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Category Archives: The Word


The local church is the front line of ministry. In the battle against the spiritual forces of evil, the church is the trench. Christ’s bride is dug in, charged up, and ready to die for the freedom of souls. I relish the trench. It’s messy, at times gruesome, and the noise makes it difficult to sleep.

But I love it.

While there is no beauty in warfare (spiritual or otherwise), the battling bride is a gorgeous organism. Despite the muck, despite the damage, and despite the fight, she remains pure, white, and righteous. She belongs to Christ. She combats for Christ. She never stops engaging in the mission of reclaiming captives of darkness. The fighting white bride shines in the gray of spiritual war.

As a pastor, I realize the gravity of decisions I make. Vision isn’t just a compelling statement of future growth. Programs aren’t just tools for assimilating more people. Church events are far more than ways to make the community come to the campus.

When you invite someone to church, you’re calling them down into the trench. When you talk to someone about joining the mission, you’re asking them to suit up and grab a gospel grenade. The church is currently fighting a battle which will lead to ultimate victory. We win. Satan loses. And Jesus reigns. But we still must fight. The beautiful bride is a battling warrior.

Let’s stop pretending our churches are polished platforms of sanitized morality, speaking sentimentality apart from Truth. Let’s burn the preferences of wooden traditionalism. Let’s quit the silly game of worship experience one-upmanship. Let’s elevate spiritual grit above smooth and seamless operations. We’re in the middle of a serious war. Let’s get real about what we believe and who we’re really following.

When King Jesus returns, will he find the faithful in the trenches or in comfortable country clubs?

So we dig in. War is not won when soldiers retreat. Victory does not come to indifferent combatants. I’ve been guilty of placing myself on a pedestal. I’ve tried to climb into the ivory tower. I’ve ridden a few high horses. And I’ve found I’m at my best when I’m covered in mud in the trench of the local church. I’m fighting most fiercely when I’m not worried about my personal brand. I’m fighting well when I’m more concerned about the local pregnancy clinic than who retweets one of my pithy—but ultimately useless—140-character oddments.

So I fight.

I fight for people in the womb.

I fight for diversity in the local church.

I fight to help the poor.

I fight against injustice, and I fight for the widow.

I fight for every tongue, tribe, and nation.

I fight so sinners can clearly hear the deafening and all-consuming gospel.

The trench is the front line. I never want to leave until the battle is done. I want to die here: old, leathered, scarred, and exhausted. I can’t imagine approaching the throne of God unless I’m ready to collapse into the arms of Jesus.

I won’t stop until King Jesus returns, offering the victory promised. God, please don’t ever take me out of the trench. I want to die fighting.

Sam Rainer


We are all expert planners, are we not?

Those people [the builders of Babel’s Tower] were planners. They drew the specifications of the city. They had it all worked out. We all do that in life, do we not? You have your plans. Your future life and career are mapped out. You know what you want to do.

Where does God come in? Is the plan made under God, or is it made apart from him?

The one lesson of [Genesis 11] is that if you plan your life without God at the center, it will come to nothing, nothing at all. It will be as futile and as fatuous as the Tower of Babel. God will come down and will destroy it, whether you like that or not. This is the whole history of the Bible. It is the history of the subsequent centuries after the end of the Bible. It is the history of the twentieth century. The human race is not allowed to build a civilization without God, and you are not allowed to build your life without God.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones

I recently came across a definition of how to effectively plant a church.

“Get the right guy, rightly equipped, with the right heart, right doctrine, and right team, in the right place at the right time doing the right things, and good things will happen.”

Few if any of you will ever know what it feels like to be Chuck Close. A lot of you might not even know who he is. But all of us have something monumentally important to learn from him.

Chuck Close is one of the greatest portrait artists of our time. If you glanced at his work, you would think you were simply looking at a photograph. In reality, you’re looking at paint. Sometimes pencil. Other times, thread. That’s just how brilliant he is.

But if you knew his backstory, you wouldn’t think it would be possible.

Close can’t remember a single face that he meets. He suffers from prosopagnosia, a condition that leaves him unable to recognize faces. He can create a masterpiece with your face, but he can’t remember it.

You would think that for a person in Close’s situation, creating portraits would be the last thing he’d be doing. After all, faces are his greatest weakness. But it’s just the opposite. It motivates him, even to the point of him saying, “everything in my art is driven by my disability.”

