Monday, July 30, 2012

Forever Changed The Way I See This World

You know what a tilt-a-whirl is?

It's that ride at a carnival where you get into a vehicle with a few friends & the vehicle immediately starts to spin around at an incredible rate of speed.  Oh, and while it's spinning, the vehicle itself is also revolving around a fixed point in the center of the ride.

Kind of like planet earth.

N.D. Wilson's book is a collection of "notes" that he's taken while enjoying this wild, crazy ride we call our world.

This book has forever changed the way I look at this world.  And it has also deeply enriched the wonder and awe I have for the One who spoke this ride into existence.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Bigger Than Themselves

Tomorrow morning at DPC we'll be looking at Psalm 2, which is printed above for anyone who would like to go ahead & get started.

The book of Psalms is probably my favorite book of the Bible.  Each and every one of the 150 Psalms is so much "bigger than itself."

What do I mean by that?...

Well, on one level -- when God inspired the original Psalmist to write a Psalm, the Psalmist found that the Psalm applied perfectly to his own situation.  It helped him pray his way through whatever was going on in his life at that time.  It was a godly response to the thing in front of him.

But on the next level -- that inspired prayer / worship song then became a "window into the life of faith" for all of God's people, both individually and corporately (as a nation).  Whatever kind of "moment" they were in the midst of -- wisdom, gratitude, worship, grief, confession, repentance, faith, heartbreak, joy, anger, fear, temptation, doubt, depression, etc. -- God had now given them a way to see it, sing it, pray it, enter into it, and come out on the other side in triumph.

On a third level -- when Jesus himself lived the life of faith perfectly before his Father, he prayed the Psalms!  More on that in a future post...

On a fourth level -- you and I have been given this great gift as well, and it still fits perfectly.  Your Psalter (that big song & worship & prayer book that God put right in the very center & heart of your Bible) is your "window into the life of faith."

Do you want to learn the habits and dispositions and features and beliefs of the life of faith in all of its rawness and joy and deep reality?  Then learn to pray and sing and worship through the Psalms.

That's why God gave this gift to his people.

"Still today the Old Testament book of Psalms gives great power for faith and life.  This is simply because it preserves a conceptually rich language about God and our relationships to him.  If you bury yourself in Psalms, you emerge knowing God and understanding life.
And that is by no means a matter, as some suggest, of the 'poetic effect' of the great language.  No mere emotional lift is involved.  What makes the language great and provides the emotional lift is chiefly its picture of God and of life.  We learn from the psalms how to think and act in reference to God.  We drink in God and God's world from them.  They provide a vocabulary for living Godward, one inspired by God himself.  They show us who God is, and that expands and lifts and directs our minds and hearts."
~Dallas Willard~

I once had someone tell me they weren't terribly interested in learning to pray or sing or "live" the Psalms within the life of their church because they liked the way they prayed and sang and lived now.

I want to pray and sing and live the Psalms because -- like the Psalms themselves -- I desperately want and need to become so much bigger than I am.  I need to become more than what I am.

And God has given me (and you!) the Psalms so that we might grow -- grow into more than what we presently are.

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Life and Death of a Church

"The life and death of a church depends on how much its members are willing to proclaim the gospel to the world.  If its ministers are satisfied with merely performing their functions and counseling religious people, if its members confess their faith as far as it is socially acceptable, then church will grow more and more into a sterile institution that is far from the living church of the New Testament."

~Eduard Schweizer

Thursday, July 26, 2012

one of the greatest missionary reports ever

Several weeks ago I met one of the most interesting and "alive" men I've ever met in my entire life.  Then he became a friend.  Then he became a good friend.  Then he left for another country.

The man is Sean DeMars.  He and his wife Amber and their daughter Patience have been called of God to take the gospel of Christ to a beautiful but remote & unreached people in far away Peru.  Below is his most recent missionary report.  But I warn you... the report is just as funny and "earthy" and faithful and challenging and colorful as Sean is himself.

Please join me in praying for the DeMars.  And if you'd like to receive their updates yourself or support them in any way, let me know.

Journal Updates

Hello again, friends. We pray that all is well with everyone back in the states. We pray that God is richly blessing you in the growing knowledge of Himself. Ah, where to begin?

We are now in Iquitos, a city in northern Peru...smack-dab in the middle of the Amazon. We are staying with a local Pastor/Evangelist named Jorge. He and his family have been gracious beyond measure. Their house is unlike anything I have ever seen before; unique doesn’t even begin to describe it. The world is so amazing, I regret spending twenty five years of my life living in such a tiny corner of it.

