Archive for November, 2014

A SKEPTIC’S PRAYER

November 30, 2014

 

1.) FIRST THIS HAPPENS:

Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).

2.) IT LEADS TO THIS:

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

3.) AND RESULTS IN THIS:

…“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9).

4.) ABSENT #1 and #2, THE ONLY ALTERNATIVE IS THIS:

So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 13:49-50). And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched’ (Mark 9:47-8).

5.) IF YOU’RE NOT LIVING #2, DECEIVING YOURSELF ABOUT #3, AND TRYING TO  DENY #4, PRAY FOR #1. PERSIST TILL EFFICACIOUS:

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you (Matthew 7:7). All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out (John 6:37).

A SKEPTIC’S PRAYER:

God, if you are there, I just want you to know I don’t get it. John 3:16 sounds wonderful, but I can’t wrap my mind around it.  A few verses earlier you said I must be “born again” before I can see and understand such things, and that just blows my mind. I had no control over my first birth!

I’ve made so many mistakes in my life that a supernatural do-over certainly has appeal. If you are real, God, and nothing really is impossible for you, then open my eyes to your reality. I want to believe that Jesus was who he said he was, that he was crucified to save me (!) from my sins (?) because he loved me so much before I was even born, but that is beyond my comprehension. What manner of love is this? I want to be one of those “whoever’s” who sincerely  believe in your Son and have eternal life in that heavenly place with one who loves me that much, but you’re going to have to work a major transformation of my mind.

If belief in you is a gift from you, would you please give it to me? I come weary, loaded down with skepticism, a dearth of understanding, a gnawing, confusing emptiness somewhere deep inside, and stark terror at the thought that a fiery furnace in hell might be my eternal destiny. If you could remedy all this in some miraculous way, I would be forever grateful. Here am I. Change me.

Advertisements

A Review of Tim Keller’s new book on Prayer

November 8, 2014

Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God

I think it takes some courage for a reformed pastor/author to use the word “experiencing” in a book title. We “frozen chosen” conservative Presbyterians are known (infamously?) for our pride of doctrinal correctness, and we don’t want to be confused with Charismatics and Pentecostals. We are well aware of the dangers of “affections outrunning light” (John Owen), leading to superstition and mysticism. We strive to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, and we pray for grace to lead us to all knowledge of the breadth and depth and height of God’s electing love for us in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:39). We know that God is God and we are not, regardless of our state of mind, mood, or circumstances. We know that feelings are sinking sand as a foundation for salvation. We know that God is sovereign over whatsoever comes to pass, that there is not an aberrant atom anywhere, and we cannot talk him into anything that is not in his will, try as we might with our daily laundry list of petitions. We know the Holy Spirit of the Triune God dwells in us, even if we cannot scientifically explain how, but too often we do not bear the fruit of that miracle in this fallen world, nor do we pray to him in a manner that manifests that amazing grace showered daily upon us.

But Tim Keller can talk to me about “experiencing the awe and intimacy” of the King of Kings in prayer. He planted a church in the heart of New York City 25 years ago, perhaps the hardest ground in America to sow the seeds of the gospel, and today it has 5000 young members, with 250 more churches planted in cities around the world. A godly man with such an extraordinary harvest will have my attention on any subject he feels led to talk about between Genesis and Revelation. And no subject concerns me more than this one.

I have never been satisfied with the quality of my personal prayer life. My undisciplined mind wanders all over the place when I pray alone. I get so frustrated I start all over again. I’ve started all over again a greater percentage of the time than I will confess to anyone except God. My private daily prayers are a shopping list of what I want from God, and I’ve said them for so many years that they’ve become mindless mantras—mere yoga chants. I even shamefully confess that I recently caught myself praying for the salvation of a friend who died 5 years ago. God must listen to me and shake his head. If his grace had not convinced me he loves me infinitely anyway, I would have given up years ago.

Tim Keller’s book, in the providence of God, has given me another chance to get it right, after 71 years, and I am so optimistic and excited I feel like the kid who found the actual pony under the Christmas tree. The book has been a breakthrough for  me. It’s classic biblical exegesis—sound doctrinal teaching from scripture on prayer followed by nuts and bolts application that makes perfect sense, with large dollops of advice from those great titans of the faith, Augustine, Martin Luther, and John Calvin. I admit the lessons on prayer he relates from these three men of God were not new to me—I have read them all in their own words on that very subject, but Keller’s 21st century intellectual style was precisely on my wavelength all the way down to the second decimal place. His 25 years of experience communicating with brilliant skeptical (toward the things of God) minds in a city where only the best and brightest can make it, has paid dividends that will reward Christendom for ages to come, just like his mentors, Augustine, Luther and Calvin.

Far better minds than mine have reviewed this book, so go here to read an excellent one that coincides with my take on it. With the invention of the Kindle reader coinciding with my retirement a few years ago, and with the consequent availability of Puritan writings—my favorite—at a cost of anywhere from 99 cents to nothing, my consumption of great books has increased ten-fold. I think that Keller’s latest work will join the top tier of Christian classics, the best book yet from the pen of a man of God who has already written a number of great books. And here’s an interview, both manuscript and audio, with Keller on this book at John Piper’s website. Buy the book and be blessed… and your eternal soul will be grateful.

Our God reigns.

AN EXHORTATION AT THE FUNERAL OF HERB THE HORRIBLE

November 1, 2014

Sarasota, FL. Oct. 27, 2014. Thank you all for coming today, to share with us in the celebration of Herb Anderson’s life, and to share in our grief, and to worship together the living God who made us all, and numbered our days before the first one came to pass (Psalm 139:16). Let us seek comfort in the only place true comfort exists, in the innerant Word of God our Father and Jesus Christ His son, whom He sent to die on the cross for us, an act of incomprehensible love for sinners like us, so undeserving. And believing in Him and who He was and what He did for us, we might spend eternity with Him in the Mansions of our LORD. But my voice can only convey God’s eternal truth to the ear, the Holy Spirit must convey it from the ear to the heart. Please pray with me that He will do that very thing here in the next few minutes.

Holy Spirit, convey your truth to our hearts this day. Fall afresh on us. Work in our sad and grieving hearts that peace that passes all understanding. As we see up close and so painfully personally the reality of death that awaits us all, please open our eyes to your truth and our hearts to your infinite love beyond our deserving. Holy Spirit of the living God, fill our lives with love and gratitude…make us one in heart and mind, make us one in love; humble, caring, selfless, sharing. In Christ our Savior’s name we pray, Amen.

Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord (Job 1:21). The Lord gave us Herb, and the Lord has taken him away; blessed be the name of the Lord.

My earliest recollection of Herb was at age 12 at the Henderson Country Fair in western Illinois. The fair was the height of the summer social season for Midwestern farm boys—the sap-filled boys of summer. Herb often went home with the Grand Champion Trophy for his Hereford Steers. We got into a lot of mischief at the county fair. In fact we got into a lot of mischief throughout our teenage years, and were walking proof that God is indeed merciful—we both survived adolescence without incarceration. We went to different schools but were in the same conference and played football against one another. Herb also had an extensive collection of water skiing trophies and ribbons—a multi-talented jock. And to top it off he was an excellent ballroom dancer, taught by his Mom. He was the only country boy I ever knew who did such a thing, and none of his contemporaries dared tease him about it—the advantage of being the biggest, orneriest kid in the county. And of course, as a result he got all the girls. We lost track of one another after we grew up and moved away from rural Illinois, but reconnected about 18 years later, in 1979, when we both found ourselves here in Sarasota, FL, a lovely, quiet little beach town in those days, accept for a few months in the winter season. We became close friends then, fishing and sailing and tent camping and canoeing Florida’s rivers. One summer I talked him into joining me on a men’s retreat called Walk to Emmaus, an intense spiritual experience, as it turned out—an encounter with the Living God and Jesus Christ, his Son whom He sent to save lost sinners like Herb and me. Half way thru the weekend Herb whispered to me during a break in the program: “I’m going over the fence tonight. I can’t stand this. Are you coming with me?” By God’s grace I talked him out of that, and by the time the weekend was over Herb was a changed man, as his wife can attest. He then sat under the teaching of Pastor Larry Edison at Covenant Life Presbyterian Church for many years, and we had the most lively discussions of God’s eternal truths during our sailing and camping trips. Then he met a lovely southern belle named Barb, and she was all he could talk about. There was only one problem, in his view. “JD, he says, “she’s high maintenance.” Well, he decided she was worth it and they were married in our living room overlooking Robert’s Bay on Siesta Key. And I can stand here today, having known Herb most of my 71 years, and tell you she was the best thing that ever happened to him, the greatest blessing that I ever saw God bestow on him. And then, in his illness he became the highest maintenance imaginable for an unimaginable length of time (7 years) for his beloved bride, and through it all she was a Proverbs 31 wife if there ever was one in this darkening, degenerate age in which we live. God bless you and keep you, dear Barb.

Now let me share with you all some of those eternal truths Herb and I gloried in under sail on sunny days in the Gulf off Siesta Key, and around campfires throughout the state.

