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Monthly Archives: March 2016

Death…Swallowed Up By Life

by Guest blogger…Josh Knowlton:

“…so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life…” 2 Cor. 5:4

The very definition of what it means to be mortal is that you have an end. Every mortal thing dies. Vanishes. Is swallowed by…death. For isn’t that what it is to be mortal? That one day, having lived your life, you too will pass away, just like the “flowers of the field”? (Psalm 103:15).

But Paul’s definition of mortality is radically different. What it is to be mortal, Paul states, is to be temporary—a tent. Mortality is merely a state—a phase transition through which one passes. Like the classical definition of mortality, there is still an end—but it might be more accurately described as a phase transition.

Mortality is not something we simply cast off at the end of our time. It is an undergarment that merely gives us a taste of what it is like to be fully clothed. At the end of time, those who have trusted in Christ will dress themselves in the complete garments of life—immortality. Thus, the undergarments of our existence, the tent in which we dwell is swallowed up by life, covered by more beautiful clothing than we could ever imagine—tent transformed into marvelous mansion.

Knowing this, how much differently should we treat people? Paul is simple and radical:

“From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh” —2 Cor. 5:16a

Eternal beings. Wandering around in a confused mortal world. We don’t belong here. So love one another like you’re going to spend eternity with them—because you are. Better start learning names now.

Scared? Don’t be. Christ will work through you. After all, the “Holy Spirit is our guarantee” (2 Cor. 5:5). Such a high calling is a challenge, but a challenge that we can and will meet, only with the power of Christ working through us.

 
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Posted by on March 29, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

The Field, the Barn, and the New Farmhand

It was the summer of 1985, and I was at a four week Navigator summer camp experience at a beautiful place called Camp Forest Springs. I had just heard a message by the state director of the Navigators, a man named Bill Tell. Bill said that while Jesus calls us to labor with Him in the fields which are white unto harvest, many Christians instead end up in the barn, doing many nice things…but not reaching the lost.

After the message that night, I got in a canoe alone and paddled across the lake. I found a little hut, went inside and got on my knees, committing myself to a lifetime of staying in the fields, proclaiming the good news to a lost world. Over the next few months, I wrote this story. I hope that the central message here will forever be the heartbeat of my life, and of our church.

“Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest.” John 4:35 (ESV)

I was called out to a farm one day.
I knew that I’d belong.
But when I arrived, from what I saw,
Something was surely wrong.
The crops were looking ripe that year;
It looked like a pretty good yield.
But you know what caught me by surprise
Was that so few were out in the field.
Now mind you it was mid-afternoon,
And there was lots of work to be done,
But I looked and looked for workers there,
And strangely I saw only one.
So I wandered over to talk to him;
He was reaping in the row.
He said, “Welcome to our farm, my friend.”
I said, “Where did all the workers go?”
“Well, they’re often in the barn,” he said.
“They’re always on a break.
But what they say confuses me,
That they’re in there for Jesus’ sake.”
So I thanked my friend and let him go.
As I left, he warned, “Take care.
If you go into the barn, you know,
They’ll try to keep you there.”
As I neared the barn I heard great noise,
And I knew that I was tardy.
For the sound I heard from in the barn,
Why it sounded like a party.
“Oh, joy of joys a new farmhand!”
They met me at the door.
I said, “Hold on a second friends.
What happened to the chore?”
“Well, we’re not so sure the harvest is ripe.”
They answered back to me.
“Yes, four more months now,” another group said.
“Oh, surely that’s the key.”
They said, “And we’re not mature enough yet.
We’ve got so far to go.”
I said, “Maturity comes in the field.
Do you really want to grow?”
“Our work in here is very important.”
Another bunch shouted my way.
“Besides we don’t have the right motivation,
To do field labor okay.”
“You’ve got to get in the spirit,” they said.
“Before you go out in the field.
We’ll get into the spirit first,
And then we’ll surely yield.”
“And there’s arrows flying around out there.
The unseen enemy lives.
Do you really want us to go and die?”
They asked me, “Friend, what gives?”
So I thought to myself, I quietly mulled.
I didn’t understand.
“We need more workers out there!” I cried.
“Can no one lend a hand?”
“While the harvest rots,” I spoke again.
"And no one sheds a tear.
Why, you’d never know so many were dying.
By what’s going on in here.”
Well the barn was quiet as quiet can be.
And no one there was phased.
I supposed I had asked for volunteers,
But not a single hand was raised.
I left the barn that very same day,
Though they asked me to hang around.
The work they do inside the barn,
It’s nothing like what I’ve found.
For by the grace of God I labor now,
With my friends out in the field.
Though the arrows fly and I’m wounded some,
I’m safe behind my shield.
For my shield is strong, a shield of faith.
And my sickle’s the sword of God’s word.
And the harvest a flock of sheep without shepherd
Of those who have never heard.
And the Spirit’s there, out in the field.
His presence comforts me.
And the Lord of the Harvest is out there too,
By my side He’ll always be.
And new folks come down the road some days,
All kinds they come, women and men.
Most go off to that place, I’m sorry to say
And are never seen again.
And the barn sits off in the distance now.
When I look there I want to cry.
Why do they all remain in the barn
When millions and millions die?
 
