Category Archives: Christian Living

Finding Joy

Joy is not in people,

Not in being thought of

highly, or at all.

Joy is not in having,

Not in holding,

Not in owning.

Joy is not in buying,

Not in gaining things,

And not, for certain,

Not contained in

Money’s empty call.

Joy is not in praise,

Is not in numbers,

Not in goals achieved or lists.

Joy is not in climbing to the top

Shift by shift.

Abundant life in Christ our Lord

Is never found in stuff.

This life of joy is found in finding Christ–

All in all,

“More than all in Him I find,”

My Infinite-Enough.

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The Gift of Grace

How to talk,

   When the One with whom you speak does not reply?

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How to see,

   When the One you want to gaze on,

   Hides beyond these realms my human eyes can’t see?

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How to hear,

   When the One – whose thund’ring voice I need to hear from –

   speaks, instead, through letters, prophet’s words,

   And promptings in the soul?

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How to cling to Him,

   A Spirit like the rushing wind?

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How to approach Him,

   This One who’s always, fully, there in every place,

   Yet is transcendent?

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How to trust,

   In One whose actions we can’t see, hear, touch, or test?

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How to know the truth,

   When, on our own, knowing is a flimsy hope at best?

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Grace.

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Logic will not lead you here.

Reason’s womb is barren.

Proof is stuck in pudding still,

And Hope is just a helper.

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Christian child with questions, or wand’ring soul without,

In the faith with doubts within, or searching all this out,

One thing, and one only

Will connect these crazy dots.

The gift of grace is free,

Simply ask, and it is yours.

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Saul’s Success: Prize or Poison?

Saul was quite the servant-man.

His father’s will was his,

Be it plowing fields or tending herds,

He worked and served with strength and focused will.

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Humility adorned his thoughts,

While he was no one big.

The son of Kish, a no-name youth,

Why should he be a king?

It seemed, to him, quite far from what he’d earned.

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His strength and height were assets

When it came to farmer’s work.

His trust in God’s instructions

Through the prophet was secure.

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The oil didn’t change him,

When anointed as their king.

In fact, God gave His Spirit

As a guide to live within him.

A Spirit who, if followed,

Would empower him with strength –

Strength of will, strength of courage,

Strength of purpose, strength of mind.

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So, what was it in Saul’s life

That led him to a turn –

A turn away from humble strength,

To self-exalting, insecure, and hurtful fits of pride?

How could he go from “who am I?”

to “I know better than God!” ?

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Through God’s pow’r and by design,

Saul had tasted something strong and potent

for the first time:

The prize and poison that is success.

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He looked at his accomplishments

Which God had brought about,

And credited himself instead of,

Giving praise to God.

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In pragmatism’s twisted vines,

He reasoned how to work his plans,

Hoping God would get in line,

And follow him with weak, submitted favor.

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The glory long designed for God

Was robbed, and so God cut the ropes,

And Saul began his long and painful fall.

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Success.

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A poison or a prize?

A tool to use to bring God praise, for sure.

But many more have had a taste

And chosen to exalt its thrills

As god of all their hearts and wills

Instead of living for the God

Who gave success to us, a gift.

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We take the gift, the joy-filled prize

And make it lethal poison when

We make it all of us, not all of Him.

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Lord, when I hear “well done,”

“Good job,” or “I am so impressed.”

May they never overtake,

The promised joy of this one sound:

The sound of your “Well done, my child,”

When I kneel before Your throne.

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Tune my heart to live for

Just those words upon my ears,

Protect me from the snare of pride,

Through all my days and years.

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Wanted: Dead and Alive – Vicarious Life

At 6:00am, he set down his empty coffee mug and his newspaper, grabbed a long sleeved shirt and boots, and headed outside to the barn. It was a short ride on the tractor up to the upper, back fields. As he crested the hill, the sun was just starting to rise. Perfect timing, as usual.

He parked and hopped down. His boots hit the ground with a thud and dust scattered into the already stiff morning breeze.