Friends, in thinking about what we ought to write about, we are often overwhelmed. When we set out to write our updates, we feel like we are trying to pick and choose between hundreds of amazing, interesting and dreadful things that we want to share with you. So, with that in mind, we’ve decided to change the format of our updates. From now on, we will be keeping a running diary. This diary will be very transparent. It will be a running monologue of events, thoughts, hopes, prayers, etc. We think it will not only allow us to share more of our lives with you, but it will also allow you to see what we see, and feel what we feel.

And the final reason we are approaching this thing from a different angle: We have limited internet access. Therefore, it will be much more expedient for us to keep a diary on our laptop, on a daily basis, and then copy + paste when we finally get internet access.

Today is Sunday, July 8. 

book of the day: Wrestling with Einstein (I think, I don’t have the book near me)

We went to church with Jorge, the local pastor and evangelist. It was a very interesting experience. The music was absolutely beautiful. Really. All of the songs had so much flavor. The texture of the music was so rich. We couldn’t sing along, but it was still enjoyable.

Still Sunday, the time is 2000.

 I just got done eating a wonderful meal (rice again! Yay!) I had a hard time eating due to the fact that 2 minutes prior to supper being called, I was attempting to break up a fight between 9 of the local guys. They were all drunk. I don’t remember all that happened, really. I do remember 2 guys yelling at each other...for a while. So long in fact that I really didn’t expect anything to happen. I thought they were going to go their separate ways when, all of a sudden, one of the gentlemen attempted to punch the other. Within a matter of seconds, it was an all out nine man brawl. I ran from the porch and was immediately disoriented. I tried to grab one guy when the guy next to me fell and was jumped on by three other guys. I went to break them up when, all of a sudden, the pitbull and golden retriever next to me began to fight. The pitbull ripped off the golden retrievers cheek. Finally I grabbed one guy (who smelled like a brewery), pulling him off a pile of guys. He swung around (I’m guessing to hit me), saw how big I was, and just walked away. At this point things really got out of hand so I just stepped aside.

Patience has begun to use clothe diapers. So far, so good. This will cut down on our expenses tremendously. The price of a 24 pack of Huggies brand diapers here in Peru is 65 Soles. That is about  25 US Dollars. OUTRAGEOUS!!

Today is Monday, July 9. 

We’ve been praying about language school for well over a week now. We’ve decided that we are going to pursue. This isn’t going to be cheap, but we realize that we are here, first and foremost, to communicate a message. The orphanage is good and necessary. Surely it is a witness to the gospel we proclaim, about a God who fathers the fatherless. Pastoral education, water purification, church planting, etc. These things are all good, and they all give God much glory, but they are for naught if the gospel isn’t proclaimed with words. Therefore, we have decided to invest our money in the area we feel most prudent: communication.

Jorge has gone out to get us our plane tickets. They are considerably more expensive than we thought they would be. Feeling anxious as we watch hundreds of dollars being used. We have spent virtually no money on ourselves, yet the money keeps draining. We are praying and asking God to help us to trust in him; to believe his promises. He has promised us to be with us to the end of the age. We are fighting to believe that.

Reading George Mueller biography. Feeling encouraged. Feel as if the LORD is saying “Sean, trust me. Do you see the way I care for the sparrows? Do you see the way I’ve cared for saints in the past? Do you doubt my love for you?”

“No Lord, I believe, but help my unbelief.”

sidenote: Jorge’s family has a giant jungle rat living with them. His name is Douglas. Scary as all get out. Amber, of course, thinks he is the cutest thing alive. They’re going to eat him when he gets a little bigger. Should be fun.

Today is Tuesday, July 10

soundtrack of the day: Beautiful Eulogy: Satellite Kite

Thinking about some of my friends back in the states. Also, it’s awesome to be in a place where CHH means absolutely nothing.

Thinking I could definitely use a Spencer Miller down here.

Today is Wednesday, July 11

book of the day: How Long O Lord by DA Carson

Montezuma has taken his revenge on me, and, apparently, the dish is best served with stomach cramps, the chills, and a whole lot of toilet paper.

Today is Thursday, July 12

soundtrack of the day: Josh Garrels: Love and War - B-sides and remixes.

Today I (Amber) ate turtle eggs. Boiled turtle eggs. Not the worst, but...ya know...not good either. I’m proud of myself, I didn’t even gag!!!

We were supposed to go to the barge today, but we have to wait until tomorrow.

Got our plane tickets for language school. We’ve also worked out the cost. It’s going to be quite expensive. We’re trusting the Lord to give us the means to accomplish the end he has called us to.

Today is Friday, July 13

soundtrack of the day: 70’s Gold (particularly The Temptations and the Four Tops)

book of the day: David Brainerds Diary edited by Jonathan Edwards

I (Sean) was taking a midnight wiz last night when, Douglas (the jungle rat and family pet of the Montero house), decided he wanted to visit me. Being a jungle rat, of course, he didn’t announce his arrival in a formal fashion. No. Rather, he approached my ankles and, with about as much innocence as a rapscallion, he ever so gently caressed them with his enormous whiskers. Needless to say, I wasn’t expecting a visit from Douglas mid-stream (he didn’t even call first...he just showed up. How rude!) Did I scream? No. You would have been proud of me, were you unfortunate enough to have been there. Harty har. Did I spasm violently, thereby hosing down all of the inside of the bathroom? Yes. Yes I did.

Read  some of David Brainerds Diary for devotion this morning. Encouraged to see a man so afflicted with depression used so mightily by God. Rejoicing for David that he will never be “of low spirit” again.

Some of the kids asked me if I was The Hulk. “Yes, of course I am” I replied. “Don’t make me angry!!!” ;) It’s not just the kids, either. If I had a dollar for every cab/motorcar driver who has grabbed my arm, well...I would have a lot of dollars.

Yesterday Jorge, in passing, mentioned the possibility of starting a seminary in Maypuco  (the village where we’ll be living). Needless to say it caught my attention. Something to pray about.

Today, I (Amber) hand washed our clothes for the very first time ever. It was quite the workout. I wasn’t sure what I was doing, so I just kind of put our clothes in a bucket with soap and water and thought... “What would a washing machine do?”, and that’s what I did. It worked!!!

Today is Saturday, July 14

Hebrews 12:4

Patience turns 7 MONTHS today!!!

Today is Sunday, July 22

We just got back from our first week in the jungle. It was interesting. Here is some of the misadventure we experienced in that week:

  • I got horribly sick our first day in the pueblo. Much vomiting. 
  • We spent two days in our hammocks, on the barge. That was fun. 
  • We ate rice.
  • We set out with the philanthropic goal of feeding 1 million mosquitoes. We met and exceeded that goal. Huzzah! 
  • We ate rice.
  • Patience had a 102 degree temp for 3 out of our 7 days in the jungle. Then she vomited. Then she got diarrhea. It hasn’t stopped yet. We were scared, but God is faithful.
  • I saw spiders the size of pterodactyls. Several of them. 
  • We ate rice.
  • We did more (necessary) manual labor in one day than I ever did in any one day of my time in the military.
  • We ate rice.
  • I killed an alligator with my bare hands. Ok...something touched my foot in the river and I cried uncontrollably. Really though, we did eat fried gator tail. 

Seriously though, we worked hard, ate well, and did our best to give God much glory during our time in San Juan. We look forward to seeing what our life will be like in Maypuco, under the good providence of a loving God. We need His Spirit to equip us, for sure.

 Today is Monday, July 23

Patience had to go to the doctor today. Her cough has gotten really bad; a lot of congestion.

Amber has a fever, too. 101.6.

At least we all got sick (two times for me!) within our first month...that should buy us at least 10 years of uninterrupted health, right?

Today is Tuesday, July 24

We’re off to language school. Praying for much strength from the Holy Spirit

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

What shall we say about "the problem of evil?"

There is a lot that can be said about the whole "problem of evil" conversation.  When the presence of evil is used as an argument against the existence of God, that argument usually runs less than an inch deep.  

We can't even properly define evil (the very thing we're talking about) without eventually appealing to the God who has revealed and declared the difference between evil and good.  If we're all just the accidental result of time and chance acting on matter (which came from where?), then the whole conversation is nonsense.  Where do such categories even get started?

I've always appreciated Dorothy Sayers comment about the whole "problem of evil" conversation...

“For whatever reason God chose to make man as he is — limited and suffering and subject to sorrows and death — He had the honesty and the courage to take His own medicine. Whatever game he is playing with His creation, He has kept his own rules and played fair. He can exact nothing from man that He has not exacted from Himself. He has Himself gone through the whole of human experience, from the trivial irritations of family life and the cramping restrictions of hard work and lack of money to the worst horrors of pain and humiliation, defeat, despair and death. When He was a man, He played the man. He was born in poverty and died in disgrace and thought it well worthwhile”

But in the light of the horrific evil that recently exploded in Aurora, I commend John Stonestreet's comments to you...

Why Evil? Why This Evil?
Thoughts on Aurora

The late Christian philosopher Ron Nash called the problem of evil and suffering the most perennially difficult issue Christians have to face. And as much as we might like to ignore the problem, events like what transpired in that Aurora, Colorado, movie theater Thursday make that impossible.

Ignoring evil is a fundamentally wrong approach for Christians. Christianity is a worldview that claims to explain the world as it actually is, and the only world you and I have ever lived in is the one that is deeply and broadly impacted by evil.

