Thursday A La Carte

Here are this week's a la carte offerings.

1. Pastor Don Shoemaker, chair of our fellowship's (Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches) social concerns team, writes about the abortion situation as he sees it today. 

2. John Piper, in a letter to his congregation, offers up 13 reasons why Christians don't have to be afraid. 

3. Ed Welch gives one of the best explanations of Matthew 11:28-30 that I have ever read. Check out, "Whose Yoke Are You Under?" 

4. Kathleen Nielson wrote the following about grief shortly after the tragic shooting in Newtown, CT last month. It's worth the read!

5. On a lighter note . . . (Tim Hawkins on the things you don't say to your wife!).

Thanks for stopping by . . .

Got Bible Right!

Yesterday I wrote about the need for a daily time in the Bible, using a quote from John MacArthur to drive the point home (also see Psalm 1:1-6, John 17:17 and 2 Timothy 3:16-17  for further encouragement to get into the Word DAILY!).

Today, I want to give some tips on how you can be sure you are "getting it right" (2 Timothy 2:15) when it comes to your understanding of what the Bible is actually saying.

1).  Take the LITERAL approach. Do not look for hidden spiritual meanings as you read and study the Bible. The whole purpose for this book is REVELATION. Therefore, God is not going to play hide and seek with us in the Bible. He wants to reveal truth to us - not conceal it!

2).  Remember, the best interpreter of the Bible is the Bible itself. How so?  Because the Bible ultimately has ONE author, it makes sense that what God says in one place will agree, and often clarify, what he says in another passage. So as you seek to understand the Bible, one of the best things you can do is learn to cross reference the passage you are studying with others (the simplest way to do this is to use the cross reference in the margins of your Bible).

3).  ALWAYS view a verse in its context. If you fail to do this, you will make the Bible say something that it does not really say! For example, consider Matthew 7:1 ("Judge not lest you be judged."). If this verse appeared just like this, with no context around it, then it would appear that Jesus is forbidding the making of any kind of judgement of other people (and that is how it is often used). HOWEVER there is a context, and within that immediate context (and the context of the rest of the New Testament), it becomes clear that what Jesus is forbidding is the judgment of others which results when we jump to conclusions without all the facts OR when we judge others based upon preconceived biases and prejudice. PLEASE make sure you always view a verse in its context!

4).  Finally, remember that the goal of all interpretation is application! After you have answered the "What does this mean?" question, then you must answer the "So what?" question (or the "What does this mean for ME?" question). 

These are just some basic principles to help guide you in "getting it right" when it comes to interpreting God's Word. If you want to dig a bit deeper into this crucial area ....check out this basic summary of the principles of biblical interpretation.  

Thanks for stopping by . . . 

Got Bible?

A number of years ago, the Dairy Association ran an ad campaign with the slogan, "Got Milk?". Here is one brief video of a commercial from that campaign:


If I were to start a similar ad campaign in the church today ... I would title it "Got Bible?" So many Christians fail at spending much, if any, personal time in God's Word every day. This is tragic!

Author and pastor John MacArthur explains why this is such a tragedy:

The rapid pace of twenty-first-century living is not very conducive to setting aside time to slow down, read the Bible, and pray and mediate on God’s Word. Yet such activity ought to be the daily priority of every Christian—it is the primary way God leads us in our sanctification. Just as physical nourishment is essential to physical life, so spiritual nourishment is essential to spiritual life—your growth in Christ depends on it.  (MacArthur, John F. Daily Readings From the Life of Christ, Volume 2)

I agree with MacArthur on this. SO ... how about it ... GOT MILK today? 

Thanks for stopping by . . . 

Some Random Thoughts on Parenting

From time to time I grow a bit reflective. In those moments, I often think about parenting.  Now I admit I have not been a parent as long as some – but I have been at it longer than many (almost 34 years!).  Sharon and I have been blessed to parent three of our own (and now we have five grandkids with another on the way!). And for a little over a year (some 33 years ago) we also had the chance to parent a group of nine who were not our own. So I guess you can say we’ve had some experience.

