Monday, May 14, 2018

God’s Refrigerator Art of Motherhood

A little boy said to the girl next door, “I wonder what my mother would like for Mother’s Day?” She said, “You could decide to keep your room clean and orderly, and go to bed as soon as she calls you. You could brush your teeth without having to be told, and quit fighting with your brothers and sisters, especially at the dinner table.” He replied, “No, I mean something practical.”

On the eve of Mother’s Day, I offer three practical gifts from Scripture. These are part of God’s refrigerator art if you will, pictures of faithful motherhood.

In Psalm 128, the mother is pictured as a fruitful vine in the very heart of the house. The godly mother has a central place of responsibility in the home that, though she may not see it through diaper pails and dishpan hands, will bear fruit for generations to come.

In 1 Samuel 1, the mother is pictured as the greatest intercessor her son would ever know. It was Hannah’s prayer that touched the hem of God’s garment, and it was Hannah’s spiritual influence on Samuel that shaped and prepared him to fulfill God’s calling on his life.

A London editor once submitted to Winston Churchill a list of all those who had been Churchill’s teachers. Churchill returned the list with this comment: “You have omitted to mention the greatest of my teachers — my mother.” And Charles Spurgeon said, “I cannot tell you how much I owe to the custom on Sunday evenings while we were yet children for Mother to stay home with us, and then we sat around the table and read verse after verse and she explained the Scriptures to us. Then came a mother’s prayer; and some of the words of our mother’s prayer we shall never forget even when our hair is gray.” I don’t know if there is a more powerful force on this earth than a mother’s prayers for her children.

In 2 Timothy 1, the mother is pictured as a woman of genuine faith. Apparently Timothy’s father was not a believer, but God worked through his mother and his grandmother to give him a sound foundation. Is there anything more precious in a mother than genuine faith? The man who would become the most beloved companion of the greatest missionary the world has ever known learned the Word of God as a young child on his mother’s knee. She had genuine faith, not the wishy-washy easy-believism that so many in the church subscribe to today. Genuine faith impacts every person it touches.

Consider Susanna Wesley, who was the youngest of twenty-five children and who gave birth to nineteen herself. Eleven of her children died in childhood. Her husband left her for a time, even serving extended sentences in debtor’s prison. O, how God used Susanna Wesley to give away her faith to her children. As each child turned five, she tutored them in the alphabet and then, beginning in Genesis, she taught them to read, word by word, from the Scriptures. “I wonder at your patience,” her husband Samuel once said. “You have told that child twenty times the same thing.” “If I had satisfied myself by mentioning it only nineteen times,” Susanna Wesley answered, “I should have lost all my labor. It was the twentieth time that crowned it!”

I am thankful for the mother who raised me and for the wife and mother I love and live with. Happy Mother’s Day to all of you who serve so faithfully. You are a gift that could never be repaid in this lifetime.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Spring Clearance at WTS!

https://scontent-dfw5-1.xx.fbcdn.net/v/t1.0-9/32151978_10155536162705922_2265693392937680896_n.jpg?_nc_cat=0&_nc_eui2=AeFtcn-NAbtpHu4SX8LPvdvjZ2Fgq4e1fR2cP0m-nb4drdOVsoZEJKMYjAUbGfNj8jX68fX5PEX9KqejXwmtRmbhiaFaJYxv_om4sw0wRsDnxg&oh=9f4ccc731e17b636cda93677c2cb8ebb&oe=5B9854D7

Just letting you all know about some great deals going down over at the WTS bookstore right now. All of their spring clearance titles are 50-70% off, and here's just a few of my favorites (just click on the book cover to go the the product page and see the discount!) :

https://www.wtsbooks.com/story-reality-gregory-koukl-9780310525042?utm_source=jtotten&utm_medium=blogpartnershttps://www.wtsbooks.com/what-jesus-demands-from-the-world-john-piper-9781433520570?utm_source=jtotten&utm_medium=blogpartnershttps://www.wtsbooks.com/the-mingling-of-souls-gods-design-for-love-marriage-sex-and-redemption-matt-chandler-9781434706867?utm_source=jtotten&utm_medium=blogpartners https://www.wtsbooks.com/walking-with-god-through-pain-and-suffering-timothy-keller-9780525952459?utm_source=jtotten&utm_medium=blogpartnershttps://www.wtsbooks.com/gospel-j-d-greear-9781433673122?utm_source=jtotten&utm_medium=blogpartnershttps://www.wtsbooks.com/prayer-experiencing-awe-and-intimacy-with-god-timothy-keller-9780525954149?utm_source=jtotten&utm_medium=blogpartnershttps://www.wtsbooks.com/christ-and-culture-revisited-d-a-carson-9780802831743?utm_source=jtotten&utm_medium=blogpartners

Monday, May 7, 2018

If God is in the Boat, We Should Be Able to Trust

There was a time when my wife and kids could write about a family vacation in their journal even before we left. Day One: “Dad got frustrated today in traffic and yelled, ‘What in the world are you doing, dude?’ to the guy in front of us.” Day Two: Dad couldn’t believe the cost of admission at the Revolutionary War site. Much grumbling ensued. Day Three: Mom and Dad are in a cold war. It started when Dad was tailgating a guy who wouldn’t move into the right lane, and Mom asked him to back off a little.

It wasn’t always that way, but even one time would have been too many. And it wasn’t always with my family that I showed how immature I could be. It even happened a few times on mission trips when the unexpected occurred.

When the 4-man mission team from our church had a 12-hour layover in London a number of years ago, we had a blast, got along great and enjoyed every minute of it. I remember witnessing to some people I sat next to on the train from the airport. I was in a great mood, the sun was shining, we were touring a world-famous city, and life was good! Then it happened. We were about to go find the train that would take us back to the airport to catch our flight, when the bottom dropped out. The mother of all thunderstorms hit, knocking out the power, stopping the trains from running. We were stuck, stranded for an hour, waiting and worrying about getting back to Heathrow.

Guess what I don’t remember about the ride on the train back to the airport, wondering the whole way if we would miss our flight? I don’t remember witnessing to a soul. I wasn’t telling anybody about Jesus. I am ashamed to admit that I was too busy fretting and grumbling. When we got to the airport, I led the way, running with all my might through the terminal, yelling at the other guys to keep up. When we finally arrived at the gate, the attendant shook her head sadly. It was too late. Our plane for Kenya had taken off without us.

Every time I read the story about Jesus and his disciples caught in a storm on the Sea of Galilee, I am reminded of this truth: God orchestrates the storms of our lives. He plans every one of them for our good and for his glory. Each one teaches us how to trust him.

Jesus was asleep in the boat when the storm broke out. The disciples, who were no slouches when it came to handling a boat in tempestuous waters, panicked. They cried out to Jesus, who awoke, rebuked the wind and the waves, and the storm instantly ceased. His question for the disciples was a question for the ages: “Where is your faith?”

If our faith is in the modern gurus (Chopra, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, and others), then I would humbly suggest that we have no hope of weathering the storms of life successfully. We will eventually run into a storm for which our ability and their ‘counsel’ is simply not sufficient, especially when we face the inevitable storm of death. You can trust the Lord, and him alone, to take you to the other side. No one else can. No one else will.

Those who follow Jesus will have to go through storms. Many of them. I would guess that every person reading this column right now is either in the middle of a storm, coming out of a storm, or getting ready to enter a storm. Here’s the truth we need to remember. God does not promise to deliver us from the storms. He promises to deliver us through them.

If God is in the boat, in the car, on the plane, or anywhere else I happen to be, then I should be able to trust, and be at peace. Those riding with me are glad to hear it.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Jesus Had a Word For Religious Windbags

A rather pompous-looking deacon trying to impress a class of boys on the importance of living the Christian life said, “Why do people call me a Christian?” After a moment’s pause, one youngster said, “Maybe it’s because they don’t know you.” Ouch. Someone needs to clean that kid’s mouth out with soap. Or maybe it’s the deacon who needs to take a good long look at his life.

In dealing with the religious leaders of his day, Jesus did not mince words or hold any punches. He called them what they were: hypocrites. The Greek word was used to refer to actors because they played a part, wore a mask, pretended to be something they were not. How many times have we seen someone in a movie play a part that moved us to tears because of their sacrificial love or their selfless stand for goodness and integrity — only to hear the next week that the actor who moved us to tears was arrested for drunk driving or accused of an adulterous affair, or worse? We shake our heads at that, but we know that the character we see on the movie screen is fiction. The actor is playing a role, performing a part that has nothing to do with who he really is. He is, technically, a hypocrite.

What happens, though, when hypocrisy shows up in the church? Matthew 23 is a frightening passage of Scripture for me and maybe for you, too, because I think Jesus is warning us about how easy it is to slip into playing the part, especially if you are in a position of leadership. Perhaps the greater the commitment you have made to follow Jesus and to serve Him, the greater the temptation to slip on the mask when you fail or when you aren’t looking so good.

Here’s one place we can do a heart-check. How much of what we do as Christians is done so that we can be seen, be appreciated, be applauded by men? Jesus said to the Pharisees, “You love the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces.” The chief seat in the synagogue was up front, on the platform, facing the congregation. And the greatest honor was to be ushered up to the front, walking past all the “regular people,” to take the seat where you could best be seen. That’s the key, Jesus said, “You are most interested in being seen.” I am reminded of a recent “Babylon Bee” headline: “If a man reads his Bible, but fails to post pictures of it on the Internet, did it really happen?” Yes, we love to be seen, Jesus said, and we love to be greeted in the marketplace. Oh, this one cuts me to the heart, because I love the rare occasion when someone says, “Hey, are you the one who writes that column in the paper?” I confess it. But God has been gracious to give me children who are not impressed. They say things like, “Yeah, Dad, we were able to find you in the crowd: we saw your bald spot.” Or they grin and say, “Hey, Dad, I knew you were up there somewhere in the crowd, but all the people of normal height were blocking you from view. I thought, why doesn’t Dad stand up? But then I realized that you were.”

Someone said, “Character is who we are in the dark. It’s who we are when no one is looking.” I like that, but I would add that someone is always looking. No matter where we go, God will see and hear what we do and what we say. Perhaps this is the key to avoiding hypocrisy. If I live every minute with the knowledge that God is watching and listening, perhaps God will keep me from becoming a religious windbag. I pray so.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Biblical Illiteracy Carries a High Price Tag

A candidate for church membership was asked, “What part of the Bible do you like best?” He said, “I like the New Testament best.” Then he was asked, “Which book in the New Testament is your favorite?” He answered, “The Book of Parables,” and began to recite his favorite to the members of the committee.

“Once upon a time a man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves; and the thorns grew up and choked the man. And he went on and met the Queen of Sheba, and she gave that man a thousand talents of silver and a hundred changes of raiment. And he got in his chariot and drove furiously, and as he was driving along under a big tree, his hair got caught in a limb and left him hanging there. And he hung there many days and many nights. The ravens brought him food to eat and water to drink. And one night while he was hanging there asleep, his wife Delilah came along and cut off his hair, and he fell on stony ground. And it began to rain, and rained forty days and forty nights. And he hid himself in a cave. Later he went on and met a man who said, ‘Come in and take supper with me.’ But he said, ‘I can’t come in, for I have married a wife.’ And the man went out into the highways and hedges and compelled him to come in. He then came to Jerusalem, and saw Queen Jezebel sitting high and lifted up in a window of the wall. When she saw him she laughed, and he said, ‘Throw her down from there,’ and they threw her down. And he said, ‘Throw her down again,’ and they threw her down seventy-times-seven. And the fragments which they picked up filled twelve baskets full. Now, whose wife will she be in the day of the Judgment?”

The membership committee agreed that this was indeed a knowledgeable candidate.

That fictional story illustrates a sad truth: more Americans than ever before are biblically illiterate. Jay Leno once asked members of his audience about the Bible while taping his late night show.

“Name one of the Ten Commandments,” he said.

