No more dreams about dung

dung heap 02J.I. Packer once asked, ‘What normal person spends his time nostalgically dreaming of dung?’

One who doesn’t understand Philippians 3.7–10:

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 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 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith — that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death…

I can only have this zeal to put things behind me…not just old memories or bad memories, but things present and even future. Things. Stuff. That which keeps me from truly knowing God. That might even include putting aside all the ‘stuff’ I know about God, but never do anything with or about.

At the very least, it means that my mind is changed, transformed, renewed. It takes every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. My mind and thoughts are filled with and centered upon God. Prayer becomes an unceasing habit. The thoughts I have of God get expressed…ultimately in prayer! And the change that comes over me is one of great contentment, a resting in and upon the Lord Jesus Christ, my all-sufficient One.

So, what are your dreams made of?

What’s At Your Center?

Bike spoke baubles 01I hear a lot of talk these days about being ‘gospel-centered’ and ‘Christ-centered’ and ‘cross-centered.’ I think I know what they’re talking about, although it gets confusing because once all the big names in evangelical blogdom discover these are the buzzwords of the day, they all use them but they use them differently. To be any of these things, however, is obviously important for the individual Christian to live their lives in a manner that is significant, radical and important.

I wonder however, about our thinking when it comes to the whole church; I’m speaking locally of course. A person from our church’s district called me last week to interview me. One of the questions was ‘What do you see as one of the most significant challenges for the EFCA (Evangelical Free Church of America) and for your church specifically?’

I thought of several answers that might have been good possibilities:

The coming tidal wave of sexual immorality that is sweeping our country struck me as a possible challenge, including the sanctioning of same sex mirage (sorry, that’s a Doug Wilson phrase for same sex marriage, a misnomer if ever there was one), the rampant adultery pervasive everywhere (a website recently was hacked that revealed potentially millions of clients abilities to have adulterous affairs secretly; i.e. Josh Duggar), and the oncoming difficulties of transgenderism, pedophilia (what did Jared do wrong? if you buy into the logic of our culture, absolutely nothing), and so many more. Watch. It’s only going to get worse and worse before it all breaks.

But I don’t think that is the biggest challenges to our churches, EFCA or not.

No, I think the biggest challenge is the generation immediately following mine (and including the tail-end of mine). I refer to those about 40 and under. The challenge is this: the church (people of God, not the buildings in which they meet and hold events) is no longer at the center, at the hub of their life. I’m not even sure it’s one of the spokes in the wheel.

bike spoke baubles 02Do you remember the little shiny baubles you could get to snap onto the spokes of your bicycle wheels? Some glowed in the dark. Some have sparkly glitter inside them. Others may have made noises when you rode. You’d snap them onto the spokes to decorate your bike.

Trouble was, some would, with wear and tear, get a bit loose and slide up and down the spoke, moving further away from the hub as the wheel would spin faster. That’s the church for far too many in a younger generation. I’m not going to assess the reasons why this has become the case. I know my generation is partly to blame. We’ve been too much like the ancient Israelites who entered the land of Canaan: ‘And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel.’ (Judges 2.10, ESV)

They did not know the Lord. I’m reading J.I. Packer’s ‘Knowing God’ again, after many years, and this is the root of our troubles: we don’t know God. Oh, we know plenty about Him. There may never have been a time in the history of God’s people that we didn’t know more about God than we do right now. More books, more magazines, more teachers, more podcasts, more everything, churning out more and more knowledge about God.

Yet we don’t know God. If we did, the church – the people of God – would not just be another piece of our lives, one that far too often gets shoved so far to the perimeter that it’s rendered meaningless and moot when it comes to power to become godly or holy. Not only is the individual and the family hurt by this – the whole church suffers. Hear Packer on this:knowing god

