5 Ways to Pray for the Thailand Team

The Thailand team (Dr. John, John Hetrick, and I) are leaving Thursday morning at 8am for a ten day trip that will be split between visiting UB churches in northern Thailand and Hong Kong. The following is a brief list of specifics you can pray about while we are gone.

1. Ask God to forge friendships. This trip will have many introductions and first impressions. Ask the Lord to help us open our hearts to new friends.

2. Ask the Father to give us clarity of thought. Much of our time will be spent listening and asking questions, so we need sharp minds despite the long travels.

3. Ask God to help us boil down the differing perspectives on our team into a firm understanding of the ministries we assess. The better information we bring home, the better decisions we will be able to make for the future.

4. Ask the Lord to keep us sensitive to cultural differences so that we bring honor to our hosts.

5. And finally, ask God to give us opportunities to bless our hosts and minister in their community, and for the courage to do so.


God Wins

Here is a sermon from this past Sunday addressing the doctrine of Hell.

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Hoping vs. Wishing for an Impermanent Hell

As I prepare this week to speak on the doctrine of Hell, I am struggling a bit with my feelings. I think Michael Wittmer summarizes well the tension I have:

Our hopes are only as strong as the reasons we have for holding them. Some hopes are nothing more than a wish—I hope that it doesn’t rain tomorrow or that my team will win the game. But Christian hope, the kind that makes the top cut with faith and love (1 Cor. 13:13), is grounded in the promises of God. Such hope is “an anchor for the soul, firm and secure” (Heb. 6:19), because it rests in what “God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time” (Titus 1:2).

I wish that God would empty hell, that he would save everyone who has ever lived. But I can’t say I hope for that, because I don’t have a promise from God to hang my hope on. Christians may have lots of good wishes for deceased atheists, but we don’t have hope. Not because we are mean or stingy, but because we dare not offer more hope than God promises in Scripture. That would be false hope, the cruelest hope of all.

Michael Wittmer, Christ Alone: An Evangelical Response to Rob Bell's "Love Wins," (Edenridge Press: 2011), Kindle Edition.


Is God Celebrating Osama bin Laden's Death? Should We?

There is a palpable joy in the streets because a man is dead.

This isn't going to win me any elections, or friends, but it needs to be said. God is not happy that Osama bin Laden is dead; not if you understand happiness to be a feeling of pleasure. God certainly brought about this death, as he does with all deaths. And in my opinion I believe both human and divine justice were served by this death. But there is no pleasure in this for God, and something sick in the human heart is revealed when we find there a pleasure that God himself does not share.

Consider Ezekiel 18:21-24
21 “But if a wicked person turns away from all his sins that he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is just and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. 22 None of the transgressions that he has committed shall be remembered against him; for the righteousness that he has done he shall live. 23 Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord GOD, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live? 24 But when a righteous person turns away from his righteousness and does injustice and does the same abominations that the wicked person does, shall he live? None of the righteous deeds that he has done shall be remembered; for the treachery of which he is guilty and the sin he has committed, for them he shall die.

The rhetorical question is answered explicitly in vs. 32, just in case you thought God was just asking questions and not communicating a proposition.

"For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live."

Osama bin Laden's death should be a somber, sobering occasion for anyone who knows the Lord, who understands the weight of sin because of the price paid for it. Justice glorifies God's holy character, his sinless perfection, and his utter rejection of all evil, but it brings him no joy at all.

So why are so many in the street celebrating justice like their team just won the Superbowl? There are probably lots of reasons. I'm not saying everyone standing in the street draped in a flag is sinning just like I'm not saying everyone who reacted calmly is righteous in their hearts. Instead, I think this occasion is a fine time to check our hearts to see how close to Christ we are on the issue of justice and joy, and I think Ezekiel can help us.

Meditate on this changed scenario and question:

Osama bin Laden is captured and imprisoned. He is tried and convicted of his crimes and receives capital punishment. During the trial, he has a change of heart. He hears a message of forgiveness in Jesus and understands the grave sin of his heart and life. He is transformed by the Holy Spirit. He puts his faith in Jesus and goes to the gallows with the peace of knowing he has been forgiven and will be with Jesus in a few short moments. He will never receive any punishment from God for the 9/11 attacks, because Jesus died for that sin.

