Why I Decided To Go To Seminary…Or Not

Published on August 9, 2011 by CT in Blog, News

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I have decided to go to seminary. Or not.  And this is a big step for me.

You see, I’m cautious, and I care too much about how I’m perceived, and I’m fearful of not hearing God’s voice clearly, and I’ve long held a wrong view about the nature of Christian service and ministry.  And this wrong kind of view is something that God has been working on within me for years.

This wrong view can be understood by imagining a ladder of spirituality, where each successive rung marks an increasing commitment to and love for Jesus.  At the bottom was a businessman, an occupation I’ve held for the past 10 years.  Next in line was service to God in the form of parachurch ministry.  Above this rung was a local pastor, then church planter, then stateside missionary.  Further up the ladder came the foreign missionaries in developed nations, then foreign missionaries in developing nations, with frontier missionaries, carrying the gospel to unreached people groups, crowning the ministers of grace within the body of Christ.

I sought to climb to the highest point on this ladder, believing that wanting God above all other things meant taking the greatest risk for God.  But God was not in this desire.  As I stepped down this spiritual ladder, pursuing some of the rungs in thought and prayer, while pursuing others more fully through research, training, and conversations, I inevitably returned to my job as a businessman feeling as though God was pleased to use me there.  It was a humbling process, and a frustrating one, as I grieved the loss of dreams of a life I thought merited the glorious salvation I had received from God.

Intellectually, I believed in the priesthood of all believers, and the gifts of the Spirit to all believers, and the need for each member of the body to fulfill his or her role under the headship of Jesus, and the sanctity of all professions done for the glory of God.  And I never would have acknowledged believing in this internal hierarchy, but in God’s providence, I now see what I did not see for so many years:  that not all gifts are equally profitable to the church (1 Corinthians 12), but the use of all of these gifts can be equally pleasing to God.

We do well when we desire to be profitable to God’s people, but we do better when we desire to please God, because in doing so, He receives more glory and we receive more joy.  And in a way that only God can work, He makes us most profitable to His people when we seek to please Him above all else.  This is a profound truth, and it’s having a big impact on the way I delight in and obey my King.

You may recall that I lost my job in September of 2010.  Well, I spent 10 of the months since that time finishing the building of our first house.  And now that the house is done, I’m at a fork in the road.  Do I continue down the path of business, or do I respond to a longing I’ve felt, strongly at times, weaker at others, to teach God’s people His word?

This goes back to my being cautious.  When I encounter this kind of question, I find myself at a standstill, waiting, I tell myself, on direction from God.  But what I’m really doing is entertaining my fears.  One fear is telling people I’m going to do one thing and then end up doing something else (this goes back to caring too much about how I’m perceived).  Another fear is doing what I think God is telling me to do and then finding out I was following my own voice (this goes back to being fearful of not hearing God’s voice clearly).

But God has been gracious to me this past week, and through the ministry of friends and family, I’ve come to see that, sometimes, waiting on the Lord means standing still and listening.  And sometimes, waiting on the Lord means walking and listening.  Either way, waiting on Him means believing Him, exercising faith in the hope and expectation that He will act on my behalf, for my good, and in a way that brings Him glory and brings me joy.

So I’m waiting in faith by applying to business jobs and applying to seminary.  I will soon walk down one of these paths, or one of hundreds of other paths I’m not yet considering.  But there’s movement in my soul and in my steps, and it feels good to stretch my spiritual legs again.  Pray for me, that God will humble me in the process, and teach me to trust in Him, even if it costs me my pride and my fear.

Question:  How have you waited on God in big decisions?

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The Realness of God

Published on July 11, 2011 by CT in Blog, Thoughts

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I have been contemplating prayer recently.  By contemplating, I mean I’ve been thinking much more about prayer than actually talking to God about prayer, which of course would be praying and might just help the whole situation.  But here I find myself, wondering why something so central to this faith we share is such a mystery.

Here’s what I do know about prayer.  It’s hard.  It’s important.  It’s much simpler than we care to make it.  And it’s far more complex than we understand.

