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Author Archives: Roger Knowlton

The Immense Importance of Talking to Yourself During these Coronavirus Days

woman in black shirt facing mirror

Photo by Ivan Oboleninov on Pexels.com

Walking through these days of Covid-19, we are wise to follow the example of David in Psalm 116:7. He wrote…

Return, O my soul, to your rest;
for the LORD has dealt bountifully with you. (ESV)

In this beautiful moment recorded for all history, the shepherd-King David…is talking to himself. And his message to himself (his soul) is powerful: “God has dealt bountifully with you, soul, in the past, and so you can rest now. You need not be anxious now, soul! Look at God’s record of faithfulness to you. He has taken care of you in the past, and he will do so in the future.”

This verse alone is worthy of our meditation – it’s one I’ve got in my memory verse pack – trying to get it deep into my heart. I hope you will do the same.

But my point here today is broader than the hopeful truth in Psalm 116:7. We often struggle in life because we are our own worst enemy – we don’t talk to ourselves, instead we let “ourselves” talk to us.

It wasn’t just David who practiced the spiritual discipline of talking to himself – the Sons of Korah did as well:

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God. Psalm 42:5, 6 (ESV)

In one of the greatest Christian books ever written (that’s a recommendation if you didn’t notice), Spiritual Depression, Martyn Lloyd Jones wrote this applying the truth in Psalm 42…

“I say that we must talk to ourselves instead of allowing ‘ourselves’ to talk to us! Do you realize what that means? I suggest that the main trouble in this whole matter of spiritual depression in a sense is this, that we allow our self to talk to us instead of talking to our self. Am I just trying to be deliberately paradoxical? Far from it. This is the very essence of wisdom in this matter. Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself? Take those thoughts that come to you the moment you wake up in the morning. You have not originated them, but they start talking to you, they bring back the problems of yesterday, etc. Somebody is talking. Who is talking to you? Your self is talking to you.”

Lloyd-Jones, D. Martyn. Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cures (pp. 20-21). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

I have told the story a few times, but briefly, it was years ago in college that I struggled greatly with anxiety and obsessive thoughts. And it was this biblical truth of talking to myself which God used to transform me.

Many of us are struggling with fear and anxiety in these days. We have the promises of God. We have reason for great hope. Let’s begin to remind ourselves of God’s faithful provision in times past. Let’s begin to talk to ourselves instead of letting ourselves talk to us.

 
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Posted by on March 19, 2020 in Uncategorized

 

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Pastoral Prayer During the Pandemic

zac-durant-_6HzPU9Hyfg-unsplashPhoto by Zac Durant on Unsplash

I led the pastoral prayer this past weekend at Edgewood, and I have included it below for those who might be inclined to use it once or twice for personal prayer during these challenging times.

There are so many things to pray for these days. Yes, safety and health…of course. But in these unique days, many people are asking about eternity. That makes it a significant time for Kingdom work…and so we plead, “Hallowed be Thy name, Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done…”

Of late, I am enjoying a book of prayers in my own devotional life: Piercing Heaven, Prayers of the Puritans, edited by Robert Elmer. I find it helpful to read (and pray!) the prayers of others from the past. They help me to think outside of the box in my own praying, which if I’m not careful, can fall into ruts. You’ll note that the prayer below is itself based on that particular famous prayer taught by Jesus, along with various verses from around Scripture. Here’s to rut-free praying…

Our Father in heaven, we praise You today as the Sovereign God, Who rules in majesty and glory. You are the One to Whom Job finally said, “Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you?” So we too are of small account, and yet in our smallness, you have adopted us as your children. Oh, glory to your name! We worship You for your might – As Jeremiah said, “Ah Lord God, behold thou hast made the heavens and the earth by thy great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too difficult for thee.” And in Your might, You have worked a great salvation. We confess that You are mighty to save. And You have not only saved us, You have delighted in us, You have quieted us with Your love. You rejoice over us with loud singing. And so…we worship You.

