Wednesday, November 25, 2015


Why should we give thanks? Some suggestions from Psalm 138

I was reading through my blog tonight, and I found the following post from a few years ago.  The list seemed rather appropriate for today, so I thought I'd share it.  Here are some things to be thankful for according to David.

Psalm 138
1 A Psalm of David. I will give You thanks with all my heart; I will sing praises to You before the gods. 2 I will bow down toward Your holy temple And give thanks to Your name for Your lovingkindness and Your truth; For You have magnified Your word according to all Your name. 3 On the day I called, You answered me; You made me bold with strength in my soul. 4 All the kings of the earth will give thanks to You, O LORD, When they have heard the words of Your mouth. 5 And they will sing of the ways of the LORD, For great is the glory of the LORD. 6 For though the LORD is exalted, Yet He regards the lowly, But the arrogant He knows from afar. 7 Though I walk in the midst of trouble, You will revive me; You will stretch forth Your hand against the wrath of my enemies, And Your right hand will save me. 8 The LORD will accomplish what concerns me; Your lovingkindness, O LORD, is everlasting; Do not forsake the works of Your hands. 

 Since this is Thanksgiving, and since I seem to hear some complaints lately (most of them coming from my own heart), I decided to post a list of things I am thankful for based off of some words from David. Psalm 138 above describes a Hymn of Thanksgiving. With David, I'd like to remind myself to be thankful for the following:

1. There is no God like the God of the Bible. The Triune God is not a part of his creation, nor is his subsistence dependent on it. He is above all things, and by him all things exist. In fact, Paul tells us in chapter 1 of Colossians that Jesus holds all things together and is the author of creation. Nothing exists outside of God's authority.  His sovereignty is unending and unlimited.

2. God's lovingkindness and truth are available to all of us. Jeremiah reminds us that God's mercy is new every morning. The Psalmist reminds us on numerous occasions that God is patient and longsuffering, showing mercy and lovingkindness to many generations. His love is such that he gave his only Son, Jesus, the treasure of his heart. His lovingkindness not only gave us life, but it also provides us with all we need to live this life and to obey his ways. His mercy is amazing! His truth is convicting. God does not lie. He reveals truth inside humans, but he also makes truth known in nature itself. Even God's very attributes are observable in nature around us. God has made Truth known, and he is the very essence of Truth. All truth points to him, and he alone knows all truth exhaustively. His truth and lovingkindness lead to salvation and a proper relationship not only with this great God but with his creation as well.

3. God has given us a Word that will never fail. He has magnified, valued, advanced, enlarged, even exalted his Word above his own name. If the name of God is the name above all names, then his Word must be the Word above all words. He has revealed himself in Jesus who is the Logos, the Word of God in flesh, the exact representation of the image and character of God himself. The Word God has provided for us is active, alive, and powerful. It can bring knowledge, life, and salvation. This Word explains, reveals, and interprets the very nature of God for us.  Jesus is the perfect revelation of God.  God has given us his Word!

4. God answers prayer. When we call on God, he is faithful to respond. And his response emboldens us and gives us courage. Conversation with God leads to conversion of our souls. His response to our requests shows his presence, his love, and his great kindness towards us. He hears when we call, and he responds.

5. God is friends with the humble, but he is an enemy to the proud. I am grateful that even though our God is high and exalted, he finds it satisfactory to dwell with those who are humble and lowly. He is not at home with those who think too highly of themselves, but he chooses to dwell with those who humble themselves to him.  Arrogance is an offense to the Creator of all (since none are above him), but the humble person finds audience with God.  He takes up residence among those who are humble and do not think too highly of themselves.  In fact, in chapter 2 of Philippians, Paul tells us that God humbled himself and served us.  If Jesus could humble himself, we should do so as well.

6. God will be with us in trouble. There is no obstacle or problem that can separate us from God (Romans 8:28-39). His love for us is never ending and his reach cannot be blocked. No matter the circumstances in your life, God is faithful. He will walk with his child in the midst of problems and provide what is needed to live a life of godliness even in hard circumstances (Psalm 23). He does not always deliver us from trouble, but he never abandons us in it. Like the three Hebrew children in the fiery furnace, God is with us in the midst of our trials, troubles, or problems. He bears them with us, he walks with us, he gives us his joy in spite of our trouble, and he never fails.

7. God will complete the task he has begun (Phil. 1:6). He is faithful.  He will not forsake the works of his hands. He will accomplish all those things that pertain to his people. He will not fail. He is constant, kind, considerate. He will finish what he starts and will bring to pass all that he has promised (Isaiah 66:9). His Word is true, and he is faithful to complete it. Not a single stray mark of his Scripture will fail to happen. If God speaks it or if God begins it, it will be done in his time and by his outstretched hand. There is nothing too difficult for God, and he is worthy of our praise and our thanks!

Because of these things and so many others, I want to develop a grateful and thankful heart. May we all find comfort in God's character, Word, and love this season. May we give him the thanks and praise he deserves!

Thanks for reading!

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Monday, August 31, 2015


Freedom and Humility: A Repost

Several years ago (about the time I first started writing on this blog), I posted a note on the topic of "Freedom."  Reading through my posts today, I thought this note might be worthwhile for a repost with some changes.  I hope it is a blessing to you.

