Our daughter Everlynn darted down the hallway shouting, “Hudson says there’s a monster in his closet! Ahhhh!!!” Underneath her playful shrieking hid an impish grin.
“Hudson…” I said wearily. “There’s no monster in your room, buddy.”
“But Papa! You need to come and look! I think I heard something!” Hudson declared.
I strolled into his room to find him cowering in the far corner of his bed. The closet door, of course, was swung wide open. I peeked inside to appear as if I was a TSA officer on monster patrol doing a routine scan.
“Nope. No monsters, Hudson. You can go to sleep now.” I said, matter of fact.
“But buuut, I think it now went in the bathroom shower,” Hudson remarked. Ultimately we scanned and confirmed that Hudson’s general living space was monster-free. And eventually he drifted off to sleep.
Yet many of us adults (and teens, too) have a monster we rather like to coddle and feed on a regular basis. His name? Harry Ego Monster. Or perhaps her name is Penelope Popularity Monster. Parker Pride Monster? Take your pick.
In the age of social media you and I are easily entrapped into feeding this insidious monster. We begin to, perhaps, subconsciously act on this line of thinking:
“If I write something witty or funny or wise, people will like it. People will respond and I’ll get attention. I’ll have a reputation…a position. I might even trend. I can score popularity points through my intellect or by sharing meaningless memes or saying things that spark controversy. Just think of all the friends and ‘likes’ I’ll get.”
So we tap and chew away on our devices like a squirrel clutching a tasty nut in January.
All of this feeds the monster of our own ego, selfish conceit, and a religiously concealed penchant for vainglory.
Now please don’t plug your ears yet. I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with writing something witty or funny or wise on Facebook. Posting a happy picture on Instagram or tweeting a phrase that may encourage someone’s heart is perfectly acceptable.
But in all of this we must ask ourselves: what is my motive? If we don’t probe our souls, we are in continual danger of feeding the monster. King Solomon reminds us, “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.” (Proverbs 4:23; NASB)
And the monster only grows larger. The more we feed the monster, the more the monster wants more. Soon we live entrapped in a conceited cellar with a ballooning beast nobody really would like to live with except, of course, ourselves.
A steep precipice of consequences lies ahead as we feed the monster. Yet I fear many of us (myself included) are too busy stuffing Harry Ego’s face to see we’re headed off a cliff. The monster’s bad cholesterol will ostracize people who love us, generally annoy many of our friends, and makes us so centered on ourselves that we forget about everyone else (even when they’re sitting two feet away).
However, more than all of this, feeding this monster damages our relationship with God; it’s not in keeping with His character, and it preoccupies our mind with self rather than Christ. The number one danger of social media is that it can become a narcissistic pool in which all of us stare gazing at the supposed beauty of our own reflection, our own insights, and our own popularity, all quantified by how many people like our page or interact with our posts. Such utter nonsense! What damaging sin. What could be further from the character of Christ?
Like a giant rock thrown into that pond (or at the monster), these Spirit-inspired words from the apostle Paul jolt our attention:
“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus…
Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” (Philippians 2:3-5; 4:8)
Know this, I personally stand in just as much danger of falling prey to the monster as anyone else. I’ve found myself in this ego entrapment more times than I would like to admit.
As a pastor or public speaker we might be even more prone to the monstrous beast than many people in other professions. We often quantify our innate valuation by numbering how many complements and positive comments we receive after a morning worship service or by how many views we get on our YouTube channel…. or how many people seem to appreciate our fan page.
As our eyeballs stare at the monster to feed it and feed it some more, our heart-focus turns away from the crucified and risen Christ, who died to set us free from this all-consuming, soul-destroying sin.
So how will I slay the monster today? How might you starve the monster this week?
Oh Lord, judge our motives, know the thoughts and intentions of our hearts. Reveal to us our sin so that we may readily repent. May every word we say, every action we take, every thought we think be guided by the character of Christ through the power of the Spirit. Tune our souls to sing your praise with a never ceasing adoration of the Son, to the honor of your glorious grace. Amen.
On this day 500 years ago, a youthful 33-year-old professor crossed a theological rubicon. Little did he know his rather quiet life as an Augustinian friar would become like a lightening rod from that day forward.
October 31, 1517 marks the pivotal moment when Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of All Saint’s Church in Wittenburg (though he may have “mailed” it, per my friend Dr. Michael Svigel), thus declaring his positions against the unbiblical teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. Luther’s action precipitated a major return to the Bible as the final authority by which Christians are guided for all life, faith, and practice. Although central tenets of the Protestant Reformation such as salvation “by grace alone through faith alone” were not the locus of Luther’s original proclamation, over the next 100 years God worked in a wide-sweeping way across Europe to restore the preaching and teaching of “the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints” (Jude 1:3b).
Men like John Wycliffe, Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli, John Calvin, John Huss, and many others were used by God to articulate the Gospel of Christ to masses of people who had never heard or understood the message of salvation. In God’s providence, thousands of Greek and Hebrew manuscripts flooded northward into European universities during this time. How did this happen? As Muslims ransacked ancient church buildings and libraries across the Middle East and northern Africa, the biblical manuscripts were protected by churchmen by shipping them out of the region. Not by mere coincidence, God was opening the eyes of people across Europe to the truth of Scripture and they, in turn, immediately sought to translate the Bible from the original languages into the language of the people.
Not by mere happenstance, at this same time Johann Gutenberg utilized His God-given skills to invent the first printing press so that the Bible could be published and distributed to everyone.
Are you noticing a pattern here? God is sovereign over the affairs of mankind. In accordance with His timetable, the Gospel went forth into the darkened, superstitious regions of Europe and has since spread across the entire globe. By the grace of God, you and I are sons and daughters of the Reformation – of God’s work of reviving the authority of His Word and the proclamation of the Gospel to the common man. Let us give God a shout of praise for that today.