Compared to reality, does this scenario bring you more or less joy?


Refreshing Your Bible Reading

In recent weeks God has brought me into a few conversations with friends who are struggling to read the Bible with interest and devotion. It is not uncommon for a Christian to experience "dry spells" in this vital spiritual discipline. My advice varies based on the person with whom I am speaking, but generally it falls along the line of reading smaller sections and using the Scripture itself to inform your prayer life.

There are generally two kinds of reader (or non-reader in this case.) Either the person knows a lot about the Bible and is burned out from reading it, or the person is not a reader (of any kind) and finds sitting down to read anything at all a challenge.

David Powlison is part of the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation, which has ties to the school where I am currently studying, Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. He offers some excellent advice in this video from their website:

Dr. David Powlison - Making Scripture Personal from CCEF on Vimeo.


Re-Thinking Mission with Kevin DeYoung

At the 2010 Sovereign Grace Ministries conference, Kevin DeYoung, a pastor in East Lansing, MI, gave an address on the mission of the church. It is over an hour in length and worth listening to in full. DeYoung calls us to think about the mission of the church in terms of the Great Commission in response to popular notions today of expanding the mission to include humanitarian aid or social justice work.

Some intial thoughts.

1. Changing the "oughts" to "cans" is brilliant. There are all sorts of ways the church can spread the Gospel in their communities. We don't need to argue that Jesus' ministry included equal emphasis on spiritual salvation and meeting physical needs in order to help people. Jesus did meet needs while he proclaimed the Gospel because of his compassion for the people. We can meet needs as we fulfill the mission of making disciples.

2. The church should purpose to do what only the church can do. DeYoung's survey of Acts clearly demonstrates the priority the early church placed on proclaiming the Gospel and establishing the local church. Acts does contain plenty of giving, sharing, and caring for the poor (e.g. Acts 2, 5, 6), but these examples demonstrate how the church functions internally, not how it reached the Gentile world.

3. As a missions pastor of a very large church, one of my tasks is to keep the many missions passions of my congregation tied to the anchor of the biblical mission of the church. So as my church considers a missions endeavor, it is a good idea to ask the question, "How is this endeavor going to create disciples who passionately follow Jesus in the context of the body of Christ?"


Meeting a Baseball Hero: One Year Later

For those who remember my brief but tragic saga from a year ago, this year is the year! For those of you who don't, last year I was given the gift of speaking after Tom Brookens, third baseman for the Detroit Tigers in the late 70s and 80s. He is the current first base coach for the Tigers. I grew up rooting for Tom Brookens. When I was six, they won the World Series. Tom was a household favorite, and I was asked to speak after him at the Wild Game feast last year.

And then it hit.

The great storm of 2010. Now, in Michigan this was just your average snowstorm. But here in PA, people lost their brains. Mothers were raiding Walmart for canned goods like the first horseman of the apocalypse had just been spotted. So the event was canceled, and along with it my shot at meeting a baseball hero from my childhood.

But the Lord has remembered his servant Kyle (He probably has way bigger plans than just me, but this is how I like to see it.) The 2011 Wild Game Feast is happening January 29th at King Street Church in the Baker Center. Exhibits are open at 5pm with dinner to begin at 6pm. Tickets are available at the KSC office, and if you come they are asking people to bring a hot and a cold dish to serve 8 people.

So if you're local, come on out and meet Tom Brookens and listen to him tell cool baseball stories. I'm hoping for some insider info on the 1984 World Series win over the Padres. And when he's finished regaling us with cool stuff, you'll get to hear from one really excited little boy.


Kick Off with Tim Keller

Hope you had a good holiday season. Rachel and I spent some time away and I took the month off from blogging. But now I'm back and hope to share some small insights with you in 2011.