Now just what have I learned about parenting across the years? Hmm.  That’s a good question.  I think I have learned a lot.  I learned that my own mom and dad were a lot smarter than I ever gave them credit for.  I learned that parenting is a lot more demanding than I ever dreamed.  I learned that the joys of parenting far outstrip the heartaches.  And I have learned that parenting never ends.  It changes – but it does go on and on and on.  Sharon and I like the stage of parenting in which we find ourselves.  Our children are adults. They are all married, gainfully employed and raising their children. They all live near by and we get to see our grandchildren on a consistent basis.

It has been gratifying to see our children move on to establish their own households. But even now, my wife and I realize (as I have already mentioned) that our parenting will continue, primarily by way of example.  With this in mind, Sharon and my prayer is that when our children (and their children) look at us – they will see Jesus!  Let me ask YOU this – when your children and grandchildren look at you – do they see Jesus (check out Romans 8:28-29).

Thanks for stopping by . . .

Thursday A La Carte

Somewhat busy this week ... so here is an abbreviated a la carte offering ... enjoy!

1. Tim Challies writes on the reality that Facebook makes us miserable. 

2. R.C. Sproul weighs on whether Christians should or should not boycott companies that support unbiblical practices.  

3. A thought-provoking and brief article for parents who struggle with how much technology is too much in our digital age. 

4. On the lighter side . . . 

Thanks for stopping by . . .

It's All Relative ... Or Is It?

Here we are ... moving toward the end of January and mired in a good old fashioned cold snap. Our temperature this morning just before sunup was 9 degrees (F.). Even now at midday, we have yet to crack into the twenties! Now ... there are some up in Minnesota who would probably scoff at these temps being considered "cold." For example, at International Falls, MN it is currently -9 degrees (F.) after bottoming out at -30 degrees overnight. But even these temperatures fail to compete with the conditions at the summit of New Hampshire's Mt. Washington where right now it is a frigid -30 degrees. Add the 53 mph winds and the wind chill is a down right frightening 75 degrees BELOW ZERO! Now that ... without argument is COLD!

So ... when I say it's cold here ... compared to what's happening elsewhere .. it might not be very cold at all to someone else (especially if that "someone else" lives in south Florida, where a temperature below fifty is considered "cold!").

And so .. our perception of the weather is relative, dependent upon our perspective. I have no problem with this. But what I do have a problem with is when we take this view of "relativity" and start applying it in the arena of sin. In doing so, we tend to categorize our sin. The sins of adultery, murder and child abuse we view as horrible. On the other hand, the sins of gossip, greed and impatience are sins that we can live with. After all, we are humans ... and to err is human!

But is this how God views sin? Does he group our sin into unacceptable vs. acceptable sins? Is there such a thing as an "acceptable" sin? Before you answer that last question with an emphatic "no!" (which is, by the way, the correct answer according to the Bible), you may want to take a long hard look at your own life. Author Jerry Bridges a few years ago came out with the book, Respectable Sins. As you take that "long hard look" at your life, use his list of "respectable" sins as guide. If you find any of these in your life (which I would guess that you will), then repent ... confess ... and ask God to help you get rid of them! You will be better for it!

Bridges' list: frustration, anxiety, impatience, irritability, anger, discontentment, pride, unthankfulness, selfishness, lack of self control, judgmentalism, envy, jealousy, worldliness. 

Thanks for stopping by . . .

You Can Run but You Can't Hide!

Megan Lee Musser recently learned that "you can run, but you can't hide." Last July Musser was charged by police with stealing over $20,000 from the housing authority for which she worked. She appeared for her arraignment and then disappeared. For the past six months, authorities have been looking for her. This past weekend she was arrested by U.S. Marshals at her home in New York. She is awaiting extradition to Lancaster County.

What Musser did is not all that unusual. Frequently the media reports on people who steal from their employers. In addition, accounts of people jumping bail and eluding law enforcement authorities are also not all that uncommon. Sometimes these individuals manage to seemingly disappear into thin air. But often, as in the case of Musser, they are eventually found.

