my hand to the plow of launching Glory of Christ Baptist Church this fall.

Please pray for me on this last day: pray that we would finish strong and that God would be glorified in our midst.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

On Waking in Worship

I so love waking up in worship! This morning, before I was even fully awake, this song was flowing out of my heart:

I say, "Yes, Lord, yes," to your will and to your way,
I say, "Yes, Lord, yes," I will trust you and obey,
When your Spirit speaks to me, with my whole heart I'll agree,
And my answer will be, "Yes, Lord, yes."

Obedience is a visible manifestation of the fact that we both love and trust God, and therefore the absense of it is a visible manifestation of the fact that we don't. Oh how I want my life to be marked by obedience because I want my heart to be marked by love and trust! The promises for doing so are far beyond the measure of what we deserve. Take John 14:21 for example: "Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him."

Okay--so I simply do what the Father asks of me and in return I receive the love of God Almighty and the Lord Jesus Christ, his only Begotten, and I receive a revelation of his person, that is, eyes to see his greatness and glory, ears to hear wonders from his Word, a heart that's soft and receptive before him, and a will that longs to follow in his ways. Sounds like a pretty good deal to me!

Oh Father, please teach us to love you with all of our hearts and to manifest the fact by doing what you ask of us. And as we do, we pray that you would fulfill all of your promises to us, in Christ, and most especially that you would reveal yourself to us! Your are our Treasure; it is you that we seek. Oh Lord, hear our prayer!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Discipline & Joy of Thanksgiving

It’s hard to overestimate how important it is to learn the discipline and joy of thanksgiving.

This morning I read Nehemiah 9 which tells the story of the people of Israel gathering to read the Law of the Lord and confess their sins. The majority of the chapter is a prayer that was prayed by the Levites, a rehearsal of what God had done for the people of Israel and a rejoicing in his goodness, patience, and steadfast love. In the middle of the prayer (vv. 22-25) the Levites mention some of the blessings of the Lord upon Israel, even in the wilderness, and they conclude with this thought: “So they ate and were filled and became fat and delighted themselves in your great goodness” (v. 25b).

Here is the principle: to delight in the blessings of the Lord is to delight in the goodness of the Lord.

And the thing opens our eyes to this fact is thanksgiving. When we learn the discipline of giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ (Eph. 5:20), we learn the joy of the goodness of the Lord. When we neglect this crucial discipline, we may have a kind of joy in the blessings of God but it is an inferior joy that is taken in the things themselves. In other words, it is a worshiping of the created thing rather than the Creator.

Indeed, what’s at stake in thanksgiving is rightful worship. This is why I started out by saying that it’s hard to overestimate the importance of this issue, both the necessity of it and the joy that springs from it.

Oh Father, please give us a heart that is disciplined this day to give you thanks always and for everything, and please give us the joy of heaven as we learn to do so. Please give us eyes to see your goodness in all things, to acknowledge that goodness, to rightly worship you, to take joy in you alone, and to give you the honor that is rightly due your name. Oh Father, make us Christians this day!

“And let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving, and tell of his deeds in songs of joy!” (Psalm 107:22)

Monday, June 11, 2007

Leadership & Ezra

I'm sitting in my chair on the fifth floor of the King's College and Seminary building in Van Nuys, California. We're about fifteen minutes from starting a week-long conference on leadership, and I'm excited about that. The views of the San Fernando valley are broad and inspiring, and I'm excited about that too--I grew up just a few blocks down the road.

But I must be honest, I can't get Ezra off of my mind. "For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the LORD, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel" (Ezra 7:10). Study, then do, then teach. That's just the right pattern, and one that I want to spend my life emulating.

Study--There's simply no way to follow the Lord if we do not know what he requires of us, and the only way to know what he requires of us is to study his Word. We simply must learn to deny ourselves 1,000 other pleasures, take up our crosses daily, and follow him by paying attention to what he's said to us.

Do--But if we stop there, we'll be no better than the Pharisees. We must be doers of the Word and not hearers only. I've heard it said that most Christians are educated beyond their level of obedience, and there's probably some truth to that. The solution is not complicated or frankly even very difficult. It's a matter of obeying the Word of God as we understand it, one day at a time. And then as we follow in the will and ways of the Lord, we come to know the Lord in spirit and in truth. The Words of Scripture live for us because we know through experience that what it says about God is true--not just in a general way, but in a specific personal way.

Teach--Only when we have done the Word of God are we ready to teach it. So many follow the pattern of study, teach, do. This is not good, and in fact can be destructive. We must learn to suffer through the pain of obedience ourselves before we have anything to say to others, and once we have suffered through this pain we must learn the discipline and the joy of leading others in the will and ways of the Lord no matter what the cost to us.

I hope this is making sense. I now have four minutes to go before the "consultation" starts so this is a bit of a brain dump. But to sum up, let me say again: I love Ezra and the pattern of his life and as a leader in God's house I want to emulate it for the rest of my life. I hope you do, too.

