Friday, May 22, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: Not what I thought it would be ...

John Michael Talbot writing about the church fathers?

How could I pass up a book like that?

After all, I enjoy reading the works of the early church fathers, and Talbot, a pioneer in contemporary Christian music, might bring some interesting perspective to their writings.

Unfortunately, his latest book, "The Ancient Path" (with Mike Aquilina, published by Image), wasn't what I thought it would be. As it turns out, this book is all about the influence the church fathers had on Talbot's life as he journeyed from his early Christian experience into Catholicism.

Talbot's writing is thick with a Catholic view of the church fathers, which tends to be more elevated than that held by Protestants. There are numerous mentions of the various church fathers, but not a diving into their writings or any plumbing of their teachings. Instead, most of the mention of the church fathers was incorporated in a nearly chronological telling of Talbot's life. While I appreciate that his study of the church fathers had a positive impact on his life, and especially influenced him toward a desire for a more monastic lifestyle, I found the content of the book to actually become fairly boring less than midway through my reading.

If you're a Catholic who is a Talbot fan, you may enjoy this book; if you aren't, I haven't found any other value in it to be able to recommend it.


I received this book free from the publisher in exchange for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Real commitment will cost you. The question is, are you willing to pay the price?

When professor Dr. Jim Denison was in college, he went on a summer mission trip to East Malaysia. While there, he worked in a small church. At one of the church's worship services, a baptism had been planned for one of the teenage girls who attended. She had announced to the pastor and the church, in their custom, that she had decided to commit her life to Christ and wanted to be baptized. During the service, Jim noticed some worn-out luggage leaning against the back wall of the church building. After the service, he asked the pastor about it. The pastor pointed to the young lady that had just been baptized and said, "Her father told her that if she was ever baptized as a Christian, she could never come home again. So, she brought her luggage."

That young lady was serious about committing her life, and the living of it, to Jesus Christ.

How about you?

Are your bags packed?

Are you willing to pay whatever the price is to follow Christ?

It's a hefty cost, and Jesus described it for us succinctly ...

"Then he said to the crowd, 'If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me'," Luke 9:23.


Saturday, May 9, 2015

Broken hearts in broken people ...

Did you know it really is possible to die of a broken heart?

Linda Wasmer Andrews reported the following in Yahoo Health in 2013 ...

"'Broken heart syndrome' isn't just Valentine's Day hyperbole. It's an actual medical condition, also known as stress-induced cardiomyopathy.

"In broken heart syndrome, extreme stress brings on heart attack-like symptoms, such as chest pain and shortness of breath. This isn't just an anxiety attack. The heart is actually in serious distress. At times, the person may experience irregular heartbeats or cardiogenic shock --- a condition in which a suddenly weakened heart can't pump enough blood to meet the body's demands. In rare cases, broken heart syndrome can even lead to death."

I don't personally know of anyone who has literally died of a broken heart, but I have sat with many, many people who felt like their broken hearts were killing them.

In nearly three decades of conducting clinical therapy, a large portion of the people I have ministered to have sought help for hurting hearts that were harmed by others. The issue of human beings hurting each other isn't just my clinical experience, it's the story of humanity since the first couple wandered together in the Garden of Eden. They would break their relationship with God. From there, one of their sons would hate his brother so much he would murder him out in a field.

It hasn't gotten any better since.

We're still hurting each other, and suffering broken hearts. That's in spite of Jesus making so clear --- and so simple to understand! --- that all God's commands can be boiled down to two things: love God, and love others.

When I was younger, I enjoyed watching on PBS specials the lively and animated speeches of "Dr. Love," also known as Leo Buscaglia, an author, motivational speaker, and professor in the special education department at the University of Southern California. Leo was an Italian who spent his early childhood in Aosta, Italy. He sounded Italian, and "used his hands" as he spoke passionately. I still remember a heart-felt plea he made to an audience: "If you won't love them, don't hurt them!"

Take five minutes and listen to the stirring words of Leo for yourself ...

God especially cares for those with broken hearts ...

"The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed," Psalm 34:18

"He heals the brokenhearted and bandages their wounds," Psalm 147:3.

Many will not heed Leo's advice that if we're not willing to love others, at least don't hurt them. We will not get through this life without being heartbroken. But know for sure that the Lord, who knows by personal experience what being hurt by others is like, is close to you and desires to bandage your wounds and heal you.

Just as you don't want to suffer from a broken heart, be mindful not to hurt others. Instead, give your attention to allowing the Holy Spirit to empower you to love others --- all others --- with the love of Christ.


Friday, May 8, 2015

Communion Meditation: Getting the message ...

When I came across the story below, it didn't have any attribution for a source. I still haven't been able to discover its author, but I want to share the story with you ...

"It is said that on the evening of June 18, 1815 a man stood in the tower of England’s Winchester Cathedral gazing anxiously out to sea. At last he found what he was looking for – a ship sending a signal by use of lights. He strained to see the message. All of England held its breath with him, wanting to know the outcome of the war between their military leader, the Duke of Wellington, and the French dictator Napoleon Bonaparte. Bonaparte, who had once ruled all of Europe bar England remained a threat, and now the decisive Battle of Waterloo had been fought.

"So, as he stood in the tower of Winchester Cathedral our man waited to relay the news that would determine England’s future. The signal came just as a heavy fog was rolling in. It only just got through, but how he wished it hadn’t, for the signal read: 'Wellington defeated.'

"The man signaled to other stations and the news spread across the countryside, bringing great gloom and sadness. But then a great reversal. The fog lifted, and the message was sent again, this time in full: 'Wellington defeated the enemy.' Joy? Happiness? Delirium! Wellington had won!

"On Good Friday it seemed the message was 'Christ defeated,' but three days later we discover that the message had not been received in full. The resurrection reverses what we initially thought and declares 'Christ defeated the enemy!'"

Christ has fought the battle of the ages on our behalf. When we come to the Communion table and partake of the emblems representing His shed blood and broken body, the idea of His torture and death seems to be a story of defeat.

But we know the whole story!

"Christ suffered for our sins once for all time. He never sinned, but he died for sinners to bring you safely home to God. He suffered physical death, but he was raised to life in the Spirit," 1 Peter 3:18.

It was by offering His body to be broken, and His blood to be shed, that He would defeat sin and death forever. Each time we gather at the Lord's Table, we receive afresh the communique that "Christ defeated the enemy!"

Ponder for a while what that means for you ...


Thursday, May 7, 2015

In this world, YOU are needed desperately!

A nurse escorted a tired, anxious young man to the bed side of an elderly man.

“Your son is here,” she whispered to the patient. She had to repeat the words several times before the patient’s eyes opened.

He was heavily sedated because of the pain of his heart attack and he dimly saw the young man standing outside the oxygen tent. He reached out his hand and the young man tightly wrapped his fingers around it, squeezing a message of encouragement. The nurse brought a chair next to the bedside. All through the night the young man sat holding the old man's hand, and offering gentle words of hope. The dying man said nothing as he held tightly to his son.

As dawn approached, the patient died. The young man placed on the bed the lifeless hand he had been holding, and then he went to notify the nurse.

While the nurse did what was necessary, the young man waited. When she had finished her task, the nurse began to say words of sympathy to the young man.

But he interrupted her. “Who was that man?” he asked.

The startled nurse replied, “I thought he was your father!"

“No, he was not my father,” he answered. “I never saw him before in my life."

“Then why didn’t you say something when I took you to him?” asked the nurse.

The young man replied, “I knew he needed his son, and his son just wasn’t here. When I realized he was too sick to tell whether or not I was his son, I knew how much he needed me.”

Fellow Christian, in this world, YOU are needed desperately!

We live in a world broken from, and full of sin and it's ugly consequences; people are lost and dying without Christ and there's no one to come alongside and care for them.

That was a real problem even when Jesus Christ walked this earth. He highlighted the issue, and the need for our stepping into lives to care for others, by telling what has become a very popular story ...

"Jesus replied with a story: 'A Jewish man was traveling from Jerusalem down to Jericho, and he was attacked by bandits. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him up, and left him half dead beside the road. By chance a priest came along. But when he saw the man lying there, he crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by. A Temple assistant walked over and looked at him lying there, but he also passed by on the other side. Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him. Going over to him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them. Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him. The next day he handed the innkeeper two silver coins, telling him, "Take care of this man. If his bill runs higher than this, I’ll pay you the next time I’m here. Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?' Jesus asked. The man replied, 'The one who showed him mercy.' Then Jesus said, 'Yes, now go and do the same',” Luke 10:30-37.

Neither of these stories are talking about "sharing a smile" or being polite or kind to others. They're about stepping deeply into the needs of others and walking them through life's harshest moments, being a resource for healing or a source of strength and encoouragement in life's deepest valleys.

The story Jesus tells is given to motivate us to spend ourselves on loving and caring for others in need, because others won't do it.

Will you?


Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The part of prayer --- and ourselves ---- we need to change ...

There's something about prayer some church leaders and some fellow Christians keep telling us to do that needs to change.

I don't think most of them do it purposely, I think in most cases they're simply not thinking through what they're saying, they're just telling us what everyone tells us.

What are they telling us about prayer that needs to change?

They keep telling us to make requests of God in prayer for what we can do for ourselves.

Really, this has become pervasive, as if we want God to drop things into our laps that we should have already done for ourselves.

A great illustration of this comes from a story about when pastor, author, and sociologist Tony Campolo was once a guest speaker at a mission rally, when he was asked to lead in prayer for a missionary doctor the group supported. The goal of the prayer? That God might provide the $5,000 urgently needed for the medical center the doctor ran.
Tony refused.

He knew his audience was made up of people who were materially prosperous. So he declared he would pray only after everyone in the room gave to the project the money they had on them that day. The audience was stunned, but when Tony started emptying his pockets they knew he was serious. After some hesitation, everyone started following suit. The prayer of request soon became a prayer of thanksgiving, for by the end of the giving they had collected $8,000, much more than was needed in the first place!

Why ask God to provide $5,000 when the people present were already blessed by God with the capacity to give even more than that? What was needed was action on the part of the Christians present. Then they could rejoice together and offer praise and thanksgiving to God for what they were able to do with the abundance He had already supplied to them.

Are you asking God for something you should be doing yourself  because He has already supplied you with the means accomplish it? Are you making requests of God when you should be acting, and then offering thanksgiving and praise? I encourage you to examine the content of your prayers to see if this pattern of waiting on God to do what He has already enabled you to do has slipped into your conversations with God.

I also want to encourage you to take of the abundance of blessings God has given you in time, treasure, and talent, and use them for His glory so that you can spend more time in thanksgiving and praise. By no means am I discouraging making our real requests of God known to Him --- even persistently so! --- but let's first make sure what we ask for isn't really asking God to do what we should be doing.


Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Do you see the rabbit?

If the world really is becoming an even darker, uglier, more dangerous place ...

If the return of Christ is so much closer ...

... isn't it time for us to purposely become less comfortable and truly sacrificial?

Isn't it time we leave our armchair quarterbacking and couch commentating and fully engage in being Christ's ambassadors to the world as we are called to be (2 Cor. 5:18-20)?

A story is told in the tradition of the Desert Fathers. One day a young monk asked one of the Desert Fathers why it was that so many came into the desert seeking God and yet most of them did not stay, but returned to the outside world. The old monk said, "Yesterday my dog spied a rabbit in the bushes and began to give chase. He barked with joy and the other dogs heard his bark and joined in the chase. Soon, however, dogs began to drop out of the hunt. A few stayed with the chase through the night, but in the morning only my dog continued chasing the rabbit. Do you understand what I have told you?"

"No," replied the young monk, "please tell me."

"It's simple," said the old monk, "my dog saw the rabbit."

Many Christians are like these dogs. They're running in a hunt for something they haven't seen for themselves, at least not recently. There was a time they "saw" Christ, but they've long ago filled their view with other things, and so they've been dropping out of the hunt. I'm convinced when we see Christ, and keep our eyes on Him, the last thing we can settle for is sitting comfortably on the sidelines in a world where the majority of people are lost without Christ.

What we see drives us to become more than uncomfortable, it compels us to sacrifice. In Matthew 13:45-46 is the story of a merchant ...

"Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant on the lookout for choice pearls. When he discovered a pearl of great value, he sold everything he owned and bought it!"

Like that merchant, when we see Jesus, we'll sacrifice EVERYTHING to know Him, to walk with Him, to worship, serve, and glorify Him. We will sacrifice EVERYTHING to be His disciples, living and loving in this world the way He lived and loved when He walked on this earth.

Why, then, do we remain so disengaged and personally comfortable?

It cannot be because of what we see in Christ, or Christ in us!

If we refresh our vision with who Jesus really is, and the great grace with which we get to be His ambassadors, we cannot help put become fully engaged --- sacrificially so --- in taking the Gospel to the lost and serving the hurting, the helpless, the least and the lost among us.

The real question isn't whether you see the rabbit, but do you really see Jesus?