With God, this is ALWAYS the case. We can run ... we can hide ... we can flee to the most remote spot on the planet. But even there, God will see us (Psalm 139:7-12; Proverbs 15:3).  So the next time temptation comes knocking at the door of  your mind and your heart, remember that God is watching. And if you are tempted to give in (which you will be - that is what temptation is all about!) - keep in mind that when it comes to God ... "you can run but you can't hide!"

Thanks for stopping by . . .

What Do You Say When You Encounter Someone Who's Hurting?

We've all had the experience. We are sitting in church waiting for the service to start and we notice the woman next to us is quietly crying. You sit there paralyzed, not knowing what to do . . . what to say. Or you are walking in the office door and you encounter a co-worker who has been off for a couple of weeks. He lost his young daughter in a tragic car accident. You want to say something ... but what?

I could go on with additional examples ... but if your experience is any thing like mine ... you know exactly what I am talking about. All too often when faced with human pain and grief, we do little if anything. Not because we do not care. But rather because we don't want to do or say the wrong thing. None of us want to add to anyone's pain. And so we choose to do/say nothing.

Of course ... this is quite the wrong thing to do (or not do!). Scripture is clear that we are to "bear one another's burdens" (Galatians 6:2) and "encourage the fainthearted" (1 Thessalonians 5:14). So ... what do we need to do? I recently read an article by counselor Ed Welch. He hit the proverbial nail on the head. He states that when we encounter suffering people, we need to do what God does with us ... MOVE TOWARD THEM. Here's what he writes:

"As his (God's) servants, we are called to do the same (i.e. "move toward others in love."). Because we are relentlessly pursued, especially when we are not worthy of such pursuit, we become pursuers. We turn toward others and move in their direction. That is how the kingdom of heaven works. Sin scatters people; grace draws us toward each other . . . If God gives you grace to move toward others, he will also give you a few words that will be more precious to the grieving person than you think. (Welch gives the example of saying to a hurting person, "I just want you to know that you are on my heart. I'm very sorry!"). 

So .... the next time the person sitting next to you in a worship service or a small group setting breaks out in tears. Don't shut down. Don't move away. But in God's grace, move toward them. And allow God the opportunity to work through you to bring some comfort and encouragement that is sorely needed.

Thanks for stopping by . . .

Thursday A La Carte

Here are this week's offerings. Enjoy! Be challenged! Be encouraged!

1. Ever been accused of worshiping the Bible? Tim Challies has some great insights on this! 

2. If you struggle with meeting God in his word and prayer, here are five promises God gives us for our Bible reading and prayer   and John Piper states, You can never ask too much from God (from Desiring God Ministries).

3. Louie Giglio, mega church pastor from Atlanta, made the news last week when it came to light that he had preached some anti-homosexual messages back in the 1990's.  Why did this make the news? Because he had been selected to offer the benediction at next week's presidential inaugaration. You can just imagine how the gay activists went after him! Here is a collection of articles about the situation

4. Here's a moving music video by Andrew Peterson ... worth a watch and listen! (especially for dads of young sons!).

5. On a lighter note. . 

Thanks for stopping by . . .

Step #5 toward Failure in the Christian Life

We finally come to the fifth and final step that will surely guarantee your failure at this thing we call the Christian Life (please go back and read the intro to the first step).

Step #5 Be accountable to NO ONE for ANYTHING! 

One truth that is quite clear in the Bible (especially the New Testament) is that Christianity was never meant to be lived in isolation (Proverbs 27:6; 17; Galatians 6:1-2; Hebrews 10:24-25). Over and over again the NT mandates that Christians do this or that for "one another!" Christians are to be involved in one another's lives for encouragement and accountability. For without these, a Christian will only flounder in his faith.

Therefore, stay away from involvement in any kind of small group. And if someone ever approaches you about becoming his or her "accountability partner," run the other way just as fast as you can! Seek to be a loner as much as you can. Avoid anything that smacks of "community!" The last thing you want is someone to speak the life-changing truth of God's Word into your life!

So there you have it my friend ... five steps toward failure. But ... tongue-in-cheek now aside ... I really hope you do just the opposite ... that is IF you really want to grow in your faith!