Today, I declare these Thirteen Theses for the 21st Century:
1. The only way of rescue from sin and judgment is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone (Jn. 19:30; 20:31; Rom. 3:23; 5:8; 6:23; Eph. 2:8-9).
2. The progressively common posture that Scripture is pliable, interpretation altogether relative, and truth holistically subjective is foreign to the biblical narrative and unaligned with the teaching of the prophets, apostles, and Christ himself (Matt. 5:17-18; Lk. 16:17; Jn. 10:35; 17:17; 2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 1:19-21).
3. The moralistic idea that God’s love for us is determined by our behavior collapses under the truth that God doesn’t love us any more or any less on the basis of what we do, but on the basis of what His Son, Jesus Christ, has done (Jn. 3:16; 5:24; 10:27-30; Rom. 6-8).
4. The so-called gospel that promises prosperity and physical health on-demand for those who have faith is opposed to the true gospel of Christ, whose path was one of suffering before glory (Mk. 8:27-35; 2 Tim. 4:6-8).
5. The rampant forms of racism couched in the Church are entirely contradictory to the call of all Christ-followers, who are commanded to be united with one another in beautiful diversity (Jn. 17:20-26; Eph. 2:11-22).
6. The turning of pastors into pundits for the preservation of temporal safety, ease, or cultural comforts is making a mockery of the pulpit by usurping the preaching of God’s Word with political grandstanding (2 Tim. 3:14-17; 4:1-5).
7. The infiltration of unbridled nationalism and unchastened patriotism among American Christians is destroying our witness and poisoning our worship of Christ, whose kingdom is not of this world (Jn. 18:36).
8. The prevalent attitude of ambivalence or resistance against refugees and other persons in crisis is a betrayal of God’s mission, which calls us to express God’s compassion by giving refuge to refugees; and teaches that we are most like our God when we love people who hate God (and us) (Ex. 22:21-22; 23:9; Lev. 19:33-34; Deut. 10:17-19; Ruth 2:10-12; Isa. 16:4-5; Matt. 5:43-45; 25:34-46; Rom. 5:10).
9. The common expectation that non-believers should conform to Christian ethics and morals without first receiving the life-transforming gospel is creating a cultural war rather than cultivating cross-cultural mission (Jn. 3:1-21; 4:1-45; 8:1-11).
10. The real battle of the Church is not against persons, people groups, or political parties, but against Satan, sin, and his system (Eph. 6:10-20; 1 Pet. 5:8-11).
11. The ignoring and hiding of sexual and physical abuse by many Christ-confessing churches is diametrically opposed to the teachings of the Christ they claim to know (Matt. 18:6).
12. The acceptance of unrepentant sexual immorality among confessing Christians is entirely discordant with the harmony of God’s Word and the historic Christian sexual ethic, which makes clear that all forms of sexual intimacy outside of marriage (as God defines it) are contrary to God’s good design and will (Gen. 2:18-25; Prov. 6:32; Matt. 19:4-6; 1 Cor. 5:1-13; 6:18; 7:1-11; Eph. 5:22-33; 1 Pet. 3:1-7; cf. Rom. 1:18-32).
13. The popular understanding that the end goal of the Christian life is to be a disembodied soul in heaven is Gnostic, contrary to Scripture, insomuch as it denies that both body and soul bear the image of God; that both body and soul are part of God’s good design; and that the resurrection of the body to be rejoined with the soul is the hope of the gospel (Lk. 14:14; 20:36; Acts 17:31-34; 1 Cor. 15:3-28; Rev. 20:5-6; 11-13).
A voice from the past rings true today:
If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the Word of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Him. Where the battle rages there the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battle front besides, is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.
The Halloween “Thing”
Want to know what I think about October 31st and the events of Halloween or “All Hallow’s Eve”? I encourage you to read an article I wrote a few years ago and watch the short video clip embedded in the post: “…Today the calendar flipped to Halloween, October 31st, and my mind is swirling with numerous memories from my childhood in metro-Detroit. Why was I surprised when our house got “egged” on Halloween? Had we shown the good will and love of Christ to the neighbor kids? … Read more here: http://www.graceexposed.org/
 Many attribute this inspiring quotation to the great reformer, Martin Luther, as did Francis Shaeffer in his book, The Great Evangelical Disaster (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1984), 50-51. However, its exact, historical origins are uncertain. Many cite the following as containing the phrase: Martin Luther, Briefwechsel, Weimar ed., vol. 3, D. Martin Luthers Werke, 81ff. But the exact wording above is not found therein (though similar thoughts are expressed). However researchers have found the very same wording in a novel that references Luther and the Reformation; see Elizabeth Rundle Charles, The Chronicles of the Schoenberg Cotta Family (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1864), 315. For a thorough evaluation of this apropos quote see Carl Wieland, “Where the Battle Rages – A Case of Misattribution,” in Creation Ministries International (2010), http://creation.com/battle-quote-not-luther (accessed Nov 29, 2011).
Many couples can recount trivial challenges such as the other spouse not replacing the cap on the toothpaste or constantly forgetting to put the toilet seat down. Our list of petty annoyances could certainly be longer than our usual receipt at Costco.
But what about when a marriage encounters a serious challenge? Dark gray storm clouds loom over many homes as anger festers, bitterness grows, and un-forgiveness encroaches on the commitment made at the altar.
So how can we have a healthy, grace-centered marriage?
Stephanie and I have most definitely faced our fair share of intense difficulties. Just for starters, our unexpected (but delightful) honeymoon baby, Hudson, contracted the whooping cough (Pertussis), resulting in eleven days at Children’s Medical Center of Dallas. His long journey left us in shock for months… wondering if our baby would make it through (read the story here).
