After receiving our two COVID-19 vaccination shots, my wife Tammy and I recently returned to church after more than 13 months of watching our church services via livestream. Church leaders have faced a number of unprecedented challenges during the COVID19 pandemic. Here are a few of my reflections as a leader from the past year plus: Continue reading
Apps are becoming more and more popular. I use a few on a daily basis, and the last three conferences I’ve attended – Sing!, Ligonier National Conference and the Gospel Coalition National Conference – have all used a helpful app designed to increase the experience for the conference attendees. Here are my favorite Christian apps that I use:
Ligonier. My favorite app is from Ligonier Ministries. I’m amazed at the amount of free content that is included on the app. The app includes:
- Daily Renewing Your Mind broadcasts
- Daily videos and devotional readings
- Ligonier Conference messages
- Popular articles from Tabletalk magazine
- Posts from the Ligonier blog
- More than 50 free teaching series, including The Holiness of God and Chosen by God
Ask most people how they are doing today and you’ll likely hear “Busy, really busy”. It’s almost a “badge of honor” these days to say that you are busy. And I don’t doubt for a minute that you are. Think of how much of each day is already committed (work, sleep, chores, errands, meals, etc.) and you realize that you don’t really have a lot of spare time. You’re probably doing the best you can. You may feel that you are chasing your tail, putting out fires all day, and it’s all you can do to keep your head above water. And don’t even get me started on the impact of technology, which was supposed to make our lives easier, but now we are constantly “connected” with our smart phones buzzing and beeping, calling us to check our social media feeds dozens (or more) times each day.
Understanding this, you might find that it is hard to live a life for Christ. How can you move from a scattered life to an integrated one? In other words, how can you intentionally live a life that matters, one that has purpose? Continue reading
The issue of border walls is certainly an ongoing political topic in our country these days. Some are in favor of a border wall along our southern border, while others see such a wall as immoral. Some politicians are wanting to build many more miles of a wall, while others to tear down the walls that have already been constructed. No matter which side of this debate you are on, you might be interested to know that opposition to building or rebuilding a wall is nothing new. In the first six chapters of the Old Testament book of Nehemiah, we read about the reconstruction of a wall that has been damaged.
We are introduced to Nehemiah in 444 B.C. when he was serving in the Persian royal court as the personal cupbearer to King Artaxerxes. I’ve always enjoyed the story of Nehemiah. One of the first books I read as a new believer in the early 1980’s was Charles Swindoll’s Hand Me Another Brick, which was about Nehemiah’s leadership.
After 70 years in exile, some of the Jews had returned home and rebuilt the temple in Jerusalem, as we read about in the book of Ezra. They were able to worship God in their own land, but the city still lay in ruins. In Nehemiah 1:3, Nehemiah is told that the wall of Jerusalem is broken down and its gates destroyed by fire more than a half-century after the completion of the rebuilding of the temple. Upon hearing this news, Nehemiah mourns and prays to God. He then asks permission of King Artaxerxes to go to Judah to rebuild the walls, which the king grants. When Nehemiah arrives, he inspects the walls around Jerusalem, devises a plan to rebuild, and rallies the people of Judah to do the work. He tells the jeering Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite and Geshem the Arab that the God of heaven will make them prosper in the work (Nehemiah 2:20). Continue reading
Our Father in Heaven,
As Christians around the world celebrate Resurrection Sunday, we thank you for the sacrifice that your Son made on our behalf, a sacrifice we don’t consider, meditate on, or give thanks for often enough. In fact, it’s usually only during this time of the year that many of us even think about the resurrection.
In perfect unity with the other members of the Trinity, Jesus willingly came to earth as a human, as one of us, enduring suffering and temptation just as we do, but without sin. From the beginning, Jesus knew that His earthly mission would end up on a cruel Roman cross. He prayed in the garden that his cup would pass, but He was in complete submission to Your will.
In the “Great Exchange” on the cross, Jesus took on himself the sins of all Christians – past, present and future. In exchange, He gave us His righteousness.
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:21
This is Amazing Grace! Hallelujah! What a Savior! Continue reading
One of the things that my wife Tammy enjoys about living in the Midwest is the opportunity to enjoy the four seasons. While I might prefer the climate of San Diego, she enjoys experiencing each of the four seasons, especially the new life of spring, and the beautiful colors of fall. Even in the days leading up to spring, we could already see the green of bulbs pushing up through the soil, perennials coming back to life, buds on our trees, and our grass turning green.