1 Peter 5:6-7
6 Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, 7 casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you. (NASU)

“Be not anxious! Earthly possessions dazzle our eyes and delude us into thinking that they can provide security and freedom from anxiety. Yet all the time they are the very source of all anxiety. If our hearts are set on them, our reward is an anxiety whose burden is intolerable. Anxiety creates its own treasures and they in turn beget further care. When we seek for security in possessions we are trying to drive out care with care and the net result is the precise opposite of our anticipations. The fetters which bind us to our possessions prove to be cares themselves.” From The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Phil 3:19-21
20 For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; 21 who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself. (NASU)

What does it mean to be free? That isn't really a rhetorical question.

In America we talk of "Freedom" as if it is a birthright or an entitlement. We all want our "rights" protected so that we can pursue whatever petty little thing it is that makes us feel better.

Is this freedom?

I mean, look around us--we are tied to our cares and our anxieties, we are chained to our possessions. We run around anxiously trying to protect the very things that often hold us in the very chains of bondage.

Why do we do that?

Why do we think that a new job, spouse, relationship, haircut, car, movie, boat, home, location, etc. will free us into some kind of blissful realm of happiness?

I don't know that I can answer that, but I am aware of a remedy.


It doesn't come cheap, and it isn't easy to maintain, but humility will help us break free from bondage.

Look at the Bonhoeffer quote above, then read the passage from Philippians underneath it.

Paul tells us that our citizenship is in another country besides this earthly domain. We don't belong here. Since we don't belong, why do we waste our time buying into the stuff of this place? Why do we bind ourselves to the stuff of earth?

Those who are Christ followers have a home that is not only located in this mundane, temporary place. We have a home that is not fully realized yet (to be sure), but one in which we can live to some degree right now. We don't have to wait for Independence Day or Christ's return, we can live in the gracious and overwhelming abundance of our King now.

Okay, enough preaching. Here's the deal. We were meant to be free with heavenly freedom. We were not meant to be chained up here. Jesus didn't live, die, and get out of the grave just so I could have the latest laptop or so that my kids could enjoy the newest video games.

Jesus lived so that he could grant us true freedom. The freedom he grants liberates us from hanging too tightly to stuff, too selfishly to our own expectations and dreams, and this freedom offers us the chance to be real, to be authentic, to live as we were meant to live.  Christ's gift is to free us from chains of ego and selfishness so that we might live in the liberation of humility.  He puts us all on the same level, and then he loves us with the same gracious and holy love.  Shouldn't we follow his example of humility and love?

When the the light of Jesus shines into our darkness and illuminates the world around us, I think things become more "real" for lack of a better term.  We can see things as they are.  Some of those things may scare us a bit, but with God's help even the broken things can become benefits.  And I admit, there is a part of me that LONGS for that to become reality.  Even so, Lord Jesus, come . . .

Tonio K sings a song that may be appropriate here. The song is entitled "You will go Free." Enjoy!

you've been a prisoner
been a prisoner all your life
held captive in an alien world
where they hold your need for love to your throat like a knife
and they make you jump
and they make you do tricks
they take what started off as such an innocent heart
and they break it and break it and break it
until it almost can't be found

well i don't know when
and it don't know how
i don't know how long it's gonna take
i don't know how hard it will be
but i know
you will go free

you can call it the devil
call it the big lie
call it a fallen world
what ever it is it ruins almost everything we try
it's the sins of the fathers
it's the choices we make
it's people screaming without making a sound
from prison cells in paradise
where we're chained to our mistakes

well i don't know when
and it don't know how
i don't know how much it's gonna cost you
probably everything
but i know
you will go free

you can't see your jailer
you can't see the bars
you can't turn your head round fast enough
but it's everywhere you are
it's all around you
and everywhere you walk this prison yard surrounds you

but in the midst of all this darkness
in the middle of this night
i see truth cut through this curtain like a laser
like a pure and holy light
and i know i can't touch you now
and i don't want to speak too soon
but when we get sprung
from out of our cages baby
god knows what we might do

well i don't know when
and it don't know how
i don't know if you'll be leaving alone
or if you'll be leaving with me
but i know
you will go free

Be free.

Live humbly.

Do justice.

Thanks for reading!

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Friday, July 03, 2015


Happy Birthday USA! A Fourth of July Repost

Here is my annual post to celebrate the birthday of the United States of America.  Congratulations for surviving this long, may you long stand for freedom!

Well, the USA is celebrating yet another birthday, and although some people think that the brightness has worn off this "city on a hill," I'm not ready to read her obituary yet. I went back into the archives to find some quotes for you today. The first one comes from John Wayne.  In the movie "The Alamo," Duke plays Davey Crockett, leader to the Tennessee volunteers. At one point in the movie he gives a speech about the USA and the idea of a "republic." Here is the excerpt I liked the best:

"Republic. I like the sound of the word. It means people can live free, talk free, go or come, buy or sell, be drunk or sober, however they choose. Some words give you a feeling. Republic is one of those words that makes me tight in the throat - the same tightness a man gets when his baby takes his first step or his first baby shaves and makes his first sound as a man. Some words can give you a feeling that makes your heart warm. Republic is one of those words."

