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A Morning Encounter at the Hampton Inn

“I’m born again!”

It was 9:15 a.m. this past Friday morning, and I was comfortably ensconced in an easy chair in the lobby of the Branson, Missouri, Hampton Inn. I was minding my own business…reading my Bible. The man speaking towered over me announcing his spiritual state.

“I’m born again too,” I answered, looking up.

Diane, Annie and I had come to Branson for a 10 a.m. tour of the College of the Ozarks. Annie, our youngest as a high school junior, didn’t seem so young anymore. Anyway, I had finished first in the room and scooted out to give the ladies some space and get some time for myself.

“Praise God!” he responded, then pressed on: “Straight is the gate, and narrow is the way…and few are those who find it!” Emphasis on few.

“Amen,” I agreed. Then I asked, “What brings you here?” I was looking to dial the conversation down a notch. Was he here for a show in Branson? (like surely so many others in the busy hotel that morning)

“I go where the Lord tells me. I wake up in the morning and follow his lead…The Muslims are taking over Europe.”

So much for dialing down. “Yes…the secular Europeans have stopped having babies. The Muslims haven’t. But the Spirit of God is moving in Islam all over the world.” I was trying to be hopeful here.

He agreed. “And do you know where they’re going next?”

I was glad to find out.

“Here.” He pointed at the ground. “Dearborn, Michigan…” and he named a few other places with large Muslim populations in the U.S.

“I walked into a Jehovah’s Witness church,” he continued (changing the subject?). “They were smiling at me. So friendly. Then I told them, ‘Did you know that Jehovah has come in the flesh?’ And they had daggers in their eyes…” That last line…came out slowly, melodramatically. You get the idea.

He proceeded to tell me about the rapture and being ready for the return of Christ. “They’re gonna be surprised. The trumpet is about to sound.” At one point he related a conversation with some “Mexicans” in a McDonald’s, and what did he say to them? “I’m sorry,” apparently apologizing, he explained…for Donald Trump! It was one of the strangest, weirdest, most interesting conversations I had ever had.

“I’m Roger,” I offered my hand, finally. “I’m Brother Michael,” He returned.

And then, shortly thereafter, apparently it was time for him to leave. “Stay on fire,” he told me. “Keep going deeper!” – his last words to me. But I heard him around the corner preaching to other guests in the hallway: “The trumpet is about to sound!”

Aftermath

10 minutes or so after the encounter I saw the hotel staff gathered for a debrief on this mysterious preacher who appeared and disappeared so quickly on their Friday morning. I got up from my chair and walked over to the three employees who included the hotel chief engineer (he had a badge), the front desk man, and the breakfast lady.

“Are you wondering about that man who showed up?” I asked them. Yes, they were – they needed a plan in the off chance he would come back. They were clearly a bit shell-shocked.

I told them what he had relayed to me: “Whenever people ask me to leave, I always do so immediately, and this always surprises them.” I thought he was sincere in this, and I imagined that if he did come back…and they asked him to leave…that is exactly what he would do.

Our meeting of four broke up, with the chief engineer getting the last word: “Nothing wrong with Jesus…but let’s not interrupt people’s coffee time shall we?”

But…I think I’ll beg to differ with the chief engineer. In fact, I would say that if some morning you are sipping coffee and eating waffles at a Hampton Inn, and a wild-eyed preacher comes up to you announcing his spiritual state…it’s probably worth interrupting your breakfast to hear what Brother Michael has to say.

In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 1 Corinthians 15:52 (ESV)

 

 
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Posted by on April 30, 2018 in Preaching, The Return of Christ

 

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C.S. Lewis on Praying for Personal Peace…

Lord that made the dragon, grant me thy peace,

But say not that I should give up the gold,

Nor move, nor die. Others would have the gold.

Kill rather, Lord, the Men and the other dragons;

Then I can sleep; go when I will to drink.

– C.S. Lewis, ‘The Dragon Speaks’, Poems

I woke up this morning a tad anxious. It happens occasionally to me, and usually passes after I am fully awake. So later, I prayed for peace in my time with God.

And then, in the delightful C.S. Lewis anthology I am reading (A Mind Awake), I ran across the poem above. It was good meditation for me.

You see, Lewis’ dragon also prayed for peace, though he was unwilling to give up his stolen loot. Nor was he willing to change, to die to self. So his prayer was not that God would deal with him so that sleep would come, but rather, that God would deal with others.

Sometimes our prayer for peace should be a prayer of repentance. Not always, but sometimes.

That may or may not be the case for me. I do know that later I prayed another poem, this one from King David:

Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there be any hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way.

-Psalm 139:23-24 (NASB)

 

 

 
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Posted by on April 23, 2018 in Uncategorized

 

Why Followers of Jesus Believe the Bible…

A few weeks ago I was out to dinner with three other pastors, and we got to talking about how Jesus proves that there is life after death. The Lord was arguing with the Sadducees (who said there isn’t a resurrection), and Jesus brought them to that moment where Moses was at the burning bush, and God said, “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” Then Jesus said, “He is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” In other words, God didn’t say, “I was the God of Abraham…” (read all about in Mark 12)

And like theological nerds, we were delighting and laughing together about how Jesus hangs the entire argument for the resurrection on a Hebrew verb tense. Not “I was” but “I am”.

To paraphrase the Lord: “There, dummies, that proves it – people are still alive after they die,”

Pastor Tim Keller beautifully sums up what this means…

Tim Keller on why followers of Christ must believe the Bible is true…

“When you pricked Jesus Christ, when you stabbed Jesus Christ, he literally bled Scripture. He knew the Scripture so well, he thought about the Scripture so pervasively, it so saturated and permeated his whole being and his imagination and his feelings and his will and his knowledge that it shaped him instinctively. The Scripture shaped every part of him. It was who he was, and that’s how he was able. He didn’t have to sit and think, ‘Well, now how should I act?’ His nobility, his courage, his peace, his faith all happened because he was just saturated with the Scripture.

“I have people constantly saying to me, ‘Well, I have problems with the Bible. You can’t take the Bible literally here.’ Some of you might know I just went to a number of college campuses over the last few days, and I had Question and Answer times on all these campuses about Christianity. That came up all the time. ‘How can you believe when the Bible says this? Aren’t there legends in the Bible? Aren’t there things you can’t take literally? Aren’t there regressive things in the Bible that really offend you now?’

“What I always want to say to people is, ‘Do you believe Jesus is the Son of God? Do you believe Jesus was Lord of heaven come to earth? Do you believe he was raised from the dead? Figure that out, would you? You decide whether he’s the Son of God. You decide whether he was Lord from heaven. You decide whether he was bodily raised from the dead, because if he is, there is absolutely no way to follow Christ, to admit he’s the Son of God, without accepting the authority of the Bible. Jesus Christ submitted to the Scripture. He loved the Scripture. He knew the Scripture. He bowed to the authority of it at every point. If he is the Son of God, so are you going to have to.’

“Anybody who says, ‘Well, I believe in Jesus. I love Jesus, but I have trouble with these parts of the Bible,’ then you don’t believe in Jesus. You don’t love Jesus. You don’t know who he is. You’ve created a figment of your imagination. If he’s the Son of God, you have to deal with the authority of the Scripture, or you can’t follow him. If you love the Son of God, you have to love the Scripture, because he loved the Scripture. It’s what he was made of.

“On the other hand, if he wasn’t the Son of God and he wasn’t raised from the dead, who cares whether you can take the Bible literally? Be offended all you want. Why are you struggling with it? The authority of the Scripture rises and falls with the person of Jesus Christ. If he is who he said he is and if he needed the Scripture to face everything in life, how much more do you need it?”

– Keller, T. J. (2013). The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive. New York City: Redeemer Presbyterian Church. (Keller’s sermon on John 19:28-37)

Jesus said to them, “Is this not the reason you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God? Mark 12:24 (ESV)

 
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Posted by on March 23, 2018 in Bible, Uncategorized

 

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What Rob Bell Has in Common with Jonah

pexels-photo-534204Old Testament prophet Jonah has always been a strange one to me.

First of all, if I were called to preach to the capital of a wicked kingdom like Assyria, I might be a little nervous about the reception I would receive, but I think I would be fired up. You know, the chance to be used by God, to see him move mightily, etc. Yet Jonah receives a call to preach in Nineveh, and famously turns the other way. Strange.

We find out why as we read the short book. Jonah is ticked off that God would even consider forgiving this wicked, war-faring people. Even at the end of the book, Jonah is still mad at God for being merciful. And Yahweh is still reasoning with him…

“Should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left…?” Jonah 4:11 (ESV)

Jonah’s behavior seems strange to us in the west, but I imagine many of his fellow Israelites would have patted him on the back for at least trying to get away from such a “horrible” mission.

You see, Jonah’s problem is our problem: culture. We imagine we know how God should be, but our picture of him is too easily derived from our culture. Jonah was middle-eastern, and in the culture of the Ancient Near East, forgiving your enemies was a particularly hard pill to swallow.

