Tuesday, March 31, 2015

My Testimony

    I have always thought it would be humorous to get up in church to tell my testimony and begin by saying "Well, I've always been saved. I'm just that amazing!" It'd be fun to watch some of the reactions!

    In reality, my testimony cannot begin that way. My family has been a Christian family since long before I was born. I've been blessed to have been familiar with Christian principles my whole life. I've been attending church for as long as I can remember. My family is pretty conservative Baptist, so the churches I've grown up in were always strongly conservative.

    None of what I say next is said with pride, believe me. It is only to prove that I was an expert hypocrite, though unintentionally so. When I was five years old, I prayed a prayer to accept Jesus into my heart. How much of the gospel I truly understood I don't know. I'm honestly not sure when I was saved, though I lean toward thinking I was probably not truly saved until much later.

    I was the "good" boy in the church. You know, the "yes ma'am, no sir, please, and thank you" kid? Yeah, that was me. I had all the right verses memorized, all the right words to use in all the right situations down. I was homeschooled and the apparently exemplary "Christian". All except for one thing.

   I was fifteen in 2013, when my big sister punched a big hole in my spiritual pride and hypocrisy. She gave my brother a copy of David Platt's book Radical, and recommended (with that recommendation that only a big sister can give: you know that one that sounds so sweet yet still leaves you feeling as if you have no choice but to obey?) that I read it. I don't think she had any idea of how that book would change my life.

    Suddenly, Christianity was not what I had lived for the past ten years. Christianity was no longer a set of creeds, ideas, and rules. It was a Person, a Person I had never known, a Person worth giving everything for, worth dying for. Suddenly, as a particular poem I like puts it, "My God– no more in black and white, in vivid colors, warmth and light."

    This particular phase of my life was like a blast of new information, information I should have known but had been blind to previously. During the next few months, I read voraciously, tackling books that brought my previous perception of God crashing down to the ground. The Cure by John Lynch (though I disagree with much of it, it was still a lifechanging book in regard to God's grace, a concept I had hardly even considered), Follow Me and Radical by David Platt, Christless Christianity by Michael Horton, and Finish the Mission by John Piper, Louis Giglio, Michael Oh, and David Platt all went down with shocking speed.

    It was like a little kid opening a phonix book for the first time. Oh, so all these letters make sounds? They form words? They connect into sentences? All these principles and verses form one gospel? They all point toward one Person? The one Person affects me?

    Suddenly, God was no longer a mysterious benefactor in the sky that granted me eternal life. He was now the incredible Judge of the world, who died in my place, to give me Himself, and He actually wanted a relationship with me. With me! It was a concept I'd never even considered!

    These two years since then have been life changing. I have changed immensely. The person I was two years ago could walk by me today with no recognition. I am not the same person. I no longer have it all together. I don't even try to keep up the facade of perfection anymore.

    Because the realization that I don't need a facade, that I am a child of God, has set me free. I am now free, free to follow Christ as Taylor, a saved sinner. Not the perfect homeschooler, not the intellectual Calvinist, but the rebel who God overcame with the "reckless raging fury that they call the love of God" as Rich Mullins aptly described it.

    Today, I am finally aware of the beautiful thing that is the grace of God. Where God's grace is, there is no need for a charade or pretended perfection. Where God's grace is, my status is not based on giving all the right answers. It's based on the righteousness God has granted to cover me, to drown out my sin.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Movie Quote

    I watched an excellent movie tonight over dinner (my parents are out of town, so my brother and I have creative ways to entertain ourselves) called This is our Time by PureFlix entertainment. Some of you might know this as the group associated with David A. R. White's films. Anyhow, today I wanted to include what I thought was an excellent quote from it.

    "So if it's God's call, it's supposed to be easy? 'Cause that's not what Paul would tell you, or Stephen, or Moses, or Jim Elliot and Nate Saint. Do you want me to keep going? Because it seems to me that the most obedient ones in the Bible, the ones who were truly following God's call on a daily basis get thrown into lion's dens and fiery furnaces, and shipwrecked and beheaded and nailed to a cross. And they're all praised for being the most faithful and successful in God's eyes... but this is the call that all of us have received, to be faithful like him (Jesus), obedient unto death."

    Following God's call on your life will not be easy. He never promised that. He only promised it would be worth it.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

My Grace is Sufficient

    In Malawi (can you tell this trip made an impact on my life?), several verses meant a lot to me. Psalm 139 was incredibly meaningful, and this particular verse meant a lot to me, on two different levels. I'll be speaking about one part of the verse today, and the other hopefully tomorrow.

    2 Corinthians 12:7-10 were the verses God used when I felt completely empty. Today, myself and the team I went with gave a presentation at our church of pictures and stories from our recent missions trip. While I was thinking about what to say, several of the memories I hadn't thought of in a couple weeks came back to me, this one being one of them.

    "And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, 'My grace is sufficient for thee, for my strength is made perfect in weakness.' Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ might rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong."

    I can remember multiple times just going outside the church I was preaching at in Africa and just dropping to my knees in the brush outside, just crying out to God that I was done, finished, empty. One particular time stands out very clearly when I just felt completely crushed by the absolute lunacy of the idea of a 16 year old, white, pampered, American kid being able to actually do anything for God.