It was dry. Very dry.

As he walked from the lane out into the rows of his field, the soil changed beneath his feet. Dry dust gave way to rich, dark dirt. The new irrigation system had been working like a charm and the ground the seeds had been planted in was just right in every way. The seeds had everything they needed to grow. They lacked no nutrients; they lacked no water; they lacked no sunshine; they lacked no growing space. Everything had been provided for them. But something was wrong.

The farmer frowned as he crouched down and ran his fingers through the perfect soil.

These were top-of-the-line seeds, purchased at no small cost, and guaranteed a 100% germination rate under these conditions. Even more concerning to him was that the expected time from planting to germination to sprouting should have been a couple of weeks ago already. And yet, nothing. Not a speck of green in any direction.

A month later, representatives from the seed manufacturer were called out to the farm. Under the microscope, the seeds looked incredible. They had all more than tripled in size, and the genetic ingredients they contained should make them capable of producing huge, healthy, fruit-bearing plants. The same seeds were performing incredibly on other nearby farms, already approaching harvest time. But here, they were still seeds.

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soil

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If I’m honest, there’s something frustrating about waking up each day like a seed again. The seed, in some senses, is alive. But it has to give up its existence as a seed in order for the potential of plant life to spring out of it. Dying hurts. Dying daily hurts daily.

Reading through the New Testament, it doesn’t take long to realize that God’s design for us involves us growing to accomplish big things for His kingdom. We love this end of the gospel equation. “I can do all things,” we quote, leaving off (or unintentionally deemphasizing) the most important part of the verse – “through Christ, who strengthens me.”

We want the crop. We want the amazing harvest. But we really like our “seedness” and we really dislike dying in order to be replaced by a growing, fruit-bearing plant. Complicating the situation even more is the fact that, yes, we only have to die once positionally, but practically, we need to die daily. Sounds fun, right?

“I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels—a plentiful harvest of new lives. (25) Those who love their life in this world will lose it. Those who care nothing for their life in this world will keep it for eternity” (John 12:24-25 NLT).

I don’t think Christ is only talking about service-oriented martyrdom here. His point is that we must live and work boldly with the value system of a martyr – those whose lives and preferences matter less to them than their cause.

God has been working on me gradually on this issue. Here’s some reminders I need to keep “truth-talking” to myself in order to keep a biblical perspective.

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1) I Am a Seed – There’s nothing I can change about it. I am a seed. Seeds will not, and can not, bear fruit by themselves. Their only option for producing something of value is to die, to give up their seed-life, and let it be replaced by a greater life that will sprout up in its place. Sounds painful, difficult, and eerily reminiscent of something akin to hard work doesn’t it? But don’t forget the privilege here! True, the acorn will never become the oak tree by itself. But, it has been designed to break, die, and give birth to a sapling that will then draw in enough outside resources to build something massive and impressive. What an incredible design. And what an awesome role and responsibility. Christ living vicariously through us doesn’t relegate us to the sidelines. We are still very much involved, active, and responsible.

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2) The Path to Life is Living Death –  My life verse is Galatians 2:20 – “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” (KJV)

So, based on this verse, am I supposed to think of myself as dead or alive? Both.

We’ve got the alive part down pat. We’ve each got our version of the American dream that we’re chasing after, hoping for a sense of fulfilment. I don’t know about you (though I can guess), but what I need a good dose of most days, is thinking of myself as dead. Not dead like we normally think of death, rather, more of a living death. Take the great transaction – Christ gets our sin and death and defeats it while we get His righteous life undeservedly. Now, put that transaction into an ongoing, daily illustration in your thinking.

You could picture it like this: You died. It’s on your medical records and everything. By every test and standard, you are dead. But then, you (or your dead body I should say) and Jesus Christ are placed on adjacent hospital beds and you get hooked up to a two-way IV system that drains the sin and death out of your spiritual account into His. He is constantly absorbing it and defeating it by His power. And, at the same time, His righteousness and life is being transferred through another line into your veins. After getting hooked up to this gear, you’re alive again, but it’s a life that comes from Him into you. Now you’re free to leave the hospital. Only, because of these IV lines, you’ll have to stay right next to Jesus. And instead of returning to the life you knew, you realize that it’s His life sustaining you. He is living vicariously through you, so He should probably get to call the shots from now on.

“But I don’t feel like a puppet? I still feel like I’m in charge.” Well, in one limited sense, you are.

You have not lost your freedom of will, but you should live as if you have.

If this were truly how we viewed our source of life each day, how might it change us?

IV-Line


A Shepherd’s Prayer

Dots of white are scattered ‘cross the hillside.

Flocks of souls are grazing as they roam.

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Left of here lie cliffs along the ocean.

Misty winds there keep the grass

A lush and tempting green.

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To our right, the burning Eastern Desert

Lies just in sight beyond the rolling hills.

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To our south, dark jungle-lands,

With swamps, and bogs and ponds.

And northward, see the lands climb up

To jagged rocky heights of mountains cold.

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The sheep have all been gathered here

By shepherds wise and old.

These men have known the dangers

West, and east, south and north.

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Though gathered here, each year

The flock is losing many sheep.

The older shepherds tire

And begin to look to me

And all my kin to take the torch.

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And as I survey out across

The scenery of these moors.

I quickly come to realize,

That I cannot do this task that lies before.

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In my brief, short time of training

As a shepherd/sheep for God,

I’ve seen, heard, and observed,

Some shifting patterns in the flock.

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My calling is to help them feed

On Grass of Truth from God,

Seems simple, and it is.

Simple, yes. But easy? Not.

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Every place I look

There are other tempting grasses,

Grasses I must first resist,

Then lead them on in trust to do the same.

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Some sheep strangely wander

To the Desert of the Right.

They find a curious comfort

In the heat and burning light.

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They go there for the leaders of that place

Are loud and strong.

They talk and shout about pure grass.

But little grass is grown.

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The burden there of growing

Tends to weigh and burden down.

The sheep end up assigned great work

Which sheep were not designed to do.

And never will get done.

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Many sheep are also lost

Along the Cliffs of Left.

The heights are risky, edgy,

And uncertain for the hoof.

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But sheep will brave them merely

For the tasty grass afoot.

Not knowing that the grass is lush

Because the shifting tides and winds and mists –

Which will trap them, get them lost, or worse

Push them to their deaths –

Are the reason for the green.

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Still other sheep,

While not sucumbing to the Left or Right,

Will sneak down from these foothills

To the Southern Jungle’s Night.

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Here, they play their chicken games

With predators and snakes,

Feeding on the thrills and spills,

The Jungle’s lethal stakes.

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It usually isn’t long before

A trap or snare is sprung,

Some poison is consumed,

Or a fatal blow is blown.

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Far too rare is ever seen,

An injured sheep along the path,

Making his repentant, long, return.

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And let us not forget the dangers

Lying to the north.

The Ivory Tower Mountains

Have the strangest of appeals.

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The sheep who leave the flock

To take these long and winding roads,

Often feel that they’ve outgrown

Their need of shepherds on their own.

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They hope to find a higher grass

That, when eaten, thus will grant

A new place of authority,

A higher “sheep-hood” than the rest.

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This strange allure of knowing more,

On scientific heights,

Often decimates the finder’s sense

Of belonging in the flock.

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It is not easy, as a shepherd,

Caring for your sheep,

Knowing all these dangers,

And the pressures that they bring.

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The anchor in the chaos

Is the grass beneath our feet.

While not quite as appealing

As some other dainty treats,

This grass here on the Hills of Grace

Is managed, not by temptors,

But by God, the Lord on High.

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The grass here, takes some work to find,

And tastes of bitter tones by times.

It lacks the pleasant, sugar coating

Many sheep now crave and hope to find.

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But, tasting as it does by times,

The grass here is the Truth of Life,

It’s loaded up with vitamins,

And healthy stuff inside.

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And comforting to me,

One called to watch over this flock,

To make sure that they feed and grow,

To keep them safe and strong,

Is that this grass is guaranteed,

A covenant confirms its seed

And it will never fail.

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There will never, ever be a need

To wander south, north, west or east,

In search of better, surer feed.

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So while I rightly bear the weight

Of shepherding a flock,

The weight is never solely mine,

For Christ still Shepherds me,

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Promised in this grass we eat,

Is health, and life, and joy and peace.

On grace and mercy now we feast,

With need of nothing else.

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So my prayer is simply this,

As sheep and shepherd both,

Follow Christ as I do,

Though, imperfectly at best;

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Trust in Him to meet our needs,

And stay here with the flock;

Feed and grow together,

On these rolling Hills of Grace.

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Gracious, Bitter Cold

gracious-bitter-cold-1 .

Father, I come with an urgent plea,

For I see a slow, dull death

Creeping up inside of me.

A death, like mold, that spreads

And thrives in warm, stale climes.

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This death is such a subtle one,

Not easily discerned.

And I thank You for the grace to see

What many eyes – including mine –

Often miss, or simply just ignore,

Trading truth for dreamlands

Of sparkling, ignorant bliss.

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Like soldiers on a battleground,

‘Mid bullets, blood, and blasts,

Found seated, nice and cozy,

Warm and chatting by a fire,

Boiling water, though the canons rage,

To sip a spot of tea.

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This is the danger that I see,

The threat of warmth building up within me.

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That I might pursue, or worse, might find,

The American dream, which skillfully Invades the unprotected heart and mind.

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Life abundant, freedom wide,

And happiness warming the heart inside –

Things not wrong within themselves,

But all too often they distract me,

From the savage battle raging ’round me.

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Satisfaction kills my need for progress.

Feeling I’ve gone far enough,

Will only keep my feet from pressing on.

Feeling I’ve climbed high enough,

Will rob me of the views and vistas

Climbing on would bring.

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Father, guard my heart from feeling warm.

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Guard my eyes from blindness

To the need to press for more.

Guard me from contentment found In anything but what You have in store.

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Guard me from the kind of heart

That’s satisfied – while others die –

To sit and sip on tea,

To waste away the hours lost in fiction on T.V.,

To limit all my time to just one close, small group of friends,

Or chase the lie that money is the end to end all ends.

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We wrestle not with flesh and blood,

And yet, alas, we wrestle!

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Like standing in the ring, when

Our enemy is drawing back his final, knockout blow,

And we are texting, taking selfies,

Writing out our wish lists,

Or chatting on the phone,

Oblivious to just how much

The hurt is going to hurt,

When his well-timed blow comes down.

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God, I beg You, wake me up inside.

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Use the ice-cold truth of an awareness of what’s real.

Make the raw and icy cold discomfort

Drive me on to find what’s warm,

Yet, guard me from the fleeting heat

Of all besides Your arms.

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Make warmth my greatest goal,

But only warmth that’s found in You,

Found in working hard for You,

And found in loving others at great cost,

Found in furthering Your goals

For Your great kingdom here on earth.

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And, until my warmth is found in You, and You alone,

Fill me with a gracious, bitter chill down to the bones.

A chill that will protect me from a lesser warmth that kills.

A chill that will remind me

Not to stop and settle down,

But to move, to climb, to run and grow,

Until Your work in me, Your will for me,

And Your purposes for all this age of time,

Are fully done.

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The Hill

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There is a privilege.

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I find myself in common trains of thought,

A path well-travelled,

A trail that always leads me

To my pondering of this one tiny word:

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‘Why?’

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I’m not the first to climb these steps,

Or wander up this hillside.

Men and women, boys and girls

Have long since tread where I now trod.

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From Moses and David, watching sheep,

To Paul in prisons dark.

To Luther with his courage planted firmly in this place,

And many, many more throughout the ages of the past.

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Standing on this hilltop yields a view unseen,

From the valley of routine that lies below.

Here, time stands still.

One can step out of life for a moment,

And turn and look back on it from a vantage point above.

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This is the Hill of Truth.

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Privilege-Undeserved-Post

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Sometimes I love to come here for a quick refreshing pause.

And sometimes I come crawling back,

Desperate and muddled,

Needing deep, life-saving treatments for my thinking and my heart.

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One thing tends to happen here,

No matter if my state is calm or troubled deep within.

When the clear, cool air and panoramic views of truth

Begin to sink down in,

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Perspective tends to broaden, yes,

And clarity ensues.

An anchor, like a stallion’s lead,

Tames the wayward wand’rings of my feelings,

Giving them the leadership they unknowingly,

Yet quite desperately need.

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And, without fail,

As the cool refreshing truth of God’s great Word,

Pushes out the fog of life

It also points me to this one amazing truth,

That defines and shapes the entirety of all the little

Details of my life:

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I am unworthy.

Unworthy to know His truth.

Unworthy to receive His love.

Unworthy to own His saving grace and mercy.

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Here on this hill and nowhere else,

I know who and why I am.

The confusing lights of culture’s pressures,

Can’t reach me here.

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I can look up to see the stars,

Trillions of reminders bright,

Undimmed in all their message,

Of how truly great You are.

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Standing here I learn anew,

Just how small I am.

And, without fail, my heart is moved

To ask a question then:

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Why?

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Why would God Almighty,

Holy Pow’r, Majestic glory undimmed,

Deign to call me His belov’d,

Move to save me from my sins?

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Why such grace?

Why such privilege undeserved?

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And every other ‘why’

I carry up that sacred hill,

Fades into that bigger ‘why,’

My troubled heart grows still.

 


Reckon

In His Word, the Bible,

God has given us a glimpse,

We see now through a veil,

but we still can see the hints.

And hear the whispers spoken

of what’s coming.

To the suf’fring Roman church

Paul wrote to build their strength.

To firmly anchor down their hope

He urged them to do this…

To reckon –

A term that comes from counting,

or from running through the math.

So run the numbers to their end,

and calculate the facts,

take stock of all your inventory,

see where things are at.

Place on one side of these

scales of comparison

all of your struggles,

heartaches and failures,

The heavy stuff of life

in the stressful here and now,

the dirt, the pain, the struggles long

through which our hearts must plough.

Before we count the other side,

Paul wrote another note,

a letter to Colossae

with a sister vein of thought.

He taught them to direct their minds

up from the muck of life,

to set their hearts on things above

and value knowing Christ.

Speaking of which, it was Christ himself

who told us, “seek ye first.”

Seek the treasures of that kingdom,

not the joys of earth.

So on the other side,

on these scales that measure worth,

should we place the glories of the Heavens,

all the joy and mirth,

streets of gold, and mansions,

life eternal without sin,

a city filled with peace and grace

for time without an end?

“But just a minute.

Something doesn’t seem to sit quite right.

I thought these things – the joy,

the peace from trials, were the birthright.

I thought the worth of things above

was the things above.

Why ask if they should don the scales?

Would they not measure up?”

The simplest answer is a ‘yes.’

They’d surely outperform.

The scales would tip decisively,

But that is not the problem.

The problem is that in this counting

measurements of worth,

the source of value has not yet

been factored or brought forth.

Each one of Heaven’s joys

has value without measured price.

That value, though, is not intrinsic,

all their source of worth is Christ!

If we could somehow know the wealth of Heaven

without Christ,

the value in our treasure gained

would fully be deceased.

Our peace will come from knowing Him,

the perfect Prince of Peace.

He will be our joy

He will be our hope

And He will be our light, our wealth, our song!

So, tip the scales! Rejoice,

despite the heaviness of life.

Reckon.

Take an inventory.

You own, right now,

a treasure beyond worth in Jesus Christ!

One second’s worth of peeking

at the glory of His face,

will “all the toils of life repay,”

and “sorrows all erase.”

girl-counting-coins


Leaks, Feet, and iPhones: Are We Losing Something?

