Journal from jail

I thank my God every time I remember you, in all my prayers for all of you I always pray with joy” (Philippians 1:3,4).

The book of Philippians is usually used as a devotional book. One liners and sweet thought-for-the-day type writings abound on this book. Fourteen times in its four chapters the word “joy” or its cognate “rejoice” is used in this letter. Is Philippians really the “Vanna White” of Paul’s epistles? Is it merely the lightweight amongst heavyweights such as Romans and Galatians? Or are those wonderful devotional thoughts such as “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13) or “for me to live is Christ” (Philippians 1:21) simply skimming the cream off the top? Are there depths rarely plumbed in this book? Continue reading “Journal from jail”

And after that …

And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).

There was a film star who supposedly declared, on being told of her imminent death: “I always thought an exception would be made in my case.” Of course there are no exceptions; to be human is to be mortal.

Samuel Johnston once declared that the prospect of one’s own imminent death “wonderfully concentrates the mind.” Continue reading “And after that …”

The farewell

Speaking of the day they left for Africa in 1958 to do mission work, my mother described seeing my little head bobbing up and down on my father’s shoulder as he entered the plane in Kansas City.

“Once a friend remarked, ‘I could never go to another land because our family is very close.’ I wanted to cry out, ‘Our family is very close, too!’” (Donna Mitchell, Among the People of the Sun: Our Years in Africa, page 6). Continue reading “The farewell”

What’s next

Every now and then a young person calls me aside and says something like this: “Thank you for being patient with me when I was a young preacher/ a student/ a teenager in your congregation. You inspired me to ministry.”

When they do this, I think of the elderly apostle’s declaration: “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (3 John 1:4).

It seems I am now the older preacher in the transaction, more Paul than Timothy. Continue reading “What’s next”

How to improve your congregation’s singing

We all respond to good singing in worship. We recall with delight a night when the singing was “really good,” or visiting a congregation where we enjoyed the singing. We’re human, after all. This raises a question, therefore: So how can we improve our singing?

1. Get right with each other (Matthew 5:23,24). Note that the Lord expresses this as a priority – “First, be reconciled with your brother, then come offer your gift.” It’s hard to sing with zeal when you’re singing with people you resent. Continue reading “How to improve your congregation’s singing”

The offering

So what did you get out of “church” today? Did you have a powerful experience of God? Were you inspired by what went on?

“In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor” (Genesis 4:3-5). Continue reading “The offering”

“Offended”

“Blessed is the one who is not offended by me” (Matthew 11:6).

In the ashes of the World Trade building in New York City, following the devastation of the 9/11 attacks, lay a twisted metal beam, improbably forming the shape of a cross. For many in the dust-filled, heart-wrenching days following the tragedy, the cross served as a symbol of hope. Somewhere in all that crazy confusion was a symbol of a God who still cared.

Well inevitably a group known as the American Atheists have sued the 9/11 Museum demanding the symbol be removed.  Apparently the presence of a cross at this place of such deepest sorrow “offends” them (Scott Stump, Today, March 6, 2014). Continue reading ““Offended””

Obedience

“The one who says, ‘I have come to know him,’ and does not keep his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (1 John 2:4).

Religious leaders will do verbal back flips in order to avoid saying that we need to obey God’s commands. Commentators will write four paragraphs to show that the Holy Spirit really didn’t mean what he plainly said in one simple sentence. People will declare, “Oh surely God wouldn’t condemn us if we didn’t obey that commandment!”

The fact is that the Lord demands that we obey his commands. Continue reading “Obedience”