    While I couldn't remember the rest of the passage or even the reference, God gave me that phrase over and over again, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness." Over and over again, I could feel the despair coming on, and over and over again I could feel God bringing that verse to my mind.

    Why was that particular verse so meaningful? Because that first phrase that I'll address today contains a really important truth if we could just hammer it through our thick teen skulls.

    It's not all about you. It's not all about me. Those thoughts and emotions I was feeling outside a little mud church in Malawi were real. I am not able to serve God as faithfully as I ought. I cannot fulfill the great commission. I cannot preach the gospel as I ought.

    But you know who can? God can, through me. So despite my failures, my sins, my downfalls, my temptations, God's grace is sufficient. It's sufficient to cover my sin, it's enough to keep me going, to give me the strength to continue. God's grace is sufficient for me.

    Sometimes we get this idea in our head that we have to save the world on our own, that somehow the burden of the world's salvation is on our shoulders and is our responsibility. No wonder we get depressed! But if we look at everything through the eyes of my own disability and God's ability, we see how great things can be accomplished. Because God's grace is sufficient.

    God did not commission the disciples to run out and just wildly swing at the Devil. No, He gave the battle plan. Go out, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them, and teaching them to observe all that Jesus' commanded us to do. But He concluded with a promise, that He would be with us.

    God sends us out as sheep among wolves. But He sends us out with the promise of His presence and of His power, so that as Eric Ludy says, "we are like little lambs, with the faces of lions." It's not about what you or I can do, it's about what we will allow God to do with His grace and power through us. We don't have to be the best preacher, or the best writer, or the best witness. All we have to do is give our best and allow God to work with us and through us.

    So, when you get discouraged, and you start wondering what exactly a teen like you, or a kid like you, or a young adult like you is doing trying to work for God when you know how messed up you really are, remember! It's not about us! It's not about how strong, how smart, how informed, how amazing we are!

    It's all about Christ. It's about the amazing all-sufficiency of Jesus Christ. It's about His amazing gift of His unmerited favor, His grace that can shine through every facet of our lives, and glow with the very presence of God. It's all about the strength of God in me, through every trail and every test. It's about the very goodness and love of God. It is sufficient. Nothing else is needed. His grace is sufficient!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Another Repost

    Ryan from over at A Message for the Messenger suggested a repost of this old post from October of last year, one of my very first posts. Since I didn't have anything else to say today, I thought that sounded like a good idea!

"Follow Christ." There's a phrase that gets thrown around a lot in Christian circles. But what does it mean to "follow Christ"? It's a really easy phrase to throw around, but what does it mean to live it out?

     First of all, the phrase obviously means to replicate Jesus, to do the things Jesus did and said to do. But Biblically, it seems to mean more than that. The phrase means a lot of different things, and it changes how we relate to life in a lot of different ways.

     The first time I see the phrase in the Bible is when Jesus says it his disciples in Matthew 4:19, "And he saith unto them, 'Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men'." When we examine the lives of the men he gave this message to, it doesn't make the call sound all that inviting.

     Let's take a minute and examine the pros and cons here. The disciples could 1.) ignore the call, keep their secure jobs, in their familiar hometowns, or 2.) leave their livelihood sitting on the beach, leave their families, and wander homeless for three years with a penniless rabbi. Then the rabbi would leave earth, and they would mocked, scourged, chased out of cities, and then the majority of them would be tortured to death.

     Yet each one of these twelve men abandoned what they were doing to follow Christ. According to normal, logical minds, they did the absolute unthinkable. They left security for insecurity, money for poverty, homes for a wilderness. What on earth were these nuts thinking?

     Yet do you see something that's lacking? How about a third choice? How about staying on the beach, send Jesus a little money every year, and attend a Jesus seminar every eight months? Why don't we see that option?

     The reason is abundantly, uncomfortably clear. Jesus didn't leave that as a choice. The disciples either followed Him, with their whole lives, or they stayed behind. Jesus wasn't calling for nominal acceptance, or even reluctant popularity. He wanted every fiber of their beings to be engrossed with Him, His work, His life, His love.

     Has that call changed for us? When Jesus calls us to follow Him, is He calling us to any less? Is He okay with nominal devotion? I don't think so. Sure we'll fail. Sure we'll sin. But is our life characterized by a whole-hearted, chasing after God?

     But one thing needs to be said on this topic. When I say things like those I've said above, it isn't meant to be a call that says, "Alright, everyone up now, and get on the mission field, or you're not saved." It means we are called to pursue God, not by everyone going on the mission field, but by everyone of us honoring God with the little things of our lives, with the boring, commonplace things we do everyday.

     We like the feeling that we need to run and go do great things for God. And if you're called to do huge things for God, wonderful. But if you're not, if you're called to give $15 to a beggar under a bridge, wonderful to you too. That is following God. That is what it means to follow Christ. We show Christ not just through our huge projects, and great ideas, and our grandiose mission schemes; we show him through our love for the unlovable people we see every day; we follow Him by our listening to His voice. That is following Christ.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015


    I have been trying to finish a couple of books on my reading list, and in doing so, I was able to finish Twelve Ordinary Men by John MacArthur, a book I'd started on a long plane flight, then forgot about after I got home. It is a very good book about each of the disciples, but my favorite chapter to read was the one on Judas Iscariot.