And that’s what makes his work that much more brilliant. It shouldn’t be coming out of him. But it is. His greatest weakness has become the source of his greatest strength. It’s provided a platform where his greatness can be amplified.

Few if any of us will ever have a condition like Close’s.
But we all deal with weakness in one shape or form.

Some of you feel completely inadequate for what God has called you to do.
Some of you feel like your marriage has about a week left before it falls apart.
Some of you have lost your job and you don’t see how you’ll make it.
Some of you are battling cancer and you don’t know how much longer you can fight.

For every person, there is a place in their life where weakness exists. And it’s for that very reason that in every person, a platform exists. An opportunity exists. An opportunity to amplify the greatness of God in a way that your strength alone will never be able to.

Your greatest weakness may actually be God’s greatest platform for showing His power and glory in your life.

Through saving your marriage when all seems lost.
Through using your cancer to shine a spotlight on His sufficiency.

In 2 Corinthians 12:9, Jesus tells us, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

God’s power is the perfect counterpart to your weakness. It’s more than enough for you and it’s completely available to you. God isn’t scouring the universe looking for a perfect person through whom He can display His power and glory. He’s looking for the perfect person. And the perfect person is a person whose weakness provides God and His power with an opportunity to make their life unexplainable.

No matter what you’re going through, no matter how weak you feel right now, there’s no reason that can’t be you.

Steven Furtick

This morning, I congratulated a brother who has been deeply involved in the kind of operation that killed bin Laden. His buddies did what they are trained to do – went in fast, hit hard, killed a terrorist who used a woman as a living shield (!), confirmed the kill and got out.

Romans 13 is clear that the state does not carry the sword in vain.

Bin Laden – who looks so benevolent in the photo on the wanted poster – opposed the living God, was responsible for the death of thousands, inspired countless suicide bombers. Human justice – an echo of divine justice – has been done.

I wonder how history might have been different had bin Laden come to faith in the true Lord through Jesus His Son.

From <a href="Al Mohler“>Al Mohler

There is no excuse for theatrics as a substitute for Gospel ministry.

That is the main issue here from a Christian perspective. Pastor Jones is not wrong to see Islam as a way that leads millions of people away from the message of the Gospel and thus to spiritual death. But he did not reach out with the Gospel message; he simply staged a theatrical stunt intended to draw attention to himself and his church. The way he toyed with the media and major public figures earlier this year was an indication of the game he intended to play — and now he has played it out.

He put human lives at jeopardy for a publicity stunt. Those who responded to his actions with murder have blood on their hands, and they demonstrated a key distinction between Islam and Christianity. Christians are not called to defend the honor of our Savior or of the Bible. The Islamic sense of honor leads to what are even called honor killings. Those who would kill for honor thus dishonor their cause. What belief system would justify murder in response to being offended?

There is a crucial distinction between being willing to die for a cause, as Christians are called to do, and being willing to kill for a cause. That distinction is rooted in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, who did not kill his enemies, but died for them.

Christians are not called to burn the books of other religions. We are not called to publicity stunts that put lives at risk and subvert the preaching of the Gospel of Christ. Such actions deserve only the most severe condemnation. But even the condemnation serves its purpose — to gain publicity.

This is a pastor of a tiny congregation who is now known all across the globe for his actions performed in front of thirty people in a small room in Florida. Welcome to the age of the Internet. Publicity is a dangerous fuel and a lethal intoxicant. We must condemn Pastor Jones for his publicity stunt. But, in so doing, we give him what he wanted all along.

From Cal Thomas

Like those clowns who makeup the family-only Westboro ‘Baptist’ Church in Kansas, Jones does not represent the example of Jesus, but is a grand stander who seeks attention for himself. More than two [dozen] people died in Afghanistan. The murderers said Jones’ burning of the Koran was the reason. Again, those killers might well have found another excuse for their acts, but Americans — and especially ministers who claim to be acting in God’s name — ought not to be providing more fuel to an already incendiary situation.”

On Sunday, Feb 6, I was in an early Sunday morning prayer meeting when my phone rang. Our local fire department informed me that my wife had fallen, was in great pain, and they were breaking in the house to get to her. I said, “tear the house down – just get to her.” That phone call enrolled me in a new class in the school of discipleship.

