12 Witnesses

Let these stones be a witness to what we have done here this day.

Four reasons to think about Eternity

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I’ve always had a bit of push back within me toward the idea of “pondering Heaven.”  It seemed to me that I had too much work to do here to allow myself to become “so eternally focused to be any earthly good.” Despite the fact that the idea of sitting on a hillside and awaiting the return of Christ has always seemed like lunacy to me, I’ve recently come to embrace the odd moment or two sitting quietly and looking forward to the time when this world is no more and I am at home with God.

The story of how I got from the one place to the other is a long one and the topic for some other time, perhaps. Suffice it to say that as my understanding of the Gospel has broadened, I see the whole picture of God’s redemption more clearly.  Included in that, of course, is the picture of ultimate redemption pointed to throughout Scripture in such images as the Garden of Eden as that which was lost, yet to be redeemed; hope for dry land from within the Ark; the land flowing with milk and honey, as promised to those delivered from slavery; Jesus’ promise that He goes to prepare a place for us; Paul’s assurance that we will see face to face what we now see dimly, as if through a clouded glass; Peter’s urging that we should walk as temporary residents of this world; and God speaking to John in the Revelation (chapter 21) the most clear picture that we will dwell with Him and He with us and all the pains of this world will be, finally, washed away.

This is just a small list of the many references to eternity throughout Scripture. If the Gospel is so full of this thought, it must benefit us to dwell on ultimate redemption once in a while.

Here are four benefits I’ve found to doing so:

1. It lends perspective. When faced with difficulties, we often blow them out of proportion.  It’s a first world habit I’m prone to indulge and, if you are reading this on your internet capable home or office computer,  or even smart phone… you are too. No matter what our problems though, Eternity face to face with Christ causes all of them fade in importance.  Even martyrs throughout the ages testified in their death that the ultimate redemption was enough to see them through.  (This requires that you are prone to find your satisfaction in Christ, of course.)

2. Perspective calms me. Frazzled by a hectic world, recognition that my citizenship is in Heaven helps me to care less about the things that I can not control and are of (come on and let’s be honest, now) lesser importance. They mean less and I worry less.

3. It strengthens my resolve. I am in this world, however, with all of its trials. Big and small, I face them all… but with the knowledge that I have a task to do, and that task has a time limit. I am not free to wait for eternity ignoring all that will spend their eternity apart from the God that promises me such fulfillment.

4. It grants me peace. I know that the God that has authored the narrative of history is not leaving loose ends.  If I can trust Him with my eternity, I can certainly trust Him with my temporality.  Is that a word? It is now. Just coined it.

 

The True Meaning of Love

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A high school classmate of mine (Bellaire, 1985), Greg Stanford, asked me to write an article on the true meaning of love.

The concept of love is such a mess in our world.  It’s hard to get a handle on it.  Teens and even pre-teens fall in and out of “love” while adults tsk tsk their seemingly frivolous relationships, talking about how “love is a commitment.” All the while we burn through divorce lawyers at an alarming rate.

We won’t get much farther in our understanding, either, until we understand that our love and inclination to love is an echo of the God who made us in His image.  When we understand what it means to Him, we will stand a chance at applying it to our world in a meaningful way.

The Bible defines love pretty clearly:

1 John 4:7-12

Dear friends, let us love one another, because love is from God, and everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, because God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent His One and Only Son into the world so that we might live through Him. 10 Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation [sacrifice of atonement] for our sins. 11 Dear friends, if God loved us in this way, we also must love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God. If we love one another, God remains in us and His love is perfected in us.

[sacrifice...] – mine, emphasis – mine

God created everything and made humanity in His image as the centerpiece of creation and we, all of us, turned away from Him. So for God, “Love” is that He pursued us and sacrificed of Himself to redeem us.  That we love God is in response to Him loving us first and demonstrating that to us.  He has wooed us with sacrificial redemption.

Sacrificial redemption. We need to apply that to our relationships and see what happens.

When we sacrifice ourselves in order to redeem others we woo them into a mutual love.  This is the image of God in us.

I know.  You were expecting me to quote 1 Corinthians 13 in discussing the meaning of love.  That passage is great at describing how true love acts.  1 John 4 describes what true love is.

But, so that you aren’t disappointed…  If we seek to redeem through self sacrifice, it should look a lot like this:

1 Corinthians 13:4-8a

Love is patient, love is kind. Love does not envy, is not boastful, is not conceited, does not act improperly, is not selfish, is not provoked, and does not keep a record of wrongs. Love finds no joy in unrighteousness but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.Love never ends.

To the pure, all things are pure

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Paul writes to Titus these words concerning the distinction between those who are regenerate and those who are not:

“To the pure, everything is pure, but to those who are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure; in fact, both their mind and conscience are defiled.  They profess to know God, but the deny Him by their works.  They are detestable, disobedient and disqualified for any good work.”   -Titus 1:15-16

Titus was commissioned to correct false teachers and to “rebuke them sharply.” (1:13)  Apparently, a part of the false teaching that was in need of correction was the constant need for ritual cleansing from those things considered “impure.”  Paul’s word here says that if the heart is impure, one finds impurity in everything.  The inherit filth of the corrupt heart drives people to perceive filth in all things and attempt to perfect (according to their warped perception) themselves and everything around them in hopes of pleasing God.  Moreover, they hold others to the same twisted ideals and teach them to conform their hearts to what can not please God.

