A Poem to My Firstborn

I am not a good poet, but in times of great thought and emotion, a poem springs forth.  The day Ashley told me she was pregnant, welling within me were thoughts and feelings that I had to capture and put to form. (Apologies to Dr. Simons, my poetry teacher.)

To My Firstborn

To my firstborn, I don’t know
which direction you might go
In life. I’ve never heard you cry,
I’ve never heard a solemn sigh.
And I don’t know your name just yet,
but when I think of you I get
A deep, abiding feeling of love,
something before I’d only heard of—
How a dad’s heart longs to hold;
protect and keep within the fold
of safety. How I wait to see
your love surround our family.
But more than anything, I pray,
that you would love God more than day.

To my firstborn, I don’t know
what makes you laugh. What kind of joke
Will I tell just for the sake
of hearing your laugh silence break?
And as your breath emits the sound,
what noise will come when bliss abounds?
In time, we will learn all these thrills,
discovering the joy that fills
Our rooms with dear and pleasant riches,
holding close our family’s wishes:
That as you seek to love God first,
we pray he’ll give you an unsatisfied thirst
For truth, for knowledge, for wisdom above—
all blanketed in an innocent love.

To my firstborn, an emotion follows,
filling up my inner hollows
with complete weakness, total inept,
to help you say “God’s ways, I’ve kept
from my youth, I’ve failed at times,
but Christ forgave, his love—it binds
my heart to his.”
And so we come, your mother and I
before the throne of grace and cry
out before the living God for grace
to pour upon our humble place.
He gently pats me on the arm,
and calms my heart from this alarm,
“My grace is enough when you are weak.
Cast your cares to the cross and only trust me.”

To my firstborn, seek wisdom for any cost!
Without it we are all but lost.
Be wise in what you choose to do,
your choice of friends needs wisdom too.
Be wise in how you choose a spouse,
consult the living God and dowse
Your days and nights in earnest prayer,
there’s misery in an unhappy pair.
And when the times comes when you cleave to another,
remember to always be blessing your mother,
So in winter, warm, all clothed and dressed—
rise up and call your mother blessed,
Her love is deep and maternally adorned,
deluge her with blessings and laud her, firstborn.

To my firstborn, be strong and be brave,
to fight for the truth all life to the grave!
So when the time comes to exit our home,
and enter the world of scary unknown
Stay close to your family, if only in soul.
But go as God leads you, to the ends of the world.
And when the storms of life glare down,
I pray your eyes are heaven-bound,
And when the Lord permits delight,
I pray you’ll thank him in the night.
And if the Lord demands your life,
I pray you’ll look at me and my wife,
Remind me that it’s worth all the pain,
because for you, to die is gain.
Quill&Pen

A Spiritual Tour

I made a discovery last year when I was studying Hebrews 11:6

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because everyone that comes to him must believe that he exists and that rewards those who earnestly seek him”

I concluded that there were two elements that made Christian faith real: 1) believing in God and 2) believing that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

When I discoverered that faith involves believing and relentlessly pursuing a reward, it mezmorized me.  The idea that our seeking a reward for ourselves from God was actually not only glorifying to God but unconditionally central to Christian faith (without which it is impossible to please God) is one of the most freeing truths I have found in scripture.  It led me to go deeper, and seek the connections of faith and reward, and how they are intertwined.

I did a series on it over the summer.  We talked about Christian self-denial, which I explained as giving up something good now for something infinitely better in the future.  We talked about sacrifice.  And we ended there.

My spiritual nose sensed there was something more, something deeper– but I couldn’t figure it out.  Eventually, as ministry goes, we moved on to different subjects.  I thought my teaching on faith and its relation to reward was complete.

And then I started reading John Piper’s The Purifying Power of Living by Faith in Future Grace. And it baffled me.

It’s like I was walking along in a forest, and found an old, gnarled off-shoot path in the forest, dark and unpromising but a path nonetheless.  I explored it, but potholes and low hanging branches prevented me from going in too deep.

So I went back to the main path, only to find expert forest explorer and tour guide John Piper with his long, cutting machette and his hemp hat, saying, “Wait! Come back! I’ve found gold!”

And he takes down the path I had previously abandoned and points out beauties and I had imagined but had never seen with my own eyes.  He talks about how the plants and trees and birds and butterflies all live together in harmony.  He recites the names of the trees as if they were old friends.  He winks at the blue jay as it whistles by.  And at the end of the path there is a river, with gold sparkling in the current.  And then he stops and says, “Enjoy. I must find another.”

That is what Future Grace has been to me so far.  So I commend it to you.

Future Grace

Fighting Loose Living by Killing Legalism

rules_1668_1668Rules.

What is their role in the Christian life?

If you were to survey an entire high school asking this yes or no question, I bet 80% of them would say YES.

“Is Christianity primarily about following a set of specific rules?”

Essentially, most people have no idea that salvation has nothing to do with rules.  And until you debunk that, telling a student to follow Jesus because Jesus loves them is like telling a patient to fill out more forms because doc is concerned.

