27 June 2012

Pleading with God

Tim Challies received this email from a reader.  It resonated with me because I also cry out to God, wanting my children home. The emailer wrote,

"Personal situation with universal question: My wife and I are adopting 2 kiddos from Africa that have HIV. That’s all planned, no surprise, grace given to us to do so, praise be to God. Throughout this, I continuously pray for my kiddos over there. Yelling, crying, heart wrenching (I’m tearing up right now thinking about it) kind of prayers. They are very sick, and I want my babies home with me. They’re dying of starvation and little medication over there. I don’t feel like I keep praying the same prayers because I don’t believe God cares or can take care of it, I pray because it’s breaking my heart, I badly want by children home, and I want it to stay as a “top-shelf issue” in front of God. Am I wrong in my theology and practice by continuing to pray for the same thing? I sometimes feel that it’s blasphemous to re-pray something, as if I’m insinuating that God is not listening, doesn’t care, doesn’t remember, or needs to re-prioritize His to-do list."

Read how Challies responds here.  

22 June 2012

My 500th post-an anthology

I wrote my first blog post here in 2007.  It was about black bean burgers.  In 2009, I “reimagined” the blog, focusing more on issues related to the Christian life.  This is my 500th post and to mark the occasion, I decided to highlight some of the things I have written about during that time. 

First, a bit of navigation. You will notice that my blog has a group of words on the left panel of all of the labels I have used over the years.  The topics that I have written most about seem to be: books, the 3650 challenge (reflections on a reading program), marriage, parenting, sin, and suffering, though there have been many other themes as well. 

July 18, 2009--I was reflecting on Brother Lawrence, who wrote, "God knows best what we need. All that He does is for our good. If we knew how much He loves us, we would always be ready to receive both the bitter and the sweet from His Hand. It would make no difference. All that came from Him would be pleasing."

July 18, 2009--I started my reflections on Russell Moore's Adopted for Life.We had started the the adoption process, but Tessa hadn't come home yet.  Who knew how much she would rock our world?  

July 22,2009--I had just read Jon Acuff's blog post, "Welcome Home Banners."  Acuff wrote, ""Forgiveness is the thing I ask for the most. In my head maybe I know that God’s forgiveness is eternal and inexhaustible but in my heart I feel like He’s going to run out of it. That He’s got a limited supply. And I’m burning them up, one by one, sin by sin." I still go back to this essay for encouragement. 

July 25, 2009--I wrote a post entitled "Urgency". I was reflecting on the pain evident in Heather's life waiting for Tessa to come home. Interestingly, she had been having some pain that wasn't healing.  She was diagnosed with cancer a few months later. I often wonder if this was precursor.  

August 2, 2009--I wrote a post entitled "Tarnished Heaven". I think this is still personally one of my favorites. I was trying to help myself and others to see that God is really much bigger than we imagine.  I wanted to write a word of encouragement for those who somehow imagine heaven will be boring.  

October 16, 2009--I wrote the first cancer post.  Five days prior, Heather had been diagnosed with breast cancer.  I had no idea what the next several months, and even years, would truly entail. 

January 15, 2010--I started a Weekly Roundup post that didn't last long.  Interestingly, in the first one, 5 of the 6 articles I linked to had to do with the earthquake in Haiti. We had no idea at the time that we would be adopting from there 2 years later. 

March 6, 2010--I nominated Heather for the WWIB woman of the year.  Here was her nomination letter. 

March 10, 2010--I wrote one of the hardest posts I have ever written.  In my hometown of Oostburg, there was a lot of vitriol being expressed about the possibility of a mosque opening outside of town.  I wrote a post suggesting that the Christian ethic demanded a more compassionate response.  

September 2, 2010--Inspired by John Piper, I made my first attempt at poetry by writing "The cost?--my life".  This was another one of my favorite pieces of writing. 

October 12, 2010--I linked to 10 reasons why a daughter needs a dad from "The Resurgence."  This still, by far, the most widely read blogpost I have had.  I don't know why.  

