Who Needs ‘Toys R’ Us’?


The simplicity of playing with grandma’s kitchen utensils. No knives of course – that comes later with grandpa.

Many things come to mind when we watch our grandson, here’s one:

“And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life. . . .” – Matthew 6:27

Sovereign Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, give my heart the contentment and peace of a child who sits and plays free from anxiety and fear. Help me to believe that you care more about my day than I do for this child. This baby can no more fuss and fret his way into a longer life than I can – remind me today that I am just as helpless. Free me from worry and unbelief, in your name I pray, Amen.

Building a Fire in a Tree House is almost like . . . I say, almost!

I’ve always loved risk, danger, and a little coloring outside the lines when it comes to living life. When I was a young teen, with the help of some friends, we built a scrappy tree house from discarded lumber in a very large white oak tree in the last bend of the road before you get to my home; parts of that tree house are still there.

It was winter. I loved making fires in the winter – with snow falling, there’s nothing like sitting near an open fire cooking something – anything. So I thought to myself, logically of course: “I’ll build a fire in the tree house and roast hotdogs – now that will be exciting.” Again, with a little help from my friends, we put down a piece of sheet metal on the treehouse floor (we’re about 16 ft off the ground), and hauled up some kindling and logs for the fire. We cut some fresh sticks for roasting, lit the fire, and laughed our heads off. Now this was very cool to see smoke rising up through an oak tree as snow was falling. With a warm small fire and the smell of cheap hotdogs roasting on, literally speaking, an open fire – man we were living!

If you think this story ends with the floor of the tree burnt out and us falling to the ground like a bunch of acorns – nope, sorry – we did not earn the “Darwin Award of the Year” for the “Stupidest Ways People Die,” but we should have. Rather, we gorged ourselves on hotdogs and sat back in that tree house enjoying the warmth of the fire with a smile on our face as the snow continued to blanket the earth. The End.

Not so fast. Where’s the moral, the motto, the axiom of life? Ok – here it is: it’s the ability to live and tell true stories, the ones that have the aroma of risk, adventure and special mercies for not being the brightest bulb in the room. Good grief, haven’t you ever built a wooden boat in the desert, pack it with food and animals, and as the rain is falling and the flood is rising, and the earth is disappearing, then say to yourself over a warm fire for cooking and boiling?, “This is dangerous but safe – thank you God.”

Haven’t you ever done something in your life that was risky and pleasurable, you know, something “Huck & Finn” would be proud of? Now if we had built that fire on the wood floor itself – that would not be something to tell about – now would it:)? Duh.

Protect Your Joy Today!

David said,

“I have set the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure” – Psalm 16:8,9

Here’s what I do to protect my Joy:

1. I Believe that getting my head and heart in the Word will keep me safe, not from trials, but from doubt, self-pity, and despair. David believes this or he would not have said, “I have set the LORD always before me . . . I shall not be shaken.”

2. I Ask myself, “Do I approve of what God has done for me in Christ and do I embrace his promises for my life?” This is what is meant by saying that the LORD is at David’s right hand. Standing at the right hand is a metaphor for saying, “You stand here because I trust in you and what you are.” David’s heart believes that the Lord is trustworthy to keep the promise of stability – David believes that his life will not be shaken apart.

3. I reject and fight against the lies of the world and my flesh that offer what my heart seeks. My heart naturally wants to know what is the best path of life to take and where are the best pleasures found (vs. 16). The world and my flesh make suggestions a hundred times a day that the best pleasurable life to live is in what money can buy, what porn can give, what selfish ambition can supply, what ego-driven, pride-pumping, and self-congratulation talking can do. I will not set the world and my flesh at my right hand.

4. I do not put my trust in my ability to make myself joyful. That’s a false hope that leaves you gazing at your navel. Here’s why: If I make myself the instrument of supplying and maintaining my joy, it will be short-lived because I can’t remember where I put my keys to the car. And that’s the point! I cannot out-manage my own mis-management of my life, not to mention, life’s mis-management of my life. Look at how many things you simply do not have any say or control in the matter. This is why it is a fool’s errand to think that you can control enough people and things to maintain your joy. I do not make a very good god for myself.