No thanks.

Thank Tim Keller for this insight

Worship Pastors: How Do We Gauge Succes?

“I could actually hear the congregation singing last Sunday morning!”  worship

“Did you see Frank* closing his eyes during the last song?”

“Couldn’t you feel God’s presence this morning?”

Or in case of Fallbrook First Baptist: “They were actually clapping on beat this morning!”**

These are typical things people on the praise team will talk about after a Sunday service.  They are our gauges.  These are the factors that we use to decide whether or not a worship service was, in fact, worshipful.  Are these valid ways of measuring worship?

My answer: no.

And, though I could go into great detail why I believe that, I will give you a brief defense of my answer and give you a chance to respond.

Leading in worship is much like talking to an unsaved person about the gospel.  You can present the truth in a tasteful way, but whether or not it sinks in and affects the heart is not in your hands.

That being said, this is how we gauge success– Did we accurately proclaim gospel truth in a tasteful, non-distracting, God exalting way? If we can honestly answer yes, then we are successful.  Even if Frank didn’t close his eyes.


* I chose the name Frank because I’m pretty sure no one in our church is named Frank.  And if there is someone in our church named Frank, I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t know how to find this blog.

**That actually never happens.

3 Books I’m Carrying Around With Me

Comeback Churches: How 300 Churches Turned Around and Yours Can Too by Ed Stetzer and Mike Dodson.

When People are Big and God is Small: Overcoming Peer Pressure, Codependency, and the Fear of Man, by Edward T. Welch.

Can’t Buy Me Love: The Beatles, Britain, and America, Jonathan Gould

Two Mentors: One Dead, One Alive

I have found that one of the most inspiring devices God uses to spur on his people to live like they should is a mentor.  And though there is nothing as good as a physically present mentor, there is great benefit in learning about the great men of God who have set examples for us.  In my life right now, I am purposefully letting myself be mentored by two people who don’t know me, one dead, one alive.

I’ll start with the living mentor.  He’s 63 and he lives in Minneapolis.  He’s a father, a grandfather, and an incredibly passionate man–with special gift to preach and teach.  He has a passion for God’s glory, and is widely known for his rhyming couplet:

God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him.

By now you might know I’m talking about John Piper.  For a more official biography, go here.

I was first became intrigued in his life and ministry after reading his most famous work, Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist. There a few books in my life that have changed the my perspective on life– but this is one of them.  It was the beginning a quest to understand the relationship between my joy and God’s glory.  He affirmed my hunger for happiness and joy, and pointed me in the direction of God to find it.

One thing I’ve noticed about Piper is that he’s quick to jump on to any kind of technology to use it to magnify God.  Piper (maybe not Piper himself, but definitely his ministry) was a pioneer in using the internet as a new way to get his resources out there.  In the early days of the internet, as Piper’s ministry was becoming more widely known, DesiringGod.org was launched– a website dedicated to “God-centered resources from from the ministry of John Piper“.  Most websites dedicated to a certain pastor’s ministry had a small fee to download sermons, videos, books, etc; but Desiring God was free.  Even when you choose to buy a book online, there is a as much as you can afford policy for those who cannot pay full price.

When I discovered Desiring God, with full free access to 30 years of articles, books, sermons, conferences, and videos, I became a mentee of John Piper.  I thank God for men like him, who can boldly say to a younger generation, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ.”

My other mentor is dead.  He has been dead for 111 years.  He was a Prussian who spent most of his life in Bristol, England.  He primarily worked with orphans. His name is George Muller.

If you haven’t read George Muller’s autobiography yet, put it on the list.  Reading an autobiography is like living in the same house as the man.  You see strengths and weaknesses; struggles and victories.  You have a first-hand account of how he feels about things; how he consoles himself in despair; how he motivates himself in ministry.  It is window into his habits and his discipline.  It’s a testimony to how God works in a man’s life that is dedicated to the Lord.  In the Muller’s case, it is specifically a testimony to the power of prayer.

For the next few weeks, I am going to let him mentor me.  I’ll be reading through his book, Releasing the Power of Prayer, and his biography by A.T. Pierson.

The best mentor is one you can talk to– but men like Piper and Muller are examples of the incredible grace of God, and we can learn much from them.  I always think it’s a good for us to “think the thoughts of great men after them.”

The Story of a Masai Warrior Named Joseph

One of the least likely men to attend the Itinerant Evangelists’ Conference in Amsterdam sponsored by the Billy Graham Association was a Masai Warrior named Joseph. But his story won him a hearing with Dr. Graham himself. The story is told by Michael Card.

One day Joseph, who was walking along one of these hot, dirty African roads, met someone who shared the gospel of Jesus Christ with him. Then and there he accepted Jesus as his Lord and Savior. The power of the Spirit began transforming his life; he was filled with such excitement and joy that the first thing he wanted to do was return to his own village and share that same Good News with the members of his local tribe.

