Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Comfort or the Cross? Cross-Lovers Needed

Hudson Taylor is one of the most important non-biblical heroes in my life. Thus, it was with joy and trembling that I read his call to cross-bearing, a call made credible by his cross-bearing life. I invite you to ponder his words with me, and more importantly, our way of life before the Lord. 

“Hudson Taylor stopped at no sacrifice in following Christ. ‘Cross-loving men are needed,’ he wrote in the midst of his labors in China, and if he could speak to us today would it not be to call us to that highest of all ambitions: ‘that I may know him, and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings’ (Phil. 3:10). Can we not hear again the tones of his quiet voice as he says: ‘There is a needs-be for us to give ourselves for the life of the world. An easy, non-self-denying life will never be one of power. Fruit-bearing involves cross-bearing. There are not two Christs—an easy-going one for easy-going Christians, and a suffering, toiling one for exceptional believers. There is only one Christ. Are you willing to abide in him, and thus to bear much fruit?’” 

From Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret (OMF Books 2010, page 177) 

Sunday, March 27, 2016

The Word, the Spirit, and Answered Prayer

In a chapter based on 1 John 5:14-15 and entitled "Our Boldness in prayer," Andrew Murray writes of the relationship between the Word of God, the Spirit of God, answered prayer, and our boldness before God. His words are simple yet penetrating, and I encourage you to join me in pondering them well. 

"Many do not understand this union of the teaching of the Word and the guidance of the Spirit, so that there is a twofold difficulty in knowing what God's will may be. Some seek the will of God by an inner feeling or conviction and want the Spirit to lead them without the Word. Others seek His will in the Word without the living leading of the Holy Spirit. The two must be united--the Word and the Spirit--so that we can know the will of God and learn to pray according to it. 

"The Word and the Spirit must be joined in our hearts. Only by their indwelling can we experience their teaching. The Word must abide in us. Our life must day by day be under its influence. Not from without but from within comes the quickening of the Word by the Spirit. Only he who yields himself entirely to the supremacy of the Word and the will of God can expect to discern what that will is and to boldly ask in prayer. He who through the Word and the Spirit lives in the will of God by doing it, will know to pray according to that will in the confidence that he hears us." 

From Teach Me to Pray, Bethany House 2002, pages 202-03.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Augustine on Enjoying God

In our times, John Piper is famous for advancing what he calls “Christian Hedonism,” that is, the biblical call to enjoy God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength. I once asked Pastor John, “If this point of view is indeed biblical, why did it take so long for someone to articulate it?” His answer was that many others had articulated it, most important of whom for him was Jonathan Edwards. But even Jonathan Edwards was far from the first to point believers in this direction. Carefully consider the words of Augustine from his classic fifth-century work, On Christian Doctrine. It’s a little hard to follow but worth the effort. 

“The true objects of enjoyment, then, are the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, who are at the same time the Trinity, one Being, supreme above all, and common to all who enjoy Him, if He is an object, and not rather the cause of all objects, or indeed even if He is the cause of all. For it is not easy to find a name that will suitably express so great excellence, unless it is better to speak in this way: The Trinity, one God, of whom are all things, through whom are all things, in whom are all things. Thus the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and each of these by Himself, is God, and at the same time they are all one God; and each of them by Himself is a complete substance, and yet they are all one substance. The Father is not the Son nor the Holy Spirit; the Son is not the Father nor the Holy Spirit; the Holy Spirit is not the Father nor the Son; but the Father is only Father, the Son is only Son, and the Holy Spirit is only Holy Spirit. To all three belong the same eternity, the same unchangeableness, the same majesty, the same power. In the Father is unity, in the Son equality, in the Holy Spirit the harmony of unity and equality; and these three attributes are all one because of the Father, all equal because of the Son, and all harmonious because of the Holy Spirit” (On Christian Doctrine, Book 1, Chapter 5).

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

We Will Make Progress in Prayer

In his book Teach Me to Pray (Bethany House, 2002; ISBN: 0-7642-2596-0), Andrew Murray offers us such a hopeful word. Please read these words carefully and then take some time to sit in the presence of Jesus and give him thanks for this amazing work which he will surely complete in us. 

Murray writes, “We can have the fullest confidence that with such a teacher [Jesus Christ] we will make good progress [in prayer]. Let us not only meditate but also pray and wait at the foot of the throne to be trained for the work of intercession—in the assurance that even with our stammering He is beautifully carrying on his work. He will breathe into us His own life, which is prayer itself. As He makes us partakers of His righteousness and of His life, He will make us partakers of His intercession. As the members of His body, as a holy priesthood, we shall take part in His priestly work of pleading and prevailing with God for men. Ignorant and feeble as we are, Lord, teach us to pray” (15).

Sunday, March 20, 2016

The Heavenly Art of Effective Prayer

In his book Teach Me to Pray (Bethany House, 2002; ISBN: 0-7642-2596-0), Andrew Murray writes, “Amid the painful consciousness of ignorance and unworthiness, and in the struggle between believing and doubting, the heavenly art of effective prayer is learned” (14). 

Oh how I love this quote! Growth in prayer is not about our strength but about God’s strength. It’s not about our perfection but about God’s perfection. It’s not about our faithfulness but about God’s faithfulness. 

And as if this was not enough, Jesus has promised to finish the work he began in us until the day he returns. In other words, he has promised to make us intercessors even as he intercedes day and night in the Father’s manifest presence. 

The heavenly art of effective prayer is born of the grace of Christ, for the glory of Christ, and for this we give him much thanks and praise!

Friday, March 18, 2016

What is the Heritage of those who Seek the Lord?

The words of David in Psalm 61:5 have been precious to me of late. He writes, “For you, O God, have heard my vows; you have given me the heritage of those who fear your name.” We don’t know specifically what was happening in David’s life when he wrote this Psalm, but it’s obvious enough that in a time of difficulty and suffering the Lord comforted and delivered so that he learned anew the nature and certainty of his heritage.

Since David was the King of Israel we might be tempted to conclude that his heritage had to do with land, possessions, position, power, and the like. However, as we carefully examine his own words, and the NT teaching about his words, it becomes obvious that the Lord himself was David’s heritage.

For those who fear the name of the Lord, and seek his face in the midst of life’s difficulties and sufferings, the Lord not only sustains and delivers in his time and way, but also grants them the unfathomable joy of deep, satisfying, and eternal fellowship with him. And this fellowship is a much better heritage than any amount of physical property or social position, for it is truly satisfying and eternal.

So may the Lord give us hearts to seek after the great heritage of the Lord today. May he give us eyes to see and hearts to rejoice in the fact that he himself is the great Treasure of all who seek him.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

A Strange but Glorious Joy - AN UPDATE

Two days ago I re-posted a blog I wrote in July 2014 about our need to move—again! In that blog I mentioned the strange and glorious joy of receiving assurance from the Lord in prayer and living with the joy of his answer, even when we have yet to see his answer with our eyes.

By God’s grace, Kim and I lived with that joy for fourteen months until the day we heard that the house had sold and we had 28 days to find a new place and move. For several reasons, we decided it was best for us to lease a new place, however, that is easier said than done in our neck of the woods. We had to stay in a particular price range and we had to find a place that would welcome our beloved dog, Bella.

When we first began to look, there was literally nothing on the market—not a single place within 15 miles that matched our criteria. But during a meeting with some colleagues at a local non-profit, I said, “You watch, the Lord will provide for the glory of his name.”

And sure enough, the next day when I looked again there were three places. One of them didn’t work out. Another of them technically would have worked but the place was a wreck and the landlord didn’t seem interested in addressing some serious issues with the house. We drove away from that place praying, “Lord, we’ll go there if you call us but please open another door.” The third place, which at first we thought we would not like, turned out to be the place God had provided for us.

It’s a little over half the size of the house we were leaving, which was fine with us, but it had about 3 times the yard…and the yard is filled with big, tall trees and lots of bushes and flowers and feels something like a retreat center to us. Kimmy, who loves gardening, was sold right away, and so was I. We took another trip to the house with Rachel and she liked it, too, so we sat in our car and prayed, “Lord, we want to live here but we want your will even more, so please lead the way.”

And he indeed led the way! Long story short, all the doors opened, and we were able to move in on October 1, 2015. The Lord provided for the glory of his name.

