Thursday, May 28, 2015

75.5 Mile Bike Ride...And Then Another 36.1 Mile Ride!

It was a perfect day, and a great ride. My aim was to ride the majority of the Root River Trail and thus put in about 85 miles for the day as part of my training for the crazy ride, Duluth and Back or Bust--2 Days, 150 per day, 300 miles total. So I set out from La Crescent, MN where I'm camping right now and headed out to Lanesboro. The drive alone was beautiful, stunning at times, and soon enough I reached one of my favorite cities in MN. 

I got my things together and headed out for the first leg of the journey which would take me to Preston and Harmony, MN for a total of about 23 miles. Within five miles, I reached the turn toward Harmony and enjoyed one of the most scenic and idyllic paths in our fine state--it was truly amazing, and I was riding well. Although I still have a lot of getting into to shape to do, I'm starting to feel my old form again and this feels very good! About twelve or so miles into this stretch, the trail turned up significantly so that I had to get into my lowest gear just to keep moving. But soon enough I reached the top of the bluffs and enjoyed the rolling hills all the way into town. 

Harmony is an interesting town--it was named when, in the midst of a town-wide fight, someone stood up and yelled, "What we need is some harmony around here!" Ironic. I also find it ironic, by the way, that one of the most amazing bike trails in Minnesota is in the heart of Amish country. A sea of spandex in the land of the Amish. Ironic. Be that as it may, I spent a few minutes at a little park at the trail head and then set out for the second leg of the journey from Harmony to Fountain. It was sure to be a fun ride! 


The ride down the bluffs was very fast and truly exhilarating. It was one of the funnest stretches of road or trail I've experienced on a bike in a very long time. The trail is so steep and yet fairly thin, and thus though I was only traveling in the mid-30 mph range it felt like I was going 50! It was awesome. And the trail from the bottom of the steep section to the junction toward Fountain was fairly down-tilted as well, so again, this part of the ride was fast and exhilarating! 

At the junction, I turned toward Fountain knowing that I had about 6.5 miles to go to get there. The first mile was a typical bike trail, fairly flat, but from there it tilted up and stayed tilted all the way to Fountain, except for one short, flatter section. The grade is only 2-3%, so it wasn't brutal, but it was consistent and persistent. I was a bit winded when I reached the top but still feeling good, so being 47 miles into the ride I decided to roll around the town a bit and see what's there. Not much, so I got going pretty quickly! 

And again, I was pretty excited to roll out of town because I knew that I had a five or six mile decent ahead of me, and then good trail conditions from there back to Lanesboro. And indeed, the ride was very consistent and fairly fast and before I knew it, I had traveled the eleven miles back to town. I was sitting at 58 miles and that Pedal Pusher's Cafe looked awfully good, so I decided to stop in for a burger. And what a burger! Really, it was awesome and really hit the spot. After that, I stopped by the local coffee and ice cream shop for a drink which I enjoyed by the side of the trail. There I noticed a little bike shop and couldn't help peeking in--I really love bike shops, and this one didn't disappoint!



After about 30 minutes or so in town, I decided to hit the road and finish off the last 27 miles of the ride. The plan was to ride east to Peterson and then back to Lanesboro. And the first five miles of the were awesome, beautiful, inspiring, and fairly quick. But about one mile after the little town of Whalen, I came across a "Trail Closed" sign. It was not ambiguous! Turns out that one or two bridges had severe damage or washed out, and they were being replaced. Oh well, I was bummed, but what could I do? 

So I headed back and came into Lanesboro just shy of 70 miles. My training plan called for me to do 75 miles this week, I was only going to do 85 because that was the distance it would take to get to Peterson and back, so I headed back down the trail for 2.5 miles and then just turned back toward town and came in at a cool 75.5 miles! 

It was honestly one of the best rides I've ever had, and I would highly recommend this trail, and the town of Lanesboro. You've got to check it out sometime! 

As I drove back to camp, I decided to stop by Peterson to see how much of the trail was closed and it turns out that only 9 miles of it was. The remaining 17.5 miles from Peterson to Houston, MN were still open, so I thought, "What the heck, since the weather will be good tomorrow, I'll come back and do this part of the trail, too. 

So this morning, I headed out there again, and hit the trail around 10:30 a.m. Peterson is nowhere near so beautiful and idyllic as Lanesboro but it's a nice farming town, nonetheless. So I set out for the first leg of the journey, a quick 5 mile ride to Rushford. This section of the flat is nice but more like a typical bike trail as far as trail conditions and scenery go. 

I stopped in Rushford just long enough to snap a few shots, and eat a banana, and then it was off toward Houston. I knew that I had some climbing ahead of me, and so I got all psyched up and hit the trail! The first seven or eight miles was actually pretty flat, and then it goes up just one fairly steep climb of only 0.5 mile or so. So it's not much, and then on the backside you get to bomb down what you just climbed up which, I must admit, was tons of fun! It was a steep and straight and wide downhill, which allowed me to pedal, tuck, and reach a pretty high speed. 

In no time, I was in Houston where I found a little coffee shop and enjoyed a drink and a snack. It's an awesome little coffee shop called "Barista's Cafe," and if you're ever in the area you should stop by. Very quaint and pleasant. 

After enjoying some time there, it was time to head back over the little bump and through the woods to Rushford I had to go! Once there, I made one more stop at "Jessie Street Java" and enjoyed a fresh fruit smoothie--oh it was so good, and again, I highly recommend this little place. 