Thanks for stopping by . . .

Five Steps toward Failure (part 4)

It's been a bit busy for me of late ... so I apologize in getting a bit behind the proverbial eight ball in getting back to this fourth step toward failure (to understand why I am writing on this ... go back and check the intro to the first step - otherwise you might think I have really gone crazy!).

Step #4 - Adopt the verse, "God helps those who help themselves" as your life verse. 

If failure in the Christian life is truly your aim, then take this verse (which is not really in the Bible ... but it is a truism so go ahead and strive to live by it!) and run with it. Do all you can to better yourself ... knowing as you do God will help you in the process. And when you see people struggling around you ... tell them to suck it up and get moving IF they want God's help. But don't you dare reach out a helping hand. For the Christian life is one of serving, yes?!!?

Jesus himself set the standard when he said he did not come to be served but to serve (Mark 10:45). And his service did not end with merely extending a helping hand. He gave his very life! So the last thing you want to do is give of yourself to any one in need.

So the next time you see someone hurting or in need of help DO NOT do anything for them until they get off their La-zy Boys and do something for themselves. Only as they do that will God help them.

Thanks for stopping by . . .

Thursday A La Carte

Time to get back to our Thursday offerings . . .

1. Here is an update from Randy Alcorn on Steve Saint, who was seriously injured last summer. Steve Saint's father was one of the missionaries murdered by the tribe of Indians they were trying to reach with the gospel.

2.  Ever wonder how UPS moves the massive number of packages it moves with such efficiency ... check it out right here!  (I thought this was cool!)

3. Should we keep on praying when we feel that our prayers are going no where?  Here is one man's response to this question . . . Why keep praying when I'm feeling dull? 

4. Is the pro-life cause really winning? Russel Moore gives some good insights in answering this question.

5. Here are some great reminders for Christian parents! 

6. On a lighter note . . .   Thanks, Kevin DeYoung!

Thanks for stopping by . . .

Crisis in the Central African Republic

The crisis is still unfolding in the CAR with peace talks beginning at some point this week (click here ---- and here for latest news updates). And for the latest update from Dr. Augustin Hibaile, click here. 

Please be in prayer for Dr. Hibaile and his family, our Hand-in-Hand Orphan school in Bangui and the people of the CAR. Pray that the gospel will shine brightly during these dark days.

Thanks for praying . . .

And thanks for stopping by . . .

PS --- Here is an article from the Economist that paints a very bleak picture of the future for the CAR. At the end of the article, there is this quote: "In its recently published quality-of-life survey of 221 of the world’s major cities, Mercer, an American consultancy, ranked Bangui 220th, a whisker ahead of Baghdad. The CAR looks set to rot away on its own." Ouch! A bad situation looking to only get worse! 

Five Steps to Failure (part 3)

I have been tackling an issue in such a way that may cause some of you to wonder if I have finally buckled under the stress of life and gone of the deep end. Well ... no. I am quite sane and there is, I believe, some method to my "madness!"  Today, step three toward failure in the Christian Life.

Step #3  Pour your energies into making money versus those activities that help make disciples. 

This step should come as no surprise. After all, what was the very last command given by Jesus to his disciples? We find it in Matthew 28 where Jesus tells them to "Go and make disciples of all the nations" (Matthew 28:18-20). So if we really want to fail at the Christian walk, then we surely do not want to take the last command of the Lord Jesus Christ and make it our first concern!  So instead of getting into step with the heart beat of Christ, let's pour ourselves into the spirit of our age and go hard after making money and lots of it! Making money, after all, is much more beneficial to us than making disciples. Right?

So instead of identifying with Christ at work, do all you can to climb the corporate ladder. Ethics? Throw them to the wind! Knock someone over in your drive to the top? So what! And when it comes to any kind of mentoring or teaching ministries, stay away. These things take a lot of time and we all know, "time is money!"

Thanks for stopping by . . .

Five Steps to Failure (part 2)

Today a quick look at the second step you need to take as you choose to walk down the path of spiritual failure (please read step 1 post before reading further).