And now we see in part what he saw from a distance. We see the house. We see where we park our cars. We see where we walk the dog, and where she chases squirrels every day of her life! We see where our furniture goes, although we still have yet to decorate all of the rooms. We see the places where we love to spend time with the Lord, and where I love to work on sermons and doctoral project and books and blogs like this one.

We now see with our eyes what the Lord saw almost two years ago when we prayed and he gave us assurance. Now our joy is not so much in the place the Lord provided as it is in the God who provided and taught us to rest in him and trust in him and rejoice in him while we wanted.

O my friends, trust the Lord! Pray and ask for his help and provision. Stay in his presence until you know he’s heard your plea, and then you will know the joy about which I write. And when you see his answer with your eyes, you’ll rejoice more in Him than in “it.”

Indeed, may the Lord continually grant us the gift of that strange and glorious joy of assurance in prayer; of faith to lay hold of what our eyes cannot see; of heartfelt thanksgiving to our God before and after the request has been granted; of knowing that despite what we don’t know, we know the One who knows. 

All praise and glory and honor be to his holy and happy name, amen! 

Monday, March 14, 2016

A Strange but Glorious Joy – A REPOST

In July of 2014 I posted the following blog. Now that we're getting settled in our fairly new place, I thought I'd repost it today and then give an update in couple of days. So here we go...

Kim and I are in a season of transition. Due to some health and financial problems, we have to move from our home, get into a more affordable living situation, and otherwise reduce our expenses as much as possible. We’re staying in the same area, and staying at Glory of Christ Fellowship, but we have to move. We’re okay with this, life happens and God is good, but it would be less than honest to say that this season has been easy.

For example, though we’ve only lived in our house for six years, we’ve lived here longer than anywhere else in our lives. We’ve both been transient people for a long time, but now that we’re in our late 40s, it’s starting to wear on us a bit. And furthermore, we’ve made some significant advances with our neighbors, most of whom don’t believe in Jesus, and we’re sad to have to walk away from them before we see with our eyes the fulfillment of our prayers.

But here we stand, knowing that our gracious God is calling us to leave (again), not knowing where he’s calling us to land, and not knowing the details of what life will be like once we get there. We’re in a season of transition, of limbo, of mystery, of the unknown

And we’re in a season that holds much potential for a strange but glorious joy, if only we’ll have eyes to see and hearts to receive.

I find it difficult to explain what I mean, but let me give it a shot. When we have a serious and genuine need and we bring it to Jesus in prayer – not briefly and superficially but regularly and fervently – he will often grant us an assurance of his answer such that we experience a joy that’s usually reserved for those who see the answer with their eyes. To be sure, we do experience a sweet joy when God answers our prayers and allows us to receive what he’s supplied. But it seems to me that we experience a sweeter joy, a strange and glorious joy, when God gives us the assurance that he’s answered our prayers without allowing us to receive what he’s supplied – at least not yet. I find it nearly impossible to describe what it’s like to have such confidence in God’s answer, that we’re filled with joy before we see God’s answer.

When I was little, my daddy would sometimes tell me that he was going to give me something in a day or a week or a month. I believed him. I trusted him. I rested in his word. I had peace and joy in waiting, because I knew that my daddy would provide what he promised, in his time and in his way. And he did.

These experiences were but the smallest glimpse of the strange and glorious joy that’s ours each time we pray, receive assurance, and wait on our Father’s timing. And I think that the essence of this joy is love, trust, and the unshakable hope that our heavenly Father will provide what he has promised, in his time and in his way.

Indeed, Kim and I have no idea where we’re going to live, and how it’s all going to work out, but we know the One who knows. We know that he sees our new home. He sees where we’ll park our cars and walk our dog. He sees where all of our furniture, decorations, dishes, and things will go. He sees the place or two where Kim and I will spend the majority of our prayer time, and surely he rejoices at the thought of meeting us there.

We know next to nothing, he knows everything, and the strange and glorious joy we’re experiencing right now comes from resting in what he knows rather than stressing in what we don’t know. O how the words of Paul in Romans 15:13 have ministered to my heart in recent days, please savor them with me: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing [literally, “in faithing”], so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”

Indeed, may he do that, not only for Kim and I, but for all who call on his name and rest in him by faith. I look forward to writing a follow up to this blog in a few months and giving glory to our Father for all that he’s done!

