When Evil Seems To Triumph

If God is sovereign and good, why does he allow evil to persist?  Why does he allow it to triumph at times?

“If we had been in Egypt at the time when Pharaoh started out to follow the Israelites to the Red Sea, we would have taken off their chariot wheels before they could get under way. But Jehovah did something better. He allowed the Egyptians to pursue and overtake and threaten, and then He allowed them in their pride to go down after Israel into the depths of the Sea…. It may be that God will allow error [or evil] to proceed further and let it seem to triumph, so that by its own presumption it may place itself where it is more effectually crushed…” –Spurgeon

The greatest triumph of evil was the murder of Christ.  God allowed evil to triumph temporarily so he could work a greater victory – one that freed God’s chosen ones from his wrath and sin’s shackles and made them his children.  A victory that will someday banish sin and wickedness forever.

When evil seems to triumph, it is so that God will get greater glory in the end.

photo by Peter Baer

The Dangerous Distracted Christian

These days it seems like everybody is talking about distraction. Newspaper and magazine articles warn about the dangers of constant distractions like Facebook, email, text messaging, and cell phone calls. And I’ll admit, I’m a distracted guy. My phone is buzzing all the time, emails pile up in my inbox, and Facebook allows me to always see who is eating what for dinner. It’s pretty easy to be distracted.

I think we’d all agree that being distracted is generally not a good habit. No one is going to argue with that. But are there any dangers specifically for us as Christians? I think so.

Specifically, I think that distraction can actually lead to selfishness. At least for me it can.

Think about it for a second. Every time that I pick up my phone to answer a text message or reply to an email, I’m taking my attention away from something or someone else. Sometimes this won’t be a big deal, like when I’m watching a football game or doing some other mindless task.

But many times, distraction takes me away from much more important things, like my family or my Bible. I’m playing with Charis. My phone buzzes. A new text message or email. Is it that important? No, not usually. But I feel this compulsion to answer, to pick up my phone, to see who is talking to me. I want to be current on things, to have information, to know what’s going on. Suddenly my attention is no longer on Charis, it’s on me. Selfishness has intruded.

I definitely don’t have this figured out. I don’t think we should all get rid of our cellphones and become monks. This is an issue that I’m going to keep thinking about and asking God for wisdom.

Because I don’t want to be selfish. I don’t want to miss the important stuff because I was fixated on a three inch screen.

The World’s Greatest Storyteller

Yoko Ono and her son, Sean Lennon, recently recorded a conversation about their lives as a part of the National Day of Listening. This is a project that encourages family members and friends to take some time the day after Thanksgiving to record interviews about their lives.

This made me think of my 92 year-old dad, who remembers more of his life and tells more stories than anyone I know. You can’t mention a topic around my dad that he doesn’t have a story about.  Dad told us one of my all-time favorite stories a couple years ago when I asked if he wanted coffee after dinner.

“Do you want to hear a sad story?” Dad asked.

“Yeah, Dad, I want to hear a sad story.  I love sad stories.  Why don’t you tell us?”  I knew he was going to anyway, and that once the story began, it would be a good 20 minutes before it would be finished.

“Well, Earl Fribertson was an oilman down in Tulsa, and one day Earl took me to lunch at a fancy place downtown called the Allied Club.  When the waitress came, Earl said, ‘Bring me some coffee and keep it coming.’  So I said, ‘Earl, you really like coffee don’t you?’  And Earl said, ‘Boy, do I!  I have my wife make me a big pot of coffee before I come to work, and then when I get to the office I tell my secretary to make some coffee and keep it coming.  I drink coffee all day long and then when I get home, I drink coffee all evening long till I go to bed.  Yeah, I love coffee.’”

And then Dad paused, and looked over the top of his glasses like a wise old sage about to reveal some deep and profound truth. “And you know what happened to him?”  Poignant pause.  “He wound up in the IN-sane asylum.”  He looked around the table with his eyebrows raised, as we sat there, waiting for him to go on.  Then he took a bite of his pie.

“That’s it?” I said.  “That’s the end?  He winds up in the IN-sane asylum?  What are you saying, Dad?  That I’m going to wind up in the IN-sane asylum because I have a cup of coffee after dinner?”

“Nope, just telling you a story.”

“Wow, Dad, thanks for the sad story.  That was great!  I was hoping I could be sad tonight and now you’ve satisfied me.  I’ll be thinking about Earl Fribertson every time I have a cup of coffee now.  Got any more sad stories?”

