All is Well

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Robert Louis Stevenson often told the vivid story of a harrowing storm at sea and a passenger ship that rode upon it.

One passenger, against orders, climbed the stairway to the main deck and found the pilot of the ship strapped to the wheel, fighting against the waves, unflinching and unyielding.

The pilot looked to the terror-stricken man and offered a reassuring smile. In the face of such grave danger, it was the oddest, yet most comforting display.

The lone passenger, whose own countenance had changed, returned below and immediately comforted the other passengers:

I have seen the face of the pilot and he smiled. All is well!”

All is indeed well, o soul tossed about and fearful. You’re focused on the high waves that lash against your vessel, but the One who pilots you along is smiling assuredly…

and the waves and wind still know His Name!

I’m adding a fitting benediction to this quick, encouraging post. Enjoy Kristene Dimarco’s soulful melody, “It Is Well” and rest safe in the belly of your storm-tossed ark today.

Selah.

Heaven Is For Real For The Broken

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In my years of ministry I’ve met and rubbed shoulders with some of our generation’s strongest influencers in evangelicalism.

I’ve shared a meaningful conversation with Joe Stowell, Moody’s president from 1987-2005, in a bathroom, just the two of us. I’ve bumped into Chuck Colson in a deserted foyer during a conference, away from the crowds. And I’ve also shared an empty hallway with D. James Kennedy.

Each of these encounters were unplanned, quick conversations, but intimate in their respective settings, and such brief episodes I’ll always hold dear.

For a season, a number of years ago, I had repeated ministry with Joni Tada, a personal hero and one whom I could call ‘friend’ in all the best ways. I led some of her family conferences for families with members having various disabilities, took phone calls from her, was a guest on her radio show, sang with her numerous times onstage and once even had the blessed privilege of feeding her lunch.

Over the course of years, my path led me to other ministry callings and, thus, out of touch with my friend, but I remain fully touched by her imprint on my life. Being in her presence was like sitting with one of the apostles, for me. Or what it might seem like to be in a room with Teresa of Avila or Madam Guyon. I’d never known such a devoted saint and heavenly-oriented soul.

Joni’s reflection on heaven is indicative of just how real it can be for the really broken. In Heaven: Your Real Home she writes:

I can scarcely believe it; I, with shrivelled, bent fingers, atrophied muscles, gnarled knees, and no feeling from the shoulders down, will one day have a new body, light, bright, and clothed in righteousness—powerful and dazzling.

Can you imagine the hope this gives someone spinal cord-injured like me? Or someone who is cerebral palsied, brain-injured, or who has multiple sclerosis? Imagine the hope this gives someone who is manic depressive.

No other religion, no other philosophy promises new bodies, hearts and minds. Only in the Gospel of Christ do hurting people find such incredible hope.
– Joni Earekson Tada, Heaven: Your Real Home

She tells of a Christian convention during which the speaker, at the close of the message, asked his audience to kneel for prayer. She looked on as each made the sacred gesture, but, of course she, being a quadriplegic, couldn’t do it herself. It was all too overwhelming and she couldn’t stop the tears from flowing.

Being brought up in a Reformed Episcopal Church, it was particularly hard as she’d been accustomed to kneeling for prayer.

Ah, but then her heart warmed as she remembered the promise of resurrection and restoration of all things, including bodies:

Sitting there, I was reminded that in heaven I will be free to jump, dance, kick and do aerobatics. And although I’m sure Jesus will be delighted to watch me rise on tiptoe, there’s something I plan to do that may please him more.

If possible, somewhere, sometime before the party gets going, sometime before the guests are called to the banquet table at the Wedding Feast of the Lamb, the first thing I plan to do on resurrection legs is to drop on grateful, glorified knees. I will quietly kneel at the feet of Jesus.

To not move will be my chance to demonstrate heartfelt thanks to the Lord for the grace He dispensed year after year when my hands and legs were limp and motionless. To not move will be my last chance to present a sacrifice of praise – paralyzed praise!
- Ibid.

My innermost being, broken and touched by the healing hands of Jesus, cries amen. This, too, is my strongest desire, oh Lord. I want to lie still before your Majesty on that day, just as my sister, that the Lamb would receive the reward of His suffering.

Selah, beloved, and Maranatha!

Oh, This Scripture! Smh…

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I read this passage today and found myself weeping in stunned disbelief for the mystery of God’s forgiving Love.

This is the wail of One who is on the verge of finally giving up on a relentlessly cheating spouse – when they’ve exhausted seemingly every avenue of restoring their broken relationship…

Except, not every avenue…

Hosea 11:8-9
How can I give you up, O Ephraim?
How can I hand you over, O Israel?
How can I make you like Admah*?
How can I treat you like Zeboiim?
My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender.

I will not execute my burning anger;
I will not again destroy Ephraim;
for I am God and not a man,
the Holy One in your midst,
and I will not come in wrath
.”

Smh…

It was like reading about it again, for the first time ever.

How can this be?

The Meta-Story:

How can God excuse the sinner…and still remain just and holy?

And the micro-story
How can a man or woman, with serially promiscuous spouse, keep forgiving and receiving their unfaithful mate back again, thus preserving the sacredness of their vows?

Which is the background of Hosea…

  • God loves nation.
  • Nation accepts His proposal.
  • Nation betrays covenant…again and again.
  • God forgives them…again and again.
  • Nation rebuffs love and prostitutes itself to more wicked nations.
  • God’s anger is aroused.
  • God intends to divorce His own.
  • Nation will lose everything in divorce.
  • God’s mercy is aroused.
  • God raises up a prophet to warn nation.
  • God tells prophet to marry a prostitute.
  • Hosea and Gomer are wed.
  • At first, there is bliss.
  • Gomer longs for other lovers.
  • She runs after them.
  • Hosea finds and forgives her.
  • Gomer runs off in time and enslaves herself to wicked lovers.
  • Hosea finds her in slave market.
  • He buys her back, though she is his bride.
  • God uses their story to show how His heart is broken again and again by His unfaithful people – and to what illogical lengths He’ll go to rescue them…

I invite you to read an equally befuddled scholar’s take on this passage. He makes a brave and insightful attempt at explaining the mystery by which sinner is excused and Divine holiness is still intact.

You can tell it leaves him shaking his head in wonderment also:

When God, in spite of sin, says, How can I give you up? My heart is stirred, My compassions are stirred, but I am holy; how can I give you up? and yet says, I will not give you up, I will not, I will not, we are in the presence of some possibility wholly of God. It must have been a great word for trembling and troubled hearts even then.

 “But our Bible does not end in Hosea. The name Hosea meant salvation. I do not know who named him. The father or mother, or both, in all probability; but they called that boy Hosea, a sob and sigh and song merging in a name. There came one in the fullness of time whose name was Jehovah and Hosea: Jesus. So in the fulness of time the gleams and glints of glory broke out into full manifestation; and we find out at last in Jesus, how God can be just and the justifier of the sinning soul.

“The way of accomplishment Hosea did not see. In communion with God he had learned facts about the divine nature which seemed to be conflicting, and he delivered his message and uttered the words; but at last he came, who is the brightness of the Father’s glory and the express image of his person, and in him I see how righteousness and peace meet together, and God can be just and the justifier. Through him the claims of justice which are against my soul are all met. Through him the glory of holiness is maintained; for his redemption of the human soul is not a pity that agrees to ignore sin; but a power that cancels it and sets it free from its dominion. Through him the loved one is regained, restored, renewed, and all the lights that flash and gleam upon the prophetic page, astonishing my soul, come into focused unity in Jesus. God says of you, of me, ‘How can I give thee up? I will not … I will not … I will not.’

“But how? ‘I am God and not man, I am the Holy One.’ Through Christ he has made the way by which sinning souls can be conformed to his image, his likeness, his will. The gospel is gleaming in Hosea. It is shining in full radiance in Christ.”

G. Campbell Morgan, Hosea: The Heart and Holiness of God, pp105–6.

Give thanks today, beloved. His love will discipline you when you stray, but His wrath will never find you. That’s because your Sinless Substitute – God Himself – took every ounce of the wrath meant for you, to its full and final dregs.

*Admah and Zeboiim were two cities destroyed with Sodom and Gomorrah. They picture swift and final destruction.

The Gospel: Hidden In Plain Sight

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Can you preach the Gospel from Old Testament scriptures? If you have eyes to see, you most certainly can!

Some months ago I was making my way through the poetic books when it suddenly dawned on me:

Together, they tell the Story!

When I wrote out the theme of each book – and stitched them together – this is the generous fabric it wove:

  • Ecclesiastes

  • – The Kingdom of this World

  • Song of Songs

  • – A Called-out Bride

  • Proverbs

  • – The Wisdom and Ways of God in the Kingdom of darkness

  • Psalms

  • – Finding Intimacy with God in the Wilderness

  • Job

  • – Blessed are the Overcomers

I’m baffled when I hear people say you can’t find the gospel in the Old Testament. One of the earliest places you can find the Gospel’s most prominent feature is way back in the frontleaf of Genesis’ record:

Genesis 3:15
I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.

This is the Good News that sits high and gleaming, all alone, atop the manure-pile of man’s reckoning due to his Fall.

Where else does the Gospel pose surreptitiously in the oldest record?

When Abraham offered up his son Isaac to Yahweh, he assured the ‘lad’ – who was actually around Jesus’ age when He was laid atop the wood – the LORD would provide a Sacrifice for their worship.

And then, just before the knife plunged into flesh, God stopped the ceremony and provided a Substitute: a male lamb “caught in the thorns.” The phrase reveals that the ram was ‘stretched out’ and pierced with thorns.

Sound familiar?

If you have eyes to see, the Gospel is riddled throughout the ancient record, hidden in plain sight.

Jesus said it was so:

Matthew 13:52 (JBP)
“…every one who knows the Law and becomes a disciple of the kingdom of Heaven is like a householder who can produce from his store both the new and the old.”

In laymen’s terms, the Savior said it is the Old that points to the greater revelation of Himself in the New.

“You can find pictures of Me back there,” He says, “and they’ll make you hunger to find the Real Me in the present.”

A few weeks ago, I shared with our ‘kids’ another place where the Divine Story is hidden in plain sight. It was so absolutely delightful watching their eyes light up when they began to see it!

The riddle was found, of all places, in a genealogy. This particular record can be located in Genesis 5.

Can you spot the Story of stories?

Let’s pick through the names…

…You know Adam, of course. His name means “Man”. More specifically, “mud-man.” Yup.

Then comes Cain and Abel. Well, Abel was murdered and Cain is a wash. But next in line comes “Seth” whose name means “Appointed”. Then Enosh (“mortal”). Following in line comes Kenan (“sorrow”) and Mahalalel (“the blessed God”).

Still with me?

Okay, who’s next? Oh yes: Jared, meaning “shall come down.”

Even though the previous names don’t ring a bell, you likely remember the next guy: Enoch. His name means “Teach” or “teaching”. The line is rounded out by Methuselah, Lamech and Noah (“his death shall bring”, “the despairing” and “rest”, respectively).

Some of you caught it, didn’t you? If you haven’t seen it yet, let me try it with this approach and then perhaps you can solve the puzzle:

Adam–Man
Seth–Appointed
Enosh–Mortal
Kenan–Sorrow
Mahalalel–The blessed God
Jared–Shall come down
Enoch–Teaching
Methuselah–His death shall bring
Lamech–The despairing
Noah–Rest

See it?

Yes you do.

The names. The Story is hidden among the names:

Man [was] appointed mortal sorrow but the Blessed God shall come down teaching and His death shall bring the despairing [His] Rest.

The story of stories, to be sure. And that’s not all…

Isn’t it wonderful that he put YOUR name in His story?

Comment cue:

Where else can you find the Gospel hidden among the ancient passages?

Sunday Podcast: When Your Life’s Put On Hold

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When Your Life’s Put On Hold: Meditations From Midian

(17m, 59s)

Exodus 2:15 (ESV)
Pharaoh…sought to kill Moses. But Moses fled from Pharaoh and stayed in the land of Midian. And he sat down by a well.

Today’s podcast features the middle section of Moses’ life, those 40 years of exile leading up to his momentous calling as a nation’s savior. He likely thought his relevance had passed, his significance on earth ended.

But this week’s episode tells us nothing could be further from the truth.

And God is not finished with you either, my brother or sister. Your Midian can be a refuge and haven if you’ll just keep your ears and eyes open…

 

I Can…Say Amen To Anything

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You know this verse, right?

You’ve used it, no doubt, many, many times.

It’s your go-to verse when you need a boost, your default scripture when life has gone all screwy balooey.

May I share a thought?

We misquote the hound out of this passage something fierce. We tend to use it to give us that extra oomph and inner and mental toughness to overcome a circumstance when it’s really about something else entirely.

It’s true context is

Contentment.

Let’s look at it again and I’ll add the verses that come just before it and right after. It’s a lengthy section so I’ll put it in a reliable and readable version – and even highlight/underline the verse so you can see how it fits in the thought-flow:

Philippians 4:10-20 (JB Phillips)
It has been a great joy to me that after all this time you have shown such interest in my welfare. I don’t mean that you had forgotten me, but up till now you had no opportunity of expressing your concern. Nor do I mean that I have been in actual need, for I have learned to be content, whatever the circumstances may be. I know now how to live when things are difficult and I know how to live when things are prosperous. In general and in particular I have learned the secret of facing either poverty or plenty. I am ready for anything through the strength of the one who lives within me. Nevertheless I am not disparaging the way in which you were willing to share my troubles. You Philippians will remember that in the early days of the Gospel when I left Macedonia, you were the only church who shared with me the fellowship of giving and receiving. Even in Thessalonica you twice sent me help when I was in need. It isn’t the value of the gift that I am keen on, it is the reward that will come to you because of these gifts that you have made. Now I have everything I want – in fact I am rich. Yes, I am quite content, thanks to your gifts received through Epaphroditus. Your generosity is like a lovely fragrance, a sacrifice that pleases the very heart of God. My God will supply all that you need from his glorious resources in Christ Jesus. And may glory be to our God and our Father for ever and ever, amen!

Pretty enlightening, huh?

Paul’s talking about provision – or lack thereof. He’s saying, in essence, it’s cool, whatever, amen, moving on. This is my story, this is my song.

Speaking of…

Fannie Crosby was blind since her birth, but never lost her song. In fact, she wrote over 8,000 of them in her lifetime and 100 million copies of them have been distributed since.

Only 8, she already learned the secret of living well:

Oh, what a happy soul am I!
Although I cannot see,
I am resolved that in this world, CONTENTED I will be.
How many blessings I enjoy,
that other people don’t.
To weep and sigh because I’m blind,
I cannot and I won’t!

Now I’m not saying you are forbidden to use Philippians 4:13 before a test, a football game, a speech, or in just facing another day.

But only in proper context.

What you’re saying is: I’ve done my part and I leave all the rest to God. You’re declaring that you will praise and thank Him, whatever the outcome. The rendering of “through Christ who strengthens me” in the original is:

Christ who fuses His strength to my own

If I flub the speech or we lose the game, amen. If I’m tested, tempted, tried and trounced today, so be it. I’m prepared, I’m ready, but nevertheless

Ah, there’s the word!

Jeremiah Burroughs said,

Though I have not outward comforts and worldly conveniences to supply my necessities, yet I have a sufficient portion between Christ and my soul abundantly to satisfy me in every condition.”

Likewise, Thomas à Kempis:

They who love Jesus for the sake of Jesus, and not for some special comfort of their own, bless him in all tribulation and anguish of heart, as well as in the state of highest comfort.

If this is your story, if this is your song, if you can say AMEN to anything…congratulations, you’ve learned the secret to a very blessed and prosperous life.

Selah, y’all.

Amen?

The 21 Books That Changed My Life

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Pay close attention to the title. This is not a list of books I think every Christian should read but books that changed me personally. These volumes challenged my thinking, moved me in the deep bowels of my soul and delivered huge payloads of revelation to my spirit. They changed the gait and pace – and at times direction – of my walk in Christ.

You’ll notice titles like Lewis’ Mere Christianity and Packer’s Knowing God are missing. And Augustine’s Confessions. Plus almost anything by Keller.

While these and a host of others deserve their own billing, I wanted to offer you a glimpse into the reason I am me. I am significantly made better by welcoming these books into my heart.

But remember, these 21 – as good as they each are – are all trumped by the holy scriptures, of course.

Just needed that out in the open.

So, that said, here’s my group, in no particular order of importance:

  1. God’s Smuggler
  2. Brother Andrew

  3. The Normal Christian Life
  4. Watchman Nee

  5. A Tale of Three Kings
  6. Gene Edwards

  7. Where Is God When It Hurts
  8. Philip Yancey

  9. Redeeming Love
  10. Francine Rivers

  11. The Gospel of the Kingdom
  12. George Eldon Ladd

  13. Make Haste, My Beloved
  14. Frances J. Roberts

  15. They Found the Secret
  16. V. Raymond Edman

  17. The Practice of the Presence of God
  18. Brother Lawrence

  19. The Word and Power Church
  20. Doug Banister

  21. Shepherding a Child’s Heart
  22. Ted Tripp

  23. Waking the Dead
  24. John Eldredge

  25. The Applause of Heaven
  26. Max Lucado

  27. Rees Howells: Intercessor
  28. Norman Grubb

  29. Improving Your Serve
  30. Chuck Swindoll

  31. A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23
  32. W. Phillip Keller

  33. The Normal Christian Birth
  34. David Pawson

  35. Trusting God: Even When Life Hurts
  36. Jerry Bridges

  37. Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire
  38. Jim Cymbala

  39. The Bush Is Still Burning
  40. Lloyd John Ogilvie

  41. Studies In the Sermon on the Mount
  42. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

I think it’s obvious what I’d like from you. I’ll make this easy: how about one, two or even three books that have challenged and changed you? I assure you, you’ll want to keep adding. My blog started as five, then ten, expanded to twenty and needed one final flourish.

See the box below?

Tell me some titles!