Friday, March 11, 2016

The Beginning of the End - Day Four

Ministry & Missions Research Class, March 2016
In some ways yesterday was just another day. We studied qualitative research methods and looked at so many theories, strategies, and charts that by the end of the day I felt as though my brain literally couldn't take in another piece of information! It's amazing how sitting and studying for nine hours, even with a few breaks in between, can exhaust a person. 

In other ways, yesterday was a monumental day. It was my last day of classes at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and since I started in 2009 that feels pretty big. It was also Dr. Martin Crain's last day of classroom teaching after a seventeen-year run, and I can't explain how privileged I feel to have been part of his final classroom session (Marty's the man in the middle, sporting the grey beard and maroon shirt). 

Further, yesterday was the last bit of instruction I will receive before embarking on the eighteen-month process of researching, writing, and defending my final project. Today has been a day of reflection, synthesis, and planning, and at several points along the way I've gotten that "pinch me because this can't be real feeling." 

It's kind of strange that after so long I'm both sad to be done with classwork and glad to be done with classwork. 

Well, anyhow, enough about me. I've had a wonderful time today thinking about the nature of preaching in the life of the church, memorizing the rest of John 1, and worshiping Jesus along with the amazing musicians at Sovereign Grace Music (via mp3s). I'm so eager to get home and see my Kimmy and Rachel tonight, and to awake tomorrow to serve Jesus in the northewest Twin Cities which I love. 

Thanks so much for praying for me this week; it means more than you know. 

Thursday, March 10, 2016

The Beginning of the End - Day Three

Yesterday was the beginning of the “second half” of my final week at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. I didn’t sleep well the night before and thus I had to fight to stay awake during the day, but the Lord was good and faithful and helped me at every turn. 

Our class time started with a very helpful devotional from 2 Peter 3:14-18. The most helpful aspect of it for me was putting the command to “grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ” in the fuller context of the chapter. When put in context, this famous decree is a call to let go of the world and the things of the world to pursue the higher, greater things of Christ and his Word and his world. Indeed, as Peter says in v 14, “Be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace.” Be intense; be serious; be devoted; be focused; be happy to know Christ and to feast on Christ every day of your life. 

Again, this was a very helpful call, both for the enormous project that lies ahead of me and for life in Christ in general. 

From there we covered many topics having to do with literature reviews and what is called qualitative research (interviewing, observing, etc.), and we closed out the day in small groups talking about our particular projects and how we might improve, shape, and execute them. When the day was done, I was ready to be done, but it was a good day. 

After a hearty nap, I met up with ten fellow students and went to Chicago’s famous Portillo’s and had a feast and lots of good fellowship. Then I crashed! 

It was a very good day and I’m grateful to the Lord for it. It’s hard to believe that my formal time at TEDS is fast coming to an end, but I am grateful for the time I’ve spent here. Hope you all have a wonderful Thursday! 

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

The Beginning of the End - Day Two

Yesterday was a good but straightforward day. In class we covered the intricacies of quantitative research, the challenges of dealing with statistics, and advanced literature search techniques. 

However, the highlight of the day was not in but out of class. When the class sessions were done, I traveled to the north side of Chicago (Humbolt Park) to visit with my friends and fellow church-planters, Craig and Elizabeth Priestly. After a nice dinner and brief time of prayer, Craig and I headed out to a vigil where a few community leaders gathered to commemorate the life of a young man who was recently shot to death, and to pray and plan for an end to the violence that has recently plagued this area. 

In fact, last fall, while some of these same people were gathered at a similar vigil in the same neighborhood, someone was shot to death right across the street, scattering the participants and ending the vigil. And in fact, while we were gathered, 5-6 shots were fired a block or so away from us. 

Parts of Chicago are war zones--literally war zones--and so we gathered in faith, hope, and prayer, knowing that the Lord hears those who humbly call upon his name. 

Please join me in lifting up the precious souls who not only visit this neighborhood but who live and work for a better future there. The Lord hasn't called everyone to live in places like Humbolt Park but he has called us to be one Body and to care for one another and pray for one another. 