5. I say to the LORD, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you” – (vs. 1). That’s worship. That’s faith. That’s hope. That’s boasting in Jesus Christ that says, “If I had all that this life has to offer for entertainment and security and health, but did not have you, I would have no good thing to enjoy. There really is no good thing without you.”

New Mercies under the Sun where there is Nothing New

In one place God tells us there is nothing new under the sun – what is, is what shall be, been there done that, meaningless-ness all around, around the globe we go, where it stops nobody knows – same ol same ol (Ecc. 1-3).

In other places God tells us that his mercies are new to us each morning, the newness of Life has come in Christ, and that this new day is the day that the Lord has made – a new cause for hope and joy in God (Lam. 3:23, 2 Cor. 5:16-18, Psalm 118:24).

We live in tension of unending grasping for meaning and unending receiving of mercy. We live in tension with hum-drum, ho-hum days and the Lord’s making something new for us today. We live with one foot in this cynical, cyclical merry-go-round where deja vu is a normal abnormality, and one foot in the new heavens and new earth. For the follower of Jesus Christ, it’s a hybrid experience. The challenge is to keep setting your mind on things above and not upon the earth, under the sun, where there is no real hope. Your real hope is above the sun, where the origin of new things keep coming from, where the risen Christ is seated on the throne.

Cynicism, despair, and hopelessness permeates this life, and for three good reasons:

1. You’re still going to die and leave everything behind – no matter what (Ecc. 2:18).

2. You can do everything right and still end up holding the short end of the stick (Ecc. 6:1-12).

3. You can experience whatever is humanly possible and still feel unfulfilled (Ecc. 2:1-17).

Here is what Christ offers under the sun until he returns:

1. Mercy for monotonous days. He provides contentment in simplicity without providing any assurance that tomorrow will be any better or worse (Ecc. 3:9-15, 5:12; Heb. 13:5). You have to trust him.

2. Mercy for accepting poverty along with wealth. No one knows what tomorrow holds. But you can know the one who holds tomorrow (Ecc. 3:6, 22; James 4:13-17). You have to trust him.

3. Mercy for growing old. While the eyes keep dimming you can see that God is fitting your heart for never growing old (Ecc. 12:3b; 2 Cor. 4:16). You have to trust him.

The End of the Matter: God sent his Son under the sun to be crucified for your sins. He rose from the dead and ascended through the clouds and above the sun. Those who “love his appearing” when he returns will be ready to be ushered into eternity, where God promises to make all things new. You have to trust him.

It Is Not a Christian Right to Bear Arms

This raises the topic of identity. It also raises the topic of trust, or rather, who or what is your functional place of trust in the day-to-day parts of your heart. It is possible to say on Sunday morning, “Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus,” but then by Friday most of your friends and family members have been convinced that your trust is really in being a right-wing conservative and 2nd amendment-defending American citizen. Here is an important question: Are you better at being an American than a Christian?

You might be, if you think that the present gun-control tactics by the President and his supporters causes you to think that it is a Christian Right to bear arms. You might be, if you spend more time fussing and fuming over the incremental loss of our political and human rights rather than saying like David, “He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken” (Psalm 62:2). But it is not a Christian Right to Bear Arms, though it is an American one. If you blur that line in your heart, then you will not be able to let your light shine before men because your identity as a Christian is an unbiblical one. Most Christians and most of Christianity has lived life with no political right to gun ownership and the Church has done just fine.

Those of you who know me know that I was raised as a hunter, a fire-arm owner, and a person whose family routinely enjoyed marksmanship competition. I’m thankful to have grown up where I did and how I did, dropping my first 8 point buck at age 13 with a .243 bolt-action Remington, in Clay County, WV.  Yum-Yum! But in the words of Erwin Lutzer, “Yes, we must fight, but we must fight like Christ, who never wavered from His message of spiritual redemption in the midst of depressing political and social abuses. We have a message that can do what politics can’t” (in Why The Cross Can Do What Politics Can’t, 1999, pgs. 28-29).