Stephanie also caught Pertussis, and this of course, all happened while I was in the middle of completing my seminary degree and working two jobs. We’ve moved nine times, gone through financial stress, suffered five miscarriages, endured difficult pregnancies, and plodded through potty training (we could write a whole blog just about that). Couple this together with the highs and lows of full-time ministry, discovering our oldest son’s diagnosis of ASD/ADHD, and balancing a busy family schedule, and you have a well-equipped laboratory for failure — or an opportunity for growth toward success.
No Old Pro
We, by no means, lay claim to being old pros. But via our winding (sometimes rocky) trail, we’ve learned a few things. God’s Word has been a good and trustworthy guide. Christ’s gospel has given us gentle, Spring-like showers of grace at just the right season. Patient mentors and friends have nurtured the roots of our marital covenant with wise advice and love.
So are you going through a tough stretch in your marriage? Is the struggle increasing? Has the pressure of parenting left you bewildered or short-fused? Does “dating your spouse” almost seem distasteful right now? Have you gone through a deep season of loss as a couple? Are you simply looking to strengthen your relatively healthy relationship?
To these situations and many more, we offer you 11 keys to a healthy, grace-centered marriage, packaged in 3 interactive (hopefully fun) videos and a goofy (maybe helpful) Q & A session.
Here’s Part One of Retro Marriage: Timeless Truths for Today’s Couples. Our simple aim is to respond to your marriage challenges with the truth and grace of God’s Word:
Retro Marriage | Part 2:
Retro Marriage | Part 3:
Retro Marriage | Part 4: Q & A!
Here are the questions we received:
Q: “Is it a sin to plan how many kids you want to have or decide if you even want children? Is the use of contraceptives to prevent pregnancy a sin or indicating a lack of trust in God?”
Q: “What is biblical “love and respect” and submission in marriage?”
Q: “What can be done when both the husband and wife are conflict-shy and clam up when things get rough? How can they learn to communicate and work through the hard stuff instead of just stuffing and hoping it goes away?”
Q: “Any input for helping a husband who is emotionally distant and doesn’t even realize it? He thinks the marriage is fine, while she is starving for intimacy and support. Communicating this to him has changed nothing.”
Q: “What are some things you do for each other when one of you is clearly “down” for some reason? (whether it’s discouraged, depressive, just physical exhaustion, frustration, whatever)”
For additional resources, audio messages, and teaching content, check out our series Love in Design:
Amid the convoluted messages about sexuality and marriage across the news networks and social media feeds, it’s easy to wonder if there is any solution or resolution for the conversation. Has God provided a clear, navigable pattern to follow?
Do you wonder how Jesus Christ would respond to questions like:
- “Can I sleep with my girlfriend, just so long as she doesn’t get pregnant?”
- “Is marriage really only between one man and one woman for life?”
- “Isn’t lust and porn okay as long as nobody gets hurt?”
- “If someone has same-sex attraction, does that mean they’ve been made that way by God? Does God think it’s okay?”
Walk in hope.
In Christ Alone,
:: A Seesaw Life :: Here’s my latest video-devotional for the staff of LifeChange Action:
The sun was shining. A clear, crisp feeling was in the air. Our kiddos were rambunctious (as usual). So with that, I buckled Hudson and Everlynn into our bicycle tow-behind cart and rode over to a nearby park for some Saturday morning fun.
Not too long after our noisy arrival, the scrappy two darted over to a spring seesaw. They began vigorously bouncing up and down, up and down, up and down, up and down…
Finally having enough of the stomach-churning, spine-jolting ride Hudson shouted, “When can I get off this thing already??!”
Sometimes life can be like a seesaw – a seesaw of circumstances, emotions, or challenges. You and I may wonder: “When can I get off this seesaw ride already!?”
Yet through the storms and ups and downs of life we have an anchor, if we’re in union with Christ.
Hebrews 13:8 reminds us, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”
We have security even in the seesaw storms of life because He is our foundation. Psalm 95:1 repeats a theme found throughout the psalter: “O come, let us sing for joy to the LORD, let us shout joyfully to the rock of our salvation.”
Through whom have we received the hope of eternal salvation? The Promised One. The rock now consummately revealed is Christ, our Anchor in the seesaw of life. So a beautiful hymn with a Scottish lilt calls back to mind:
We have an anchor that keeps the soul
Steadfast and sure while the billows roll
Fastened to the Rock which cannot move
Grounded firm and deep in the Savior’s love
(chorus of We Have An Anchor by Priscilla J. Owens)
So will your anchor hold in the storms of life? Be fastened by faith to Christ.
Personal soul stability can only come from the right foundation. And that anchor is Jesus Christ.
Here’s my latest video-devotional on racism, bigotry, and the gospel:
Q: “How should a Christian respond to racism? I hear these racist, white supremacists groups say they are also Christian. What do you think of that, Pastor Michael?”
A: Right out of the gate: All prejudice, favoritism, racism, and superiority is anti-Gospel. Period. White supremacists, Neo-Nazis, the KKK, and all the rest who claim to know Christ while thumping the Bible are actually stomping on the Bible and know nothing of the Gospel of Christ. Their words and actions are repulsive to God and should be to everyone who knows and loves God.
How can I say this? Because God’s Word makes it abundantly clear.
First, there is one race but many ethnic groups all displaying the glory of God in their diversity. Here’s how the apostle Paul explained it to the philosophers on the Areopagus, “and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth . . . ” Acts 17:26)
Second, no single ethnos or people group is more important or significant in God’s sight. Even the chosen people of Israel were to be a light to all other nations so they, too, would come to know the one true God.
For example, God condemns the prophet Jonah’s belief that the Assyrians of Nineveh should not receive full compassion and forgiveness from God, as people made in His image (Jonah 4:9-11).
