You Wear It Well

the-crossThe following is adapted and excerpted from Ravi Zacharias’ Can Man Live Without God? I think you’ll find it powerful.

For background: the state church in Yugoslavia was corrupt beyond comparison. What had been done in the name of Christianity was a terrible affront to decency.

One day an evangelist by the name of Jakov arrived in a Yugoslavian village. He commiserated with an elderly man named Cimmerman on the tragedies he had experienced and talked to him of the love of Christ.

Cimmerman abruptly interrupted Jakov and told him that he wished to have nothing to do with Christianity.He reminded Jakov of the dreadful history of the church in his town, a history replete with plundering, exploiting, and indeed with killing innocent people. “My own nephew was killed by them,” he said and angrily rebuffed any effort on Jakov’s part to talk about Christ. “They wear those elaborate coats and caps and crosses,” he said, “signifying a heavenly commission, but their evil designs and lives I cannot ignore.”

Jakov, looking for an occasion to get Cimmerman to change his line of thinking, said, “Cimmerman, can I ask you a question? Suppose I were to steal your coat, put it on, and break into a bank. Suppose further that the police sighted me running in the distance but could not catch up with me. One clue, however, put them onto your track; they recognized your coat. What would you say to them if they came to your house and accused you of breaking into the bank?”

“I would deny it,” said Cimmerman.

“ ‘Ah, but we saw your coat,’ they would say,” retorted Jakov.

This analogy quite annoyed Cimmerman, who ordered Jakov to leave his home. Jakov continued to return to the village periodically just to befriend Cimmerman, encourage him, and share the love of Christ with him.

Finally one day Cimmerman asked, “How does one become a Christian?” and Jakov taught him the simple steps of repentance for sin and of trust in the work of Jesus Christ and gently pointed him to the Shepherd of his soul.

Cimmerman surrendered his life to Christ. As he rose to his feet, wiping his tears, he embraced Jakov and said, “Thank you for being in my life.”

And then he pointed to the heavens and whispered, “You wear His coat very well.”

Trustworthy God

trustworthyCons, cheats, and crooks have made cynics of us all. What’s the old joke? “How can you tell if a politician is lying?” “His lips are moving!” The joke isn’t that funny; it is a sad commentary on the unfortunate state of things.

A researcher conducted a survey of Canadian teenagers a few years ago. His team asked a really interesting question: “What do you wish for most in your life?”

How do you think the average teen would answer? Money? A girlfriend? To graduate and get out of mom and dad’s house? The number one answer revealed more about society than it revealed in the teens. Their biggest desire was “someone we can trust.”

God is trustworthy.

“He is the Rock. His work is perfect, for all his ways are law and justice. A God of faithfulness without breach or deviation, just and right is he.” (Deuteronomy 32:4)

“And those who know your name will put their trust in you; for you, Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you.” (Psalm 9:10)

“The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy.” (Psalm 111:7)

We don’t understand everything that God does. How could our finite minds fully comprehend the infinite? When we have doubts and fears or worries or questions that we’re having trouble getting answered, we ought to anchor our hearts with this truth: God is trustworthy. Put another way: God is good all the time, and all the time, God is good!

Ashley Madison Suicides

ashleymadison-hacked-500x311Three weeks ago, a seminary professor and Baptist pastor committed suicide. Very rarely do we find out what leads a person to such a rash act, but in his case, the answer was clear.

Six days prior to his death, it was revealed that his name was on the list of customers of Ashley Madison, a website whose tagline is, “Life is Short; Have an affair!” This site was a dating service designed for people who were looking to commit adultery. Hackers targeted the site, stole a list of potential customers, and told the company to shut down or they would release the names. The company refused, and the hackers made good on their promise.

Despite the fact that many of the names on the list were fake or not actual customers, the release of these names has had tragic results. Ed Stetzer, Lifeway’s head of research, expected up to four hundred church leaders to resign as a result. Police have connected at least two suicides to the list.

The story is heartbreaking. So many homes have disintegrated after a husband or wife was revealed to be on the list. The ripple effects continue to spread.