“Did I ever tell you the story about the Heath Bars?”

Usually my dad fills his stories with unnecessary details and conversations that transform his stories into epic monologues.  “So I said to Stan, ‘Hey Stan, I’m starving.  How about you?’  And Stan says, ‘You bet I am.  Hey, I know a little burger joint across town.  You want to go over there and get a burger?’  And I said, ‘I sure do.  Let’s go.’  So Stan and I get into his Hudson and head across town. Do you remember when I had a Hudson?  Man, that thing was nothing but trouble.  Well, you’re not going to believe this, but Stan and I get into his Hudson and head to the burger joint….”

If you’d like to hear one of Dad’s classic stories, you can listen here.  He gets to the Heath Bars around 3:55 into the story…

What’s so ironic is that when I was a kid and tried to tell Dad a story, he’d interrupt me and say, “Wait a minute.  Make it like Dragnet – ‘Just the facts ma’m, just the facts’ – don’t give me all the details, just the facts.”  Now he tells me stories OVERFLOWING with details.  Something’s not fair about this.

I’ve got to admit, I’ve heard my Dad’s stories so many times, I could do a much better job at listening.  My son David’s great about drawing Dad out.  David asks him, “Grandpa, when the Germans were firing at you, were you scared?  What was it like in the trenches?  What did the rations they gave you taste like?”

The National Day of Listening is a good idea. So often I’m slow to listen and quick to speak.  Too often I want to dispense advice or tell someone how to respond to a challenge before entering into their suffering.  So many times after my wife Kristi shares something she’s struggling with I give her a quick fix.  Sometimes she says, “I wasn’t really looking for you to tell me what to do.  I know I need to do that.  I just wanted to tell you how I’m feeling.”  “Oh” (Dumb Husband mistake #236).

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger… (James 1:19).  I want to be a better listener.

Who Are You Serving This Thanksgiving?

Thanksgiving provides a great opportunity to serve others.

Rather than spending the whole day crashed out on the couch in a tryptophan-induced coma watching football games you don’t really care about, (not that it’s wrong to crash on the couch or watch football – I’ll probably spend some time in a tryptophan-induced coma myself) try reaching out to your family members, especially if they are unbelievers.  Thanksgiving is a great day to imitate Jesus who came not to be served but to serve.  Here are a few ideas:

Take a genuine interest in them. Ask them if they’ve read any good books or seen any good movies lately. Ask them how it’s going on their job. Ask them about their children. If your grandfather or grandmother is there, ask them to tell you funny stories about their childhood or if they have any good stories from when they were in the Army.

Taking an interest in people is fun. If you have a relative who’s a lawyer, asked her about her most difficult case. Ask her if she’s ever said “I’ll see you in court” to someone. Ask her what she likes most and least about her job. Ask her what she does to try to persuade juries.  Ask her what the funniest thing that ever happened in court was.

Serve their children. Get down the floor with their kids and play with them. Do an art project or craft project with them. Play hide and seek or “I spy” with them. Try to make a memorable Thanksgiving for the kids.

Take an interest in the teenagers. Ask them what movies they’ve seen lately or what music they’re listening to. Ask them if they’ve seen any funny YouTube videos. Ask them about any sports they’re playing.

Help set the table and clear the table.  Wash the dishes. Try to be the biggest servant in the house.

If you’re as selfish as I am, you’ll need lots of grace, so don’t forget to ask the Lord to give you the desire and the strength to serve.

I’d like to have some more ideas for how I can serve my relatives – any you can share with me?

Happy Thanksgiving!

photo by Chloe Dietz

We Gotta Stop Saying These Things

Ever notice how Christians tend to develop their own lingo?

We who are in Sovereign Grace Churches have done that over the years, and thankfully, some of our old terminology has been relegated to the church lingo junk yard.  I can’t believe some of the language we used in the early years of our church. Visitors must have wondered what planet we came from.

For example, in the early 80’s in our church we called our worship team “The Music Unit.” What were we thinking?  Sounds like a name Frank Zappa would have come up with (he named his daughter Moon Unit). Maybe we should have had Styx come in to lead us in singing “Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto.” “Music Unit” also sounds like some kind of Swat Team.  I can hear Jack Bauer calling CTU saying, “I need you to get me the Music Unit over here NOW!”  Suddenly, a helicopter appears over the church building and black-clad commandos descend on ropes, bust through the sanctuary doors, storm the stage, and begin to lead us in a rousing chorus of “We’re Gonna Take Back What the Devil Stole From Us.”