Please pray for us.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

The Marvelous Help of God

I was just reading 2 Chronicles 26, the story of King Uziah, and was struck by the language of verse 15. Verses 4-5 tell us that Uziah did what was right in the eyes of the Lord and that he was taught the fear and instruction of the Lord by the prophet Zecheriah. Then verses 6-15a detail some of his exploits and accomplishments, concluding with this thought in verse 15b:

"And his fame spread far, for he was marvelously hleped, till he was strong." And the implication is, of course, that he was "marvelously helped" by the Lord. Oh how I love that phrase and how I pray that we too will be "marvelously helped" by the Lord!

Unfortunately, Uziah let his fame go to his head and he became proud and the Lord struck him with leprosy for the same. He responded well to the discipline of the Lord, and judging from the next chapter he passed on the fear and instruction of the Lord to his son Jotham who reigned in his place. Here's what the text says of Jotham:

"So Jotham became mighty, because he ordered his ways before the Lord his God" (2 Chron. 27:6). Looks like he, too, was marvelously helped by the Lord!

Oh that we might fear the Lord, order our ways before him, and know what it means to be marvelously helped by him!

The Plan for Saturday

Thanks to all who lifted me up in prayer yesterday--I do not take that for granted and I very much appreciate it! I had a good day of travel and then visited with an old friend who became a Christian about the same time I did, out of the same lifestyle I did. In fact, we briefly knew one another before we were in Christ, but we became like blood-brothers once we were in Christ. It was very good to see him.

The plan for today, Lord willing, is to see another old friend of mine who's still not saved and in fact just got sober a year ago after almost thirty years of drug abuse. I'm so glad he's stayed sober this time around, but I ache for him to know Jesus. I'm going to buy him a Bible this morning and then will be spending a few hours with him this afternoon. If you have the time, please pray for him, his name is Robert Chapman.

Then later today, Lord willing, I will be gathering with brothers and sisters in Christ from First Baptist Church, Palm Desert, where I grew up in the Lord. It's been four years since I've seen these precious souls and I so look forward to fellowshipping with them.

Thanks again for praying, and if you have time please lift these things up with me as well.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Please Pray for Leadership Conference

Lord willing, I will be traveling to California in the morning for a five-day pastors' conference at Church on the Way in Van Nuys (near Los Angeles). The conference is hosted by Jack Hayford, Pastor Emeritus of Church on the Way and President of the Foursquare denomination.

After serving the Lord and his church faithfully for many decades, Pastor Jack sensed a call from the Lord to invest himself in younger pastors. Thus, he founded the School of Pastoral Nurture where he mentors 40-45 pastors at a time, for one full week. Actually, there are four different "consultations," each with its own emphasis, and a pastor must attend the first before the second, the second before the third, and so on. I've already been to the first two, and am now returning for the third. (The emphasis of this consultation is leadership).

The "consultation" is a mixture of teaching, interaction, worship, prayer, and fellowship. On Tuesday or Wednesday night we'll be having dinner at the Hayford's where we'll be treated to a private concert by world-renown suprano Steve Amerson. And then on Thursday night, I think, we'll be going out to dinner at some local bistro. But mostly we'll be gathered on the fifth floor of the Education building seeking power and wisdom for ministry from the Lord, through Pastor Jack.

Those of you who are familiar with Jack Hayford, Church on the Way, and the Foursquare denomination may be wondering why I--a calvinistic Christian hedonist--am going to be mentored by an arminian Pentecostal. The reason is very simple: I sense a call from God to learn from this man. Although I disagree with him on a number of theological issues, I have great respect for him. Some of the theological issues are so important that I could not serve on the staff of his church, even if he personally invited me to do so. But none of these issues are so serious that I would divide from him as a brother in Christ.

I could name many reasons why I respect him so much, but let me just cut to the chase: it's his unflinching commitment to the Bible and his impecable integrity that has stood the test of time. In fact, the thing that attracted me to the first consultation was the emphasis on "leadership from the inside-out," or to put it another way, character-driven leadership. Pastor Jack wanted to share with us how he lasted for a lifetime in the ministry--and was fruitful and joyful all along, even in the suffering. And in case you don't know, the vast majority of pastors do not last in the ministry. Some burn out, some can't take the abuse from sick churches, some are sick themselves and the pressure of ministry is just too much for them, some sin in one way or another and are forced out of the ministry. Whatever the reasons, most pastors don't make it.

I wanted, and still want, to be in the not-so-vast minority of pastors who last a lifetime in the ministry, and so it is that I felt compelled to draw near to this man. Before the first day of consultation one was over, I knew I was in the right place. We didn't talk about techniques or fads, we worshiped God in song, we pleaded with him in prayer, and we mined the Scripture for the wisdom of God. Both times I've attended a consultation, the Lord has spoken clearly and powerfully to me through the Word--in fact, both times have been life-shaping.