I also wanted to share some song lyrics with you all.  Johnny Cash was a singer/songwriter whose music I heard a lot growing up.  I think my dad had every Cash album ever made!  At any rate, Johnny Cash has a song that I think is appropriate for this day.  It is entitled "Ragged Old Flag," and here are the words:

I walked through a county courthouse square,
On a park bench an old man was sitting there.
I said, "Your old courthouse is kinda run down."
He said, "Naw, it'll do for our little town."
I said, "Your flagpole has leaned a little bit,
And that's a Ragged Old Flag you got hanging on it."

He said, "Have a seat", and I sat down.
"Is this the first time you've been to our little town?"
I said, "I think it is." He said, "I don't like to brag,
But we're kinda proud of that Ragged Old Flag.

"You see, we got a little hole in that flag there
When Washington took it across the Delaware.
And it got powder-burned the night Francis Scott Key
Sat watching it writing 'Oh Say Can You See.'
And it got a bad rip in New Orleans
With Packingham and Jackson tuggin' at its seams.

"And it almost fell at the Alamo
Beside the Texas flag, but she waved on through.
She got cut with a sword at Chancellorsville,
And she got cut again at Shiloh Hill.
There was Robert E. Lee, Beauregard, and Bragg,
And the south wind blew hard on that Ragged Old Flag.

"On Flanders Field in World War I
She got a big hole from a Bertha gun.
She turned blood red in World War II.
She hung limp and low by the time it was through.
She was in Korea and Vietnam.
She went where she was sent by her Uncle Sam.

"She waved from our ships upon the briny foam,
And now they've about quit waving her back here at home.
In her own good land she's been abused--
She's been burned, dishonored, denied, and refused.

"And the government for which she stands
Is scandalized throughout the land.
And she's getting threadbare and wearing thin,
But she's in good shape for the shape she's in.
'Cause she's been through the fire before,
And I believe she can take a whole lot more.

"So we raise her up every morning,
Take her down every night.
We don't let her touch the ground,
And we fold her up right.
On second thought I do like to brag,
'Cause I'm mighty proud of that Ragged Old Flag."

I close these verses with a poem from Ralph Waldo Emerson, "A Nation's Strength." 

What makes a nation’s pillars high
And its foundations strong?
What makes it mighty to defy
The foes that round it throng?

It is not gold. Its kingdoms grand
Go down in battle shock;
Its shafts are laid on sinking sand,
Not on abiding rock.

Is it the sword? Ask the red dust
Of empires passed away;
The blood has turned their stones to rust,
Their glory to decay.

And is it pride? Ah, that bright crown
Has seemed to nations sweet;
But God has struck its luster down
In ashes at his feet.

Not gold but only men can make
A people great and strong;
Men who for truth and honor’s sake
Stand fast and suffer long.

Brave men who work while others sleep,
Who dare while others fly...
They build a nation’s pillars deep
And lift them to the sky.
On this fourth of July, as you give thanks for the freedoms and opportunities God has given you in this land, please remember to pray for those who defend our way of life and for the families of those whose loved ones paid the ultimate price so that we can enjoy our great republic. Remember, it may be a cliche, but it is still true:  "Freedom isn't free."

Happy Birthday, USA!

Thanks for reading!

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Thursday, June 18, 2015


Prayer for the Hurting

I was listening to some old music today, and a group named Allies (made up of some former member of Sweet Comfort Band) sang a song entitled "A Prayer for the Children."  It is a haunting tune full of sympathy and anguish for those who hurt and are broken in this world.  In light of current events that continue to happen in this fallen and broken world--people being shot in church, women being sold into sexual slavery, children being abandoned or turned into soldiers--I wanted to offer these lyrics (with some minor changes) as a prayer for those who are hurting.

We may never completely understand the pain that some face due to the wicked and violent actions of others, but we know sorrow and brokenness when we see it.  We come to realize (sometimes later than we hoped) that this world is not always what we expect, and the story that we hope will end with "happily ever after" sometimes simply ends with no happy or positive resolution in this world.

If you are facing hurt or pain or some kind of situation that has broken you or caused you harm, this prayer is for you.  May we all find healing for our brokenness, and may the Restorer and Healer of broken hearts hear our prayer.   Here are the lyrics to the song:

I see the children on the TV, asking, "Have you seen me?"
More little faces every day; they don't go away,
Torn from their world and out on their own, you can hear them calling,
Taken from home unto the unknown, so lost and alone.

Hear our voice, hear our cry,
Say a prayer for the children,
Heal the pain, heal our world,
Say a prayer for the children.

Suffering hearts bear all of the pain while the world is watching,
The innocent die and nothing is changed; it's always the same.

Hear our voice, hear our cry,
Say a prayer for the hurting,
Heal the pain, heal this world,
Say a prayer for the broken.

We pray for the broken, their voices are crying,
The hurt and the pain is too much for a wounded heart to bear,
We don't hold the answers, we can't find the reasons,
My God, can you hear us? - Please let us know that you're there.

Hear our voice, hear our cry, (hear our voice, hear our cry)
Say a prayer, (for the children)
Heal the pain, heal this world, (heal this world)
Say a prayer, (say a prayer for the broken)
Hear our voice, hear our cry, (hear our voice, hear our cry)
Say a prayer, (for the children)
Heal the pain, heal this world, (heal the pain, heal this world)
Say a prayer. (for the hurting)

Heal the pain, heal this world.
May the God of all grace grant healing and restoration to those who are broken and may the broken and resurrected life of Jesus be a balm to us.  He suffered, he lives, and he suffers with us in our brokenness.  May we soon realize his resurrection life and restoration as well.

If you know someone who is hurting, go to them, call on them, show them love.  Don't wait.  Help someone near you.  The world is broken enough, act in a way that would promote healing.

Isaiah 61:1-3 speaks volumes.  May the people of God be a people who announce his good news, who act in ways that resemble his Son, who embody the justice and grace of God.  Even so, Lord Jesus, come. 

Thank you for reading! 

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Saturday, May 23, 2015


Memorial Day: A Short Speech from Ronald Reagan

Typically on the weekend of Memorial Day I post a famous poem by Edgar Guest.  This year I decided to share a different message.  Below is a speech by Ronald Reagan in 1982.  I think a lot of what he says sums up my opinions on the observance of this day in honor of our military and those who served.  I hope you enjoy it!

Speech: Remarks at Memorial Day Ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery, May 31, 1982 

In America's cities and towns today, flags will be placed on graves in cemeteries; public officials will speak of the sacrifice and the valor of those whose memory we honor. 

In 1863, when Abraham Lincoln dedicated a small cemetery in Pennsylvania marking a terrible collision between the armies of North and South, he noted the swift obscurity of such speeches. Well, we know now that Lincoln was wrong about that particular occasion. His remarks commemorating those who gave their "last full measure of devotion'' were long remembered. But since that moment at Gettysburg, few other such addresses have become part of our national heritage -- not because of the inadequacy of the speakers, but because of the inadequacy of words. 

I have no illusions about what little I can add now to the silent testimony of those who gave their lives willingly for their country. Words are even more feeble on this Memorial Day, for the sight before us is that of a strong and good nation that stands in silence and remembers those who were loved and who, in return, loved their countrymen enough to die for them. 

Yet, we must try to honor them -- not for their sakes alone, but for our own. And if words cannot repay the debt we owe these men, surely with our actions we must strive to keep faith with them and with the vision that led them to battle and to final sacrifice. 

Our first obligation to them and ourselves is plain enough: The United States and the freedom for which it stands, the freedom for which they died, must endure and prosper. Their lives remind us that freedom is not bought cheaply. It has a cost; it imposes a burden. And just as they whom we commemorate were willing to sacrifice, so too must we -- in a less final, less heroic way -- be willing to give of ourselves. 

It is this, beyond the controversy and the congressional debate, beyond the blizzard of budget numbers and the complexity of modern weapons systems, that motivates us in our search for security and peace. War will not come again, other young men will not have to die, if we will speak honestly of the dangers that confront us and remain strong enough to meet those dangers. 

It's not just strength or courage that we need, but understanding and a measure of wisdom as well. We must understand enough about our world to see the value of our alliances. We must be wise enough about ourselves to listen to our allies, to work with them, to build and strengthen the bonds between us. 

Our understanding must also extend to potential adversaries. We must strive to speak of them not belligerently, but firmly and frankly. And that's why we must never fail to note, as frequently as necessary, the wide gulf between our codes of morality. And that's why we must never hesitate to acknowledge the irrefutable difference between our view of man as master of the state and their view of man as servant of the state. Nor must we ever underestimate the seriousness of their aspirations to global expansion. The risk is the very freedom that has been so dearly won. 

It is this honesty of mind that can open paths to peace, that can lead to fruitful negotiation, that can build a foundation upon which treaties between our nations can stand and last -- treaties that can someday bring about a reduction in the terrible arms of destruction, arms that threaten us with war even more terrible than those that have taken the lives of the Americans we honor today. 

Our goal is peace. We can gain that peace by strengthening our alliances, by speaking candidly of the dangers before us, by assuring potential adversaries of our seriousness, by actively pursuing every chance of honest and fruitful negotiation. 

It is with these goals in mind that I will depart Wednesday for Europe, and it's altogether fitting that we have this moment to reflect on the price of freedom and those who have so willingly paid it. For however important the matters of state before us this next week, they must not disturb the solemnity of this occasion. Nor must they dilute our sense of reverence and the silent gratitude we hold for those who are buried here. 

The willingness of some to give their lives so that others might live never fails to evoke in us a sense of wonder and mystery. One gets that feeling here on this hallowed ground, and I have known that same poignant feeling as I looked out across the rows of white crosses and Stars of David in Europe, in the Philippines, and the military cemeteries here in our own land. Each one marks the resting place of an American hero and, in my lifetime, the heroes of World War I, the Doughboys, the GI's of World War II or Korea or Vietnam. They span several generations of young Americans, all different and yet all alike, like the markers above their resting places, all alike in a truly meaningful way. 

Winston Churchill said of those he knew in World War II they seemed to be the only young men who could laugh and fight at the same time. A great general in that war called them our secret weapon, "just the best darn kids in the world.'' Each died for a cause he considered more important than his own life. Well, they didn't volunteer to die; they volunteered to defend values for which men have always been willing to die if need be, the values which make up what we call civilization. And how they must have wished, in all the ugliness that war brings, that no other generation of young men to follow would have to undergo that same experience. 

As we honor their memory today, let us pledge that their lives, their sacrifices, their valor shall be justified and remembered for as long as God gives life to this nation. And let us also pledge to do our utmost to carry out what must have been their wish: that no other generation of young men will every have to share their experiences and repeat their sacrifice. 

Earlier today, with the music that we have heard and that of our National Anthem -- I can't claim to know the words of all the national anthems in the world, but I don't know of any other that ends with a question and a challenge as ours does: Does that flag still wave o'er the land of the free and the home of the brave? That is what we must all ask.
 Thank you for reading!  And special thanks to all those who have served or are serving in the U.S. military.  You have my respect and my deepest gratitude..  May God bless you and your families!

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Friday, May 15, 2015


A Note to Graduates: What will be your Legacy?

About a week ago I had the privilege of participating in the graduating ceremonies for the last graduates from Liberty University Baptist Theological Seminary.  In the future, students will receive degrees from Liberty University's new School of Divinity.  The name has changed, but the purpose remains the same.  Nonetheless, as I watched these students walk the stage, I couldn't help but think of the things they will do and the people they will influence.  Two verses come to mind as I pray for these new graduates:

Ecclesiastes 7:1 A good name is better than a good ointment, And the day of one's death is better than the day of one's birth.

Proverbs 22:1 A good name is to be more desired than great wealth, Favor is better than silver and gold.

The current graduating class at Liberty was the largest ever.  This class also marked the first time the PhD in Theology and Apologetics graduated 8 students at one time!  What a proud moment for me as a professor!

At Liberty's graduation, I watched several students and good friends walk across the stage to receive their degrees and launch into their ministries and vocations. This momentous occasion reminded me of beginnings and endings, but more importantly it made me think of the idea of "legacy" and the kind of impact an individual life might have on people. In the next few paragraphs I'll try to explain.

I'm not sure how much we think of the impact of our lives. As I watched the proud graduates walk the stage, I couldn't help but think about what I may hear about these people in the future. Some of them have already made an impact, some of them have a future impact to make. Most of them have no idea what the end of their lives will be, they only have dreams and hopes and (perhaps) plans.

Some of the students who walked across the stage Saturday have already begun their legacy. Many of them left homes and nice jobs to pursue a degree at the seminary. They said "no" to "success" as the world measures it so that they would have the opportunity to labor for God. Some will labor in obscurity, some will never have "the largest church in America," some will never make the "big money," or write the most impressive "how to" book for other pastors. I know their lives, their hearts, and I know that their legacy will be greater than any can imagine.

I once posted a note about "James the Less," and his figure seems fitting here. He was one of the twelve chosen by Jesus, but even church history and tradition have trouble determining who he was. Yet, he was one of the original twelve disciples, one of the eyewitnesses to Jesus' life, ministry, death, and resurrection. Not as famous as James the son of Zebedee, this James nonetheless left enough of an imprint on history to be regarded as one of those individuals who "turned the world upside down" with his life and preaching.

We no doubt graduated a lot of these individuals on Saturday--folks we may have a hard time identifying who will nonetheless make a great impression on many they will bring to Christ or love in God's name. "Less" may describe the knowledge of them, but it will not define their impact on those to whom they minister and with whom they work. I bet there were people in the first century who didn't think of James as "the Less" because of what God did through him. Nonetheless, James built a legacy, and like him, many of these graduating students are building a legacy.  We may not know their names, but God does.  And with his help they are building quite a legacy.

Let me offer a moment of transparency here:  I pray for my students.  Some semesters I pray a LOT!  One of the most frequent prayers I offer on their behalf runs something like this:  "Lord, help these students run further and accomplish more than any of their professors.  May their spiritual progress move the church closer to her beloved Savior, Jesus Christ, and may their growth go beyond what I have experienced."

I pray it, but I wonder if I really mean it sometimes.  I look at students who graduated and who have definitely progressed down the road of godliness in ways I did not imagine.  I see their accomplishments, and I must admit that I am sometimes envious.  Some of my students are accomplishing the very things for which I prayed.  I am proud of them, and sometimes I envy them.  I remember my own seminary graduation well--the dean mispronounced my name, my family was there to support me, and I knew that I was going to be used by God to "set the world on fire" for Jesus.  I promptly went to work in a bookstore.

Yes, a bookstore . . .

Granted, it WAS a Christian bookstore, but I digress.

All those dreams and plans of becoming this pastor or that professor suddenly took a back seat to paying the bills.  My legacy wasn't quite what I expected.

Nonetheless, I wouldn't trade that experience.  Now I pray for students who head out to fulfill God's call on their lives.  I wonder what stories I'll hear in the future.  No doubt there will be stories of churches served, perhaps more degrees earned, books written, mountains claimed, families started, etc.  No doubt there will be stories about changes made in the lives of others because of the love of Christ poured out in the lives of these men and women. 

I want to tell you all a secret--some of you are heroes to me.  I see what you have already accomplished, I see the potential, and I have so much hope and joy for you.

Yes, I know things don't reflect that at the moment.  In fact, for some of you it is simply time to take a break and take a breather.  Others are already launching into the next adventure.  I can't wait to hear the stories, but I want to leave you with some final questions to ask as you pursue these things.

What kind of legacy are you leaving? Where will your footprints lead others if they follow you closely? Like Paul, can you encourage others to imitate you as you imitate Christ?  Will your love for Christ be obvious? Is your love for others real and clear?

God has blessed me to walk with giants (and some giants in training), and I have to admit that I am often overwhelmed by their collective witness. I am reminded of a conversation I had with Dr. William L. Lane. I admitted to him that I didn't think I could live up to his example of a godly life and scholarship, and he said to me, "Never covet another person's gift, and never despise your own." He went on to remind me that God had not called me to be identical to Dr. Lane or to anyone else. God had called me to use my unique gifts and abilities for his glory. I do not have to live up to the stories of these giants, I simply need to live the legacy God has given me.

No matter how obscure or unrecognized or inconsequential a life may seem, if it is lived for God it will have a legacy. What kind of legacy are we leaving the next generation?  I have no doubt that many of you will leave a legacy that will cause your professor to be a bit envious . . . and I look forward to hearing every marvelous part of those stories!  I am so proud of you all, and I will keep praying. 

Thanks to all of the men and women who left their footprints in my heart and life!

Thank you for reading!

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Thursday, April 30, 2015


What are We Building? Will our Towers Stand? Genesis 11:1-9

About a month ago I was asked to speak at Gospel Community Church on the topic of the Tower of Babel as part of our "Beautiful Mess" series focusing on an exposition of Genesis.  The notes below are my sermon notes.  Some of the material here comes from my personal research and some from the works of others.  You are welcome to borrow this material to speak the truth of God's Word.  The link to the recording of this sermon can be found here: .

What are We Building? Will our Towers Stand?
The Results of Pride and the Need for Humility
Genesis 11:1-9

Introduction: Did you ever have one of those weeks? You know, the one where you had a great plan, an organized “to do” list, and time set aside to accomplish all the important goals? Then in the middle of your great plan, something explodes or falls apart. Kind of like the game Jenga; you have a plan for which blocks you intend to pull, but someone always takes a different approach and causes your plan to fall apart? Yeah, that’s the kind of week I had as I prepared for this sermon on the tower of Babel. More importantly, I wonder if that is kind of how God must have felt in Genesis. We’ve covered 9 chapters, so let’s recap:

Adam and Eve—be fruitful and multiply, cover the earth, subdue it, it all belongs to you except one tree!

Cain and Abel—God warns Cain about sin, and Cain doesn’t listen.

Noah and the flood—humans keep pursuing evil and pride, but Noah seems to be a bright spot. Noah finds grace in the eyes of the Lord. Why did Noah find grace and see his family rescued from the flood?  1) Noah walked with God (he had an intentional and intimate relationship with God), 2) Noah listened to what God said, 3) Noah obeyed God. Unlike the rest of the world, Noah did not assert his pride or his own will— What God said, Noah did. (cf. Jesus in John 5:19-20; 8:37-38; and ch. 15). Things were looking up. God gave a command and promise to Noah very similar to the one to Adam and Eve (Gen 9:1ff, 9:7). After the flood, Noah shows that he isn’t perfect, and Ham gets in trouble. Nonetheless, God intends to repopulate the world through Noah’s boys. These events bring us up through Genesis 9. Our focus today is on chapters 10 and 11. 

All of the events we have covered so far are tied together by a literary device utilizing the phrase “these are the generations of . . .” There are 10 or so uses of this formula in Genesis, and before we are done today, we will have seen this phrase about 6 times in 11 chapters. This reference often introduces a genealogy (like in our chapters today). Why are there so many genealogies in Genesis? There are no doubt many ways to answer that question, but I’d like to float a theory today (special thanks to a colleague at work for this idea). 

Background: In Genesis 3:15, God speaks to the serpent and says that he will put enmity between the serpent and the seed of the woman. The seed of the woman will one day destroy the serpent. When Eve gives birth to Cain, she seems to hope he is that “seed,” but Cain fails.  The genealogies then come in abundance. The Hebrew word for “seed” is used next in 9:9 where God makes a covenant with Noah and his family. It shows up again in Gen 12 when God makes promises to Abraham. The story of Genesis seems to be the quest for the “seed” who will deliver humans from the serpent. This concept forms a type of frame around the story we will focus on today. 

After the flood, God makes a promise and gives commands to Noah and his family. After the shameful episode involving Ham, chapter 10 opens with “these are the family records/generations of . . .” and lists the children of Noah’s three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth.  Japheth’s family is mentioned first, followed by Ham. Ham is the cursed son (remember last week’s sermon). His line includes many nations that will later be enemies to the Jews: Canaanites, Babylonians (Babel), Assyrians (Nineveh), even the Egyptians. Shem’s family line is introduced next, and one name bears mentioning in Gen 10:25: Peleg. This name means “division” and the world is divided during his lifetime. This “division” is what is described in Gen 11:1-9. After our passage, we get another set of “records” from Shem to Abram. 

For now, let’s look at 11:1-9. In our passage we will see two different attitudes and two actions that result from those attitudes. As we look at these, we need to ask: Where do we stand? Which set are we building towards in our lives?  What are we building?  Let’s look at the attitudes and the actions of the people in Genesis 11. 

vv. 1-2: The people’s attitude—In Gen 11, the nations are growing and it has been several generations since Noah and the flood. We have no idea how many actual humans existed at that time, but we know that they “had the same language and vocabulary” (or, literally, they had “one lip and one set of words”).  Unfortunately, this new-found unity was not harnessed to do what God had commanded them. Instead of multiplying and filling the earth by scattering all over it, these united people decide to settle in a place called Shinar (another name for Babylon). This was their first mistake: they didn’t obey, they stayed. They were told to go, to cover the earth, to be God’s stewards and managers of creation, but they chose to stay put. 

They didn’t want to leave Babylon. Maybe they liked being close to family, or maybe the land simply suited them. We don’t know why they stayed, but we know that by staying they were going against God’s command. They should go. They rebelled.

Relationship with God is sometimes described as a pilgrimage.  Eugene Peterson calls is “a long obedience in the same direction.” Discipleship, or relationship with God is usually depicted as more of a marathon than a sprint, but more often than not it is depicted primarily as a movement, a pilgrimage, a relationship on the go. 

Matthew 28 (and Acts 1) reminds us that Jesus wants us to go too. Being his disciples requires us to be willing to change location, to get a passport and go where God leads. Abraham will be introduced later in this passage, and the first command God gives him is to “Go out from your land,” to leave home to go to a place God will show him. We are to be a people on the move with God. Where has he told us to go? Have we decided to settle instead of obey? 

This attitude of pride produced arrogant actions. Verses 3-4 reveals those actions.

vv. 3-4—the people’s actions—once they picked a suitable place to settle, they made a plan for action. Listen to what they say, and see if you can count how many times they refer to themselves.  “Let us build for ourselves . . . let us make a name for ourselves . . . otherwise we will be scattered.” Multiple times they use first person pronouns. 

They wanted to make a “name” for themselves.  They wanted to be the masters of their own fate. They decided to build a monument to their own greatness rather than humbly serve God in his command/promise. They wanted, in essence, to take over God’s proper domain and rule in his place. 

Their purpose is revealed in verse 4… they agree to build a city and a tall tower. Though this endeavor is not evil in and of itself, their motive for building such was. They wanted to make a name for themselves so that they could stay together without fulfilling God’s commission to “fill the earth and multiply” (9:1) – to “populate the earth abundantly and multiply in it” (9:7). They had an alternative plan that differed from God’s commission, and they set out to disobey God through the building of their city complete with a tower.

These tower builders acted in ways contrary to Noah their ancestor. 1) Unlike Noah, they did not pursue a relationship with God, but they confer only with one another. 2) They ignore God’s command and stay put instead of obeying and going. 3) Instead of humility and obedience, they reveal arrogance and rebellion. 

J. I. Packer calls this story a “mirror of the modern world.” Like Noah’s descendants, we want prestige and power. We want to be the best—the smartest, the fastest, the strongest, the richest, etc. Many of us want to make a name for ourselves (instead of making God famous). We rebel instead of obey. We still enjoy making our own rules in spite of God’s warnings. We put our trust in money, prestige, or pleasure instead of relying on God to bring us where he wants us to be or to make us who he wants us to be. 

We make excuses for sin and pretend to be holy, but we can’t be holy on our own efforts. Only God can make us holy in a way that matters (see Phil. 3:1-7). Will we ever learn that our own towers won’t get us where we need to be?

The drive for power and prestige probably stems from our deep-seated fear of dependence on someone else. We don’t mind making others depend on us, but we certainly don’t want to be the one needing help. Human pride is a tricky thing. Pride was the original sin. Our desperate search for significance leads us to compromise our values time and again in the name of independence, freedom, and the need to control our own destiny. So we cut corners, wink at “small” sins, take advantage of loopholes, break the rules, maybe even lie to others, and we usually end up lying to ourselves. We use people and then discard them when they don’t fit into our plans anymore. And what may seem noble at the start turns out to be sinister in the end.  

Arrogance makes us think we are invincible. But no one is invincible. We desperately need to take these words to heart because we live in a world that encourages us to think we can do it all. The mantra is "If you believe it, you can do it.  If you dream it, you can make it happen." The problem is that it never works. Our towers built in our own efforts inevitably fall. Remember, the next time you feel the need to brag about what you’ve accomplished, pay attention to the faint cracking sound you hear. It’s the thin ice beneath your feet that is about to give way.  The weight of arrogance often leads to a crash.

Now that we’ve seen the peoples' attitude and actions, let’s consider those of the other major character in our story—God. 

vv. 5-7—God’s attitude—God “comes down.” In a sense, he “lowers himself” to come to where the people are. There may be some sarcasm here. As the people rebel against God, they build a tower that goes up to the sky to make a name for themselves. The problem is that the tower isn’t high enough. God has to “come down” to see it! While they’re building upward in arrogance, God has to come down to see it (remember Phil 2—Jesus ultimately comes down in humility to be one of us!). God could see quite well what was going on, but in inspiring Moses to use the words “coming down,” he reminds us of Is 66 (what kind of house can you build for me?) and perhaps even foreshadows the humility of Christ who descends to earth to be one of us (human!). This is an example of anthropomorphism (assigning human traits to the unseen God). God is always fully aware of everything, and His “coming down” in this passage is in this case about judgment.

Humans bent on being in opposition to God by building their own kingdom and ruling the earth had a common purpose. Apparently with one language and one common purpose to rebel against God’s plan, their plans would lead them into a world of endless and sinful possibilities. These possibilities lead only to destruction. And it seemed like nothing could be done. Nonetheless, God sees their monument to “human ingenuity” and passes judgment.  God isn’t afraid that they will take over his throne, but being aware that their thoughts were “nothing but evil all the time” he didn’t want to give them any more chances to spread their arrogance. 

If God “came down” among us today what would He find? What are we attempting to build so as to make a name for ourselves? God acted against the builders in Babel for their own good so as to keep them from becoming something that would destroy them. Proverbs 16:18 says, “Pride goes before destruction…” Is there a fall in our future as a result of pride?   

God’s attitude led to action on God’s part—an action of judgment and love.

vv. 8-9—God’s action—He confuses them and scatters them.  What God wanted them to do voluntarily, he forced on them in judgment.  Their tower was left to crumble, and they were humbled. Here is the ultimate irony: They built the tower so they wouldn’t be scattered but they ended up scattered anyway. Thus God judges all human efforts that leave him out. He brings down the high and mighty with a great big thud. Write over this story these words, “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it” (Psalm 127:1). 

But God’s judgment here has his love behind it. He wants the people to fulfill his plan, and although he would prefer that they humble themselves and join him he is nonetheless willing to humble them and help them do it. Remember Isaiah 66—God will look favorably on this kind of person: one who is humble, submissive in spirit, and who trembles at his word.

In Matthew 7:24-27, Jesus tells a story about two builders—a foolish one who builds on sand, and a wise one who builds on rock. The difference is described in this way: “Everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them will be like a sensible man who built his house on the rock. . . Everyone who hears these words of Mine and doesn't act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.” The end of the house on sand is destruction, just like the tower of Babel. The end of the house on the rock is stability. It does not collapse under the weight of storms and other problems.

What are we building?  Will our Towers stand?

Do our efforts represent the pride of Babel? Do we embody the attitude of those who settle instead of moving on to maturity? Are we building for our own reputation, or are we living in humility and obedience to God to build his? There is a mighty thin line between healthy ambition and sinful pride. Many of us cross it without even knowing it. It’s the compulsive need to be in control of every aspect of life, including those around us. It’s the spirit of Babel that says, “He’s God in heaven but I’m the God of my own little world.”

In what areas has God come down to us? Where do we need to repent of pride and selfish ambition? Some of us are still trying to live according to our own rules. We push God out to the edges of life and then do our own thing. But we can’t push God to the side and succeed for long. Sooner or later our towers will crash down (often under the weight of our own arrogance and ambition), and when that happens, the shaky foundation of our own efforts will be exposed. We may also find ourselves confused and scattered.

What is the end of all this? Before I answer that, let me finish the chapter.  In 11:10-32, Genesis introduces us to a new “record” or list of “generations.” This list begins with Shem and ends with Abram. Abram will become the focus of the next 14 chapters of Genesis. I won’t take time to read the whole genealogical list, but I wanted to highlight that Terah is a descendant of Shem. From Terah comes Abram. In vv. 31-32, Terah takes Abram and Lot and their families, and moves them to Ur. This will set up Abram’s pilgrimage relationship with God, but it is also a reminder that God is going to produce a seed through Abram. There is one problem however:  Abram’s wife is unable to conceive. The righteous seed seems threatened—Sarai cannot have children.  Chapters 12 and following will continue this drama and explain God’s provision of a righteous “seed” in the face of impossible odds.

Paul tells us in Galatians 3:10-18 that Abraham’s seed is Jesus.  This is our only proper alternative to building our own tower.

At this point the gospel message becomes incredibly relevant to our generation because we are massive tower-builders. We’re ladder-climbers, control freaks, estate-builders, and compulsive over-committers. We’re looking for love and pleasure and power and purpose and meaning everywhere except the one place we can really find it. We’re so busy building our kingdoms we fail to seek first the Kingdom of God. When the London Daily Mail asked, “What is wrong with the world?” G. K. Chesterton wrote back a simple answer; “Dear Sir: I am.” He was right. 

Here is a word for frustrated tower-builders everywhere. If you are tired of your life and want something better, come to Jesus. All that hungry hearts seek is found in him. By his death on the cross our sins are forgiven. By his resurrection we gain new life. See Philippians 2:5-8—Jesus humbled himself. He had everything, but he humbled himself and was obedient even to the point of death on the cross. If Jesus is God and humbled himself, how can we expect to do anything less as his servants? God “came down” to rescue us, will we reject his offer and try to build our own tower?

Remember what Jesus says in Matthew 7. If we hear his words and act on them, we are wise. Failure to do so is foolishness. So what will we do in response? Will we humble ourselves under God’s hand, or will we keep trying to build our own towers of fame and prestige? To obey requires intentionality, humility, and transparency. Here are some suggestions:

1)     If you don’t have a relationship with God, ask him to start one with you today through Jesus Christ.

2)     If you have a relationship with God though Jesus Christ—examine your attitude and your actions. Are you trying to “help God out” by taking charge of things for him? Are you acting in a way to build a name for yourself? Whose reputation is more important—God’s or yours? If you find a place where you have been building your own tower, or where you have been settling instead of moving on with God, why not take time today to make it right? Come down here at the end of this service. Do business with God. Humble yourself now. Don’t wait—that is arrogance. Today if you hear his voice, do not harden your heart.

3)     Consider where you can start working with God to make his name known instead of trying to take God’s place. How can you serve someone else this week? Who needs encouragement? Who needs love? Who needs truth? Is there something God has been asking you to do, but you’ve settled and decided it doesn’t need to be done? Move off of complacency and move into obedience. 

Think back to our Jenga game for a moment. Did our pride cause us to make a bad move and it all came crashing down? If so, remember this, God can rebuild damaged lives. He can take pride and build humility. He can change us, he can rebuild us, and he wants to do so. Will we humble ourselves and let him? 

 Thanks for reading!  

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