Through Abraham’s progeny, God promised, “all the families of the earth will be blessed” (Genesis. 12:3b), ultimately pointing to Christ who would die and rise again to redeem and rescue men and women “from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation. 5:9b). Jesus Christ is the only One who has the right to be Supreme, yet he became the Servant of all to reconcile us to God and to one another (Philippians 2:5-11).
So Christ’s Gospel drives us to horizontal reconciliation with others because we have been vertically reconciled to God. God in Christ tore down the enmity, the hostility, the dividing wall, so now we are to live as a Church of unity in beautiful diversity. The life of the church should be like jazz harmony – unified in one song yet uniquely diverse in the mosaic of the music.
The life of the church should be like jazz harmony – unified in one song yet uniquely diverse in the mosaic of the music.
Our God is not a mono-lingual, mono-ethnic, mono-culture deity, but the Creator who has beautifully woven people from every background together into the one family of God in Jesus Christ (see Ephesians 2:11-22). Just as the first-century church was multi-cultural (Jew, Gentile, slave, free, rich, poor, etc.) so God’s design for His church today is unity within our diversity, only possible through God-empowered humility and love.
So how should we, as Christ-followers, respond to racism?
- Condemn it as anti-Gospel… silence is not an option.
- Listen and Love and Live life together… with those who’ve experienced the assault of racism.
I can’t begin to know or imagine what it’s like to walk in the shoes of my black brothers and sisters here in the USA. I don’t fully understand the struggle of Hispanics and Native Americans in our communities. I can’t begin to know what it’s like to be a Dalit in India or a POC in South Africa.
Therefore, you and I must not be silent and we must listen… love… and live together to display the glory of gospel through the church.
I believe Martin Luther King’s dream is God’s desire for His Church. What we know will one day be full reality all over the earth should, today, be displayed through the church.
“We refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. . . . Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred… until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” – MLK from “I Have a Dream”
:: Unplanned and Unexpected Detours :: Here’s my latest video-devotional for the staff of LifeChange Action:
During our recent drive to Florida, we were coasting smoothly along on a nice, clear, open expressway through Jacksonville…. when suddenly I found myself winding down a ramp onto a surface street and into the middle of a rough-looking neighborhood.
I turned to my bewildered wife and exclaimed, “How did we get here?!”
To which she replied, of course, “I have no idea, honey…where on earth did you go?”
That’s when I noticed the annoyingly orange DETOUR sign. I think they make those signs extra ugly so we can’t miss them. However, I apparently didn’t notice all the preceding detour warning signs…
Has God run you through a detour lately? Have you found yourself in a forced detour of life? Maybe you’re there right now?
You had a plan. Yes! A course-of-direction. Check! But now your head is spinning with the question: “How did I end up here?!”
Oftentimes we have a nicely crafted schedule, a business plan, a ministry idea, or a set of goals, and we think it’s all going to work out just as we ordered it. But then God nudges us into a detour – a different plan – in order to produce in us what we could never see or achieve on our own.
The Bible is full of stories about people who had piles of plans, but then God sent them on a detour – yet always with His purpose. For example, the apostle Paul had a driving desire to go to Rome in order to testify of the Gospel before Caesar. In Acts 27:1-3 we find him finally, after much anticipation, setting sail for that grand city of old.
But suddenly the plan starts unraveling. Storm after storm redirects their voyage multiple times (Acts 27:4-13). Finally the ship is smashed aground on a reef just off the coast of a small island named Malta (Acts 27:14-44). DETOUR!
Yet what seems like a disaster is God’s plan of grace. God works through Paul to bring the good news of Jesus to the sailors, as well as all the people of Malta. Check out what Doctor Luke wrote:
“And it happened that the father of Publius [“the leading man of the island”] was lying in bed afflicted with recurrent fever and dysentery; and Paul went in to see him and after he had prayed, he laid his hands on him and healed him. After this had happened, the rest of the people on the island who had diseases were coming to him and getting cured.” (Acts 28:8-9)
And he stayed in Malta for a nice 3 days….
NO. He stayed there 3 months! (Acts 28:11)
Looking back through the annals of history, we discover that Publius became the first bishop over the church of Malta and later was martyred for his faith in Christ. Today, Malta is known to have one of the highest percentages of Christians anywhere in the world (98-99%). Shipwrecks… even detours are part of God’s work of grace through our lives.
As I heard a pastor once say, “waiting time is not wasted time” on God’s timetable. God’s delays are not God’s denials. As the great missionary to orphans, George Mueller, commented, “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord… and so are the stops.” (from Psalm 37:23)
We’re often prone to resist the detour, get angry about it, or frustrated by it (at least that’s the case for me).
We yell out: “why are you doing this right now?! Don’t you understand my plan, God? My directions were better than this… I thought you would adopt my plan, God.”
But all the while God is smiling and saying, “Oh I have a plan in mind and the plan is to conform you to the image of my Son, Jesus Christ.”
So let’s take these steps today — even if there is an ugly orange sign ahead:
- Embrace the Detour (don’t resist it)
- Accept the Process (learn with each step)
- Enjoy the Journey (laugh a little… God is up to something good)
God is doing a good work in you… to produce in you what you could never achieve on your own.
In Christ Alone,
Dear Friends and Family,
As many of you know, since last November I’ve been serving as Staff Pastor and Mission rep. for LifeChange Action (a non-profit 501c(3) ministry) involved in creatively supporting and engaging in God’s mission within Mexico and Southeast Asia.
I’ve had the immense joy of being involved in what God is doing globally, while at the same time continuing in my call as a pastor by preaching, teaching, evangelizing, and shepherding our 35 staff members. My role has involved several extended ministry trips: December 2016 (Mexico), February (Connecticut), April (Southeast Asia –[country names are omitted due to rising persecution against our Christian brothers and sisters in this region]), and most recently back to Mexico just three weeks ago.
