Friday, July 22, 2011

My Face in the Crowd

Sometimes in the familiarity of something we talk a lot about I sometimes I miss my face in crowd. This morning I was struck by the sheer obscenity of the cross--the excruciating pain of it--and the faces in the crowd.

For instance, when the soldiers come to arrest Jesus (John 18:10) Peter tries to kill the one of the guy and ends up cutting off the right ear of the soldier--his name is Malchus. Malchus got his ear healed by the one he came to arrest (Luke 22:51). I've been opposed to Jesus and healed by him on the same day too. I am Malchus.

And then Peter denies ever knowing Jesus publicly (v. 18). One moment he's seemingly heroic, the next--he's a coward. How cold must that warm fire have felt in that moment? I've known cold moments like that. I am Peter.

The Pharisees take Jesus to Pilate to get him killed but don't go into the headquarters for fear of being defiled and unable to eat Passover. How utterly blind to miss the whole point of Passover--that Jesus is lamb. I'm blind like that too.

When Jesus is bleeding and dying on the cross the soldiers value only his tunic and cast lots for it. A seemless garment. That's what was of value. Wow. Somebody took home the garment of Jesus and left him dying on the cross. I've been that guy. Well...really...I am that guy being healed by the One who both died on that tree for me and rose again.

Somebody said "familiarity breeds contempt." Finding my face accurately in the crowd helps me to be amazed by this Jesus who demonstrated excruciating love for me to bring me to God (1 Peter 3:18).

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

What We All Have in Common with Rob Bell

I've not read Rob Bell's latest "Love Wins" so I'm not picking a fight with a book I've not explored. I have however read some reviews, watched the video, and been a Christian for a lot of years in the religious South. I've grown accustomed to the results of losing the historic precision regarding words in the Bible like "hell," "wrath," "judgment," and intentional language like "only" and "all" and "never."

I'd like to admit that I have something in common with Rob Bell.

Not only am I born a sinner in desperate need of the grace of God for forgiveness and to be put in a right relationship with God through faith alone--I also struggle with the words of Scripture, the theology surrounding those words, and the difference it makes in my life.

If we're honest we should go ahead and more openly admit our own struggle with the idea of hell. For those who are new to the topic--hell is historically understood as the eternal wrath of God against sinners who reject Christ. It's everlasting (infinite), conscious (not a ceasing to exist), torment (agony). All the apostles warned against this wrath of God that all people deserve--and Jesus spoke the loudest of all in the gospels.

This doctrine is shocking. It wakes you up. You start to ask questions like, "okay, I get that I'm a sinner but is it that bad?"

The answer from the Bible?


It's that bad.

I once had a theology professor that said you get at understanding the love and grace of God two ways--both have to do with the gravity of what our sin deserves. You get at that gravity by either looking at the cross--or eternal hell. Both have to do with the wrath of God--both have to do with just consequence of sin. One involves a substitute. The other the absence of one.

But the truth is that we all struggle with the words of Scripture. I'm not talking about struggling in the sense of denying those truths--but the struggle that comes from not denying those truths. It's the difference between believing something and living out those implications.

For instance. I believe in the doctrine of hell. I believe in the wrath of God. I don't believe it ever ends--because I believe that all crimes against the purity of God are everlasting and infinite crimes worthy of nothing less than eternal punishment. I believe that only a love and life as pure as the only Son could take away the curse of sin--I believe he experienced the wrath of God for all who trust in him. I believe I've been rescued by this amazing love through the gift of faith.

I also believe that most people in my world don't believe in the consequence of sin, the wrath of God, the doctrine of hell, or the need for repentance and a following faith in Jesus alone.

This should break me. I mean really...really break me.

This--primarily for the magnitude of God's love in Jesus. I should be broken over my sin. Broken over my pride and stupid love for stuff God hates. Broken by his personal love to hang on nails to make me holy and cleanse me.

But also that others know this love. The sheer thought of what Rob Bell criticizes (i.e. "millions and millions") of people suffering in hell can move you two ways. On one extreme you can question the grace and love of God that such a horror exist--even denying Scripture--moving the direction of inclusivism or universalism. On the other hand, you can better understand the depth of his love and mercy--the power of the gospel and our need to proclaim it to the lost and make disciples.

Denying can happen in more than one way.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Tim Keller: 5 Things to Prepare for Revival

In this post and this post I shared Tim Keller's thoughts on revival. Here are 5 things he said are common to any move of God that could be described as an "intensification" of the "ordinary" work of the Holy Spirit.