January 7, 2011--I gave a summary of several Bible reading plans that I had reviewed over the previous days.  I still think getting into the word with one of these plans, or another, is a good idea. 

November 3, 2011--I summarized my review of several apologetics training programs I had done.  When the chips are down, go with Greg Koukl.  

February 26, 2012--I reflected on our trip to Haiti.  I cannot wait to have those two kiddos home!

June 8, 2012--Here was a recent post that I am glad I wrote.  It has to do with the concept of tolerance.  

Thanks for reading over the last few years.  I hope to continue to offer challenging posts for your consideration. 

21 June 2012

Occupy folks oppose those opposed to child sex trafficking

Gene Veith shares a link about occupy protestors protesting a conference focused on stopping the childhood sex trade.  This should not surprise us in a culture steeped in moral relativism.  He begins, "There was a conference on stopping child sex trafficking.  So the Oakland branch of the Occupy Wall Street protested on the grounds that such efforts are 'racist' acts of oppression against 'sex workers.'"

Read the rest here

20 June 2012

The Righteous Do Not Fall?

You should all take time to read this post from Jon Acuff today about one of my favorite verses in Proverbs:

Recently I wrote the entire book of Proverbs by hand.

I did this because I’m holier than you and want to have a waterslide at my house in heaven.

You might be satisfied with just a regular mansion, but I have pretty high hopes for a ridiculous tree fort when I get up there. Booby traps, rope ladder, fire place, the works. Granted, it’s probably not nice to have a booby trapped treehouse in heaven because so many people won’t be expecting to encounter a booby trap behind the pearly gates. But that’s kind of what makes it even awesomer.

Writing the book out was fun and took me about 6 months. Part of what took so long was that I kept finding errors in Proverbs. The biggest of all was perhaps Proverbs 24:16.

Don’t act like you don’t know it by heart. Fine, I’ll write it out for you:

It says, “for though the righteous do not fall, the wicked stumble when calamity strikes.”

Great verse! Lays out clearly how we’re called to live. Don’t stumble like the wicked. Be righteous. Done and done. That’s how I’ve always learned that verse. Only there was a problem when I read it in my Bible.
In my Bible, it didn’t say that. In my Bible it said:

“for though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again, but the wicked stumble when calamity strikes.”

That can’t be right. Though for years I’ve spouted clich├ęs like “I’m not perfect, I’m forgiven,” I haven’t really believed them. Deep in the shadows of my heart, I’ve believed that to be righteous means you don’t fall. You don’t make mistakes. You don’t mess up. That was all something that happened pre-salvation.

Post-salvation is for error-free living.

And if you do make a mistake, you don’t “get up,” you “give up.” At least for a certain period of time. If time heals all wounds, then time covers all sins too. You can’t get up until you’ve paid some secret, silent sort of penance. But that’s not what the Bible says.

The Bible doesn’t say, “The righteous do not fall.” It actually says, “for though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again.”
That’s not a maybe. The verse doesn’t say, “If the righteous happen to possibly fall.” It says, “for though the righteous fall seven times.” It’s a definite, not a maybe, statement.

OK, fine, but where’s the shame they’re supposed to pay before they rise again? Where’s the condemnation? Where do they earn the title of righteous again? How many good decisions does it take to clean yourself up after each bad decision?

It doesn’t say.

And so it must be a typo. It must be a mistake in my version of the Bible. It can’t be true. Unless, and this is a big unless, Jesus died for all our sins. That’s crazy if you think about it, someone dying the worst death imaginable so that when we fall, we can still get up. When we fail, we can still be righteous.

That’s the only possible explanation I have for a verse like this.

Or it’s a typo and Zondervan owes me a refund with this error-riddled Bible. (Whole thing is full of unbelievable grace that makes no sense, absolutely lousy with typos.)

Typos in the Bible. | Stuff Christians Like – Jon Acuff

19 June 2012

Should We Do Short Term Missions?

