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Month: April 2016

Suffering Job’s Safe-Harbor

imagesIn speaking of God, that great sufferer Job says:

“But he is unchangeable, and who can turn him back? What he desires, that he does. For he will complete what he appoints for me, and many such things are in his mind…” (Job 23:13-14)

These verses were part of my morning bible reading this morning. They give me great hope. Consider what Job knows and affirms of God:

He never changes… never alters… is never fickle or capricious. Rather, he is unchangeable. Not just “unchanging”, mind you, but unchangeable. There is no need for him to change because he never makes a mis-step or a mistake. Oh, the rest, peace and hope of serving an unchangeable God!

Second, he is unstoppable, un-interruptable: “who can turn him back?” When I look out around me, everything is change and kinda scary… where is this world careening to. But, the unchangeable God is the unstoppable God. None can derail him.

Third, He always accomplishes what he sets about to: “what he desires, that he does.” At this point, Job is just piling on similar truths.  Perhaps it’s to help us GET it! Nothing in our lives is unchanging. But God is unchanging.  Even the rocks and mountains change.  Up in Northern New Hampshire, in the White Mountains, there has always been a venerable rock formation called “The Old Man of the Mountain.” For generations, you could drive up there, and see a facial profile in a rock formation. …UNTIL, one spring (2003) it had fallen to pieces. Ice and snow and melt and freeze pried the rock off the granite cliffs. Everything in this world changes! But not God. He does everything that he desires.

Fourth, it’s personal with God. “he will complete what he appoints for me.” He hasn’t simply set in motion a world of physics and natural laws, that inexorably take their course, while he tools off to another part of the universe to watch from afar. Rather, he as appointed plans and purposes for each of us. This unchangeable, unstoppable, accomplishing God brings this to bear in each of our lives, just as assuredly as he did in Job’s. Psalm 138:8 reiterates this: “He will accomplish his purposes for me.” Romans 8:28 as well: “in all things God works for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose.” Eph 2:10: “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance that we should walk in them.” Job is on to something here: God has a purpose for you and for me, and is going to accomplish it. Even if, like in Job’s case, it’s not a purpose that we would choose!

Finally, “many such things are in his mind.” Wow. We are just scratching the surface of him. 2 verses in Job 23… yet 30,000 more verses of God’s revelation to us. There’s more in his infinite, wise, glorious, mysterious, inscrutable, good, kind, and merciful mind than we can dare to dream. No wonder Paul ends Romans 11 with: “Oh the depths of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his wisdom, and his paths beyond tracing out.”

Today–in our changing world, in our changing plans, in our changing lives, in our changing culture, changing jobs, changing pressures–will you cling with Job to the unchangeable, unstoppable, effective, personal and infinite God?  Job’s safe-harbor is for us all.

Pain, Plans & Purposes

imagesThis has been a fun adventure.  For about 6 weeks I’ve been wrestling with a fair amount of back pain.  It started as the regular “bad back” with which I’ve suffered for 20 years.  But, somewhere 2 1/2 weeks ago it morphed into an extruding disc (L5) onto my sciatic nerve. That’s a whole new adventure in pain! For the first time, I got prescription pain meds, an MRI, went to a specialist, and thought, “this is going to kill me!”

Well, of course, this too shall pass.  But, I’m learning a bit about what pain does.

First of all, it’s disrupts your plans. For the 3rd week in a row, I won’t be preaching on Sunday. Not because I’m on a cool mission trip or family vacation, but because I’m laid up at home watching the livestream! I’ve had to cancel a trip to board meetings (about which I feel badly for letting them down). My colleagues on staff at Grace are picking up the slack of things I can’t do because I’m just not at the office. I couldn’t even help set out the chairs and tables for the EPIC banquet this week.

And, let’s not even talk about home: mowing the lawn, loading the dishwasher, vacuuming, etc., etc.  Who does this all fall to? Susan. She’s stepping up her plans since I’m a “bump on a log.” In the middle of it, she comes down with a huge infection–worse than any she’s had in a year.

On top of this, I’ve had more doc visits in the last 3 weeks than I’ve had in the last ten years. More meds and pharmacy trips (If you live in K-town and don’t go to Kinston Clinic Pharmacy, have your head checked. They are the bomb!), and more appointments. Phew.

This is not complaining… it’s simply observing all the plans that my pain has pushed aside, run riot over, and utterly reordered.

It’s amazing. In a regular work week, I spend a good deal of time Sunday night or Monday morning laying out the week – what are the several key things I absolutely must get done, who are the people I’m meeting with, what staff projects can I support, what preaching/studying do I need to account for, what shepherding or theological situations need my attention. As best I can, I plan the week for productivity and fruit.

Except, with the curveball of sciatic nerve pain, all the plans go out the window. They just don’t count anymore.

So, what’s left?  Purposes. No matter what plans may change, there are a whole bunch of purposes that don’t change. Purposes that God has in pain, in plans, in normalcy and in upheaval. His purposes of me growing in love and service to Susan (so that she’ll be more in love in with Jesus).

His purposes of me showing the boys the Father-heart of God.  So, in the pain and upheaval, how are those two purposes going?  Ouch… ask me again in a month…

But, his purposes extend to Grace Fellowship. As pastor who can’t preach for a spell.  But I’m still the pastor, who loves this body and rejoices to serve here.

As a disciple of Christ… his purposes for me go far deeper than my plans to “accomplish much for him.”  I get to let him carry me through, and it’s just tough!

His purposes haven’t changed: husband, father, pastor, disciple, etc. My plans have, his purposes haven’t.  I wonder, now that I’m thinking about this, I wonder how many times when I’m all up-and-at-’em do my plans trump his purposes without my even knowing it?

I wonder if the pain is a reminder that his purposes will be accomplished in me (Ps 138:8) regardless of my plans.

Tubman and the Twenty

imgres-1Harriet Tubman is going to be on the front of the new Twenty Dollar Bill.  Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew announced this on Wednesday.

I couldn’t think of a better choice. Imagine every day millions of Americans will look at the face of one of the true heroes of American history. A hero is someone who simply does what is right, not counting their safety. This is Harriet Tubman.

In 1849 she escaped slavery (from the Eastern Shore of Maryland). Upon the death of her master, she decided not to wait for her master’s widow to sell her… she fled to Philadelphia.  She once said, “[T]here was one of two things I had a right to, liberty or death; if I could not have one, I would have the other.”

She immediately came back to free several of her family and friends.  Once the Fugitive Slave Act was passed in 1850 (and the Northern states were no longer safe for fleeing slaves), she extended the Underground Railroad to what is now Ontario. For 8 years she steered thousands of slaves to freedom.

She served in the Civil War for the Union. She later moved to Upstate New York to care for her ailing parents (whom she helped escape from Maryland in 1857; even though they had gained their freedom, it was still an oppressive atmosphere for freed blacks).

She was motivated by her Christian faith to help those she could, and to bear the burden of sacrifice if need be. She spoke often of receiving visions from the Lord guiding her.  She was known as the “Moses” of the slaves. And, on her death bed (1913), she rejoiced in the words of the Lord Jesus, “I go and prepare a place for you…”

Fellow Abolitionist Frederick Douglass wrote to her (on the publication of her biography by Sarah Hopkins Bradford in 1869). It is worth us reading as we consider this remarkable lady who brought true freedom to hundreds, and was the conscience of a nation.

Dear Harriet: I am glad to know that the story of your eventful life has been written by a kind lade, and that the same is soon to be published. You ask for what you do not need when you call upon me for a word of commendation. I need such words from you far more than you can need them from me, especially where your superior labors and devotion to the cause of the lately enslaved of our land are known as I know them. The difference between is us very marked. Most that I have done and suffered in the service of our cause has been in public, and I have received much encouragement at every step of the way. You on the other hand have labored in a private way. I have wrought in the day–you in the night. I have had the applause of the crowd and the satisfaction that comes of being approved by the multitude, while the most that you have done has been witnessed by a few trembling, scarred, and foot-sore bondmen and women, whom you have led out of the house of bondage, and whose heartfelt “God bless you” has been your only reward. The midnight sky and the silent stars have been the witnesses of your devotion to freedom and of your heroism. Excepting John Brown–of sacred memory–I know of no one who has willingly encountered more perils and hardships to serve our enslaved people than you have. Much that you have done would seem improbable to those who do not know you as I know you.  It is to me a great pleasure and a great privilege to bear testimony to your character and your works, and to say to those to whom you may come, that I regard you in the every way truthful and trustworthy. Your friend, Frederick Douglass

Well said, Mr Douglass!

Let’s give thanks that Treasury has given us constant and very public reminder of a woman of valor!

How to murder your brothers, and other marriage advice

imgres“He killed all his brothers with the sword.” 2 Chronicles 21:4

A new chapter starts in the royal family. Up to this point, for a couple hundred year, there has been peaceful succession – father to son, father to son.