Rob Bell, modern day Jonah…in reverse

Which brings us to Rob Bell, a modern day Jonah…in reverse. In rejecting Hell, Mr. Bell has discerned exactly how God should be, yet his picture of God is not derived from the Scriptures, though he captures some unwitting folks by talking a lot about being a disciple of Jesus and throwing a Bible verse in here and there. But in fact, nobody spoke more about Hell in the Bible than Jesus, and Rob Bell’s picture of God is direct from modern-day western culture.

So where Jonah speaks to God of a wicked people, “I can’t believe you would forgive them,” Rob Bell says, “I can’t believe you wouldn’t.” Either way, it’s the same basic error – a refusal to accept God as he is in his word.

The Lesson

The application for us is simple: don’t trust your gut. When Scripture speaks, trust it instead. Otherwise you will end up with a god of your own making, and the relationship you think you have with the true God will be a mirage. For the Scriptures tell us that Yahweh is indeed a forgiving God; his forgiveness, however, comes at a price, which he paid for Old and New Testament saints…at Calvary.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. Proverbs 3:5 (ESV)

 
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Posted by on February 8, 2018 in Uncategorized

 

On Christian Athletes Giving Glory to God

ben-hershey-417746After the incredible Super Bowl game Sunday night, we watched the presentation of the Lombardi trophy to the joyous Philadelphia Eagles. And then it happened – one after another, first the Head Coach, Doug Pederson, then the player making a clutch touchdown catch, Zach Ertz, and then finally the MVP quarterback, Nick Foles…all made mention of God in their acceptance of the accolades. From their Wikipedia articles, all three seem to be Christians.

“Bringing God” into a sports win irks a lot of people.

For instance, William Baker, author of Playing with God, says, “I don’t think it’s the right place and it’s not the right gesture. It’s an athlete using a moment to sell a product, like soap.”

I see what he’s saying, but in fact, I think that Mr. Baker is misunderstanding a truth about life and Christianity that the three sports heroes all seemed to understand on Sunday night.

Of course, I don’t know Pederson, Ertz, and Foles at all and therefore can’t speak for them, but if their thinking is anything like mine, they didn’t speak up because they felt God loved and helped them more than the Patriots. I imagine they are smart men and wouldn’t be so foolish. Surely there are many Patriot players who follow Christ also.

And it may be that the winning three were trying to “witness” for Christ, to “sell soap” as Baker might crassly put it; but I kind of doubt that too.

Instead, on Sunday night, Pederson, Ertz and Foles spoke up because they realized the great truth of the universe: that everything is about God…and His Son Jesus Christ. Everything. Indeed, all of human existence revolves around Christ.

The Apostle Paul wrote,

(Christ) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities– all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

Colossians 1:15-17 (ESV)

Christians know that “all things were created…for him”. Therefore, he is the purpose and center of everything. And more than that, “in him all things hold together”, even frail football players.

So in their moment of victory, I doubt the three Eagles were imagining God a Philadelphia fan. And I doubt they were thinking that their testimony would cause the world to fall on its knees.

They were simply remembering that day is coming. And they were themselves…kneeling a little early…

…at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:10, 11 (ESV)

 

 

 

One Thing is Necessary…

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:38-42 (ESV)

Busy. Distracted….with a cluttered life full of activities that are not of ultimate importance. It’s easy to find ourselves in this situation, especially at Christmas, but the cluttered life happens all year round. Just ask Martha.

Jesus taught that there was one thing necessary in life, because if this one thing happens, everything else falls into place. Mary chose “the good portion”, undistracted time sitting at Jesus’ feet. Martha chose…something else.

We’re always choosing in life. It’s one decision after another, and sadly, C.S. Lewis said that many people will come to the end of life and say, “I now see that I spent most of my life in doing neither what I ought nor what I liked.”

Sitting at Jesus’ feet day after day guarantees that these mournful words will not be our last.

So, a New Year approaches to sit at his feet and hear his voice. I hope you won’t wait for January 1; enjoy him in his word today, but New Year’s Day is a fine time to begin a new Bible reading program. To that end, here are some options…

This is the classic Navigator through-the-Bible reading plan – only 25 days of each month have a reading, giving you plenty of mulligans all year long…

The Navigator’s Discipleship Journal Bible Reading Plan

The next is very popular; it’s also for the ambitious who want to do the Old Testament once and the Psalms and New Testament twice. My old seminary professor D.A. Carson has written a couple of devotionals to go along with it…

Robert Murray M‘Cheyne’s Bible Reading Plan

Finally, if you’re just getting started, consider a plan that will simply take you through the New Testament next year. The Navigators come through for us again with this one…

Read the New Testament Plan

Lastly, a tried and true method is to open your Bible and work through a book at a time, marking off chapters you have read. It’s simple…but not time sensitive and it gives you the freedom to go at your own pace and study what you like.

Whatever plan you choose, you will be, like Mary, walking in the words of our Heavenly Father: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” Matthew 17:5 (ESV)

 
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Posted by on December 18, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

Thinking About Your Smart Phone Habits

“What I am coming to understand is that this impulse to pull the lever of a random slot machine of viral content is the age-old tactic of Satan. C.S. Lewis called it the ‘Nothing’ strategy in his Screwtape Letters. It is the strategy that eventually leaves a man at the end of his life looking back in lament: ‘I now see that I spent most of my life in doing neither what I ought nor what I liked.’”

“This ‘Nothing’ strategy is ‘very strong: strong enough to steal away a man’s best years, not in sweet sins, but in a dreary flickering of the mind over it knows not what and knows not why, in the gratification of curiosities so feeble that the man is only half aware of them . .  .’ Reinke, Tony. 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You (p. 191). Crossway. Kindle Edition.

This past weekend at Edgewood we offered the third in our series, Uncluttered: Let Every Heart Prepare Him Room…and we talked about what it means to be uncluttered in our use of phones and computers, etc. As a follow-up, I thought it would be good to offer some tools to think through your smart phone/computer/social media habits. Tony Reinke compiles a few different lists of questions to ask yourself or others for just this purpose.

So…if you like, using these lists, take an hour or so before God to think about this area of your life. How are you doing? What, if anything, should change? You might pray the prayer of David in Psalm 139:

Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! Psalm 139:23-24 (ESV)

If you have students in your home with smart phones, consider scheduling an hour together to talk about computer and phone usage.

May God protect us from Satan’s “nothing” strategy, from saying at the end of our lives: “I now see that I spent most of my life in doing neither what I ought nor what I liked.”

 

12 Smartphone boundaries to consider…

1.   Turn off all nonessential push notifications.

2.   Delete expired, nonessential, and time-wasting apps.

3.   At night, keep your phone out of the bedroom.

4.   Use a real alarm clock, not your phone alarm, to keep the phone out of your hands in the morning.

5.   Guard your morning disciplines and evening sleep patterns by using phone settings to mute notifications between one hour before bedtime to a time when you can reasonably expect to be finished with personal disciplines in the morning (9 p.m. to 7 a.m. for me).

6.   Use self-restricting apps to help limit your smartphone functions and the amount of time you invest in various platforms.

7.   Recognize that much of what you respond to quickly can wait. Respond at a later, more convenient time.

8.   Even if you need to read emails on your smartphone, use strategic points during the day to respond to emails at a computer (thirty minutes each at 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. for me).

9.   Invite your spouse, your friends, and your family members to offer feedback on your phone habits (more than 70 percent of Christians in my survey said nobody else knew how much time they spent online).

10.   When eating with your family members or friends, leave your phone out of sight.

11.   When spending time with family members or friends, or when you are at church, leave your phone in a drawer or in your car, or simply power it off.

12.   At strategic moments in life, digitally detox your life and recalibrate your ultimate priorities. Step away from social media for frequent strategic stoppages (each morning), digital Sabbaths (one day offline each week), and digital sabbaticals (two two-week stoppages each year).

Reinke, Tony. 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You (p. 200). Crossway. Kindle Edition.

10 diagnostic questions to ask in the digital age…

1.   Do my smartphone habits expose an underlying addiction to untimely amusements?

2.   Do my smartphone habits reveal a compulsive desire to be seen and affirmed?

3.   Do my smartphone habits distract me from genuine communion with God?

4.   Do my smartphone habits provide an easy escape from sobered thinking about my death, the return of Christ, and eternal realities?

5.   Do my smartphone habits preoccupy me with the pursuit of worldly success?

6.   Do my smartphone habits mute the sporadic leading of God’s Spirit in my life?

7.   Do my smartphone habits preoccupy me with dating and romance?

8.   Do my smartphone habits build up Christians and my local church?

9.   Do my smartphone habits center on what is necessary to me and beneficial to others?

10.   Do my smartphone habits disengage me from the needs of the neighbors God has placed right in front of me?

Reinke, Tony. 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You (p. 52). Crossway. Kindle Edition.

Questions to ask before you post…

  • Will this ultimately glorify me or God?
  • Will this stir or muffle healthy affections for Christ?
  • Will this merely document that I know something that others don’t?
  • Will this misrepresent me or is it authentic?
  • Will this potentially breed jealousy in others?
  • Will this fortify unity or stir up unnecessary division?
  • Will this build up or tear down? Will this heap guilt or relieve it?
  • Will this fuel lust for sin or warn against it?
  • Will this overpromise and instill false hopes in others?

Reinke, Tony. 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You (p. 107). Crossway. Kindle Edition.

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on December 14, 2017 in Uncategorized

 
 
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