Thank you for praying, encouraging, and supporting my family and I during these seasons of out-of-country mission work. We are so thankful to God for your participation with us in the mission of the gospel.
Here’s a quick recap video of my July trip to Mexico. I had the incredible privilege of visiting three different orphanages, leading a 4-day spiritual renewal conference for our staff, and guiding three adults to saving faith in Jesus Christ! Click the play button below to watch this short video or watch it on YouTube HERE:
Today I am flying from San Diego back home to my little family in Whitsett, NC. The past seven days of ministry in Tijuana and Rosarito, Mexico were absolutely phenomenal. I led a spiritual renewal conference for the staff of LifeChange Action, with the morning sessions on “Life as a Peacemaker” and two evening sessions on following the mission of the Messiah and our oneness/unity as one family, the redeemed of God.
God worked deeply in the MissionTalk staff this past week. Some of our support staff members come from churched backgrounds but are yet unsaved. However, through several individual counseling sessions, three of them (Esteban, Mary, and Carmen) received Christ as their personal Savior… the harvest is ripe here. They were so ready to hear and understand the Gospel. Hallelujah!
We also visited three orphanages: Ninos Con Fe, Catherine’s Kids, and Ninos Con Vision. We went to Catherine’s Kids for a second visit on Friday and had the joy of spending 10am-3pm playing with the beautiful children there. All the ninos and ninas at Catherine’s Kids are developmentally disabled or medically fragile in some way. Such sweet, wonderful children…
I carried Manny (a 10 year old autistic boy) on my shoulders for about an hour. We had some fun with squirt guns and the garden hose out in the courtyard with all the other kiddos, too. And there was a cute, little girl named April who reminded me of our daughter, Everlynn.
I pushed her on the swing and splashed in a little water basin with toys, and helped her walk around the play area. Her story was heart-wrenching. April was born without any disabilities, but her mom injured her so badly that she now is re-learning to walk and talk.
She is just six years old, but the doctors are saying she should be able to fully recover over the next 5-8 years. I think this was the first time I’ve seriously thought about adoption — to give this little girl a home, a family, and the love of Jesus… Something to pray about with Stephanie. 🙂
While most of our personal support is underwritten directly by LifeChange Action, if God is leading you to financially partner with us here’s some basic information:
- Partner with us through making a one-time support gift or a re-occurring donation via our 501(c)(3) non-profit LifeChange Action. Go to LifeChange’s Donate page: https://lifechangeaction.com/donate/and select “Michael & Stephanie” in the “Missionary” dropdown menu.
“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all, in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now.” (Philippians 1:3-5)
Just think… as we gather this Sunday for collective worship to glory in the Triune God, we will be joined in voice and heart with the great anthem of all God’s people across every continent on the globe in lifting our praise to the King of all kings. A tremendous harmony of different languages, ethnicities, and music styles will sound forth in a great chorus to the ears of our transcendent yet intimately personal God.
Watch my new Q & A video: Why Go To Church? —>
So What’s in the Gathering?
What we do when we gather as local churches is deeply historical. From the very inception of the Church over 2,000 years ago, the redeemed of God have gathered on Sunday, the day of the Lord’s resurrection (see Acts 20:7-8; cf. Mark 16:2; Luke 24:1; John 20:19-21; 1 Cor. 16:2; cf. Rev. 1:10). The Didache (lit. “Teaching,” an important first-century document that provides the teaching of the apostolic fathers) gives further evidence that Sunday, “the Lord’s Day,” was the day early Christians gathered for corporate worship. So when we gather on Sunday, we are following the pattern of the earliest ecclesial expressions. For more information see Jon English Lee’s (Ph.D. candidate at SBTS) article on the Didache’s discussion of Sunday worship HERE (at ancientchristianstudies.com).
What we do when we gather as local churches is specifically biblical. We are following the pattern of the New Testament churches through the preaching, teaching, and public reading of God’s Word, prayer, giving, singing, and celebration of the ordinances: communion and baptism (see Acts 2:37-47; 1 Cor. 11:23-26; Col. 3:11-17; 1 Tim. 4:13; Heb. 10:23-25).
What we do when we gather as local churches is incredibly necessary. We grow effectively as followers of Christ not in isolation from one another but in biblical, authentic community together. We need the ministry of each other in the working of the Holy Spirit’s gifts among God’s people. In fact, the calls to sanctification in the New Testament are far more collective than individual. To put it bluntly, if you’re regularly absent from the worship gatherings of your local church, you’re spiritual growth is most likely in severe atrophy (see John 17:13-26; Rom. 12:1-8; Eph. 2:11-22; 4:1-16; Col. 2:6-7).
Notice I said, “as” local churches, not “at” local churches. We don’t gather at our family for Thanksgiving Day dinner, we gather as a family for the giant feast. I know it is a bit of a buzz-phrase now but it’s true: let’s not just go to church, let’s be the church. So as we gather as God’s family, let’s prepare to love one another with pure hearts, operate with one mind, and serve one another with the apron of humility (1 Peter 1:22-23; 5:1-7).
Let us Come.
“O come, let us sing for joy to the LORD, let us shout joyfully to the rock of our salvation. Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving, let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms. For the LORD is a great God and a great King above all gods, in whose hand are the depths of the earth, the peaks of the mountains are His also. The sea is His, for it was He who made it, and His hands formed the dry land.
Come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker. For He is our God, and we are the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand. Today, if you hear His voice…” (Psalm 95:1-7)
In Christ Alone,
The end game is often unexpected by the spectator… and that’s what makes it so glorious.
I clearly remember the radio color commentators saying this would be Brian’s last game as a quarterback. Oh yes, his dad was a NFL Hall of Fame legend. But people just thought he didn’t quite have it in him. The 1998 Rose Bowl didn’t exactly start out with a proverbial “bang” either.
In fact, the U of M Wolverine football team was trailing Washington State for more than half the game. But then a subtle shift started to take place… Brian remained calm and confident under the pressure, while the other team seemed to slowly lose control. And the Wolverine’s end game, led by quarterback, Brian Griese, proved to win in the end (21-16).
Yet right now as we survey our surroundings it seems like righteousness is losing. Christ-followers are losing. God’s way for life appears to be losing. Immorality, violence, greed, and war seem to be winning all the airtime. The newsfeed nausea makes us sick to our stomachs — queasy or numb or maybe both.
Not too long ago a young pastor’s wife was shot in the head by a random intruder in Indianapolis. She was several months pregnant with their second child and their first child was just a year old. She was pronounced dead 24 hours later.
Since 1973, more than 59,467,212 (as of 5:30pm, 5/17/2017) unborn babies have been murdered in the womb just in the USA alone (1,455,168,000+ worldwide since 1980)! The numbers are staggering. By 5:35pm EST 1,860 children were aborted in the USA just today.
The ongoing refugee crisis in multiple countries and continents rages on and on.
More violence. Bloodshed. Corruption. Destruction. Hate. Death…
And we wonder aloud: Are you going to put a stop to this, God??! If so, how? And when?! Are You really going to let this pass? We wonder if the wickedness, injustice, and immorality is ever going to cease…
Habakkuk, a little-known prophet of God, who proclaimed God’s message had very similar questions. He lived during the reign of the wicked, idol-worshiping King Jehoiakim (609-597 BC; cf. 2 Kgs. 23:36-24:7; 2 Chron. 36:5-8). Immorality, injustice, violence, and idolatry were rampant across the nation.
When he shouted out, “How long, Lord?!” about the rampant chaos and suffering in Judah (the Southern Kingdom), God gave him a shocking answer: the wicked, cruel, idol-worshiping Babylonians would be God’s tool of judgment on the nation of Judah.
How could a nation so wicked as Babylon be sent to judge Judah, a people not anywhere near so bad as Babylon? Babylon was bad to the bone! That doesn’t make sense, God!
So Habakkuk asks “WHY?” (1:3, 12-13) and “Will they continue??” (1:17). Is God going to put a stop to this?
And we wonder with Habakkuk: what is God’s end game?
As we survey the state of the world, the decadence in our country, and the trials God’s people face do you wonder what He is really up to? Is God really both sovereign and just? Is God really faithful?
As one of my friends just asked me last week:
“Why is it that countries and people groups that appear to be quite anti-God seem to be the most blessed and wealthy (i.e. many Western countries like the USA, Australia, Great Britain, New Zealand, etc.), yet those with very committed, rapidly growing Christian communities are so poor, needy, hungry, and afflicted? I’m wondering along the same lines as the old, ‘Why does bad stuff happen to good people,’ but more specifically, ‘Why do the bad people seem to be blessed more than the good ones?'”
Yes. That’s a big, important question. So let’s not just gloss over it with a quick devotional thought and a poem. Frankly, that just won’t work.
So let’s turn to the brief book of Habakkuk to pick up the intriguing and profound dialogue between this questioning prophet and God. Here is where you and I are going to learn how to live by faith when everything looks like it’s falling apart… even when God doesn’t seem to make sense:
2 Ways to Dig Deep and 6 Truth-Points to Apply
1. Study Sheet: I’ve written a concise intro guide and overview of Habakkuk to enhance your study. Click HERE or hover and click right on the image below to access this free PDF document (viewable and printable):
2. Sermon Audio: The audio player buttons at the bottom of this post provide three messages from Habakkuk (chaps. 1,2,3), which I preached in November 2015 at North Park Baptist of Grand Rapids, MI. I pray you find these sermons filled with the healing balm of grace and truth.
6 Truth-Points to Apply
When God doesn’t seem to make sense…
- Bring your Fears to the only One who perfectly Hears. (1:1-4)
- Gain God’s vantage point by being guided by God’s Word. (1:5-11)
- When you don’t understand, don’t be afraid to raise your hand (ask all questions) (1:12-19)
- Live by faith, not by feelings. (2:2-5)
- Trust in God’s justice, not your judgment (2:6-19)
- Wait on the eternal, faithful One (1:12, 2:1; 3:16-19)
What questions might you have for God? Take a moment to write a few down…
- Why is it so difficult to make end’s meat today?
- Why are my kids not following Christ as adults?
- Why are the wicked and immoral prospering and the righteous and moral under attack?
- Why is the nation Israel under constant fire?
- Why are our brothers and sisters in Christ in India, Iran, Pakistan, China, and Egypt being brutally persecuted? Doesn’t God see this?
- Why have we gone through five miscarriages and infertility (a personal one for us)?
- Why are some people I love in serious marital strife and difficulty?
- Why are so many churches and pastors discarding the essentials of Christian orthodoxy?
Habakkuk had questions for God and so do we… we feel worn, torn, and beleaguered.
So we will wait. Faith waits.
“Waiting strengthens our patience and lengthens our perspective.” – Chuck Swindoll
Faith doesn’t ignore the questions, the nausea, or the numbness we feel. But faith waits for God to answer, for God to work, and for God to bring His plan to completion.
Bottomline: God’s people live by faith in Who God Is even when they don’t understand What God is doing.
Originally written as “Finding a Living Hope: The Relevance of Christian Eschatology” | Michael J. Breznau | July 2011
Two childhood memories will forever remain distinct in my mind. The first is the wonderful recollection of that spring morning when the Spirit drew me to the message of the Gospel and granted me the faith to believe in Jesus Christ as my personal Savior. Through God’s work of grace, I realized my innate sinfulness and my separation from the holy Creator of the universe. My 5-year-old eyes were opened to the purpose of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. And by the grace and mercy of the Father I came to faith in the Son of God, who gave Himself upon the Cross as the sacrifice for my sin – even the sins of the world. He paid the penalty that I deserved. He bore my shame and guilt, so that I could receive the very righteousness of God – I could be called a child of God (cf. 1 Cor 5:21). I will never forget the sense of this new life I had been given. Fear was replaced with hope. Guilt and shame were replaced with joy and peace. Separation was replaced with relationship.
