Wednesday, December 25, 2013


 "Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will be with child ..." (Luke 1:30)


No matter how troubled Mary was, her heart had been cultivated by faith, and she responded to the news with composure, dignity, and faith. She did not scream or fall on her face. She simply asked the angel a question: “How will this be … since I am a virgin?” (v. 34).


She asked with expectancy. “How will God do this, with me being a virgin and all?” It is not a question of doubt. It is a question rooted in faith. Mary immediately believed Gabriel. She did not laugh as Sarah did when she overheard the conversation between her husband and the Lord that she in her old age would bear a son. When confronted with the miraculous, Mary asked how will.


Unbeknownst to Mary, this same angel had visited her relative Zechariah and brought him astonishing, impossible news. When Gabriel told Zechariah that he and Elizabeth in their old age would have a son, an amazing son, Zechariah asked, “How can this be?” (v. 18, author’s paraphrase). Not how will. How can. The difference exposed his heart. He did not believe the angel, and it did not go well for him. Mary was blessed by the angel above all women. Zechariah was struck dumb. 


Mary asked, “How will?” She knew that if God says something—anything—we can believe him. God is true. He is trustworthy. Jesus is a man of his Word. (From "Becoming Myself" by John Eldredge)

"At Christmas God moved into very bad neighborhood and began rehabilitating it." - Tim Keller

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Nelson Mandela

Written by Ravi Zacharias...

I’m sitting at the airport in Bahrain, about to catch a flight to Jakarta. The television screens are full of coverage for a man of courage, conviction, and influence. Every now and then his picture with his winsome smile is shown with the words under it: Nelson Mandela, 1918-2013.

Looking at the dates, I thought first of my mother. She was born just two years before him but passed away nearly four decades before he did. Yes, she had a short life span. She did not make a world impact but it was because of her that I am a free man today. Her life and example were for me, life-defining. Nelson Mandela, by contrast, changed history for millions, if not for the world. A different role, a different call. So it is that each one of us has a part to play, whether of great influence or of small influence, but equally important.

Yet, as I look at his picture and consider his legacy, I mourn the loss of not just a person, but an example for all politicians. While his early years were more aggressive, his veteran years spoke of wisdom gained through steps and missteps. Where are the leaders like him today? Many of those who are eulogizing him have evidently not learned from him. For one, he bore no hatred towards his oppressors. Even his period of violence was short-lived and tempered. When he acquired freedom he did not ask the oppressed to “go and vote for revenge.” After his time in prison, he did not use the microphone to whip up hostility, division, and frenzy or go on diatribes blaming his predecessors for doing everything wrong. He did not use language that some in the media do, some verbiage that is too vulgar to even repeat. He wanted to correct society, not change, penalize, or pollute it. He won supporters to his side with grace and dignity, not by bullying.

On one occasion I nearly met the man. It was my loss when it didn’t come about. I was in Cape Town after having spoken to the framers of the Peace Accord in Johannesburg when I received a call from his office where his staff was trying its best to bring about a meeting between us. But a strong bout of pneumonia, which he had contracted in prison, hit him hard at that time and actually plagued him for the rest of his life. Not meeting him was a loss I felt. I would have loved to have asked him a few questions. One I would like to have asked is, “Deep inside, did you ever feel like giving up?” I suspect I know the answer, but just to be inspired, I would have liked to hear this one-time boxer turned freedom-fighter in his soft voice express his determination to never give up.
Nelson Mandela

The world has become a dangerous place. We need the Mandelas who know when to lead, how to treat their opponents, and when to step down. There is so much hatred in speeches today, such inflammatory rhetoric. There is such an unyielding quest and clinging to power that we shudder at the seduction so evident. What we win the masses with is what we win them to and we are subjecting a generation to ignoble speech and lacerating rhetoric: How will this win them to noble ends?

