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The Modern Moses

Throughout history there men who echo the voices of the prophets…  Men who call for freedom, men who proclaim the Word of the Lord, and men who stand for truth even when it is not acceptable to do so.  This is my favorite speech by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  He gave it on the night before his death.

It’s three parts and it’s about an hour long…

Enjoy the voice of the prophet.




The River vs. The Deep

Did you know, in the book of Revelation, there is no sea?  A quick observer would object… “Nuh Unh!  The Crystal Sea John!  The Crystal Sea!”  However, if you’ll look in 4:6 you’ll see that John is using metaphor: “ and before the throne there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal.”  The first statement is using the metaphor to describe the transparent glass floor, then the second is a simile describing the metaphor.  So, I restate my first claim.  There is no “sea” in Revelation. 

Why?  Why is there no sea?  I think the answer can be found in an examination of the river.  In Genesis we are told that a river flowed out ofEdento water the garden and then divided into 4 rivers.  These rivers are examples of God’s intended direction to expand the garden and take God’s life to the world.  (I’d love to explain that more, but that must be four or five posts… maybe sometime.)  These rivers flowed out of the Garden into the great unknown.  Flash forward a bit and you have Balaam’s oracle comparingIsraeland their relationship to God to a garden and its river.  This theme gets carried through in the Psalms when God is the refreshing spring, when He is the river with which we are refreshed, when He is the still water by which we rest.  The river is refreshing, it is comforting, it is a place of resting and restoration.  The river is a place of joy.

In direct contrast to the river is the “deep.”  In the Bible, only God knows the deep.  It is a terrifying place for the Hebrews.  The deep is where the leviathan lives, where Jonah is cast, where sin is condemned, where death is certain, and where nothing is known.   There is an odd juxtaposition: God is the Lord over the deep.  The deep… the very thing that terrifies us.  And at the same time, God is the river. 

In Ezekiel God speaks of how He swallows up the enemies of God in the deep.  Then he leads Ezekiel to a vision of the temple in which the altar has a trickle of water coming from it.  The water grows into a great river with fruitful trees on both sides.  Ezekiel ends up swimming in God’s river.  This great river then flows into the sea (the deep).  Flash forward, Jesus sits by a well with a woman who is not a Jew and His response is that He is the living water.  Then again just 3 chapters later Jesus says whoever believes will have rivers of living water flow from within him.  In light of the consideration between the deep and the river, Jesus is stating that the unknown will be overcome by the life of Christ in our soul. 

Finally, there is no sea in Revelation!  At the end of Revelation we see that the river of life has overcome the deep.  The sea has been defeated and there is no longer anything that is unknown!  The river remains at the end of the book with the tree of life growing on each side!  Its amazing. 

So think about this.  All that is terrifying, all that is unknown, all that is wicked, all that is evil will be overcome by the river of life.  How great it will be when we know as we are fully known.

Sometimes I’m Overcome

Sometimes I am overcome by the mercy of God.  Other times, I am a moron. 

A few days ago I was tired when I came home to my AWESOME family.  My hyper-active two year old wanted to play outside and my wife looked like she could use some house time, so I took Julia outside (she’s not really hyper-active and I always feel like the hero when I get to do these kinds of things). 

She bounced and giggled.  My feet hurt.  She told me to swing her, then scolded me for swinging her too high.  “No, Daddy!  I don’t like higher!”  I had a slight head ache.  She pushed her little puppy down the slide and then tried to make me go down it.  (The physical properties of her plastic play slide cannot withstand the 215 pounds of Daddy.)  I was annoyed.  She then wanted to see the horses…  so we walked down and watched our neighbor practicing roping with his horses.  She wanted to see the bull and the donkey, so we walked the other direction to see the donkey.  I wasn’t wearing shoes that were good for walking… my feet hurt more.  I was tired, remember?  So when she wanted to go swing again, I told her, “Daddy’s tired, let’s go inside and get some tea.”  She threw a minor fit, but acquiesced quite quickly to the change in plan.  As I walked her into the house I was feeling tired and a little frustrated that I had not sat down to breathe, so I began to complain to God in my head. 

“Lord, I’m so tired!  Can’t you just calm her down for a few moments and make her play by herself!?  And why is her nap between 1 and 4!?  While I’m at work!?  And I know I’m going to have to cook dinner tonight!?  And my wife is tired!?  Why did You wake me up last night!?  I know it was You!  You woke me up and said nothing!” 

Out of the corner of my eye I saw someone on the street… when I saw him a pain hit my chest and I realized, I was being a moron.  I don’t know if he was real, or if God just let me imagine him.  The strained and haggard look on his face rocked me at my core.  I watched as the man was struggling to move his wheel chair down the street.  He clearly had one bad hand and was carrying some groceries home from the local grocery store. 