It is so contrary to the Gospel.

The Good News is that if Grace has cleansed our hearts, nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus. (Rom. 8:35-39)  Which is not to say that we don’t struggle with sin or even that we shouldn’t war against it in our lives, but it is to say that contact with that which would once have made people ceremonially unclean can no longer do so.

Once covered by Grace, it is impossible to offend God by the touching of a dead thing.  Once covered by Grace, it is impossible to offend God by being imperfect by anyone’s standards, including His.

Sadly, even within the body of Christ, I have often been confronted by the hearts of those who perceive impurity in everything.  Everything that is not perfect in their own perceptions, and nothing ever is, is unclean and ungodly, rejected by the Lord and certain to bring condemnation and ruination. They see the spending of money this way as “wrong” or the counting of people in that way as “wrong.”  They become bitter and in their bitterness, they become hurtful.

While I wouldn’t say that such a person is not a Christian (they may or may not be), I would say that their heart has surely not comprehended the fullness of the Gospel of Grace.

Grace covers the imperfections of our lives. Grace not only gets us to eternity, but Grace also gets us through the day.  When we are confronted with either the willful rebellion of our hearts or the inadvertent shortcomings of a fallen mind, Grace covers all.

And when we are covered by Grace, when our hearts are satisfied in the free gift of God’s unmerited favor, it is not just easy, but it is also natural, to extend grace to others around us.

The heart that wallows in the Grace of God takes no offense in the rebellion or imperfection of those around.  When the service of a waiter is slow and lethargic, Grace manifests itself in a generous tip, rather than the stinginess of heart that counts wrongs against another.  When you are verbally attacked by another parent at the game because their child didn’t play the position or time they expected, Grace listens patiently and realizes that the person spewing venom is in need of something much deeper than they have.

The extension of Grace to them in that moment will likely be the rare exception in their life and will surely be the clearest picture of the Gospel that they will see that day. Month. Year? Lifetime?

To the pure, all things are pure.

Book Review: The Generous Soul

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My friend, Marty Duren, has written his second book, The Generous Soul: An Introduction to Missional Giving.

If you are not well versed in the thought processes that are huddled together under the umbrella of “Missionality,” then the title of the book may give you pause.  You might not see the need to purchase and read a book about giving money “Missionally.”

If you allow these thoughts to keep you from reading TGS, you make a grave mistake.

The Generous Soul is about stewardship.  Authentic stewardship rather than what is often passed around Christian culture, the avoidance of debt to build personal wealth.

Rather, the stewardship advanced in TGS is a holistic stewardship that more accurately squares with the full testimony of Scripture:  All things were made by God, we are responsible for the influence of some of it, “our” whole lives and all of “our” possessions are intended to be used to advance the Kingdom of God.

Throughout the book, Duren uses anecdotes, Scripture and quotes from saintly and secular to weave a compelling vision of using all that one is able in the pursuit of God’s Mission, the redemption of creation.

I am still struggling with the convictions that I suffered upon my first reading.  Though I consider myself to be committed to a missional lifestyle, I immediately recognized that the wake of my impact on the world has been greatly reduced by simple decisions common to the American Christian.

I have not been the steward of God’s creation that I could have been, and the truth of that came into sharp relief with a new inspiration.  A desire has taken root in me to make a bigger difference and to use all that I can in the effort.  I believe that I, myself, in partnership with my lovely wife, can really make a difference in the world.

Missional Giving.

Is it a “new” thought, deserving of a “new” name?  Not really.  It is as old as the Gospel itself.  However, for Christians in the West, it is a thought in need of being recaptured, internalized and lived.

This book would be helpful to every Christian, and I wholeheartedly recommend it to you.  It is available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Lifeway (local bookstores) and various other booksellers.

Quotable

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Apparently this made a hit with Skelly’s Worship and Young Adult Pastor

Acknowledging the distance we have all moved theologically, I said:

We all believed those things, but then we grew up and read the Bible for ourselves.


Salvation and the Disciple…

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Salvation:  You can do nothing to earn it, but once havign received it, you forfeit everything in return.

Songs about Heaven

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I was with some fellow American believers the other day and we were looking through a collection of old songbooks that they had.  Some predated me, but others brought back some songs that I sang as a teenager.  It was somewhat humorous remembering some of the songs that were so shallow from that era. We joined in singing several to give a hint to the younger ones in the crowd what the songs were like, and that was even more humorous – us signing badly.

Then a few older songs of heaven came up and the question was asked, “Why do Senior Adults enjoy songs of Heaven so much?” since they seem to be favorites of many of the seniors we know.

The consensus was that Heaven was probably on their minds, and it was a comfort to them to know where they are going.

The next day I was driving home from dropping my kids at school and Jeremy Camp came on the radio with the song, “There will be a day.”

I realized that our fondness for singing of Heaven was not generational.  As I thought about it, it seemed to me that American Christians have always sung of Heaven, seeking comfort.

Why is that?  Do Christians from every culture do this? Some certainly have more hardships than others.

It seems that, while Heaven is a great promise and one to which I cling, Paul points us to a longing for living here as a servant to the Kingdom being just as strong a pull:

20 My eager expectation and hope is that I will not be ashamed about anything, but that now as always, with all boldness, Christ will be highly honored in my body, whether by life or by death.

21 For me, living is Christ and dying is gain. 22 Now if I live on in the flesh, this means fruitful work for me; and I don’t know which one I should choose. 23 I am pressured by both. I have the desire to depart and be with Christ —which is far better — 24 but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you. 25 Since I am persuaded of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your advancement and joy in the faith, 26 so that, because of me, your confidence may grow in Christ Jesus when I come to you again. 27 Just one thing: live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or am absent, I will hear about you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind, working side by side for the faith of the gospel, 28 not being frightened in any way by your opponents. This is evidence of their destruction, but of your deliverance —and this is from God. 29 For it has been given to you on Christ’s behalf not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for Him, 30 having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear about me.

Philippians 1:20-30

It seems that we ought to long equally as much to be of some Kingdom use here.  In this world and in this time.

Video: I think my wife’s a calvinist…

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Calvinists poking fun at themselves.  Who says that the Sovereign Grace crowd has no sense of humor?

Missional Non-Conference with David Fitch

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David Fitch has announced a Missional Non-Conference (no fees, no one selling anything) in Ft. Wayne, Indiana January 3.

If you are interested in attending, he’d like for you to email.  You can get more information at David’s blog:

Missional Non-Conference.

Movie Quote

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With deference to the prolific memorable dialog from Doc Holiday in Tombstone, I have a new movie quote from a movie not widely viewed, but which I have come to enjoy.

The movie is “Stranger Than Fiction” and it follows IRS agent Harold Crick as he begins to hear the narration of his life by author Karen Eiffel, though she is unknown to him at the time. This isn’t a review – I may do that some other time – but just to set up this long quote by the author at the end of the movie.  It turns out the author is writing a novel and has writer’s block.  She’s been writing this book for ten years.  It so happens that the narrative of her story is the narrative of Harold’s life.

That narrative revolves around Harold’s drab existence that blossoms into love: for life, for his only friend and for Miss Pascal – a lady, very different from himself, whom he is auditing – as Eiffel struggles to end her book. And the story is about Harold’s watch, which is ignored by Harold but is anthropomorphic and becomes its own character. The hitch is that the book she is writing, the narrative of Harold Crick’s existence, is fictional in her mind, but is actually the very real narrative of Harold’s life.  And thoughts.  And feelings.  And she kills people.  And Harold, struggling with the already disconcerting experience of hearing his life narrated in his head then hears the line, “Little did he know that this seemingly innocuous act would lead to his immanent death.”

At this point, he gets quite concerned.

As I mentioned, Eiffel has been in a ten year writer’s block, but her previous books all end with the death of the central character, hence, she is struggling to find a way to kill Harold. Harold begins a frantic search to find her so that he can stop her from killing him and their worlds collide, creating a moral crises. Apparently the book is no longer just a work of fiction as it seems to govern Harold’s existence.

It is a well written movie, which is why I have decided that I like it, and filled with stars like, Will Ferrell (Harold), Maggie Gyllenhaal (Ana Pascal), Dustin Hoffman (Prof. Hilbert), Emma Thompson (Karen Eiffel) and Queen Latifah (Penny Escher). And there are more. The two guys from those Sonic commercials are IRS agents. Very well cast and funny for those who enjoy dry wit.

Anyway, the movie deals with the issue of free will and destiny, albeit not from a theological perspective. As such, some parts fascinate me as to the imprint of God’s presence on the world. Here is the final quote from Karen Eiffel after she relents from killing Harold who, instead of dying, is critically injured saving the life of a child. I guess I wrote a review after all. It’s a long quote that makes even more sense in the movie, but I think you might enjoy it.

As Harold took a bite of Bavarian Sugar Cookie, he finally felt as if everything was going to be “ok.”

Sometimes, when we lose ourselves in fear and despair, in routine and constancy, in hopelessness and tragedy, we can thank God for Bavarian Sugar Cookies.

And fortunately, when there aren’t any cookies we can still find reassurance in a familiar hand on our skin.

Or a kind and loving gesture.

Or a subtle encouragement.

Or a loving embrace.

Or an offer of comfort.

Not to mention…

Hospital gurneys.

And nose plugs.

And uneaten danish.

And soft spoken secrets.

And Fender Stratocasters.

And, maybe, the occasional piece of fiction.

And we must remember that all these things, the nuances, the anomalies, the subtleties, which we assume only accessorize our days are, in fact, here for a much larger and nobler cause.

They are here to save our lives.

I know the idea seems strange. But I also know that it just so happens to be true.

And so it was a wristwatch saved Harold Crick.

Romans 8:28 – And we know that in all things God works to the good of them who love Him,who have been called according to His purpose.

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