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Caught In The Rain

July 9, 2015

Remember that last time that you were in the West Village, down below Astor Place, close to West Broadway, making your way to a place called “Big Gay Ice Cream” because that’s the best place in the village to get a caramel and chocolate infused ice cream cone…and it started pouring down rain?  Now I’m not talking about a drizzle…not just a few big drops on the sidewalk…but a colossal, torrential, downpour?  Yeah I know…that probably isn’t a regular occurrence for most of you either.  But that’s where we found ourselves tonight…and let me just say…it was great.

You see…each year when we come up to Sunnyside to work with Grace Fellowship Church (Queens Presbyterian Church), we hit a variety of places around Manhattan during the evening hours.  We see Broadway and Times Square…mostly because they’re unavoidable.  We eat dinner with the young professionals of the Upper West Side at the chaotic but incredibly efficient Whole Foods at Columbus Circle.  And we take a trip down Washington Square to walk the pathways of retail with the good folk (they don’t say “folk”) just above Houston Street.  And the truth is that each of these times are far more valuable…far more meaningful…and far more enjoyable to a South Carolina boy than you might think.
Humility demands that at some point we admit just how lost we are a lot of the time.  But unity of spirit demands that we confess that being lost every once in a while…doesn’t really matter, because when we get lost…we get lost as a team.  And not knowing what you’re doing, or where you’re going, just isn’t the worst thing in the world.

The reality is that this must have been how many of the followers of Jesus Christ felt in the early years of the Church.  A lot of confusion…a lot of uncertainty…but a very unique camaraderie that issues forth from the experience of traveling, striving, struggling, talking, challenging, sharpening…often failing, but always pulling for one another…and hoping in Christ who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame.

So tonight as we ran through the puddled sidewalks of the campus of NYU, right past the campus bookstore, catching moments of precipitation relief under the scattered awnings of Waverly Place, and navigating our way down into the Astor Place subway terminal…there were no complaints, no bad attitudes.  There were a lot of laughs, a lot of smiles…a lot of wet feet and a lot of soaked shoulders…but an understanding that those little inconveniences are simply that…little inconveniences.  And I think…I think what I saw…was genuine love.

You know…genuine love always requires a certain measure of dying.  Dying to self, dying to desire, dying to comfort…dying to personal preferences…dying to control…dying to my rights. Nobody stepped off the train this evening hoping to be soaking wet with a forty-minute commute in front of them…but that’s what we received.  And I’m thankful for it.  Not just because it got us back to the LaQuinta a little earlier…but because it proved what I have been suspecting.  These people love one another.  They love recklessly…prodigiously…without regard for themselves.  They’ve demonstrated it each day this week during CityCamp.  And it was on full display tonight on the streets of The Empire City…just as it is on display in my room right at this moment…where guys are sitting on the floor, jus sharing life together.

It’s been a real privilege of my life to get to serve with this team from St. Andrews this week.  Having my wife and oldest child here has just made it all so much sweeter.  And the example my ten year old has received is absolutely priceless.  So I’m writing this in a state of gratitude tonight…not just for these people…but for the God who brought a team together.  My prayer for each of you is that you get to experience the joy that I’m feeling at this moment…a Joy rooted in Christ…purchased by the cross…and guaranteed by His resurrection.  

Today is a good day.  Check that…today is a great day.

What the Avengers Movie Tells Us About Marriage and Family

May 6, 2015

What the Avengers Movie Tells Us About Marriage and Family.

Starting the Year…

January 6, 2015

For several years now I have been using the One Year Bible for my daily devotional time.  It’s convenient and breaks up the reading into Old Testament, New Testament, a Psalm, and a Proverb for each day.  And I’ve loved using that.  But this year I wanted to try something different.

There are a lot of good devotionals out there to choose from.  I’m no literary critic, and about five people on the planet have asked for my opinion, but recently I’ve been reading one by Paul David Tripp called, “New Morning Mercies” and I love what he has to offer.  For the record, I’ve enjoyed reading many books by Tripp and would highly recommend that resource for your personal study…as a supplement.  Because the reality is that there is simply no substitute for the Word of God.

And with the unfortunate level of Biblical illiteracy in our current culture (even from some prominent Christian speakers/preachers), it’s critical that this generation of Christ followers return to Scriptures that are “breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

Sometimes it’s going to be a struggle.  That’s true.  Sometimes you’re going to have to fight your human nature…the tendency and desire to be entertained rather than taught…to be flattered instead of reproved…to be comforted instead of corrected…and to be ignorant rather than to be trained.  But in the end, it’s the Word of God that “is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).  It’s the Word that feeds us, nourishes us, and strengthens us in the faith.