Feeling quite refreshed by the drink, and the AC, I headed out for the last five miles and set a nice pace at which I could move along fairly well but also enjoy the trail, the ride, the day. It was truly beautiful out, and for that I'm very grateful to the Lord. 

So, two days, 111.6 miles. Normally that would be no big deal for me, but I started out pretty out of shape this year, and I'm still pretty out of shape, so I feel thrilled with both rides, with my developing form, and with the prospects of having a successful and enjoyable "Duluth and Back or Bust!" The plan is now to do some easy walking for a day or two and recover, after which I'll work out a little more intensely and look forward to my 85 mile ride next week which I plan to take in the Red Wing, MN area. 

Thanks so much for reading this long blog, hope you all have a wonderful day! 

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Book Review: David Livermore's "Serving with Eyes Wide-Open"

This week, among other things, I’m working on a paper for my latest doctoral course, and thus I read the updated edition of David Livermore’s Serving with Eyes Wide Open: Doing Short-Term Missions with Cultural Intelligence (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2012). Livermore wrote the book “to change the way we see and therefore do short-term missions” (15). His desire is to open our eyes to the actual effects of our short-term global efforts so that we can prayerfully formulate better ways of exalting Christ and edifying the church around the world.

Accordingly, Part I of the book offers a brief, “wide-angle” view of the world and the global church. With regard to the world, Livermore touches on six subjects: the world population, poverty and wealth, disease, refugees, globalization, and fundamentalism and pluralism. His analysis is short and necessarily partial but accurate nonetheless, and will help any humble westerner awaken to the major issues affecting our world and thus short-term missions.

With regard to the global church, Livermore likewise touches on six subjects: the unprecedented growth of the global church, persecution, communal decision making, the recognition of the spiritual realm among the majority of the global church, faith and expectation in prayer, and the growing diversity of sending countries. He closes his treatment with a stirring plea for the church around the world to rise up and train leaders in a way that is honoring to Christ and culturally sensitive.

Part II of the book is entitled “Conflicting Images” and it presents six issues that the North American church and global church see more or less differently. His aim in this section is to help North Americans see themselves more clearly that we might serve more humbly and effectively as we travel about the globe. The issues he raises are these: our motivation for short-term missions, our sense of urgency and corollary tendency to control everything, being sensitive to the similarities and differences between our culture and others, the way we teach the Bible and church-models, money and poverty and wealth, and the pragmatic simplicity that often blinds us to the more profound issues involved in the ministries and people we go to serve.

Part III of the book deals with what Livermore calls “Cultural Intelligence” or “CQ” a subject about which he is a leading expert. CQ is “the ability to adjust how we think and behave in various cultural situations” (110), and it has four components: CQ Drive (our desire to learn), CQ Knowledge (our level of understanding), CQ Strategy (our awareness and plan for growth), and CQ Action (our level of adaptability). Livermore devotes a chapter to each of these aspects of CQ, each of which close with a helpful set of suggestions for how to improve in that area.

The book concludes with a chapter entitled, “The Heart of the Matter: Shema,” that emphasizes the centrality of love for God and others in short-term missions. Here Livermore offers ten helpful suggestions, and a twenty-three point checklist for doing short-term missions with eyes wide-open. The checklist includes suggestions for what to do before, during, and after the trip.

I highly recommend this book, in fact, I plan to make it required reading for all short-term missionaries sent from our church. Part I is helpful, Part II is the heart of the book and is alone worth the price, and Part III is a helpful introduction to an important subject about which Livermore has extensively. All in all, if you take seriously what he has written, you will serve the Lord and others better on your next short-term missions trip.  

Monday, May 25, 2015

Sabbatical Update - Week One

A View from the Bluffs of Southeast Minnesota
By God's grace, I've been on sabbatical for one week now, and it's been a good week. I've been camping in southeast Minnesota, settling into the sabbatical, working on a book, riding my bike, and enjoying the Lord. 

As for my times with Jesus, I've been reading John, Psalms, and Proverbs, and day by day he's been revealing to me his glory. Perhaps the verse of the week is John 6:57 which reads, "As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me." And the word for "feeds" in the Greek language is written in such a way to mean "feeds and keeps on feeding." As I meditated upon this I came to see that, when we feed on Christ, we are always satisfied and yet never full because the more we feed on Christ the more our capacity to feed grows. Always satisfied, never full--that saying has meant a lot to me this week. 

As for writing, I'm working on a book entitled, Meditations on Hebrews which I hope to have done by the end of June. It's a compilation of my 49 sermons on Hebrews, edited a bit for this format, but still in the style of sermons. Writing project aside, the real deal for me is that I've had the privilege of diving into the deep-end of the glory of Christ without having to come out for a meeting or a teaching or some other obligation. Normally, such things are not so much a burden as a privilege, but for this season of life, the greater privilege is being with Christ uninterrupted. It's been glorious, and I'm truly in awe of Christ. 

As for cycling, I've taken some smaller rides, and been in the gym just about every day, but the main ride I took this week was a 65.3 mile loop from Winona through Lewiston, Utica, Saint Charles, Whitewater State Park, Elba, Altura, Rollingstone (surely named by hippies), and back to Winona. It was an awesome ride about which I blogged yesterday. I'm very grateful to God to have extra time for exercise. I've let myself go in recent months and I really need to get back in shape, and praise be to God, that's happening. 