Hear and meditate on these words on the unchanging character of God as he has revealed himself to us in the Holy Bible, from Psalm 145:17-21:

The Lord is righteous in all his ways and kind in all his works.The Lord is near to all who call on him,to all who call on him in truth.He fulfills the desire of those who fear him;he also hears their cry and saves them.The Lord preserves all who love him,but all the wicked he will destroy.My mouth will speak the praise of the Lord,and let all flesh bless his holy name forever and ever.

The Hebrew word here translated LORD in all capital letters emphasizes our covenant keeping God, that is, our promise-keeping God. He makes some wonderful promises in the Bible, promises that will not, cannot be broken. God does not change his mind or break his promises. As we are gathered here today, confronted with the hard, overwhelming reality of death, let us look to some of these promises as the only true comfort we have in life and death. I speak to you as a dying man speaking to dying men and women, offering you, begging you to receive these promises in your heart and cling to them, trust in them, as absolute truth, the only hope we have in life and death.

From John 3:16, Jesus’ own words: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. Here is God himself, the Son of God, promising us that believing in Him, believing he is who he said he was, believing his promises, gains us eternal life with him. Doesn’t that strike you as an amazing reward for the simple act of believing? It’s a radical promise indeed from a promise-keeping, Almighty God. He does not promise that whoever believes in Him and keeps his nose clean and works hard enough in his life and scores well enough on the judgment day exam will have eternal life. He says whoever believes in him, period, as he has revealed himself to us in the Bible, should not perish but have eternal life. No caveats, no ifs, no buts, no divine loopholes. Martin Luther called this the gospel in a nutshell. Gospel means good news. Now tell me, can you think of news that could be better than that. It is as good as good news can get. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. Pastor/author Tim Keller said, “If I believe that Jesus Christ died and was resurrected in my place, then I don’t have to have great faith, I don’t have to have a surrendered heart, I don’t have to have a perfect life, I just have to believe and I am saved!”

One day soon, perhaps very soon, every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Phil. 2:10-11).

Hear another promise, the Holy Spirit speaking through the Apostle Paul in Romans 10:9: …if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. Same promise, different words. That God raised Jesus from the dead, an extraordinary miracle, the first of many as the Bible says in another place, is the basis for our knowing that believers will rise from the dead to eternal life with Him. But note Paul says believe in your heart. You may profess belief, but it must be sincere, from the depths of your heart. God will not be mocked, and he knows your words before you speak them. And if you believe with your heart you will joyfully confess with your mouth, that Jesus is Lord of heaven and earth. And you will be saved. That’s as good as the good news can get.

A third and final promise—there are many more in the Bible—a third and final promise for your comfort this day. From John 14:6, Jesus’ own words again: I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. Not a fashionable promise in this culture that celebrates religious diversity, all the quaint little customs of a thousand religions. But Jesus said he is the only way: No one comes to the Father except through me. Again…radical. And Jesus gives you two choices. You can either believe He is who He says He is or you can write Him off as a lying crackpot. He offers or accepts no middle ground, such as “a nice guy who offered a lot of good advice but not the son of God…” or “a nice guy but surely not the only way to heaven.” Neither is an option. In Jesus’ own plain and simple words: I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

Dear ones, please give these promises of God very serious consideration. Where you spend eternity depends on it. In the privacy of your bedroom ask God to open your eyes to His truth, to work in your heart this amazing gift of faith, of belief in his promises. Let us pray.

Dear Father, you have promised that because you so loved the world you sent your only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal with live with you. O God, you have promised that if we confess with our mouth that Jesus Christ is our LORD, who died for our sins, who miraculously rose from the dead and if we believe it with all our hearts we shall be saved. Saved from eternal damnation in the outer darkness where there is never-ending weeping and gnashing of teeth to an everlasting life of incomprehensible joy that no eye has seen, no ear heard nor mind conceived that you have prepared for those who love you and trust in your unbreakable promises. By your Amazing Grace, Holy God, fill us to overflowing with that gift of faith, that faith that we cannot conjure up on our own, that faith that must be bestowed upon us by your Holy Spirit. O Lord we plead with you as unworthy beggars on our knees, forgive us for our shameful ingratitude, our indifference to the grace you shower upon us minute by minute, that grace that we inhale with every breath we take, that grace that we are so painfully made aware of when the life of a beloved friend, husband, father, grandfather, and uncle ends. Thank you for bringing Herb Anderson into our lives. We pray Lord, that at this very moment he is weeping in joy beyond words in your presence, as we weep in grief at his absence. Soothe our aching hearts with that peace that passes all understanding that comes from You alone, and in whom we give all the praise and glory. In Christ our Savior’s name we pray, Amen.

A reminiscence of Herb’s life: The Sad, Sad, Story of Herb the Horrible


%d bloggers like this: