Tuesday, June 30, 2009

If politicans won't pursue justice for all, maybe pictures will

Opponents of the pro-life movement want us to take our views out of the political sphere. This organization promotes justice for all not through politics, but through pictures.

(I think this is such a worthy cause that I've permanently placed this banner at the top of the blog, just below the Redemption Groanings title)

Thanks for the advice, but that's not exacly a promise

A lot of people like something sweet after dinner, and I'm no exception. Yesterday I finished off a pack of Dove Almond Milk Chocolate candies. Actually the bite-size candies are called 'promises', with each individual wrapper containing a little nugget of wisdom to think about as you enjoy your 'silky smooth' piece of chocolate, like the following:

"Forget the potholes in the road and celebrate the journey instead!"

I'm not sure what Dove means when they call these one-liners 'promises.' A promise is "an express assurance on which expectation is to be based." The word 'promise' is a wonderfully precious word to the Christian; unfortunately, Dove has reduced this precious word to a sentimental, God-ignoring cliche.

By the above definition, only God can actually make a promise. Because only God has express assurance of all that will transpire in any given period of time. I may promise my daughter that I will take her for a walk when I get home, but maybe I will be hit by a bus on my way to work and never come home to take her for that walk. 'If the Lord wills, we will do this or that...'

Because God is almighty and all-knowing, He can make a promise. And because of His sovereign goodness to His people, He keeps all of them: "For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you...was not Yes and No, but in him it is always Yes. For all the promises of God find their Yes in him."

Dove should stick to candy and ice cream; they do that really well. But when it comes to promises, I'll look to God.

Monday, June 29, 2009

I'm glad David's other Son is my judge, not this one...

In 1 Kings 1, one of David's sons named Adonijah tries to take over the throne of his father, though Solomon is the rightful heir whom David had appointed. Once Adonijah's scheme is exposed, he fears for his life and tries to make peace with Solomon. Solomon responds:

"If he will show himself a worthy man, not one of his hairs shall fall to the earth, but if wickedness is found in him, he shall die" (1 Kings 1:52).

What a life of fear and guilt would result if this is the way God judged. For wickedness is surely found in each one of us. It is good news, isn't it, that God appointed another Son to come from David's line who would be the Judge of all mankind?

What glorious news that the Son of David died as the punishment for our wickedness, yet rose because He alone was the worthy man who did not deserve to die a sinner's death. For all who are in Him by faith, not even a hair shall fall to the ground. Even death itself is no longer an enemy, but the gateway into everlasting glory.

God's purpose for the world; then, now and forever

"God created the universe and all that is in it as an emanation or manifestation of the fullness of his glory. We have no reason to think that God has ever changed his mind in this regard. There is no reason to think that God would now prefer that there be no created universe.

"Christianity is not a platonic religion that regards material things as mere shadows of reality, which will be sloughed off as soon as possible. Not the mere immortality of the soul, but rather the resurrection of the body and the renewal of all creation is the hope of the Christian faith. Just as our bodies will be raised imperishable for the glory of God, so the earth itself will be made new and fit for the habitation of risen and glorified persons."

John Piper, Future Grace (p. 374)

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Don't forget to groan, 6/28

It was hard to pick just one picture to capture the horrors of what is going on in Iran amidst the disputed presidential election. Click here for a a full photo report from The Big Picture.

(Why should we groan?)

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Without God, without hope in this world

That is what Ephesians 2 says. And it seems like Michael Jackson is another illustration that God does not lie. This from an article on the Foxnews website:

Jackson was going to extremes to stay on top of the pop music heap, and to fill a void in his life, said the insider. “Michael was worried about losing his popularity and his relevance. Even when he was at a personal high, he was terrified of losing his edge. He felt very alone. Michael had no close friends around him and he always harbored miserable feelings with his father.”

Paul wrote that having nothing, he possessed everything. Perhaps the slogan of Jackson's life was just the opposite: having everything, yet possessing nothing.

What a sad story.

You can read the entire article here.

The most dangerous person in the Church

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, from his commentary on the Sermon on the Mount:

"We have somehow got hold of the idea that error is only that which is outrageously wrong; and we do not seem to understand that the most dangerous person of all is the one who does not emphasize the right things."

Friday, June 26, 2009

MJ, Farrah, you and me

Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett; two people who had all the admiration and affection of the masses. They also had all the money they could ever dream of.

Yet yesterday, it all meant absolutely nothing. Their popularity and wealth could not help them escape that great enemy called death. John Piper wrote:

"Farrah Fawcett (62), Michael Jackson (50) and 150,000 others: 'A flower of the field; the wind passes, and it is gone.'"