"Imagine a team from France calls your church and says they want to visit. They want to put on VBS (which you have done for years), but the material is in French. They have heard about how the U.S. church has struggled and want to help you fix it. They want to send 20 people, half of them youth. Only two of them speak English. They need a place to stay for free, with cheap food and warm showers if possible. During the trip half of the group's energy will be spent on resolving tension between team members. Two people will get sick. They'd like you to arrange some sightseeing for them on their free day. Do you want them to come?

"Most trips I know focus on those who are going, not on those receiving the teams. We send youth so they can have an experience or so God can really grip their heart. You may want your adults to gain a larger heart for the nations. Even if research shows that short-term trips do not affect the lives of participants in the long-term, we still send teams." --Darren Carlson. 

I don't quite know what to think about this article.  The author, Darren Carlson, raises some interesting points for consideration, though they may be stated to the extreme.  Sometimes, I think short term missions is a broken concept and could be done better, I am just not sure I understand what "better" looks like. 

Read the rest here.  

18 June 2012

50 Shades of Dangerous

Jenny Rae Armstrong takes on the phenomenon that is "50 Shades of Grey". 

She writes, "I’ve written about the abusive themes in romance novels before, and have complained about the incredibly dysfunctional examples set by literary couples from Romeo and Juliet to Edward Cullen and Bella Swan. But really, BDSM erotica takes it to a whole new level. Swooning over a cranky alpha-hero can be chalked up to culturally-induced insanity, but it doesn’t seem to me that there’s anything subtle about the violence dished out in “50 Shades of Grey.”

Why do women fantasize about abuse? And how does it relate to the real-life sexual abuse and domestic violence that one out of four American women experience at some point in their lives?
I found the question so troubling that I did a little research, only to discover that the more it’s studied, the more female sexuality leaves scientists, psychologists, and sexologists shaking their heads in confusion.

Read the whole thing here.  In fact, read this instead of reading "50 shades."  As a society, we have got to get a handle on sexual exploitation. 

12 June 2012

John Piper on Christlikeness

In the past month or so I have been spending much of my personal devotional time meditating on the words of Jesus and the way he acted. The result has been that I love this man with a newly felt longing. I long for his single-minded devotion to his Father’s will to rub off on me. I long to share his profound understanding of the human heart and his ability to see through all the outer layers of our lives and into our heart. I long to have his way with words—words that always laid bare a person’s real loves. I long, like Mary, to sit at his feet and drink in the living water of his teaching, until it so satisfies my heart that I can be as free as he was from the love of money and from the love of the praise of men and from anxiety about tomorrow. I have come away from the gospels hungry to be holy, to be real and authentic, not to play church or play religion, and not to fritter away my short life with nonessentials. And all these longings and this hunger have driven me to prayer that God would work me over and not allow me to creep along so slowly in my quest for Christ-likeness.

Gospel Centered Parenting

Luma Simms shares thoughts on Gospel-centered parenting:

If we stop to consider the motivations of our hearts—what is driving us as parents—we can gain important insight into the discipleship of our children. The driver behind gospel-centered discipleship is the glory of Christ. The driver behind child-centered discipleship is the glory of our children, and by extension, our own glory. In order to understand my own motives, I’ve learned to ask myself: Do I want my children to know God, to rest in the person and work of Christ, to have their many, many sins washed in the blood of the Lamb, and to eternally glorify Him? Or rather do I want my children to be “good,” to scrupulously avoid sin and follow biblical injunctions, to avoid bad consequences in this life? Obviously, these are not mutually exclusive, but where does Christ ask us to put our emphasis? My answers to these questions revealed some very selfish desires. I have lived with fear and anxiety over my children’s sins, and I’ve come to realize what was in my heart. I was not offended by their sins for the sake of God’s reputation, nor was I offended because sin is rebellion and an affront to the person of Christ himself. No, I feared sin in my children’s lives because I cared more about all the earthly consequences of sin. For example, a little over eight years ago, I grabbed hold of Deuteronomy 6 and started rattling it like a sword in a battle cry for homeschooling. I had convinced myself that this was the only type of schooling capable of producing godly children. At the heart of my child-centered thinking, was the belief that I, as a parent—not Christ, as our Lord—must do everything to protect my children from the world and sin.

By pure grace, almost two years ago, I was convicted that I had valued my children’s well-being more than I had valued Jesus. I trembled at the realization that the comfort and safety (even the spiritual safety) of my children, had become more important to me than the person of Christ. Their “godliness” was a higher priority in my own life than was Christ’s glory. For all my talk about holy living, I was unwilling to follow Abraham’s spiritual example. I had denied Christ’s call to forsake all else and follow Him. Instead, I had attempted to supplant the Holy Spirt, to save and sanctify my children by my good works. This is the sad truth of child-centered discipleship—at its core it is self-centered legalism, even rebellion.

Read the rest here

11 June 2012

Staying Alive to the Beauty of the World

I have started reading through John Piper's sermons during my devotional reading.  Last night, I was reading a sermon entitled "Sky Talk" that he delivered in 1980.  Near the end, he shared 11 steps from Clyde Kilby on staying alive to the beauty of God's world.  There is much good advice here.

  1.      At least once every day I shall look steadily up at the sky and remember that I, a consciousness with a conscience, am on a planet traveling in space with wonderfully mysterious things above me and about me.

  2.      Instead of the accustomed idea of a mindless and endless evolutionary change to which we can neither add nor subtract, I shall suppose the universe guided by an Intelligence which, as Aristotle said of Greek drama, requires a beginning, a middle and an end. I think this will save me from the cynicism expressed by Bertrand Russell before his death, when he said: “There is darkness without and when I die there will be darkness within. There is no splendour, no vastness anywhere, only triviality for a moment, and then nothing.”

  3.      I shall not fall into the falsehood that this day, or any day, is merely another ambiguous and plodding twenty-four hours, but rather a unique event filled, if I so wish, with worthy potentialities. I shall not be fool enough to suppose that trouble and pain are wholly evil parentheses in my existence but just as likely ladders to be climbed toward moral and spiritual manhood.

  4.      I shall not turn my life into a thin straight line which prefers abstractions to reality. I shall know what I am doing when I abstract, which of course I shall often have to do.

  5.      I shall not demean my own uniqueness by envy of others. I shall stop boring into myself to discover what psychological or social categories I might belong to. Mostly I shall simply forget about myself and do my work.

  6.      I shall open my eyes and ears. Once every day I shall simply stare at a tree, a flower, a cloud, or a person. I shall not then be concerned at all to ask what they are but simply be glad that they are. I shall joyfully allow them the mystery of what Lewis calls their “divine, magical, terrifying and ecstatic” existence.

  7.      I shall sometimes look back at the freshness of vision I had in childhood and try, at least for a little while, to be, in the words of Lewis Carroll, the “child of the pure unclouded brow, and dreaming eyes of wonder.”

  8.      I shall follow Darwin’s advice and turn frequently to imaginative things such as good literature and good music, preferably, as Lewis suggests, an old book and timeless music.

  9.      I shall not allow the devilish onrush of this century to usurp all my energies but will instead, as Charles Williams suggested, “fulfill the moment as the moment.” I shall try to live well just now because the only time that exists is just now.

  10.      If for nothing more than the sake of a change of view, I shall assume my ancestry to be from the heavens rather than from the caves.

  11.      Even if I turn out to be wrong, I shall bet my life in the assumption that this world is not idiotic, neither run by an absentee landlord, but that today, this very day, some stroke is being added to the cosmic canvas that in due course I shall understand with joy as a stroke made by the architect who calls Himself Alpha and Omega.

08 June 2012

Tolerance, Acceptance, and Love

"Jesus was all about acceptance, not hate."

"We are supposed to be tolerant of others' beliefs."