Let’s hear more from Pastor Lutzer – remember, he wrote this in 1999:

“. . . many of us want a civil religion because we fear that we might lose our creature comforts if our nation goes into decline. We can be glad that Americans have supported mission agencies around the world, but I fear that one reason we are so anxious that the economy remain strong is not because we want to continue to spread the gospel, but because we all enjoy the American way of life. Our tendency is to believe that a strong America always translates into a strong church. Many Christians today are concerned about corruption in government, the wasting of our taxes, the national debt, and funding of certain types of art projects. However, we are angry not because Christ is daily dishonored and the true God not worshiped, but because we fear that our taxes and family values are not being protected.”

He goes on:

“To put it clearly: for some Christians, lower taxes, a strong national defense, a rollback of government regulations, and a balanced budget amendment are more pressing issues than whether their neighbors and friends will spend eternity with God or be lost forever. Our creature comforts are the issues that really stir our ire . . . I’m convinced that many Christians who are angry today would become pacified if somehow we could return this country to the fifties . . . they would be satisfied with this change even if no one were converted to Christ in the process! They would be content if Christ were accepted as lawgiver to restore order to society even if He were not accepted as Savior to rescue society. In other words, it is not because people are going to hell that we are upset . . . rather, it is that our way of life is being disturbed (ibid, pgs. 43-44).

So if I have to one day surrender my American Right to own fire-arms, I will. And say to those who take them, “I will joyfully accept the plundering of my property, since I know that I have a better possession and an abiding one that will not be shaken – my citizenship is in heaven” (Hebrews 10:34, 12:27-28; Phil. 3:20).

Can you say, “Affliction is good for me”?

We sang this song for worship yesterday. It’s a poem written by John Newton in 1779 about how the Lord afflicts us that he might free us from our sin and drive us to himself. It describes what David said in Psalm 119 when he sang,

Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word . . . It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes. The law of your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces” (vss. 65-72).

Like David and John Newton, we have asked the Lord to grow us. Then he brought suffering as an answer to our prayer. Then we asked the Lord to take away the suffering. But the suffering does not go away but what comes is the design of the suffering – to “break thy schemes of earthly joy that thou may’st find thy all in Me.”

The song is sung by Sovereign Grace Ministries to the tune, “O Waly Waly.” The lyrics are below.

I asked the Lord that I might grow  

In faith and love and ev’ry grace,
Might more of His salvation know,
And seek more earnestly His face.

‘Twas He who taught me thus to pray,                                                                           And He, I trust, has answered prayer,
But it has been in such a way
As almost drove me to despair.

I hoped that in some favored hour
At once He’d answer my request                                                                                  And, by His love’s constraining pow’r,
Subdue my sins and give me rest.

Instead of this, He made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart
And let the angry pow’rs of hell
Assault my soul in ev’ry part.

Yea, more with His own hand He seemed
Intent to aggravate my woe,                                                                                        Crossed all the fair designs I schemed,
Humbled my heart and laid me low.

“Lord, why is this,” I trembling cried;
“Wilt Thou pursue Thy worm to death?”
“’Tis in this way,” the Lord replied,
“I answer prayer for grace and faith.”

“These inward trials I employ
From self and pride to set thee free
And break thy schemes of earthly joy
That thou may’st find thy all in Me.”

How Well Advised Are You?

Daniel Fuller wrote these words in his exceptional book, The Unity of the Bible:

“The Holy Spirit’s work is never to do more than cause us to own up to the truth of the knowledge to which we have access. Since the Holy Spirit’s work is simply to make people reasonable, their subsequent acts are done out of the freedom of knowing how well advised they are.”

