Thursday, April 24, 2014

Follow at a Distance: Was Peter Scared?

I can't get Peter out of my brain and I have all these little thoughts about why He might follow at a distance (Luke 22.54).  And then I wonder about how that might present itself in my life, in my family's life, in the life of those I love and those I pastor.

Peter, on the way to Jesus' trial, followed at a distance and then ended up denying Him three times, just as Jesus predicted he would.

I wonder if Peter was scared.

Was he scared that if he followed too closely it might cost him his own life?  He had heard Jesus talk about people taking up their crosses - for Peter, I bet that didn't seem metaphorical like it does for the comfortable West.  He had heard Jesus talk about persecution coming to the students like it does to the teacher.  Sometimes I think dying is long as I'm not the one doing the dying.

Was he scared of the rebuke of Jesus regarding Malchus' ear?  If you don't remember the story, Peter had taken a sword and tried to put Mal on one side and Chus on the other.  Maybe it was his swordsmanship or maybe it was that Malchus was quick, but he only got his ear, which Jesus quickly repaired.  How closely do you want to get to the guy who just undid what you did?  In case you forgot, He's also the one who told Peter that he was acting like a temporal-minded goofball and "get behind Me, Satan."  Just how close do I want to be to the God who confronts me like that?

Was he scared of Christ's predictive promise of his denial of Christ?  Some of the promises God gives us are tremendous and sweet and wonderful.  Some are not.  Need an example of the latter?  "In this world you will have tribulation..." (John 16.33).  That's as much a promise as, "I will be with you always, even to the end of the ages" (Matthew 28.20).  But that particular promise in John doesn't make coffee cups or crafty ideas on Pinterest.

Was he scared because he thought maybe he had bet on the wrong horse?  Jesus seemed to be losing after doing nothing but winning.  Turn tables over in the Temple - check.  Call out the Pharisees in outstanding ways and in memorable language - check.  Challenge the governing authorities - check.  Drop serious spiritual Truth - check.  Authenticate all of it with miracles - check.  Do it all without Twitter - check.  But now on trial?  Losing in a big way?  Just who did Peter throw his lot in with?  And in case Peter needs company, I just might have, once or twice, thrown some sideways glances up toward heaven accompanied by a big fat question mark of whether or not He knows what He's doing. You probably haven't, but I have.  Once or twice.  As a corollary, sometimes I'm just scared because I don't know how it's going to turn out.

Any of those ring true with you?  Any of those things keep you safely at a distance from dangerous Jesus?

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Words on Wednesday: Emotions Tell Us about God

Our emotional struggles reflect far more than our battle with people and events; they reveal our deepest questions about God.  Anger asks:  Is God just or will He let the wicked win?  Fear asks: Can I trust God to protect me from harm?  Jealousy asks:  Is God good or will He leave me empty and bless others?  Despair asks:  Will God leave me isolated and alone?  Contempt asks:  Does God love me or will He turn away in disgust?  Shame asks:  Does God love me or will He hate me if He sees me as I really am?

James Wilhoit, Spiritual Formation as if the Church Mattered, p. 65
Adapted from The Cry of the Soul by Dan B. Allender and Tremper Longman III

Monday, April 21, 2014

Pastor Saeed, an Easter Message from Prison, and an Advertisement

I was reading a news website last night about Pastor Saeed Abedini and his plight in an Iranian prison.  In case this is news to you, Saeed was captured, arrested, tried, and sentenced for being a Christian and sharing the Gospel.  He has been beaten, tortured, denied medical care, and other violations of decent humanity (much less international conventions).

The measure of a regime or any society is how it treats its most vulnerable.  Prisoners qualify in some senses, especially political rather than criminal prisoners.

What was interesting, though, was the juxtaposition of the story with the advertisement below.  It says plenty about our societal values, and maybe has a word for us about our level of Christian commitment.  Here's the screen shot:

Do you see the irony there?  

Our culture is wanting us to buy their product or service by appealing to our culturally conditioned need for security.  Pastor Saeed writes about how we want the power of the resurrection without the pain of the cross.  

That, to me, is a blistering indictment of my heart.  Because I want security.  And yes, I want it (at least sometimes) at the cost of my faith.

But someone as crazy as the Apostle Paul said that living is Christ and dying is...I'm having trouble remembering how Philippians 1.21 goes.  I think it might have been living is Christ and dying is less advantageous than living securely.  Or something like that.

And someone as authoritative as Jesus said to fear someone who can kill the body and try not to stress out the One who can kill the body and throw you into an unpleasant place.  Again.  I may be misquoting that slightly.  I'm having trouble remembering the verse (Matthew 10.28).

Anything familiar to your heart in that?

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Words on Wednesday - J.I. Packer summarizing the Gospel

Just read this, chew on it, let it soak in, and then breathe deeply...

Were I asked to focus the New Testament message in three words, my proposal would be adoption through propitiation, and I do not expect ever to meet a richer or more pregnant summary of the Gospel than that.
~ J.I. Packer, Knowing God, p.214

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Well, this is better than you know...

Worth every bit of your 6 minutes.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Go Read this Post...Now!

If you haven't been over the to the Queen's blog to check out this practical, heartfelt, and important post on adoption, you should go right now.  Here's the link:

This is the Link to the Queen's Awesome Post

The summary (but you should read the commentary):

How to survive the first few weeks home post-adoption or post-foster placement...

1.  Get some sleep

2.  Eat Healthy

3.  Forgive Yourself

4.  Stick to the Basics

5.  Establish a Routine and Stick to it

6.  Be Good to Yourself

7.  Take Every Thought Captive

Seriously, you have no idea how good this is.  For younger parents, it's equally applicable because it's hard those first few weeks of parenthood.  For adoptive parents, there are unique comments.  For foster parents, the same is true.

Go read it.  Now.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Why Following at a Distance is no bueno

I continue to be struck by the phrase in Luke 22.54 about how, seeing Jesus arrested, Peter followed Him at a distance.

That's always the safest bet, isn't it?  Or it seems that way.  But consider...

1.  Jesus gets no (or little) glory from my following at a distance.  I am the light of the world in relation to Him being the Light of the World.  Like a mirror, I'm only as bright in my reflectino as I am close to the source of the light.  And if I'm not close, I cannot let my light shine before men, no one will see my good works, and no one will glorify the Father in the heavens (Matt. 5.16).

2.  What gets passed on to those around me, and in particular my children who are close enough to me to compare words and actions, is some sense of "good enough."  This much is enough, and no more is needed.  No one passes on a passion and excitement for the Kingdom of God with a "good enough" posture of faith.  Again, I'm thinking primarily of my kids.  It's through the commendation (praise!) of God's works that the passion gets passed down (Ps. 145.4-7).

3.  Stuff either (a) doesn't get done or (b) I don't get to participate in it.  The "greater works" (John 14.12) Jesus wants me to do are not done or someone else does them.  I know the blessing and satisfaction of being in on seeing God move.  If I'm safely at a distance, I do not know that blessing and at best live vicariously.

4.  I have no satisfaction.  If Jesus truly is the Bread of Life and Living Water, I have to be close enough to Him to eat and drink (in a sense) to find that "whoever comes to Me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in Me shall never thirst" (John 6.35).  The satisfaction that Jesus promises does not happen and cannot be laid hold of at a distance.  The interactive intimacy of relationship with Christ is the place of satisfaction.

There may be more, but it's something I'm pondering these days.

But that's just me thinking thoughts...

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Words on Wednesday - Readying to Preach on Sunday

Thinking a lot about the cross in light of my sermon this coming Sunday.  It's always good to think about the cross, but in particular on Palm Sunday I talk about the penal substitution of Jesus, His propitiation for us.  Consider this quote:

"His fine, sensitive membrane of the soul had in nowise been scorched by the fire of iniquity.  No sin. He was perfectly pure and healthy.  No power had been blasted by the lightning of passion.  No nerve had been atrophied by the wasting blight of criminal neglect.  The entire surface of His life was as finely sensitive as the fair, healthy skin of a little child." ~J. H. Jowett as quoted in Dan DeHaan, The God You can Know

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Beauty of Aaron's Ephod, or why I yawn in Exodus 28

If I confess there are parts of the Bible I don't understand, does that make me a bad pastor?  If I confess there are parts of the Bible I don't like reading, does that make me a bad pastor?

My current Bible reading plan (the M'Cheyne Plan, if you care) has me in Exodus at the moment.  I've read about Aaron's ephod and the jewels on the breastplate and so forth.  In my most honest moments when I read that, it's with a yawn.

There, I said it.

I'm not proud.  I'm not saying it to brag.  I'm not saying it to show you how authentic I can be.  I'm saying it because it's true.

And this morning, as I was yawning through Exodus 28, I think I might have heard the Spirit speak and remind me of something that you learn when you read about ephods and breastplates.  The point of the ephod and breastplates was beauty.  The one making the sacrifice for the people needed to be beautifully arrayed.

Did you get that?  That's what I think the Spirit said this morning to me.  The point is beauty.  The One who makes the sacrifice for the people must have in Himself a sense of beauty.  An obedience that is beautiful.  A willingness that is beautiful.  A sacrificial decision that is beautiful.  A joy set before Him, shame-despising beauty.

The One who makes the sacrifice for the people must have in Himself a sense of beauty.

And that, folks, is why Exodus 28 matters, why it's more than a check box on a Bible reading plan.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Sermon Notes from Sunday, 4.6.13, on Galatians 3.15-26

Here are the sermon notes from Sunday, 4.6.13, on Galatians 3.15-26.  You can get these notes in PDF and the sermon audio at  You can also get the audio via our podcast on iTunes.

8 – A Contract, a Prison Guard, and a Tutor 

Galatians 3.15-26

Three Roles the Law Plays

            Contract (v.15-20)
  • Doesn’t change previous covenants (v.15-18)
  • Defines the terms of the relationship (v.19)
  • Identifies responsible parties (v.20)

    Prison Guard (v.21-23)
  • Will not and cannot release us from rendered judgment
  • Carries a sense of bondage / captivity

    Tutor (v.24-26)
  • Charged with supervision of children until they grow up
  • Sense of impersonal / distance

    Do we throw out the Law?
  • In a sense, yes – it is not the source of righteousness
  • In the best sense, no – it is the course of righteousness

    Three Aspects of OT Law
    1. Civil Law – governed the nation of Israel
    Dismissed when God allowed the nation to be dissolved
    2. Cultic Law – governed the congregation of Israel 
    Dismissed when Christ died on the Cross
    3. Moral Law – governed the people of Israel
    Never set aside, only affirmed, deepened, and summarized in NT
Any religion without the Gospel will be marked by captivity and distance 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

A STAARy tale

There once was a little star, shining as stars do in the inky sky that is unobscured by orange streetlights or neon signs.  It sat there, doing its star-ish thing:  twinkling, catching eyes, inciting dreams.

A group of star watchers, studied men and women who were astute at the spatial arts and deemed by some (and mostly themselves) experts at things like this, looked at this star through their telescope.  It seemed to be the right size.  It seemed to be the right distance away.  It seemed to be twinkly enough and eye-catchy enough and dreamy enough to suit their tastes.

In a collective decision and backed by people who don't actually know much about stars but are good talkers and steady influencers, the star watchers decided that this star would be the star for everyone - a sort of star benchmark, it was decided.

News broke.  Other star watchers weighed in.  Some agreed (mostly, it seems, because of the good talkers and steady influencers).  Some disagreed.  Some were so confused by the situation that they figured it might be too hard to understand and therefore not worth trying.

People who watched the stars carefully, though, had some concerns.  There were other stars.  This was just one star - a good star, a fine star, a star worthy of emulation...but not the star to end all stars, not the true measure of stars everywhere.

But the decision was made by the star watchers and the good talkers and those who reported about such things.  So let it be written.  So let it be done.  And it was.

People no longer looked at the whole sky.  They looked at The Star.  If one did try to look at the larger display of twinkles and blinks, that person was reminded of the importance of The Star and how all sorts of money was spent on researching and supporting studying The Star and how looking around was a waste of time and resources.  Pep rallies were held for study of The Star.  There were tales of even t-shirts being printed.  Eventually, it came to the point where the learn-ed and the learning were measured was by their ability to understand The Star.  Those who told about The Star and those who were told about The Star were forced into a kind of star-gazing myopia.

And yet nothing changed for the rest of the sky.  It was still full of shining stars in an inky sky doing their star-ish thing:  twinkling, catching eyes, inciting dreams.  And rumor has it that they're all still there for those who will open their eyes to see.