Wednesday, December 28, 2011


Jesus meek and humble of heart, Hear me.
From the desire of being esteemed, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being loved, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being extolled, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being honored, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being praised, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being preferred to others, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being consulted, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being approved, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being humiliated, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being despised, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of suffering rebukes, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being forgotten, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being ridiculed, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being wronged, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being suspected, Deliver me, Jesus.
That others may be loved more than I,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be esteemed more than I,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That in the opinion of the world, others may increase, and I may decrease,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be chosen and I set aside,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be praised and I unnoticed,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be preferred to me in everything,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may become holier than I, provided that I become as holy as I should,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
Written by Rafael Cardinal Merry del Val. HT: Kevin Edgecomb

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Jesus I still don’t know.

Philip Yancey’s book, The Jesus I Never Knew, is a wonderful, challenging, thought-provoking study of Jesus in the Bible. Our LIFEGroup went through it together a couple of years ago. Yancey exposes many ways we have made Jesus into someone very different than He was/is. The human heart is an idol factory, addicted to sin and spin. It is the tendency of fallen people like me to spin Jesus into someone more comfortable for us to live with, less demanding for our transformation, less intrusive into the values and choices we cherish.

I often think of Yancey's book as I read the Gospels – the four biographies of Jesus given us by the Holy Spirit through eye witnesses of His incarnation.

Today I am reading Luke’s version of the sermon on the mount (Luke 6). I like Matthew’s better (Matthew 5). In Matthew Jesus pronounces a blessing on the “poor in spirit.” In Luke the blessing is for “the poor.” I'd rather be poor in spirit than poor in my financial condition. Poor in spirit is less challenging to my comfortable life style (and my preaching).

Lest I might think I should read Matthew’s “in spirit” into Luke’s account rather than taking it literally as an affirmation of those who live in poverty, Luke proceeds with Jesus’ blessing on those who “hunger now” (leaving out Matthew’s “for righteousness”) and then with His pronouncements of woe on those who “are rich” and “well fed.” It seems impossible to spin Luke’s record away from its economic implications.

It would appear that Matthew and Luke each record a different aspect and application of what Jesus taught -- one spiritual and one material -- both mandates for those who follow Jesus.

Jesus’ words are bombshells exploding on our American values and lifestyle.

I’m not at all sure I understand what Jesus is saying . . . or perhaps I just don’t want to face it. I know I must reconcile these words with the rest of the Scriptures, which, I believe, are never in contradiction when rightly interpreted.

Do we dare to wrestle with the meaning, application, and implication of Jesus’ words, or do we quickly move on to another passage which is less intrusive or challenging? What is unmistakably clear in the Bible is that God blesses us not merely so we can gratefully enjoy His goodness (1 Timothy 6:17) but also so that we can be extravagantly generous to others (1 Timothy 6:18). Whatever Jesus is saying in Luke 6, I know that I only have my toes in the ocean of potential generosity -- generosity to relieve suffering (Matthew 25) and to spread the Gospel to all nations (Matthew 28).

Perhaps at Christmas when we privileged Americans are so immersed in materialism, I must fight to recognize and be continually grateful for God's undeserved generosity to me but also move to a new level of personal generosity to fulfill the Lord's mission to redeem sinners and relieve suffering.

I want to know Jesus . . . the real Jesus . . . and what He truly asks of me.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Defend yourself from a killer or turn the other cheek?

That's the issue dividing Christians in Nigeria where scores have been killed and nearly 100 church buildings burned down by radical Muslims. Is it legitimate for Christians to defend themselves or must they "turn the other cheek" even if it means they or their children will be murdered? Lord, help us to pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters as they wrestle with these life and death questions for themselves and their family. Would to God we would take obedience to the Scriptures so seriously.

Before I comment on the question of self-defence, let me say that the issues Christians "fight" and leave churches over in the USA are in a radically different category than this issue which is dividing Nigerian believers. Recently a long-term Christian wrote that she was leaving our church and mentioned the reasons: issues such as musical style, how people dress on the platform, whether the American flag was appropriately displayed (we have 18 permanently displayed in our buidling including a giant one on the FLC wall -- just not one in "the right place" on the platform), and whether we engaged in certain nationalistic/patriotic practices in our gatherings to worship King Jesus, whose kingdom is "not from this world." While I readily understand the emotions that change-issues elicit, and feel the pain of those for whom such issues are difficult, I cannot help but grieve (1)that the American Christians divide over such triviality compared to the persecuted church in places like Nigeria, and (2) that Christians take strong and divisive stands over issues that are so out-of-sync with Biblical truth. We should be more mature and know better!