However, a second memory would be formed just a few years later that would dramatically change my outlook on life. The change was subtle, but very real nonetheless. Unfortunately, the effects of this day would riddle my heart and mind for years to come.
(not so fond)
“The END is near!” proclaimed a man whose naturally reddish face now resembled the hue of a dark red sugar beet. In his hand were some newspaper clippings that heralded several “end times” announcements: the groundwork of a new temple in Jerusalem, the birth of a special red heifer, the collaboration of anti-Israeli military forces, and several other fear-filled articles. The sanctuary of our church grew deafeningly silent.
From my seat in the musical ensemble area, the loudest noise around me was the pounding beat of my heart. My hands began to sweat profusely as I tried to maintain a grip on my trumpet.
I was scared. Was this world going to come to end before I turned fourteen? Would I never experience the joy of having my own family? Even more importantly, would I be ready “when the Lord comes for His spotless and wrinkle-free Bride”??
Since I was taught that a little dose of uncertainty about your salvation was good for your spiritual health – I became worried about whether or not I was actually justified in the sight of God. I remembered one holiness preacher screaming out:
“The doctrine of eternal security – once-saved-always-saved – is a teaching straight from the pit of hell!” So, if I believed my salvation was eternally and forever secured by the power of God (as 1 Peter 1:3-9 explicitly teaches), then, in effect, I was buying into “Satan’s biggest deception of our time.”
After the “prophet” finished his newsreel proclamation several other members of the congregation chimed in with similar information – a feeling of fear settled over the service. Soon the well-meaning pastor came to the front and called for a time of heart-felt, thoroughgoing repentance. “It’s time to get right with the Lord… the days are short and evil,” he said, to the masses now gathered at the altar and to others on their knees across the room.
I am not sure if anyone thought about whether believers would be raptured before the Tribulation, in the mid-term, or afterwards. But one thing was for sure: the return of Jesus Christ was going to be a dreadful, terrifying day of Judgment – so we better be ready! For most of us, God’s future plan incited fear. For those who were unsure of their salvation that morning, the message of the Gospel was based in fear of judgment. In essence, we were all to make certain we had the right “fire insurance” for the impending disaster and wrath.
After the service came to a close I walked out with some friends who remarked how “revival” had swept through the church – and I wholeheartedly agreed. My conscious seemed clean and my heart (though still filled with fear) “felt right with the Lord.” …That was until I noticed an attractive girl walk by, who just happened to be around my age. I immediately battled with whether or not I had thought about her too long or not and quietly repented of my sinful thought pattern. Repentance from sin is a gift from God and part of His salvific work in our lives. However, my so-called repentance was motivated by fear and guilt, not grace. I was scared of God’s future plan and what it would mean for my eternal destiny.
Living in Fear of God’s Future Plan
Around this time I became too filled with fear to even simply read the apocalyptic portions of God’s Word. The book of the Revelation was too frightening – every context in which it was read at church was filled with fear. Certain passages in the book of Daniel and the letters to the Thessalonians received the same treatment. When people talked about Christ’s return, my heart would again start pounding and my hands would begin to sweat.
Throughout my teenage years I maintained this fear of Christ’s return. Sure, there were times when it mildly abated – but I assumed that was because of my carnality (!). Although I deeply loved Christ and never ceased to believe in Him, I was plagued with obsessive thoughts about the “unforgiveable sin” (cf. Matt 12:31-32). I was concerned that by some mental volition gone astray I would commit this travesty of travesties and be destined to the lake of fire forever.
I often found myself uttering quick prayers of repentance when I heard the sound of a distant horn or steam whistle – thinking it might just be the “last trump.” Would I be ready!? Was I ready!? I thought I’d better get in a final note of repentance to beat out the rapture or the judgment or whatever might come (nobody really seemed to know for sure). Undoubtedly, my eschatology and soteriology were skewed and mistaken. Yet little in my church and ministry experience up to this point had done anything to reverse this trend.
This confusion especially reared its ugly head when I shared with others what I thought to be the message of the Gospel. I believed if I could scare them enough, then they would “accept Jesus as their Savior.” To be sure, the effects of sin and the state of lost souls outside of Christ must be preached as part and parcel to the Gospel message (cf. Rom 3:23; 6:23).
However, I did not realize the beauty or power of God’s grace. Why? Because I was motivated by fear not grace! For me to share about the bodily resurrection of the righteous as a wonderful hope would have been incomprehensible, since my entire conception of the end was judgment, wrath, satanic deception, and the possible hope of escaping through it all to heaven.
In order to calm these constant fears I developed obsessive habits of “praying the sinner’s prayer” (just to make sure the deal was done) and dealt with recycled thought patterns of various daily sins and mental slip-ups. Sadly, I now see the majority of these habits were developed out of fear to save my own skin from the impending judgment that could be right around the corner.
Amidst all this spiritual confusion there were, by God’s grace, glimpses of hope and peace. Fond recollections of that day I came to faith in Christ and the joy of that moment would occasionally flood my soul. I knew my relationship with the Savior was real. I sensed the Father heard me when I spoke to Him in prayer. Yet the thunderclouds of a fearful apocalypse nearly always loomed overhead.