So…why not start today.  You might be a couple days late.  But skip the Bachelor and spend an evening catching up.  Surely they’ll replay that episode of Duck Dynasty later in the week.  This is important.  This is the heritage that God has left for us as His children.  Embrace that.  Embrace His Word.  Embrace Him!

There is a link below to a bunch of ESV reading plans.  Go to the site.  Pick the one you want.  Print it out.  And let’s go!  This year I’m using the chronological plan.  Join me on this journey.  Share what you read with your circle of friends…your family…your community.  There’s great benefit to working through the Scripture with those close to you.  But come on…it’s 2015…this is the future of Back to the Future…let’s do something big together!

http://www.esv.org/resources/reading-plans-devotions/

And You Believe That?

December 10, 2014

If you’ve ever been challenged in your beliefs as a follower of Christ, you understand that there are some things…some truths…that we hold to that are hard to defend apart from the Bible. I once had someone come to me…with extreme condescension…and say, “So you’re telling me that you believe that a child was born of a virgin, and that the child in question was actually the Creator of the universe and everything in it, and you believe that child grew to be a man who was wrongfully convicted, put to death, and then resurrected from the dead and ascended up into heaven?” And my response was simply, “Yes, yes I do.”

But you see where it all starts in the question. He didn’t begin with the creation of the earth. He didn’t ask my thoughts on naturalistic evolution vs. creationism. He didn’t ask my views on abortion or homosexuality. No…he began with the virgin birth. And the reason he began there is because regardless of anything else in nature, or in ethics, or anything else in the realm of our existence, we know…we absolutely know…that virgins do not have babies. And yet…this is exactly what I believe happened.

You see that guy understood that everything upon which we base our hope, our peace, and our salvation on hinges on the reality…the truth…that Jesus was born of a virgin. If you read through Matthew 1:18-25, you’ll see where it is specifically stated, “before they came together (Mary and Joseph) she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.” Over in Luke 1, we see an angel coming to her and telling her what was going on. And Mary, for her part, isn’t convinced. It says in Luke 1:29, “But she was greatly troubled and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be.” So she wasn’t totally on board at first. You see, we need to forget the idea that Mary thought it was normal for an angel to come and give her any news…much less news that she was going to have a baby while she was a virgin.

Later, she actually asks in verse 34, “How will this be, since I am a virgin.” I love this scene because it’s almost like Mary is trying to remind Gabriel that she can’t be a mother yet. She’s almost like, “Maybe you didn’t know…but I’m a virgin.” So after accepting the reality that an actual angel of the Lord is speaking to her, she still has some doubts about whether the angel knows what he’s talking about. Joseph is equally concerned. We’re told in Matthew 1:19 that “Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.” So he wasn’t thrilled with the revelation that Mary was with child. He knew that he didn’t have anything to do with it. And he understood the cultural stigmas and prejudices that were certainly headed their way because of what would be perceived as an illegitimate child.

Both Mary and Joseph demonstrate responses that I think are perfectly in line with how we might expect an actual person to respond to such a saying as this. And that is because…quite simply…they are actual people. In this story, we get an accurate depiction of how real people respond to news that seems unreal. So Mary and Joseph really aren’t that different than you and I. And it’s amazing to think about how God used them…normal people…for the sake of His redemptive purpose.

Make no mistake about it…the dependability of the Bible is at stake with the virgin birth. The person of Christ…the Messiah (anointed one) is at stake with the virgin birth. And our salvation is at stake with the virgin birth.

Later in the Gospel of Matthew, after Jesus had walked the earth for some time, he asked His disciples who people were saying He was. They said to Him, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” And in Matthew 16:15-16 we read, “He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ 16 Simon Peter replied, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’”

What a beautiful testimony. Different people land on different ideas when it comes to the virgin birth. The question for us is where do you land? And it’s an important question.whatchildisthis_plain

What Child is This?

December 3, 2014

What’s in a name? Have you ever really stopped to think about that? It’s really a valid question…and not just because everyone has one. Names say something about the one to whom they are ascribed. My name happens to be one of the most redundant of all names. You see, Adam literally means “man, or mankind.” So all that my given name really says about me is that I am exactly what I appear to be. And I’m perfectly okay with that.

In the first chapter of Matthew, we see a name being given. In some respects…it’s just a name. It’s not a new name that had never been used before. It’s not a name that people would have necessarily stopped in their tracks upon hearing. And if you consider the broader context of the chapter, it’s literally just one name coming after a list that includes no less than forty-eight other names.

The uniqueness of this name lies not in the name itself…but in the Name-Giver. You know if you consider all the way back to Genesis 2, where we see the first Adam giving names to “every beast of the field and bird of the heavens,” it says in 2:19, “Whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name.” So Adam was given the authority…he was empowered by God…to name the creatures of the earth. And from that point, mankind chose the names of their offspring.

As you walk through the Scriptures, there are particular points where God steps in and changes a name. Abram becomes Abraham, Jacob becomes Israel, Simon becomes Peter, and Saul becomes Paul (and there are others). And each of those is a change in name. But in Matthew 1:21, we see something different. In this case the authority to name the child is not left to the earthly parents…but the Eternal Father claims the naming rights saying, “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

We are given a slightly different vantage point in the Gospel of Luke where in 1:31, the angel Gabriel tells Mary, “You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.” So now we see that the composite picture shows how both parents were given explicit instructions regarding the name of this child.

And the implications of this name are clear. If this child “will save his people from their sins,” what is being clearly stated, by God, is that there is a need for His people to be saved from their sins. We have…right here in Matthew 1…a picture of the Gospel. It’s not that this child might be able to save, or will be interested in saving, or that we should keep an eye on Him and see if He can save. No…the angel of the Lord makes it clear that Jesus “will save His people from their sins.”

To this, Tim Keller says, “In the very name of this child we see the uniqueness of Christianity in general and of Jesus in particular.” You see…Jesus is not just a way…He’s the Way. He’s not just a truth…He’s the Truth. And He’s not just a savior…He’s the Savior. It says in Matthew 1:25 that Joseph was obedient. Okay, it doesn’t say those words exactly…but it does say that after the birth “he called his name Jesus.” And this is the name that we call upon today. This is the name that we hope upon today. This is the name that we proclaim, exalt, and praise with every ounce of our being…because we know that it is He…it is Jesus…Who saves. And what other response could we possibly have when we are the ones who have been saved?

So to the question, “What child is this?” We answer with a resounding, “He is Jesus…He’s our Savior!”

whatchildisthis_plain

Taught by a Toddler

September 19, 2014

Having an infant in the house…especially an infant who is beginning to seem more and more like a toddler…is a constant source of humor. Now in truth…they can be incredibly aggravating at times. They can test every ounce of patience that you have in the entirety of your being. They do that. They’re always into something. They’re never content to just be where they are. And so the end result is that you’re never actually relaxed…never really off the clock…and always a bit on edge. Because the second that you turn your head, sit down in the chair, or try to go to the bathroom, that little one is going to be climbing the stairs, drinking out of the dog bowl, or trying to wedge their little finger into the electrical outlet. It’s just what they do.

And listen…I know we can get all the gates and stuff that we need to keep them from getting into places that we don’t want them to get. We did that whole game with the first kid. But we’re at the point now where it just doesn’t work to live in a house made up of a bunch of tiny prison cells. And if I’m honest…I really don’t want my kid’s first memory of home to be little rooms with a bunch bars. I want them to wonder…and I want them to wander.

So in the midst of encouraging, hoping, and even baiting our kid into his first steps, we know we’re really just setting ourselves up for the challenge of chasing a quicker and more agile version of our current little quadruped. But that’s part of what makes parenting such a beautiful thing. It’s seeing that desire in their little eyes to reach for something…that sort of fearless longing in their hearts to do…well, to do something. It’s seeing the healthy discontent in their young souls and the willingness to try to do something about it. They always refuse to do nothing.

Now…I’m not sure when it happens. It seems like it’s happening earlier and earlier with each new generation. But something happens both in life and in faith…something that we don’t really see coming…something that we didn’t really seek out…and something that if we were willing to let our guard down for just a moment…we’d admit that we don’t want any part of. It seems like we wake up and just realize…in what seems like nothing more than a moment…that we’ve lost our sense of wonder.

As I was reading in my office this morning…the rain pouring down outside…the sound of the drops of water hitting the roof above me…I ended up in Psalm 60. In this Psalm, David has been striving against several different military forces. He’s lost some battles. And now he’s going before God as the representative of his people…expressing his fears, confessing some frustration…but honestly asking a question. You see, it seems, at least to David, like God has deserted His people…like He’s not there. And David is wondering why.

Now here’s the thing; I’ve had no less than four conversations this week with people who have expressed that same type of emotion. Some are overwhelmed. Some are underwhelmed. But all of them expressed the fact that they just don’t feel like God is there. And so, that’s been weighing heavily on me this week. And this morning…just this morning…I came to Psalm 60:12 where David says, “With God we shall do valiantly; it is he who will tread down our foes.” And you might rightly ask what that has to do with you…because you don’t have any foes. Everyone in your world thinks you’re awesome. And even if they don’t think you’re awesome…they aren’t physically attacking you. You aren’t fighting anyone…you don’t even own a sword. And if you do have a sword…let’s just be straight…you’re that guy…you know, the guy with the sword.

But I can’t help but think that maybe the reason we become so apathetic…so convinced that God isn’t there…is that we stop fighting…we stop reaching…stop wondering…and stop wandering. And while we might be comfortable and safe…the greatest foe is advancing against us…and truthfully…within us. And the reality is that some of our most difficult battles seem to rage within us. They aren’t battles of the flesh…but battles for the heart.

You see, my soon-to-be toddler never complains about being bored. He never looks at us with cold, dead eyes. He has a healthy discontentment…and it’s glorious. He looks at the world and just knows that there is something…something vast…something out there…something worth looking for. And for the Christian…that should be the case for us as well. We should be constantly stretching…constantly reaching…forever striving to be effective agents of reconciliation in God’s drama of redemption. It’s a holy discontentment.

We should ask ourselves what we are doing…right now…that requires courage? Where am I playing it safe…hiding behind the walls…instead of stepping out with a warrior’s heart? Where am I faking it in life? Where am I trusting? Where is genuine faith being displayed and even tested? It was Paul who wrote to the church in Philippi, “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.” (Philippians 1:27) Where am I striving?

The reality check is that my greatest foe…might just be me. And so I’m praying that God would come and move in us…in His people. That He would come and tread down our foes. That He would come and restore that reckless enthusiasm that we once had. That He’d come and fall afresh on us…that He’d pour over us…and wash away the apathy and the lost sense of wonder…and that we would strive. I want us to stand at the door and look out and actually believe that “with God we shall do valiantly.” The spirit of the true Christian was summed up well by J.R.R. Tolkien when he wrote, “All that is gold does not glitter, Not all those who wander are lost.”

Be careful what you reach for. And be careful about being comfortable. I’m learning that…again…from a nine month old.  Stand and wonder…and then take the step and wander.

Who’s Coming With You?

August 29, 2014

Who’s coming with you? That’s a simple enough question. Who’s coming with you? It’s Friday morning. Tomorrow…in all likelihood…Saturday will happen. And Saturdays…well…Saturdays are great. But Saturday is too late to ask this question. Because listen…if you wait until Saturday…you’ll be in Saturday mode…and if the past is any indication of how you normally function…you’ll forget to ask the question. So who’s coming with you?

 I know…I know. You’ve got a bunch of excuses ready…a whole bunch of them sitting there in your quiver, just waiting to be let loose from the bow. I know because I do too. I’m good at them. I’m just as capable of firing an excuse as any other person that you know. I’m just as good at it as you are. And that’s why I’m typing this right now…because I’ve heard them. You don’t have anyone to invite. You aren’t good at inviting people. You’re too old for that, too uncommitted yourself…too lazy…too tired…too shy…too tailgated out…too afraid…too young…too out of touch…too white…too black…too sunburned…too tall…too short…too far away…too whatever.

 There might even be that stirring in your heart right now. You know…you were nice to people this week…so you’ve “done your good deed.” You love college football and you’ve waited for this weekend to get here for a solid eight months…so you deserve to take a break. Monday is Labor Day and you don’t have to work…so this can just be like a little mini vacation. I get it. Seriously…I get it. I don’t like it…but I get it.

 But what if you stopped right now…right this moment…and you earnestly prayed for God to lay someone on your heart? What if you took a second right now…right this second…and reached out to someone that you’ve been wanting to reach out to for a long time? What if you are the one that God wants you to bring with you?

 The beautiful reality for the Christ follower is found in Ephesians 2:13 where we read,

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”

And then we’re told in 2 Corinthians 5:21 that,

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

We then we see in Romans 6:23 where it says,

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

 These are profound Gospel truths. They are good news. And what we do with that news tells us an awful lot about whether or not we actually believe it. And if there is someone in your life that is still far off…that has not been found in Christ…that still owes the wages of sin…then wouldn’t it be a good thing to bring them to the place where they might see the love of Christ in His people…in His Church? You know…maybe it is you? Maybe you have doubts? Maybe you’re experiencing confusion and uncertainty? Maybe you need to bring you to Church on Sunday. Because odds are…that’s coming after Saturday…and Sundays…well…Sundays are glorious.