It suddenly occurred to me: I can walk.  All this time, I’d been able to walk and pick up my daughter.  We played in a yard that I own, on a swing that I was able to hang between two trees that are mine.  We played on a slide that I own, in the back yard of my house… that I own.  I’d led her about 50 yards down the street to watch the horses and then back 70 yards to see the big long horn bull and donkey!  Who else lives next door to a veritable free zoo!?  (Seriously, occasionally there are peacocks, raccoons, armadillos, and other odd creatures around our house. And we live two blocks from a grocery store and ten minutes from the mall!) 

When God woke me up the night before, I had not tried to listen.  I did not take out my Bible, I did not pray, didn’t even ask Him to help me go back to sleep.  In frustration I rolled over muttering something about needing more sleep.  In my selfish state, I had missed out on all the joy that was lavished on me.

I think this describes me more often then not.  I am a man who God lavishes mercy on and most of the time I don’t even notice.  We should always be overcome by His mercy.

I remember a story a missionary told me once.  He said he had been robbed while in an African country and they had taken his shoes.  The ground was mostly dirt and rock roads and shoes were a necessary commodity for him.  He began to complain to God about the shoes.  He didn’t realize he was complaining out loud when he passed a beggar who yelled, “at least you still have feet!”  He spun around in anger ready to berate this arrogant buffoon who would dare to speak to him this way!  Then he saw the beggar… he had no feet.  Holding his cup up, he said, “at least you have your feet.”  My missionary friend put some money in the cup and walked on… ashamed. 

I walked inside and my wife had prepared dinner.  I still have my feet.

Baltimore Reflections: cleaning dumpsters at the school

        Working in the school, we spent our days: moving furniture, cleaning up trash, pulling nails, and building a few shelves.  Our joy was to serve.  There were numerous displays of the love of Christ from our students to that school, perhaps the most humbling one for me was the rearrangement of trash dumpsters.  You see, when people hire contractors, it is much like hiring a bull to build a china cabinet.  They will certainly get the job done, and they’ll do it well, but what they deem inconsequential may be disregarded.  Such was our experience with the dumpsters.  There were three dumpsters outside.  Red for steel, blue for recycle, and green for all other trash.  As the summer had progressed, the workers that were hired and volunteered at the school simply used whatever was convenient for trash.  So we were given the task of pulling trash out of the red and blue dumpsters and putting it in the green one. 

            My beloved brother Jeff gave me this assignment to move trash.  At that moment, a thousand excuses shot through my mind, but Christ would not let me speak any of them.  You see, Jeff gave me the assignment in front of my students and I remembered something I was told when I objected to a similar request as a teenager,

 “Christ left heaven to be born in a stable, walked on this wretched earth, touched lepers and dying people all the time, and then died on a cross: and you can’t clean up trash for a few hours?”  -my youth pastor

 So, my objections were instantaneously removed.  (Thanks to the youth pastor that told me that… I can’t remember which one it was, but clearly you made an impression.)

             I chose one of the hardest working students I know to work on it with me (pretty much all my students are hard working so this was easy).  We tried to smash down the trash in the green one first.  While we were smashing, another few members of our crew (there were 10 of us) walked out of the building with a trash can that had been filled with rocks, soured milk (not in a container), and some other food that had obviously been sitting in a hot building for a few months.  They struggled to lift it up over their heads and pour it into the dumpster.  The smell struck me first.  Have you ever smelled something so noxious that you nearly fall over?  This was worse…  It was as if we were standing over a sewage outlet.  But we persisted.

             Having firmly compacted the green dumpster as best we could, we moved to the red one to remove all non-steel items.  The student (who will remain nameless) climbed into the dumpster without hesitation leaving me on the ground to carry trash from one container to another.  I remember being struck by his immediate humility.  He had no thought to his pride or sanitation.  He merely dove into the task of cleaning trash.  As he cleaned, he would pick trash out and pass it to me to put into the other dumpster.  We removed rotten food, broken plastic items, bits of wood, waste bags, and even toilet waste.  Smells, heat, and the shear volume of trash were overwhelming.  I felt sick several times.  Then I realized something, my student, who was working so hard in the dumpster, had not said one word in complaint.  He was even taking the worst trash and was throwing it from one dumpster to the other himself in order to spare me the smells and disgust. 

            My young student had showed me Christ (it’s always a humbling experience when your students give you grace you don’t deserve).  You see, Christ comes into our lives in the same manner.  He doesn’t complain about you or how much you’ve messed everything up or what smells He encounters.  He merely dives in and gets to work.  Occasionally He hands us some trash to dispose of properly, but He keeps the worst for Himself to remove.  Christ takes the waste that we have allowed to rot inside us and removes it.  He includes us in His work of sanctification as we pursue holiness and righteousness in Him and through Him.  Occasionally we smell something of ourselves that overwhelms our senses.  These are the times that drive us to our knees in repentance from our pride.  Then, He disposes of it for us.  These are the times of victory we reach during our spiritual journey. 