This is why the Holy Spirit must blow on our hearts in a way that “causes us to own up to the truth” that Jesus is an all satisfying treasure. The Light of the World has judgment upon the hearts of men because “people love the darkness rather than the light because their deeds are evil” (John 3:18-20). The reason why people do not come to the light is because they do not love it. Love for the light is not caused by coming to the light. We come because we love it. Other wise, our coming is no honor to the light. The Spirit worked in the darkness of our hearts so that our coming to the light was done out of a heart of love for the light (“. . . he who does the truth, [that is, love God,] comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God” (vs 21).

It is the Spirit’s work that causes us to be born again (John 3:6-8) and it is the Spirit’s work that continues to “cause” our hearts to delight in God’s truths: “Give me understanding, and I shall keep Your law; Indeed, I shall observe it with my whole heart. Make me walk in the path of Your commandments, For I delight in it. Cause me to long for Your testimonies, and not to covetousness” (Psalm 119:34-36). In other words, we are in constant need and prayer that God’s Spirit would so enlighten our eyes that all of our “subsequent acts are done out of the freedom of knowing how well advised” we are. Before salvation and after salvation, the work of the Holy Spirit on our hearts is an absolute necessity. It is the Spirit that keeps us from works of the flesh, doing moral and religious things for God from our own resources – and it is the Spirit that makes holiness more tasteful than ungodliness.

Since “no one seeks after God” (Romans 3:11) nor wants to submit to God (Romans 8:7-8), we are at the mercy of God’s Spirit. When we pray for the salvation of a sinner, we are asking God to work a miracle in their heart. We don’t ask God to save them if they want to be saved, we ask God to cause them to want to be saved and then save them. We ask God to “grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will” (2 Timothy 2:25-26; Acts 13:48, 16:14).

The Spirit’s work is to overpower the work of Satan, to break the bondage that he has upon the sinner’s heart, and give the sinner a new heart so that he will walk in the Lord’s ways (Ezek. 36:27); in short, the sinner needs a resurrecting work of God if he is to breath again (Ezek. 37:13-14).

John Piper, in his classic “Desiring God”, describes the work of God’s Spirit as a work in our hearts to delight in God:

“Once we had no delight in God, and Christ was just a vague historical figure. What we enjoyed was food and friendships and productivity and investments and vacations and hobbies and games and reading and shopping and sex and sports and art and TV and travel . . . but not God. He was an idea – even a good one – and a topic for discussion; but He was not a treasure of delight.

Then something happened. It was like the opening of the eyes of the blind during the golden dawn. First the stunned silence before the unspeakable beauty of holiness. Then the shock and terror that we had actually loved the darkness. Then the settling stillness of joy that this is the soul’s end. The quest is over. We would give anything if we might be granted to live in the presence of this glory forever and ever. And then, faith – the confidence that Christ has made a way for me, a sinner, to live in His glorious fellowship forever, the confidence that if I come to God through Christ, He will give me the desire of my heart to share His holiness and behold His glory. But before the confidence comes the craving. Before the decision comes the delight. Before trust comes the discovery of Treasure (Matthew 13:44).”

I give thanks to God for giving me “the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God” (1 Corinthians 2:12). It is because of the Spirit that I saw what wonderful things he has given me in his Son. This desire to see the cross as “reasonable” instead of foolishness, is a demonstration not of human ability but the Spirit, and thus my faith is not caused by human perception but by the Spirit’s power (1 Cor. 2:4-5, 10-11). It is my prayer that God would cause our hearts to be more and more satisfied with God and never grieve nor quench the Spirit’s quest to magnify Jesus Christ in our lives.

Be encouraged! If you feel a deep hunger for God, your desperate cry for God’s Spirit to “incline” your heart toward him is itself a work of God’s Spirit, for it is the Spirit of Jesus that cries out of your heart, “Abba, Father” (Galatians 4:6).

Don’t Give Up.

There are several reasons why this clip affects us deeply. But I think the main reason is because we ourselves want to be cheered on to make it to the end zone. I think we all say this in our hearts: “If only I had a group of people wanting me to succeed, wanting me to keep running, wanting me to not give up, instilling hope in me – I think I could make it.”