In a way, spring corresponds so much with Easter, as our creation seems to be resurrecting daily before our eyes. That gives me hope after a long and cold winter, which featured a major ice storm. In his new book Hope in Times of Fear, Tim Keller tells us that what Christianity offers a world that has lost hope is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, which Christians celebrate on Easter, but which should be foremost in our thoughts each day. Continue reading
As we know, our lives at times can be difficult enough, and 2020 was particularly difficult. Perhaps you lost a loved one, faced a serious illness yourself, or are presently caring for a loved one. Perhaps you contracted COVID-19, or like everyone, you experienced the numerous changes, challenges and frustrations due to the pandemic (wearing a mask, work and school from home, no travel, sports, movie theaters, concerts or indoor dining, and more).
The recent holiday season was a good example of how the pandemic changed our lives in 2020. Some of us, following the advice of health experts, chose to not gather with family for our normal celebrations, while others had smaller gatherings in which we took safety precautions (masks and social distancing).
As we begin the month of March, a question I want to ask you is, despite all that is going on around you, are you able to experience joy in your journey?
One of my favorite Michael Card songs is his 1987 song “Joy in the Journey”. You can listen to it here. Continue reading
Every once in a while, a book comes along that just blows you away. Gentle and Lowly by Dane Ortlund is one of those books. You can read my review of the book here. Here are 45 more great quotes from the book:
- The sins of those who belong to God open the floodgates of his heart of compassion for us. The dam breaks. It is not our loveliness that wins his love. It is our unloveliness.
- The atonement accomplished our salvation; intercession is the moment-by-moment application of that atoning work.
- The intercession of Christ is his heart connecting our heart to the Father’s heart.
- He knows us to the uttermost, and he saves us to the uttermost, because his heart is drawn out to us to the uttermost. We cannot sin our way out of his tender care.
- Our prayer life stinks most of the time. But what if you heard Jesus praying aloud for you in the next room? Few things would calm us more deeply.
- Our sinning goes to the uttermost. But his saving goes to the uttermost. And his saving always outpaces and overwhelms our sinning, because he always lives to intercede for us.
- An intercessor stands between two parties; an advocate doesn’t simply stand in between the two parties but steps over and joins the one party as he approaches the other. Jesus is not only an intercessor but an advocate.
- Yes, we fail Christ as his disciples. But his advocacy on our behalf rises higher than our sins. His advocacy speaks louder than our failures. All is taken care of.
- When we choose to sin—though we forsake our true identity, our Savior does not forsake us. These are the very moments when his heart erupts on our behalf in renewed advocacy in heaven with a resounding defense that silences all accusations, astonishes the angels, and celebrates the Father’s embrace of us in spite of all our messiness.
- Let Jesus draw you in through the loveliness of his heart. This is a heart that upbraids the impenitent with all the harshness that is appropriate, yet embraces the penitent with more openness than we are able to feel. It is a heart that walks us into the bright meadow of the felt love of God.
- The Son of God clothed himself with humanity and will never unclothe himself. He became a man and always will be.
- One implication of this truth of Christ’s permanent humanity is that when we see the feeling and passions and affections of the incarnate Christ toward sinners and sufferers as given to us in the four Gospels, we are seeing who Jesus is for us today.
- While Christ is a lion to the impenitent, he is a lamb to the penitent—the reduced, the open, the hungry, the desiring, the confessing, the self-effacing. He hates with righteous hatred all that plagues you.
- Christ’s heart for us means that he will be our never-failing friend.
- The Spirit takes what we read in the Bible and believe on paper about Jesus’s heart and moves it from theory to reality, from doctrine to experience.
- The Spirit has been given to us in order that we might know, way down deep, the endless grace of the heart of God.
- The Spirit’s role, in summary, is to turn our postcard apprehensions of Christ’s great heart of longing affection for us into an experience of sitting on the beach, in a lawn chair, drink in hand, enjoying the actual experience.
- When we see the heart of Christ, then, throughout the four Gospels, we are seeing the very compassion and tenderness of who God himself most deeply is.
- As you consider the Father’s heart for you, remember that he is the Father of mercies. He is not cautious in his tenderness toward you. He multiplies mercies matched to your every need, and there is nothing he would rather do.
- The bent of God’s heart is mercy. His glory is his goodness. His glory is his lowliness.
- The Christian life, from one angle, is the long journey of letting our natural assumption about who God is, over many decades, fall away, being slowly replaced with God’s own insistence on who he is.
- God’s thoughts are so much higher than ours that not only does he abundantly pardon the penitent; he has determined to bring his people into a future so glorious we can hardly bring ourselves to dare hope for it.
- The Christian life is a lifelong shedding of tepid thoughts of the goodness of God.
- He is a fountain of mercy. He is a billionaire in the currency of mercy, and the withdrawals we make as we sin our way through life cause his fortune to grow greater, not less.
- Christ was sent not to mend wounded people or wake sleepy people or advise confused people or inspire bored people or spur on lazy people or educate ignorant people, but to raise dead people.