Nor does this energy for God stop short with public gestures. Indeed, it does not start there. Men who know their God are before anything else men who pray, and the first point where their zeal and energy for God’s glory come to expression is in their prayers. In Daniel 9 we read how, when the prophet ‘understood by the books’ that the foretold time of Israel’s captivity was drawing to an end, and when at the same time he realized that the nation’s sin was still such as to provoke God to judgment rather than mercy, he set himself to seek God ‘by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes’ (verse 3), and prayed for the restoring of Jerusalem with a vehemence and passion and agony of spirit to which most of us are complete strangers. yet the invariable fruit of true knowledge of God is energy to pray for God’s cause – energy, indeed, which can only find an outlet and a relief of inner tension when channelled into such prayer – and the more knowledge, the more energy! By this we may test ourselves. Perhaps we are not in a position to make public gestures against ungodliness and apostasy. perhaps we are old, or ill, or otherwise limited by our physical situation. But we can all pray about the ungodliness and apostasy which we see in everyday life all around us. If, however, there is in us little energy for such prayer, and little consequent practice of it, this is a sure sign that as yet we scarcely know our God. (Packer, 24)

Knowing God as the people of God corporately is at an all time low. I see it. I sense it. I, sadly and confessedly, have been a part of it. Is it any wonder we’re seeing our nation swamped with rampant ungodliness. And the hatred toward God and the people of God is growing stronger. Will we stand?

Pray With Appetite

James & Joel Beeke have written a delightful little book of meditations on prayer: Developing Healthy Prayer LifeDeveloping A Healthy Prayer Life (Reformation Heritage Books, 2010). It consists of 31 two- to three-page meditations which can be used over the course of a month, should you wish, to help strengthen your life of communion with God.

One of the chapters I happened upon this summer really set me to thinking and, I hope, has begun to transform the manner in which I pray: Pray With Appetite.

psalm-81-10

Our prayer life is an indicator of our spiritual appetite. We must examine ourselves to see what size servings of spiritual food satisfy us. Are some of us, who are true children of the living God, surviving on portions so scanty that we can barely stay alive? How lean our personal prayers and devotions can be! For those of us living in this way there seems to be so little for which we need God. There appears to be so little to confess to Him, so little for which to thank Him. Is it any wonder then, if we have little or no spiritual strength, but easily faint on the way?

…God’s loving command is not merely ‘Open thy moth,’ but ‘Open thy mouth wide.’ True believers are not to sip only a little milk, but they are to drink a full glass. Life speaks of growth. Healthy spiritual life also grows; it matures. We must learn to eat stronger spiritual meat, to grow in grace. How often James’ words are sadly fulfilled, even in the lives of God’s children: ‘ye have not, because ye ask not’ (James 4.2). God does not hinder us and there is no limit to Christ’s fullness; we hind and limit ourselves.

God gives food to the hungry. What a blessing to experience a daily, growing, healthy, spiritual appetite! All such hungering souls shall be filled. ‘Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it,’ says the Lord. Pray with appetite for the Lord’s fullness. Dare to ask for all that God has promised.

I’d encourage you to get yourself a copy of this short book and use it.

Reading the Classics – Knowing God

knowing godI’m joining with Tim Challies, and probably several others, in reading one of the classics of Christian literature: J.I. Packer’s Knowing God. I read this book for the very first time while a student at Trinity College (Deerfield, IL). I re-read it for a class in seminary (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, also in Deerfield). My old copy of this book has so many notes and highlights that it’s nearly unreadable now. So, I’m reading a newer copy that was on my shelves and hoping to make this one mine as much as that much older copy.

What astounds me, and it’s why I think this book deserves the accolade of ‘classic’, is that even though written forty years ago, it’s truth is as relevant and powerful today as it was when Packer first put pen to paper (and in 1973, I’m sure that’s how he wrote much of it). In reading the first two chapters, I was moved to tears, lifted to points of exultation, driven to my knees in prayers of confession and contrition. And that’s just the first two chapters!

Packer will make much of the distinction between ‘knowing about God’ and ‘knowing God.’ One implies a knowledge, perhaps a great body of knowledge, but with no power, no life, nothing that brings change and transformation to the person. The other, however, oh, the change it brings. The power that is given to one (or many, as in a church) is great if they truly know God. The Puritans had a term for such knowledge: experimental religion. Today, many would despise that term for two reasons:

First, it uses the word ‘religion’, and if ever there was a word modern evangelicals seem to dislike greatly it is this word. They think it means and empty soul staring at the sky or blinded hearts following rituals and traditions with no thought at all. Sadly, I pity these who think like this. I understand the mind set; I once held it. Thank the Lord for mercy and granting repentance from such arrogance and pride.