              There are countless stories from the week of work at the school.  I watched our students live out Christ’s love for people who will most likely forget they were there.  I worked with them moving furniture, cleaning trash, and weeding and planting gardens.  I saw the resurrection power of Christ move into a culture that has largely been forgotten by this world and work to display a beautiful, humbling love that will remain working power long after we are forgotten.  Praise Jesus, may His glory grow through the work of Valley Baptist Churchand FBC Brazoria.

The Chasm

REVIEW OF The Chasm: by Randy Alcorn

The Chasm  is an abridgement of Alcorn’s book The Edge of Eternity.  In this abridgement Alcorn focuses on one of the many portions of this magnificent allegory.  There is a chasm that must be crossed to reach the city of ”Charis” (heaven).  Ultimate joy lay on the other side of the Chasm and deceit and falsehood lay in the shadow-lands behind.  We follow Nick Seagrave as he travels the red road to Charis.  The characters that Alcorn writes about are vivid and powerfully relatable.  We’ve all met the crazy saints that seem so terrifyingly obsessed with Christ.  We’ve all met the false messiahs who look great and promise life and only deliver death.  We will all see the woodsman who can make away.  The Chasm is a powerful allegory that will encourage any reader.  It is short and easy to read. 

However, due to the nature of abridgement, much of the detail is passed over in The Chasm.  Alcorn strives to catch the reader up to the middle of the larger work The Edge of Eternity, yet the details of the first work are so paramount it is difficult to grasp the second without it.  If this is your first introduction to Alcorn, it is a worthy read.  However, if you are an avid reader, I would recommend finding the larger work and digging deep into the allegory.

How do we judge success?

            I am a 29 year old seminary student and pastor. 

At Seminary a fellow student asked, “How do you measure your success?”  Now, the reality is that every pastor hates this question.  Mostly because every pastor knows that we are judged on the basis of numbers, to some extent.  The people who are in the church, understandably, want to see others in the church as well.  So we think of getting people in as the dominant form of success, and thereby judge the effectiveness of our pastors on this yard stick.  If you ever want to see an interesting response, ask a pastor this question.  When asked the question we immediately feel the need to explain ourselves (as if we have to explain a malady and give an account for every member that we have not seen for a while).  We feel like we ought to say something incredibly wise and profound, but what usually comes out is a stammering blubbering nothing, usually sounds like this, “well, we have a good, you know…  the real measure is…  well, I guess our people are, its not about numbers, we need to provide some.”  There is no good answer to that question.  Precisely because if we have great numbers, we often feel like we are performing for the crowd, if we have low numbers we feel like people must not like us.  (Never mind the fact that people hated Jesus, and crucified Him) 

            The truth is that Jesus measured success in a far different manner.  Constantly, when crowds get to be large, Jesus says or teaches something that turns them away.  In fact one of my favorite stories is John 6 when Jesus goes across the lake at night (seemingly to avoid the crowd and get away from them) and they chase him down and Our Lord’s response is “You’re only following me because you had a good meal!”  In verses 66-67 we see that Jesus teaches something that turns them away.  On another occasion in John 10, Jesus has the opportunity to make friends with the Pharisees by saying something like “turn to the LORD and be saved, let us go to the temple and worship!”  Instead, He intentionally tells them that they are thieves and robbers and that He is God.  This enrages them and they try to stone Him and then they try to arrest Him. 

            So how did Jesus measure success?  It seems like one criterion is love.  How much do we love each other, how much do we love the lost, and how much do we love the work of the LORD?  Check out John 13:34-35, 15:10, and the Lord’s conversation with Peter in John 21:15-24.  Seems like Jesus measured success by love and the way that love poured out on others. 

            Yet another criterion seemed to be obedience.  In fact the first measure is observed by this, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15)  And in another place, speaking of salvation, we see Jesus saying: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” (John 3:36) This verse intrinsically links belief and obedience.  Thus, the validity of belief is measured by obedience.    

            Now the reality is that we are not so good at these two measuring sticks, and I don’t really want to be judged on them either.  How much do I love those who hate me?  How much do I love the poor, lowly, and despised of this world?  These are not questions I enjoy.  They are hard to answer and I cannot easily see the results.  You see to answer these I actually have to know the people in my congregation.  To answer these I actually have to desire for my life to intertwine with the people I teach.  To answer that question I have to care about the heart and not just the outward actions of my people.  I have to bleed with them, I have to struggle with them, and I actually have to get into their business with them.  It’s much easier to count them and ask them to check off the boxes.  If I can say, “we had 50 who checked off that they brought their bible to church, did their daily devotionals, and tithed and we had 200 who didn’t do those things.”  Then I have a measurable target.  But if I ask these questions, I have to say, “We have 25 who clearly love other people and obey the Word of God in real and tangible ways, which I know of because I am actively a part of their lives and am involved in their work, and 300 who are just too darn busy to love or who I don’t know.”  The whole conception of measurement gets muddled and nebulous!  After all, how does one measure loving other people?  And when do you know if you’re obeying the Word of God correctly?  We must learn to do this.

            So as we strive to learn to measure success, we can keep the easy model of numbers or we can dig into lives and measure love and obedience.