During the last two and one-half months, my life has radically changed. I have been the primary care-giver for my wife. The nature and location of the break means she cannot put any weight on the leg for about three months. For her, this means being restricted to a wheelchair and walker, physical therapy and constant care, pain and helplessness. For me, it means laundry and house-keeping, grocery-buying and a hundred small details that are necessary in care-giving.

Here are a few lessons I’ve learned:

1. Jesus is building the church – not me.

I am planting a church. We are only a few months old as a church – and now, I am extremely limited in who I can meet, where I can go and what I can do. Caring for my wife and the home is sometimes all-consuming of my time and attention.

Several months ago, I had asked our Student Pastor to preach on that particular morning. It is God’s grace and providence that allowed me to be able to leave that morning with no worries about preaching or the church. In fact, at least one conversion took place that morning!

My staff and the lay leaders of the Orchard have stepped up to the leadership challenge and led well over the last several months. They have been understanding, patient and hard-working. I lead a high capacity and dedicated group of people.

2. Trials are synchronized.

This happened three days after moving into a new and smaller house. Imagine boxes and chaos in every room! In addition, my aging parents live 500 miles away and are rapidly declining in health. And, we are at that all-important, all-consuming stage in church planting when we establish membership, place elders in place, and launch community ministries. It is difficult to imagine a more “interesting” time for this to happen.

3. I really am more flawed and “high maintenance” than I thought.

Testing reveals the truth about us – and sometimes, it’s not pretty. Sins have sprouted in me like dandelions in my yard. My emotions have swung from anger to jealousy, from fear to self-pity and pride. It has been a battle to pray, to stay God-centered and Ruthe-oriented. The truth is – I preach better than I live. I am being humbled.

4. I am more loved than I dared think.

God has sustained my strength. We have had wonderful meals provided by so many people. A number of women have volunteered to stay with Ruthe when I needed to leave. We have been the object of a prayer chain involving dozens of people each day. And God has not killed me for my sins. Ruthe has not fired me because of my irritability. It’s all grace!

5. God is a God of process

Healing is often not instantaneous. Nor is growth in Christ-likeness. Marriage is a day-to-day, “poco-a-poco” deal, as is church planting, evangelism, leadership development and most other important things in life. This is cause for hope!

6. I delight in my children, and God uses them as a means of grace.

All of our children are married and have lives of responsibility and pressure of their own. Two live out of town. Yet, each one has found unique ways to be present, support, encourage and help. Each one has been in constant contact and prayer for us. Each one, together with their spouses, have traveled to be with us. Each one has put his or her agenda on hold in order to assist us in practical and creative ways. Each one has helped us smile, laugh and forget out troubles. Each one has encouraged us in the Lord.

More to come.

My son, Charlie, recently gave me a book on the life of St. Patrick. It is fascinating, to say the least.

St. Patrick died a little over 1500 years ago. He was born in Britain, probably in Wales, around 385 A.D. His father was a Roman official.

When Patrick was 16, seafaring raiders captured him, carried him to Ireland and sold him into slavery. He spent six lonely years herding sheep and, he says, praying 100 times a day. In a dream, God told him to escape. He returned home, where he had another vision in which the Irish people begged him to return and minister to them: He studied for the priesthood in France, then made his way back to Ireland.

He spent his last 30 years there, presenting the gospel to pagans, ordaining priests, founding churches and monasteries. His persuasive powers must have been astounding: Ireland fully converted to Christianity within 200 years and was the only country in Europe to Christianize peacefully.

Patrick’s influence ended slavery, human sacrifice and most intertribal warfare in Ireland. Contrary to legends, he didn’t banish the snakes: Ireland never had any. Nor did he invent the Shamrock Trinity. That was an 18th-century fabrication.) His work did result in Ireland remaining strong as the rest of Europe crumbled. Patrick’s monasteries copied and preserved classical texts. Later, Irish monks returned this knowledge to Europe by establishing monasteries in England, Germany, France, Switzerland and Italy.

Patrick may have been the author of the following prayer – often called Patrick’s breastplate.

I bind unto myself today
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three.

I bind this day to me for ever.
By power of faith, Christ’s incarnation;
His baptism in the Jordan river;
His death on Cross for my salvation;
His bursting from the spicèd tomb;
His riding up the heavenly way;
His coming at the day of doom;*
I bind unto myself today.

I bind unto myself the power
Of the great love of the cherubim;
The sweet ‘well done’ in judgment hour,
The service of the seraphim,
Confessors’ faith, Apostles’ word,
The Patriarchs’ prayers, the Prophets’ scrolls,
All good deeds done unto the Lord,
And purity of virgin souls.