Another name for worship teams that some of our churches used was “The Minstrels.” I am glad to say I never used that term.  What were we – medieval kings?  “Let the Minstrels come forth!”  Suddenly singers come out in tights and jester hats playing their lutes.  What were guests thinking?  “When does the jousting begin?”  What were guests who’d been to the Genesis concert the night before thinking?  “Last night I saw a super band; this morning I’m being entertained by minstrels.”

This may have been limited to our church, but back in the early 80’s we had “pot faith” meals, because there is no such thing as “luck” for a Christian. Of course, no one would tell anyone else what they were bringing, we would just be in “faith” the Holy Spirit would lead each of us in what to bring.  I don’t know how we explained it when everyone showed up with macaroni and cheese.

As weird as we were back then, we still have things we have to quit saying. We have got to stop saying “Released,” as in “Those of you serving in Children’s Ministry may be released now.”  What?  Do we have them in cages?  “Run free Children’s Workers!  Run home to your burrows.”  Or, “Thank your wife for releasing you to come and speak at our church this morning.”  “Ok, I’ll do that.  I’ll thank her for unlocking those manacles on my wrists and ankles.”  What do visitors think when we say, “For all our guests this morning, please be released from giving any currency in the oblation when the ushers come hither from yon ushers’ chambers.”

I know I’ll get flack for this one, but can we stop calling the Communion bread and juice “the elements?”
What are we taking this morning – Chromium and Manganese?

And we’ve got to stop saying, “So if you’re here this morning” as in, “So if you’re here this morning and you’re depressed…”
Of course they’re here.  Where else are they?  “So if you’re not here this morning and you’re depressed…”

And I think it’s time for guys to stop calling other guys, “Bro.” That was cool at one time but we’ve got to ditch it.  Along with overuse of the word “serve.”  “Bro, it really wouldn’t serve my wife, Bro, for me to help you move your piano this weekend.  And Bro, it wouldn’t serve me either, Bro.  And Bro, I’d love to serve you by sharing an observation with you, Bro.  Be released from asking me to serve you in the future, Bro.”

And can we all stop saying, “At the end of the day” and “It is what it is?”  Can we, Bro?

Now it’s your turn.  What other lingo do we just need to stop using?

Why We Should Be Steadfast

Ever feel like giving up?

You put your check in the offering basket month after month, and after years, you still struggle to make ends meet. You share the gospel with your child for decades and have yet to see her trust Christ for salvation.  You pray for your friend to be healed for years, then he goes to be with the Lord. You spend dozens of hours counseling a couple struggling in their marriage, only to see them divorce.

I know pastors who’ve preached the gospel for years yet see little church growth.  And small group leaders who’ve regularly prepared for meetings, opened their homes, and gotten together with those they serve, only to see their groups dwindle.  I know believers who have adopted only to experience rejection and pain from the child they took in.

Sometimes we feel like, “What’s the point?  Why am I doing this?  Why keep praying?  Why keep reaching out to this person? Why keep serving?  Nothing’s happening.”

Yet God tells us:

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (1 CO 15.58)

The word “therefore” connects this verse to what Paul shared previously, namely, the doctrine of the resurrection.  Paul says since Christ has been raised, we’ll be raised with him to enjoy the fruit of our labors for eternity.  “Therefore” nothing we do for Christ is in vain.  We’ll be rewarded – not here but in heaven.

If there were no resurrection all Paul suffered for the gospel would have been pointless:

Why are we in danger every hour? …I die every day!  What do I gain if, humanly speaking, I fought with beasts at Ephesus? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”  (1 Corinthians 15:30-32)

In other words, if there’s no resurrection, why am I doing this?  Why should I expose myself to danger for the gospel?  Why fight beasts in Ephesus?  If there’s no resurrection, eat, drink and be merry.  Live for today.

But there will be a resurrection, so none of our work in Christ is in vain.  Every prayer, counseling session, act of mercy, no matter what the visible results are here, will be rewarded.

You will be raised imperishable in Christ, so all you do for Jesus has eternal significance.  That’s the point. That’s why you should be steadfast and immovable.  That’s why you shouldn’t throw in the towel.  Keep abounding in the Lord’s work.

photo by Jeremy Brooks

Father Abraham’s Flimsy Faith

Hebrews 11 is sort of like the Bible’s version of the Hall of Fame. As you walk the hall’s long marble corridors you see a picture of Abel on your left, offering up a sacrifice to the Lord. And there on your right is Noah, constructing a Titanic that wouldn’t sink. In one alcove you find yourself face to face with busts of Samson, Gideon, and Jepthah. As you wander a little further, one display catches your eye. It’s size alone makes it impossible to ignore. You’re standing face to face with Abraham. A little golden placard at the base of the display says “Father of Faith”.

To the side of the display is a small video screen playing the “Top 10 Moments of Abraham’s Life”. You give your attention to the screen, expecting to see one glorious triumph of faith after another. After all, this is the hall of fame. But what you see baffles you.

The documentary begins with Abraham leaving all he knows to obey the call of God. So far so good. But then you see Father Abe, quaking in his sandals, basically giving his wife to Pharaoah. Odd.

Abraham believes God and it’s counted to him as righteousness. Now we’re talking. Abraham tries to sabotage the promise of God by having a son through Hagar. That seems very un-heroic-faith-like.

Abraham is willing to sacrifice his son Isaac out of obedience to God. Now that’s extreme faith. Abraham again tries to give his wife away, this time to Abimelech.

You take a second look at the “Father of Faith” placard. Was Abraham really a faith champ? Absolutely…sometimes. But there seems to be something else bigger going on here. You watch the documentary a second time. Yeah, now you’re seeing it more clearly. Every time Abraham tried to drop a bomb on the sacred promise, God stopped him. God keeps his promises in spite of human unfaithfulness.

You flip over the golden placard and notice writing on the back. Now everything makes sense. It reads: God is Faithful.

Originally published in November, 2008.

The Dangerous Holy Spirit

It’s dangerous when the Holy Spirit gets involved. People who have no intention of getting saved suddenly find themselves crying out for mercy.

In their book, A God-Sized Vision: Revival Stories That Stretch and Stir, Colin Hansen and John Woodbridge relate the following story about the Great Awakening:

The Weekly History contained an account of a Boston slave owner who walked in on his slave preaching to himself, imitating Whitfield’s dramatic style. The owner, no fan of the revival, was so amused that he called together his friends for some after-dinner entertainment.

“Supplying his friends with pipes and glasses all around, he instructed his slave to mount a stool in the center of the room and preach as he had the day before,” historian Frank Lambert explains. “As he began, the company laughed heartily, but when he warned of the new birth, ‘the Negro spoke with such Authority that struck the Gentleman to Heart’. To their host’s dismay, the men began to listen intently, and many, as a result of the day’s ‘entertainment’, became ‘pious sober Men'”.

The Holy Spirit enjoys such surprises.

Better Than Peter, James and John

What must it have been like for the disciples to walk with Jesus before his ascension?

To sit around a fire with him and ask him the meaning of his parables.  To break bread with him and laugh with him.  To see him lay his hands on lepers and blind people and cure them.

And yet Jesus said that we who believe today have it better than the disciples did when Jesus was with them physically:

Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. (John 16:7)

Jesus indwells every believer through the Holy Spirit.  Each one of us has direct access to Christ every moment of the day.  Wake up in the middle of the night and we can talk to Jesus.  Driving to work we can ask him to save our loved ones or give us wisdom.  We can come to the throne of grace while changing our child’s diaper, or doing the dishes.  He’s nearer than the air we breathe.

Not only that, Jesus longs to fellowship with us.  He loves it when cast our cares on him and bring our requests to him.  He’s never too busy to give us his undivided loving attention.  He delights to reveal the Father to us.  And our thanksgiving and praise brings him joy.

Enjoy communing with Christ today.  You’ve got it better than Peter, James and John.

photo by chealion

These Are My Heroes

I love Mark Driscoll, and C.J. Mahaney, and John Piper, and many other big name pastors and preachers who have affected my life.

But they’re not my heroes.

Most people don’t know my heroes, and probably never will know them.

Like Tim and Donna, who have faithfully led a small groups for 20+ years, served in children’s ministry, played on the worship team, and blessed countless people in the church.

Like Ian and Larissa, who are demonstrating what the love of Christ truly looks like.

Like Marty and MaryAnn, who have used their empty nest to welcome college students into the church.

Like my in-laws, Matt and Pat, who co-lead our children’s ministry despite having no young children.

Like my mom and dad, who poured themselves into five kids, and taught me what it means to really follow Jesus.

Like my wife, Jen, who stays at home with our girls so that I can use my abilities to serve the church.

And like many, many others in my church.

These are my heroes.


+photo by yosoyjulito