As I prepared to go into adulthood, I believed (and still so) that the Lord was calling me into full-time vocational ministry. My many fears about the eschaton were still somewhat present. However, I thoroughly enjoyed serving Christ. I loved to share and preach His Word – except the apocalyptic/prophetic passages, of course. My sister and I were highly involved in music ministry and other local outreach opportunities. Yet, my motivation for the Gospel was rooted in a system of fear or the delight of “spending eternity in heaven.” Silently, I hoped that I would be able to live a full life serving the Lord and then simply be ushered into His presence in heaven where I would escape all the end-time scenarios that had filled me with fear.
Finding Hope (Again)
Eschatology, one’s view of “last things,” tremendously impacts the life of every believer – for good or for ill. For many years I was crippled with anxiety over what should have been the source of my greatest hope – the return of our Savior Jesus Christ. The concept of our “Blessed Hope” was, for many years, void from my vocabulary. That early hope I had understood when I was just five years old had been all but squandered, squashed, and skewed by a practical theology grounded in fear, human effort, and Christianized karma. As a result, my life and ministry was tainted with this negative, foreboding sentiment.
Sure, from the outside, everybody thought of me as a joyful, godly young man. However, I knew the reality of a very tangible battle raging within. My joy was found more in what I could do for Christ in the present, rather than in the hope of being with the Savior, in His very presence.
By God’s shocking kindness, my later education in Bible college, inner-city ministry, mission work in India, and education at Dallas Theological Seminary, brought me to the realization of the true hope that should fill the heart of every believer: Jesus Christ! This is the hope that we need to express to the world. Sadly, what should define the evangelical church is often the missing ingredient, making our message unattractive to those who need to desperately hear it.
Pastor Bill Hybels has often said, “Jesus Christ is the hope of the church and the church is the hope of the world.” If the church has a skewed and fear-filled “hope” then what will that church offer the world? From my personal experience, a gospel of fear produces people of fear who live motivated by fear and express little grace to a world that needs hope!
Perhaps this is why the apostle Paul reminded the church at Ephesus of their prior state before Christ, “…remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Eph 2:12-13; emphasis added).
Somehow in all the media buzz, end-times literature, and apocalyptic frenzy we have forgotten that the return of Christ was and is a message of hope to those in fearful and difficult earthly situations, not the reverse! To those under fiery persecution, Peter wrote:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you…” (1 Pet 1:3; emphasis added).
Transformed by the Blessed Hope
Realizing the blessed hope of Christ’s return has impacted every facet of my life and ministry. As much as the message of fear previously permeated my entire outlook, so much more has the Gospel of hope and grace transformed the paradigms of my life.
First, the apocalyptic and prophetic literature of the Bible can now be read as an act of worship! That which I feared has now become my greatest hope. Recently, I read aloud the Revelation of Jesus Christ in its entirety. For the first time in my life, the text brought tears to my eyes as my heart filled with hope for God’s future plan. Maybe this was just an inkling of what it would have been like to receive this letter as a struggling first-century Christian, surrounded by volatile persecution.
I realized hope over fear.
Second, the Gospel has once again become to me a message of hope and grace. I have seen how this wonderful grace can motivate one from the heart, in contrast with the fear that seeks to control the mind. I have again realized the simple faith of my childhood that can cling to the arms of a loving heavenly Father, who has ordained “a living hope” for His children in His Son, Jesus Christ.
This is truly a matter of life and death. In March of 2011, my cousin David (who was the same age as me), committed suicide via a shotgun wound to the head. My family and I still grieve over the loss of his life. He had heard about Christ. Yet all too often, I venture to say it was a message of fear, not hope – not the hope he truly needed in his life. When I met with his grief-stricken father, his words to me were these, “I guess he just lost hope…” I had nothing to say. My heart, too, was filled with pangs of regret and sadness.
Yet I will never forget that moment when I realized the people around us are just hanging on by a thread. The hope of the resurrection and the new creation need to be articulated to a world that has lost sight of what they are really looking for.
Third, my earlier skewed views of God’s future plan have been corrected with a hope for the time when Christ will make all things new – when the earth will once again become the dwelling place of the Messiah. No longer do I have the sole expectation of escaping to heaven, per se. I long and yearn for the day when in glorified body I will be with the God of grace and hope – when my faith will be fully realized and divine love will rule for all eternity (cf. 1 Cor 13; Rev 21-22).
The escapist mentality is no longer desired when one realizes the future God has for the earth remade in the new creation:
“Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev 21:3b-4).
Lastly, having a proper view of the future determines how you live in the present. Therefore, I am committed to delivering and living out a Christian eschatology of hope to people who think it is irrelevant. Several weeks ago, I mentioned my recent study of millennialism to someone at church and they jokingly responded, “Yeah? I was just thinking about that on the drive in this morning.”
Undoubtedly, his comment was all in good fun. Yet such an attitude is also very telling of the common regard for eschatology in our time. On the one hand, millions of believers are preoccupied with a fear-based eschatology that sucks them of life, grace, and joy. Yet on the other hand, many millions more remain ambivalent about understanding God’s future plan. As a result, our proclamation of the Gospel is skewed and the lost around us do not see any relevant reason to look at what we proclaim.
People of Hope
Because of a distorted and mistaken eschatology, I was crippled for years with anxiety over what should have been the source of my greatest hope – the return of our Savior Jesus Christ. Can we turn the page together? Let’s collaboratively display for the people of God what it means to be people of hope – those who look forward with great expectation for the coming of the Savior Jesus Christ. As we live in light of what is to come, we will be filled with courage in the face of temptation, strength of faith, and a message that rings true to a world in pain, suffering, and confusion.
The Blessed Hope is the grand expectation and longing of the Church and we dare not settle for anything less. Christ will come again, and with His magnificent power He will set up the consummation of His kingdom that will reign for all eternity. May our lives ring with the praises of His glorious grace in this present age and in the age to come. “Even so, come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev 22:20)
 John Bevere, The Fear of the Lord Dvd Series (Colorado Springs, CO: Messenger International, 2005).