Joseph began going from door-to-door, telling everyone he met about the Cross [suffering!] of Jesus and the salvation it offered, expecting to see their faces light up the way his had. To his amazement the villagers not only didn’t care, they became violent. The men of the village seized him and held him to the ground while the women beat him with strands of barbed wire. He was dragged from the village and left to die alone in the bush.

Joseph somehow managed to crawl to a water hole, and there, after days of passing in and out of consciousness, found the strength to get up. He wondered about the hostile reception he had received from people he had known all his life. He decided he must have left something out or told the story of Jesus incorrectly. After rehearsing the message he had first heard, he decided to go back and share his faith once more.

Joseph limped into the circle of huts and began to proclaim Jesus. “He died for you, so that you might find forgiveness and come to know the living God” he pleaded. Again he was grabbed by the men of the village and held while the women beat him reopening wounds that had just begun to heal. Once more they dragged him unconscious from the village and left him to die.

To have survived the first beating was truly remarkable. To live through the second was a miracle. Again, days later, Joseph awoke in the wilderness, bruised, scarred—and determined to go back.

He returned to the small village and this time, they attacked him before he had a chance to open his mouth. As they flogged him for the third and probably the last time, he again spoke to them of Jesus Christ, the Lord. Before he passed out, the last thing he saw was that the women who were beating him began to weep.

This time he awoke in his own bed. The ones who had so severely beaten him were now trying to save his life and nurse him back to health. The entire village had come to Christ.

This is one vivid example of what Paul meant when he said, “I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body.”

There is something profoundly freeing and stabilizing to know that Christ calls us to sacrifice for the sake of the gospel. It stabilizes us from being thrown off guard when it comes. And it frees us to choose it when love beckons us. And it begins to free us from the incredible seduction of American prosperity.

***this excerpt is taken from John Piper’s sermon called Called to Suffer and Rejoice: To Finish the Aim of Christ’s Afflictions, found here.

The Grace of God in My Life Lately

God has been gracious in answering prayers. The biggest, most obvious one has been the renewal of my prayer life, revitalized by The Autobiography of George Muller that I’ve been reading lately.  Seeing the greatness and faithfulness of God in Muller’s life is one of the most inspiring stories I’ve ever read.  I’ve never come across a book with such an impact on my heart, Bible aside.  It has driven my to my knees with an inflamed passion to pray and draw others to prayer.  If you’ve never read it, you need to.  It will change your life.

Secondly, our meet on the Fallbrook High School campus, IMPACT, was highly attended.  This was a gracious answer to prayer.  Many students got to hear the gospel.  My prayer is that the seed of the gopsel that has been planted would flourish, and that many would be saved.  Nothing is too hard for God.

Also, last night five of us prayed for the youth ministry like we usually do on Wednesday nights.  As soon as we were done praying, several Jr. High students burst into the room, two of whom we had just been praying for by name.  We played a few games and then went and talked about the gospel.  There was one little boy named Louis, who was so afraid of hell that he started to cry and I taught.  His brothers tried to cover his ears, but I told them to let him listen.  I have never seen such a young boy so afraid of hell before.  Eventually I was able to tell everyone about Jesus Christ.  The boy listened intently.  Afterwards, I had him sit next to me.  He began asking questions like “What if I forget?” and “What if I still sin?”  We got to talk about eternal security, and how God forgives our sins and give us the righteousness of Christ.  I told him that the Bible is God’s word to us, and it tells us how we ought to live.  The boy, who was hispanic, and was young enough that he was still learning to read English, told me he would get his brother or his mom to read it to him.

After the meeting ended, the kids left and were beginning to walk home when suddenly I heard them running back up the stairs to our meeting room.  The boys again burst through the door with little Loius, tears now dried up.  He intently asked me, “Can I have a Bible?”  I rejoiced in my heart and gladly gave him one.  And as abruptly as they came, they left.

I am going to finished with a quote from George Muller’s autobiography, which has been a source of encouragement to me:

“It appears to me that believers generally have expected far too little present fruit from their labors among children. They hope that the Lord will some day confirm their instruction and answer their prayers which they offer up on the children’s behalf.  The Bible assures us in that everything we do for the Lord, including bringing up children in the fear of the Lord, our labor is not in vain. We have to guard against thinking that it does not matter whether we see present fruit or not.  On the contrary, we should give the Lord no rest until we see fruit.  Therefore, in persevering yet submissive prayer, we should make our requests known to God.  I am now looking for many more children to be converted.” (pg.  132-133)

Yes, Even You.

“It may seem incredible to us now, but during the sixties and seventies, missions was commonly presented as an all-or-nothing issue for evangelicals. The mission decision seemed simple: either God was calling me to a high calling of being a missionary overseas, or God was calling me merely to support missionaries by giving and praying. The Perspectives course introduced the amazing notion that God was calling every Christian to live with the same level of commitment, fulfilling diverse but nonetheless critically significant roles in pursuit of one great global church.”

–Steve Hawthorne, found of Waymakers, co-creator of the Perspectives course