Month: April 2017

Humility & Suffering

hammer

Jonathan Edwards, arguably the greatest theologian-pastor of the Church, offered tremendous counsel in his Advice to Young Converts.

In this profound work of pastoral encouragement, Edwards exhorts all of us:

In all your course, walk with God and follow Christ as a little, poor, helpless child, taking hold of Christ’s hand, keeping your eye on the mark of the wounds on his hands and side, whence came the blood that cleanses you from sin and hiding your nakedness under the skirt of the white shining robe of his righteousness.

In that one sentence, there is remarkable depth and power. I want to pull out two themes that I pray encourage you in your faith.

1. Follow Jesus with Utter Humility.
Edwards describes us as little, poor, and helpless. He does not follow the direction of contemporary authors by encouraging us to pursue our full potential and seek our dreams. Although those books are encouraging, they stroke our ego and unwittingly call us to rely upon our own strength rather than God.

On the contrary, we must recognize that we are nothing apart from Christ. Every gift – writing, speaking, administration, leadership – flows from the Sovereign Spirit. There is NOTHING we have that we earned – including salvation – therefore we have no reason to boast of our accomplishments.

2. Keep your eyes on Jesus’ Suffering.
Contemporary Christians urge us to set our eyes upon ourselves. In essence, Jesus is simply a means to self-improvement, happiness, and financial abundance.

This is grave idolatry.

Edwards calls us to keep our eyes, “on the mark of the wounds on his hands and side, whence came the blood that cleanses you from sin…” We are not forgiven based on our righteous acts or sleek appearances. Our righteousness before God is based COMPLETELY on Jesus’ death & resurrection. Meditating upon the suffering of Jesus will crush the perverted face of pride that rears its ugly head in our lives.


I love reading books by modern authors but here’s a rule of thumb: if people are still talking about someone who lived 100+ years ago – that person probably has something significant to say!

I am currently reading Jonathan Edwards: A Life by George Marsden. I highly recommend this book for anyone that desires an understandable outline of Jonathan Edwards’ life, writings, ministry, and legacy!

The Failure of Evangelicals.

chains

I have spent the past year studying church history at Sioux Falls Seminary. In the past week, we have been exploring the 20th century and the changes it brought to the Church around the world. It is during this time that a group of Christians formed the following declaration. This ecumenical statement still calls Christians in 2017 to renew their focus on the implications of the Gospel. I pray it challenges you as much as it challenged me!


As evangelical Christians committed to the Lord Jesus Christ and the full authority of the Word of God, we affirm that God lays total claim upon the lives of his people. We cannot, therefore, separate our lives from the situation in which God has placed us in the United States and the world.

We confess that we have not acknowledged the complete claim of God on our lives.

We acknowledge that God requires love. But we have not demonstrated the love of God to those suffering social abuses.

We acknowledge that God requires justice. But we have not proclaimed or demonstrated his justice to an unjust American society. Although the Lord calls us to defend the social and economic rights of the poor and oppressed, we have mostly remained silent. We deplore the historic involvement of the church in America with racism and the conspicuous responsibility of the evangelical community for perpetuating the personal attitudes and institutional structures that have divided the body of Christ along color lines. Further, we have failed to condemn the exploitation of racism at home and abroad by our economic system.

We affirm that God abounds in mercy and that he forgives all who repent and turn from their sins. So we call our fellow evangelical Christians to demonstrate repentance in a Christian discipleship that confronts the social and political injustice of our nation.

We must attack the materialism of our culture and the maldistribution of the nation’s wealth and services. We recognize that as a nation we play a crucial role in the imbalance and injustice of international trade and development. Before God and a billion hungry neighbors, we must rethink our values regarding our present standard of living and promote a more just acquisition and distribution of the world’s resources.

We acknowledge our Christian responsibilities of citizenship. Therefore, we must challenge the misplaced trust of the nation in economic and military might – a proud trust that promotes a national pathology of war and violence which victimizes our neighbors at home and abroad. We must resist the temptation to make the nation and its institutions objects of near-religious loyalty.

We acknowledge that we have encouraged men to prideful domination and women to irresponsible passivity. So we call both men and women to mutual submission and active discipleship.

We proclaim no new gospel, but the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ who, through the power of the Holy Spirit, frees people from sin so that they might praise God through works of righteousness.

By this declaration, we endorse no political ideology or party, but call our nation’s leaders and people to that righteousness which exalts a nation.

We make this declaration in the biblical hope that Christ is coming to consummate the Kingdom and we accept his claim on our total discipleship until he comes.

November 25, 1973, Chicago, Illinois

 

I Am Extremely Weak.

weakness

I often tremble from anxiety and rely on sleep medicine to rest.

I meet with a professional counselor on a regular basis because I am routinely overwhelmed with the demands of life, family & ministry.

More than I’d like to admit, I seek isolation rather than community. Being around people drains me.

I have an addictive & escapist personality; I fear that one day I will succumb to addiction.

I fear the judgments of man more than God. The desire to please people reigns over my actions & words.

I question my calling as a pastor on a regular basis.

Yet God has & will continue to use me. I pray this encourages you in your own brokenness. All of us are weak; only some of us are strong enough to admit it.

Grace requires weakness.
Forgiveness requires confession.
Salvation requires death.

The cross is a paradox.

Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.

Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.

For when I am weak, then I am strong.
2 Corinthians 12:7-10 

 

 

Satan’s Victory

IMG_0841I have been practicing morning prayer, mid-day prayer, and evening prayer through the beautiful liturgy found in “Common Prayer – A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals.” The morning prayer for Good Friday has a remarkable reflection by John Chrysostom, a fourth-century bishop and preacher in Constantinople. I pray this meditation speaks as deeply into your spirit as it did into mine!

“Do you see how the devil is defeated by the very weapons of his prior victory? The devil had vanquished Adam by means of a tree. Christ vanquished the devil by means of the tree of the Cross. The tree sent Adam to hell. The tree of the Cross brought him back from there. The tree revealed Adam in his weakness, laying prostrate, naked and low. The tree of the Cross manifested to all the world the victorious Christ, naked and nailed on high. Adam’s death sentence passed onto all who came after him. Christ death gave life to all his children.” 


If you find this helpful, I encourage you to share it on Facebook & Twitter so others can be impacted by this powerful reflection!

The Great Invitation (Message)

Here is a message I recently preached about the Samaritan woman Jesus encounters at the well. I pray that it encourages you in your faith and helps you understand just how much God loves you!

(If you are reading this in your e-mail you may have to go to the actual page to watch the message)

I preach most weeks at the Garretson Campus of The Rescue Church. If you are ever in the area, I’d love for you to join us!

The Experience of Pruning…

weinberg merzhausen

I spent a few hours this past Saturday in the beautiful vineyard of Tucker’s Walk just outside of Garretson. One of the owners of Tucker’s Walk – Dave Greenlee – explained to me the process of pruning the vines for greater fruitfulness. It was memorizing as he skillfully slashed off dead branches and carefully secured the stock to the metal fence to keep it properly aligned.

Intentionally slicing these branches seemed to be a cruel process… but it is vital for the growth of the plant. Dave explained that the goal is to remove 90% of the plant’s growth from the previous season for high-quality grapes.

Ninety percent is a large portion of the vine!

Jesus spoke about this same reality in our own lives. After spending time watching a professional skillfully cut and mend the vineyard, Jesus’ words have become a greater reality to me:

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” (John 15:1-2)

When we experience the tender hands of our Heavenly Father removing unhealthy patterns in our lives, it can cause excruciating pain. There are seasons that we flood our beds with tears and can only produce groans in our prayers. We scream out for comfort but it seems as if our very identity has been forcefully removed.

Take heart… Christians that bear fruit experience pruning in order to bring about greater health. It seems brutal; even unloving at times. The Master Gardener – the God who sent his Son for our salvation – prunes with great patience and love for the souls of His people.

Are you going through a season of pruning? What has God been calling you to let go of? Are you listening or has the pain blinded you to the love of the Father?

Goodbye Facebook.

FacebookGOodbye

I recently returned from a prayer retreat at St. John’s Abby. It was INCREDIBLE. Here is one of my journal entries from the trip… including one major change I am making in my life.


One of the reasons I embarked on this retreat was to wrestle with my use of social media. Although social media is not inherently wrong, it is exceedingly dangerous for the idolatrous soul of man. I have discovered in my own heart that the primary reason I engage in social media is to exalt myself. I desire to appear wise beyond my years & an expert in spirituality. I justify this with the claim that I am building a personal platform in order to gain greater influence for the Kingdom of God. Although this very well may be a proper motivation for some, I am afraid it is too often a smoke screen that hides the poison of pride.

Therefore – by the power of the Holy Spirit – I resolve to refrain from creating statuses, posting comments, or even scrolling through my newsfeed for the rest of 2017. I will only use the message feature for the pure reason of communication with those whose emails I lack. 

For the purpose of accountability, I will share this journal entry with my wife, staff, spiritual leaders, and through my website that many of my church members subscribe to.