Tolerance and acceptance have been cultural buzzwords for a years.  People often ascribe to Jesus the "virtues" of tolerance and acceptance. Whenever I see that, the first question I want to ask is "what do you mean by that?"  In this case, in many cases, definitions matter. If we fail to understand what someone is trying to communicate, we run the risk of misinterpreting them. 

In my experience, when people describe Jesus as tolerant, they often mean that he would approve of any choice, lifestyle, or behavior. This is often accompanied by the statement "the Bible says don't judge", which also requires clarification of definitions, but that is a discussion for a different time.  The same trends are often seen with the idea of acceptance. 

Because I have heard these terms so often, I decided to look them up in the Bible.  The word tolerance is never mentioned in the Bible. Its root word, "tolerate" is mentioned twice in the ESV. The first one in Esther 3:8 has little to do with the idea of tolerance alluded to above. In Revelation 2:20, the concept seems to be the opposite. In the letter to the church at Thyatira, "the words of the son of God" condemn the church's tolerance for Jezebel who seduced and taught people to engage in idolatry and sexual immorality. The NIV also translates Habakkuk 1:13 using the word tolerate; it reads "your eyes are too pure to look on evil, you cannot tolerate wrong." Acceptance and its variants have more entries. Searching accept, acceptance, and accepting, I came up with 63 entries. None of these are consistent with the concept of God accepting sinfulness. 

Conversely, the word "love" appears 506 times in the Bible. When Jesus was asked what was the greatest command, he told the people that they were to love God with all their heart, soul, and mind and love their neighbors as themselves. (Matthew 22:36-38). But I think we need to be careful to understand what biblical love means. Here are some things I do not think it means:

I do not think it means "tolerance".  In other words, I see no biblical evidence suggesting that God is willing to overlook sin.  Indeed, tolerance for sin was held against the church at Thyatira. If we are to make disciples (Matthew 28), that means we teach them what God's word says. God hates sin.  God loves people. The only way those things are reconciled is through the blood of Christ. 

I do not think it means "judgment". A common criticism of many Christians is that they are judgmental. I think that is a fair, albeit painful critique. Too often, Christians walk the beaches of humanity with a "sin detector".  When we discover little scraps of sin, we say "a-ha! I got you!"  I do not believe that is loving either. 

Ephesians 4:15 tells us to speak truth in love.  Micah 6:8 says to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God. We are not to neglect truth and justice.  We are all sinners.  We will all one day face God's judgment. We cannot downplay that message.  Yet, we must not neglect love and kindness. We must weep with those who weep and mourn with those who mourn. We must take a long view of sanctification.  David Powlison described progressive sanctification is often like a yo-yo going up a flight up steps.  There will be ups and downs, but there is a general trend toward growth in Christlikeness.  We must love people fully where they are at, but not neglect holding up the mirror of Scripture.  

I have been wrestling with these concepts for a long time. I expect to continue to do so for the rest of my life. If you find yourself equating tolerance with love, or judgment with love, I would encourage you to dig into the scriptures as well, praying that God will reveal to us the true meaning of love.

06 June 2012

The inner and outer chaos of SAHMs

Gloria Furhman, writing at Desiring God, has a word of encouragement for stay at home moms and an exhortation for their husbands. She writes,

The harrowing, inner chaos in the soul of a SAHM can drive a woman to do things she never wanted to do. A woman driven by inner chaos will do things like give her children the silent treatment, manipulate her friends, get an ulcer over the budget, or belittle her husband’s hard work.

The manageable outer chaos is aggravated by the inner chaos in our soul. Outer chaos all of a sudden becomes unmanageable. Competent, confident homemakers lose their nerves of steel. Even though it’s “just” a hiccup in the schedule, or a setback with a child’s discipline, or a burned piece of garlic bread, it becomes so much bigger in our hearts.

Then the elusive “peace like a river” is more like a category five hurricane of anxiety, bitterness, discouragement, or discontent.

Husbands, when you can, please step into the outer chaos and help your wife put out a few fires. Then, when the smoke has cleared (or even as it is still lingering), let the Spirit lead you to step into her inner chaos as well.

Read the rest here