The Wod of Our God Will Stand

I had the privilege of giving the devotional at my church, Third Avenue Baptist, on Sunday night. Here's the manuscript. I'll put a link up when the audio is available!

Isaiah 40:8

Look around you. It seems that wherever you turn, people struggle with feelings of inadequacy, of insignificance, and of smallness. At different points in our lives, we are all struck by how tiny we are in comparison to things that are much bigger than us; things like time, or war; the universe, or heartbreak; death, or God.

We see it in the movies we watch and the poetry we admire. We hear it in the songs on the radio and see it in the works of the philosophers. In a seemingly infinite variety of contexts and modes, the human heart is forced to consider its own smallness and mortality.

So, as you go about your daily life, you will hear things like this:

“Good luck exploring the infinite abyss!”


“We mortals are but shadows and dust!”

Or this

“We've grown used to the idea of space, and, perhaps we forget that we've only just begun. We're still pioneers. They, the members of the Challenger crew, were pioneers.”

Or this

“O God, thy sea is so great, and my boat is so small.”

Now, sometimes we might decide to shake these feelings off, or to quickly change the subject. We often put a high premium on an optimistic view of the world. Too often, perhaps.

But here in Isaiah 40, we see that this cry of insignificance is normal, even for a prophet. Isaiah, we know, has seen a glorious vision of the Most High God on his lofty throne. Themes of God’s power and of justice flow throughout his proclamations. Here, sandwiched between a passage about hope for the coming messiah and one regarding the greatness of God, Isaiah tells us of a voice that seems to cry out in despair.

6 A voice says, “Cry!”
And I said, “What shall I cry?”
All flesh is grass,
and all its beauty is like the flower of the field.
7 The grass withers, the flower fades
when the breath of the Lord blows on it;
surely the people are grass.

Through this simple metaphor, we are reminded of how weak and small our lives are. And yet, Isaiah goes on to proclaim the powerful truth that is contrasted with our small lives; God’s word is eternal and unchanging. Look at verse 8;

8 The grass withers, the flower fades,
but the word of our God will stand forever.

Now, there are a lot of great studies you can do from this simple passage. You can study how it interacts with Isaiah’s other prophetic proclamations. You can consider the many uses of the term “the word of God” throughout the Bible. You can make some terrific parallels between this passage and the gospels, because in verses 3-5 it prophesies about John the Baptist.

However, because our time is limited, I just want to make three simple exhortations to you that this passage should inspire in us.

1. First, spend time meditating on your smallness before God.

It is good and healthy to recognize how small we are compared to God. I think Keith did a terrific job this morning of showing how John the Baptist had a clear and accurate view of his role in the kingdom of God, and how it informed the way he lived and taught. In the same way, our lives should display the fact that we understand ourselves to be quite small and insignificant in the grand scheme of things.

If you need some help meditating on this topic, I encourage you to simply look in Scripture. This basic meditation is used in a variety of contexts by the Biblical authors.

-For instance, Peter actually quotes this passage in 1 Peter 1. He meditates on how our thankfulness for the new birth, which comes through the word of God, should express itself in an earnest love for one another.

-In James 4, James speaks of life as a vapor. He uses it to criticize those who spend their lives pursuing money rather than serving God.

-In Matthew 6, Christ teaches that it is more important to pursue the kingdom of God than to worry about food and clothing. He reminds us that earthly treasures will rust or be stolen, but that heavenly treasures are eternal.

I could go on and on, but I would encourage you to learn how to repeat this pattern of meditation in your own life. Seek to enlarge your soul by thinking about how small and transient our lives are, and then contrast that with the wonder and beauty and power and eternity of our Great King.

2. Second, learn to hear the world struggle with insignificance.

By this, I simply mean it is important for us to recognize that nearly every person we know struggles in some way with feeling small and insignificant. They are crying out for an answer, and we will never be able to offer it if we do not know how to listen for the tears of their hearts. Learn to see this human problem in poetry, and in music; in literature, and in art. Listen for it in your conversations with friends and co-workers. Learn to see it in the reckless way that so many people live their lives. As we become more sensitive to this problem, we will be more able to proclaim the solution.

3. Finally, use this common human problem to proclaim the gospel.

As Isaiah highlights for us, our lives are like grass, easily burned or blown away by the wind. Any way you look at it, we are alive only because it pleases God that we should be so. While we are here on this earth, then, like John the Baptist, we should fulfill our role by proclaiming the Messiah.

When your friends or co-workers cry out because of their sin and insignificance, tell them of the hope and eternal nature of the gospel. Preach God’s word to them, knowing that it is the only thing worthy of their complete trust. Live your life in such a way that it could be said of you, “this was a person who trusted the word of God more than they trusted anything about this life.”

My friend, meditate on your smallness before God. Learn to listen to the world as it recognizes its own insignificance. And then, as one who knows your role in the kingdom, proclaim to them the eternal and unchanging gospel of Christ, to the glory of our God.

The grass withers, the flower fades,
but the word of our God will stand forever.


A Quick Note of Appreciation

A few days ago, I was reviewing a discussion I had with a friend regarding gender roles. Now, I believe this discussion/argument is primarily a hermeneutical one- in other words, gender roles in the church should be determined by what we understand Scripture to be teaching, and a Christian cannnot change that without an alternate hermeneutical approach (way of studying and extracting the Bible’s meaning).

However, the discussion also made me realize how much I appreciate the terrific women in my life. If you go to the church where I grew up (Lake Pointe Bible Church), Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington DC, or Third Avenue Baptist Church here in Louisville, you will find dozens of smart, articulate, strong, and godly women (you can find them at University Baptist Church too, but I’m just pointing out that complementarianism does not repress women).

The thing I’m most thankful for is this; if you talk to these women, you will find that they LIKE being part of a complementarian church. They APPRECIATE men taking leadership roles in the church (interestingly, all three of these churches seem to somehow have avoided the problem of men not being interested or taking initiative in church). They do not feel restricted in the least from using their gifts.

Knowing this gives me a lot of confidence. I would have a harder time making the hermeneutical argument if I did not have the confirmation from women that I admire and trust that it is a valuable doctrine for them.

So last night I was listening to a discussion between three very respected, high profile pastor-theologians. The complementarian issue came up, and you know what? ALL THREE affirmed how much they appreciated the women in their congregations who affirmed to them the value of a complementarian leadership structure.

So ladies, thank you. Thank you for having the strength to submit, even when you could probably do it yourself. Thanks for having the patience to encourage the men, even when they are weak. Thank you for overcoming the need for praise and popularity that the “head honchos” sometimes get.

And thanks especially to my wife, Samantha, for always expanding your ability to submit and follow my leadership, weak and inconsistent though it may be.


Discharge Your Duty With Fidelity

As I mentioned in my last post, I wanted to comment on how our actions interact with God’s. As one who believes that the Bible is clear regarding the subject of God’s sovereignty, I do believe we can say with certainty that God directs our steps, changes our hearts, and produces the results for any actions we undertake.

Still, the implications for that concept are pretty tough, right? Throughout my spiritual life, I have been involved with small ministries that have a hard time putting together programs or events that most would consider “successful.” Outreach events, youth groups, advertising… godly men and women frustrated again and again by the seeming unimportance of their actions.

The usual “correct” Christian response is to say, “Well, our job is just to put in the effort, and let God handle the results.” It is the response of faith, yes- but it also gets harder and harder to swallow when the results seem so pragmatically oriented. After all, often it really IS the more exciting programs that draw in the most people!

How then should we respond? I fear that too many churches respond by knee-jerk reaction; they launch themselves to one side or the other.