Two remarkable decisions among many show how Mandela bore no contempt for his adversaries. Journalists have pointed this out. You’d think they themselves would be instructed by it. When he received the Nobel Prize he chose to share it with his predecessor, President F.W. de Klerk. This was an incredible move, truly walking the second mile. He never wanted to play the hero. He knew the fight wasn’t about him. Also, at his inauguration he invited the white jail warden to be present as his personal guest. Mandela cautioned leaders that hatred beguiled the mind and was an emotion leaders could not afford without reaping the whirlwind. He would give no place to mockery that masqueraded as statesmanship.

Our own leaders today would do well to learn from Nelson Mandela rather than just giving grandiose speeches about him. What he began still has a long way to go. I am a Christian and I admire the courage and sacrifice of people such as Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. and Nelson Mandela. Even if we are not all on the same page theologically, we are on the same page for the protection of people who are exploited or abused. It is a noble end. But the way our media and political leaders frame the problem actually digs a hole deeper than the one they are trying to fill. They poison the soul but expect healing. When language comes easily for those who have the microphone, it can become fatally fluent.

I spoke once at the Islamic University in Malaysia, one of the oldest such universities of the world. I was asked to present a defense of Christianity to a primarily Muslim audience. It was a nerve-wracking hour, with sophisticated scholars in the audience. I would not compromise my convictions. I needed to build a bridge without surrendering ground. “How does one handle this?” I thought. I did my best and the response was truly gratifying. Even the head of the Islamic Studies department, the professor who was my host, said some of the kindest words afterward in her office.

That evening I was taken out for dinner by a professor who specifically asked if we could have an hour. His name was Professor Living Lee, a geologist by specialty. He told me this story. Some years ago the late vitriolic Muslim apologist Ahmed Deedat was presenting a defense of Islam at the same university. Ironically, he was from South Africa too. He had a bent to abusive language and inflammatory speech, mocking opponents and inciting anger in his supporters towards those of a different view. He provoked all the baser emotions for a supposedly elevated cause. Deedat had delivered his talk at the university in his usual hate-filled style, mocking Christianity and calling it nonsensical and unlivable, among other charges. When Professor Lee, one of the few Christians in the audience, questioned his charge, Deedat called him to come to the front. Professor Lee walked forward. Deedat raised his hand and with a full swing slapped him with a stinging hit to the face. Professor Lee was nearly knocked to his feet. Deedat then barked, “Now turn the other cheek!” It was obvious what he was trying to do. Suddenly he paused and said, “We can do this quicker. Give me your shirt!” Professor Lee unbuttoned and took off his shirt. “According to Jesus, you should now offer your trousers, too, shouldn’t you?” Deedat said. Professor Lee turned to the audience, apologized to his students and faculty colleagues, took off his trousers, and quietly walked out of the room in his underwear. The audience was in a dazed, stunned silence. Outdone by a gentle but equally determined scholar, Deedat looked utterly juvenile and like a man who had just been hoisted on his own petard.

Dr. Lee went back to his office and put his face in his hands, his spirit swirling with indescribable emotions. He wept though he knew he had done the right thing in standing his ground. A few moments later there was a knock on the door, then another, and another, and another. When he opened the door, he saw students and colleagues lined up to apologize to him for the pain and foolishness just displayed.

Deedat was freewheeling in rhetoric but a slave to pride. Quite incredibly, he spent the last few years of his life smitten with a stroke, unable to speak. The only weapon he had was lost to him. But in reality, Deedat could never have attained greatness because he was already too great in his own eyes.

Mandela had a cause greater than himself and is so remembered. He spent the last few years of his life quite unwell. But his example continued to speak for the freedom of all mankind. His spirit fought for the dignity of man, and he never compromised the dignity of anyone in fighting for it.

So when we read 1918-2013 we would do well to remember that though the span of Mandela’s life is finished, the span of our human struggle is not closed. But if our leaders do not know how to use speech supported by character and instead use words only to provoke hostile instincts, we will kill others with hate and the bracket around dignity and freedom will be closed. Not everything that is fatal is immediate. We are near the edge of that precipice. We have a choice. We all have a platform.

I cannot end without mentioning one wound that Mandela probably wished he could have healed: the break-up of his family. The price for him was huge and the pain must have been deep. It was a price my mother would not pay: We five children would have been the cost. It is a sobering reminder for all of us. Our nation and our homes need healing. The national struggle and the heart of a child will shape the future. Politicians and parents play that role. No momentary gain had dare violate eternal truths.

I pray for our leaders. I pray for our families. May God guide and help us.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013


Halloween: Trick or Treat? from on Vimeo.

Vast armies undead do tread through the night and
In hordes march towards hapless victims to frighten.
They stumble in step with glass-eyes on the prizes;
Bunched hither, hunched over in monstrous disguises;
In sizes not lofty but numb’ring a throng;
To unleash on their prey the dreaded DING DONG.
Small faces with traces of mother’s eye-liner,
Peer up to the resident candy provider.

And there to intone ancient threats learnt verbatim;
They lisp “TRICK OR TREAT!” Tis their stark ultimatum.
Thus: region by region such legions take plunder.
Does this spector-full spectacle cause you to wonder?
Just how did our fair festive forebears conceive,
Of this primeval practice called All Hallows Eve?
The answer, if anyone cares to research,
Surprises, it rises from old mother church.

On the cusp of the customary All Saints Day
The Christ-i-an kinsfolk made mocking display.
These children of light both to tease and deride;
Don darkness, doll down as the sinister side.
In pre-post-er-ous pageants and dress diabolic,
They hand to the damned just one final frolick.
You see with the light of the dawn on the morrow,
The sunrise will swallow such darkness and sorrow.

The future is futile for forces of evil;
And so they did scorn them in times Medieval.
For this is the nature of shadow and gloom;
In the gleaming of glory there can be no room.
What force is resourced by the echoing black?
When the brightness ignites can the shadow push back?
These ‘powers’ of darkness, if such can be called,
Are banished by brilliance, by blazing enthralled.

So the bible begins with this fore-resolved fight;
For a moment the darkness…. then “Let there be Light!”
First grief in the gloom, then joy from the East.
First valley of shadow, then mountaintop feast.
First wait for Messiah, then long-promised Dawn.
First desolate Friday and then Easter Morn.
The armies of darkness when doing their worst,
Can never extinguish this Dazzling Sunburst.

So… ridicule rogues if you must play a role;
But beware getting lost in that bottomless hole.
The triumph is not with the forces of night.
It dawned with the One who said “I am the Light!”

Saturday, August 24, 2013


“There is nothing in the law of God that will rob you of happiness; it only denies you that which would cost you sorrow." - Spurgeon

"The pursuit of a trivial life is not befitting for creatures made in the image of a weighty God full of glory." - Kevin DeYoung

"To be a disciple of Jesus is to fight sin with sober belief in God's warnings AND abounding delight in his promises."

As Piper points out in the audio clip above, the word "legalism" is not in the Bible.  However, the Pharisees offer the prime example, as they made their law-keeping behavior the foundation of their right standing with God.  I think my definition would be similar to that..."the concept that our works rather than Jesus' imputed righteousness through the cross gains us approval in the eyes of God".

I went to high school with a couple friends like that.  On one hand they would talk about the Gospel but on the other they were constantly pointing out how wrong it was for other students to talk the way they did or to listen to the music they did.  Of course, they had a point.  Swearing and music that is marked by prideful rebellion are not glorifying to God nor edifying to man.  But they were only concerned about the behavior of these students.  The posture of their hearts or their relationship, or lack thereof, with God seemed to be of little concern.  Their desire to point out bad behavior revealed what an idol their own behavior had become in justifying themselves.  They hadn't been broken yet to understand how God's grace was the ONLY thing that could save them and so they extended little grace to others. (And by his grace, one of those friends, is now one of the most grace- and truth-filled women I know who has a deep love for others and a desire that they would come to know Christ as Lord and Savior.)

I now hear legalism being used in another way.  I recently taught through the book "Crazy Love" by Francis Chan.  It was very similar in it's message to David Platt's "Radical".  Both books centered on what it truly meant to be a Christian...and therein lies the rub.  On one hand, the Bible speaks quite clearly about the qualities of someone who is born again - they love God, they bear fruit, they have gifts of the Spirit, etc.  On the other hand, a Christian is not ultimately nor primarily defined by what he/she does but what God has done for them.  It is God who justifies and who grants the gift of faith.  Who we are is not what we do but what has been done for us.

But I don't think this needs to be an either/or argument.  We just need to get the order right.  God absolutely initiates His work through His Spirit into our hearts and lives.  It begins with God and it continues with God.  The cross justifies us in His sight.  It is not a jumping off point for our sanctification where we are handed the baton and God then says, "OK, the rest is up to you.  Because of Jesus you have my approval.  Now go do good so you can keep it."

I haven't read David's book but I can assure you that is not Francis' message.  We were created for relationship with God.  Do we not have a response to Him when He comes to us and initiates saving faith in our hearts?  Are we to just take that gift for granted and become indifferent toward His love for us?  Of course, not!  Yet we seem to so easily fall into the trap of believing that we have no part to play in this story.  We seem content to drift through life, creating what happiness we can on our own...all the while knowing that heaven awaits us like a well-funded retirement account so we can still rest well at night.

We have lost the concept of being a disciple.  We barely see Jesus as teacher let alone Lord.  We don't see the need to sit at His feet and make Him our primary treasure and example.  What we really want Him for is to be there when we run out of options and our illusion of control gets thwarted yet again.  In short, we still think our life is our own and we will do anything to hold on to that mirage.  The original sin remains firmly implanted in our hearts.  We want to be God.

So, when someone like Francis comes along and says, "Wake up, Christian!  Your life was meant to be poured out for God and for others," we immediately get defensive.  "Hey, that sounds awful legalistic Francis.  After all, the Gospel is about grace and not about my behavior.  My Christian life can't be defined by what I do.  All my sins and shortcomings have been forgiven so I don't need to try and be perfect or pursue holiness or live radically...whatever that means."

We have a real problem with the Law.  We either still use it when it suits us, i.e. I am really good at keeping "these" commands so I will use those to make me feel like I am being a good Christian....or I know I can't be perfect no matter how hard I try so why really try at all.  The Law still has an essential part to play in the life of the Christian.  Yes, it shows us our sin and it causes us to run back to the cross of Christ where forgiveness and grace flow like a never-ending stream of life.  But the Law still tells us how we are to live!  It still has a purpose.  It still instructs us on how God designed His creation.  The Law isn't meant to rob us of joy by thwarting our plans but it is meant to give us joy by aligning us with God's will so that we may enjoy blessings rather than the consequences that inevitably flow from our sin.

There are many commands that are good and right for us to pursue and follow.  Notice that I said commands...not suggestions.  This isn't God saying, "If you are really in the mood, give this a shot for me."  No!  Making disciples is not up for debate.  Obeying God is not for just when you are feeling spiritual.  Putting God first and putting yourself last isn't just for the really "holy" people.  These are things that are meant to be part of the Christian life.  Yes, we will do them imperfectly...we will stumble and fall...and we will repent knowing God will never leave us nor forsake us.  But we can't just phone in the part we are called to play.

It is not legalistic to point out the commands of God on how we are to live.  If we aren't following His Word, the issue is not with the Bible or the one who comes along and points out the disconnect.  The issue lies with us.  If we don't want to make disciples then we need to be seriously praying for the Spirit to ignite that desire and fervently searching for the obstacle preventing us from desiring to follow our Lord.  These are battles we must fight.  These are issues we must tackle.  We can't be passive.  God's ambassadors can't afford to coast along.  We need to wake up while there is still time.