- God is rich in mercy. He doesn’t withhold mercy from some kinds of sinners while extending it to others. Because mercy is who he is— “being rich in mercy”—his heart gushes forth mercy to sinners one and all.
- He doesn’t meet you halfway. His very nature is to engage death and bring life. He did that decisively once and for all at your conversion, but he continues to do it time and again in your sin and folly.
- The evidence of Christ’s mercy toward you is not your life. The evidence of his mercy toward you is his—mistreated, misunderstood, betrayed, abandoned. Eternally. In your place.
- If God sent his own Son to walk through the valley of condemnation, rejection, and hell, you can trust him as you walk through your own valleys on your way to heaven.
- Do you know what Jesus does with those who squander his mercy? He pours out more mercy. God is rich in mercy.
- The battle of the Christian life is to bring your own heart into alignment with Christ’s, that is, getting up each morning and replacing your natural orphan mind-set with a mind-set of full and free adoption into the family of God through the work of Christ your older brother, who loved you and gave himself for you out of the overflowing fullness of his gracious heart.
- A healthy Christian life is built on both the objective and the subjective sides of the gospel—the justification that flows from the work of Christ, and the love that flows from the heart of Christ.
- The end-time judgment that awaits all humans has, for those in Christ, already taken place. We who are in Christ no longer look to the future for judgment, but to the past; at the cross, we see our punishment happening, all our sins being punished in Jesus.
- The gospel is the invitation to let the heart of Christ calm us into joy, for we’ve already been discovered, included, brought in. We can bring our up-and-down moral performance into subjection to the settled fixedness of what Jesus feels about us.
- God didn’t meet us halfway. He refused to hold back, cautious, assessing our worth. That is not his heart. He and his Son took the initiative. On terms of grace and grace alone. In defiance of what we deserved.
- He didn’t simply leave heaven for me; he endured hell for me.
- His heart was gentle and lowly toward us when we were lost. Will his heart be anything different toward us now that we are found?
- If you are united to Christ, you are as good as in heaven already.
- We love until we are betrayed. Jesus continued to the cross despite betrayal. We love until we are forsaken. Jesus loved through forsakenness. We love up to a limit. Jesus loves to the end.
- One way we glorify God is by our obedience to him, our refusing to believe we know best and instead trusting that his way is the way of life.
- “So that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus”—what does that mean, for those in Christ? It means that one day God is going to walk us through the wardrobe into Narnia, and we will stand there, paralyzed with joy, wonder, astonishment, and relief.
- If his grace in kindness is “immeasurable,” then our failures can never outstrip his grace. Our moments of feeling utterly overwhelmed by life are where God’s heart lives. Our most haunted pockets of failure and regret are where his heart is drawn most unswervingly.
- In the coming age we will descend ever deeper into God’s grace in kindness, into his very heart, and the more we understand of it, the more we will see it to be beyond understanding. It is immeasurable.
- For those not in Christ, this life is the best it will ever get. For those in Christ, for whom Ephesians 2:7 is the eternal vista just around the next bend in the road, this life is the worst it will ever get.
- The Christian life boils down to two steps: 1. Go to Jesus. 2. See #1.
I listened to Alistair Begg’s excellent teaching series The Hand of God about the life of Joseph and God’s providence. It’s one of my favorite sermon series, and there is a corresponding revised book of the same title. John Piper has also released a new book entitled “Providence”.
Toward the end of Pastor Begg’s series, and the end of Joseph’s life, is a message titled “Famous Last Words”. Joseph, who has led an incredible life, is now 110 years old and has stood the test of time. Begg then asks us if we are going to buy into the mythology that what we do in life is kill ourselves for as long as we can, to line the nest in which we plan to hibernate, so that the whole of life is just a preparation for hibernation. Or, will we, like Joseph, stand the test of time?
Perhaps you are already retired, or are close to it. Continue reading
Over the years I’ve seen some wonderful demonstrations of husbands and wives caring for their spouses as their bodies failed them, or they were afflicted with a life-threatening disease. I think of a man in our church who cared for his wife through a long battle with breast cancer, another whose wife became a quadriplegic after a fall, and more recently my Dad’s wife who cared so well for him for the last several years of his life as he dealt with heart disease. I’m sure you can add your own stories of a faithful husband or wife who loved their spouse well during difficult times.
Some of you know Barb and Neil. Neil was an incredibly gifted teacher. He earned his PhD from a prestigious university and served as an Economics professor at a local university, my ala mater, for thirty-two years. He even co-authored an Economics textbook.
He used his calling as a teacher in the church as well, as he wrote and taught Bible studies in churches he and Barb attended. Neil was a big St. Louis Cardinals baseball fan, as am I. Each season, I would enjoy his periodic and detailed updates about prospects in the different levels of the Cardinals minor league system. But all of that changed about fifteen years ago, when they began noticing something was wrong. Continue reading