We’re slowly losing something.

 

I came to this realization while preaching to my youth group last night (it’s a risky thing to have such a weighty thought nagging on your mind while you’re trying to preach on a completely different subject). In fact, this post is the result of me sorting through it mentally this morning.

 

Last night, we were talking about being ready to meet Christ face to face. And I asked the teens to imagine Jesus coming into the room and taking over the lesson. My application was about readiness – were they ready to be presented to Christ, by Christ some day. But in my head, I got to thinking about how different the whole lesson might have been if Jesus had taught it instead of me. What would it be like if my group of teens could be taken back in time to sit on the hillside over the Sea of Galilee and we all sat in the grass while Christ sat on a large stone and taught us God’s will for our lives. What if we could have walked with him and lived with him for a few weeks and then come back to our lives today? How would it change us?

 

From the times of Jesus’ earthly ministry, through the first few decades of church planting under the apostles, people from various cultures had a sense of need for a master teacher and an intense desire to learn – yes, even teenagers! Knowledge was hard to come by, learning was expensive, and access to both was limited. So when a travelling teacher would come to town and begin teaching in public, people would stop what they were doing and crowd around him eager to learn. Whether the teacher was a false teacher or Christ Himself, people had a general thirst for learning. This cultural mindset – the high value of learning from a teacher – spans the centuries of old testament prophets in Israel all of the way up to the early 1900’s in the western church and most everywhere and every time in between, with some varying degrees of variation.

 

But then came the personal computer in the late 1970’s to early 80’s. The change wasn’t instant, but as the popularity and accessibility of computers spread, the internet of the 90’s was almost a foregone conclusion – of course all of these computers should be connected in some way to allow people to communicate with them and share information. Fast forward 20 more years and here we are, about to step into 2015 with our new iPhone 6’s or Samsung Galaxies in hand. We’ve gone from sitting at the feet of a master, to a quick question to Siri. And the pace of change is accelerating quickly.

 

It’s this easy access to information that is changing us, and most of us aren’t really aware that it’s happening.

 

Before you roll your eyes, let me quickly and clearly state that this post is NOT intended to bash the internet, access to information, or new technology. I’m not an old man shaking my finger at anything new. I love my iPhone, my Facebook newsfeed, and my Bible study apps. I’ve just been struck with how much things have changed how we learn, and I’m asking myself what parts of that are good and what parts are negative.

 

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So, weighing the pros and cons, sitting at the feet of a master teacher was only as promising as the master teacher. And any of us who’ve been called of God into vocational ministry know that we teachers are far from perfect folk. The primary weakness of the master-teacher model of learning was the limits of information, and especially an ability to cross-reference what was taught to make sure it was accurate. There was a strong thirst to learn that necessitated a high level of trust. And sometimes men took advantage of people’s trust. The era of the Catholic Church, and its bad habit of hoarding knowledge away from commoners comes to mind. (They resisted an English translation, and insisted on church authority as being equal to biblical authority. Many people gave their lives merely for their desire to have and read an English translation of the Bible).

 

The information age has brought us the ability to access the results of the learning of a dozen highly skilled Ph.d.-level Bible scholars in a matter of seconds to use as a cross-reference for what our pastor just said in his sermon. The degree of accountability this brings to the pulpit can be a good thing. Curious about a controversial Bible issue? Just scan Grace to You, John MacArthur’s blog of literally thousands of Bible sermons, articles, topical essays, videos, and more. Or take a scroll through John Piper’s Desiring God Ministries website, the Ligonier Ministries website, Al Mohler’s Daily Briefing blog, Mark Dever’s 9 Marks ministry site, The Gospel Coalition’s online blogs and resources, Sermon Audio’s hundreds of thousands of sermons from pastors and scholars around the globe, and more!

 

How could this kind of access to Bible knowledge be a bad thing?

 

That brings us back to the opening statement of this post. We’re slowly losing something.