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) 10 and find out what pleases the Lord. 11 Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. 12 It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. 13 But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. 14 This is why it is said:
“Wake up, sleeper,
    rise from the dead,
    and Christ will shine on you.”
15 Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. - Ephesians 5:8-17 (NIV)

Jesus. Renew the fight within us today. May we fight to rest. Fight to receive. Fight to be still and believe you love us. Fight to honor you.  Amen.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Desire vs. Reason

Recent studies say hitting the snooze button is bad for our bodies. But studies won’t get us out of bed.
Elise Snickers was a college student pursuing a career in a psychology when she wrote a letter to 54-year-old C.S. Lewis to ask the question: Can personal sin be avoided — or “cured” — by proving to a patient the un-reasonableness of the sin? In other words, can a discovery of the stupidity of a sin be its cure?
In his response, Lewis used two examples to make his point, beginning with why we sleep in late:
A man’s reason sees perfectly clearly that the resulting discomfort and inconvenience will far outweigh the pleasure of the ten minutes in bed. Yet he stays in bed: not at all because his reason is deceived but because desire is stronger than reason.
A woman knows that the sharp ‘last word’ in an argument will produce a serious quarrel which was the very thing she had intended to avoid when that argument began and which may permanently destroy her happiness. Yet she says it: not at all because her reason is deceived but because the desire to score a point is at the moment stronger than her reason.
People — you and I among them — constantly choose between two courses of action, the one which we know to be the worse: because, at the moment, we prefer the gratification of our anger, lust, sloth, greed, vanity, curiosity or cowardice, not only to the known will of God but even to what we know will make for our own real comfort and security. If you don’t recognize this, then I must solemnly assure you that either you are an angel, or else are still living in a fool’s paradise: a world of illusion. (Letters, 3:330)
Sins like sloth and rage are, of course, always stupid (Psalm 69:5), always unreasonable, always boneheaded mistakes. But is the expression of sin merely faulty reasoning in need of re-education? Lewis’s answer to the question is clearly “no” — sin erupts out of the molten-hot desires and affections churning in the core of our being.
Scientists can explain why hitting the snooze button is bad for our bodies. But we are not creatures merely driven by reason. We are creatures driven by the desire to gratify desires. Which of course means the life of holiness must be profoundly rooted in new desires and new longings.

Reason and Desires

Reason is valuable for sanctification, but reason alone cannot do the job. In fact, spiritual taste — a new desire that draws us toward God’s holiness — produces in us a spiritual taste for holiness that assists our reason, as Jonathan Edwards says in his Religious Affections. The Bible is where relish and meaning converge on the soul. The relish makes the will of God precious, and reason confirms God’s good motive behind his will. Ideally, delight and reason work in tandem, but reason alone cannot move the lazy body when the alarm starts to blare.

Gratifications at War

Because we battle sin on the playing field of the affections, holiness must be rooted in God’s converting grace on a soul and the reorienting of core affections.
Only after conversion can God’s awesome holiness become in any way beautiful and attractive to the sinner (Psalm 29:2). And God’s holiness must become beautiful and attractive to us first before our personal displays of holiness will ever overrule the self-driven lust for inordinate sleep and the self-driven lust to have the final word in a heated debate. Unless our hearts are filled with affection for Christ’s glory and for God’s holiness, our hearts can only be governed by the gratification of the self and its anger, lust, sloth, greed, vanity, curiosity, and cowardice.

Still Perplexed

But this doesn’t resolve the profound mystery about sin in our own lives. Lewis is here talking about sin in the Christian.
A reborn soul — a living soul — feels the sting of sin like a taser shot to the back of the neck. And this sting is something we experience in life on this side of the resurrection, for which we are humbled and drawn closer to the Savior and his all-sufficient work for us on the cross.
This seems to be Lewis’s hard-learned point about why we are tempted to stay in bed ten minutes too long, knowing the consequences are not worth the flesh’s gratification. The final cure for sin, of course, will be found in our future glimpse of Christ’s glory (1 John 3:2), when the Christian’s reason and affections are purified from all remnants of sin. On that day, we will experience a lot of things for the first time, including our first and full spiritual taste of the delight of God’s splendid holiness rushing through glorified senses unclogged by sin.