1. Extraordinary Prayer--Every revival has this in common. This corporate praying is kingdom-centered, repenting, and prevailing. It evidences people coming to a King with large petitions asking for God to do great things--extraordinary things.

2. Recovery of the Gospel--Edwards saw revival when he recovered "justification by faith alone." Keller made it clear that "the average person doesn't get the gospel." He challenged us to consider that most people don't get the gospel in "the slightest." When people realize the depth of grace--they come alive in new ways.

3. Transformed Formidable Leaders--Individuals catch on fire personally and become leaders. Every revival shows that leaders grasp the fullness of the gospel and have a new boldness.

4. Experience Meetings--This was a new idea for me. Keller said in almost every revival you have meeting "venues" where people have an opportunity to "process" what God is doing in their lives. Venues for talking through experiences matter in revival.

5. Creativity--In every revival you see some new revolutionary (and often initially scandalous) means of getting the gospel out. For Whitefield and Wesley it was outdoor preaching--stunning for the times. For the rival in NY City--it was a business man starting a prayer meeting in the middle of the day--unheard of and radical for the time.

What Motivates You Most?

"For Paul, this substitution, Christ bearing our penalty in our place, is the essence of the atonement. Certainly, he celebrates the cross as a victory over the forces of evil on our behalf (Col. 2:15) and as a motivating revelation of the love of God toward us (2 Cor 5:14-15), but if it had not been an event of penal substitution, it would not for him have been either of these. As Gal 2:20 declares, his life of responsive faith was wholly formed and driven by the knowledge that his Savior had revealed divine love to him by giving himself to die on the cross in order to save him." (J.I. Packer, In My Place Condemned He Stood)

Friday, March 18, 2011

Tim Keller: 3 Marks of Revival

In a previous post I shared Tim Keller's definition of revival as an "intensification of the ordinary operations of the work of the Spirit." More than (but not minimizing) supernatural manifestations (healings, gifts, miracles) the intensification is mostly characterized by an increase in conversions, conviction, personal assurance and awareness of God and can happen for a varied length of time.

Keller said that 3 things happen when you see this intensification or "revival." Regardless of time period or geography you will typically see...

1. Sleepy Christians wake up. Believers suddenly become aware of God's presence and power in a new way--new waters of faith spring from already regenerate hearts.

2. Nominal Christians get converted. Keller said you almost always hear of someone who "thought" they were a Christian suddenly realize they were not. This usually spills over into an even greater outpouring of God's Spirit. He said it's usually not the clergy or spiritual leaders that serve as catalysts for revival--but the stories of a few nominal Christians that come to life for the first time and give witness to it.

3. Unconverted get attracted. In revival the unconverted are attracted to what they see happening. They see past their objections to the church because of the undeniable life manifested in the body of Christ. They are attracted to the new and fresh witness of the church.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Japanese Missionary: Pray for No Panic

Bob Drews serves at MTW Japan. He and his family live near Ichihara City. He asks that God would hold back panic both among the Japanese and around the world.

"2 AM here, prepping a truck for run north with water, food, fuel. Pray for our drivers & team. Pray for the workers at plant & nuclear doesn't get worse. Pray there won't be panic, as the situation here in Chiba is fine, but panic seems to be spreading in the US & international press and it's affecting our ability to get the job done. And, yes, more aftershocks tonight. Still safe and working, but more and more inquiries about evacuating. We don't need that!"

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

How to Change the World After Retirement

I had a fascinating conversation with a man today on while visiting my parents in Burnet Texas.

A friend from their baptist church--we went to pick up a tiller from him so my mom can do some gardening. His name is Mr. Zimmerman and in a very short time I was able to hear some of his story that was stirring and amazing.

He is about 75 years old. While he showed us the ins and outs of his tiller--and jumped in and out of my dads pick up truck like a guy half his age--he told us how the Lord gave this property to he and his wife about 20 years ago.

Having raised 3 of their own he and his wife sensed the Lord leading them to "child care" ministry and worked for a couple years at a Buckner camp that has since shut down. At this facility they served as foster parents for many children.

They wanted to keep serving in this vital ministry and aquired property in Burnet (through the Lord moving on someone in the church) to continue this ministry. He said over these years they saw many children come through their home--about 75 total!

He didn't paint the scenario as glamorous. He mentioned one child threatened to stab them at one point. One mentally retarted boy came to them after severe physical abuse (being hung and whipped) that they felt very inadequate to care for. However, this has been rewarding as the Lord met them with every challenge and he has some boys that still call him dad.

"I've lived long enough to prove that Rom 8:28 is true."

I didn't ask Mr. Zimmerman this--but I don't think that he regrets laying his life down for these 75 kids over the years--nor do I think he's tempted to wonder if he made a difference--or spent his retirement well.
We can change lives as we lay ours down.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

"All Religion is Man-Made"

We prayed as couples and Josh and I went across the street to make some friends tonight. The party was still going strong. We were surprised by the immediate shouts of "neighbor!" when we stepped into the backyard. We had some great conversation with guys--at some points we had a sense that seeds were being sown. But after further reflection we both agreed that the most important thing we did tonight was simply be a presence of Christ to folks.

I will share a sound byte of Josh Jordan's conversation...

[Friend] "All religion is man-made."

[Josh] "If you believe there is a God you've got to believe that at least one religion is not man-made."

[Friend] agreeing...

[Josh] "Don't you think that if there is a good God that made you--living for Him would be the greatest thing?"

Josh went on to communicate that because we've been separated from God--Jesus died to help us be reconciled to Him. The conversations went in several directions--loops and spins--but in all we experienced God's help in building relationships and scattering seed.

How Do you Evaluate an Open Door?

Today I'm visiting a friend Josh Jordan in Seguin. It's about 8:30pm right now of a wonderful day of reconnecting and seeing the city as well as San Antonio.

Josh has some great neighbors.

At 9am his next door neighbor was already getting the grill ready while while our kids were playing on the swings. When we got back from San Antonio the music was going loud--but because they had been in Spanish--it wasn't a big deal. But by the time we decided to grill we were hearing Sir-Mix-a-Lot and 80's Salt-N-Peppa.

Nevertheless. His neighbor thanked us for our patience as they were celebrating a family birthday. He insisted through the fence that we come over and get some beans--finally walking over to the house and bringing us a plate to enjoy. He then said, "you need to come over. We're having good conversation."

trusting God for an open door...

Friday, March 11, 2011

Missionary Account of Japan Tsunami

Joey Zorina is a missionary in Japan. This is his account of the earthquake that is rocking Japan right now.

"We were praying fervently this morning, not knowing what that was for. I believe He had us prepared.

The North got the hardest hit. It is literally smashed by... both the earthquake and tsunami. We're safe & sound here in Nagoya. 8.9 magnitude quake shook Northern Japan. Tokyo had .5 or 6 experience. The aftershocks kept our apartment moving for a while. We felt dizzy because of the aftershock. It was pretty long even here. There are Tsunami warnings in Portuguese, Korean, English & Japanese in the T.V now. We live in the Aichi area. Tsunami of 2 metres high is expected along the coast. We should be safe since we're further up. I see houses burning right now because of gas leak in the areas hardest hit."

Pray for Joey and All Nations Fellowship that God will protect them in these days and empower them to glorify him through compassion and boldness in the days ahead.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Tim Keller Definition of Revival

I recently went with a friend to an Anglican church planting conference in Plano to hear Tim Keller speak. Not knowing exactly what his topic was going to be I was surprised by his topic being revival.

His message was "Marks of Revival and Spiritual Renewal"

He opened with a testimony of how he came out of the Jesus Movement of the 1970s and referenced the Asbury Revival of 1970. From there he gave a definition of revival and how he experienced revival in planting Redeemer from the start. Here's his definition. I will give his points in future posts.

What is revival? "Revival is an intensification of the ordinary operations of the work of the Holy Spirit."

In other words--all that the Spirit does in converting, convicting, reminding, assuring is intensified--and this intensifying of the Spirits work can happen over a long duration of time, a short time, a season of time--and even be given to a specific geographical location.

Keller experienced this intensifying work of the Spirit in the first 18 months of the church being planted in NY. For 18 months to 2 years they experienced an unusual number of people come to faith--around 200 people.

They have seen many come to faith since then as well--but not with the same degree of intensity. He likened this moment of revival to Spurgeon's ministry which in total saw many hundreds come to faith in Christ--but uniquely and intensely from the years 1857-60.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Eternal Worth of a Soul

We were walking in down the streets of DC on an excursion day after a conference when it hit me.

It wasn't the first time I've considered it--but maybe the first time I ever mentioned it to my wife and as I shared the thought out loud the truth of it sunk deeper--even a bit surprising. My own voice convicting my calloused heart.

It happened as we were passing a homeless man who was sunken over--asleep in the middle of the day. I wish I could describe him but I don't remember details. I just remember the contrast of his sleeping sadness amidst the busyness of the streets. A breathing still frame lifted from a feature film.

I was reminded of the words of Christ, "For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? (Matt. 16:26)."

Though we just spent hours looking at priceless works of art in the Smithsonian American Art Museum--and peeked at the 112 carat Hope Diamond--this man surpasses them all.

In fact--Jesus says take all that the world considers valuable--and throw in the world, the stars, the billions of galaxies, and all the unexplored treasures of the known creation and they don't hold up to this man sleeping on the sidewalk next to the trash.

Note the words, "the whole world" and "what shall a man give...?"

Answer? Nothing.


My best answer that convicted me even as I shared with my wife is that in the same way we place value on duration and uniqueness--Jesus places value on the duration of and uniqueness of a created soul.

The planets will wear out. The farthest star that burns light-years away will eventually burn out. The Hope Diamond will eventually turn to ash. But when the farthest light goes out--the nameless man's soul will keep going--eternal as ever. It will never cease to exist.

Our souls are eternal. Priceless. Meaningful. Significant. Never to go out once breathed into creation. This is true for the most unimpressive life--the most difficult person--the smelliest homeless man. This is true for you and me.

If we truly understood that--we would likely step out of the museums and stare at the man. We would muse over the significance of his soul--the everlasting nature of a something in the middle of everything that won't last a day in forever.

How much is the man worth who has trash blowing on him?


Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Sunday School Teacher who led Moody to Christ

Most people have heard of D.L. Moody. He was used by God to lead hundreds to Christ through the course of his ministry in the late 19th century.

But have you heard of Edward Kimball?

Edward Kimball was the lay Sunday School teacher who lead D.L. Moody to Christ when Moody was an 18 year old shoe salesman in Boston.

Moody visited his Sunday School class and was won over to the middle-age man when he rescued him from the embarrassment of not being able to find the gospel of John (he was thumbing through the Old Testament).

Shortly after, Kimball "felt constrained to go call on Dwight Moody and inquire about the condition of his soul." Although Kimball felt the Lord leading him, he feared the encounter and was so absorbed with debating whether or not he should actually go talk to Moody that he past the store and had to circle back.

Mustering up the courage he decided to "have it over at once" and talk to Moody. While Moody was shelving shoes Kimball remembered "I went up to him and put my hand on his shoulder, and as I leaned over...I made my plea, and I feel that it was really a weak one. I don't know just what the words I used...I simply told him of Christ's love for him and the love Christ wanted in return."

How did it go? How did God use his weak presentation of the gospel?

Moody describes how this man's love was used to lead him to Christ:

"I recollect that my teacher came around behind the counter of the shop I was at work in, and put his hand upon my shoulder, and talked to me about Christ and my soul. I had not felt that I had a soul till then. I said to myself: 'this is a very strange thing. Here is a man who never saw me till lately, and he is weeping over my sins, and I never shed a tear for them.' But I understand it now, and know what it is to have a passion for men's souls and weep over their sins. I don't remember what he said, but I can feel the power of that man's hand on my shoulder tonight. It was not long after that I was brought into the Kingdom of God." (A Passion for Souls, Lyle Dorsett, pg. 47)

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Prayer is Mission-Critical...

We just started a book on our pastoral team called "Taking Hold of God" by Joel Beeke. So far it is very good.

As I seek to live in a God-honoring way--I am all-too-often tempted to believe that prayer is an important part of the day--a needed focus of life--but not mission-critical.

I'm hoping to decrease this thought in my life.

One thing that jumped out at me in the first chapter is the statement, "for...Luther, the reformation was about how the church prays." He quotes Luther, "Prayer is a difficult matter and hard work. It is far more difficult than preaching the Word or performing other official duties in the church. When we are preaching we are more passive than active; God is speaking through us, and our teaching is His work. This is the reason why it is also very rare."

I find this to be very true in my life. I am often tempted to believe prayer is a duty disconnected to other very important things. Like a kid that wants to hurry up and eat so he can go play---the bigger work is often viewed outside--away from the quiet--dictated by my "list." I'm seeking a more robust prayer life (and seeking the seeking therein) to live in active trust upon a loving Father.