    After reading the chapter on Judas, it made me reflect on several thoughts from MacArthur and several that just popped into my head randomly that tie into the story of Judas. That's what I'll be writing about today.

    When was the last time you met somebody named Judas? Having a hard time remembering anybody? While I have met dozens of people with Bible names (Joshua, Judah, Sarah, John, Jonathan, Peter, James, Nathan, Abigail, etc.), I have yet to meet a Judas. Why?

    Judas succeeded in becoming the mental image that comes to mind at the word "betrayal" or "traitor". All of us have heard a person referred to as a "Judas". He was so much the epitome of a traitor that our culture now uses his name as synonymous with the word "traitor".

    Judas was the master deceiver, a hypocrite of the highest order. Imagine living with eleven men for three years, deceiving them so adeptly that even when Jesus pinpoints Judas as the betrayer, the disciples think he must have meant something different (Jn. 13:26-29)! Judas had so masterfully masked his true heart that men he ate, slept, walked, preached, and lived with couldn't recognize him for who he really was even when pointed at!

    Think about the opportunity Judas had! The opportunity to walk with Jesus, to hear nearly every word Jesus said, to travel with him, to sit in on the heart to heart talks that Jesus had with his disciples! Yet all these things, all these great things Judas had the opportunity to see and hear, were not enough to persuade Judas to be a heart follower of Christ.

    My warning to all of us as Christians today is that we not imitate Judas in his masterful hypocrisy. It is such a temptation to walk into church as the "good" Christian, the one with the answers, with the enlightened spiritual state, the one with the knowledge, and yet miss Christ. The grave and awful truth is that it is 100 percent possible to know every fact in the world about God and about Jesus, yet still burn in hell for eternity.

    Judas knew more head knowledge about the intimate details of Jesus than I will probably ever know. Judas ate with Him, slept with Him, talked face to face with Him, went places with Him, and preached about Him. Yet Judas never knew the man he did all these things with.

    Jesus teaches that it is quite possible for us to keep up the front, perform all the right actions, even going above and beyond, in His name, and still never know Him, and have Him not to know us (Matt. 7: 21-23). If any man every put on a convincing front, it was Judas. Here was a man so convincing in his acting righteous, that the other disciples apparently elected him as the most trustworthy of them all (Jn. 12:6)! They chose him to keep the money bag.

    I think this is a warning for all of us to heed. What other people think and say about you says very little about your true spiritual state. We can all keep up an act at church. We can all keep up the spiritual act around our Christian friends.

    But what saddens me more than anything else is that the number that Jesus claims He will be forced to say on judgment day that He never knew will be no small number. It will be "many". Probably people I know, people I've met, maybe even people I've swapped a few "Christian" sentences with. But they never actually knew Christ. They could walk and walk and talk the talk, but they never knew Him.

    When we come together, let's not play the super-spiritual, got-it-all together guy. Let's not come only with all the information, all the facts, the knowledge and the numbers, but let's actually come to know Jesus Christ, to understand His character, to listen to His voice, and to genuinely, whole-heartedly love Him.

    What did Jesus teach was the greatest commandment? Was it that we must know the five points of Calvinism and why we believe each one? Was it that we must be able to name all the items in the tabernacle and the symbolism behind them? Or was it just to simply love God with everything in us, and then turn, and show that love to our neighbor and our enemies? Gather all the knowledge you can, on spiritual matters or otherwise, but that knowledge is not what saves you. It is a Person that saves you.

    Please, please, don't turn Christianity into a mere pursuit of knowledge. Judas, for all his knowledge and even preaching, betrayed God with a kiss. Knowledge is great, and please, learn all you can about Christ. But don't lower Christianity to a mere intellectual pursuit. Don't convince yourself you are saved because everyone else thinks you are and tells you that you are. Don't pour your energy into keeping up the facade of the spiritual, factual, knowledgeable Christian, but instead pour your energy into that relationship with Christ. Know Him. Listen to Him. Abide with Him.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Good Quote

    I thought I would re-post this quote that I put up some months ago. It is one of the best quotes I've ever read from John Piper (and that's saying something, 'cause he's got a lot!). It made me stop and think for a moment about how central Jesus Christ should be in our emotions, thoughts, attitudes, and actions.

     "The critical question for our generation- and for every generation- is this: If you could have heaven, with no sickness, and with all the friends you ever had on earth, and all the food you ever liked, and all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauties you ever saw, all the physical pleasures you ever tasted, and no human conflict or any natural disasters, could you be satisfied with heaven, if Christ was not there?"

     Be honest with yourself when you answer that question.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

In All Things

    In preparing for a blog post on a different topic, I happened to run across this verse and get distracted from my original thoughts. So, you'll have to wait for my previous post for a while longer, while I post on Col. 1:18 today.

    "And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence." (Col. 1:18) This is the KJV translation, the following is from my preferred NAS: "He is also the head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself might come to have first place in everything."

    Both these translations reflect clearly the point I will be writing about today: the preeminence of Christ. Part of this lesson I will be borrowing from one of my favorite speakers, Dr. Jerry Benjamin, who has spoken on this topic every time I've ever heard him preach.

    One very poignant lesson that Dr. Benjamin preaches on is that of the difference between preeminence and prominence. Here's an example that I've heard him use to teach on this topic. If a man were to tell his wife that she is prominent among his affections, she would probably be offended. Why?

    Because prominent reflects the idea of one among many. Sure, the prominent person is important, but prominent over what? Obviously, there's other people there that her husband has noticed! That wouldn't be taken as a compliment. Prominence refers to a high status, but not the highest.

    However, if a husband were to tell his wife that she is preeminent in his affection, it has a whole other meaning. Preeminent reflects supremacy, to the point that others are hardly noticed. It's no contest at all, and requires no thought as to who is highest in one's affections.

    This is the word that Paul, inspired by God, chose to use in this verse to describe God's rightful due. Jesus Christ is to Himself be the preeminent one in our affections, with no one else even remotely second. Our love, our affection, and our obedience to Christ should make our relationship to any other human on earth appear to be hatred in comparison (Lk. 14:26-27).

    But Paul said something else that should catch our attention. In what is Christ to have the preeminence? In the previous verse, Paul states that by Christ, all things exist and are held together (v. 17). However, v. 18 specifically addresses Christ as head of the Body (the church) and the first-born of the dead, targeting his role as Head of the church and Head of the corner (Ps. 118:22). As such, Paul proclaims that in all things, but particularly in the matter he's addressing at the moment (the church), Christ should have the preeminence.

    So first of all, Christ is to be preeminent in all things. Every single thing we do is to have Christ intermingled throughout it, with the focus being Him, with  the glory going to Him. As I write this, I can feel all the times I've failed to do this, and all the times I have done things for the sole purpose of bringing glory and reward to myself. So, I am guilty of this more than anyone else reading this post.

    But specifically, I want to mention Christ's position of preeminence in the church. I fear that many Christians, myself included all too often, do not come to church with Christ as our single, all-consuming focus. Instead, Christ can be simply a name to bring a group of people together to church and hear a motivational speech on clean, moral living. Christ can be a slogan in the church to convince people to go out and vote. Christ can be a badge of the church to be worn to show our own superiority over the world.

    But in none of these things is Christ given the preeminence. None of these things reflect an attitude that church is supposed to reflect: that of total admiration, worship, awe, reverence, and love for Jesus Christ. Church is not a place to do my business, whether or not it is morally good, but instead a place to pursue Christ, and to allow Him to pursue me.

    Now, this could easily be interpreted to be dismissing all fellowship and healthy interaction between believers. Certainly that is not my intention! But Christ is the one that demands preeminence, not I. So, in order to try to obey Scripture, we must attempt to give Christ the preeminence He deserves, even if that is by bringing up as a topic of conversation during a ball game with your friends after a church service, or in the car on the way home.

    Jesus is not something to be talked about during a 45 minute sermon, then left at the door when we leave. He is to be constantly on our thoughts and lips, constantly shown through our actions, and constantly taught to others by our example. Christ is to be lived and breathed through every fiber of our being.

    So, this next week (and after that) try to keep Christ in our thoughts. Think of Him constantly, and serve Him as we go about our lives.

    On a lighter note, this is Grace Did Much More Abound's 100th post! Thank you to all of you who read and comment. It is an encouragement to me to know that I am not just writing to myself, and hopefully God has and will use this blog to help someone along the path of knowing Him better! Thank you for your support!


Friday, March 20, 2015

The Lord is a Refuge

    Joel 3:16-17- "The Lord roars from Zion and utters His voice from Jerusalem, and the heavens and the earth tremble. But the Lord is a refuge for His people and a stronghold to the sons of Israel. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God, dwelling in Zion My holy mountain. So Jerusalem will be holy, and strangers will pass through it no more."

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Good Poem

    While I am not a fan of poetry, I do like certain poems. In studying for a literature test today, I ran across this poem by Puritan Edward Taylor.

"What love is this of Thine, that cannot be
  In Thine infinity, O Lord, confined,
  Unless it in Thy very person see
  Infinity and Finity conjoined?
  What! hath Thy godhead, as not satisfied,
  Married our manhood, making it its bride?

"Oh, matchless love! filling heaven to the brim!
  O'errunning it, all running o'er beside
  This world! Nay, overflowing hell, wherein
  For Thine elect there rose a mighty tide!
  That there our veins might through Thy Person bleed
  To quench those flames that else would on us feed.

 "Oh! that thy love might overflow my heart
   To fire the same with love! For love I would,
   But oh! my straitened breast! my lifeless spark!
   My fireless flame! What chilly love and cold!
   In measure small! in measure chilly! See!
   Lord, blow the coal, Thy love enflame in me.

                  Meditation One, by Edward Taylor

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Good Quote

    Today's post brings another quote from Michael Horton's book, Christless Christianity. I have criticized the self-help gospel on this blog before, but Horton just has a better way with words than I do! And a Ph. D. That helps.

    "Living in the Bible Belt, I suppose, where 'Jesus' is a rallying point for football games and the grand opening of shopping malls, the significance of Jesus can be taken for granted. The result, however, is a vague, sentimental attachment to someone who is more like an invisible friend than the incarnate, dead, raised, ascended, and reigning Savior of the ungodly.