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Posted by on March 22, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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Why Do We Pray, Saying, “Who Art in Heaven”?

There is one part of the Lord’s Prayer that I never really understood. Not that I fully understand every part of what is the most glorious blueprint for prayer, mind you, but I never quite followed why Jesus wanted his disciples to pray, “…Who art in heaven.”

“Our Father…” I get the importance of that. As J.I. Packer once said, “The revelation to the believer that God is his Father is in a sense the climax of the Bible.” Amen.

“Hallowed be Thy Name…” I get that too. Oh, that I might live and die for this Name and the honor of it.

And so on…

But, “Who art in heaven,” this I didn’t understand. What is the importance of this thought? I know God is in heaven, but I also remember my Sunday school lessons from Kindergarten: God is everywhere. Theology for 5-year-olds or not, it’s still top-notch truth.

I had a clue, though. I had heard Tim Keller talk about this thought in conjunction with God’s power. I don’t remember what he said, exactly, but I started thinking that Keller was on to something, yet I didn’t know why.

So this past February, while on vacation in sunny and warm Texas, one morning I was sipping ice tea while sitting in this delightful hole-in-the-wall restaurant called Granny D’s. Anyway, I was journaling out my prayers as I sat at my booth, and when I got to “Who art in heaven,” I wrote spontaneously in praise, “You see all. You know all. He does whatever pleases Him!”

I was quoting a verse from the Psalms, but I didn’t know where. When I looked it up…I wrote it out, “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that He pleases.” Psalm 115:1 (ESV)

And here’s what I saw…when we speak of God as Father, we are to think of His love – that, I believe, is the great truth emanating from that name – He loves me. Yes, He is my God, but not only that – He is my Father! Hallelujah!!

But if God is only loving toward me, and not able to help me, then He is no more than a benevolent grandfather in the sky. So, in the next breath, Jesus is recalling glorious Psalm 115:3, moving us to remember that He is not only loving toward us, but also able to do all that pleases Him. He is able!

This happy truth is bringing joy to my daily time in the Lord’s Prayer. I now start my prayers remembering that God is my loving Father: “This I know, that God is for me.” Psalm 56:9 (ESV) Like a loving Father, He longs to do good to me.

But then, when I pray, “who art in heaven,” I also now remember His power. So not only does God desire to do good to me…He is gloriously able. Hallelujah! For my God is in heaven; He does whatever He pleases.

 
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Posted by on March 15, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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Ten Books I’m Reading (or Recently Read)

libraryWe’re redoing our church library and the pastoral staff was asked to compile a list of books we’re reading to make a nice section of recommendations for the church. Here’s what I came up with…

Knowing God by J.I. Packer

I read this for a Sunday school class back in my college days and recently started it over. It’s a classic for a reason, as Packer, an Anglican, provides a glorious overview of the Christian faith. The back cover is full of recommendations from a who’s who of 20th century Christianity. If you’ve never been exposed to this gem, don’t wait any longer.

Eat Move Sleep by Tom Rath

I “read” (listened to) this on our recent 6,100 mile road trip. Rath, the bestselling author of Strengthfinders 2.0, packs his book full of research based facts to motivate you to eat better, exercise more, and sleep well. It’s amazing how your quality of life improves as you put all three together. Each of the 30 chapters has a tip based on research regarding each of the three areas to help you be the best you can be.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

This Pulitzer-prize-winning book tells the tale of a father and son traveling south together in a post-apocalyptic world. So far, it is a lesson in loving a child, and McCarthy’s writing deserves the praise it receives.

Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus by Nabeel Qureshi

Diane and I listened to this testimonial whenever Annie was otherwise engaged on our big trip. It’s one of those books that manages to be informative and delightful all at once. Qureshi was raised in the west but in a devout Muslim family. The book takes a nice tone as he honors his parents and his childhood faith, giving us all reason to pause and wonder whether we are taking Christianity as seriously as his parents took Islam. If you want to understand what it means to leave the life of a Muslim to embrace Christ, start here.

Salt Sugar Fat by Michael Moss

Do you see a pattern? Yes, I’m thinking about health (which doesn’t necessarily mean I’m doing anything about it!) This book tells the story of how Americans have gained on average (I forget the statistic exactly) 25 lbs. over the last few decades. How? Two words: processed foods. If you are looking for motivation to put down the Cheetos and turn away from the lunchables, pop-tarts, and cold cuts, pick this one up.

Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan

Another “listen” on the road trip, but this one we played for all of us. And we loved it! It’s a novel for everyone, telling four different stories of four children and the various injustices they encounter and seek to overcome in life…and the music that helps them through. The author ties the stories together beautifully at the end. I had a serious lump in my throat. Read this one (or listen to it – a lovely musical score goes along with the audio version) with the whole family.