 

Human nature tends to value what it can’t have more highly than what it has. Any nursery worker had this one figured out already.

 

We have begun the slow process of letting go of the value of the knowledge of God. Why? Because it’s so easy to come by. Learning and understanding the God of the Bible has become so easy that it has started to become boring. I feel this pull in my own life too. Scripture memory? Why? I have a smart phone in my pocket constantly with 5 or 6 different English versions of the Bible on it. If I need something, I can just look it up in 15 seconds. That’s my go-to excuse. But I forget that scripture is a living word that, if hidden in my heart, will have a steering, cleansing effect on my daily habits and mindsets. The Christian life is more than knowing lots of stuff. But we’ve made the pursuit of the information side of the equation so easy, that the corresponding pursuit of developing character seems to be suffering. At least it is in my own life. Maybe it’s just me. But methinks not.

 

Is it possible, that in gaining so much, we’ve lost something of critical value and we don’t even realize it?

 

We’ve talked about the disadvantages of a master-teacher learning style. But what were the advantages?

 

Students sat at their master’s feet. I’m not referring to the exalting of a master – unless it’s Christ. It has always been a bad thing when people have exalted a human teacher. I’m referring to the organic, life-touching-life relationship between master and student that often existed back then. As the students spent time with their master and the learning unfolded slowly, they got a chance to observe how the master lived out the very truths he was teaching. The knowledge and the application to daily life came together along with the development of the character necessary to use the knowledge skillfully. We’ve even lost this educational dynamic in our “mass-production” school systems. But that’s another topic altogether.

 

No one disputes the gradual effects social-media and digital friendships are having on how we relate to one another. I see consistent articles on this topic on various news sites. The effects of an altered concept of relationships is starting to show up in the workplace, marriages, etc. And again, there are good and bad aspects to the changes.

 

But how central and critical to our Christian lives is our learning?

 

And how much are we losing if we let go of the master-teacher style of relationship-based learning? Ironic that I would ask these questions and express these thoughts through a blog post, I know. Perhaps I will use these thoughts as the seeds for a teaching session with my teens. I don’t know yet. There is the risk of it coming across to them as a slam on their love of technology, and I don’t want that because I want them to benefit from the hundreds of terabytes of info available to them.

 

But, as a teacher and a learner who feels the increasingly stale atmosphere in the North American church and the pressure to “compete” with what is available online instantly, I needed this reminder that this method of life-touching-life teaching that Christ practiced will always have an organic value that Siri can’t compete with. Not to pick on “her,” but she’s programmed to handle it. Siri isn’t indwelt with the Holy Spirit. Neither is the iPhone 6, despite what Apple’s marketing department might like to think. But God-ordained teachers and disciplers are!

 

And so I need to remember that the value in my ministry is not the information alone – if that were the case, I’d be losing the race quickly. What I have to offer is what has been offered to me – Christ in me, the hope of glory, and Christ through me organically impacting the hearts and opinions of those I interact with. The most important aspect of my teaching ministry is what happens privately in my learning from Christ. I can’t spread a fire horizontally if my vertical relationship with Christ is ice cold.

 

It seems to me that it would be better if Christ did enter the room and take over the lesson. But in that thought, I was forgetting something. Christ is in me, and is living through me, and has called me to shepherd those young lives on the basis of that reality. So in a very real and organic sense, Christ was in the room. That’s a humbling thought considering my sinful, self-focused heart. But it’s also an encouraging thought to those of us called to impact others for Christ. Which, by the way, we are all called to do.


Sanctification: Ditches, Tugs, and Work

 

After a string of busy days, yesterday I took a rest day. A lazy day. An R & R day. I spent most of the day on the couch. It was great. But there’s lots to be done this week, and now that I’m rested and refreshed, it’s back to work. Which got me thinking…

 

tug of war“Dear friends, you always followed my instructions when I was with you. And now that I am away, it is even more important. Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. 13 For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.” (Phil. 2:12-13 NLT) [emphasis added].

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You’ve seen a tug of war. And, if you’re like me, there have been times when you’ve felt like the rope. Living these two verses can be like walking down a pathway with deep ditches on either side of you, and these ditches are alive and are trying to pull you in. The only way to walk forward is to keep a careful footing in the center, and to resist the constant tug of war.

If you were to summarize verses 12 and 13 of Philippians chapter 2, it might read something like this: “Work hard to grow in the faith. But God is the one working in you to do, and to want to do, His will.” Or, even shorter, it could read: “Work hard, but it is God working in you so that you can and will.” 

I love these two verses because they seem to sum up the tug of war that I’ve been waging in my mind for a very long time. It’s a subtle battle sometimes, but the tension can often throw me off my focus on growing spiritually and serving Christ. And there’s two deep, muddy ditches on either side of the pathway. Ditch 1 is trying hard to grow for God. And ditch 2 is letting go and letting God take control of my life. Sound like phrases you’ve heard before? Probably.

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So, who does the work in my sanctification? Verse 12 is clear, I need to get busy, set goals, and be intentional in my Christian growth. Throughout the new testament we learn that if we are not working at our christian growth it is most likely evidence that we’ve not been converted. Someone who has been given a gift so great as salvation will respond to that gift in practical gratitude. Romans 12:10-11 says, “Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically.

But Phil. 2:13 puts this all into proper perspective – it is only God who can create any lasting change in my desires and actions. Just as He brought me to spiritual life, He must bring me to spiritual growth. So the answer to the question above, really, is both! We are commanded to work at it, and we will be held responsible if we don’t, but only God can get it done.

You’re in ditch 1 if your efforts are active but independent, and intended to be a gift to (or even a response to) God.

You’re in ditch 2 if you have a heart/mindset of dependency, but you’re passive and not doing anything.

I’ve spent lots of time in both ditches.

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The solution here is quite simple. Work hard to grow, but know that when the growth does come, God is doing it. But what does that look like?

God does not want you to be an instant “super Christian.” He does not intend for you to be completely holy as he is holy – by tomorrow. (Maybe read that last sentence again.) Don’t get me wrong, His standard is still perfect holiness – without which you could never be His child or enter His heaven. And Phil. 1:6 tells us that He has you on that track and will complete that work in you. And yet, He has given us perfect righteousness in Christ already. We own it now. Present tense. But we’re not living perfectly righteous lives.

Catch the tension? He has designed a process (theologians call it “progressive sanctification”) whereby we gradually grow into what we already are positionally in Christ. This truth helps keep us from getting on the cycle of unrealistic goals – reaching for complete perfection, then crashing down into the cold mud of reality, again and again.

hard-work-ahead-sign

But thinking this way could easily lend itself to laziness. Considering all we’ve said about the work of Christian growth thus far, consider the following verses:

Work hard so you can present yourself to God and receive his approval. Be a good worker, one who does not need to be ashamed…” (II Tim. 2:15)

“But on the judgment day, fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done. The fire will show if a person’s work has any value. If the work survives, that builder will receive a reward. But if the work is burned up, the builder will suffer great loss. The builder will be saved, but like someone barely escaping through a wall of flames” (I Cor. 3:13-15).

I don’t have space here to discuss the relationship between our work in this life and God’s approval of us, or of our rewards in glory. Perhaps another post is warranted. But, in support of the point here, these verses clearly demonstrate that the Christian’s life must involve hard work.

I saw this tweet by Tim Challies yesterday: “We tend to overestimate what we can do in a short period, and underestimate what we can do over a long period.

If God, by grace, took us to 48-hour, super-saint-hood in our spiritual maturity , we would almost certainly become self-exalting. The purpose for the process is His glory. So embrace it.

Embrace it with realistic goals and long-term expectations of growth by His grace at work in you.

Embrace it with a dissatisfaction for how you’re living now.

Embrace it with passionate effort.

Embrace it as a means to His glory, not your goals.

Embrace it as His perfect work in, and over, and through your hard work.