     "In this context, Jesus becomes whatever you want him to be in your life. If one's greatest problem is loneliness, the good news is that Jesus is a reliable friend. If the big problem is anxiety, Jesus will calm us down. Jesus is the glue that holds our marriages and families together, gives us a purpose to strive toward, and provides wisdom for daily life. There are half-truths in all of these pleas, but they never really bring hearers face-to-face with their real problem: that they stand naked and ashamed before a holy God and can only be acceptably clothed in his presence by being clothed, head to toe, in Christ's righteousness.

     "The gospel of submission, commitment, decision, and victorious living is not good news about what God has achieved, but a demand to save ourselves with God's help. Besides the fact that Scripture never refers to the gospel as having a personal relationship with Jesus nor defines faith as a decision to ask Jesus to come into our heart, this concept of salvation fails to realize that everyone has a personal relationship with God already: either as a condemned criminal standing before a righteous judge or as a justified co-heir with Christ and adopted child of the Father."

                                                             Michael Horton, Christless Christianity

     Many of the lies we tell ourselves about the gospel are, as Horton calls them, half-truths, maybe even just deceitful whole-truths. When we are lonely, Jesus really is our reliable Friend. When we are anxious, Jesus really does calm us. He can indeed be the glue that holds our family's and marriages together. The problem comes when this is the emphasis of our relationship with God; namely, what does it do for me, or what does it cause me to feel? When this becomes the emphasis, the focus of the gospel now switches from the holiness of God communicated to man through the grace of God to an emphasis and focus on me, my problems and how my incorporation of Jesus into my life may fix those.

    Viewing Jesus as simply a quick fix to my own problems of anxiety or loneliness doesn't address the bigger picture of the gospel. You don't need Jesus to fix loneliness or anxiety. There's lots of unsaved people with no struggle with either of these things. Jesus, although He can and often does fix these issues, doesn't come only, or even mainly, to help me through my perceived difficulties. He instead comes to radically liberate me from the sin and error that permeated my life, and release me from chains I didn't know bound me.

    When we minimize Jesus to simply my personal psychiatrist or life-coach, instead of the radical Savior to whom I owe everything, we rob Him of the glory due Him. His glory doesn't come because He made me "feel all better" but because of the transformation His love, grace, and mercy brought to liberate me from death. If we insist that our biggest problem is simply an emotional need, we will never realize the true depth of our own depravity or the depth of God's grace communicated to us through Christ.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Malawi Pics

    Two months ago, I promised in my post on my January missions trip that I would post more pictures. Time and a faulty memory kept me from doing that up to this point, but below are just some miscellaneous assorted pictures of random objects in Malawi that I figured were picture worthy. I have very high standards for what I will and won't take pictures of, as you'll see. My basic qualifications are 1.) I have a camera with me and 2.) it looks cool. That's about it. Yeah, really strict standards!

    Also, a quick disclaimer. I am NOT a photographer. At all. Before this, I had probably taken twenty pictures in my life. So, if photography is passion of yours, you may want to skip this post, since you may leave feeling nauseous.

    Again, a quick note. The first week was spent doing conferences around Southern Malawi, and I took two pictures the whole time. I'm not much of a photographer, and I was pretty busy and focused on other things. All but one of the following pics is from the second week at the orphanage, where aside from a youth conference and a couple evangelistic and school outreaches, there was much more down time.

This is a beautiful valley just across the Mozambique border.

This is a teammate teaching a Bible lesson in a village, Tambalika.

This is a typical fishing canoe on Lake Malawi. As a kayaker, I have no idea how they keep balance!

These are some of the kids from the orphanage. All of whom could beat me at soccer.

Another pic of a canoe. Can you tell I was impressed? How do you keep balance while fishing in that thing?

A friend stole my camera to take this pic. You can see the humble beginnings of my beard, which is much better today, I might add. Everything starts small!

This is Vitu (spelling ?). Definitely a friendly little kid, who lives with his widow mother on the mission property.

The sunsets were absolutely beautiful. Even more beautiful than Texas', something very hard for a Texan to admit.

Yeah, I liked the sunsets.

Can you tell I was impressed? God's creation really does point to Him, if we take the time to think about it.

Lake Malawi in the background. Not sure what was in the pan, but it made for a cool picture, in my opinion.

Might gives right. The cattle obviously had heard this principle before, since they showed no inclination of moving aside fr us.

Now you see the reason we gave them the road.

Once again, this is Lael speaking to the orphans in the mission church building.

This is a typical Malawian home. Thatch roof, mud brick walls, no door, and maize for a yard.

This is one of the better non-paved roads we walked on for an evangelistic outreach.

Marco, Vitu's older brother. Also a great goalie.

I think they're in battle formation.

It was rainy season, and this is one of the storms blowing in.

This is a picture from atop a termite mound.

Vitu thought it'd be funny to make a funny face, Oscar thought he should smile.

One last picture on the night before we left! We got a lot of faces we want to remember!

    All in all, an awesome trip. I hope the seeds God planted through us will bring fruit, whether I ever see it or not. And Africa, I'm coming back!

    Oh, and defyingdepravity, you're welcome!


Thursday, March 12, 2015

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Death in His Grave

    My brother Corey sent me this cool song. Apparently, I like John Mark McMillan!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Political Jesus

    Today's post may be somewhat controversial (thus the reason it has taken me three days to think through it all), but I think it is a very important concept for Christians to grasp. I've spent the last few days trying to calm my anger at a statement a speaker I heard on Sunday said. Since his statement reflects very well the very point of my post today, I'm going to begin with his statements.

    In attempt to combat Christians listening to rock music, this particular speaker went so far as to guarantee that there would not be drums in heaven, or any of that "chaos", and that maybe God would give rock artists a harp when they got to heaven. It would probably be insulting to any cultures (for example, African) who use drums extensively in their worship music to be told with no Biblical backing that their instruments will be left out of heaven in favor of the ones I'm comfortable with. Not only this statement ludicrous because of the demonization of an inanimate object, namely drums, that can be used for good or bad, but because the "chaos" seems to exist in most accounts of heaven in Scripture. It will be the most beautiful, organized, harmonious chaos the universe has ever known. It will be billions of people, standing around the throne of the Lamb, singing in different languages, with different voices, playing different instruments, with all the chaos blending into one beautiful song of praise to Jesus Christ. I think it very likely that every instrument will be included in this song of praise, particularly those in Ps. 150 (yes, even the "loud, clashing cymbals").

    Yet this statement points to one of the more innocent looking, yet dangerous lies the American church has fallen prey to. You may have guessed from the title, but the idea I am attacking today is that of Jesus as simply a proponent of whichever culture, race, political idea, or particular argument which I happen to be a part of or defending.

    We see it clearly in that comment. This particular speaker pictured heaven, and praise to God, as simply an extension of how he worshiped the best. He enjoyed worship with pianos and soft instruments, so he concluded that God likes that best too. He didn't like rock music, or a hard beat, so he concluded that God must not like it either. His error then came from his attempt to make his own opinion God's opinion, and change it from a personal preference to an all-encompassing religious principle.

    So I can sum up this particular problem with one sentence. We must not conform Jesus into the image which we are most comfortable with, because we will be left with simply a mere shell of the beauty, holiness, and majesty of God that reflects my own personal (possibly even unBiblical) bias and opinions. (Okay, yes, that was a really long one sentence, probably a run-on, but still!) We see this problem every two years when election time rolls around. Each party (Republicans particularly, but Democrats too) attempt to present their candidate as the "Christian candidate" in attempt to get more and more votes, essentially turning their party into the "Christian party", while obviously implying that the other party must be the "Dark Side".

    Are there religious questions in politics? Absolutely! Abortion, homosexuality, capital punishment, all these can and are religious questions. So, as Christians, we should answer them with the light and insight of Scripture. That's not what I'm arguing against. What I am instead arguing against is our attempts (ignorantly or otherwise) to portray one group as "God's side" (in my circles, Republicans) and the other side as, well, obviously the other side.

    Don't get me wrong! I am a conservative, borderline between libertarian and Republican. If there was a Constitutional party (there might be, I don't know. I can't vote yet.), I would probably fit somewhere in there. I'm not protesting political activism or conservative/liberal views. I'm simply attacking a certain habit, whether liberals or conservatives use it.

    We've done the same with America as a nation. We have made America a "Christian nation". What is a Christian nation anyway? Does America have soul? Did America ask Jesus to come in and save it from its sins and repent? Okay, I get that many of our founders were Christian. Many of our foundational principles of freedom are pillared on the Bible. But it doesn't make the whole nation Christian, and thus superior!

    From the NT onward, we don't see God taking a certain country's side. We don't see him favoring one country more than another. And I'm going to break a very sad truth to some of y'all. Jesus wasn't white, and He doesn't love America any more than he does Sudan, Thailand, or Turkmenistan. We are not God's favored race because we put "In God we trust" on all our coins or "one nation under God" in our pledge. Republicans are not God's favored candidates because they are anti-abortion. All Democrats are not unbelievers because their party may represent pro-abortion ideas.

    It's very hard to put what I'm trying to say into writing, so this may take a little while! Jesus is not a flag to be waved to rally all Christians to my political side or personal opinion. Jesus, although sovereignly involved in all events on earth, is working to make His will come to pass, not mine. And although we should make all our decisions coincide with His Word and the leading of His Spirit, I should be moving myself to His cause, not He to mine.

    When we make Jesus the rallying cry to protest music styles I don't like in churches, Jesus is simply a footnote on a page of my own personal opinions and agendas. I'm using this example since it is freshest in my mind, but there are others.

    This speaker also made a similar mistake that touches the same topic. In attacking the instruments that he, in his culture, was not comfortable with, he attacked every other culture that does use those instruments for good. For example, drums and an emphasized beat are a huge part of African cultural music. As someone who loves Africa, it's almost insulting to hear someone say that in heaven, Africans will give up the instruments that are their cultural heritage in favor of the instruments that are a part of my cultural heritage. Yeah, 'cause God likes American culture better, right? No! Wrong! We have once again made the same mistake of making God an American God, one who likes American music and culture, and made our mental concept of heaven a giant American church, where we will sing American songs to American tunes with American instruments.