There is only one deliverer from death; and his name is not money, or fame.

Let's grieve their loss, and celebrate what a great hope is found in Christ.

(Justin Taylor weighs in with a great little reflection on Jackson's death.)

This should be an easy way to get a few comments...

Yesterday I was informed that a reader was trying to leave a comment on the blog but could not (it was my mother, who was probably commenting to inform me that every grocery store in a twenty mile radius of Huntingdon Valley, PA, had been emptied of their stock of Kellog's Fiber Plus bars.)

So could a couple of you who don't normally comment take a minute and leave a comment, so I can see if there is a problem with the website.


Thursday, June 25, 2009

Commending granola bars, and Christ

In the Lazarus home over the last few months, we've been enjoying Kellog's Fiber Plus granola bars. The other day I looked at the back of the box and read these words:

With every deliciously drizzled bite, you'll experience a scrumptious blend of chocolate chips and whole grains on a rich layer of chocolate.

As I read this, I thought to myself, 'That really sounds good!' Someone obviously took time and pondered how to make this granola bar sound as appetizing as possible. 'Deliciously drizzled...scrumptious...rich layer' This is a great use of language to whet the appetite of the customer for the product.

Now Jesus Christ is infinitely more than a product to be marketed. But as I thought about delicious drizzles and scrumptious blends of rich, layered chocolate, the thought hit me: if advertisers strive so diligently to use compelling language in sharing their product, how much more should we who proclaim Christ?

The Psalmist writes, 'Taste and see that the Lord is good' (Psalm 34:8). Evangelism is using words to display Jesus Christ as infinitely sweet to the tongue of the human soul. The sweetness of Jesus Christ infinitely surpasses that of a deliciously drizzled chocolate granola bar. But I wonder: are the marketers at Kellogs working harder to sell their granola bars than Christians are in commending the sweetness of Jesus?

As Christians, let's strive to use the most alluring words and images we can possibly find to display the greatness of our Redeemer. Certainly He is worthy of that kind of energy, isn't He?

(PS -- By writing this post, I may have just ensured myself a lifetime supply of Kellog's Fiber Plus bars, courtesy of my mother. Time will tell.)

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A twisted kind of pleasure

A classic example of the kind of thing I wrote about yesterday, quoting C.S. Lewis on the dehumanization of our enemies:

As news reports surface that Governor Mark Sanford, a Republican from South Carolina who supposedly was a potential candidate for President in 2012, has been guilty of an adulterous affair, one high-school classmate writes on his facebook page:

"Another GOP candidate bites the dust!! 2012 is almost shaping up to be too easy!"

There is something very sad about rejoicing in the heartache and sorrow that a family is experiencing, simply because it advances your own political interests.

I think C.S. Lewis was right; this has to be a symptom of living in a world of pure hatred.

How to kill an evil desire

In my sermon last Sunday, I mentioned an old essay by the Scottish preacher Thomas Chalmers called The Expulsive Power of a New Affection.

I believe that Chalmers' thesis is thoroughly grounded in Scripture and is incredibly foundational to the way I try to minister to others, whether in preaching or in smaller, more private forms of ministry.

It is somewhat lengthy, but for those wanting to understand their hearts better, and God's method for changing us into the image of His Son, I recommend it.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

What happens when you die?

Today my church family said goodbye to a beloved brother in the Lord. Our friend John Anderson passed away last week at the age of 49.

I know that some of our church family reads this blog, and thought it might be beneficial to link to a 4-sermon series that John Piper preached several years ago called What happens When You Die?

In my estimation, this is an area where there is a lot of confusion, even within the Church. And it's of great importance that we be intimately acquainted with the hope that is awaiting us because of Christ. I think Piper expounds upon that hope with great clarity and conviction in these messages.

This link enables you to read, listen to, or download the sermons. I hope they are a blessing to you.

On loving our enemies

I have written on this blog of my longing to see the tragedy of abortion put to an end in this nation, and around the world. But I hope in my attitude toward people who disagree with me, I do not dehumanize them in a way similar to this sad photograph:

In our pluralistic society, don't you think things would be a lot more civil if people gave heed to this advice from CS Lewis:

“Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out. Is one’s first feeling, ‘Thank God, even they aren’t quite so bad as that,’ or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies are as bad as possible?

"If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils. You see, one is beginning to wish that black was a little blacker. If we give that wish its head, later on we shall wish to see grey as black, and then to see white itself as black. Finally we shall insist on seeing everything — God and our friends and ourselves included — as bad, and not be able to stop doing it: we shall be fixed for ever in a universe of pure hatred.”