It’s a blessing to be in a church where the over-all atmosphere is hope, encouraging faith in God’s Son to persevere to the end. But Jesus is not the only one cheering the saints on: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder (trail-blazer) and perfecter of our faith who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” – Hebrews 12:1-2.

If you need some encouragement today to not give up this race, know this: Like the throng of those football players paving the way and cheering on that little boy who is fighting for his life against brain cancer, there is a massive host of Hebrews 11 witnesses who don’t want you to give up. Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Rachel, Joseph, Moses, Joshua and Caleb, Queen Esther, Ruth, Rahab, the prophets, Joseph and Mary, the mother of Jesus, Zechariah and Elizabeth – and the millions of saints who have gone on before, are all cheering you on today. And they will not celebrate until you are home with them: “And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect” – Hebrews 11:39-40.

The Great Victory Dance will not take place without you. Remember today that heaven is filled with sinners saved by grace cheering you on. Remember today to fix your eyes of faith upon Jesus – the real hero on the field. Remember today to get dressed for running the race by laying aside hindrances and sin that keeps you from running well. Remember today that you are not alone. Don’t give up – You’re almost home!

The New River Gorge Bridge Stirs Worship of a Really Big God


Cheryl and I love to mountain bike to our favorite place of solitude – the overlook on the East side of the New River Gorge Bridge, Fayetteville, WV. Lord willing, we’ll be at this earthly cathedral in May when we celebrate my parents 50th wedding anniversary. I say cathedral because it stirs our hearts to worship a really big God. Here’s why:

1. Our hearts were made to be overwhelmed with something outside of us. If you want to kill your soul, just sit in front of our modern ME REFLECTORS, “mirror-mirror-on-the-wall-whose-the-fairest-of-them-all” magazines at the check out lines.

2. Our hearts were made to be overwhelmed with something bigger than us. If you want to kill your soul, just sit in front of the tv too much. By the way, try looking at porn while sitting on this mammoth-size cliff looking nearly 900 ft down. If you want a good tool for defeating indwelling sin, get outside and sit in awe of God’s creation.

3. Our hearts were made to be overwhelmed with complexity without trying to figure it out. If you want to kill your soul, get excited over how many “likes” you got today.

4. Our hearts were made to be known by the one who designed this beauty. We instinctively desire to be identified by the Creator the way an adopted child or an orphan instinctively desires to be identified and known by his or her biological mom and dad. If you want to kill your soul, believe that there is no one out there who made you and can’t be known.

5. Our hearts were made to worship. This is why we love the outdoors. Creation is whispering the language of God (Psalm 19). Those who deny this have to work over-time in their hearts to silence this unrelenting truth (Rom. 1:18-23). If you want to kill your soul, be more infatuated with who’s ahead in “Dancing With The Stars” than who made stars.

6. Our hearts were made to rest in the finished work of another. To sit and enjoy the skill, craftsmanship, artistry, poetry, engineering feat [like this bridge], culinary focus, and musical aptitude of a fellow human speaks an imperative into our lives: “STOP working so hard at developing and producing and performing, and for once in your life sit down and enjoy what I have done for you.” If you want to kill your soul, just keep working without resting and trusting in the work of another.

7. Our hearts were made to enjoy Christ Crucified in our place. Looking out over this gorge is pure unsatisfied delight. And that’s the point: Creation evokes an inner delight that is insufficient to satisfy us – we want more. We want to know who is behind this, who could possibly be this wonderful to make such beauty with breath-taking view. Why is this here? – why am I here to see this? Did Someone Special do something to rescue me from worshiping creation over the Creator? Did Someone Special come and rescue me from my phobia of death and loneliness? Did Someone Special come and suffer the consequence of my hatred and selfish ways? If you want to kill your soul, enjoy creation but never allow your soul to long for who is behind it all and what was done to give you everlasting joy.