A Belly-Button Generation

I recently (and by recently I mean this morning! Ha!) started listening to 5 Minutes in Church History, a podcast hosted by Dr. Stephen Nichols. It is perfect because my commute to work is roughly seven minutes. The only time it is longer is if  I am delayed by a huge tractor taking up half the road (at least a few times a week – I kid you not) or by several deer crossing the road right in front of me such as occurred this morning.

I started the podcast on the very first episode which was made available for listening almost five years ago. After all, the beginning is a very good place to start, right? It is titled, “Confessions Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow: Augustine’s Big Word.” Yeah, not that exciting of a title but the way stick with me. This morning I read these words from Galatians 1:10 in my Bible study, “For now am I seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” We are not to be man-pleasers but God-pleasers. We are to seek to please God in all that we say, do and think. However, as this podcast reminds us, we live in a belly-button generation. We are consumed with ourselves and being accepted by others: “This sociologist was saying we’re like infants when they first discover their own belly button. They’re utterly fascinated by it. Okay, when you’re an infant. But, as we grow up if we fail to see there’s a world around us, we are living pretty shallow lives. If we’re still fascinated by our belly buttons, something is wrong.”

What we need is a big view of God, a God who is great and vast.  A few minutes later in my morning Bible study I read these words in Isaiah 45, “I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God…I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these things” (Isaiah 45:5-7). There is a God who is far greater than us and worthy of all our love and thought and emotion and energy and whatever else you can think of. Stop staring at your navel! You and I are not the main characters. That role belongs to God and God alone! So let us look up and see ourselves as the dot that we are and God who is Magnus – vast, great – and what matters most!

You can listen to the podcast here. It is only 5 minutes. You won’t regret it. 

So what do you say, Christian? Maybe there is no flagrant sin in your life but you are simply living in a cruise-control mode of obedience. Have you lost the commitment and intensity in your love of God? Are you seeking to obey God’s Word with all of your heart, soul, and mind? Or have you instead settled into a comfortable routine, in which there are no blatant sins but neither is there an all-out effort to love and obey God in every area of life? 

A good challenge from Jerry Bridges in his book, The Disciplines of Grace: God’s Role and Our Role in the Pursuit of Holiness:

So what is new? What did I learn from my study of Matthew 22:37 and Deuteronomy 6:5 that I didn’t know before? What I saw was the intensity and wholeheartedness with which I should obey God. If we are to love God with all our heart and soul and mind, and if obedience is a major part of such love, then it follows that we are to obey Him with all our heart, soul, and mind. We are to put everything we have into obedience to Him.

My observation is that most of us who are believers practice what I call a “cruise-control” approach to obedience. Many cars today have a convenient feature called cruise control. When you are driving on the highway you can accelerate to your desired speed, push the cruise-control button, and take your foot from the accelerator pedal…It’s very convenient and relatively relaxing. It’s a great feature on cars.

However, we tend to obey God in the same way To continue the driving analogy, we press the accelerator pedal of obedience until we have brought our behavior up to a certain level or “speed.” The level of obedience is most often determined by the behavior standard of other Christians around us. We don’t want to lag behind them because we want to be as spiritual as they are. At the same time, we’re not eager to forge ahead of them because we wouldn’t want to be different. We want to just comfortably blend in with the level of obedience of those around us.

Once we have arrived at this comfortable level of obedience, we push the “cruise-control” button in our hearts, ease back, and relax. Our particular Christian culture then takes over and keeps us going at the accepted level of conduct. We don’t have to watch the speed-limit signs in God’s Word, and we certainly don’t have to experience the fatigue that comes with seeking to obey Him with all our heart, soul, and mind. This then is what I call “cruise-control” obedience, and I fear it is descriptive of many of us much, if not all, of the time.

So what do you say, Christian? Maybe there is no flagrant sin in your life but you are simply living in a cruise-control mode of obedience. Have you lost the commitment and intensity in your love of God? Are you seeking to obey God’s Word with all of your heart, soul, and mind? Or have you instead settled into a comfortable routine, in which there are no blatant sins but neither is there an all-out effort to love and obey God in every area of life?

We’ve Moved!

Wow. It has been a long time since I last posted so let me give a quick update. If you don’t know, a little over a month ago we moved. We now live in Shelbyville, Michigan. I have been called as the pastor of counseling and discipleship at Orangeville Baptist Church in Plainwell, Michigan. As you can see from the title, my main area of responsibility is to build a Biblical counseling ministry where people come to Christ and grow in Christ. I am really excited about this. If you know me at all, then you know that I am very passionate about Biblical counseling and connecting the transforming power of God’s Word to everyday life. I get excited about this because I believe there is a vast disconnect between what people hear on Sunday or read in their Bibles and how it all translates into a changed life. I love to come alongside people and help them wisely relate God’s word to their personal walk with Jesus Christ so they can exalt and honor Him in all that they say, do, and think.

This past Sunday, April 22nd, was my fourth Sunday serving here. Yes, that means my first Sunday here as an associate pastor was on April Fool’s Day. No, it wasn’t all just a big prank! Ha, Ha! My family and I have been enjoying getting to know our new church family and our new community. God has blessed us with a beautiful house not far from the church building for which we are very thankful. I am hard at work getting the word out about our free biblical counseling that we are calling, “Orangeville Biblical Counseling Solutions” (if you don’t mind, take a moment and find our page on facebook and give it a “like”). I am also hard at work getting ACBC certified so that I can improve my ability to speak God’s truth in love and to help others do the same. Here is a picture of my new office. It used to be the church library. Orangeville Baptist has never had three pastors simultaneously so they had to convert the library into my office. It is a lot smaller than my old one in Newberry but everything fits nicely. If you are in the area, feel free to drop on by and visit! study

Dispassionate Preaching Is An Oxymoron

A good reminder from “the Doctor,” Martyn Lloyd Jones, as I prepare my heart and mind to herald God’s Word tomorrow morning:

Preaching is theology coming through a man who is on fire. A true understanding and experience of the Truth must lead to this. I say again that a man who can speak about these things dispassionately has no right whatsoever to be in a pulpit; and should never be allowed to enter one. – Martyn Lloyd Jones, Preachers and Preaching, 97.

 

Unbroken: A World War II Story About God’s Sovereign and Unrelenting Grace

Last night I finished reading Unbroken by Lauren Hillenbrand. I picked up the paperback edition several years ago on a whim, but only got around to reading it just now.

zamp 2

I wish I had read it earlier.

It is a deeply moving, extraordinary testament to God’s amazing grace in the life of Olympic runner and war-survivor Louie Zamperini.

Some would have you believe it is otherwise. Some would have you think it is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit, another testimony in a long line of witnesses proclaiming the indomitable power of will and determination.

Don’t believe them.

It is instead evidence of the stubborn, insuperable, tenacious, and sovereign grace of God that sustains a man through horrific suffering and overcomes a man filled with anger, bitterness, and revenge.

On a May afternoon in 1943, while on a search and rescue mission, Louie’s plane, the Green Hornet, suddenly crashed into the Pacific. For 47 days in a life raft, he was attacked by sharks, strafed by enemy aircraft, and battered by storms. He drifted 2,000 miles west only to be captured by the Japanese Navy near the Marshall Islands. For the next two years, he endured physical and mental suffering at the hands of Japanese POW camps that were difficult to read about. I cannot even begin to comprehend the horror of experiencing it. He endured disease, starvation, and excessively brutal beatings from guards. On three occasions, Louie was injected and used as a guinea pig for medical experiments. One Japanese named Mutsuhiro Watanabe took particular joy in hurting him. He would hunt Louie down, accuse him of imaginary infractions, and wildly attack him. Louie would try and hide in groups of men but it did no good. Watanabe, also known as “The Bird” would find him and beat him. On another occasion the Bird had Zamperini, along with a few other men, stand before the group of POW’s and punch them in the face as hard as they could. There were two hundred and twenty punches. The beating went on for two hours. Louie’s face was so swollen that for several days he could barely open his mouth.

Needless to say, when rescued and back home, Zamperini suffered greatly from nightmares. Every night he would see the Bird in his dreams. He seethed with anger and longed for vengeance. He began drinking heavily to try to deal with all of it.

One night, because of the prompting of his wife, he attended a crusade led by evangelist Billy Graham. Angered by the message, he reached the aisle but then stopped. He suddenly remembered being on the raft again and a promise that he had uttered to God, “If you will save me, I will serve you forever.” With that, he turned toward Graham and received Jesus Christ as his Savior from sin.

By his own testimony, since that night he has not once had a nightmare about the Bird. He gave up drinking. Instead of seething with anger, he was filled with peace and compassion and incorrigible joy. In the Fall of 1950, he returned to Japan, not for zamperin 1vengeance, but to tell his Japanese captors about God’s forgiveness. At SugamoPrison he compassionately addressed 850 Japanese war criminals with the message of Jesus Christ. Laura Hillenbrand writes, “Louie was seized by childlike, giddy exuberance. Before he realized what he was doing, he was bounding down the aisle. In bewilderment, the men who had abused him watched him come to them, his hands extended, a radiant smile on his face” (Unbroken, 387).

Summing up the life of Louie post-conversion Hillenbrand writes, “He remained infectiously, incorrigibly cheerful. He once told a friend that the last time he could remember being angry was some forty years before. His conviction that everything happened for a reason, and would come to good, gave him a laughing equanimity even in hard times” (Broken, 392).

Did you catch that?

Why is Zamperini cheerful and free from anger?

What has become his conviction?

“…that everything happened for a reason, and would come to good…”

In an interview with pastor Greg Laurie he says, “If it hadn’t been for the war or Watanabe and the post-traumatic stress, that’s what drove me to Christ. I mean, when I got on my knees and accepted Christ, what a relief to know that I had passed from one life to another.”

Wow! Wow! Wow!

This is not a story about the triumph of the human will.

Thzamperiniis is a story of the triumph of God’s amazing grace that sustains us through our darkest days and overcomes our deepest sins. This is a story about God’s relentless, driving, grace. I think I feel a Charles Spurgeon quote coming on, ““I have learned to kiss the wave that throws me against the Rock of Ages.”

 

 

The Day I Died

It was July 2nd, 1998.

I was sitting in my room reading Genesis 3 in the Bible. I realized then and there that just as Satan deceived Eve into eating the forbidden fruit, he had also deceived me, blinded me, to my sinfulness and need for a Savior. I didn’t stop and pray anything. Just all of a sudden everything “clicked.” All at once I believed, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I was a sinner and that Jesus Christ alone was my Savior. Without warning, I died.

  • I died to the penalty of sin.
  • I died to the power of sin.
  • I died to death.
  • I died to the condemnation of the devil.
  • I died to my selfish kingdom building.

As George Muller, the great evangelist, pastor, and coordinator of Christian orphanages in England put it, “There was a day when I died, utterly died – died to Andrew Manwarren, his opinions, preferences, tastes, and will; died to the world, its approval or its censure; died to the approval or blame even of my brethren and friends – and since then I have only sought to show myself approved unto God.”

And in dying, I came alive.

  • Alive to God.
  • Alive to righteousness.
  • Alive to holiness.
  • Alive to Christ.
  • Alive to the Spirit.
  • Alive to freedom.
  • Alive to truth.

I can take no credit for this. A dead man can not make himself live. But God, who is Life, graciously gave me life, through His living Word. All praise and glory to Him for slaying me by His Word so that I might now praise Him.

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. – Galatians 2:20

In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. – Romans 6:11

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. – Philippians 1:21