Plus, to remain silent in the midst of events like this is to ignore the conversation that the culture is having with — or about — God right now. C. S. Lewis thought that suffering was God’s “megaphone,” and it’s true.

Of course, this conversation about God’s existence and goodness in the light of evil is not easy. Simplistic platitudes like “time will heal” or haphazardly lobbing Romans 8:28 grenades can be like rubbing Christian-ese salt into gaping, emotional wounds. Remember, Job’s friends were pretty helpful for their suffering friend: Until they opened their mouths.

It’s important to remember that while Christianity offers an explanation for the existence of evil per se, when Christians offer specific reasons for specific evil, they over-speak their biblical and theological qualifications. Applying logical answers for the existence of evil to the emotional and personal struggles associated with a particular evil is to miss how Jesus Himself confronted it.

In the face of His weeping friends whose brother had just died, Jesus wept too. In fact, He wept despite knowing that He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead and turn the family’s weeping into celebration. Why would He weep if He knew all this? Because it was the world He had made and the people He had fashioned in His own image that were broken.

To paraphrase the title Neal Plantinga used for his book on the impact of human sin, this world is “Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be.” And because we live in a world that often veers so distinctly from the good design and order given it by God, trying to offer a tidy explanation for this evil or that evil is futile.

And at the same time, it’s quite valid to ask why we recognize evil as such. Why do we recognize the actions of the gunman as disordered but honor the three men who lost their lives by shielding their girlfriends? Or 21-year-old Stephanie Davies, who chose to apply pressure to her friend’s severe wound rather than save her own life?

You see if ours is merely a world “red with tooth and claw” — that is, if ours is a creator-less world that arose by chance, and nature has no rhyme or reason — then heroic acts would be indistinguishable from despicable ones.

But no. Our ability to recognize evil as evil reveals something about how we are made.

And still the final word we Christians can offer is one we must offer: God is not absent. He is present in the world of human suffering, and He Himself suffered too. Here I quote the English minister Edward Shillito, after seeing the carnage of World War I:

If we have never sought, we seek Thee now;
Thine eyes burn through the dark, our only stars;
We must have sight of thorn-pricks on Thy brow,
We must have Thee, O Jesus of the Scars.

The other gods were strong; but Thou wast weak;

They rode, but Thou didst stumble to a throne;
But to our wounds only God's wounds can speak,
And not a god has wounds, but Thou alone.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Only The Hand of God

You need to read the story of what saved the life of one of the victims of the recent shooting in Colorado.  It's nothing less than astonishing.

Read it by clicking HERE.

The Meaning of Inexhaustible

"Every day we may see some new thing in Christ.  His love hath neither brim nor bottom."

~Samuel Rutherford~

Saturday, July 14, 2012

the heart of the wise

A good name is better than precious ointment,
    and the day of death than the day of birth.
It is better to go to the house of mourning
    than to go to the house of feasting,
for this is the end of all mankind,
    and the living will lay it to heart.
Sorrow is better than laughter,
     for by sadness of face the heart is made glad.
The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning,
    but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.

~ Ecclesiastes 7 ~

The Lord has given new insight into this passage over the last 24 hours.  My in-laws' home has always been a house of feasting, a house of laughter, a place where the heart is made glad.

Presently we're waiting on the Lord to take my father-in-law home to heaven, which -- as the Apostle Paul says in Philippians 1 -- is "to live"... is to "be with Christ"... which is "far better" than life in this world.

For the godly, the Risen Christ is the Lord of both the day of death and the day of birth, both the house of mourning and the house of feasting, both sorrow and laughter, both sadness of face and gladness of heart.

Let the living lay this to heart.  For this is the end of all mankind.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Awful = Awe-Full (full of awe)

"But I never could sing this without crying -- even before I knew I was dying."

~my father-in-law last night, as we gathered around his bed to sing praise to God

How sweet and awful is the place
With Christ within the doors
While everlasting love displays
The choicest of her stores.

While all our hearts and all our songs
Join to admire the feast
Each of us cry with thankful tongues,
“Lord, why was I a guest?”

“Why was I made to hear thy voice
and enter while there’s room,
When thousands make a wretched choice
And rather starve than come?”

‘Twas the same love that spread the feast
that sweetly drew us in;
Else we had still refused to taste
and perished in our sin

Pity the nations, O our God,
Constrain the earth to come;
Send thy victorious Word abroad
and bring the strangers home.

We long to see thy churches full,
that all the chosen race
may with one voice and heart and soul
sing thy redeeming grace.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A Favorite Picture

This is one of my all-time favorite pictures!  It was five or more years ago... we lined up all the cousins on my side of the family (6 at the time) by order of birth & had them lay hands on the shoulders in front of them.  But the little guy at the front fell back (thanks to his cousin's choke hold) & a nice domino effect ensued.

Over the 4th of July we lined them all up again, in pretty much the same place -- my parents' yard.  Their number has grown by one, and they're a bit more steady on their feet these days...


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

"Virtual Founder of America" 508 Years Old Today

It was the German historian Leopold von Ranke who declared that John Calvin was "the virtual founder of America."  Why would he say that?

Lots of reasons, actually.  But here are four:

1.  Calvin was the first Reformer to demand a complete separation between the state and the church. Not, mind you, between the state and God Himself (who ordained and gave authority to the institution of the state), but between the state and an official "state church."  Calvin taught that there should be no one church or denomination held in a unique position of favor or requirement by the state.  There should be "freedom of religion."  If you like that idea, thank John Calvin.  Historically/politically, it was basically his idea.

2.  One of the things Calvin sought to "reform" / "re-shape" about the church of his day was its governance.  Looking to the Bible he established what is known today as a "Presbyterian" system of government.  The word "presbyterian" simply refers to the Greek word for "elder."  The congregation voted for elders and the elders represented & governed the church.  Later on in history, the one minister who signed the Declaration of Independence was a Presbyterian minister.  If you like the representative republic form of government, thank John Calvin.  He was a significant champion of the ideas of governance that later formed our nation.

3.  Calvin strongly taught that every person's vocational calling in life (as long as it's moral and legal) should be characterized and understood as a Christian calling.  We are all called to serve God and our neighbors with our gifts, in every area of life -- especially our "work."  This is not just true of ministers and missionaries, but also of butchers, bakers, and candlestick-makers.  We should all work hard in our respective jobs, knowing that God has called us to serve both God and our neighbors in that specific role.  This is what became known as the "Protestant work ethic," and it is in large measure responsible for the strength and health that our nation enjoyed in its earliest days.

4.  The pilgrims knew their Bibles -- which is what gave them the wisdom to form such beautiful communities (which eventually became our nation).  And part of the reason why they knew their Bibles so well is the help in understanding that they had received from the Geneva Bible.  The Bible scholars who translated and produced this work had fled from "Bloody Mary" (Mary I of England) to Geneva, Switzerland -- the representative republic in which John Calvin ministered.  With Calvin's encouragement and assistance, the Geneva Bible came into existence.

More could be said about John Calvin's role in shaping the blessings that you and I enjoy every day of our lives, but that will do for now.

Happy Birthday, Pastor Calvin.

If you haven't read much of John Calvin, take a few minutes to consider these quotes.  They might surprise you:


A dog barks when his master is attacked. I would be a coward if I saw that God's truth is attacked and yet would remain silent.

All the blessings we enjoy are Divine deposits, committed to our trust on this condition, that they should be dispensed for the benefit of our neighbors.

Augustine does not disagree with this when he teaches that it is a faculty of the reason and the will to choose good with the assistance of grace; evil, when grace is absent.

Every one of us is, even from his mother's womb, a master craftsman of idols.

For there is no one so great or mighty that he can avoid the misery that will rise up against him when he resists and strives against God.

God tolerates even our stammering, and pardons our ignorance whenever something inadvertently escapes us - as, indeed, without this mercy there would be no freedom to pray.

However many blessings we expect from God, His infinite liberality will always exceed all our wishes and our thoughts.

I consider looseness with words no less of a defect than looseness of the bowels.

Is it faith to understand nothing, and merely submit your convictions implicitly to the Church?

Knowledge of the sciences is so much smoke apart from the heavenly science of Christ.

Man's mind is like a store of idolatry and superstition; so much so that if a man believes his own mind it is certain that he will forsake God and forge some idol in his own brain.

Seeing that a Pilot steers the ship in which we sail, who will never allow us to perish even in the midst of shipwrecks, there is no reason why our minds should be overwhelmed with fear and overcome with weariness.

The torture of a bad conscience is the hell of a living soul.

There is no work, however vile or sordid, that does not glisten before God.

There is no worse screen to block out the Spirit than confidence in our own intelligence.

There is not one blade of grass, there is no color in this world that is not intended to make us rejoice.

We must remember that Satan has his miracles, too.

We should ask God to increase our hope when it is small, awaken it when it is dormant, confirm it when it is wavering, strengthen it when it is weak, and raise it up when it is overthrown.

True wisdom consists in two things: Knowledge of God and Knowledge of Self.

It would be the height of absurdity to label ignorance tempered by humility "faith"!

If it seems more horrible to kill a man in his own house, then in a field, ought surely to be deemed more atrocious to destroy a fetus in the womb before it has come to light.

...a man will be justified by faith when, excluded from righteousness of works, he by faith lays hold of the righteousness of Christ, and clothed in it, appears in the sight of God not as a sinner, but as righteous...