Think for a moment about all of the brokenness that went into this story:

  • Someone decided that it would be profitable to launch a service to facilitate affairs.
  • Enough people were interested in affairs that it became profitable with over 25 million users.
  • People who despised the premise of the site took matters into their own hands and illegally compromised their data after attempting to extort the company.
  • Others have targeted those who are on this list in attempts to blackmail and extort the individuals.
  • An educated minister who has taught of grace, forgiveness, and reconciliation, couldn’t imagine being the recipient of those things and believed suicide was his only option.

Friends, our world is broken. Sin affects us at all levels. Maybe news likes this helps break us out of our delusion that everything is as it should be. It is not! This is precisely the reason that Jesus came—for our sickness, brokenness, and sin.

Three Components of Apologetics

apologetifc“Apologetics” isn’t the same as apologizing. “Apologetic” comes from a Greek word that means to make a defense or a response. It is a legal term, so imagine that you are the accused in a courtroom. The prosecutor lays out the case against you. After the prosecution rests, your attorney stands to make your defense—your apologetic. The word is used in the legal sense several times in scripture in Acts 22:1, 25:16, 1 Corinthians 9:6, and 2 Timothy 4:16.

When we talk about apologetics, we are talking about making the defense case for Christianity. How do you respond when someone asks you one of the hard questions about Christianity?

First Peter 3:13-17 describes a time when believers were persecuted for their faith. Peter instructs them, “Even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled.” He offers comfort for those difficult and changing times. Couched in the words of comfort are some simple instructions: “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness, and respect, having a good conscience…”

Our defense of Christianity has these main components:

FIRST – Living a Christ-honoring life. Righteous living in adverse circumstances is what caused outsiders to ask the hard questions in Peter’s day. Good living in our world should stimulate many conversations still today. Our lives should cause people to ask “WHY?”

SECOND – Having a reason for hope. Can you articulate why you have hope? Can you put your faith into words? They don’t have to be perfect or eloquent words, but you can say, “I live the way I live because Jesus rose from the grave!” When the world asks “WHY?” we answer “WHO!”

THIRD – Maintaining the right attitude. Peter made clear, give this answer with gentleness, respect, and a good conscience. When we respond to those who don’t yet believe in Jesus, we must answer with genuine kindness and confident humility.  We have to be careful “HOW” we tell them about “WHO!”

Why, Who, and How are the three great questions of apologetics. Which one needs more attention in your life? All three will be part of our upcoming quarter of Sunday School at Burns Church of Christ on Sundays at 9. We’ve got special guest speakers Doug Couch, James Hinkle, and Joe Deweese helping with the class. I hope you’ll plan to join us!

Wisdom overlooked

gods-wisdom-02Harriett Hinkle has rubbed off on me. When I look at hymns for worship, one of the first things I do is notice the date when the words were composed. It’s interesting to correlate the songs we sing and the times in which they were written. For example, many of our songs about Heaven come from the Great Depression era. It’s not hard to see the connection. Many of our favorite songs were written between 1850 and 1950.

As we were preparing this Sunday’s song service, we were searching for songs that talk of God’s wisdom, I noticed something in those dates that caught my attention. Very few hymns written in the 1800s or 1900s mentioned the wisdom of God. Generally speaking, only very old songs and very new songs mentioned God’s wisdom. This gap made me wonder—why have we neglected this attribute of God? Hymnals overflow with songs of his love, power, and holiness—but not his wisdom. Why?

Perhaps in the last two centuries, our technological achievements and scientific breakthroughs led us to believe that our wisdom approached God’s? Maybe we no longer felt as acute a need for his wisdom? It could even be that we have come to neglect wisdom as a virtue at all.

Whatever the reason, I’m grateful that scripture reminds us to praise God for his wisdom. Our pride needs the reminder. God is not the cosmic valedictorian and we the salutatorians. He alone is wise. His thoughts are higher than our thoughts.  His wisdom is beautiful and powerful. It draws us to it as we see our own simplicity. We are not his advisors; we are fools who desperately need guidance. “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Romans 11:33 ESV)

Try this paraphrase: “Have you ever come on anything quite like this extravagant generosity of God, this deep, deep wisdom? It’s way over our heads. We’ll never figure it out. Is there anyone around who can explain God? Anyone smart enough to tell him what to do? Anyone who has done him such a huge favor that God has to ask his advice? Everything comes from him; everything happens through him; everything ends up in him. Always glory! Always praise!” (Romans 11:33-36 MSG) Praise God for his wisdom!