Second, most wouldn’t ever use the phrase because they have no idea how ‘experimental’ can fit with ‘religion.’ Well, it simply means ‘to experiment,’ ‘to test,’ to prove.’ One is to test his faith. One is to prove the things of God, that He is faithful, loving in His covenant with us and so forth.

So, I’ll use this term for now, because that’s what Packer is describing in his book.

In chapter 1, he lays the course before us. There are five foundational principles given that will direct the course of this ascent (Packer refers to this entire study as one who is preparing to ascend the greatest heights of some great mountain, like Everest or Kilimanjaro):

  1. God has spoken to man through His Word
  2. God is Lord & King over His world
  3. God is Savior, active in His sovereign love through Jesus Christ
  4. God is Triune, all three members of the Trinity working to redeem lost men
  5. Godliness, which is required, is trusting what God has made known to us

These would be useful if written down on a bookmark and used throughout the entire book.

Chapter Two was powerful in its effect upon me as I read. Convicting. Empowering. Challenging. Clarifying. Here, Packer truly lays out the difference between ‘knowing about’ and ‘knowing.’ The focus is sharp; the scalpel is ready. ‘O Divine Physician, lay open my heart that I may know You!’

As I read the early part of Chapter Two, all I could find myself praying was, ‘I no longer want to dream of dung! I no longer want to dream of dung!’ (sorry, you’ll have to read it to find out what that’s all about). How could others tell that this was being answered by our great and loving Heavenly Father? Packer puts four principles forward, from the book of Daniel, for consideration:

  1. Those who know God have great energy for God
  2. Those who know God have great thoughts of God
  3. Those who know God show great boldness for God
  4. Those who know God have great contentment in God

What stands out particularly in these four truths is this: without prayer, none of them are happening. You have no energy for God if you have no prayer. And if your prayers are weak, well, enough said. Prayer brings us to great thoughts of God because it humbles us. Small prayers, small thoughts. As to boldness, prayer is an absolute necessity, as it was for Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, as well as Daniel. Packer quotes Oswald Chambers here: These men prayed, knew their God and ‘…they smilingly washed their hands of the consequences.’ And oh, the peace which all this brings to the Christian. Peace of mind, peace of heart, peace in life.

May God use Packer’s classic work to do a mighty work in His people, myself included.

Grace In Trials – A Prayer

Valley of VisionFrom The Valley of Vision, a book I relied upon heavily this summer. If you don’t have it or use it, I can’t commend it to you strongly enough. Get a copy. And if you’d like it to truly make in impact upon your heart, then follow Joe Thorn’s guide to daily praying these delightful prayers.

Grace In Trials

Father of Mercies,
Hear me for Jesus’ sake,
I am sinful even in my closest walk with thee;
it is of thy mercy I died not long ago;
Thy grace has given me faith in the cross
by which thou hast reconciled thyself to me
and me to thee,
drawing me by thy great love,
reckoning me as innocent in Christ though guilty in myself.
Giver of all graces,
I look to thee for strength to maintain them in me,
for it shard to practise what I believe.
Strengthen me against temptations.
My heart is an unexhausted fountain of sin,
a river of corruption since childhood days,
flowing on in every pattern of behavior;
Thou hast disarmed me of the means in which I trusted,
and I have no strength but in thee.
Thou alone canst hold back my evil ways,
but without thy grace to sustain me I fall.
Satan’s darts quickly inflame me,
and the shield that should quench them
easily drops from my hand:
Empower me against his wiles and assaults.
Keep me sensible of my weakness,
and of my dependence upon they strength.
Let every trial teach me more of thy peace,
more of thy love.
Thy Holy Spirit is given to increase thy graces,
and I cannot preserve or improve them
unless he works continually in me.
May he confirm my trust in thy promised help,
and let me walk humbly in dependence upon thee,
for Jesus’ sake.

Sabbath = Resting

wiley and gravity

Yes, I really thought this could happen!