As I look to the week ahead, I would ask you to pray the following for me: 

1. Please continue to pray the exact words of Ephesians 3:14-21, the theme verses for my sabbatical. I have so enjoyed the glory of Christ this week, but I long for more. Pray that I will be sensitive and obedient to the Spirit. 

2. Please continue to pray for my work on Meditations on Hebrews. I so long to write prayer-saturated words, and to bear fruit for the glory of Jesus and the good of others. 

3. Please pray for my physical health as I continue to recalibrate habits of diet and exercise. I plan to take an 85 mile ride this week, probably Wednesday, exploring the Root River Trail near Lanesboro, Minnesota (one of my favorite cities in the state). 

4. Please pray for Kim and Rachel as they spend a second week without me. Pray for their relationships with God and each other, and for our times of talking by phone. 

Thank you so much for praying, Beloved. May the Lord glorify himself as we seek his face and do his will. 

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Update - Duluth and Back or Bust!

This week was Week 9 of my training plan for the crazy ride "Duluth and Back or Bust!" The plan is to ride from my house to Duluth in one day (150 miles), rest for 1-2 days, and then ride back in one day for a total of 300 miles. 

This week I'm on sabbatical in southeast Minnesota, and I so I've taken a few smaller rides here and there and been to the gym four times. But my main training ride, which I took on Thursday, was a 65.3 mile loop from Winona and back. 

I took off from Winona around 11:00 a.m. and headed into a light head wind. The course took me through Prairie Island and up to the base of the bluffs near Stockton. From there the road really turned up as I pedaled to Lewiston which helped me to see just how out of shape I am, but which provided many opportunities for joy as the landscape was, at times, breath-taking. 

When I reached the top of the bluffs, the 7-10 mph headwinds turned into 15-20 mph headwinds which essentially meant that, though the climb was over, the climb wasn't over! For those of you who are non-cyclists, riding into a stiff headwind is similar to climbing up a hill, and between the actual hills and the wind, I faced a lot of resistance for the first 30 miles of the ride. 

At the top of the bluffs is the little town of Lewiston,and some time after I passed through it I could see the Saint Charles water tower way off in the distance. That structure gave me a sense of hope that soon the headwinds would be over, and a sense of exacerbation as it felt like I would never get there! But in good time, I passed through Utica and reached the outskirts of Saint Charles where I couldn't help but stop and take a pic of the town sign. 

Once I rolled into town, I found a little coffee shop called "Cabin Coffee" where I stopped for lunch and a nice cold drink. As soon as I walked in the place I could tell that they weren't used to seeing people in spandex, or perhaps when they saw my girth they thought, "Some people shouldn't wear spandex." One way or the other, I endured the awkwardness and really enjoyed my time there. 

After about 15 or 20 minutes it was time to head north toward Whitewater State Park which meant that I would no longer have headwinds but about 10 or so miles of crosswinds. Crosswinds can be as brutal as headwinds, but on this particular ride they were a welcome relief from the previous 30 miles. The shoulder was very thin on this section of the road and that was uncomfortable, but about 5 miles in I hit the top of the descent into Whitewater Park and I flew downhill - it was so fun! 

I really love the Whitewater State Park and Elba area, so it was no chore to ride along this section of road. And to make things even better, the winds began to turn toward my back so that I picked up some cross-tailwinds. But soon I reached the turn toward Altura which, to me, meant one thing: I had ahead of me a two-mile gradual slope, followed by a two-mile climb up to the little town. But I was feeling pretty good, and after making the turn I had the wind at my back, so I just settled in, set a pace I could keep and enjoyed the ride up the hill. At this point I started to feel the sun a bit, as I've been training in cooler temps, but hey, no complaints here! 

I reached Altrura at about the 44 mile mark, and continued to climb up 243 back toward Winona. I reached the peak in about 1 mile and then hit some rolling hills, but now the wind was fully at my back and I was moving along pretty quickly--that is, for an old, fat guy! I stopped in a little town called Rollingstone to drink some Gatorade and eat a bit, and then I set out for the last 13.5 miles knowing that it would be smooth sailing, for the winds were with me. 

And therefore I reached Highway 61 in no time, after which I passed through Minnesota City, Prairie Island, and back into the northeast side of Winona. The riding in town was very fast, because the wind was still at my back. In fact, I was nearly able to keep up with traffic on flat ground! 

I love finishing up a ride strong like this, and so I was overjoyed when I arrived at my starting place - a little coffee shop and Lutheran Campus Center called "Mugby Junction." And by the way, if you're ever in Winona, you've got to check it out, it's an awesome little place. I was pleasantly surprised at how good I felt. I could easily have put in more miles for the day, but alas, I called it a day and headed to my car. 

Uh oh - although I've never done this before, I made the bonehead decision that morning to put my car key in one of the pockets of my cycling jersey rather than in my saddlebag. When I reached in my pocket to grab the key, it was gone and soon the gravity of that fact set it. Even if I had someone come and get me into the car, I wouldn't be able to start the car. It was 5:00 p.m. on a Thursday before Memorial Day weekend and I didn't know what to do. So I called Kimmy and, long story short, after discussing all the options she made the amazing decision to drive all the way to Winona to give me her key, and then turn around a drive right back so that she could get a little sleep for work the next day. What a woman! What a friend! What an example of the self-sacrificing love of Jesus Christ! Oh how I love her! 

