Monthly Archives: October 2015

Called by Name

1923800_20980323557_8421_n[1]Dad’s been gone for 6 years now, but I still remember how he used to say my name when he called me on the phone.

When I saw him day to day, I don’t ever remember him calling me “Roger.” It was always the shortened nickname, the same name he used when referring to his brother, his only sibling whom I’m named after, who was killed in World War 2. Dad always called me “Rog”.

But when he would call me on the phone, I think he felt he needed an extra syllable to get my attention. It was a sweet sound, Dad’s greeting, for it always began somewhat melodically.

“Hello,” I would answer.

“Ro-og” He would greet me, elongating the nickname, preserving the familiarity, saying hello.

“Hey Dad!”

I wonder if I ever noticed then, but I certainly thought of it after he was gone.

To this day, no one in the world says my name like that. I would love to hear that sound again. Someday I will.

The most moving scene in all of Scripture

Mary stands weeping outside the tomb. Her pain is deep; her hope is gone. On top of all that has happened, now it appears that someone has stolen the body of her Lord.

She peers into the grave, and there are two strange figures sitting where Jesus’s body had lain.

They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”  John 20:13 (ESV)

And then she turns around…and Jesus stands before her…but she is clueless. She thinks He is just the gardener, that this meddling man may be responsible for relocating the body. She has no category in her mind for resurrection.

“Tell me where you have lain him, and I will take him away.” And then, apparently, she turns away from him, perhaps not expecting an answer.

And then…”Mary”.

Or if you prefer, “Ro-og”. That’s how I imagine it, anyway, as if one day I picked up the phone and Dad was on the line…again. “Ro-og”. Can you also imagine…the one you loved so much, saying your name again?

And she knows. Nobody said her name like that. Nobody said her name like Jesus.

And so she turned around, “Rabboni!”

And one day, so shall He say your name. And one day, so shall those you love who have died in Him…say your name. Such is the reality of resurrection.

For Monday, November 2: John 21

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Posted by on October 30, 2015 in Uncategorized


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The Day No One Will Forget

The Best Day of Your Life

If you are a Christian, the best day of your life is coming:

…we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. 1 John 3:2 (ESV)

On this day you will see a vision, called the beatific vision by theologians, which will so fill you with joy that you will be transformed into His likeness. Indeed, even considering what this vision will do to you today is transforming:

And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. 1 John 3:3 (ESV)

The Worst Day of Your Life

Here’s the awful thing, though –  the unbeliever will also have a vision, the same vision of Christ. But in contrast, this vision will be the worst day of his life. Consider the soldiers who crucified Christ and then followed through with their attendant duties. John writes that there is coming a day in their lives which these men will remember through eternity:

And again another Scripture says, “They will look on him whom they have pierced.” John 19:37 (ESV)

Someday, those soldiers will see Jesus, and they will know. With all the gut-wrenching agony of regret and remorse, they will know that they tortured and killed the Son of God. And they will pay for it in eternity. But it’s not just them, as John writes in the last book of the Bible:

Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen. Revelation 1:7 (ESV)

Every eye will see Him, and there will be no middle ground. There will be no human being who will say after that day, “Ho hum. I don’t remember much about the first time I saw Jesus.” Not going to happen. You see, there are no part-time, “sorta, kinda” Christians. You’re in, or you’re out. You love Him, or you don’t.

On that day, there will only be two groups of people – those in total, rapturous joy….and those in total remorse and agony.

Which group will you be in?

For tomorrow, Friday, October 30th: John 20


Posted by on October 29, 2015 in Uncategorized


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The Mark of Foolish Religion

If you are looking for heavy irony, just say, “The trial of the Son of God.” What could be more ironic than putting God Himself on trial? But there was something else going on that night in the irony department:

Then they led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the governor’s headquarters. It was early morning. They themselves did not enter the governor’s headquarters, so that they would not be defiled, but could eat the Passover. John 18:28 (ESV)

The Jewish leaders were trying to kill God, but at the same time were worried about eating the Passover with clean hands. It’s enough to make you laugh, if it weren’t so sad. And Jesus Himself actually spoke to this sort of behavior once…

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel! Matthew 23:23-24 (ESV)

Legalism is the religion of fools. That’s what the religious leaders were on that night. So, one mark of a legalist is an inability to discern what really matters. They get all bent out of shape regarding minutiae, and they forget about love and justice and the glory of God.

So, what makes you mad? If I bring up sin, what do you think of right away? Jesus condemned all sin, to be sure, but He clearly seemed to think that some sins were worse than others.

Do you think your list matches up to His?

For Thursday, October 29th: John 19



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Posted by on October 28, 2015 in Uncategorized


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How to do Ministry

Give them the words of God. That’s how to do ministry.

Oh, I suppose there is more to it, but giving people the Word of God is the absolute basis of all ministry. It is the key. We know this because it’s how Jesus did ministry:

For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. John 17:8 (ESV)

And then later He said:

I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. (Joh 17:14 ESV)

And finally, He prayed the Word into them:

Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. John 17:17 (ESV)

This Word-centered ministry principle holds true whether you are thinking of corporate church ministry (preaching), ministry to your own kids (family devotions/bedtime reading), or one on one ministry (discipleship/mentoring):

  1. In the church, the Bible, not man’s ideas, must be preached. And it is wisest when the standard plan is preaching through a book or a larger section of Scripture. This way preachers will be less guilty of getting their own ideas and searching the Bible for support.
  2. In the family, even the dad or mom who doesn’t feel they know the Bible well, can simply read it to their kids. When they are small, reading a children’s Bible like The Jesus Storybook Bible is terrific, but then turning to an adult version can be done when they hit middle school. They won’t understand everything, and neither will you (or me!), but the fact is that for every time you scratch your head, there will be 10 truths that you and they will understand quite clearly…and the Word of God will do its work.
  3. In one-on-one mentoring, I think it was probably a Navigator (specialists in this kind of ministry) who once told me what to do whenever I met with someone for mentoring and discipleship. He said to do two simple things: 1) share the Word, maybe a verse you read in a recent quiet time, or a biblical truth you heard in a sermon, and 2) pray for them.
It worked for Jesus. It might just work for us too.

For Wednesday, October 28th: John 18


Posted by on October 27, 2015 in Uncategorized


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Why God Answers Our Prayers

There is really only one reason that God answers our prayers. Christians are easily confused about this.

Many believers think that if they have a good day, if they treat their co-workers well, if they don’t kick the dog, and if they for the most part obey God, then they can pray. The better they are, therefore, the more their prayers will be answered. But it never works this way. Never.

This thinking is commonplace: Jesus said that the Gentiles thought this way…

And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Matthew 6:7 (ESV)

Maybe it wasn’t their many good deeds, but it was their many words. No matter, it’s the same thing. They thought they would be heard because they talked a lot; we think we will be heard because we do a lot. We may be saved by grace, but we get our prayers answered through works. However, the Lord teaches that there is only one reason that God answers our prayers, and that reason is the name we call God: Father.

That’s how Jesus taught his disciples to pray:

“Pray then like this: ‘Our Father in heaven…'” Matthew 6:9 (ESV)

You parents, what would you think if your child thought he needed to do a number of chores to get a hug and a kiss from you? That would be awful. Terrible. The truth is that if you are normal, you want to give hugs, kisses and even stuff to your kids. It seems natural to me that we are tempted to spoil our kids. We are wise to hold back on this, of course, but it seems like the desire to bless them is the mark of a healthy parent-child relationship:

If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! Matthew 7:11 (ESV)

And so we see this same dynamic happening in John 16. Here Jesus is explaining that the key to having our prayers answered is knowing God as Father, and the only way we can know God in this way…is through His Son:

Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. John 16:23-24 (ESV)

We have no hope of salvation apart from Christ. We have no hope of answered prayers apart from Him either, but in Him, apparently…whatever we ask, our Father will give it to us.

For Tuesday, October 27th: John 17


Posted by on October 26, 2015 in Uncategorized


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The One Thing You Must Know To Be A Mature Christian

I’m not a botanist (though I enjoyed the recent movie that starred a guy who played one – The Martian), but I know something about plants and trees: I know how to tell when they are mature. This past weekend, for instance, we went apple-picking at the Little Farmer north of Fond du Lac, and I know the trees were mature because I picked and ate their fruit. That’s maturity. When a tree bears fruit, it’s mature.

And so it is with Christians. The Christian who is mature is the one who bears fruit.

Now, this fruit can be of the character variety – of course, I’m thinking of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22, 23 – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, etc.), or it can be of the service variety (evangelism, discipleship – i.e. using your spiritual gift). But you can tell the mature Christian when both of these are happening.

But how do you become a mature Christian? Well, here is where many Christians go afoul, because many don’t realize that the first step to maturity is understanding something. In other words, you have to know something if you want to be mature. It’s a fact that you must grasp, and not just in your head, but also in your heart.  Now, of course, the key to bearing fruit is abiding in Christ, but that’s not the fact I’m talking about. Many Christians know that they must abide in Christ, spending time in His Word and prayer, meditating on the gospel, church attendance, fellowship, etc., but they have trouble doing it.

Many Christians know they must abide in Christ but they don’t do it, and the reason is that they are missing a foundational truth. Consider this…

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:4-5 (ESV)

How much can you do apart from Christ? Nothing…not a thing.

Here’s the point – if you are not convinced of this one truth, that apart from Christ you can do nothing, then you will not pray, or read His word, or preach the gospel to yourself or go to church regularly. Of course, you will try to do these things, and you will make commitments and New Year’s resolutions, but it will all end in failure because you are not convinced…that you must.

You don’t know that you can’t.

This is why so many Christians fail to abide, because in the end, they just don’t think they need to. Thus they fail to bear real fruit and thus they fail to become mature,  So here is the greatest truth a Christian can know: You are absolutely unable. Meditate on that for a month and see what happens. Really. After all, you had to know this to become a Christian, that you were unable to qualify for heaven on your own. And now, not surprisingly, you have to know this to live the Christian life.

Apart from Jesus…you can do nothing.

For Monday, October 26th: John 16


Posted by on October 23, 2015 in Uncategorized


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Why Jesus Said You Should Not Be Afraid

The Old Testament commands us not to fear in many different ways, and not surprisingly, when we get to the New Testament, Jesus says the same thing. But His reasoning for not being afraid seems new, and of course, helpful. After the foot washing episode, we read this at the start of John 14…

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me…” John 14:1 (ESV)

Many believers live day to day with troubled hearts, and I’ve been one of them too many times. So, what reason did Jesus give to not let our hearts be troubled? Keep reading…

In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. John 14:2-3 (ESV)

In these verses, we may be reading the greatest reason that we should be at peace, that we should not fear – Jesus is preparing a place for us in His Father’s house. In other words, there is a life after this life, and it will be good, and it will be with Him.

I don’t know what you’re facing today – perhaps a very difficult and baffling medical condition, maybe a financial predicament that seems insurmountable, maybe something that I can’t even imagine. Whatever your condition is, as Jesus speaks to these disciples, He speaks to all of us, “Let not your heart be troubled…I’m going to take you to heaven, where you will be with me.”

Critics, of course, are quick to call this “pie in the sky” thinking. So what – let them talk. As for me, since I know heaven is a real place and since I know that Jesus is actually preparing a room for me…I call it the best news ever.

And reason enough not to let my heart be troubled.

For tomorrow, Friday, October 23rd: John 15





Posted by on October 22, 2015 in Uncategorized


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It’s A Dirty Job, But…

Batroom pic

The official bat room containing the actual model bats for all the great hitters in major league history. Until recently, only U.S. Presidents and Pro Ball players were allowed in.

I spent this past week in the Louisville area with a small number of other pastors and a man named Bob Russell. Bob was senior pastor of Southeast Christian Church for 40 years until he retired in 2008. Southeast is a megachurch (Kyle Idleman, author of Not A Fan is a pastor there now), one of the largest churches in the country – attendance around 22,000 – and when Bob retired, he determined he wanted to spend his remaining years mentoring other pastors.

It was one of the most wonderful weeks I’ve had in ministry, largely because Bob (along with another pastor named Ben and some other wonderful people) spent the week serving the nine of us pastors and caring for us in grand fashion. They taught us, they mentored us, they ate meals with us (one of which was Ruth’s Chris Steak house, surely the most expensive meal out I’ve ever eaten – I got the $53 Cowboy Ribeye, and I didn’t leave hungry), and they paid for it all, including of course, our stay at the beautiful Country Lake Christian retreat center. One day they took us bowling and after we bowled our first game, Bob said that they were going to give us a dollar for every pin we did better in the second game. (I racked up a whopping 90 in my first game, and money-motivated, hit 129 to follow. Yep, $39 to line my wallet.)

I came back refreshed and inspired, ready for the next season of ministry…and with a few new Facebook friends. What a blessing. And then I read John 13 today…

“Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. John 13:12-17 (ESV)

It’s interesting, the denomination known as the Church of God (among others) considers foot-washing an ordinance like communion. It’s an interesting point, and one they argue strongly on their website. However, we never see another instance of it in the New Testament, so maybe, maybe not. After all, Jesus spoke figuratively in other places. Either way, surely we can all agree that there is a greater truth here than a new ritual. Even if the Lord had a new ordinance in mind, He was really getting at something else.

Tearing up the lanes at the bowling alley...

Tearing up the lanes at the bowling alley…

He was telling us to serve one another.

And how we all need this from one another. I know I needed it this past week, but of course, I’m not alone. Jesus knew we would be worn out from seeking to serve and honor Him, and so He knew we would occasionally need our feet washed.

And so, one night, surely with the horrific cross in the forefront of His mind, He donned a towel and didn’t think of Himself, but thought of others.

And then He told us to do the same.


For tomorrow, Thursday, October 22nd: John 14


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Posted by on October 21, 2015 in Uncategorized


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Jesus Is Worth It

It was a dinner party not soon to be forgotten. Jesus had returned to the home of the three siblings, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. The setting was familiar – Martha did the serving, and Mary tended to Jesus, the same way it had been when Jesus had visited earlier (Luke 10:38 – 42). But the way Mary tended to Jesus this time was…extremely devoted. She took expensive perfume and cleaned his feet with it, and then wiped it off with her hair.

And John helps us to imagine actually being there, because he tells us that the house was filled with the smell of the perfume.

Of course, Judas was upset the money from the perfume could have been used for better purposes, that of serving the poor, but our narrator John told us that poor people were of no real concern to the betrayer…

He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it. John 12:6 (ESV)

So Judas’ motives were clear, but Jesus had something else to say at this point to the dark one…

Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.” John 12:7-8 (ESV)

It’s not a statement many modern people would make: the poor you will always have with you. It almost sounds downright uncaring, doesn’t it?  In other words, you can serve poor people anytime. They will always be around. And yet there is something more going on here, a contrast: of course, the poor are precious to God, but in a contrast between people and God Himself, there is no comparison. So Jesus is saying that what Mary did was good and right. To pour out this expensive perfume on Him was good…because He is worth it.

Jesus is worth it.

I’m reminded of the story of a single man who determined that he would sell his house and give away the proceeds to missions, but when he shared his plans with his small group…they talked him out of it. Now, I don’t know the details, so maybe that was right or wrong, but I think there is a sense that we should just be a little devoted to Christ. Don’t go all crazy in this Christianity business, people say. Don’t get all carried away. But I don’t think that is biblical. I think Jesus is fine with it when we get carried away for Him.

  • I know a man who really did sell it all and give it away. Praise God! Jesus is worth it.
  • There are single adults who have committed themselves to this lifestyle because they can more wholeheartedly serve Christ. Praise God! Jesus is worth it.
  • And of course there are multitudes of people who have said goodbye to this comfortable American culture to spend their lives overseas reaching the lost. Praise God! Jesus is worth it.

And whatever you can give Him will be too little, for He is worth it. He is worth everything.

For Wednesday, October 21st: John 13



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Posted by on October 20, 2015 in Uncategorized


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When Jesus Didn’t Come to Help

Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. John 11:5-6 (ESV)

The word that doesn’t make sense in these two verses is, “So…” In Greek, it is the word, oun, and it means, therefore, or accordingly. So let’s look at it again, and paraphrase, “Jesus loved…Lazarus, so when He heard Lazarus was sick, He didn’t go to him.”

That word “so” just doesn’t make sense in the context, unless you agree that sometimes it is better for us when God keeps His distance. But surely I’ve phrased that wrong, because “the nearness of God is my good.” (Psalm 73:28 NASB). So, in other words, sometimes it is better for us when God doesn’t seem to answer our prayers.

That’s very hard to believe, especially when you are Martha, or Mary (or Lazarus!) and you are desperately crying out for Jesus to come and help. And yet it’s true, for Scripture says, “Jesus loved them, so He didn’t come…”

So, where in your life is Jesus not seeming to come? Where are you desperately crying out to him for intervention, and yet hearing and seeing nothing happening?

Here’s the truth that the family of Lazarus would attest to: If you are one of His, then He loves you, and His plans for you, accordingly, are good. When it seems like He doesn’t care, or when He seems to come late, well, the truth is that He has a better plan for you than what you are asking for. You may have a very hard time seeing this, and you might have a harder time believing it, but Lazarus – the recipient of the most famous resurrection other than Jesus Himself – would say it was true.

For Tuesday, October 20th: John 12


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Posted by on October 19, 2015 in Uncategorized


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