And as we worship, we pray that others would worship You as well, so that Your name would be honored. The recent events in our world are causing billions of people to wonder at who or what they have been worshiping. Oh Lord, in Your wisdom, You have allowed this pandemic, and now, we pray that You would use it to bring multitudes to their knees in worship of You, the One True God. Use this pandemic to stem the rising tide in our culture of secularism and unbelief and apostasy. Many of us have for years been praying that loved ones would turn to you…would trust in You. O God, please, please, use these recent events to that end. Bring the prodigals home.

And cause us to do Your will. Cause us to speak Your Gospel word. Do not let us, Your chosen people, squander this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the Good news. Make us wise…and yet in our wisdom make us bold and daring. Your word tells us to be ready to give an answer to those who ask the reason for our hope. So first, Father, fill us with hope…where there is fear among us, push it out by the power of Your Spirit, and would You, the God of Hope, fill us with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of Your Holy Spirit, we would abound in hope. More hope, Father! Where there are those among us struggling with assurance of their salvation, fill them with an assurance from Your Holy Spirit, Father. Spirit, bear witness with their spirit that they are your children. Fill Edgewood Community church with hope so those around us will look to You!

Give us this day our daily bread. We ask of course, for health and protection during this crisis, and we ask in particular for protection for those most vulnerable among us. We ask for your protection of the seniors who call Edgewood home, and for the seniors not a part of our church but who are dearly loved by the people of our church. O God, protect. Keep safe those in our body with compromised immune systems. You have said, “You do not have, because you do not ask”…well, we’re asking. We’re asking. Protect the people of our church, Heavenly Father, and do it so that we can continue to serve and honor you with our lives.

And forgive us our sins. We confess that we are a sinful people. Born in iniquity. Conceived in sin. Purge us with hyssop and we will be clean. Wash us and we will be whiter than snow. Let us hear joy and gladness again. Let the bones that you have broken rejoice. Blot out all our iniquities and create in us, clean hearts…then we will teach transgressors your way, and sinners will return to you.

And lead us not into temptation, but lead us into holiness…and God, protect us from the evil one. He has plans…Thwart them. He has schemes…Frustrate them. Counter them. And protect us from him and his minions.

For thine is the Kingdom and the power and the glory, for ever and ever, Amen.

 
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Posted by on March 16, 2020 in Uncategorized

 

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How to Know You are Going to Heaven

jason-blackeye-ap3LXI0fPJY-unsplashPhoto by Jason Blackeye on Unsplash

These are unprecedented times. The deadly virus, COVID-19, is sweeping the globe, leading many to wonder (and fear) where they will spend eternity. Now, thankfully, the percentages of those who get the virus and subsequently die are very low, but even a low probability of death “concentrates (the) mind wonderfully” (Samuel Johnson). Jesus used the examples of natural disasters and brutal killings to teach his disciples to prepare for the inevitable (Luke 13:1-5). Do you know with certainty where you will be after you die? The Bible says you can know.

Life After Death?

To be sure, some people say that when you die, you are just gone. “My candle will go out. Poof. I won’t know it…and therefore it won’t bother me. I’ll just become fertilizer for some future tree. No problem.” But most of us know that such bluster doesn’t pass the smell test – the idea of being separated from everything and everyone you have ever loved is horribly frightening, to say the least. Yet the idea is more than just unpalatable – Christianity says that it is wrong…for one reason: Jesus himself died and came back to life. This was the Apostle Paul’s testimony:

…he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 1 Corinthians 15:5 – 8* 

The argument is sweet and simple: if Jesus is alive, then there truly is life after death. Listen to Eugene Peterson’s delightful translation of 1 Corinthians 15:19, 20…If all we get out of Christ is a little inspiration for a few short years, we’re a pretty sorry lot. But the truth is that Christ has been raised up, the first in a long legacy of those who are going to leave the cemeteries.

But…How to Know?

Jesus left his cemetery, and Scripture assures us that Christians will one day leave theirs…temporary residents only. Life after death is not pie in the sky, but real. But how can you know that you are truly a Christian?

Well, first, the Bible says we have a problem that must be dealt with called sin. But many people misunderstand sin. Francis Spufford helpfully calls it “the human propensity to (mess) things up.” He writes:

“…what we’re talking about here is not just our tendency to lurch and stumble and screw up by accident…It’s our active inclination to break stuff…promises, relationships we care about, and our own well-being and other people’s…we are truly cruel as well as truly tender, truly loving and at the same time truly likely to take a quick nasty little pleasure in wasting or breaking love,”– Spufford, Francis. Unapologetic, HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

And when we break things, when we screw up relationships and hurt those we love the most with our creative unkindness, those of us who are honest know we have a problem in our hearts, a darkness deep within, and that somehow or another, we should pay for what we’ve done.

We are right. And what Scripture teaches is that though Jesus Christ himself never sinned, when he died on the cross, he died in our place, taking the punishment for our sins. The Apostle Paul writes: For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures. Christ died for our sins – that’s the key phrase…and the heart of Christianity. In contrast, most people think Christianity is about trying to be a good person. But how wrong they are!

No One is Good Enough to Go to Heaven

Scripture, after all, tells us that no one is a “good person”: None is righteous, no, not one. No one understands. No one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless. No one does good, not even one…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:10-12, 23)

With this in mind, listen closely: it is the idea that you can be good enough to go to heaven that you must firmly reject. Even many religious people never understand this, and thus never become true Christians.

Therefore, you must come to see that it is your sin which keeps you from God, and that no amount of goodness on your part will ever be enough to earn God’s favor. (Ephesians 2:8, 9; Titus 3:5) The idea that you can be good enough to go to heaven, either by going to church or by participating in the sacraments, or by giving to charity, or by being kind to those who are unkind, or simply by being a “nice” person…that idea is pride, and is itself a sin. And Jesus said, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled.” (Matthew 23:12)

Confess Your Sins…and Be Once and Forever Totally Cleansed

So what do you do? Well, to go to heaven you must be forgiven, totally cleansed from all unrighteousness, all pride and unkindness, and everything other dark blot. As Jesus put it, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48) Admittedly, that sounds impossible, but as Jesus said, “With God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26)

John explains how it is possible: If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

The Apostle is not here arguing for a confession after every sin in your life, though there is certainly nothing wrong with that. Instead, here John is talking about a great one-time confession which will make you a true Christian once and forever.

Literally, confession means to agree. So…to become a true Christian, to be cleansed from all unrighteousness, first, tell God that you agree with Him, that you realize that you can never be good enough to spend eternity in his presence.

Then, tell God that you are sorry for all your sin. Agree with Him that you are a sinner, and tell Him that you desire to turn away from your sin in repentance, receiving Jesus as the Savior who has died in your place and rose again having defeated death forever.

What if I Sin Again?

You will indeed struggle against sin until you die. But once you have the Holy Spirit, you are a new creature (2 Corinthians 5:17), and you will find yourself with a new love for God and thus a desire to obey Him. You will now find yourself wanting to go to church to be with God’s people (Hebrews 10:24, 25), desiring to give to charity (Proverbs 11:25), working to love your enemies (Luke 6:27). But here’s the key, you will do these things because you have been forgiven, not in order to be forgiven. And many times, like me and every other Christian, you will come up short; you will be tempted and fall into sin. And yet because you have been made a new creature, you won’t slip in and out of salvation. You are His…forever.

And now, come what may, COVID-19, or anything else, you will know! YOU WILL KNOW! For…as the Apostle John says,

And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life. 1 John 5:11-13

 

*Scripture references are from the English Standard Version (ESV) unless otherwise noted.

 

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on March 14, 2020 in Uncategorized

 

The Faith of Aaron Rodgers

If you missed it recently, Packers QB Aaron Rodgers was interviewed by his girlfriend Danica Patrick for her podcast, and told his tale of leaving behind the Christian faith.

Photo by Dave Adamson on Unsplash

In the five minute segment I saw, Rodgers spoke of his upbringing in the church and delight in attending Young Life during high school, but how that early faith was pushed aside during college days as he met new folks (to include eventually the Dalai Lama) and found himself moving away from the simple “binary” faith of Christianity. You know, Christian and non-Christian, Heaven and Hell, light and dark, etc.

If the “binary” term is new to you, you should know that Rodgers (undoubtedly no intellectual slouch) was espousing postmodern theory. Postmodernists hold that binaries are exclusive (“Us four, no more”, “I’m in, you’re out”), and therefore bad…though that is a somewhat binary way to sum up their thinking, and therein lies the problem.

For all his attempts to be open and non-judgmental, it was hard to miss that Rodgers was nicely declaring his old faith passé, a fine point to make if it’s what you believe, but a little disingenuous if you are at the same time saying you are against binary thinking.

As Terry Eagleton writes in The Illusions of Postmodernism,

“For all its vaunted openness to the Other, postmodernism can be quite as exclusive and censorious as the orthodoxies it opposes…It is a thoroughly orthodox heterodoxy, which like any imaginary form of identity needs its bogeymen and straw targets in order to stay in business.”

Against being Against?

To put it plainly, there is a certain nonsense in declaring, as Rodgers did, that you are against being against things.

And Jesus (that guy who was either risen from the dead…or not) had no problem at all with binary thinking:

“Whoever believes in (Me) is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. John 3:18, 19 (ESV)

The Real Reason Rodgers Left…

Uncomfortably binary, I know, yet our Lord points to what is likely the real reason Aaron left behind his faith; and so, as for me, I’m praying that his thinking off the field will become as clear and lucid as it usually is…on.

https://www.yahoo.com/entertainment/aaron-rodgers-opens-religion-danica-200501823.html

 
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Posted by on January 24, 2020 in Uncategorized

 

Swinging Through Life with Annie Grace

Photo on Aug 31, 2018 at 4_41_47 PM

(Cheering for the Brew crew at Miller Park)

Our family’s 2009 sabbatical included a mid-July trip to Oxford, England, and the famed University of Oxford; but our visit to the world’s oldest English-speaking college (circa 1096) was tinged with frustration: the hallowed halls of the once academic home of C.S. Lewis were closed to us. Maybe it was because of summer and University inactivity, but among other disappointments, we couldn’t tour the great Bodleian Library; we only stared at it from the outside.

We did, however, have one hope of getting inside the institution. There was a portico along one street, with an open doorway where passersby could see into a grassy, quad-like area, apparently the interior of an Oxford college. Just to walk about briefly through an Oxford quad would complete the visit for me.

But did I mention the English security guard at the portico…and next to him, before the doorway, a velvet rope, hanging in a U between two standing poles, and barring my entrance into history?

No problem – I thought – just a brief, friendly conversation with the security man, and I’m sure he would let such a nice American family into the area for a quick peek. I approached him with a warm greeting. But…I hadn’t considered our youngest, Annie Grace. At 8 years of age, she had a mind of her own, and I had neglected to inform her of my careful plan.

While I was beginning my entreaty, Annie came from behind, marched boldly up to the velvet rope, swung it up and over her head, and continued striding in.

The rest of the Knowlton clan could only stand behind with mouths agape. And the security guard…like any good and proper Englishman…was aghast.

As you might imagine, only Annie saw any of the interior quad that day, and not that much before we could call her back.

Boldly striding forward, our Annie Grace turned 18 last Sunday.

Life with Annie…Annie Grace

So free, so joyous. So full of life. So much of a delight to all who know her.

Diane came to bed late Sunday (birthday) night, around 1 am, (Monday morning I suppose). Turns out she and Annie had been up discussing all manner of things, including the future. Well, whatever my daughter does in years to come, she’s got a lot to offer a needy world.

For instance, her innate creativity. It’s something to behold. (Just enjoy a game of “would you rather” with her, and you will see what I mean). Or look at her drawings and paintings…where she combines a minute attention to detail with artistic vision and flair, producing works that make me (yes, yes, I know, I’m her dad) wonder.

And then there is her empathy. The second commandment shines through in Annie’s faith. The least of these are the most to her.

So as Annie spins into the future and her high school senior year, she and I are grabbing lunches on Sunday after church, a time that worked for both of us. She’s busier than me nowadays – has been working full time this summer, and this fall will only get busier with school, piano, drama, dance, and even a boy. Yes, she’s got a boyfriend as of this summer, who seems like a great guy…so far.

I’m watching you, Zach.Annie and Zach

Anyway…Happy 18th Birthday, sweet Annie Grace.

Keep swinging past the ropes.

 
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Posted by on September 2, 2018 in Uncategorized

 

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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

 
 
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