Don’t be a lone wolf…

IsolationWe prize individuality over community. Nobody likes to be lonely, but we all like to be independent. We think that we don’t need anyone—but their company is nice! We idealize the Lone Ranger—who, if you remember, wasn’t alone.

As we’ve been studying through the book of Acts on Wednesday nights, I’ve been struck by the importance of community in following Jesus. Here are just a few things I’ve noted as we’ve studied:

  • When Judas betrayed Jesus, the disciples replaced him at the first opportunity. Each one mattered.
  • The miracle of Pentecost arrived when they were all together in one place. It would have been no more difficult for God to reveal himself to every individual, wherever he or she was, but instead he moved on the community.
  • Nobody practices “self-baptism.” Every convert was baptized by another convert.
  • They intentionally spent time in each other’s homes and shared with each other.
  • When the Ethiopian was reading scripture, God chose to miraculously direct Philip to help him, rather than miraculously answer his question.
  • God appeared individually to Saul, but he depended on his friends who led him to Damascus, Ananias who taught and baptized him, and Barnabas who vouched for him.

I could go on, but I’ll stop here. God has always called a people, not just a person. It’s a real shame that many of us get frustrated with the church or a little bit prideful and decide that we can go at it on our own.

Yes, we need to read and study scripture individually and privately. It’s important that we have that faith-building experience, but it is equally important that we read it communally and interactively. Studying with others causes us to see things we miss, corrects for our biases, and holds us accountable when we would be hypocrites.

Perhaps that’s why Paul charged Timothy to “devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture” (1 Tim 4:13). If you’re not in a small group study or Sunday School class, you’re missing out—and you’re holding back a blessing from others.

In Response to the Hickory Hollow Shooting


nashville-movie-theater-shootingViolence struck awfully close to home in the recent weeks. The sanctity of a small church’s prayer meeting was shattered by a racist gunman. A military recruitment office was terrorized by a radical Muslim in the heart of Tennessee. Twice in the last weeks has a simple trip to the movies ended with death and destruction. How do Christians respond?

Here’s my opinion:

FIRST: We pray (1 Thessalonians 5:17). We pray for peace (Philippians 4:6-7). We pray for the mentally ill and the misled. We obey Jesus by praying for our enemies, our government, and for boldness even in fear (Matthew 5:43-48). We pray for the police who run into harm’s way while the rest of us run out. We just need to pray.

SECOND: We must not be controlled by fear (2 Timothy 1:7, Psalm 34:4). Recent events make us jumpy—and that’s reasonable, but rarely does fear promote good long-term decision-making. Fear motivated Pharaoh and Herod to infanticide, Pontius Pilate and the Pharisees to murder, and Hitler’s Germany to genocide. We may be tempted to stay home; don’t. Society is incredibly safe. Statistics indicate that the rate of violent crime is at the lowest it has ever been in our lifetimes. Don’t let fear control you.

THIRD: We must not over-react. We will not bar the doors to the church and shut down the movie theaters. As long as we live in a free society, there will be a miniscule minority of people who use that freedom to cause harm. We ought not to overreact by destroying our freedom. Benjamin Franklin said, “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” As of 2013, there were 40,024 movie screens in the United States. 99.9975% of them were safe on Wednesday. 100% of them were safe the day before and the day after. This was a tragedy—but don’t forget that it is the exception, not the rule. No amount of metal detectors, guards, dogs, or police can ever guarantee total security. Check out Psalm 20:7.

FOURTH: We must look for ways to be peace-makers (Matthew 5:9). These stories are still unfolding, but there is a common theme in most senseless acts of violence: mental illness. The perpetrators generally are people with great brokenness. Christians ought to be leaders in looking out for the marginalized, the broken, and the hurting. We need to spur our society on towards real, merciful solutions for the mentally ill instead of the revolving doors of hospitals and jails.

FIFTH: We must keep an eternal perspective. Scripture teaches that each one of us will die. If it isn’t by a human’s act of violence, it might be by the violent acts of cancer cells which strangle the body. Regardless, life is a vapor that is here for a little while and then vanishes away. We, of all people, need to remember the things that matter most and live life in light of eternity.