Also, please pray for Craig and Elizabeth as they labor in faith to plant a beacon of hope in this neighborhood. They have many crucial decisions to make at this time and they need guidance from the Lord and support from prayer warriors and wise men and women of God. 

Lord Jesus, please let your light shine in Humbolt Park for the glory of your name and the blessing of those who reside there. Amen. 

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

The Beginning of the End - Day One

As I mentioned in my post Sunday afternoon, I'm at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (TEDS) this week going through a week-long workshop designed to commence the final phase of my Doctor of Ministry degree. Since it's my last full-week here, I've been trying to take note of everything, to see and remember what the Lord is doing, and I saw so much yesterday that it's hard to take in and process in such a brief time!

Having said that, two things stood out. At the beginning of every week-long very session at TEDS, the staff has brand new students stand and say a few words and they have finishing students stand and say a few words. This week, ten of us were finishing and the one word that stuck out to me from all that was said was "remember." The man who shared this word mentioned Deuteronomy 32:7, "Remember the days of old; consider the years of many generations; ask your father, and he will show you, your elders, and they will tell you." So, in short, I'm trying as best as I can to notice and remember the big things this week; to see and honor what the Lord has done and is doing. 

Second, Dr. Martin Crain, the current Director of the program who is retiring after nineteen years in this position, shared a devotional from Ephesians 5:13-21 and highlighted the theme of wisdom. He noted: (1) Wisdom engages all of life with the light of Christ; (2) Wisdom takes opportunities; it seeks the Lord and seizes the moment; and (3) Wisdom maintains priorities, and always puts this first--"be filled with the Holy Spirit." 

It was a real privilege to hear Dr. Crain's final, formal message to the students, and it was fuel on the fire for some things Jesus is doing in my life right now. 

The class session was great, although I'll leave the details aside, after which several of us went out to dinner and talked theology, sought to share the gospel with a few people, and just enjoyed each other's company. I got in late feeling very tired and overjoyed in the Lord, and so I awake today eager to seek and serve Jesus, learn from my class session, and then visit a friend in inner-city Chicago tonight. 

For now, would you please continue in prayer for my family and me? It really means a lot, so thanks in advance! 

Sunday, March 06, 2016

Heading to Trinity Evangelical Divinity School - Will You Pray with Me?

Even as this blog-post goes live, I'm on the road to Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, IL (just north of Chicago). This week is the beginning of the end, if you will, for the class I am taking is designed to commence the final project for the Doctor of Ministry degree. Seminaries avoid calling this project a dissertation because it's different in nature from what Ph.D. candidates are required to do, but be that as it may, the project has to be implemented in my actual ministry and then reported on via a 200-300 page written document. 

I'll write more about the specifics of the project later in the week when one of my three proposals gets approved, but for now I simply want to say that I'll be writing about my time at Trinity each day this week and that I'd really appreciate your prayers in this final phase of a seven-year journey. Specifically...

1. Please pray that my eyes would be fixed on Christ, that I would delight in his presence and promises, and that I'd be awake to what he wants to do in and through me this week. 

2. Please pray for my professor, Dr. Martin Crain, as he teaches the class and leads the Doctor of Ministry program. 

3. Please pray for my fellow students and me as we discern the specific project the Lord would have us do in the coming 1-2 years. 

4. Please pray for Kimmy and Rachel in my absence, that the Lord would protect, provide, and prosper them in faith and hope. 

Thanks so much for your partnership in prayer. I look forward to writing about what the Lord does this week. 

Friday, March 04, 2016

Fervor in Prayer and Fruitfulness in Life

Yesterday I read a most-interesting quote from the nineteenth-century evangelist, Charles Finney. He said that whereas he had never seen someone pray so fervently that he sweat drops of blood (as did Jesus), he had seen someone pray so fervently that his nose bled. 

Wow! I'm not sure how that worked, but as I pondered this quote an important thought came to mind: as is our fervor in prayer so shall be our fruitfulness in life. 

We may not pray so intensely that our noses bleeds, but are we willing to sacrifice anything to press long and hard into the courts of the Lord? Are we willing to make the time to read our Father's will and discern our Father's heart and pray according to his purposes and promises for whatever he brings to mind? 

These are open questions but this much we should know: as is our fervor in prayer so shall be our fruitfulness in life.