    My point is this. Do not, do NOT, force God into an image or box of your own making. Do not use God to force a personal preference or cultural norm of the rest of humanity. Let the Spirit lead them. God is the God of the world, not of America, and His children are just as beloved in the Democrat party as in the Republican party; in Sudan just as much as in Texas; and our cultural pianos and organs are no more well loved by God than an Indian flute or an African drum. God is not a national God. He's a personal God. He wants a relationship, not just with Republicans or Democrats, not just with Americans or Chinese, not just with rock musicians or with traditional musicians, but with the world. And we are to communicate that love to those people, yes, those people who we disagree with and find unlovable or hard to accept. Yeah, those people.


Monday, March 9, 2015

Quick Quotes

    My personal missionary hero, C.T. Studd, led an interesting life, to say the least. Born into an extremely wealthy family, Studd gave away his share of the family fortune and instead dedicated his life to missions in China, India, and Africa. These are some good quotes from him.

    "Christ's call is to save the lost, not the stiff-necked; He came not to call scoffers but sinners to repentance; not to build and furnish comfortable chapels, churches, and cathedrals at home in which to rock Christian professors to sleep by means of clever essays, stereotyped prayers, and artistic musical performances, but to capture men from the devil's clutches and the very jaws of Hell. This can be accomplished only by a red-hot, unconventional, unfettered devotion, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to the Lord Jesus Christ."

    "Christ does not want nibblers of the possible, but grabbers of the impossible."

    "A lost reputation is the best degree for Christ's service."

    "Some want to live within the sound of church or chapel bell; I want to run a rescue shop within a yard of hell."

    ""How little chance the Holy Ghost has nowadays. The churches and missionary societies have so bound him in red tape that they practically ask Him to sit in a corner while they do the work themselves."

Thursday, March 5, 2015


     Today's post should be interesting, since I really haven't planned what I'm going to say. I'm really just winging it and going with what comes into my head. Most of my friends are aware of my propensity for "winging it". Today is no exception.

    I was thinking several days ago about how we in the church and in Christianity generally tend to differentiate between our Christian life and our "everyday" or "normal" life. I know I've personally, to my shame, used both those phrases to describe my life away from church, not thinking about how unScriptural that is.

    What I hadn't realized and many still haven't is that reality, even stronger than the apparent reality I see around me with my human senses, is the eternal, spiritual realm. What we consider reality and "normal" life is actually the abnormal finite in a universe of an eternal spiritual war. Honestly, our fascination with our present world and finite possessions is a glowing testimonial to our own human ignorance.

    Jn. 12:25 says, "He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal."  Now, it's not my normal habit to say that Scripture doesn't mean what it says, but this will be the second day in a row when I've been forced to remark on the phrase "hate". Jesus obviously doesn't mean a literal hatred, since a hatred of life doesn't coincide with contentment and joy, something Paul speaks a lot about (particularly in Philippians) and reeks of unthankfulness for the gifts God has given.

    What I believe Jesus is speaking of here is the realization that this world is not worthy of any long-term focus and aspiration. Anything good I do here must be pointed instead to the glorification of Christ. All the things, no matter how seemingly "important" they are through worldly eyes, done in this world that do not point to Christ are pointless endeavors.

    I believe we have our phrases mixed up. "Real life" is not the number of attributes I share with other people on earth. It's a firm grasp on the reality of the eternality of the soul. I don't think we can dodge it. The joy of heaven and the pain and horror of hell are both in such shocking proportions that would make the vague joys and the slight pains we feel on earth pale in comparison. Real life, then, is focus on the reality of the spiritual war around us.

    For a Christian, "normal" or "real" life should involve Christ the same as our "church" life does. There should be no difference in lives, from location to location. Jesus Christ should be our focal point of all activity, not just at church or personal devotions. Instead, normal life should be a focus on eternity, since that is the period of time that really matters.

    C.S. Lewis once said, "Aim at heaven and get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and get neither." It reflects a really cool principle. When I begin to focus on heaven and eternity, my eyes shift back to earth. When we finally grasp the concept of endless joy and worship or endless pain and horror, we see the task God has set before us with greater clarity and importance.

    If I focus on heaven, then the other needs God has placed in front of me on earth will be addressed because of my focus on the eternal, which includes my future destiny and my God, whose love I reflect through my deeds on earth. If I instead focus on earth, I miss the focus on God and on the eternal, much more relevant sphere.

    So, my encouragement to anyone reading this is to force your mind to think on eternal matters, not just the earthly. Don't think of things in terms of earthly importance or relevance, but instead allow God to transform our minds to think as He thinks and behave as He behaves. That is becoming Christ-like. Focus our minds on the eternal. As I've said before, all the medals in the world will mean nothing before the throne of God. A million dollar check will seem awfully unimportant 10,000 years from now, standing before God's throne in heaven singing His praises or in hell, cursing His face. The things we spent time on here will be forgotten and burned up, except those done for Christ.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Hate your father; Love your Father

    I have posted before on Lk. 14 (here), but today I want to approach the same passage from a different angle. The verses I will be focusing are v. 26-27, 33, which read, "If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me cannot be my disciple. (v.33) So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple."

    Obviously, as anyone who knows me would I hope suspect, I in this post nor Jesus in the gospel am encouraging you to hate your family. This would be contradictory to the many verses scattered throughout the gospels to love all, and how much more your own family! So in no way is Jesus speaking of a literal hatred of your family.