What is an Evangelical? by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Along with Seeking Allah…, I read this book in light of the recent controversy at Wheaton College (where Josh and Elisabeth attend). It was at this august Evangelical institution that a Political Science Professor said in December 2015 that Muslims and Christians worship the same God. They don’t…but that question has never received more attention than it did in the last few months. This is a short read, and Lloyd-Jones defines an evangelical in three chapters, recognizing that true Christianity exists outside of evangelicalism, but wisely pointing out that if you reject evangelicalism, you may be going to heaven, but you probably won’t take anyone with you. After all, the “Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:10) In Lloyd-Jones’ words, apart from an evangelical faith, Christianity loses its “converting influence.” I doubt he would consider the (now former) Wheaton professor to fill the bill.

Generous Justice by Timothy Keller

Redeemer church in Manhattan, pastored by Keller, is known not only as a church that proclaims the gospel, but as a fellowship that is “for the city”, caring for the “least of these”. Keller lays out the strong biblical case to be a people who live for the poor and needy and spread “shalom” wherever we go.

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

The sport of crew (a.k.a. rowing) takes center stage in this engrossing true tale of 9 college kids going for gold against Hitler’s best in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. I’m a sucker for a World War 2 story, and though this isn’t quite that, it’s close, and I delighted in the story. I’m not the only one. Though it was only published in 2013, it is one of the all time top twenty best-selling non-fiction books at Amazon.

Prayer by Timothy Keller

Those who know me well are not surprised to find two Keller books on this list. He’s a modern day C.S. Lewis, and if my layman predictions are right, he will still be read 100 years from now. If you want to give your prayer life a shot in the arm, apparently Timothy Keller practices what he preaches, and he is an faithful guide. His spirit throughout is humble and yet informative.

 

 

 
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Posted by on March 8, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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Abdul My Brother (or Super Tuesday thoughts on Immigration)…by Guest Blogger Josh Knowlton

Josh didn't have a picture with Abdul (not his real name), so a shot of him and his sisters will have to do.

Josh didn’t have a picture with Abdul (not his real name), so a shot of him and his sisters will have to do.

My son penned these thoughts a few weeks back, and I thought they might add some perceptive input to voting choices on Super Tuesday. Wise words to consider if you are casting your vote today…

A few months ago, my tutoring partner and I walked in to the apartment complex of Abdul and Mieh for the fifth time. It would be another long two hours. You see, part of the education for my major at Wheaton College includes weekly tutoring English to a newly arrived refugee family. Abdul and Mieh are the two we were tasked to help with.

Tutoring them is hard work—and it often feels fruitless. These two are both older than 70, from Iran, and speak almost zero English. In fairness to them, we speak even less Farsi. But in any case, basic communication is hard—and teaching is even more difficult. So we do all we can with pictures, symbols, and gestures.

But really, it’s so much more than teaching. My tutoring partner and I are probably the only two Americans Abdul and Mieh know, the only English speakers they can attempt to converse with.

Yet, I know basically nothing about them. Yes, they’re from Iran. But that’s about it. I don’t know why they left, why they came here. I don’t know how many kids they have. I don’t know their last name or birthday. I don’t know what they like to do, or anything about their past or their plans for the future. They’re Iranian for one, and they also seem to be Christian. Why? The small silver crucifix on the table seems to indicate that, as well as their nods and smiles when we mention the name “Jesus”. But it’s all anecdotal, and it’s hard to be sure.

In any case, Abdul has particularly captivated me. He is a bronzed-skinned, white haired man (with what’s left of his hair) with a round belly and almost toothless smile. He limps when he walks. Whenever possible, he tries cracking a joke by saying a word or laughing at something. His smile is contagious. I always laugh back.

But through the jokes and confusion of teaching English on Saturday, something Abdul said one Saturday really touched me. We were trying to explain the concept of brothers and sisters. I don’t think Mieh understood, but Abdul was catching on.

Suddenly, he turns to me and grins his irresistible open-toothed smile. “Me, you, brothers.” he hooked his two pointer fingers together like a chain link to emphasize. “Brothers.”

It took me a second to process what he was saying. Did he even know what brother meant? We had just taught it. And yet he seemed so sure!

And then my eyes watered up a bit and I realized just how powerful the Kingdom of God is. Two people—different in just about every conceivable way—age, marital status, ethnicity, nationality, culture, language—could be brothers through what Jesus Christ had done for both of us.

I answered back emphatically, “Yes Abdul, we are brothers.” I link my two fingers together, mirroring him— “we are brothers.”

Iranians and Syrians, and all Middle Easterners are either our brothers and sisters…or our potential family members. If the U.S. had not allowed these people in simply because of their nationality or their “otherness”, I would’ve never known the blessing of being in Christian brotherhood with Abdul—and he would’ve never known me.

The kingdom of God is so much bigger than we could ever imagine. It’s bigger than black and white, western and eastern, male and female. It’s bigger than communication ability, culture and language. And it’s far bigger than the “safe” American border too.

If we don’t welcome these people in simply because they need our help, let us welcome them in because they are of the Kingdom of God, or could be brought into his Kingdom. Nothing is more beautiful and glorious than seeing God’s community of grace expressed through the diversity of the nations.

 

 
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Posted by on March 1, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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