I saw this clearly in college. I attended one church for a while, but became tired of the non-stop action and overly simple teaching. Their model was strongly pragmatic. It was built on exciting “worship” that was much more like a rock concert, fancy coffee, updated facilities, and the like.

The church I later attended was in a process of what I felt was healthy transition. For a long time they had looked to pragmatic concerns to help them renew what they felt was their mission to the university; large outreach events, fund drives to make the church more attractive, interest in more exciting worship. However, I had the pleasure of seeing them work to be more faithful; they taught more Bible-centered Sunday school lessons, accepted their congregational makeup, and devoted more time to spiritual growth than numerical. However, even there you could see the frustration when they were so certain God was going to do amazing (generally numerical) miracles through their humble efforts- and then it did not happen.

Friend, what I want to propose to you is this; be wise and thoughtful about your role in the kingdom. Do not be rash in counting on God to make an otherwise unlikely idea work, but also do not abandon spiritual health and meat for the sake of building a program so pragmatically exciting that it barely needs God. The fact of the matter is this: wisely and proportionally committing your work and ministry to God with faithfulness as your goal IS the true victory. Let God do what he will through it. Expect good fruit, but do not presume to always know what form that good fruit will take.

I’m reading an excellent little book called Baptists; Thorough Reformers by Rev. John Quincy Adams (no not THAT John Quincy Adams). In it, he says this about the true reformer:

“The true religious reformer must [will] ultimately triumph. However opposed, reproached, and persecuted, he triumphs. Even when he appears to be discomfited he triumphs. While he struggles on in adversity, and while sad reverses meet him in his work, still he triumphs. The power of the truth is manifest in the support it yields him amid these disheartening circumstances. The consciousness that he has discharged his duty with fidelity, fills his mind with peace… He esteems ‘the reproaches of Christ greater riches than all the treasures’ of earth.”

May we too, in our attempts to honor our King with our efforts for his kingdom, discharge our duty with fidelity, and there fill our minds with peace.


The Danger of Passivity While Seeking God's Will

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.
Be not wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.
It will be healing to your flesh
and refreshment to your bones.

Passages like Proverbs 3:1-12 (including vs. 5-8 shown above) are nice, because they are so applicable. They display Christian wisdom, and help order our lives. Many normal daily problems we face could be quickly solved by following the advice of the Proverbs and learning to trust and acknowledge God in all our ways.

But I ask; how do we determine our ways? Often I struggle with a perceived lack of long-term guidance on God’s part. He has not told me for certain that I will be a pastor, or what ministry I should do at church, or how to decide between a job that is interesting or one that has health insurance. When we face these things, we tend to go with the default. We just do… well, whatever. We study the subject that interests us, do the job that follows naturally from our studies, attend the church that seems closest to our theology, and in the meantime have a family and pursue our hobbies.

In the back of our minds, though, we are nagged by the feeling that we are coming up just a tad short. I think this is why books can make us feel so guilty; we read of Jim Elliot and feel that our passion for the lost is inadequate. We read of George Mueller and are disgusted by our weak prayer lives. We look at “read through the Bible in a year” plans and quietly shake our heads in frustration because we have tried them a thousand times and cannot prevail.

But look again. Read the stories of great heroes of the faith; even better, read stories of the faithful in the Bible. Ask yourself a different kind of question; how did they determine their course of action?

Yes, we may have a certain level of envy for Paul and the clarity of his conversion. But look again… do you see how often he just chose something? The city to go to, when to leave on a missionary journey, whom to talk to- he just picks. With some (usually supernatural) exceptions, this happens all over the place in the bible and in the lives of the saints. A man or woman greatly desires to serve God, and the just DO something.

Here I want to refer especially to Matthew 25 and Luke 19. Jesus tells the parables of the servants and their talents/minas. Without reading too much into the text, notice these things; first, the master does not inquire how the servants obtained the monies they earned. Now, I do not mean to advocate some sort of hard-core pragmatism, where ends always justify means. However, it does seem that the master did not ask for his servants to try to guess his exact preferred plan for making money; he only expected that they do their best to honor his desire for expanded funds.

Next, notice that the master does not care so much about measurable output. He certainly appreciates that one servant made more than the others, but he does not have a scale where 10=good, 5=fair, 1=not good, and 0=worst. It seems from his reaction that the master hates inactivity more than he hates failure, and loves faithfulness more than output.

Here is what I am trying to say. I fear that as Christians, passivity is one of our worst problems. We take our amazing ability for rationalization (like the servant rationalizing hiding his talent in the ground) and tell ourselves that we have done enough. God will understand! Our highest priority is to not destroy our lives through public sin or moral failure or embarrassment. Get an education, get a job, start a family, and DON’T SCREW UP!

However, I do not think that is right. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer says, when God calls a man, he bids him come and die. Dying to self is a concept so radical that I fear we brush it off. George Eldon Ladd expresses this powerfully in his terrific book, The Gospel of the Kingdom.

“Denial of self does not mean that I am to deny myself things. It means to deny myself, not to deny things to myself… Self-denial is self-centered; denial of self is Christ-centered. Denial of self means death, nothing less… This is what cross-bearing means: a readiness to die with and for Christ. It means complete dedication to Christ, even though this dedication costs one his life. It means an act of self-surrender which holds nothing back, not even life itself. It means my life, my will, my ambitions, my hopes- all are given to Christ. It means that I count myself as dead that Christ may live and reign in me.”

As Christians, we are called to ACTION. We are called to die to self, to commit ourselves wholly to serving God. We must pursue the advancement of the gospel and the expansion of his kingdom in the world.

Yes, these things should always be tempered by prayer, and wisdom, and advice from elders, and Scripture above all else. And yes, God is ultimately the one who “does the work.” In my next post I’ll discuss the interaction between our action and God’s.

However, there is a fundamental danger we must avoid. It is very easy to live in a Christian way and yet, protected by rationalization and pious words, not be wholly committed to the kingdom of God.

God has given us freedom to choose how best to serve him with the blessings he has given. If it is his desire to change our path, he will (think of Paul being denied access to some places and given unexpected access to others). But that is his responsibility, not ours. Our job is to continually build, to expand, to work for the kingdom. Christian, BE IN MOTION for the glory of God. His imperative on our lives is not to merely avoid sin, but to DO something for the advancement of the kingdom.

So then, choose. Choose a ministry, share the gospel, teach, serve your family. But whatever the case, however you decide to use the talents the master has given, be certain that you can look back and see a life that denied self, took up its cross, and followed Christ.


Off for a few days

Hey folks,

I'm off for a few days, I'll be attending the Basics for Pastors Conference in Cleveland with my brother. I'm excited, it'll be my first chance to hear Alistair Begg and Voddie Bauchaum in person!

I may have e-mail, but then again I may not. So feel free to call me if you need anything!



Identifying With a Luge Prodigy

When I was in college, I was part of a small group called a, “freshman family.” The “father” of this group was a senior named Thor. Thor is a fun, kind, and godly man. His leadership meant the world to our group. He was different from me in just about every way imaginable, which is probably why we got along so well.

Thor once told us that growing up, he wanted to be in luge. The sport is so obscure that my spell-checker does not even think it is a word! For whatever reason, Thor loved the dangerous, high-speed nature of the sport.

When Thor was in late high-school or early college (can’t remember which), he happened to find a luge track, and watched people practicing. An instructor asked him if he wanted to try, and did not have to ask twice!

Thor whipped down the track, and found himself to be a natural. The instructor set up hay bales along the track, and Thor maneuvered between them, time and time again applying just the right amount of pressure to dodge the obstacles.

After several runs, the instructor told Thor he was a natural. He offered a scholarship to the United States school for luge! Thor could not have been more thankful or gratified.

But by this time, Thor knew what God would have him do. He was a brilliant linguist, and had a heart for the lost overseas. He turned down the scholarship, and went on to be a teacher and missionary.

I identify with Thor. Thanks to all those luge instructors out there.

Soli Deo Gloria.


They Said It Better Than I Ever Could

Do you ever find yourself reading a speech, or an article, or a book, and just shake your head in amazement at how much you agree with the author? It's as though he or she has given voice to thoughts and passions you knew you had, but could not articulate (and they often have a lot more research to back it up, too!). One obvious value of articles like this is that they are good to hand out to people when you are trying to convince them of your point of view. However, they can also be an important insight into a person's thinking.

So, here's the request/challenge/idea. What is a speech, article, or book chapter that you find yourself in complete agreement with? Something that expresses some of your deepest interests and conclusions? I would love to read stuff that provides such a valuable window into other people's hearts and minds.

Just so you don't think I'm talking without doing, here are some of my favorites.

First, on politics, my favorite is a speech given in 1978 by Alexander Solzhenitsyn at Harvard. The speech was entitled, "A World Split Apart", and it has molded my thinking on politics for years.

Second, on people and relationships, G.K. Chesterton wrote a wonderful article/book chapter called, "On Certain Modern Writers and the Institution of the Family," that has been a guide for many of my relationship choices over the last several years, including my marriage.

Finally, one of my three favorite theologians is A.W. Tozer. In his classic book The Pursuit of God, he wrote a chapter which reminds me time and time again to practice complete faith and trust if I ever would seek to gain anything. I would not be here at seminary if it weren't for principles I learned in this chapter, entitled "The Blessedness of Possessing Nothing."

Please take up this challenge! It will, I hope, provide some thought-provoking material for everyone to work through. And no, Rich, the video of Soul Force doesn't count.


Keeping our eyes open to The Way Things Are

I have always had an interest in The Way Things Are... in other words, I want to know what the actual truth is, regardless of who agrees with what. This caused me to be terrible for party politics, because I would argue with the higher-ups whenever I felt they were wrong. This is not conducive to moving up the food chain in those circles (though you do get great job recommendations, because they tend to respect you and want to see you do well... somewhere else!)

So, today I just wanted to recommend some good resources for seeing The Way Things Are.

First, here is an interesting article that wrestles with how schools and universities can prevent school shootings. They do in-depth research and observation to try to answer some questions about the way these things happen. It's pretty short, so take a minute to read it! Before the Rampage: What can be done?

Second, for all you aspiring pastors, youth leaders, and educators out there, I highly recommend this book. I used many of the things I learned in some sermons I gave at a youth retreat last year. The authors do exhaustive research on high-school kids in the U.S., and paint a bleak (yet, importantly, truthful) picture of the passionless nature of today's kids. Very quickly, the term moralistic therapeutic deism will come to have great meaning to you. The book is called Soul Searching.

Finally, as I've mentioned before, I have great interest in urban missions. It is important that urban missionaries and church planters have an acute sense of The Way Things Are if they are to be successful in speaking the gospel clearly to the huge varieties of people and backgrounds found in an urban setting. Harvie Conn and Manuel Ortiz do, I think, an excellent job of assessing many of these difficulties without compromising the gospel or the hand of God in outreach. Their book, Urban Ministry, is terrific.

Let me just encourage you to seek out articles and resources of this kind, ESPECIALLY in your area of ministry. If you are a teacher, look for articles and books that are observational, and not just theoretical. If you are in politics, look for case studies that examine actual cases of an issue you are researching, and don't just toe the party line. If you are a pastor or youth leader, UNDERSTAND your people. Don't just assume they will respond to the same things that drove you to Christ. Learn how to make the gospel speak clearly to their situation.

Of course, much has been written about not compromising the gospel, and I strongly agree with that. I am no fan of the Schullers and Hybels of the world. However, that doesn't mean we have license not to know anything about the people in our care.

Have a great day!