If you want to fail at this thing called the Christian life ... then in addition to diminishing the Bible's importance in your life you must also:

Step #2  Throw spiritual discipline out the window!

The Apostle Paul makes it quite clear if you want to grow in godliness, you must learn to practice discipline. Here is how he puts it: "Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come"  (1 Timothy 4:7-8).

The English word, "train" is a translation of the Greek word, "gymnao." If this word sounds a little familiar, it should. Our English words "gymnasium" and "gymnastics" are derived from this Greek word. Now ... let me ask you a question. What goes on in a gym? You could answer with a long list of activities. But ... no matter the activity, if the participants are going after it hard, there is going to be a lot of good old fashioned sweat being produced!  Because perspiration and physical exertion go hand-in-hand. In using this term --- Paul is thinking of the athletic realm and he is saying this. If you really want to be godly, you are going to have to really work at it - so much so that you work up a spiritual sweat (see 1 Corinthians 9:25-27).

So ... if you really want to fail to grow in your faith, then by all means avoid any type of strenuous effort. Strict training? Forget it! Avoid any kind of discipline. Instead, give in to the lusts and desires of your body and sinful flesh. After all, it's a lot EASIER to be lazy than disciplined!

Step #3 coming tomorrow, God willing!

Thanks for stopping by . . .

Five Steps to Failure in the Christian Life

Across the course of the past 40 years, I have spent a lot of time with Christians, people of all ages from all walks of life who profess an allegiance to Jesus Christ. Much of this time has been spent in training, discipling, mentoring, teaching, and counseling them. As a result of all this time investment, I have become convinced that many Christians are out to fail. Why do I say this? As I have observed the lives of those who claim to be Christ-followers, I have seen them take the steps necessary to fail at what they profess to be! Therefore, I must conclude that they must desire to fail. Why would anyone seem to intentionally follow the path of failure if it something they do not desire? With this in mind, beginning with today's post, I want to detail what I consider to be FIVE STEPS TO FAILURE in the Christian life. So ... if you are one of those whom I talked about above and want to fail, then read on and be sure that you understand and then put into practice these five essential steps. Today, the first ... back next week with the rest.

Step #1 - Diminish the Bible's importance in your life. 

If 2 Timothy 3:16-17 and John 17:17 mean anything at all ... then you had better be sure you stay as far away from the Bible as possible.Here are two practical suggestions to do just that:

1. Freely admit that you are too busy for daily interaction with the Bible.  Now if your life is anything like mine ... this should not be hard. There's the kids (or in my case, grand kids) to care for, doctor and dentist appointments to keep, shopping runs to make, friends to facebook, lawns to mow (or driveways to shovel ... depending on the season), meals to prepare, houses to clean, clothes to launder, etc., etc., etc. ... and all this on top of that thing called "a job!" Add our favorite TV shows to watch or the Internet to cruise ... and life is downright BUSY, BUSY, BUSY! So ... just admit (and do so guilt-free) ... "I am too busy to spend time in the Bible!"

2. When you do read the Bible, be selective in what you choose to obey.  To achieve this, ask the following questions of each and every command you happen to come across in Scripture:

- Will obeying this command cause me to be inconvenienced?  If the answer to this is YES, then by all means don't obey! The last thing you want is to experience inconvenience of any kind in your life. Life in America is meant to be comfortable and convenient - it's the American way!

- Will obeying this command cramp my style in any way?  We all have our rights. And one of our rights is to be happy! And if you believe obeying this command will keep you from getting the happiness that you are entitled to, then forget it. You have your agenda (your happiness above all)... stick to it!

- If I obey this command, will I go against the flow of society? Really, the last thing you want to do is stand out like a sore thumb among your friends, neighbors, co-workers and class mates! Don't be odd. Seek to fit in at all costs!

So this is the first step toward failure in your walk with God. And it very well may be the biggest! So if your goal is to fail at this thing we call "the Christian Life", then make sure that you do all you can to diminish the importance of the Bible in your life!

Thanks for stopping by . . .

Relationships that Honor God and Enrich Life!

Twice before on this blog (2006 and 2011) I have offered up the thoughts below. I do so again at the start of this new year in the hopes that as you understand this very basic yet very powerful principle about relationships (and then, of course, "put it into practice!"), you will enjoy relationships that will honor the One who gave up his life for you (and bring much blessing to you in the process!).

If we are to have relationships that honor God and enrich our lives, then we must have the right focus - and far too many of us don't! So what is the right focus when it comes to relationships? God answers this question (I never get over just how relevant the Bible is for day-to-day living!). In Philippians 2:3-4, we read, "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also for the interests of others." In Romans 12:10 the Apostle Paul commands us to be devoted to one another in brother love and to honor each other above ourselves! So you see - it all comes down to our focus. Our default focus is SELF. When push comes to shove we would much rather be on the shoving end, yes? The first person we normally think of is ourselves. But God tells us that we need to reset our default focus. We do so as we consider others to be more important than us and as we, then, seek to honor them ABOVE ourselves!

So .... are the relationships in your life not working? Well the problem might be found as you take a long look in the mirror. My guess is that you are focused on the wrong person. Get your eyes off yourself and get them looking at others. Then and only then will you begin to experience God-honoring and life-enriching relationships!

Thanks for stopping by . . .

Update on Crisis in Central African Republic

According to this latest news report from Retuers, it does appear that a genuine attempt at arriving at a political solution is in the works. Please continue to pray for peace for that impoverished land. Also, please continue to pray for my dear friend and his family, Dr. Augustine Hibaile (please click here for his latest email update).

Thanks for praying!

A Prayer for your New Year

Scotty Smith knows how to pray (I am guessing because he knows his God!). This morning as I read through this prayer and made it my own, I realized I needed to share it with you. Please take some time and carefully read through this prayer and, as I did today, make it YOUR prayer for the upcoming new year.

To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy— to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen. (Jude 24– 25 NIV)

Heavenly Father, while many clamor about and try to “claim” more blessings from you, may this be a year in which we come alive to the multiplied blessings you’ve already lavished upon us in the gospel. Already you have rescued us from the dominion of darkness and have placed us in the kingdom of your beloved Son, Jesus (Col. 1: 13). Already you have blessed us with every spiritual blessing in Christ (Eph. 1: 3). Already we are completely loved by you because of Jesus’ completed work on our behalf. As the year progresses, open the eyes of our hearts to see all these glorious riches more clearly and enjoy them more fully (Eph. 1: 18– 19). All year long you’ll prove your covenant and capacity to keep us from falling. Though we may falter in the journey, the grasp of your grace is steady and secure. When we waver in our adoration of you, you will remain constant in your affection for us. When we are faithless and disobedient, you will remain committed and fully engaged with us. Even when you must discipline us this year, it will be in love, never in disgust or regret that you have adopted us (Heb. 12: 7– 12). We praise you for being the perfect Father to your daughters and sons. All year long you’ll be at work preparing us for the day when we come into your glorious presence. We’re confident and grateful as we face that day, because you have promised to complete the good work of the gospel you’ve begun in us (Phil. 1: 6). Indeed, Father, if this should be the year in which you call me “home,” herein lies my humble confidence: I will stand before you without fault because you’ve placed me in the faultless Righteous One, Jesus. Our hope is built on nothing less, nothing more, and nothing other than Jesus’ blood and his righteousness. Jesus is the only reason we can be sure we’ll stand before you with great joy. Your joy is our strength (Neh. 8: 10). Because of your great delight in us, we find great delight in you. Because you rejoice over us with singing, we will sing the new song of the gospel forever (Zeph. 3: 14– 17). Gracious Father, you are the only God, the only Savior— to you “be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore!” (Jude 25 NIV). In Jesus’ merciful and matchless name we pray. Amen.

(Smith, Scotty. Everyday Prayers: 365 Days to a Gospel-Centered Faith.)

Thanks for stopping by . . .

Friday Coffee with PJ

My apologies for missing the past several Fridays. I was off last week, and the previous couple of weeks I got caught up in the Thanksgivi...