So, my prayer is that God would use this week to shape my life and ministry as well. I am going to spend time with a man, but much more so I am going to seek the face of Almighty God. Please pray for me as I go. The texts to which I've felt particularly drawn as I've prayed for this week are 1 Timothy 6:11-18 and 2 Timothy 4:1-5. I will close this entry by quoting them both:

"[11] But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. [12] Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. [13] I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, [14] to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, [15] which he will display at the proper time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, [16] who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen."

"[1] I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: [2] preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. [3] For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, [4] and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. [5] As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry."

Monday, June 04, 2007

What to do with Insomnia

For whatever reason, I have been waking up in the middle of the night for the last couple weeks and sometimes have not been able to get back to sleep. Last night was one of those nights--up at 3:00 a.m. and still up now at 7:15. I try very hard to avoid caffeine, so I'm sure that's not the problem. Haven't had much sugar lately. I have things on my mind, some of which are weighty but also joy-producing, so I don't think stress is the problem. I've been seeking the Lord in the Word and prayer and feel joyful and at peace with him and others. And yet I cannot sleep--at least not through the night.

So, what am I to do? Ephesians 5:18 & 20 immediately come to mind: "And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ..." Knowing that God is good and that I have been stewarding my body as best as I can, I have simply been giving thanks to God and trusting that, for whatever reason, he thinks this is good for me. I must say that those middle of the night prayer sessions have been sweet, and I have sensed God's presence with me.

What is your instinct when you face the various circumstances and trials of life? Do you naturally throw yourself on God with thanksgiving, trusting that he is for you and that he has your best in mind? If not, spend some time looking at Ephesians 5 and ask the Lord to teach you what it means to give him thanks, through Christ, for all things. I can testify that learning to do so turns many bitter pills into sweet blessings.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Mark Driscoll & Leadership Development

Mark Driscoll is the pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Washington. In only ten years they have grown to 6,000 people and have partnered to plant 100 churches around the country. Mark is the first to admit that the story of Mars Hill is the story of an awesome God, and not of a man. So what has happened there cannot simply be boiled down to techniques and then replicated elsewhere.

Yet, some aspects of what they're doing can be replicated, one of which is leadership development. I mention this because the evangelical church in the U.S. is losing ground on the culture--big time--and has been doing so for decades now. Currently, less than 30% of Americans attend church on a regular basis and by 2050, if the trend continues, only about 10% will (see David T. Olson,

The solution? By the power and grace of God, we simply must develop and deploy masses of young, energetic, evangelistic, theologically-minded, biblically-grounded, prayerful leaders. We in the Reformed camp must simply find ways of turning out more leaders without compromising our core convictions.

Mark's strategy? Win people to Christ, set them on fire, let them lead and along the way develop them as leaders, deploy them in ministry, and leave them to figure out how they'll get paid.

On the Wednesday night of the conference, several of us from Bethlehem Baptist Church had dinner with Mark and about 50 of his planters from around the country. At one point he asked the question, How many of you were NOT saved in 1997? About one-third of the hands went up. Wow! Brothers and sisters, we need to learn from this man! I am not saying that we, or he, should hastily lay hands on anyone, but I am saying that if we're to obey the Great Commission in our generation and not leave the next generation to the devil and the world, we simply must find new and better ways of winning, training, and deploying young leaders.

Oh Father, in your mercy and for your glory, hear our cry!

Friday, June 01, 2007

One More Thought from Tim Keller

Tim Keller is very interested in the subject of how the church is to interface with the culture at large. He has taught and written on this subject at length, and he shared a few of his thoughts with us last week. Perhaps the most interesting thing he said about the subject was this:

"When Christians over-contextualize they buy into the culture' s idols; when Christians under-contextualize they buy into their own idols."

Examples of over-contextualization are rampant in our day. Churches are forsaking the Bible and sound doctrine for video, cutting-edge music, drama, and such like things--in a word, for entertainment. But by going so far they not only use tools to bridge the gap between God and people, they buy into, support, and even promote the culture's idols. I read an article about a guy just yesterday who's first book sold nearly 1 million copies. He asked an audience, "What's your favorite movie?" There were many responses. Then he asked, "What's your favorite part of the Nicene Creed?" There were no responses, at least not serious ones. His solution? We need to stop teaching propositional theology and start telling more stories. Not a good solution.

Examples of under-contextualization are not only rampant in our day, but have plauged the church for generations. The essential mindset of people in this category is that the world is evil and if we expose ourselves to it, and more so our children, we will also become evil. Therefore, we have to retreat and protect ourselves from the world. This mindset, Keller said, is tantamount to buying into our own idols.

What we need, then, is to find a balance so that both of these texts characterize our lives and ministries: "Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned," and "What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, 'I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.'" (Mark 16:15-16, 2 Cor. 6:16-18).