Cornerstone EFC gratefully granted me a 12-week sabbath rest this summer. The following is one of the experiences I was given to learn from:

My goal, over the course of the twelve weeks given, was to do some things earl on which would bring me physical rest, preparing me for the mental, emotional, and especially spiritual rest I was longing for. I wanted to do some work projects around our house that would keep my mind off ministry and the longing, niggling need to ‘get back to work’ again. The one large, looming project for Week #2 on my schedule was painting the exterior of our house. I had neglected to do this sooner, so it was needing it somewhat badly. However, I discovered, to my frustration, that many pieces of the 30+ year-old masonite siding had succumbed to moisture (‘What? There’s humidity in Minnesota?’) and would need replacing before painting could take place.

Well, my D.I.Y. motto is: ‘Nothin’s ever easy’ and this project was proving that true. It appeared that what I knew could have been done in one week, might just eat into my sabbatical for more than 2-3 weeks. Which kept my mind busy with that. All the time. Even when I was supposed to be resting or sleeping at night. My dreams became filled with things about painting and repairing. When I was up during the day, I was either working at it (with the help of a friend who knew what he was doing, because I certainly didn’t), or consumed with pressing on and getting it done. I pressed on this because I wanted to rest! I mean, after all, this was why I was given this sabbatical: to rest! And by George! I was going to rest, even if I had to work hard at it!

Well, you see where this was getting me. And where it got me was somewhere different than anything remotely close to what I had planned. I was reminded of this, from the Word of the Lord:
The heart of man plans his way,
but the LORD establishes his steps (Proverbs 16.9)
And this:
Many are the plans in the mind of a man,
but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand (Proverbs 19.21)

I’m not certain I can say, even at this point, what all the Lord was going to teach me during my time away, but His plans are sovereignly laid out and always – I repeat – always good.

Day #2, Week #3 – Tuesday, June 16, 10.05 a.m.
If I could just reach that last two inches with the cutting tool, I’ll have the last high board cut out, we can patch in and we’ll be on our way to painting. Step up on more rung on the ladder, resting upon the scaffolding… stretch… push… cut…
man-falling-off-ladder1  Why does it seem like I’m floating in the middle of the air? Oh, I’m falling.
Whoomph!
All the force of falling from a height of 10–12 feet, all the weight of my body was taken on by my left shoulder. God designed our bodies in fearful and wonderful ways, but the should was not meant to take that kind of impact. And mine certainly didn’t prove the exciting exception!
Two paramedics, four firemen, 8 hours in the E.R., multiple x-rays, not a few nurses and physicians of various sorts, not enough doses of pain medications later and my broken shoulder was no longer dislocated. That helped with the pain, but the ‘rest’ (play on words clearly intended) was yet to come.

I’ll tell you more about other events, places and experiences from this sabbath rest another day, but let me end this little story by saying that God knew I would need to learn something much different and differently than what I had planned. I could have – perhaps should have been injured far more seriously than I was. After all, it was only a broken shoulder (the ‘greater tuberosity of the humerus’ in case you’d like to know). Why not a concussion with brain trauma? What, no neck injury? Other broken bones – not this time.

gravity
So, I learned to rest in another manner: resting upon the Lord, who is perfect and good in all His dealings with me. May His name be praised.

I’ve been gone…

…just in case you hadn’t noticed.

pastoral sabbatical

I’ve been gone from blogging since last December. I needed a break from it. I was out of ideas, tired of writing and simply needed to assess my motives for blogging. Time will tell if any of these have been met satisfactorily or not.

I was also gone over the summer. My church, Cornerstone EFC, graciously granted me a 12-week sabbatical. Over the course of the next few days (or weeks, depending how often I post), I’ll recount some of the experiences I had during this extended time away. I will say this: yesterday, Sunday, August 16, was my first official day back. I came back as ‘just a worshiper.’ I sat with my family. I sang with the rest of the congregation. I prayed as others led those prayers. Scripture was read by other men. A delightful children’s sermon was delivered by someone other than me. And the Word of God was faithfully preached by another young man who will be pursuing pastoral ministry himself soon. And it was wonderful!

I am exceedingly thankful.