We are grieved that these terrible crimes have been committed. We mourn with those who mourn. We celebrate the men and women whose heroism makes a difference in our lives every day. We look to Jesus as our ultimate hope.


chairThe Emperor Menelek II of Ethiopia used an electric chair as his royal throne for many years. How come? During the late 1890s, the Emperor was told of the new method of executing criminals in the United States by electrocution. So he ordered three electric chairs from the States. But there was one tiny problem: he forgot that electricity had not yet been introduced into his country. The chairs were useless. To save his investment, he appropriated the same as his royal chair.

Electricity is a prerequisite to the electric chair. College students know all about prerequisites. You can’t take General Chemistry 2 until you’ve successfully completed General Chemistry 1.  A prerequisite is something that must come first. Electricity is prerequisite to the electric chair.

There was one time that Jesus talked about prerequisites. In Matthew 7:1-6, he said that some people get really excited about identifying the flaws in the people around them, but there is something that must happen first: “take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” Peter repeated this message by saying that judgment begins with the household of God (1 Peter 4:17).

Sometimes we forget how important it is to take care of our own house before we take care of others. We need to make sure that we take the prerequisites, first!

What Makes a Great Church?

From a sermon entitled: “What Makes a Great Church”…

Before the term “mega church” was ever conceived, Charles Spurgeon pioneered one right in the heart of London, England. When he was just twenty years of age, the New Park Street Church in London called him to be their preacher. Soon people were coming in such large numbers that the church building couldn’t hold them. So they constructed a new building—the Metropolitan Tabernacle—which seated 6,000 people, which was unheard of in that day, and they filled it twice every Sunday.


For thirty-one years, he filled the Metropolitan Tabernacle twice on Sunday and hundreds and hundreds of people were baptized.


Charles Spurgeon, who is referred to by many as the prince of preachers, would have been the first to tell you that the source of the churches strength and success wasn’t in any special program or new idea, nor was it in the words that he preached: Left to themselves they were just mere words. There was a greater source of strength. So what was it that gave this church its power?


Well, the story goes that one Sunday, five young college students who were preparing for the ministry visited the Metropolitan Tabernacle to hear Spurgeon speak. While waiting for the church doors to open, Charles Spurgeon himself approached them and asked if they would like to see the powerhouse of this great church. The soon-to-be preachers were delighted to see the secret to the power of this church. Spurgeon led them through a long hallway, down a stairway, and cautiously opened a door at the bottom. What the five young men saw astonished them. Looking through this open doorway, they saw about 700 church members bowed in prayer asking God for His blessing on the upcoming service. “That,” said Spurgeon “is our powerhouse!”

Want Burns to be a great place? Pray for our family.

Pray for me as I preach to select the best topics, study them faithfully, and deliver them well.

Pray for the elders to shepherd this flock and care for our spiritual needs.

Pray for our leaders and go-to people who organize our work together.

Pray for every member who struggles, who celebrates, or who is somewhere in between.

Pray that God would use us to reach those nobody has reached, serve those nobody has served, and love people who have never experienced the love of Jesus.

Pray for God’s grace and presence to abound in our family.

Book Review: Graceful Uprising by Jonthan Jones

gracefuluprisingSome time ago, I heard a sermon called “Grace: Don’t Tell Me What It Isn’t.” Jonathan Jones took that advice when he wrote his walk-through Romans: “A Graceful Uprising.”

Jones’ book walks us through the powerful epistle to the Romans, one section at a time. He hasn’t written a verse-by-verse technical commentary. Instead, he helps us work through the chapters and major sections with an eye towards application. Many of us have trouble understanding how we fit in the world of the Jews and the Gentiles. Jones excels at finding appropriate applications for the modern church.

He is balanced and biblical, with an eye towards helping us appreciate the beautiful fullness of grace. He fights our temptation to pigeonhole it, abuse it, or neglect it. He wants us, through the book of Romans, to “taste and see that the Lord is good!” (Psalm 34:8). The book demonstrates powerfully what grace will do in our lives and congregations—if we’ll just get out of its way.

The book would make a great guide for a small-group walkthrough of the book of Romans or for personal reading. I enjoyed it—and think you will, too!

The book is available from Amazon or Start2Finish books.