Our prayer must not be self-centered. It must arise not only because we feel our own need as a burden we must lay upon God, but also because we are so bound up in love for our fellow men that we feel their need as acutely as our own. To make intercession for men is the most powerful and practical way in which we can express our love for them.

Man's nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols.

The pastor ought to have two voices: one, for gathering the sheep; and another, for warding off and driving away wolves and thieves. The Scripture supplies him with the means of doing both.

A perfect faith is nowhere to be found, so it follows that all of us are partly unbelievers.

Let us not cease to do the utmost, that we may incessantly go forward in the way of the Lord; and let us not despair of the smallness of our accomplishments.

(comment on 2 Corinthians 5.20)  This is why Paul upholds the teaching of the gospel in such a forceful way ... Seeing such an example and such a picture of man’s great weakness and fickleness, Paul states that the truth of the gospel must supersede anything that we may devise … he is showing us that we ought to know the substance of the doctrine which is brought to us in the name of God, so that our faith can be fully grounded upon it. Then we will not be tossed about with every wind, nor will we wander about aimlessly, changing our opinions a hundred times a day; we will persist in this doctrine until the end. This, in brief, is what we must remember.

The gospel is not a doctrine of the tongue, but of life. It cannot be grasped by reason and memory only, but it is fully understood when it possesses the whole soul and penetrates to the inner recesses of the heart.

Without the fear of God, men do not even observe justice and charity among themselves.

All the arts come from God and are to be respected as divine inventions.

In forming an estimate of sins, we are often imposed upon by imagining that the more hidden the less heinous they are.

The Lord commands us to do good unto all men without exception, though the majority are very undeserving when judged according to their own merits... [The Scripture] teaches us that we must not think of man's real value, but only of his creation in the image of God to which we owe all possible honor and love.

Those who set up a fictitious worship, merely worship and adore their own delirious fancies; indeed, they would never dare so to trifle with God, had they not previously fashioned him after their own childish conceits.

There is no knowing that does not begin with knowing God.

In a way, the futile excuses many people use to cover their superstitions are demolished. They think it is enough to have some sort of religious fervor, however ridiculous, not realizing that true religion must be according to God's will as the perfect measure; that He can never deny Himself and is no mere spirit form to be changed around according to individual preference.

Thus it is that we may patiently pass through this life with its misery, hunger, cold, contempt, reproaches, and other troubles - content with this one thing: that our King [Jesus] will never leave us destitute, but will provide for our needs until, our warfare ended, we are called to triumph.

No one can travel so far that he does not make some progess each day. So let us never give up. Then we shall move forward daily in the Lord's way. And let us never despair because of our limited success. Even though it is so much less than we would like, our labour is not wasted when today is better than yesterday!

We ought to contemplate providence not as curious and fickle persons are wont to do but as a ground of confidence and excitement to prayer. When he informs us that the hairs of our head are all numbered it is not to encourage trivial speculations but to instruct us to depend on the fatherly care of God which is exercised over these frail bodies.

It is a promise which eminently deserves our observation that all who are united to Christ and acknowledge Him to be Christ and Mediator will remain to the end safe from all danger, for what is said of the body of the Church belongs to each of its members since they are one in Christ.

As far as sacred Scripture is concerned, however much froward men try to gnaw at it, nevertheless it clearly is crammed with thoughts that could not be humanly conceived. Let each of the prophets be looked into: none will be found who does not far exceed human measure. Consequently, those for whom prophetic doctrine is tasteless ought to be thought of as lacking taste buds.

The whole world is a theatre for the display of the divine goodness, wisdom, justice, and power, but the Church is the orchestra, as it were—the most conspicuous part of it; and the nearer the approaches are that God makes to us, the more intimate and condescending the communication of his benefits, the more attentively are we called to consider them.

Were the judgments of mankind correct, custom would be regulated by the good. But it is often far otherwise in point of fact; for, whatever the many are seen to do, forthwith obtains the force of custom. But human affairs have scarcely ever been so happily constituted as that the better course pleased the greater number. Hence the private vices of the multitude have generally resulted in public error, or rather that common consent in vice which these worthy men would have to be law.

Men are undoubtedly more in danger from prosperity than from adversity, for when matters go smoothly, they flatter themselves, and are intoxicated by their success.

[God] does not bind the ancient folk to outward doctrine as if they were learning their ABC's.

Secondly, [man] should weigh his abilities-or rather lack of abilities.

[Philosophers] are like a traveler passing through a field at night who in a momentary lightning flash sees far and wide, but the sight vanishes so swiftly that he is plunged again into the darkness of night before he can take even a step-let alone be directed on the way by its help.

With respect to ceremonies, there is some appearance of a change having taken place; but it was only the use of them that was abolished, for their meaning was more fully confirmed. The coming of Christ has taken nothing away even from ceremonies, but, on the contrary, confirms them by exhibiting the truth of shadow.

They who strive to build up a firm faith in Scripture through disputation are doing things backwards.

Just as the light of the sun, while it invigorates a living and animated body, produces effluvia in a carcass; so it is certain that the sacraments where the Spirit of faith is not present, breathes mortiferous rather than vital odour.

I was always exceedingly delighted with that saying of Chrysostom, "The foundation of our philosophy is humility"; and yet more pleased with that of Augustine: "As the orator, when asked, What is the first precept in eloquence? answered, Delivery: What is the second? Delivery: What is the third? Delivery: so if you ask me concerning the precepts of the Christian religion, I will answer, first, second, and third, Humility.

If we are not our own, but the Lord's, it is clear to what purpose all our deeds must be directed. We are not our own, therefore neither our reason nor our will should guide us in our thoughts and actions. We are not our own, therefore we should not seek what is only expedient to the flesh. We are not our own, therefore let us forget ourselves and our own interests in as far as possible.

For earthly princes lay aside their power when they rise up against God, and are unworthy to be reckoned among the number of mankind. We ought, rather, to spit upon their heads than to obey them.

God preordained, for his own glory and the display of His attributes of mercy and justice, a part of the human race, without any merit of their own, to eternal salvation, and another part, in just punishment of their sin, to eternal damnation.

AND YET.... 

No man is excluded from calling upon God, the gate of salvation is set open unto all men: neither is there any other thing which keepeth us back from entering in, save only our own unbelief.

He only who is reduced to nothing in himself, and relies on the mercy of God is poor in spirit.

For by a kind of mutual bond the Lord has joined together the certainty of his Word and of his Spirit so that the perfect religion of the Word may abide in our minds when the Spirit, who causes us to contemplate God's face, shines.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Deeper Roots

In a recent article on significant cultural trends over the last decade Andy Crouch points out that young adults meeting one another these days don't ask "What do you do?" as much as they use to.  Rather they ask, "Where do you live?"

Studies are showing that more and more people are changing their careers in order to stay in a town they call home... rather than changing the town they call home in order to stay in a career.

In the midst of the thin, disembodied, virtual community life of the facebook generation a longing seems to be growing for more connection to family, to friends, to local culture.

Instead of moving out (in order to keep "movin' on up" - like The Jeffersons), there seems to be a growing tendency towards putting down deeper roots.

I, for one, hope this trend continues and grows.  Our disconnected, transient culture hasn't done us many favors.

And I sure hope someone has shared this information with Wendell Berry.  He would be very happy.


Please Make Plans To Attend
The 2012 Neighborhood Christian Center 
Summer Teens' Play


WHEN:  Friday evening July 13 @ 6:30pm
WHERE:  First United Methodist Church
ADDRESS:  805 Canal Street NE
Decatur, Alabama


Many thanks to the many volunteers who pulled off the recent week of Vacation Bible School at DPC!

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.  And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.  You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.  You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Provocative Power Words about Christ & Marriage

Tomorrow morning at DPC we'll be looking at the final words of Matthew, in which Jesus makes it clear that he never, ever forsees a possible time in which any part of his teaching will ever become in the least bit unnecessary, outdated, superseded, or no longer true or helpful.

Rather, Jesus confidently tells us that ever single human being we could ever meet from any culture in any nation from any time in history will always need to hear and accept every single thing he ever taught.

Who else in history ever says anything even close to that?


Tomorrow evening at DPC we'll be hosting our monthly marriage workshop EVER AFTER: Building Stronger Marriages.  6:00 pm, free childcare & nursery provided.

To get ready for the discussion, think through this quote:

"Destructive to marriage is the self-fulfillment ethic that assumes marriage and the family are primarily institutions of personal fulfillment, necessary for us to become 'whole' and happy.  The assumption is that there is someone just right for us to marry and that if we look closely enough we will find the right person.  This moral assumption overlooks a crucial aspect to marriage.  It fails to appreciate the fact that we always marry the wrong person.
We never know whom we marry; we just think we do.  Or even if we first marry the right person, just give it a while and he or she will change.  For marriage, being [the enormous thing it is] means we are not the same person after we have entered it.  The primary problem is... learning how to love and care for the stranger to whom you find yourself married."
~Stanley Hauerwas 

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Love of Country 101

Yesterday I was too busy doing this to post this... but check out these words from Chuck Colson.  He wrote this for a 4th of July commentary in 1995:

Tough Love of Country
How to Be a Patriot

Chuck Colson

Every Fourth of July, Coney Island hosts a hot dog-eating contest. Contestants gather from around the country to prove that they can stuff themselves with more hot dogs in 12 minutes than anyone else.

Well, not everyone pursues their hot dog eating so competitively. But it does seem that downing hot dogs and lemonade is the quintessential American way of expressing patriotism on the Fourth of July: Family picnics and fireworks celebrate the founding of our country.

Now, I realize that when you gathered with your friends and relatives, you probably weren't thinking about doing anything particularly patriotic. You were just having a good time, right?

But Augustine would tell you that was exactly the right way to express patriotism.

I don't mean to say Augustine wrote about the finer points of American hot dog eating. What he wrote is that the best way to develop patriotism is by loving your own family.

You see, Christians are commanded to love the whole world. But as everyone knows, that's utterly impractical. No finite human being could possibly love every other person in the world.

So God has placed us in concrete relationships where we can learn to love. As Augustine puts it, it's as though God had cast lots and assigned each one of us to a particular family, a particular church, and a particular country.

We cannot love the whole world, but we can love the particular people in the relationships where God has placed us-moving outward from family to church, community, and nation, in an ever-widening circle.

That's how Christian patriotism is built.

You see, it's easy to love people in the abstract. It's much harder to love the real flesh-and-blood people we interact with in our families, churches, and communities.

As C. S. Lewis explained, we are constantly tempted to love only what is lovable — to love our wives only when they're kind and beautiful, to love our husbands only when they're successful, to love our children only when they're pleasant.

But that's not the way God loves. God loves us even when we're unlovable-just because He has chosen us to be His people. And He commands us to do the same.

We're to love our families even when they're unlovable — just because they're ours. We're to love the church-just because we belong to one another as the family of God. And we're to love our country just because it's our own. Not because it's the best and most democratic country in the world-which it may not be at times-but because it's the place God has put us.

That's "tough love" of country: being utterly honest about our nation's flaws and shortcomings, and yet still continuing to love it.

So as we pack up the leftover hot dog buns and put away the ketchup, let's keep alive this reminder of what the Fourth of July is all about.

When we gather together with our families and relatives — and renew our bonds of love with them — we are practicing, at its most basic level, true patriotism.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Our Commission

Throughout the Bible, God gives several different "commissions" to his people at different times and places...

To Adam & Eve:
And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

To Abraham:
Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you.  And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”  So Abram went, as the Lord had told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.

To Moses:
When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” And he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.  Then the Lord said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. And now, behold, the cry of the people of Israel has come to me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them.  Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.”

To Joshua:
After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses' assistant, “Moses my servant is dead. Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the people of Israel.  Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, just as I promised to Moses.  From the wilderness and this Lebanon as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites to the Great Sea toward the going down of the sun shall be your territory.  No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you.  Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

To Isaiah:
And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.” And he said, “Go, and say to this people: “‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’  Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes;  lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed." Then I said, “How long, O Lord?”  And he said: “Until cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without people, and the land is a desolate waste, and the Lord removes people far away, and the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land.  And though a tenth remain in it, it will be burned again, like a terebinth or an oak, whose stump remains when it is felled." The holy seed is its stump.

To Jesus:
“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

So... at the end of Matthew's gospel, when Jesus gives a commission to his young church, it's not exactly a new idea.  But this is the final commission given by God in this world.  It's the one that all the other commissions were preparing for and pointing to.  

It's YOUR commission, if you belong to Christ.  We'll be looking at it this Lord's Day at DPC.  Come Join Us!  

To The Church:
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Monday, July 2, 2012

The Wisdom of a Godly Mother

I don't know how long they keep CaringBridge sites up after someone has died, so you may need to be quick.

I didn't know Laura Black... she was just a friend of a friend.  Well, she's much more than that actually; she's also an eternal sister in the bond of Christ and I now know that she was also a "mother in Israel" while in the flesh.  Yet I didn't have the joy of knowing her personally in this world.

But our common friend pointed me to her CaringBridge site which you can find (for the moment anyway) by clicking HERE.

Click on the "Journal" link at the top, and get to know the wisdom and wonder of Christ a little better.

I especially, especially, especially commend to you the 14 letters she wrote to her three little children.

The 14 letters are in a series Laura entitled "What I Want You to Know About...."  May our Lord bless these little ones as they grieve and grow.  And may these 14 letters bless you.  They have blessed me.

What I Want You To Know About:

  1. God
  2. Love
  3. Forgiveness
  4. Marriage
  5. College (okay, I have some reservations about this one)
  6. Making Decisions 
  7. Me & You
  8. Alcohol, Tobacco, & Drugs
  9. Death
  10. Careers
  11. Friendships
  12. Leaving the Christian Country Club
  13. Suffering for the Gospel
  14. Life