I bind unto myself today
The virtues of the starlit heaven,
The glorious sun’s life-giving ray,
The whiteness of the moon at even,
The flashing of the lightning free,
The whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks,
The stable earth, the deep salt sea,
Around the old eternal rocks.

I bind unto myself today
The power of God to hold and lead,
His eye to watch, His might to stay,
His ear to hearken to my need.
The wisdom of my God to teach,
His hand to guide, His shield to ward,
The word of God to give me speech,
His heavenly host to be my guard.

Against the demon snares of sin,
The vice that gives temptation force,
The natural lusts that war within,
The hostile men that mar my course;
Or few or many, far or nigh,
In every place and in all hours,
Against their fierce hostility,
I bind to me these holy powers.

Against all Satan’s spells and wiles,
Against false words of heresy,
Against the knowledge that defiles,
Against the heart’s idolatry,
Against the wizard’s evil craft,
Against the death wound and the burning,
The choking wave and the poisoned shaft,
Protect me, Christ, till Thy returning.

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself the Name,
The strong Name of the Trinity;
By invocation of the same.
The Three in One, and One in Three,
Of Whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
Salvation is of Christ the Lord.

This morning, a brother caught me after the service. His wife is Japanese, and was emotionally unable to leave the home. Much of her family is safe, for the moment, but so many friends and family members are still unaccounted for. Her homeland may never be the same.

His question was, “is God punishing Japan?”

Several things are clear from God’s revelation in the Bible: God is the soverign who controls and ultimately ordains (or permits) all things – and He is merciful beyond all measure. He dearly loves the Japanese people – and, according to Luke 13, this is not because the Japanese are greater sinners than anyone else.

We prayed today for the dear Japanese people. John Piper’s prayer helped me frame my own.

Father in heaven, you are the absolute Sovereign over the shaking of the earth, the rising of the sea, and the raging of the waves. We tremble at your power and bow before your unsearchable judgments and inscrutable ways. We cover our faces and kiss your omnipotent hand. We fall helpless to the floor in prayer and feel how fragile the very ground is beneath our knees.

O God, we humble ourselves under your holy majesty and repent. In a moment—in the twinkling of an eye—we too could be swept away. We are not more deserving of firm ground than our fellowmen in Japan. We too are flesh. We have bodies and homes and cars and family and precious places. We know that if we were treated according to our sins, who could stand? All of it would be gone in a moment. So in this dark hour we turn against our sins, not against you.

And we cry for mercy for Japan. Mercy, Father. Not for what they or we deserve. But mercy.

Have you not encouraged us in this? Have we not heard a hundred times in your Word the riches of your kindness, forbearance, and patience? Do you not a thousand times withhold your judgments, leading your rebellious world toward repentance? Yes, Lord. For your ways are not our ways, and your thoughts are not our thoughts.

Grant, O God, that the wicked will forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts. Grant us, your sinful creatures, to return to you, that you may have compassion. For surely you will abundantly pardon. Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord Jesus, your beloved Son, will be saved.

May every heart-breaking loss—millions upon millions of losses—be healed by the wounded hands of the risen Christ. You are not unacquainted with your creatures’ pain. You did not spare your own Son, but gave him up for us all.

In Jesus you tasted loss. In Jesus you shared the overwhelming flood of our sorrows and suffering. In Jesus you are a sympathetic Priest in the midst of our pain.

Deal tenderly now, Father, with this fragile people. Woo them. Win them. Save them.

And may the floods they so much dread make blessings break upon their head.

O let them not judge you with feeble sense, but trust you for your grace. And so behind this providence, soon find a smiling face.

In Jesus’ merciful name, Amen.

You are required to believe, to preach, and to teach what the Bible says is true, not what you want the Bible to say is true. R. C. Sproul

Mike Skelton sent this passage from Psalm 56:8-11 yesterday. It is a really good word:

8 You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle.
Are they not in your book?

9 Then my enemies will turn backin the day when I call.

This I know, that God is for me.

10-11 In God, whose word I praise, in the Lord, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.

What can man do to me?

Psalm 56:8-11

Every year, I get my flu shot and afterwards, I feel blah.  Not really sick, but definitely a “man sick” (which means I whine to my wife). My body responds to the vaccine exactly as it was supposed to do.  I received a broken down, weak, ineffective version of the virus that made me a little sick, so in turn I could be immune to the real thing. 

