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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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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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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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A Common Way People Miss Heaven

Most of us understand the investment idea of hedging your bets. It’s the old cliché about eggs and baskets. You don’t put all your money in one place. Financial gurus call this “diversification”. You diversify so that if one of your companies or stocks or mutual funds goes belly-up, you don’t lose it all. The importance of this has been sadly demonstrated in a negative way with people who have directed all their investments to the pension fund or stock of the company that employs them. When their company has fallen apart, not only did they lose their job, but because they were not diversified, they literally lost…everything.

But there is one place in life where diversification is actually the worst possible thing you can do, and yet people do it all the time. It’s in the area of the spiritual life. Here’s how it works: People come to understand the gospel, that eternal life comes through trusting in Christ’s work at the cross…but just in case, they make sure they do some other things. This is what the Galatians were doing with circumcision…

Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. Galatians 5:1-2 (ESV)

They were taught the gospel, that salvation comes by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, but the “circumcision party” or the “Judaizers” came in and taught them that they also needed to be circumcised. And this led to Paul’s stern warning above.

Today, this sort of thinking is one of the main ways people misunderstand the gospel and miss eternal life. For instance, someone says, “Well, I believe in Jesus – that’s the main thing, but I’m hedging my bets. I’m covering all the angles. So I’m going to be sure to get baptized, and I’m going to make sure to have my babies baptized, because some people say you do need that, and maybe they’re right, maybe you do need to be baptized to get into heaven.”

The refrain of these folks is this: “Just in case…”

Now of course, everyone who is a follower of Christ should be baptized and if you claim Christ and you haven’t been baptized, then you should make plans to do so out of loving obedience to the Lord Jesus (Matthew 28:19, 20), but not because you think that faith alone in Christ just might not be enough.

Many people today also trust in the act of taking communion. “I believe in Jesus,” these people would say, “but I’m also going to take communion because I believe this will ‘help’ me into heaven.” And a huge number of people believe in doing general good works as an aid to merit eternal life.

Now, does God want us to celebrate the saving cross of Christ through the Lord’s Table? Absolutely He does. And does he want us to love others and be “good”. Sure. But if you take communion in order to get into heaven, or if you go to church, or give financially, or help an old widow across the street in order to secure eternal life…then God says that Christ will be of no value to you. Refuting this kind of false thinking is so important to Paul that he says it again even more forcefully and clearly:

I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. Galatians 5:3, 4 (ESV)

Here Paul explains why hedging your bets in Christianity is so deadly, because in God’s eyes, you are either trusting in yourself, or trusting in Christ. You cannot do both. If the Galatians were to choose to be circumcised, then they were choosing to trust in themselves, in their own obedience to the law, and by doing so they were rejecting the way of justification and faith in Christ. And they were therefore obligated to keep the whole law.

Every. Last. Command.

So Paul says, put ALL your “stock” in Christ and reject trying to be justified by the law in any way whatsoever.

He is the one “investment” that will never go south.

For Monday, June 22nd: Galatians 6

 

 
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Posted by on June 19, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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The Trouble When CHRISTIANS Say There Are Many Ways to God

Most non-Christians consider it the height of arrogance when Christians claim that Jesus is the only way to heaven. Granted, on the surface I suppose it does seem awfully exclusive and even uncharitable to say that Jesus is the way and the only way to God. However, when people who consider themselves Christians affirm and accept other religions, I have a heart to show them that they are actually doing great damage and nullifying their own faith. Here’s why:

All other religions outside of Christianity have one thing in common – they are based partially or completely on works-righteousness, that is doing certain things or keeping some form of a law to attain whatever is their view of salvation. Only Christianity presents salvation totally by the grace of God: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9 (ESV)

Consider…

* Buddhists have the eight-fold path, and three paths among the eight are (according to Wikipedia) acting in a non-harmful way, speaking in a truthful and non-hurtful way, and making an effort to improve.

* Hindus are quite diverse, but according to at least one site I found, their way includes acts of devotion or worship, discrimination between truth and untruth, and the one most of us are familiar with – karma, that is doing things that cause the well-being of others, recognizing that our actions will come back to us.

* Muslims teach both the grace of Allah and works, for instance, in Surah 5:9… “Allah has promised those who believe and do righteous deeds [that] for them there is forgiveness and great reward.”  Muslims, therefore, like all other adherents to non-Christian religions, do not know whether they will attain paradise. There is always an element of doubt based on whether they have kept their form of the law.

So…here’s the problem: if other religions are saying that salvation is attainable only if some law is kept, and a “Christian” says that these are equal and valid methods of attaining salvation (provided one is “sincere”), that person is actually saying that Christ’s sacrifice was purposeless. At least that’s what Paul said in Galatians 2:21:

I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. (ESV)

This makes sense – if I can achieve salvation through the 8 fold path or praying 5 times a day or paying attention to karma – then, perish the thought, Christ’s work was foolish and useless, a sacrifice…for nothing. Why did He die if I could be reconciled to God some other way? Therefore, we can understand when non-believers denigrate Jesus’s claim to be the only way to God, but when someone who claims to be a Christian does so, I am forced to question whether they even understand the true meaning of the faith they claim to espouse.

For, in one sense, the thinking that all religions are equal and valid makes perfect sense if they are all really some form of the Golden Rule. But they are not. Christianity alone says that we are saved by God’s grace which comes to us through trusting in Christ’s death in our place at Calvary.

And therefore, every person who says that all religions are equal and valid is nullifying the grace of God…and blaspheming what Christ did as a purposeless waste.

God forbid.

 

For Wednesday, June 17th: Galatians 3

 
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Posted by on June 16, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Would you want to live the Christian life if there was no resurrection?

John Piper quotes a story about a monk who was asked a form of the question, “Would you want to live the Christian life even if it weren’t true, that is, if there were no resurrection?”

What would you say? Of course, the truth is that there are benefits to living a Christ centered life. You can avoid a lot of pain, some STDs to be sure. But still, really?

So that said, here is how the monk answered…

“Holiness, silence, and sacrifice are beautiful in themselves even without promise of reward. I still would have used my life well.”

Whatever you say, sir, but you’re living in a different world than me, and for that matter, a different world than the Apostle Paul. We happen to know how Paul would have answered that question…

If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. 1 Corinthians 15:19 (ESV)

Of course! Who in their right mind would choose this life if there were no resurrection? Not Paul! After all, look at his life – because of Christ, his existence had been incredibly, stupendously hard…

…far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?

What an incredible life, and what a painful one as well! So here’s the truth: if you are living as God would have it, you will have pain and suffering, hopefully not to the extent of Paul, but certainly to one extent or another, and more and more as our world rejects Biblical living and the Christians who espouse it. But it goes beyond sexuality. You see, even if you are not confronting people in their sin (which, of course, brings pain) Paul said we are still the smell of death to those who are perishing.  And you know what people do with bad smells. Moreover, God often asks his children to do difficult things…for Him.

You see, the Christian life was never designed to make us comfortable, and we do well to remember this. For, as the author John White said once so memorably in his book, The Cost of Commitment…”For Christ did not call you to suburbia and a mortgage, but to a gibbet (a cross) and a crown of glory.”

 

For Thursday, June 11th: 2 Corinthians 12

 

 
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Posted by on June 10, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Christianity vs. Feminism and Everything Else

One of the great testimonies to the truth of our faith is the fact that it works. I don’t like the way that sounds, but I won’t edit it. It’s pragmatism, but only, I hope, in the best sense.

I am 48 years old. I have been a Christian for 30 of those years; I celebrated my spiritual “birthday” on August 15th of last year. I bring this up to point out the fact that I now have a relatively long history of watching my own life and watching the lives of others from the vantage point of Christianity.

Here’s what I mean: Many times I have failed to obey Christ. His Word has beckoned me to live a certain way, to do a certain thing, and I have not heeded that way. And…like all other Christians, I have had my share of successes too – those times when I have heeded His Word, or, in the words of the West Point cadet prayer, “(chosen) the harder right instead of the easier wrong.” And over thirty years, I can unabashadly proclaim to a watching world that there is a blessing in following Christ (yes, even to a martyr’s death), and…not always, but often, there is great pain in disobeying Him.

a_4x-horizontal[1]I thought of this because this morning I read Denny Burk and considered a quote from feminist leader, Elizabeth Wurtzel.  If you don’t know, in 1994, Wurtzel published the megahit, Prozac Nation, and did so at the tender age of only 24.  As Burk states, “Wurtzel has spent the better part of her adult life living the feminist dream in New York City as a successful writer and Yale-educated attorney. Yet for all the fabulous accomplishments bedazzling her ‘fabulous’ life, she says this in a recent article for New York Magazine:”

It had all gone wrong. At long last, I had found myself vulnerable to the worst of New York City, because at 44 my life was not so different from the way it was at 24. Stubbornly and proudly, emphatically and pathetically, I had refused to grow up, and so I was becoming one of those people who refuses to grow up—one of the city’s Lost Boys. I was still subletting in Greenwich Village, instead of owning in Brooklyn Heights. I had loved everything about Yale Law School—especially the part where I graduated at 40—but I spent my life savings on an abiding interest, which is a lot to invest in curiosity. By never marrying, I ended up never divorcing, but I also failed to accumulate that brocade of civility and padlock of security—kids you do or don’t want, Tiffany silver you never use—that makes life complete. Convention serves a purpose: It gives life meaning, and without it, one is in a constant existential crisis. If you don’t have the imposition of family to remind you of what is at stake, something else will. I was alone in a lonely apartment with only a stalker to show for my accomplishments and my years.

I was amazed to discover that, according to The Atlantic, women still can’t have it all. Bah! Humbug! Women who have it all should try having nothing: I have no husband, no children, no real estate, no stocks, no bonds, no investments, no 401(k), no CDs, no IRAs, no emergency fund—I don’t even have a savings account. It’s not that I have not planned for the future; I have not planned for the present. I do have a royalty account, some decent skills, and, apparently, a lot of human capital. But because of choices I have made, wisely and idiotically, because I had principles or because I was crazy, I have no assets and no family. I have had the same friends since college, although as time has gone on, the daily nature of those relationships has changed, such that it is not daily at all. But then how many lost connections make up a life? There is my best friend from law school, too busy with her toddler; the people with whom I spent New Year’s in a Negril bungalow not so long ago, all lost to me now; every man who was the love of my life, just for today; roommates, officemates, classmates: For everyone who is near, there are others who are far gone.

Following Jesus…works.  Not following Him…doesn’t.  This truth is not only all over God’s word, but it is evident in the broken culture all around us as well.

 
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Posted by on January 8, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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