Back to the question of self defense: I pray for wisdom for my Nigerian family members because I can comprehend, at least a little, the horrible possibilities if they "turn the other cheek" rather than defending themselves or their families. This is certainly a potentially valid application of Jesus' teaching in Matthew 5:39. However, it may be important to note that Jesus specifically said, "If someone strikes you on the RIGHT cheek . . ." Because I believe in the verbal inspiration of the Scriptures, I must take seriously that Jesus specified the "right" cheek. Most people are right handed. If a right-handed person throws a PUNCH, it would land on the other person's LEFT cheek. Being struck on the "right" cheek suggests a backhand -- that is, a personal insult, not a murderous assault. I also remember in the book of Esther that the Jews, apparently with God's approval, defended themselves against the attacks of their enemies as a result of Haman's wicked law. The book of Esther records the number of their enemies killed while the Jews defended themselves. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus told His disciples to be armed with swords -- although He did not allow their use to rescue Him from the cross.

All of that said, I hope that this remains an "academic" exercise for me, because if such persecution came to America, I would need to consider more seriously the possibility that the Jesus' way, the way of the cross, might call on me to lay down my life for Him -- or to see my loved ones do the same. It's always easy to interpret difficult Scriptures in ways that have the most comfortable application in my life. May God protect us from such selfishness.

And may God protect His church in America from tragic, preference-oriented, self-centered triviality.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Bill Stankovich had no idea how many lives he touched

When the Stankovich family first moved to Sault Ste. Marie in the 1960s and quickly became part of the Calvary Baptist Church family, Gloria and I had no idea how our lives would be intertwined for years to come.

Bill was a wonderful friend, always fun and full of life. We played softball and basketball together, went on youth retreats and engaged in every kind of church youth group activity imaginable. Our youth group was like a very close family. God did some very special things in our lives in those years.

Bill had a terrific sense of humor. It seems like he was always smiling or laughing. His positive, enthusiastic spirit was contagious. I can’t imagine anyone not liking him. I remember once when something funny happened during a baptismal service. Bill had to put his head between his knees and hold his nose because he was laughing so hard and didn’t want to disturb the service.

I treasure the memories of the “Brothers’ Quintet” – Bill, Walter, Mike, my brother Terry, and I. Bill sang lead. I’m not sure how good we were but in many of the small backwoods Baptist churches and youth rallies where we sang across the U.P. the people were more appreciative than discerning and we were often asked back. Songs like, “On the Jericho Road,” and “Have a Little Talk With Jesus” were some of our favorites.

Years later Bill would sometimes stop to visit Gloria and I as he traveled from Elkhart into parts of Michigan for their travel trailer business. We had no idea for many years that he was the one who secretly left money at the local Gambles store for us to come in and purchase some much-needed living room furniture we could never have afforded. A year later Gloria and I saw that the matching chair was on sale for $100 at Gambles’ sidewalk sale. Gloria pressed me to buy it because we would never have another opportunity to get the matching chair. I didn’t feel that we could afford even $100 for the chair so I put her off by saying, “If you pray and God gives us $100 before the sale is over, we can buy it.” Having little faith, I promptly forgot it. Gloria didn’t. She prayed.

The next morning we heard noise on our front porch and looked out to see a man standing at the door with “our living room chair” upside down on his head. “Did you buy that chair?” I fired a bit angrily at Gloria? “No,” she replied, “I just prayed and asked God to give it to us.” For years it was a total mystery who could have known that the chair matched our couch and who could have purchased the chair before it vanished forever. It was probably 25 years later that Bill let it slip when he was visiting Gloria’s parents in the Soo and the mystery was solved. It was a “God thing” that Bill was passing through town, saw the chair and pulled off his secret act of generosity and kindness. It was an affirmation of my wife’s faith and a rebuke for my lack of it. God used Bill to answer Gloria’s prayer and encourage our children to see how God took care of us.

Over the years, especially during the time when our income as a small town pastor was very limited, both Bill and Carol blessed us many times with their generosity and kindness.

Sometimes people never know how their acts of love and faithfulness will bless others and advance God’s kingdom far beyond what they could imagine.

Bill and Carol became acquainted with missionaries from our church named Jim and Roni Bowers. When Bill learned that the Bowers wanted to build a houseboat so they could travel the Amazon River to share the Gospel with Peruvian Indian villages unreachable in any other way, Bill spearheaded an amazing project of putting together the finances and the materials to be shipped to Peru to build the houseboat. Hundreds of Peruvian Indians came to know Jesus as a result of the Bower’s river ministry in the houseboat Bill played a key role in providing. Generations of Peruvian Indians have come to Christ because of Bill’s work. For all eternity that work will continue in Peru because of what Bill did.

But that wasn’t the end. Bill and Carol made it possible for Jim and Roni to adopt their precious baby Charity who gave them such joy in her short life on earth.

Then in 2001 the whole world stood at attention for two weeks as every major news outlet was riveted on the story of the missionary airplane mistakenly shot down over the Amazon River by the Peruvian Air Force and the American CIA. Roni and Charity were instantly killed, while the wounded pilot and Jim and Corey survived by clinging to the sinking airplane in the Amazon River until the Indians rescued them in their dugout canoes.

Every major television and radio network, national news paper and magazine, and other sources of news camped out at Calvary Church in Fruitport to cover the events leading up to the funeral which was broadcast live all over Western Michigan. For more than a week, the missionaries’ story remained as a top news story across the nation. Jim and many others had amazing opportunities to talk about Jesus as the One who was sustaining them through this tragedy. Jim interviewed multiple times with Diane Sawyer and others and met President Bush at the White House.

Through the tragedy, Jim and many others had a platform to tell the story of Jesus. Only God knows how many came to know Christ through that time.

A number of young people heard the story and as a result gave their lives for missionary service. They now serve in various parts of the world. The book which told the story quickly became a best seller in the USA and was translated into Spanish so it could spread the message through the Hispanic world.

None of this would have happened apart from the houseboat in which Bill was such a key player. It probably never occurred to Bill that he had an essential role in the spread of the Gospel around the world in such clear and dramatic ways and that his efforts would result in thousands of people around the world hearing about Jesus.

Bill never thought a great deal about himself. He was a model of self-deprecating humility and was embarrassed if anyone called attention to the good things he did. He probably never allowed himself to even think about how God used him to spread the Gospel around the world. In heaven today, he knows and has heard His Lord’s “well done.” Probably he has met many people who came to Christ through the chain of events in which Bill was an essential link.

Bill deeply loved his family. He often told us what a wonderful wife Carol was and how much he loved his children and grandchildren. Nothing gave him greater joy than to think of them loving and following Jesus.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Joseph's Prayer

Lord, I cannot believe
and yet, I must --
that I have been betrayed.
O God, she seemed so pure.

I love her still, though she
has pierced my heart --
no, torn it out,
I cannot bear to see her branded
"unclean," a "harlot."

What if I privately put her away?
No charges. Then it would seem
that I, not she,
had played the rogue.

What's that, my Lord? "Your son?" "Not man's?"
"Son of David," did you say?
"My wife?" O yes, my Lord!
What can I say?
"Mary, my love, my wife, I understand."

Friday, December 16, 2011

Christmas conversation in Meijers checkout line

I was waiting in the checkout line at Meijers today when the friendly man behind me commented, "Christmas is so expensive today. When I was a boy a hot wheels car was great. Today our kids want all this electronic stuff that costs a fortune."

I commented, "Isn't it interesting that it's all about a baby who was homeless and born to peasant parents?"

He liked that.

Then I mentioned that he could blame the Magi for starting the whole tradition with some really expensive gifts.

He liked that.

To keep it all in perspective, I need to remember 2 Corinthians 8:9: "For you know the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich."

I like that!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

How to pray when you don't know how to pray

When Jesus' disciples asked Him to teach them how to pray, He gave them what we call "the Lord's prayer" -- "Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name..."

When I don't know how to pray or what to pray for, I often pray this prayer. When I lie in bed at night, I often pray this prayer. In the morning when I wake up, I often pray this prayer.

The more I pray it, the more I realize it is not merely a formula of specific words to use like a mantra. These are categories of prayer . . . an outline of the theology of prayer . . . prayer launchers from which my prayers can rise and form . . . lessons about what and how I should pray . . .

The more I pray this prayer with understanding, the more I realize how little my prayers sometimes reflect the revealed will of God, or are qualified to be prayed "in Jesus' name" since that implies it would be what Jesus would pray for.

Here's a great discussion of the Lord's prayer by Francis Chan:

Lord, teach us to pray.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Jesus was a failure.

Well, if you look at numbers at a certain point in His life some might say that. Early in His public ministry His followers swelled to many thousands. Perhaps He was the original "mega church pastor." Then over three years many were offended or left Him for other reasons. At one point He even asked the twelve if they would also go away. And they did . . . at the time of His greatest need, they abandoned Him and ran for their lives. His "church" was down to one.

At Christmas, we certainly should be deeply grateful that He was willing to suffer all that for our redemption. And, we should learn to be careful in how and when we evaluate "success" -- for ourselves, or others.

If a business has a record profit, did it have a successful year, or could there be a failing business which is laying off workers which in God's eyes is more successful than its more profitable counterpart? Is a soccer team's success measured in the score or its win/loss record? Or, at least for Jesus' followers, is there some more important measure of a successful game or season? Is Tim Tebo a success because he has had an amazing year at quarterback with fabulous come-from-behind-victories? Would he be just as successful if they had lost all those games but he continued his outspoken Christian commitments? Is the most successful politician the one who gets the most votes and wins the most elections?

I am shamed how often I have had secret pride because I am a pastor at one of the largest churches in West Michigan and that my emotions can ride the waves of increases and decreases. On a great day like last Sunday when the services were full, the programing was exciting, and the offering was huge, I can tend to think, "That was success!" I must learn to be faithful and not measure success prematurely -- on a great day or a "bad" day. Jesus will be the Judge! He is the only one we must please!

Here's a challenging blog about numbers and other issues where we may be too quick to jump on the band wagon:

Remember big isn't better nor is small better. Being faithful to Jesus is better.