But, with Jehoram, son of Jehoshaphat, a new reality arrives: Kill your rivals to secure your throne, even your own flesh and blood.

From here to the end of 2 Chronicles, there are increasing murders, assassinations, idol worship, apostasies. The House of David has lost its beauty.  From David to Jehoshaphat, the House of David has been mostly Godward, like David. Beginning with Jehoram, the throne declines.

Yes, there are periods of renewal (Hezekiah & Josiah). But there are horrible stretches of evil and abandoning God. 55 years of Manasseh, for instance!

As I read 2 Chronicles this past 2 weeks, I noticed that the long and rich and devout prayers for which this book is known all come before Jehoram’s reign. (1:7-12, 6:12-42, 12:6, 14:11, 20:3-12). The murders and gross apostasy all come as a result of Jehoram.

Jehoram was the pivot point toward abandoning God. He was the first to kill his brothers to secure his throne. (21:4). A couple of verses later, we get an insight into why he was so quick to abandon God: “And he walked in the way of the kings of Israel (i.e., the Northern 10 tribes, in rebellion against David’s dynasty), as the house of Ahab had done, for the daughter of Ahab was his wife” (21:6). Jehoram’s wife was the daughter of the poster-child for wickedness Ahab & his wife Jezebel.

These two were the Bonnie-and-Clyde of Israel’s history. They led God’s people into more sin than anyone: Worshipping Baal and abandoning God (1 Kings 17-18), Murdering to get their way (Naboth’s vineyard, 1 Kings 21), persecuting those who serve God.

Jehoram is now married to Jezzie Junior. And trouble now begins for the House of David.

What’s the takeaway for us today? Two real things:

First, a great family history does not mean the next generation is secure spiritually.  The House of David isn’t even secure from a slide so great there’s large-scale murder for selfish reasons. Every generation will drift or slide farther away from all that is good and true of the previous… unless there is an intentional change of direction. So, parents: fight to impart the faith to your kids. Pray fervently for their hearts to be captivated by Christ and nothing else! We are what we worship, what we desire, what we long for. The more we are captivated by the goodness and majesty of Jesus, the more our lives will reflect him.

Second, marriages can make or break your life and legacy. Jehoram could have been a great spiritual and political leader. Instead, he married the wrong woman, and devoted himself to evil. The takeaway is simple, almost too clear: Do not even date someone who is not walking with Christ at least as well as you! Find someone with whom you can pursue the Lord of Glory; because all else is extraneous. And, parents: help your kids date people who will lead them to Christ. Don’t you settle, lift their eyes to what could be!

Jehoram’s story is dramatic. He murdered his brothers. Not because he’d seen it done in his family. Rather it was the way of his wife’s family.  Our stories are (thankfully) more mundane. But they are equally real and spiritual. Purpose to consider very carefully who you are dating or who you are encouraging your children to date. Let’s spare the world some Jehorams!

An Archbishop’s Surprise

imgres-1On Friday, Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury (leader of both the Church of England, and the whole Anglican Communion around the world), published a statement in which he revealed that the man he thought was his father was not.

Gavin Welby had married his mother, Jane, in April 1955, and 9 months later Justin was born. DNA tests have just recently confirmed that Gavin was not his biological father, but Sir Anthony Montague Browne was. Sir Anthony served as Winston Churchill’s private secretary during his retirement, until Churchill’s death in 1965.

What’s the point of recounting this?  Here is the Most Reverend Justin Welby, leading 85 million believers around the world, in one of the most vigorous denominations, in 165 countries. Within Britain, he is the very epitome of “the establishment” (that does not include the US “separation of church and state”!).

His life experiences are shared by so many in this world. Hurts and pains all too common: alcoholic parents, messy childhood resulting from that alcoholism and divorce, new discovery of hidden past, etc. And, he points to the grace of God: his identity is not in his DNA lineage or his life experiences, but in Jesus Christ the Lord! No matter what is in our lives, nothing can stop the grace of God breaking through, and redeeming our experiences for his glory!

Read his brief and Christ-exalting statement here.

At Grace Fellowship, we have many who share in elements of this story: alcoholism, dysfunctional home life, hidden pasts, etc., etc.  And, this is just another reminder that God alone knows all, and is bringing all things in our lives toward the goal of our Christlikeness and his gracious glory! To the praise of his glorious grace.

Any Questions?

Slide1Hey Everyone!

This summer at Grace Fellowship, we will answer your questions. The Sermon Series from June 5 to Labor Day will be responding to the questions that are on your mind.

Email them to me:  or leave a comment below.

Any questions are fair game: about God, life, ethics, politics, Christian beliefs, hot-button issues, long-term concerns. Anything.

If God is good, why is there so much suffering?  If I don’t like any candidate, do I still hafta vote?  How do I know if I’m growing in Christ or not?  Does God really expect me to forgive that person who destroyed my life… how fair is that?

Any questions? What is on your mind?  Leave a comment or email

Springsteen’s Conscience

imgres-2Bruce Springsteen cancelled last weekend’s concert in Greensboro, NC because of the recently passed state law, HB2, addressing Charlotte’s bathroom ordinance. I wrote about HB2 here.

In E-street Band member Steven Van Zandt’s words: “We just felt the issue was just too important,” the guitarist told reporters backstage at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony on Friday. “This really vile and evil discrimination is starting to spread state to state and we thought we better take a stand right now and catch it early and maybe try and stop it. At least set some kind of example for others.”   Click here for EW’s article.

I applaud Springsteen for conducting his business according to his convictions. This is something we need to encourage and make room for.

Just like I applaud Colorado baker Jack Philips for conducting his business according to his convictions, when he decided he couldn’t bake a wedding cake for a gay wedding.  Click here for WSJ’s article, August 2015.

Two businessmen making business decisions in light of what they believe.

My only question is, why is one celebrated in the public eye and the other vilified?

If the world’s responses might be inconsistent, let ours as believers not be: may we show grace and compassion, truth and holiness, gentleness and strength in the days in which God grants us to live! May Christ be pleased with our words, our attitudes, our actions and ourselves.

Signs or faith? Grab the Study Guide from today’s message

How does Jesus respond to a request for proof? For a sign?

Click to download the study guide that follows this week’s sermon:

Study Guide 2016.04.10

Click here to watch the sermon.

Quick 3-way voting test

imgresNovember is closer than we think, but farther than we want! I was thinking this week about how to know whom to vote for.

I’ve written before on “things election”:  “How to pick a candidate” and “10 thoughts on the election so far”

I’ve got a three way test that is based on common sense:

1. What’s their record?

My simple thoughts, in alphabetical order of the five candidates still standing:

Hillary Clinton has served as First Lady, US Senator, Secretary of State. She’s earned high marks as a hard worker. Her time at State is defined by Benghazi and the Email Server fiascoes.

Ted Cruz, before entering the US Senate (’08), served as the Solicitor General from Texas (’03-08), arguing before the Supreme Court some 40 times. In the Senate he’s sponsored over 90 bills. He doesn’t apologize for shutting down government over too much spending.

John Kasich’s record in Ohio is rather strong: he has helped to created a powerhouse in a rust-belt zone, he was re-elected with 64% of the vote. He served in Congress, and as chair of House Budget Committee helped to balance the budget in the ’90s. He’s Catholic.

Bernie Sanders has been in Congress since 1991. Before then served as mayor of Burlington VT for 8 years. He’s an avowed socialist, wanting to expand the government’s footprint hugely. He’s consistently identified with progressives’ stances on abortion, marriage, education.

Donald Trump has never held public office, but has been in the public eye since I was in grade school. We have no idea what he’d do in public office, but we can see clearly how he’s conducted himself in private enterprise. Google it, it’s far more hype and puff than strong business acumen and working for the win-win of clients, employees, suppliers, the public and himself. Read his several books, he is following them to a T.

2. What are their principles?

Can you discern what they stand for, what they talk about, what moves them? Can you measure them against your principles? I know what I believe about many public policies, and how I think a government runs best for sake the people.  I respect Cruz and Sanders for being so clearly defined in their animating mission. You clearly know what they stand for. And, you have every sense that they will attempt to do what they believe in. I suppose you can say the same for Trump: he believes in himself; my observation of his guiding principle is that he’ll do whatever it takes to promote himself. Clinton & Kasich have both been in public administration &/or executive roles for longer than the other three, and as such, their principles also include “pragmatism” & “compromise”. These are not bad words per se, but in this election cycle they have become almost four-letter words. It seems to me that Hillary is being forced farther left than she would otherwise have liked; this, perhaps, shows her true principles.

3. What is their “mess”?

Peggy Noonan wrote about this 2 weeks ago. What is the mess that is following them around? You know, the things that will trip them up, that will affect their future, that bring a whif (or more?) of scandal?

Bernie Sanders? no mess. Hillary Clinton? lotsa mess. Donald Trump? more than Hillary. Ted Cruz or John Kasich? not much mess. Whoever you vote for, you are getting the mess, whether you want it or not. So find out what it is, how likely there’s fire where there’s smoke, and how that would inhibit the ability to lead.

That’s my three-way test.  What’s their record, what are their principles, and what’s their mess… Line up all the candidates, and see who is strongest.  What do you think?

Charlotte Bathrooms and the Opportunity

imagesAnd the world just keeps on changing. Since February 22, NC has been in a new phase of our culture’s journey: The Charlotte City Council voted to open access to any public bathrooms to any person at any time.

On a common sense level, this is silly. Here’s a situation repeated a million times a week: a dad takes his daughter out shopping or for a bite to eat. She goes to the restroom. Under this ordinance, anyone might be in there. Legally.

Common sense says enhance privacy and security for folks. Make it hard for girls and women to be preyed on. Public safety departments have set up online lists of sex-offenders, so that you check who lives in your neighborhood. Why? To help keep children safe. But, if any bathroom or locker room is available to anyone, we’re removing from sex-offenders a pretty big limit to their ability to cause fear or harm.

We are not living in an era of common sense. There’s no other way, really, to say it. There’s a wind blowing that has left common sense behind. As believers, we need to think carefully and clearly: theologically, culturally, personally & legally.

Theologically: Life is first and foremost God-ward. What does he think? What has he revealed? What has he given? When it comes to humans, God has given us our core-identity: it’s image of God, and it includes being male or female. The way to know his intention for each of us individually is to look at the physical features we are born with: plumbing and hormones. God made us fearfully and wonderfully in the womb.

So, did God create someone LGBTQ, going against their biology, or has the core image of God been defaced now that fallen-ness is marring all of God’s world? Scripture teaches the latter. All of us have been marred by sin, and now are born with innate sensitivities that go against God’s intent: the envy, worry, alcoholism, greed, lust, pride, or _________ (insert yours here!) that we all feel and experience from the very youngest age. Christ came to meet us where we are—in our wounds and sins—and remake us in his image! The Renewed Image of God.

It’s true that many people who are LGBTQ express that they do not want to be this way. Others revel in it. Still others hide it. Many have been wounded because of it. Where is God in this? He’s where he always is: with the willing and wounded who turn to him for rescue. He is near. He is gracious.

Culturally: Yeah. This is hard. The goalposts keep moving, and the rate of change of the last 2 years is astounding. I think it’s exponential acceleration. So, as we engage culture with Christ, we are going to discover (1) that we can participate in fewer and fewer mass-culture offerings while still maintaining our holiness as the people of God. (2) That we are going to be heard and respected less and less in our public square. (3) That we have a whole new opportunity because of this: people who will never have heard any piece of the gospel will be astounded that there is healing, forgiveness and meaning in life, and a good God who loves them. We’ve come out of an era where people in the South have been inoculated to the gospel. Now we are in an era where they are panting for it but might now know what they are looking for.

Are you willing to sacrifice your sense of “feeling at home here” for the new day of great gospel opportunity?

We love our neighbors, our friends and our country. But, we consistently have to call to mind that we no longer live in “Jerusalem” (on the inside of the cultural moment)… we live in “Babylon” (where we are exiles and cultural foreigners). God knows this. He’s given it to our generation to live in these serious times! Let’s move forward with Gospel Love. Let’s not retreat with disappointment.

Personally: Every person you meet is a person whom you can love, not “an issue”. At the point of personal relationships and love, “LGBTQ” or any other label (self-selected or imposed from without) is meaningless. Every person you meet is a person fearfully and wonderfully made, created in God’s image, who needs a Savior. How can you love friends subversively and sacrificially? That’s how we will prove ourselves faithful to God’s calling.

Legally: what do we do on a legal/political basis?

I would direct you to NC Lt Governor’s 3 minute video below. It’s very helpful. The State Constitution gives the Legislature authority to revisit “public access” ordinances. They have acted in accordance with it.

I would also encourage you to email Governor McCrory & state legislators, and let them know your thoughts. They are under intense pressure to give in to an agenda that puts kids and women in danger. Will you jot them a quick email saying thanks for exercising common sense?

  • Email Governor McCrory here.
  • Find your state representative here. You’ll have to find who represents you, and then you can email them.

What do you think? What other ideas are there?

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