“God helps those who help themselves?” someone ventured. (Uh…wrong)

“Name one of the apostles,” Leno asked. No one could.

“Name the Beatles,” Leno said. Without hesitation, the answers came from many, shouted almost in unison: “George, Paul, John and Ringo!”

The numbers are staggering. According to the Barna Research Group, 41 percent of Americans read the Bible once a year or never. Only 16 percent of Christians say they read their Bible daily. The numbers are also embarrassing. Twelve percent of Americans think Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife. Fifty percent of graduating high school seniors, in one survey, thought Sodom and Gomorrah were husband and wife.

Just wondering…how much of our language is foreign to those who don’t know the Bible? Phrases like these, “A house divided,” “Blind leading the blind,” and “Can a leopard change his spots?” all have their origin in the Bible. That’s just three phrases, the ABC’s if you will, but there are hundreds, thousands of biblical references that have become commonplace in our language, and the power of their meaning has been lost.

That’s not the greatest cost of biblical illiteracy on our nation, however. David wrote, “I have hidden Your word in my heart, that I might not sin against You.” Those who throw away the compass are bound to get lost. Those who become “a law unto themselves” (another biblical reference) are headed for destruction.

We need the Bible. Not just on our shelves, but in our hearts.

Monday, April 16, 2018

This is Not the Day You Expected

What was a day in your past that you anticipated for weeks or even months? I remember several years growing up when I would wait for my grandmother, Nana, to come on my birthday and pick me up in her convertible Morris Minor. She would take me to a favorite restaurant to eat, and sometimes to a movie. It was a day I looked forward to. What if, instead of stopping to pick me up, she just drove by my house and threw a moldy McDonald’s hamburger out the window at my feet, while singing, “Sad Birthday to you…”? That’s a happy day turned sour.

Let’s raise the stakes much higher. When is the day of the Lord darkness and not light? When is the day of the Lord gloom, and not joy? Answer: It is when the day of the Lord comes for the unbeliever. As I work through the book of Amos in the Old Testament, I have thought about Haman several times. He was the wicked right hand man to the King in the book of Esther. The second feast day for Haman was not festive but disastrous. He came expecting to be honored, but instead he was hanged. Haman’s presumption led to his demise.

That is what was going on in Israel in the 8th century B.C., and we could all learn from it. The people presumed that God would look the other way as they lived any way they chose to live. Instead, God said to Israel that they were like a man who was able to escape from a lion, only to meet a bear, and then a deadly snake. This is a scene from a movie, isn’t it? It’s an Indiana Jones stunt, where he is chased by a lion, and somehow escapes. Only to turn around when he thinks he is in the clear, and a grizzly bear is standing there ready to devour him. Somehow he escapes from the clutches of the bear. Hey, this is Indiana Jones we’re talking about. He barely makes it into his house as the bear crashes into the front door behind him. He breathes a sigh of relief while leaning his hand against the wall to catch his breath, and then a serpent bites him and he dies. End of movie. Credits roll. Rest in peace, Indiana!

Except it’s not a movie. It’s real. God is making it plain to those who do not know him that there is nowhere to hide on the day of the Lord. Even your own home is no longer safe. God is coming to where you live, and there’s nothing that can stand in his way.

You see, the people of Israel thought of God then like many people think of God today. That God is always good. Don’t get me wrong, God is good. But to many people today, an “always good” God never brings judgment on his people. And the day of the Lord for them is when their “always good” God vindicates his people while punishing their enemies. But what God thunders to them through his prophet Isaiah, and Jesus repeats 700 years later to the Pharisees and the scribes is this: “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” The people in Amos’s day, and Isaiah’s day, and the people in Jesus’ day thought the same thing then that billions of people think today: “If I say good things about ‘God’ every now and then, and check some of the ‘religious rituals’ off my list now and then, I can live any way I want to. I am home free!”

That presumption results in disaster, and that’s bad news. That track ends with the day of the Lord being the very opposite of what we expected, where a moldy hamburger would be the least of your worries. Here’s the good news. God made a way for us to come to him by grace because he loves us. Start on a different track today, by acknowledging that your presumptions about him have been wrong.