    What He instead is speaking of is the seemingly insane attachment of a Christian to his Savior. This love and obedience should be so strong as to make our next strongest attachments (love for family) appear as hatred. That's powerful love!

    But what this entails then is a very difficult principle. Today I ran across an article from a young lady asking for advice on a particular discussion forum I follow. She felt God calling her to the mission field, yet her parents were convinced that she should not go, because of safety particularly. As someone who also feels that "nudge" toward foreign missions, I sympathized with her question. Instantly this verse stuck in my head.

    This verse isn't just a pretty (or difficult, however you look at it) little bit of poetry about loving Jesus. It's about following Him. It's about doing what Jesus would have you do, even at the expense of your relationship with your own family. It is, as David Platt would say, a summons to lose your life.

    This verse is not the mushy-gushy, leave feeling good about yourself, more comfortable type of verse. This verse is one that demands absolute obedience and submission to our Lord, even to a point that many, myself include, would consider nearly impossible.

    I have been blessed with a family that is fully supportive of what I feel to be a "nudge" to go on the mission field. Even my mother, who even those outside the family have thought would never let me leave, has told me that if Jesus calls me, she wants me to go. And I am so thankful to God for the family I have.

    But imagining myself, or you, or anyone else in a similar scenario without a supportive family. Perhaps in Jesus day, when following a religious misfit like Jesus around the country would get you forever labeled as a weirdo and non-orthodox. You wouldn't expect a warm welcome back to your synogogue if you followed Jesus. You couldn't expect a warm welcome back from your Orthodox Jewish family if you follow this "false Messiah".

    If you decided to follow Jesus, it was a decision with no turning back (Lk. 9:62). You would have had to turn your back on everything: your town, your home, your family, your synogogue, your friends, your job, your security, your everything. Everything you were would be forever tied up in this homeless, penniless Galilean rabbi.

    Yet Jesus didn't try to make it sound easier than it was. He, very plainly, laid out the facts. Anyone, who comes to Jesus, yet is not willing if need be to abandon their closest ties in favor of Himself, cannot be His disciple. Anyone who is not willing to lay everything he has, all that he is, on the altar and present it as a sacrifice would do better to stay home. He cannot be a disciple of Jesus.

    Think how many potential followers never followed Jesus because of this speech. It was too difficult. It wasn't worth the cost. It simply wasn't worth the price.

    But then there were those few, those desperate, hungry few, who wanted something more. Something more than average, commonplace life. Something more than the mundane. Those hungry, desperate few who wanted Jesus, who wanted the Person, and who were willing to place all on the line to follow Him. Those few were the ones Jesus used to transform the world.

    It wasn't an easy decision. To follow Jesus, those few had to leave the same things the many would have. Yet they made the decision that it was worth it. To follow Christ, they had to put it all on the line, and they did. And they lost everything.

    Except that very thing which they wanted. They kept the Person whom they were seeking. They kept their Messiah, they kept the knowledge of Him, and when all else was lost, even their lives, they still held on to Christ.

    That was the cost. The loss of all human status, position, and prominence. The loss of their religious position and their families. They left all to follow Christ. Because that was the only option. There was no middle ground. There was no half-way follower of Jesus.

    Following Christ wherever He leads will be hard. It will lead us through hard times and tough decisions. There may be times we'll have to say "no" to our families to say "yes" to God. There may be times we have to say "no" to our schedules, "no" to our security, "no" to our plans, "no" to my ambitions, and simply say "yes", a difficult, terrifying "yes", but a "yes" to God.

    Lk. 9:57-62 is a passage I want read at my funeral (hopefully not for a while). "And it came to pass that, as they went in the way, a certain man said unto Him, 'Lord, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest.' And Jesus said unto him, 'Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the son of man hath not where to lay his head.' And he said unto another, 'Follow me.' But he said, 'Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father.' Jesus said unto him, 'Let the dead bury their own dead, but go thou and preach the kingdom of God.' And another also said, 'Lord, I will follow thee; but let me first go bid them farewell which are home at my house.' And Jesus said unto him, 'No man, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.'"

     This perfectly illustrates my point. Here, two of the men show familial concerns. One, whose father had either just died or was going to die soon, wished to wait till all the details and stress of a family partriarch's passing. Another, simply wished to take the time to say a farewell to his family.

     Jesus message to them couldn't be clearer. He had to be first. He had to be before family, before life concerns, before everything. He had to be first. When we surrender our lives to Christ, we grant Him lordship over our lives. And we must submit to that lordship.

    Our love for Christ should outweigh our love for our family, and our allegiance to Christ and His leading must take precedence over the leading even our family and friends. Despite difficult choices, our ultimate allegiance, and ultimate joy, is not found in our family or friends, but in the person of Jesus Christ.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Good Quote

    "One of the marks of a certain kind of bad man is that he can not give up a thing himself without wanting everyone else to give it up…An individual Christian may see fit to give up all sorts of things for special reasons—marriage, or meat or beer or movies—but the moment he starts saying the things are bad in themselves, or looking down his nose at other people who do use them, he has taken the wrong turning."

                                                           -C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

    Another quote I ran across that makes me want to read Mere Christianity all the more!