Saturday, February 28, 2004

More about The Book

I had another conversation at work yesterday with a man who is not sure whether he will see The Passion. I told him that I have not seen the movie (yet), but not matter what, I believe The Book will be better than the film. He grinned at that.

Perhaps this movie will do more to revitalize nominal believers than draw in unbelievers.

Thursday, February 26, 2004

I think your argument with the Gospels

Christian men, hear me on this -- a significant issue behind the the controversy about the Passion movie is the authority of the Bible. That's a heart issue that you should press in your conversations. Because the arguments against this movie (amazingly vehement considering how few people have actually seen it before yesterday!) are often arguments against what the Gospels plainly say.

I recommend Martyn Llyod-Jones' sermon Jesus Christ and Him Crucified. This is dense with truth that will prepare you to talk to others about Jesus.

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Towards Praying Unceasingly

I enjoyed Brad Preston's article in Leadership Weekly (contact to subscribe). His candor and practical suggestions are helpful. Recommended.

Managing a Meandering Mind
Turn your prayer distractions into God-directed dialogue.

Like the prodigal son, my mind wanders recklessly into a far country when I pray. In moments of solitude when I am just getting close to God, my brain shifts into gear and speeds off for the highway.

I tried making a list.

I tried walking around with my eyes open.

I tried praying out loud; I tried praying real loud.

The harder I tried to eliminate the distractions, the more frustrating they became.

Then an idea came to me unexpectedly. What if the interruptions are God's effort to dialogue with me in prayer? Perhaps God has a better handle on prayer requests than I do. What if I allowed him to use the distractions to direct my prayers?

I decided to surrender my prayer agenda and to stop fighting the interruptions. Instead of battling my wandering mind, I lift up each random thought in prayer when it comes: "Lord I'm thinking about doughnuts. You got any idea why?" Sometimes praying on it clears the thought away, but other times God uses the thought to speak to me (like convicting me that there's a hole in our relationship).

Besides opening a new world of interactive dialogue with God, my learning to pray the interruptions instead of fighting them, I discovered, has other benefits.

Don't go there.

At times my prayers are interrupted by what appear to be inappropriate subjects—lustful images, anger about the ministry, complaints. My response used to be denial. I didn't want to admit those thoughts could enter the sacred place of prayer. Frustrated, I would push them away. If they came back, I pushed harder. But the pushing became a distraction in itself.

One morning in prayer I was distracted by my irritation with a particular Christian. I was tugged toward bitterness by my ineffective attempts to disciple stubborn believers.

"Just once, Lord," I prayed, "could you give me someone I didn't have to push so hard?"

God answered, "Why don't you let me take care of it?" God's reply showed that I had been harboring a burden that wasn't mine to carry. Had I ignored the distraction, I would likely have kept carrying it.

Sometimes God uses praying through the thoughts to cleanse them from my mind. Other times I pour out the struggle in all its strife like one of David's psalms. Either way, it has awakened a new honesty and transparency in my relationship with God.

Don't go there, either.

I like sticking with my prayer list because a list is safe. A list can be used to pray for other people's needs while conveniently overlooking your own shortfalls.

But heeding the interruptions doesn't allow for that careful avoidance. It forces me to address sins, regrets, and shortcomings I normally wouldn't choose to include on my list. Now when my prayers are interrupted with, You need to devote more time to being intimate with God, I don't just push the thought away, I stop to pray about it.

If there's guilt tied to the issue I've been sweeping under the rug, praying about it brings forgiveness. And since I'm actually praying about it instead of ignoring it, I'm more likely to make changes in those areas.

By letting the Lord add his items to the prayer list, and by willingly accepting a distraction as an area to explore with Him, I'm doing a lot more listening.

The pastor's smooth and eloquent public prayer is much different from the struggles most of us wrestle with in private. But I'm finding relief in an area that used to frustrate me. My prodigal mind is beginning to follow the path home—the path that takes me straight to the Father.

Brad Preston pastors in Bradford, Pennsylvania.
No neutral ground

"Our leisure, even our play, is a matter of serious concern. There is no neutral ground in the universe: every square inch, every split second, is claimed by God and counterclaimed by Satan." -- C.S. Lewis

Monday, February 23, 2004

The Message -- searchable online

Bible Gateway (bless them!) now has The Message translation available online. This will be a boon for teachers and do-ers of the Word.

Book recommendation

Phil Lancaster has a great book, Family Man, Family Leader that I am finding very convicting. His analysis of Adam and Eve in Genesis is excellent. He points out that Adam's passive male leadership is still with many of us.

"You win by taking territory—and leaving something behind."

Check out Charles Krauthammer's important speech to the American Enterprise Institute, titled "An American Foreign Policy for a Unipolar World."

This is a critical time in American history, and indeed the history of the Kingdom. May God make us men who not only understand the times but lead our families in appropriate response (2 Chron 12:32).

Thursday, February 19, 2004

Gospel details

This may be handy for your conversations with others about The Passion movie.

1. Details found in all four Gospels:

crucified between two others
clothes divided
charge posted (wording varies)
Jesus takes sour wine
women at the cross (names vary)
Joseph buries Jesus

2. Details found only in the three synoptic Gospels

mocked by priests and scribes
darkness at noon
temple curtain torn in two
centurion's comment (wording varies)

3. details found only in Mark and Matthew

Jesus refuses sedation
mocked by passers-by
mocked by both bandits
cry of abandonment

4. Details found only in Mark

crucified at 9:00 A.M.

5. Details found only in Luke

Jesus forgives the crucifiers
soldiers mock
penitent criminal and Jesus' response

6. Details found only in Matthew

crucifiers watch the crucified
earthquake and dead raised
guard at the tomb

7. Details found only in John

four items of clothing plus seamless robe
Mary and the beloved disciple
Jesus thirsts
side pierced by soldiers
Nicodemus joins Joseph
garden as location of the new tomb

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Fighting for modesty

Many moms and dads I know are fighting a battle to keep their daughters dressing modestly. Richard Foster has pointed out that our culture is not too sexy -- it's pornographic. Dennis Prager has an outstanding column giving his explanation of why women are exposing their bodies. There are some insight here that should help us help our daughters.

By the way, if you have sons, there is a useful clarification in Prager's column. He writes "as a male I am turned on, while as a man I am turned off." Dads we really need to help our sons understand that we are men, with self-control, living under authority, giving women honor.

The right prayer attitude

John Piper has pointed out that too many of us pray as if our prayers were a car radio playing tunes. It's there, it's comforting, and we'd notice if it were turned off. When we're praying about our families, we need to pray as if our prayers were a soldier's walkie-talkie in the heat of battle. You need instructions, now! You are required to report what's going on, now! There are lives on the line.

Monday, February 16, 2004

Nave's Topical Bible online

I believe that Nave's Topical Bible is an under-used tool for study. Great stuff! I prefer the book form myself, but it's also available online.

Thursday, February 12, 2004

Seeing people in airports

I spent a fair amount of time this week in four different airports. Waiting. Waiting some more.

I tried to redeem the time by asking God to help me see the people around me the way He sees them. With eyes of faith and confidence in the Holy Spirit, I prayed for as many people as I could. Initially I had a lot of compassion -- just looking at eyes and posture and facial expressions, MANY of these men and women were hurting. Lonely. Fearful.

But of course my compassion ran dry quickly. There were so many! They were obviously needy. I can't possibly know how to pray for them and it was tiring.

I went back to the Lord several times and asked for more compassion, more strength. It all comes from Him anyway, right? I'm not generating this compassion de novo from my heart.

I've also enlarged my view of Jesus, who is interceding for every soul. (Rom 8:34) Such love! Such power! Thanks be to God.

Sunday, February 08, 2004

Personal Devotions

Go to any Christian bookstore and you can find half a zillion devotional books. If you find one you like, by all means buy it and use it. I grow concerned, however, when I see believers who are dependent on these books as crutches. I am convinced that if more were needed than the Bible and the Holy Spirit, it would have been provided at Pentecost.

Here is my personal pattern of devotional practice, which I recommend to everyone. It’s rooted in the Bible. It’s simple, and works for all ages and stages of spiritual maturity. It has depth. You can do the same thing your whole life.

I pick up my Bible and turn to where I left off yesterday. I prayerfully invite the Holy Spirit to connect my heart to God, thanking Him for another day to learn and serve. Then I begin to read verses, slowly. I read until a verse hits me with a truth about God or my condition or what I need to do. I find that my heart is sparked again! I mark my place, and then spend a few minutes praying. My heart is reconnected with God through the Holy Spirit.

Some days I only need to read three verses. Other days I read several chapters. But I do not quit reading until I am confident that my heart is connected to God. I may repeat this process later in the day if I find my heart has grown cool towards God.

That’s it. That’s all that you need to do. Do not make your personal devotions more complex -- or less satisfying -- than this.

Friday, February 06, 2004

But WHY did Jesus suffer?

Reliable sources indicate that Mel Gibson's new movie The Passion (opens Feb 25) is outstandingly realistic and wonderfully done. The suffering of Christ (thus the movie title) over 12 hours was incredible. The film is rated R for violence and is probably not suitable for children under 13.

Sources also indicate that the movie does not do an adequate job of explaining why Jesus suffered. Assuming that's correct, let's get prepared for conversations on that topic.


Peggy Noonan has an intelligent column in the WSJ, where she asks is our culture has iredeemably gone to pot, or if we can turn it around. Referring to the SB half-time show fiasco (which is just a logical extension of trends established years ago, by sad, lonely people desperate for attention from bored audiences), Ms. Noonan writes: "Now they're saying the answer is a tape delay. Believe me, half the country would like to put the entire culture on a tape delay." The whole column is worth reading.

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

Tozer worth re-reading

Gordon MacDonald had this piece in Leadership Weekly:

"Every age has its own characteristics. Right now we are in an age of religious complexity. The simplicity which is in Christ is rarely found among us. In its stead are programs, methods, organizations, and a world of nervous activities which occupy time and attention but can never satisfy the longing of the heart. The shallowness of our inner experience, the hollowness of our worship, and that servile imitation of the world which marks our promotional methods all testify that we, in this day, know God only imperfectly, and the peace of God scarcely at all."

So wrote A.W. Tozer—about 56 years ago.

I grew up with the Tozer name. He was a mid-century pastor/preacher in the Chicago area for many years and later in Toronto. Converted to Christ in his earliest adulthood, he lacked educational credentials, but he excelled in a hunger for God and an ability to absorb immense amounts of information through reading (especially the Christian classics from the early fathers and later Catholic and Protestant writers). His best-known books, Knowledge of the Holy and Pursuit of God (the above quote comes from the latter) are merely two of the scores of titles attributed to his authorship. His wealth of insight about the nature of God was staggering. He had a nagging way of reminding people that all of the Americanized Christianity was several cuts below a faith in which one kneels breathless before Almighty God. His poignant comments regarding worship (or the lack of it) make almost anything being said about the subject today seem like froth.

Tozer was shy when it came to pastoring people one on one. He was tough and confrontational in the pulpit. He was impatient with people whose Christian life was the sum of their doctrines and little more. But he excelled in the practice of intercessory prayer. He was known to have a set of bib overalls which he would put on over his shirt and tie. So dressed, he would prostrate himself on the floor of his study and pray. I have talked to people who shared this experience with him.

Tozer longed to see the church make a simple, repentant return to God. "History has recorded several large-scale returns led by such men as St. Francis, Martin Luther and George Fox," Tozer wrote. "Unfortunately there seems to be no Luther or Fox on the horizon at present," he went on to lament. "What God in His sovereignty may yet do on a world scale I do not claim to know: but what He will do for the plain man or woman who seeks his face I believe I do know and can tell others … any man who by repentance and a sincere return to God will break himself out of the mold in which he has been held, and will go to the Bible itself for this spiritual standards, will be delighted with what he finds there." Tozer saw himself as a plain person.

Each year or two, I break out my Tozer books and let him remind me that being a child of God is no small matter. It's been that time again, and I just had to tell you about the man.

Monday, February 02, 2004

Concordances and Bible Knowledge

Yesterday I challenged an adult sunday school class to find verses that support the list of godly heart attributes we had come up with. So they began looking for verses that talked about the heart being truthful, gentle, courageous, etc.

Everyone used the concordance in the back of their Bible.

What does it say about the depth of our Bible knowledge that we are completely dependent on a concordance to find Bible passages? (Let me be clear, I use my concordance a lot, so I'm not talking down to anyone!) How much Biblical knowledge have we hidden in our heart?