Here's an intriguing speech from Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York. Much of my thinking and research lately has been on the mission of the church, particularly as it relates to its local context. In this speech, Keller makes his case for the city and the grace that is found there. Since King Street Church is a large congregation in a downtown environment, I found a lot of food for thought here, particularly the discussion of Jeremiah 29 and the call to seek the peace (shalom) of the city as a part of the church's mission.


Thankful to...

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving everyone.

Remember, there is always an object to thankfulness. A general feeling of thankfulness is the popular sentiment of Thanksgiving. But what is that? If you give thanks, you must give it to someone. So remember to take some time today to thank the Lord, whose face shines on his people in so many ways.

Psalm 67
To the Choirmaster: With Stringed Instruments. A Psalm. A Song.

1 May God be gracious to us and bless us
and make his face to shine upon us, Selah

2 that your way may be known on earth,
your saving power among all nations.

3 Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise you!

4 Let the nations be glad and sing for joy,
for you judge the peoples with equity
and guide the nations upon earth. Selah

5 Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise you!

6 The earth has yielded its increase;
God, our God, shall bless us.

7 God shall bless us;
let all the ends of the earth fear him!


The Hardest Thing I Have Ever Done

It's been 24 hours since I ran the Harrisburg Marathon, and I have been trying to decide if saying that it's the hardest thing I've ever done is an overstatement. But I think it's probably correct to say that the last nine miles of this race were the mentally and physically most taxing accomplishment of my 32 years. In my four years of high school football I'm sure I came close to the physical fatigue of this race, but I did not have the mental anguish. Conversely, my graduate studies posed signnificant mental hurdles, but you don't have to jog 26 miles when writing your 80 page paper. So I think it's safe to say the last nine miles of this marathon have no true equal in my life.

The race was fun for the first 13 miles. It was a beautiful day: 63 degrees, partly sunny, no wind, fall colors, lots of cheering spectators including my wife, who surprised me by showing up several times throughout the course. She has really been a great support in this whole journey and it was awesome to have her there.

But I made a few rookie mistakes that really cost me near the end of the race.

The first mistake was starting too close to the front of the pack. I run 10 minute miles pretty consistently, but I started near people who ran nine minute miles or faster. So I was being passed quite a bit, and mentally that caused me to speed up, because it felt like I was going in slow motion. At the five mile mark I was at 45 minutes. That's a nine minute mile. I should have been a half mile back. I was using too much energy trying to maintain a pace for which I hadn't trained.

My second mistake was failing to walk at the water stations long enough. In training I walked for a full minute. But again, no one in the race was walking at the water stations, so I felt compelled, for no reason at all, to walk less at the water.

My third and most fatal mistake was trusting the race organizers when they said there would be gel packs available at the water stations after 13 miles. Gel is a small pack of high carbohydrate and electrolyte ooze that you eat while running to give your muscles energy. Long distance runners have to eat to keep going. I trusted that the gel would be there, but it wasn't. I got one pack at mile 13, but after that no other station had any gel. By mile 17 I could tell I was out of fuel. That's when I started to pray that God would give me strength to finish the final nine miles without the necessary energy. Miles 18-20 were all hills. When I got through those hills I was completely drained without any hope of refueling, and I still had to run six miles.

The final six miles I was in severe pain. Every muscle hurt, including my arms. A headache was forming due to the lack of calories. Everything in me told me to stop, and I had to battle through those thoughts. At one point I just had to tell myself to stop feeling bad about not having the calories, that nothing was going to change my situation, and that if I stopped moving I wouldn't start again. So at mile 21 I just started pushing myself and preaching at myself not to quit moving for any reason. It was a pretty surreal moment.

When I crossed the finish line, all I can remember is people cheering followed by people asking me if I was ok. I must have looked pretty sapped. Rachel came and gave me a big hug, put my medal around my neck, and wrapped a solar blanket around me. At first I couldn't enjoy it because I thought I was going to be sick or collapse. Neither happened.

A friend recently said if you can run a marathon you can do anything. It does feel a little like that now. Right now I can barely stand up, but in a few days I'll be back at it and, who knows, I might even sign up for another one.