As a nation, it sure seems like we're moving toward a universe of pure hatred, doesn't it? If only those who disagreed with one another took time to consider that even our opponents are human beings, and really tried hard to think the best of one another.

Monday, June 22, 2009

King Herod and Dave Matthews

Preaching on King Herod yesterday also made me think of my old friend Dave Matthews (it's been a couple of weeks since I last mentioned him in a post, right?)

On the band's latest CD, Matthews sings these lyrics in one of the songs:

I'm not all bad, but I'm a faithful sinner
I might get lost, but I'll be home for dinner

If God don't like me, he can send me to hell

O Dave, please reconsider. Even the breath in your lungs that you use to sing these words are a gift of God's mercy to you. But one day, that mercy and patience will expire. And on that day, you will not be glad to have God send you to hell.

Perhaps I should be encouraged that on the same CD, Matthews sings,

Baby when I get home
Help me pick up the pieces

You can hammer in the final nail

I wanna believe in Jesus

I will keep praying for you, Dave, that you would finally lay down your rebellion and truly believe in Jesus, who is mighty to save hell-bound sinners like you and me.

God can do anything He damn well pleases

I suppose that title may raise a few eye-brows, but it is a quote from someone else. I'll get to that in a moment.

Yesterday I preached from Acts 12 on the life of King Herod. He was an enemy of God's Church, killing and arresting God's faithful people. In the end, God vindicated His Church by striking dead this enemy of His Church. He was eaten alive by worms. This is not some made-up fairy tale created by the Church to scare people, as even the Jewish historian Josephus, who was not friendly to the Christian faith, records it.

A few chapters earlier in Acts there is a depiction of another enemy of the Church. His name is Saul, and he too is on a rampage, arresting some Christians and taking part in the murder of others. But as he was on his way to arrest more Christians, God miraculously converted him and he became the Church's greatest missionary ever.

These two men looked exactly the same. Yet one of them was eaten by worms, and the other was granted eternal life. What accounts for the difference in the way God dealt with these two men? I think the only answer God gives us is Romans 9:18,

"He has mercy on whomever He wills, and He hardens whomever He wills."

That is not a satisfactory answer to everyone, but I believe it is the biblical answer.

This reminds me of an old quote I came across from Virginia Stem Owens (hence the title of this post):

Let us get this one thing straight. God can do anything he damn well pleases, including damn well. And if it pleases him to damn, then it is done, ipso facto, well. God's activity is what it is. There isn't anything else. Without it there would be no being, including human beings presuming to judge the Creator of everything that is.

I think that is the lesson to be learned in comparing the lives of King Herod and Saul of Tarsus. It is sobering, but I am thankful for times when God puts me in my place.

And it makes me utterly amazed and awe-struck with joy that He chose to have mercy on me.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

A Father's Day Wish

It would be sweet if, when I am dead and gone, my girls were able to write something like this about me.

Happy Father's Day, 2009

To all the dads who read the blog, have a great day. And to anyone out there reading, dad or not, please pray for me, that I would live out these words from the Apostle Paul in front of my two precious daughters:

"Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord."

How thankful I am today, and every day, for these two wonderful girls:

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Don't Forget to Groan, 6/20

Medics treat three children who were wounded by a truck bomb attack near a Shiite mosque, at a hospital in Kirkuk, north of Baghdad.

(Why should we groan?)

Friday, June 19, 2009

This might be my new all-time favorite quote

Came across this one today from C.S. Lewis:

A man can no more diminish God's glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word 'darkness' on the walls of his cell.

Are we a Judeo-Christian Nation?

On April 6th in Turkey, Barack Obama said no; Congressman Randy Forbes says yes in this video:

After watching the video, I guess my question is: does it matter whether our nation is regarded as a Judeo-Christian nation? What does that term even mean?

I've written a bit on the subject of whether America is a Christian nation. But I am well aware that I'm more ignorant than informed when it comes to these matters. So I'd be interested to have a few people weigh in with some comments on this...

Thursday, June 18, 2009

A secret about the Secret

One of the hot books a couple of years ago was The Secret, by Rhonda Byrne. The book was a runaway hit, selling millions of books. Here's the Secret, according to Byrne:

The earth turns on its orbit for You. The oceans ebb and flow for You. The birds sing for You. The sun rises and it sets for You. The stars come out for You. Every beautiful thing you see, every wondrous thing you experience, is all there for You. Take a look around. None of it can exist, without You. No matter who you thought you were, now you know the Truth of Who You Really Are. You are the master of the Universe. You are the heir to the kingdom. You are the perfection of Life. And now you know The Secret. (Page 183)

I was reminded of this today as I prepared for Sunday's sermon on Acts 12. In it King Herod went on a rampage, killing and arresting Christian believers. Finally, some inhabitants of Tyre and Sidon appeared before Herod. As they courted his favor they shouted, 'The voice of a god, and not a man!'. Then Luke tells us:

"Immediately an angel of the Lord struck him down, because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and breathed his last." (Acts 12:23)

I'm not sure what is new or groundbreaking about The Secret; its 'truth' is ancient as mankind. The thirst to be god runs deep within every human heart. Herod believed in the Secret with all his heart, and God Almighty struck him dead. In an instant, the man who thought he was a god became weaker than a worm. And that was just the beginning of his agony.

It's the God who can do that to the mightiest of men who is worthy of worship. How vain it is, then, to buy into the Secret and worship the image we see reflected back to us in the mirror. That has been tried before, and it does not lead to a happy ending.

My desire is not to condemn Rhonda Byrne. Rather, let us pray that her eyes would be opened to her folly before it is too late.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Jesus doeth all things well

I received some sad and shocking news this morning at around 7:45. One of the deacons in our church suddenly passed away in the middle of the night. Since then, I've been playing these words over in my mind:

All the way my Savior leads me;
What have I to ask beside?
Can I doubt His tender mercy,
Who through life has been my Guide?
Heav’nly peace, divinest comfort,
Here by faith in Him to dwell!
For I know, whate’er befall me,
Jesus doeth all things well;
For I know, whate’er befall me,
Jesus doeth all things well.

Praise God that Jesus will one day make all things new...

The Church's Crying Need

"The crying need of the Church is her laziness after God."

Samuel Chadwick

Got a Favorite Hymn?

It's hard to choose one, but I'll go with The Solid Rock.

What about you? Leave a comment and let me know.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Abortion and Child Abuse

I always enjoy Randy Acorn's thought-provoking blog posts. In this one, he tackles a subject which is sure to ruffle some feathers:

My belief is that when people believe it’s okay to kill a child before he’s born, because an adult has rights over his life, then inevitably it will become more acceptable to beat him up once he's born. In 1973, when abortion was first legalized, United States child abuse cases were estimated at 167,000 annu­ally. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, approximately 903,000 children were victims of abuse during 2001, a number more than five times greater.

Here's another quote:

Of the five thousand American children murdered every year (the figure doesn’t include abortions), 95 per­cent are killed by one or both of their parents. There’s a pervasive notion that children belong to their parents. Adults think they have the same right to dispose of their children that society assured them they had before the children were born. Once the child-abuse mentality grips a society, it doesn’t restrict itself to only one age group. If preborn children aren’t safe, no children are safe.

Read the whole thing here.

Loyalty vs. Integrity....Integrity Wins

Faithful readers of this blog know my affection for the Philadelphia Phillies. Yesterday, though, I had to make a choice between loyalty to the team and integrity to the game.

I read on the Phillies' website that Jimmy Rollins, the Phils' shortstop, leads all National League shortstops in votes for the annual All-Star game. While Rollins always plays his position in the field well, his offensive numbers have been pretty dismal this season.

Loyalty to the Phils' demands that I continue to root for J-Roll, even when he's struggling that the plate.

But integrity forced me to get online yesterday and place the maximum 25 votes for Marlins shortstop Hanley Ramirez.

I love the Phils, but when it comes to the All-Star game, I think it's only right that the players voted in are actually playing like all-stars. I'll continue to support J-Roll, but the bottom line is that he's not playing like an All-Star. A leadoff hitter with an on-base percentage of .254 simply doesn't deserve to be in the starting lineup of an All-Star team.

I know we've got some baseball fans reading the blog, so what do you think? Should the All-Star game just be a popularity contest, regardless of how the players are actually playing? Or should the numbers count for something, even if that means less popular players make up the rosters?

Monday, June 15, 2009

It's all about perspective

Yesterday in my sermon I shared this illustration, which I had originally heard from C.J. Mahaney's sermon Grace and the Adventure of Leadership, one of the most helpful sermons I've ever listened to.

Imagine you are a parent who receives this letter in the mail:

Dear Mom and Dad,

Since I left for college, I have been remiss in writing and I’m sorry about my thoughtlessness in not having written before. I’ll bring you up to date, but before I do, are you sitting down? Please sit down. It’s imperative that you sit down before reading any farther. I’m getting along pretty well now that the scull fracture and concussion I got when I jumped out of my dorm window after the room caught on fire is pretty well healed. I only get splitting headaches a couple of times a day. But fortunately my jump from the window was witnessed by a gas station attendant, who took me to the hospital and continued to visit me there.

When I got out of the hospital I had nowhere to live because of the fire, so he was kind enough to invite me to share his apartment. It’s small but cute, and he’s a fine young man and we have fallen deeply in love and plan to get married. We haven’t set the date, but it will be before my pregnancy begins to show. I know how much you are looking forward to being grandparents and I know you will welcome the baby and give it the same care you gave to me when I was a child.

In conclusion, now that I’ve brought you up to date, I want to tell you that there was no dormitory fire. I did not have a scull fracture, I was not in the hospital, I’m not pregnant, and there is no boyfriend. However, I have failed history and science…and I wanted you to see these results in their proper perspective.

Your attitude about a particular person or situation really can be changed by having the right perspective, a divine perspective.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Don't Forget to Groan, 6/14

Teddy Canada and Chaliah Griffin, parents of six year-old accident victim Alliyah Griffin, embrace while looking over a memorial at the scene of the accident in North Philadelphia. Police in Philadelphia say two men with lengthy criminal records were fleeing police when they caused an accident in which a car jumped a curb, slammed into a crowd, and killed four people, including an infant two days short of her first birthday.

(Why should we groan?)

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Don't Forget to Groan, 6/13

Internally displaced children scramble to get a piece of ice being handed out by aid workers at the Chota Lahore relief camp on May 20, 2009 in Swabi, Pakistan.

(Why should we groan?)

Friday, June 12, 2009

Agur's world, and ours

This morning I read Proverbs 30, which is titled, 'The words of Agur son of Jakeh.'

There are a lot of metaphors and images in this chapter, and I can't say I understood them all. But what really stood out to me was how so many different aspects of life attract Agur's thought and reflection. In this one chapter, he gleans insight from an eagle in the sky, a ship on high seas, a man with a virgin, ants, rock badgers, locusts, lizards, strutting roosters and a bloody nose. Apparently, he sees all of life as having the potential to teach him spiritual lessons.

This attitude toward the world is one thing that motivates me to write on this blog. In the last few months, I've written about Miles Davis, abortion, Dave Matthews, LeBron James, Brad Lidge, Coldstone Creamery, marriage, John and Kate Plus 8, Elephants and dogs, politics, death, toilet paper, rainy days, The Iron Giant, mowing grass, Michael Phelps' bong, Penn State basketball and Barbie.

I write about these things not because I think Jesus and the Bible are boring (I try to do my share of posting on these things too), but because I am really trying hard to live the way Agur models for us: thinking carefully about all of life with a God-centered perspective.

God created the world to display who He is and what He's like, and we do well to contemplate all things (even bloody noses and toilet paper!) in view of His glory and grace.

If I were the Phillies Team Chaplain...

True story: Michelle actually called the Phillies last year and asked them if they needed a chaplain. Believe it or not, they weren't interested in me! But if I did land that job, here's how I might minister to Raul Ibanez when the Phils' return home from their road trip tonight:

Raul, I hear there's a firestorm brewing because some blogger said that your amazing numbers this season are cause to question whether you're using steroids. And I also read that you were pretty ticked off at the blogger's lack of integrity in writing what he did without the slightest bit of evidence that you've done anything illegal.

But Raul, this gives you a wonderful opportunity to see and love the glory of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world.
Jesus can empathize with your frustrations, Raul. He also was accused and slandered, though He had done nothing wrong.

But He did not lash out in anger at those who cruelly mistreated Him. He did not say, as you did, that He would come after anyone who slandered or defamed Him. He did not say they were pathetic and disgusting, as you did. Instead, He died for those who opposed and ridiculed Him. The Apostle Peter explains this all in the Bible:

22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. 25 For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. (1 Peter 2:22-25).

When you grasp the wonder of Christ's love for you and see what He was willing to endure to atone for your sins against Him, you will not care so much what other people are saying and writing about you. You will know that you are loved and accepted by the King of the Universe, not because of your home runs or RBI's, but by sheer grace. And when others slander and falsely accuse you, you can seize these times as opportunities to point people to the One who suffered and endured reproach in order to give you the hope and joy of eternal life. I also tend to get frustrated when people say malicious things about me. But my only hope in those times is to remember that because of Jesus, I am more loved than I could ever imagine.

I am glad to have Raul Ibanez on my team. But I care more about his heart and his relationship with God than I care about his great stats and game-winning hits. So I am praying today for Raul, that maybe the Phils' chaplain will have something along these lines to share with him when he gets to the ballpark tonight.