I also know that pretty much every Christian thinks his or her prayer life isn’t all that great.  When you ask a Christian if Jesus died for their sins, they will say yes. When you ask a Christian if communion wafers are too dry, they will say yes.  And when you ask a Christian if their prayer life could be better, they will say yes.

I am no different, but I’m also tired of lamenting this fact.  I can see spending the next forty years dipping my toes into the shallow pools of God while shouting over my shoulder that’s it’s just too far to jump into the deep end.  But who wants to stay in the shallow end shouting all the time?

As I consider why my prayer life “isn’t as good as it could be,” I have to acknowledge the reason this is so: because my experience in prayer hasn’t been worth the effort.  By this I mean that the reward hasn’t been worth the cost.  While there are a hundred other reasons I don’t pray more earnestly, or more fervently, or more expectantly, or more willfully, or more joyfully, the ground-level reason is because I don’t think it’s worth my time.

I say this with conviction because I believe that tasting the sweetness of God and seeing the beauty of God will lead to the savoring of God over anything else, because He is the greatest of all realities.  And I’m coming to see that taking hold of this truth, that God is real, with all the strength I can muster, is necessary if I’m ever going to change my mind and see that time spent with God is absolutely time best spent.

It sounds silly to say God is real.  Of course we believe God is real.  We’d take a bullet to show that God is real.  We’ll give our money and our time so that more people will see that He is real.  We’re committed our lives to following Jesus, and worshipping God, and serving Him, and repenting from sin, and sharing the gospel, and all sorts of things that pour from a well-deep belief that God is real.

But if God is real to us, why do we cut Him off mid-sentence? God, I pray for our group tomorrow, that you would work…oh shoot, I forgot to send out that email about the time change.

If God is real to us, why do we continue to teach when we pray in front of a group we just taught? God, help us to see, that as you say in your word in the passage we looked at today, that actions speak louder than words, that we need to let go and let God, that the knowledge we gained today should change our hearts and sink down into the roots of our soul, which will bring forth the fruit that will evidence the change in our hearts and [fill in any other bullet points you might want to reinforce from the message].

Real people having real conversations speak in a certain way, and people praying to a God they aren’t deeply convinced is listening speak in a different way.  Now this may be a reality of our faith, that the process of being made into the image of Christ comes with stretching and growing and yearning, and that’s OK.  But as one preacher says, “It’s OK to not be OK.  It’s just not OK to stay that way.”

So this is my prayer today for all of usGod, be real to us.  Help us to pray, hear us, speak to us, and give us a heart that desires you most.

Question:  How’s your prayer life?

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The Hedge Test

Published on June 18, 2011 by CT in Blog, Stories

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It has been said that the true character of a man is what he does when no one else is looking.  I might amend that to say:  the true character of a man is what his heart is inclined to do, and what he does, when no one is looking.

I realized this yesterday as I was helping my mother-in-law trim her hedge.  I’ve never trimmed a hedge before, but it didn’t look all that hard, so I volunteered.  And it wasn’t hard in a mountain-climbing, desert-crossing kind of way, but it wasn’t something I’d typically do on a relaxing vacation either.

Using old-school hedge shears and a small platform ladder, I took to the top and the side of this long, overgrown hedge, and over the course of the next hour or so, I made good progress in the 90 degree heat.  I wanted to do a good job, doing my work with excellence, making a good impression on the in-laws, and doing my work for the glory of God.  So I took special care to round the top corners and get clean lines along the sides, you know, making the hedge look like it belonged with the best of hedges.

But before long, I realized I needed to go around to the neighbor’s side of the hedge to complete the project.  And there is where I found a test of my character, waiting in the shade of cascading fruit trees.  Sure, this side of the hedge needed trimming as well, but it was the neighbor’s side after all, so my in-laws wouldn’t really see it.  And the hedge was mostly hidden from view by the trees, so maybe the neighbors wouldn’t really see it either.  So I thought about skimping on the work, offering a few token cuts with the shears on a side no one would notice.

But that’s when the refrain echoed in my mindthe true test of a man’s character… I realized that if I really meant to work for the glory of God, to cut this hedge for His glory, as it if were His hedge I was trimming (which it was after all), then it meant doing all of the work as if all of it could be seen.

Jeremiah tells us that our God, “who judges righteously…tests the heart and the mind” (Jeremiah 11:20).  Jesus tells us that “I am he who searches mind and heart” (Revelation 2:23), and that “nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known” (Luke 12:2).

I decided to cut the entire hedge as if it were God’s, and I’m grateful to Him for testing and revealing the hidden things in my heart.  My prayer for all of us is that He would continue to test us, and change us, and shape our hearts and minds and hands so that all the things we do will be for His glory alone, and that our character, as we’re being conformed to the image of Christ, would be sharpened by the shears of His Spirit, so we might be presented to Him as perfect and holy.

Question:  What is one of your stories of character-testing?

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Convicted On Judgment Day

Published on May 24, 2011 by CT in Blog, Thoughts

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You might have recently heard about Harold Camping. A California-based radio broadcaster, he has made news for his end of days predictions and his influence over thousands of followers who have given to and supported his claim of the coming Judgment Day.  Camping predicted that the end of the world would be ushered in last Saturday, May 21, 2011, and that 200 million Christians would be raptured amidst global earthquakes.

Many have written in jest or condemnation or love about this topic, but what struck me most was a thought I had on Saturday morning.  Knowing that Camping’s Judgment Day had arrived, and assuming it was another false prophecy consistent with a ministry rife with false teaching, I still wondered what it would be like for Christ to return that day.  As I contemplated this Second Coming, here’s what I thought:  I’d really like to finish the house first.

You see, we’ve been building our first home for the past year, and we’ve poured ourselves, our time, and our money into finishing this project.  The process has gone much slower than we’ve liked, or even thought possible, and we have found ourselves “2 weeks away” from being done for about 3 months now.  As of today, I think we’re about two weeks away =).

In all this, I’m reminded of a question John Piper poses in God Is The Gospel:  “If you could have heaven, with no sickness, and with all the friends you ever had on earth, and all the food you ever liked, and all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauty you ever saw….could you be satisfied…if Christ was not there?”  The question I ask myself today is similar:  What do I want most today—Jesus, or something else?

Paul contemplated this question and chose well.  “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” (Phil 3:8).  So while we live on earth, and work our jobs, and build our houses, and love our families, and fellowship with believers, and share the gospel with others, and enjoy God’s goodness to us, let us also desire with Paul to see, know, and have Christ above all other things.

Question:  What in your life are you treasuring above Christ these days?

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Another Update In Thoughts

Published on May 18, 2011 by CT in Blog, Thoughts

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These kinds of posts seem easier than explaining where I’ve been for 2 months.  Here is what I have been learning since we last connected.

  1. People that are connected to God are never bored in their lives.
  2. Pondering what God pondered as He considered creating the world is hard work.
  3. I tend to think that paying someone to work on our house gives me license to treat them with less grace than if I wasn’t paying them.
  4. Ditra is way easier to put down than Durock.
  5. The intensity of our fleshly desires always exceeds the satisfaction that comes in fulfilling those desires (Minter).
  6. I think I’m an infralapsarian.
  7. Painters don’t paint the tops of doors or window trim, unless you ask them…six times.
  8. God loves us through grace, and we love God through obedience.
  9. I prefer days when the amount of voluntary time in front of a screen is kept at a minimum.
  10. Feeding babies real food rather than milk or formula, um, changes things.
  11. Waiting until ______ happens in my life in order to start ______ is a dumb way to live.
  12. Debates about God’s sovereignty in salvation ultimately center on the question of what God values most.
  13. True thinking about God leads to truer worship of God.
  14. My advice on handling well the self-promotion involved in writing:  throw yourself in, and confess your sins as they come up.
  15. Duets like The Civil Wars are rare and exquisite.
  16. The Sleeve Monster seems to victimize people who listen to conservative talk radio more than others.
  17. Jesus is the means and the end of creation, redemption, and restoration.
  18. Teaching older men who know more about the Bible than me is surprisingly pleasing.
  19. Mother’s Day and birthdays and the like are great excuses to celebrate someone worth celebrating.
  20. We write to understand, and we publish to influence.
  21. All things, including blessing, others, discipline, evil, suffering, and persecution, work together for our good, for those who love God and are called according to His purpose, because they serve in conforming us to the image of Christ, so He might be firstborn among many brothers and preeminent over all things.
  22. Laying sod for a living must be incredibly hard work.
  23. Psalm 27:4 and Philippians 3:7-8 both essentially talk about wanting the same thing.
  24. If our end is not worship, then we study and think in vain.
  25. Each day with Jesus, Anna, and Avery gets better than the last.

Question:  What have you been learning recently?

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I Am God’s Gift To…

Published on March 16, 2011 by CT in Blog, Thoughts

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I am God’s gift…

…not to women.

…not to writing.

…not to business.

…not to my family.

…not to the world.

…but to Jesus.  “I have manifested my name to the people whom you gave me out of the world.  Yours they were, and you gave them to me” (John 17:6).

Let this stunning truth grip your mind and settle into your heart.  It’s true to say that God gives us many gifts, and that our friends, or our family, or our co-workers are in one sense gifts from God for our enjoyment and our good.  But above all others, God gives us to Jesus.  Let the affections of your soul rise up at the thought of being a precious gift, given to Jesus, who loved us enough to lay down His life to gain us as His own.

Question:  What do think about being a gift God has given to Jesus?

*Thanks to Ray Shoaff for pointing out this verse and thought.

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Don’t Ignore…Submit

Published on March 8, 2011 by CT in Blog, Thoughts

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You may have heard a pastor say something like this in prayer during a service: God, help us to set aside the cares and concerns of this world and worship you. They say this to help us refocus our hearts and our minds as we come to worship God corporately.  And they are kind to do so; we’re not only like sheep, but we’re often distracted, worrisome sheep.

I don’t mean to quibble, but this thought occurred to me the last time I heard this sort of thing in a prayer. We do well to set aside the cares and concerns of our daily lives when we come each week to worship God.  But we do better to bring those cares and concerns in submission to God in worship.

Paul tells us what this is like:  “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).

The antidote to anxiousness is prayer, and the cured heart and mind will be guarded by God’s peace.  That sounds like a cure I need each week—and each day.

So the next time you find your heart beating with worry or your mind racing with anxiety, don’t simply push them aside to focus on God.  Bring them to God as a prayer and a request, all with a spirit of thanksgiving that He hears and heals.  And He will give us peace!

Question:  Do you find your mind racing and your heart worrying when you come to church—or each day?

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25 Things I’d Rather Do Than Pray

Published on February 22, 2011 by CT in Blog, Thoughts

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Based on the way I’ve been spending my time the past few weeks, here are 25 things I’ve found that I prefer to praying.

  1. Sleeping.
  2. Eating toast.
  3. Laying in bed thinking.
  4. Watching John Daker on You Tube.
  5. Thinking about my future.
  6. Mentally rehearsing conversations (over and over) I need to have with my builder.
  7. Spending time with my wife.
  8. Reading a book.
  9. Cutting vines out of trees on our property.
  10. Avoiding doing what I wrote what I would do in the book I’m writing.
  11. Watching Iron Man 2.
  12. Researching chairs and fabrics online for our new house.
  13. Watching Beauty and the Beast and wondering why little kids aren’t scared more than they are.
  14. Reading my Bible.
  15. Snoozing.
  16. Reading espn.com
  17. Checking my Facebook and Twitter accounts.
  18. Reading other blogs.
  19. Hanging out with my baby.
  20. Wondering (to myself) why I don’t want to pray.
  21. Watching NCIS.
  22. Leaving early to lay tile at our house.
  23. Flipping on the radio in the car.
  24. Sitting on my couch thinking.
  25. Writing this blog post.

I’ve also realized a few things about these time choices: Some are worthwhile, others less so, most are self-serving, and nearly all are less important than spending time talking with and listening to my God.

God grant me, and us, the grace to have deeper affections, more faith, more patience, and a greater love for time with you in prayer.

Question:  Do you have a hard time praying?  If so, why?

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Trust Me Because…

Published on February 10, 2011 by CT in Blog, Thoughts

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I have a hard time trusting people. This is not new; I think I have been this way for a long time.  But it’s new to me, because I’ve just realized it.  If I meet someone at the office, or on the street, or at church, or in my neighborhood, and I’m not sure what they want from me, then I’m holding back.  They’re not getting all of me—at least not until I know what role I’m supposed to be playing in this relationship.

I should clarify.  I have a hard time trusting people that I’m not sure I can trust.  Which means that I can trust, sometimes fiercely, those who have proven to be faithful and trustworthy.  But if the track record isn’t there, I’m hesitant to let go of my heart.

I spoke with Renee Johnson, the Devotional Diva, this morning, and we got to talking about God’s faithfulness in our lives in terms of His provision.  She brought up the idea of a little kid asking his parents each day if they were going to feed him tomorrow.  She said the parents would surely say:  “Yeah…and duh.”  I love it; of course any child should trust his parents, but then the same could be said of us.

The trouble with not trusting others is that I find myself struggling to trust God as well.  That doesn’t mean that in order to trust God, we must first trust others.  But it does mean that a foundational, deep, abiding trust in God will free us to trust others more readily.  Paul said this succinctly in saying, “If God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31).

We all struggle to trust God.  Renee wrote about the same topic today, and it’s an issue I’ve been facing for the 4 months since I lost my job.  But we’re both finding that God is faithful to provide for us in soul-satisfying, heart-leaping kinds of ways.

Jesus says “yeah…and duh” in this way:  “Your heavenly Father knows you need [all these things].  But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33).  He implies trusting God here, basically telling us not to worry about the small stuff—what we’re going to wear, how we’re going to eat.

He could have simply restated Proverbs 3:5-6:  “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean in your own understanding.  In all your ways, acknowledge Him and He will make straight your paths.”  But He makes God’s faithfulness even more explicit, and He makes our response even more pressing.  Trust in the Lord because He know you need these things.  And aknowledge Him by seeking first the kingdom of God.

So when we find ourselves struggling to trust God, we should preach to ourselves this truth:  Trust Him.  He is good.  He is faithful.  He knows what we need.  And He will take care of me.  But without taking away from this truth, we should add to it by saying:  And seek first His righteousness!

Seek Jesus.

Abide in Him.

Search out His word.

Search out His heart, and your heart, in prayer.

And for me, understanding my role is as His beloved, as His child, as a temple for His Spirit, as an inheritor with Christ of all things, makes me far more able to trust God.  Not simply because I know who I am in Him, but because of who is He is for me.  So now God is getting all of me—because He is trustworthy.

So let us say with David:  “Those who know your name put their truth in you, for you, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek you” (Psalm 8:10).  And let us put our faith in a God who knows our every need—and is pleased to give us all things!

Question:  Do you have a hard time trusting people—and trusting God?

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When Narnia Awoke In My Backyard

Published on February 2, 2011 by CT in Blog, Stories

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I’m really writing this post to tell you one truth I discovered about God today. But I’m going to tell you a story first.

Last week, our skies brought six inches of snow to our rooftops and yards and trees.  It’s been great.  I love the snow.  And the snow has stayed, although it’s moved from a soft blanket of powder to an rigid ledge of ice in recent days.  But today, the skies opened once more, this time with rain, and the snow began to melt from the trees and the ground.

I decided to take a walk through the woods this afternoon, after the rain had gone, and I came upon the intermittent stream that runs through our property.  For days now it has been silent with still, icy strains, but today, quiet melodies of laughter rose from its wet banks.

I felt as if I were in Narnia, when Aslan came and broke the spell of the White Witch, and spring covered the cold, white winter with the warmth of joyful greens.  I walked along the water’s trail, ducking under tree branches and side-stepping fallen logs.  My little dog, Bear, was hopping around the edges of the stream, dipping her toes into the cool water and barking at the small waterfalls that spilled over sticks and leaves.  Water dripped from tall, green trees.  The sunlight broke through branches and needles in a mosaic of light.

My heart filled with great joy, and I began praising God.  Who am I to live this beautiful kind of life, a life where I can know my Creator and be loved by Him?  Who am I to behold such wondrous beauty in a world He meant for our joy?  Who am I to get to live in this place, with this wife, with this daughter, with this family, with these friends?

And then these words came from the lips of my heartGod, I love your gifts.  They are so good and precious.  But even more, I love you apart from your gifts.

This is a truth I want to live out more fully. It means seeing God’s gifts as for my good, whether those be gifts of blessing or gifts of loss.  It means rejoicing in those gifts, because God means for us to find great pleasure in them.  And it means always treasuring the Giver above the gift, because He is our greatest pleasure.

I’m reminded of a heart-stopping, mind-bending question from God Is The Gospel.  John Piper asks, “If you could have heaven, with no sickness, and with all the friends you ever had on earth, and all the food you ever liked, and all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauty you ever saw….could you be satisfied…if Christ was not there?”

May it be so in my life and yours, that we could answer no in a real and heartfelt way.  May we find pleasure in the thousands of gifts of blessing and loss in our own lives.  And may we find our greatest joy, not in His gifts, but in Him.

Question:  Do you find that you primarily love God, or His gifts?

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Be Overwhelmed

Published on January 17, 2011 by CT in Blog, Theology

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You remember the passage in Genesis 18 where Abraham petitions God over and over? God has come to “see whether [Sodom and Gomorrah] have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me,” and He hangs behind as the two angels go down towards Sodom.  This is where Abraham approaches Him to inquire:

“Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?  Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city.  Will you then sweep away the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it?  Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked!  Far be that from you!  Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?”

And God responded:

“If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will spare the whole place for their sake.”

This goes on and on, with Abraham petitioning God five more times, until the point where God has promised that He will not destroy the city of Sodom if only ten righteous people are found within its walls.  Of course, you know the rest of the story, that not even ten are found, and in His mercy, God saves Lot and his wife (for a time) and his daughters, and that these two great cities are completely destroyed.

As I consider this passage, a few observations come to mind:

  1. God’s foreknowledge does not preclude His listening, and even responding to, His people whom He knows.  In fact, His foreknowledge enables it.  God knew that not even ten would be found in the city, yet He permitted Abraham to petition Him six times on the city’s behalf, in order to show Abraham, and us by observation, something about His nature, such that…
  2. …God’s love overcomes His wrath.  Our perfect God is just to show His wrath on sinful people like us who have not kept to His perfect standard.  Yet His mercy overcomes.  His mercy overcomes so much that God was willing to spare an entire city, full of people who were long in rebellion to Him, if only to be merciful to even ten of His people.  That’s because “the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials,” (2 Peter 2:9), because…
  3. …There is a kind of righteousness that comes in believing God.   “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness (Romans 4:3).”  And Lot believed God as well through Abraham, as he went with him to this distant, promised land.  Even though Lot was a man of mistakes, some quite grievous, he knew enough about God so that he was “greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked (for as that righteous man lived among them day after day, he was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard)” (2 Peter 2:8), which reminds us that…
  4. … “God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

So when you feel overwhelmed by your own sin, be more overwhelmed by God’s mercy and love, which we see most clearly at the cross.  He listens, and rescues, and gives us His righteousness, and loves us more deeply than we know.

Question:  Do you experience a lot of guilt about your own sins?

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Did God Not Say That?

Published on January 10, 2011 by CT in Blog, Kindling

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It’s better to meditate on what God’s word actually says, but it can also be useful at times to meditate on what God’s word does not say.

Here’s what I mean. Recently, I borrowed Anna’s Bible and happened upon a note (from a Beth Moore Bible study I believe) she had handwritten beside Philippians 4:6-7.

This is how the verse appears in Scripture:

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

This is how Anna’s note, casting the verse in the negative, appears:

“Do not be calm about anything, but in everything without prayer and without humility, without any thankfulness, do not tell God what you need.  Then, you will not have any peace, nor understanding or clarity, so your heart will be open to all and your mind will be like the sea tossed to and fro by the wind.”

God’s word, as inspired by His Spirit, is like a jewel. It is a wonder to behold, but turning it can give another perspective that’s beautiful as well.  I think that’s what’s going on here.  The Spirit meant every word He inspired, so we do well to pour over each word and think deeply on what He meant.  But there are times when we can benefit by thinking over what He did not say as well.

Question:  What does your favorite verse look like in the negative?

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When Real Is Better Than Imaginary

Published on January 6, 2011 by CT in Blog, Thoughts

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Imaginary is always better than real, right?

For example, our family recently went on the public tour of the White House.  I have seen this building for years in pictures and from afar in person, and I have imagined it as a house that is grander, more romantic, and altogether different from any other.

Given its history and proximity to power, it is different from other homes.  But I noticed the paint strokes on the trim, and a creak in the floors, and the fact that the insides aren’t quite as big as I thought.  So in that sense, it’s not that different at all.

Or the time my friends and I went to a taping of Price Is Right.  We were all in the Air Force, so we wore our dress uniforms, knowing that one of us would be picked as a contestant (and our friend Brooke went on to win the Cliffhanger game).  I had seen the show on TV and imagined the studio as a cavernous space, but in reality, it was like being in a small community theater.

Perhaps this is why we love fantasy worlds like Narnia or Hogwarts so much—there’s a bit more luster to an imaginary world.  And this yearning tells us something about ourselves.  CS Lewis hints at this reality:  “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”

In my own life, reality often leads to disappointment.  What I mean is that I have certain expectations or hopes or dreams that often run headlong into the wall of reality.  When my satisfaction is tied to those expectations, and they don’t play out, then I find myself frustrated, discouraged, and wondering why I am still unfulfilled.

But there’s One who does not lead to disappointment.  In His “presence there is fullness of joy; at [His] right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11).  At His back is a trail of blinding glory.  His Son is the lamp that gives eternal light to the holy city, New Jerusalem.

And here’s the thing about God:  the reality is infinitely greater than the imagined.  So let’s delight in Him and His promises and look forward with eager longing for the day we can bask in the glory of His presence.  And let’s allow the reality that His reality is far greater that our imaginations to spur us on in faith to love Him more fully today.

Question:  When have you found the reality of a place or situation to be a shadow of what you’d imagined?

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Change You Can Believe In

Published on January 3, 2011 by CT in Blog, Theology

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Change is good. Except when it’s change for the sake of change.  Then it’s short-sighted, ineffective, and not entirely useful to anyone.

But real change, deep change, heartfelt change, individual change, is its own revolution. And I don’t mean to use the term revolution too lightly.  This kind of change is nothing short of a miracle.

Here’s what I have in mind when I talk about this kind of deep, heartfelt change.  Paul was a religious man who set out to destroy the church of God (so he hoped) in order to please God (so he thought).  And one day, he encountered Jesus.  Here’s what he said:  “Who are you, Lord?”

Paul goes on to be saved, begins preaching in the synagogue, goes to Arabia, goes back to Damascus, ends up in Jerusalem, and begins his missionary journeys.  Thirty years go by, and here is what we find him now writing:  “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain…My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better [than remaining in the flesh]” (Philippians 1:21, 23).

Since we have the whole Bible and know Paul’s story, we overlook this change as no big deal.  But the change here is stunning.

“Who are you, Lord?”

…to…

“My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.”

So I wonder at what can produce this kind of change in a man.  I said earlier that this kind of change is a miracle, because a miracle involves the supernatural piercing the natural.  And that’s precisely what happened with Paul.  “But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles” (Galatians 1:15-16).

According to the testimony of Paul, it was the calling of God by grace through the revealing of His Son that changed him.  This was his miracle.  The Spirit confirms this through Luke:  “I am Jesus, who you are persecuting” (Acts 9:5).

And this is our miracle as well.  If God is in us and for us, then He has called us by His grace through the revealing of His Son as well.  “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God” (1 John 4:15).  And we are changed people because of it—may we never forget it!

Question:  How has God changed you most since He called you by His grace?

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