In addition to bringing me the key, this allowed us to see each other even if for a few minutes. I'd only been gone four days at that point but we're close and we missed each other. So praise be to God, this boneheaded move on my part tuned out to be a blessing. 

I'm so grateful to the Lord for this week's adventure, and I look forward to next week when I plan to ride for 85 miles or so on the Root River Trail near Lanesboro, Minnesota. Hopefully the weather will cooperate, because I'm really looking forward to this ride! 

Want More Faith? Here's How to Get It

Hudson Taylor, a late-nineteenth century missionary to China, was a man of great faith. As a young man he sought to know God and the Bible, and did everything he could to grow in faith and holiness. One of his partners in this quest was a man named John McCarthy who, sometime after Hudson left for China, wrote him a letter which in part said this:

“How then to have our faith increased? Only by thinking of all that Jesus is and all he is for us: his life, his death, his work, he himself as revealed to us in the word, to be the subject of our constant thoughts. Not a striving to have faith…but a looking off to the faithful one seems all we need; a resting in the loved one entirely, for time and for eternity” (Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret, Littleton, CO: OMF Books, 2010, page 119).

This insight shaped the rest of Hudson’s life, and it can shape ours as well if we will allow the Lord to teach us through McCarthy. In this hope, let me draw out seven insights from this quote. First, the word “only” implies that contemplating the glory of Christ is the way to grow in faith, not a way to grow in faith. Initially, this may seem an overstatement, but I don’t think it is. As McCarthy later remarked, faith is a matter of looking to the faithful one. So if we want to grow in faith, we must—and I mean the word “must” in the strongest sense—learn to contemplate the glory of Christ.

Second, to contemplate Christ means to think about Christ. As the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” The mind is the captain of the soul, and where it goes our souls will go. Whatever captures the mind, captures the person. Therefore, we must discipline our minds to think about Christ, that is, if we long to grow in faith and be transformed into his image. 

Third, McCarthy rightly says that in order to increase our faith we must contemplate all Jesus is and all he is for us. We must come to see the person of Christ, and then take Christ personally. We must learn the truth about Christ, and then apply that truth to our lives. We must believe who Jesus is, and then trust who he is for us. For example, if you were to read a biblical statement or story about the faithfulness of Christ, you should first think about the nature and details of his faithfulness in that instance. Then you should think about the fact that, if you trust in him, he’ll be faithful to you. To grow in faith, we must learn to think of all Jesus is, and all he is for us. 

Fourth, in order to see Christ rightly, we must see him biblically. The only way to come to a true knowledge of Jesus, and thus to grow in faith, is to contemplate the details of who he is as revealed in the Bible. This means that we must engage in the labor of reading, reflecting on what we’ve read, and contemplating Christ in light of what we’ve read. If you’re just learning the art of meditating on the glory of Christ, I would suggest that you start with passages like Ephesians 1:3-14, Colossians 1:15-20 and Revelation 1:4-20. Savor each of these texts, note every specific details that’s mentioned about Christ, and then take the time to think about them one after another. Close your eyes and ask God to help you see what he sees when he sees the glory of Jesus. In time, you too will see the faithful one, and the more you see him biblically, the more you will learn to see him in everything. 

Fifth, McCarthy says that Christ must “be the subject of our constant thoughts,” and with this I couldn’t agree more. Here I want to emphasize the word “subject” and note that the goal of contemplation is to know Christ himself, not just to know more about him. We must of course come to know more and more about Jesus, but in the end, the things we learn about him are meant to lead us to him. Biblical ideas can reveal who Jesus is, but the goal is to encounter him who is.

Sixth, in order to grow in faith, Christ must “be the subject of our constant thoughts.” In order to grow, faith must live in the soil of the faithfulness of Jesus; it can't simply visit. It is not enough for us to go to Christ in the midst of crisis or need, rather, we must live in the conscious awareness of his presence. If we have come to know him, then the Bible assures us that we are in him and he in us. However, he still calls upon us to seek him like we would seek a treasure. He calls upon us to come into the conscious knowledge of what has become true of us. This implies effort, discipline and consistency—it implies a way of life. Indeed, Jesus is life, and thus our lives must be all about Jesus.

Finally, the effort required to constantly contemplate the glory of Christ is not a striving but a resting. The discipline of the Christian life is simply learning to look to Christ and keep on looking. Faith is not something we should seek in itself, for faith is a fruit of the contemplation of Christ. In other words, as we look to the faithful one and allow him to impact our souls with regard to who he is and who he is for us, our faith will grow. As Jesus himself said in John 6:29, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him [Jesus] whom he [God] has sent.” 

So how shall we gain faith in life? By feasting our souls on the glory of Christ. 

Friday, May 22, 2015

Faith is Forged in the Fires of Adversity

Hudson Taylor is known as a man of great faith, and rightly so, for he trusted the Lord and his promises all the days of his life and found God to be faithful. But while we love to meditate on Hudson’s great exploits of faith, and especially his mission to take the gospel into the interior of China, we often gloss over the great difficulties he had to endure. We seldom meditate on the darkness and pain of many situations he and others faced, and thus we fail to see the height of his faith, and more importantly, the height of the faithfulness of God.

Chapter thirteen of the book Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret (Littleton, CO: OMF Books, 2010) is entitled “Days of Darkness,” and the epigraph over it, taken from a poem by W. T. Matson, reads:

Against me earth and hell combine;
But on my side is Power Divine;
Jesus is all, and he is mine.”

And indeed, at this time of Hudson's life, it did seem that many forces were combining to crush him and destroy the ministry. On an international scale, political tensions between China and the West eventuated in horrible riots that threatened to shut down the ministry, for missionaries were being blamed for the violence. This brought about legal challenges which nearly caused all missionaries to be expelled from China, or at least the inland portions thereof.

Take a moment and imagine what it would be like to lay down your life for the salvation of souls in some far off land, and to inspire others to join you, only to find yourself caught up in the middle of legal and local issues that caused your name and ministry to come before local and national governments. This circumstance alone caused Hudson great consternation, for he felt responsible for calling so many to suffer with him, he wondered if people had suffered unnecessarily because of him, and he wondered at times if he should have come to China at all.

After much prayer and seeking the Lord, Hudson and his precious wife Maria decided to press on with the ministry and the Lord gave them grace to do just that, but in addition to these international issues, there were personnel issues inside the ministry that threatened to weaken or destroy it from within. “It was doubly painful that, during such a time of crisis, certain members of the mission who had caused trouble from the very first continued to voice their dissatisfaction, and Taylor determined that it was time to request their resignations” (page 110).

The staff members didn’t take this well, and when they arrived in England after the four-month trip, they represented the issues in such a way as to alienate many of Hudson’s friends from the work. This, combined with all of the public coverage about the ministry and the issues in China, greatly impacted the income of the ministry. It did indeed seem that earth and heaven had combined against Hudson and China Inland Mission.

At this time Hudson wrote, “Pray for us, we need much grace. You cannot conceive the daily calls there are for patience, for forbearance, for tact in dealing with many difficulties and misunderstandings that arise among so many persons of different nationality, language and temperament. Pray the Lord to give me the single eye, the clear judgment, the wisdom and gentleness, the patient spirit, the unwavering purpose, the unshaken faith, the Christlike love needed for the efficient discharge of my duties. And ask him to send us sufficient means and suitable helpers for the great work which we have as yet barely commenced” (page 111, emphasis mine).

The need before them was so great. One Chinese province alone had 20 million residents and yet no missionary to preach Jesus to them. “But instead of the men and means for which they were praying, there was a marked drop in the funds reaching them from home. Although they couldn’t yet see it, God was already preparing provision for the situation” (page 111).

Indeed, at this very time, God was moving on the heart of another man of great faith, George Muller, who was familiar with Hudson’s work and decided at this very time to begin supporting it. The timing of Muller’s gift, and much more so, his prayers and spiritual encouragement, was divine and served as a boost of confidence in the Lord that enabled Hudson and his team to press on in faith.

The details of the relationship between Hudson and George Muller are quite inspiring, but we’ll have to save that for another time. For now, I want to highlight this truth—faith is forged in the fires of adversity. It’s easy to speak of trusting God when it’s easy to trust God, but faith grows when all of earth and heaven seem to be arrayed against us and we yet cling to the great promises of God in Christ. It is then that we learn, “On my side is Power Divine / Jesus is all, and he is mine.” 

May we look to men and women of faith like Hudson and Maria Taylor and learn in the midst of adversity to cling tightly to the promises of God in Christ. For if we, like them, look to him who is faithful and trust that he will do what he has said he will do, we will find that he is faithful still. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

It’s Always All Right to Trust the Living God

You've probably never heard of George Duncan, but he was a man of great faith. That is to say, he trusted in the words of God and lived his life accordingly. He clung to the promises of his Father and made daily decisions as if they were literally true. 

George served the Lord under the leadership of Hudson Taylor and China Inland Mission and was the first resident missionary in Nanking (now spelled Nanjing). The following story, taken from Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret (Littleton, CO: OMF Books, 2010), illustrates his faith well. May we meditate on his example and learn to live by faith in the promises of God, for God is faithful and what he has said he will surely do. 

“When [George] could get no other lodging in Nanking, he was content to live in the drum tower where he shared an open loft with rats and the deep-toned bell, spending his days amid the crowds in the street and tea shop. When his supply of money was running low, his Chinese cook and only companion came to ask what they should do—leaving the city and the little place they had rented would probably mean no possibility of return. 

“‘Do?’ questioned the missionary. ‘Why, we shall “trust in the Lord and do good.” So shall we “dwell in the land” and truly we shall be fed’ [Ps. 37:3]. 

“Days went on, and [Hudson] Taylor was unable to get the needed finances to Nanking by native banks. Finally, in his anxiety for Duncan, he sent a brother-missionary, William Rudland, by boat with money to relieve the situation. By this time the cook’s savings, willingly given to the work, were all used up, and between them they didn’t even have a dollar left. But Duncan had gone out to his preaching as usual, saying to his anxious companion, ‘Let us just “trust in the Lord and do good.” His promise is still the same, “So shall you dwell in the land, and truly you shall be fed.”’ 

“That evening Rudland understood why the water in the Grand Canal had run so low that he had to finish his journey over land by foot. It brought him to Nanking several days earlier than would have been possible by boat. When he reached the house, he found the cupboards just as empty as Duncan’s bank account. Trampling the endless streets, Duncan had preached all day and was returning tired and hungry when, to his surprise, he saw his Chinese helper running to meet him. 

“‘Oh sir,’ he cried breathlessly, ‘It’s all right! It’s all right! Mr. Rudland—the money—a good supper!’ 

“‘Did I not tell you this morning,’ Duncan replied, laying a kindly hand on his shoulder, ‘that it is always “all right” to trust the living God?’” (page 103). 

Sunday, May 17, 2015

My Sabbatical Begins Tomorrow

The Bluffs of Southeast Minnesota
By the grace of God, the time for my sabbatical has come. Tomorrow I depart for south-eastern Minnesota where I plan to spend three weeks camping, seeking the Lord, and writing, after which I will vacillate between being home and being away. The primary aims of my sabbatical, which ends on August 17, are these: 

1. To seek Jesus and surrender to his will for my life as fully as I can. Oh how I long to behold the glory of Christ and live every day of my life to enjoy and exalt his great name! Please pray that above all things I will connect deeply with him, heart to heart, mind to mind, soul to soul. 

2. To spend extended time with Kim and Rachel, seeking to bond with one another and seek the Lord's will for our family in the coming months and years. 

3. To complete two books on Hebrews (a verse-by-verse commentary and a book of meditations), as well as a few other minor writing projects. As far as the labor of ministry goes, writing will be my primary work while I'm away. 

4. To complete a doctoral course on preaching at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. If I wasn't behind in my program, I would not take a course this summer, but I must say that I'm grateful to God to be able to take this course free from the daily pressures of ministry. It'll take some work, but I'm really looking forward to it and think I'll find it refreshing and empowering. 

5. To seek the will of God for the life of Glory of Christ Fellowship (GCF), especially with regard to his vision for our future. The Elders have begun the initial steps of creating "Vision 2020," a five-year vision for the church, and rather than just putting a ton of stuff on paper (which is easy for me to do), I want to begin by seeking the Lord's will at length. At the end of the day, what we need is to know what Jesus wants us to do and where he wants to take us. So discerning these things will be one of the primary tasks of the last month of my sabbatical. 

6. To spend time riding my bike, hiking, playing, and just enjoying life. 

7. To get some sleep! 

So there you have it. I preached a sermon on my sabbatical this morning and how you can be praying for me, you can listen to it here. But if you don't have time to listen to what I said, then please just pray this prayer from Paul over my life, family, and ministry--we appreciate it more than you know! 

"For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith-- that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen" (Ephesians 3:14-21). 

Friday, May 15, 2015

The Joy of Spending much Time with Jesus

I know that most of us are very busy people. Sometimes I'm so overwhelmed with tasks and responsibilities in a given day that I wonder how I'll make time to eat and sleep! But one of the keys to life is learning to put first things first, and the first of the first things--by far--is simply spending time with Jesus and meditating on his Word. 

With this in mind, please read the following quote from Andrew Murray's prayerfully and carefully, and then resolve to spend a good chunk of time today just being with Jesus. Doing so will help you want to, and make time to, be with him again tomorrow and the next day and the next! May the Lord bless us as we read and meditate on these words. 

"Dwell often in the private place, with the door shut against the world, your work, your responsibilities. There the Father waits for you. There Jesus will teach you to pray. To be alone in secret with the Father; may this be your highest joy. To be assured that the Father will openly reward the secret prayer so that it cannot remain unblessed—may this be your strength day by day. To know that the Father knows what you need what you ask will give you liberty to bring every need, in the assurance that your God will supply it according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Teach Me to Pray, Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2002, page 27). 

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Spiritual Giants and the Grace of God in Christ

Spiritual giants, like Hudson Taylor, are in fact weak people who have learned how to depend on the grace and greatness of God in Christ. The biographies we read and anecdotes we hear tend to tell the stories that are amazing and unusual and awe-inspiring, and understandably so. But often they skip over or, worse yet, deliberately obscure the difficulties that are involved in any ministry that's used of God whether big or small, well-known or hidden from all but God. 

Please read this brief quote from Hudson and slow down long enough to reflect on what might have been behind what he was saying. For a man like him to use a word like "overwhelmed" surely implies that the trials were exceedingly difficult. 

Hudson wrote, “Pray for us. At times I seem almost overwhelmed with the internal and external trials connected with our work. But he has said, ‘I will not fail thee nor forsake thee’ (Josh. 1:5), and ‘my strength is made perfect in weakness’ (2 Cor 12:9). So be it,” (Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret, Littleton, CO: OMF Books, 2010, page 102).

I see a few lessons for us in Hudson's words: 

1. Be honest. Sometimes life is hard. Sometimes serving Jesus is hard. Sometimes we feel like we're not going to make it, and if you never get to a place like that perhaps you have failed to take up your cross and follow Jesus. Death to self is painful, for it is death indeed. And proclaiming the life of Christ in this world is painful, for the world has little to no desire to hear the gospel of truth and grace. Surely, like Jesus, we press on for the joy that's set before us, part of which we get to taste everyday. But that joy does not remove all suffering from our lives, in fact, God using the suffering in our lives to increase our joy in him. So be honest. 

2. When times are hard, cling to the specific promises of God. Don't settle for general thoughts and encouraging words, search the Bible until you find one or two promises to which you can cling. God has not committed himself to our purposes but he has committed himself to his own, and his promises are the legal tender of his purposes, if you will. The purposes of God are full of treasure, and praying his promises according to his will is the way in which we access that treasure. So let us pray the specific promises of God rather than wallow in our pain. 

3. When times are hard, call on others to bear the burden with you. And primarily, let us ask them to bear the burden by helping us carry it into the courts of the Lord. We can offer one another no greater help than call on the name of Jesus, according to the promises of Jesus, for one another. So let us call on one another to pray. 

May the Lord give us insight as we meditate upon these things to the end that we would shape a way of life in him and for his glory. 

Monday, May 11, 2015

Update on Persecution in India - Call to Prayer

Here's an important update from International Christian Concern on what's happening in India. Please read this and pray if you have the time to do so. May the Lord hear and answer our prayers. 
Church Attacks Continue as India's BJP-Led Government Attempts Cover Up  
By ICC's India Correspondent
5/11/2015 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) - As the U.S. Commission on
International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) slammed India for its record of growing religious intolerance, Christian communities in India have been disturbed by the BJP-led government's deliberate attempts to cover up the truth about the religious and communal nature of the attacks on Christians and their places of worship. Brushing aside the concerns raised by the USCIRF report, members of the Indian government have claimed the attacks on Christians have not been religiously motivated.

In many cases, this is a distortion of the truth. In fact, most of the violent attacks on Christian minorities and churches have been carried out by hardline Hindu nationalist groups, such as RSS and VHP, that adhere to an ideology that claims all Indians must be Hindus and those who are not do not belong in India.

Government Claims Church Attacks Not Religiously Motivated

Following the latest attack on a church in Agra, where Catholic icons, including a Mother Mary and a Baby Jesus, were damaged and windows were smashed, Arun Jaitly, a Cabinet Minister for Finance and senior leader of the BJP, said in an interview with national television network NDTV, "Not a single case [attack] was carried out by the majority community...nor were they of a political nature or communal." Another BJP leader and Member of Parliament (MP), Udit Raj, said that the recent attacks on churches do not have a communal angle. Rather, he stated, "There are elements who are out to defame the government,"

 In contrast to what members of the present government argue, Rev. Emmanuel, a Christian leader from Hyderabad, suggested the incidents of Christian persecution were an anti-Christian conspiracy. While speaking with ICC, he said, "The provocative activities carried on by Hindu radicals is [a] clear demonstration of the hate towards the minority Christian community." He continued, "The physical violence on the community again proves the apathetic attitude of the local administration as if the fringe elements are emboldened by their political affiliation."

Saffron Flags Flying Over Churches

In one incident, disproving the government's claim that Hindu radicals were not responsible for a single attack on Christians, members of the Christ Jesus Witness Prayer Church were attacked by a group of Hindu radicals for raising objections to placing saffron flag adjacent to and then over a church in Malkajgiri, Hyderabad, Telangana, on March 30, 2015.

In India, the saffron flag signifies victory or dominance and right-wing Hindu nationalist organizations have been using the saffron flag after destroying crosses on churches and other places of worship to symbolize the building has been turned into a Hindu temple, which ICC reported on in both September and December of 2014. This action aggressively promotes the radical Hindu nationalist ideology, called Hindutva, claiming India must become a Hindu nation.

According to local sources reached ICC, a mob of 30 Hindu radicals, led by Mr. Golla Balraju, Mr. Nagaraju, and Mr. Ramchander, attacked Christians at the church premises after the Christians raised objection against the radicals placing a saffron near the church wall. Two Christians named, P. Benjamin and Jason, were severely injured in the attack. 
The saffron flag flying over the Christ Jesus Witness Prayer Church after Hindu radicals attacked local Christians.

After beating the Christians, the Hindu radicals went to the police station to file a written complaint against the church, accusing the Christians of creating communal tension. The aggressive mob then returned to the church and moved placed the saffron flag on top of the church building. The Christians, who then went to complain to the police, were arrested and further assaulted by the police.

Christian Left Insecure by Government Cover Up

Dr. John Dayal, Official National Spokesperson of United Christian Forum, told ICC, "Mr. Modi has said everyone should feel safe in the country; but not once has he named the [Hindu radicals], perhaps he cannot. Many of the hate mongers are in his party in parliament; at least two are on his Council of Ministers. It is difficult to believe that [these radicals] do not have his permission or at least his indulgence."

Christians continue to suffer at the hands of Hindu radicals as their churches are vandalized and their communities are violently assaulted. It seems the BJP-led government not only gives impunity to these Hindu radical organizations but is also avoiding confronting the religious motivations behind these attacks, particularly those targeting the Christian minority. This cover up has left Christians both insecure and vulnerable to future attacks.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Book Review: "Believer's Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ"

Last week my good friend Dave Fergus and I read Believer's Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ, edited by Tom Schreiner and Shawn Wright (Nashville: B & H, 2006). It's a bit of an older book, but it's still to my mind the best modern statement of the arguments for believer's baptism available. 

The book begins with a foreword by Timothy George that is so moving I forgot it was only a foreword! George argues that while baptism is not a level one gospel issue over which we must divide in a substantial sense, it is yet an important issue about which we should seek biblical understanding and agreement. And for Baptists, developing a "robust doctrine of believer's baptism can serve as an antidote to the theological minimalism and atomistic individualism that prevail in many Baptist churches in our culture" (xvii). The doctrine of baptism matters because the gospel matters--surely on this all sides can agree! 

From this foundational starting point, the editors go on to offer a helpful introduction to the subject and the book, which is followed by three chapters that consider the NT teaching about baptism in the gospels, the book of Acts, and the epistles, respectively. Perhaps the key chapter of the book, written by Stephen J. Wellum, is entitled "Baptism and the Relationship Between the Covenants." This chapter tackles the issues raised by reformed thinkers, beginning with Calvin, and seeks to offer a biblical response thereto. In my mind, this chapter deals the death blow to all forms of paedobaptism (that is, infant-baptism) and demonstrates that credo-baptism (that is, baptizing only those who have consciously believed in Jesus Christ) is the only way to properly honor the text of Scripture and the gospel which baptism signifies. 

Be that as it may, the book moves on to offer chapters on the doctrine of baptism as taught by the early church fathers, the baptistic reformers, and the non-baptistic reformers. It closes out with two chapters on specific issues that will interest only specialists, and one chapter that discusses practical matters relating to baptism in the life of the local church, that is, local churches that already embrace credo-baptism. 

I am a long-time baptist by conviction rather than tradition, so I picked up this book as a convinced advocate of believer's baptism as Baptists have traditionally understood it. But I still benefited from this book for the following reasons: 

1. It helped me to sharpen my thinking about the importance and practice of believer's baptism. 

2. It helped me to understand paedobaptists with more depth of insight so that when I interface with them (ok, debate them), I can better understand their point of view and address what they actually believe. 

3. It broadened my perspective on the teaching of the church regarding baptism through the centuries. 

4. As a Pastor, it offered me some counsel that I found useful for the practice of baptism at Glory of Christ Fellowship, especially with regard to the age at which we should baptize younger people. 

5. It will now serve as a reference tool for those occasions on which I need to teach or debate the doctrine of baptism. 

I highly recommend this book and pray that the Lord will continue to use it to persuade many to come to a more biblical view of the doctrine and practice of baptism. 

Friday, May 08, 2015

Prayer and Desire

This afternoon I paused from my work for a few moments to breathe, pray and fix my eyes on Jesus Christ. To help me do that, I read a brief devotional from Andrew Murray that so moved me that I decided to reproduce it on my blog. It's not long, and I encourage you to read the whole thing. When you're done, perhaps you too can take a few minutes to breathe, pray and fix your eyes on Christ. Perhaps you too can ask Jesus to guide and magnify your desire so that you will pray in a way that's pleasing to him. May the Lord add his blessing to Mr. Murray's words. 

"Desire is the power that moves our whole world and directs the course of each person. Desire is the soul of prayer. The cause of insufficient prayer is often the lack of desire. Some may doubt this. They are sure that they have earnestly desired what they have asked. But if they judge whether their desire has been as wholehearted as God would have it, they may see that it was the lack of desire that caused the failure. 

"What is true of God is true of each of his blessings. 'If you look for me in earnest, you will find me when you seek me' (Jeremiah 29:13). We may have a strong desire for spiritual blessings. But alongside them are other desires occupying a large place in our interests. The spiritual desires are not all-absorbing. We are puzzled that our prayer is not heard. It is because God wants the whole heart. If there are desires which occupy more of our heart than He Himself, the desires that we are praying for cannot be granted. 

"We desire the gift of intercession, grace and power to pray as we should. Our hearts must give up other desires; we must give ourselves wholly to this one. By focusing on the blessedness of this grace, by believing with certainty that God will give it to us, desire may be strengthened. The first step will have been taken toward the possession of the desired blessing." 

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Duluth and Back or Bust! - An Update

This summer I plan to take a one-day bike ride from Otsego to Duluth (150 miles), rest for 1-2 days depending on how I feel, and then ride back home in one day. So yeah, 300 miles in two days of riding, a little crazy but it's a ride I've been wanting to take for several years. 

To get myself ready for the ride, I've been taking a few shorter, intense rides each week, and one longer, endurance ride. The longer rides started at 25 miles and have increased by 5 miles each week. I've taken six of them so far and am now ready for the 55 mile ride. 

The plan for this week is to saddle up with my friends Craig Prange, Kevin Gjertsen, and Jim Steiner, and ride from my house in Otsego to downtown Saint Paul. This ride is about 57 miles and begins with an 11 mile section on the road, followed by one bike trail after another. Between the first bike trail (Elk Creek Park) and downtown, we'll only be off bike trails for about 2 miles or so. It's possible to be off the trails for only 1 mile, but this would require us to ride on a dangerous section of highway for about a half-mile and I'd prefer to come home alive! 

My ride last week went very well, and I feel good and recovered from it. So I'm really looking forward to the big ride this week, and to spending some time with my pals. For now it's Saint Paul or Bust!, but in no time it'll be Duluth and Back or Bust! I can hardly wait! 

Friday, May 01, 2015

Blessings from God Depend upon God

I don't know about you, but I often feel that in order to receive blessings from God I have to feel a certain way or pray with just the right words or be in a certain place in my life. But the great prayer warrior, Andrew Murray, reminds us that our blessings from God depend on something much greater, and more stable, than our feelings or prayers or circumstances. 

"The blessing of the private place does not depend on the strong and fervent feeling with which I pray but upon the love and power of the Father to whom I entrust my needs. Remember, your Father sees and hears in secret. Go there and remain; come out with the confidence that He will reward you. Trust him for it. Depend upon him. Prayer to the Father is not in vain. He will reward you openly” (Teach Me to Pray, Bethany House, 2002, page 26). 

So let us pray in faith. Let us pray knowing that our Father is a truth-teller, and that therefore he will hear and answer us when we pray according to His will. Let us pray with the spirit of a child who assumes that her Father is on her side, and that He is disposed to bless her life. And as we learn to pray in faith, may the Lord greatly bless our lives for the glory of his name!