As happy as I am for inoculations against influenza, measles, and smallpox, I am concerned about an ongoing trend that I’ve seen in America, what I like to refer to as “being immunized against the gospel.” In other words, many people get enough of the false form of the gospel that they grow resistant to the real thing.  They think they have seen it and maybe even had a bout with it, but it just did not take or was not life changing.

When asked, 8 in 10 Americans will identify themselves as Christians.  I think it’s pretty obvious, however, that by taking a brief look around our nation, 80 percent of people are not living like followers of Christ. 

It’s like “the god of the Grammys” who pops up every year during award season. Some singer or actor whose daily ungodliness is chronicled in every tabloid and entertainment website wins the statue and immediately, upon taking the microphone, begins to “thank God for this.” God gets a hat tip at the Grammys but not a holy life day by day.

There is little similarity between the Americanized version of Christianity and what most of us know the real deal is supposed to look like.

I think that many people have received this “Christianity vaccine,” casually or regularly attending churches each week that are presenting a weakened, broken down faith.  It’s the kind of religion that Mark Twain explained when he said, “Church is where good people stand in front of good people and tell them how to be good people.”

The danger is obvious.  When you are exposed to the weakened and false thing, you can build up immunity to the real thing. The vibrancy of the resurrection life of Christ is kept safely away in lieu of the comfort of the religious self.
In the upcoming years, our country will probably continue its path in philosophy, religion, and life.  It will be like today—just more of it.  What is common in media will become commonplace in neighborhoods—media influences culture.
If trends continue, we will be an increasingly diverse religious society with a stronger bent toward pluralism.  And, in the midst of all of this, there will be robust, evangelical churches reaching lost people and doing powerful work for the Kingdom. 

I am not despairing; I’ve read the end of the Book and know how it works out.  I see an increasing need, however, to be working even harder to eradicate the weak, ineffective strains of Christianity that have plagued our churches and denominations.  These can be seen, for example, when we mistakenly begin confusing moralism with the Gospel.  It is the mindset that one “does” certain things to please God and “does not do” other things that displease Him. The “does” and “does not do’s” may change, depending on to whom you are talking, but the legalistic, moralistic spirit remains the same. It is, essentially, the religion from which Jesus died to save us.

We need to get past these shallow, comfortable interpretations of the biblical text and get to a place where we’re preaching a Gospel-centered, Spirit-empowered, cross-focused approach to life and ministry.  Even if this makes our churches and denominations numerically smaller for a while, I believe they’ll be better.  They’ll be less proud and more focused, and that will be a good thing.

The Christianity that I see today in most churches is not the Christianity that I want my children to inherit, and, quite frankly, you should not want it for yours either.  In order to see the change happen, however, it will involve how we live and what we proclaim. 

We need to preach to people who may love Jesus, but don’t really know how to live for Him because they think the Gospel is something that they get over, not something they live in.  We need to preach to people who think they’re saved, but are simply immunized against the real Gospel. People are sick but they don’t need to be immunized against Christianity.  Jesus is the cure and we must live, preach, and minister in such a contagious way that it spreads and maximizes His message in this world. By Ed Stetzer

The weakness of hunger which leads to death brings forth the goodness and power of God who wills life. Here there is no extortion, no magic attempt to force God’s will. We merely look with confidence upon our heavenly Father and through our fasting say gently in our hearts: “Father, without you I will die; come to my assistance, make haste to help me.” —JOSEPH WIMMER Fasting in the New Testament1

The Son of God began his earthly ministry with a forty-day fast. This should give us pause. Especially if we—who are not God— have moved into ministry heedless of the battle we may have to fight. JOHN PIPER

Our seasons of fasting and prayer at the Tabernacle have been high days indeed; never has Heaven’s gate stood wider; never have our hearts been nearer the central Glory.” CHARLES SPURGEON


How are we doing?

Memorized Phil 1:1-6 yet?

This week’s passage is 1:7-11

7It is right for me to feel this way about you all,
because I hold you in my heart,
for you are all partakers with me of grace,
both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.
 8For God is my witness,
how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.
 9And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more,
with knowledge and all discernment,
 10so that you may approve what is excellent,
and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ,
 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ,
to the glory and praise of God.
– Philippians 1:7-11

There are three keys to scripture memorization: