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Wednesday, December 21, 2011


Yesterday I took our old computer to the dump.  Actually, the toxic substances recycling center.  Getting out of the car I lifted the hatch.  To the guys removing the computer I joked, "Just make sure you let the bird seed!"  The bags of seed I had picked up earlier were stacked behind the computer.

"Did you say that because I was whistling?" the one in glasses grinned.  I was too embarrassed to admit I hadn't heard him (aging ears).  "Maybe you thought I was a bird!" he laughed and I instantly liked him.  I whistle too and was glad to meet a fellow featherless friend.

I don't hear near as much whistling as I did when I was a boy.  There are probably a lot of cultural reasons for that (in addition to my waning hearing!).  I do wonder if we are in general, a more miserable people.  Odd if that's the case since we Americans are more prosperous than ever.  But then, prosperity has not brought us more satisfaction.  Which could be instructive for those who crave what we have.

Although the Bible is peppered with references to "joy" and "rejoice", the grounds of joy the writers point to are not possessions or privilege.  Occasionally they say joy is the result of what someone else has done, but in most cases the joy experienced or pursued is the result of God and His work.  O Tidings of comfort and joy..., comfort and joy...  

Jesus came to the earth to destroy the works of the devil.  I hope you find reason to whistle this season.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Christmas Gospel

After we hitched the trailer to the SUV, my wife and I went to a tree farm for a Christmas tree.  No, not the cut-your-own kind.  The trees were neatly stacked upright on frames: scotch, pine, fir, you name it.  We got a really fragrant white pine that was a little dirty.  I hosed it off first and let it dry before planting it in our living room.

It's a figure of speech.  We already have hardwood floors.

There are all kinds of mouthwatering cookies around the house ridiculing my good intentions.  Along with more treats from some of the children in my wife's Sunday school class.  

Betty just called in from the kitchen asking about an address for the Christmas cards we're distributing--you know the ones, the one-page glossies with our picture on.  "Don't forget to pray for us!"  The kind we find in our church and street mailboxes.

Betty's been making forays to the malls and elsewhere to find the right presents for the grandchildren.  And others.  In both our immediate as well as extended families, we don't exchange many gifts anymore so that task isn't as all-consuming as it used to be.  But it takes time.  Betty bakes some presents too.  

At night we pull the plug on the outdoor lights, head to bed, and wonder what holiday assignment was left undone.  Sunday is our Christmas program and a lot of people are putting a lot of time in getting ready.  Then next week are the Christmas eve services.    

We used to all sleep around the tree downstairs in the family room but with two married children and one on the other side of the world, that's not going to happen this year.  I don't care what Betty says, I am not going to let a perfectly good bed upstairs go to waste!

If you enjoy Christmas traditions and practices in your family, you know the warm feeling of familiarity and sentiment.  It's a wonderful time of year.  But behind the carols on the radio and the glossy advertisements selling the hottest presents of the season, can lurk some dark shadows.  This year people were killed by other shoppers on Black Friday.  People fighting over dolls and flat screen TVs?  And finding a place to park at the mall can raise any American's blood pressure.  Family members get irritated that someone else has bought Grandma what they were going to buy.  Parents disappointed that little Johnny and little Janey seem bored by their very expensive gifts.  Extended families dueling over the best dates for family feasts.  Church members upset because so-and-so got the lead part in the pageant instead of them.  A wife upset that her husband won't help put up the decorations.

Selfishness, sin, and neglect, all happening within sight of the birth of the gospel, the good news.  How good is it that He came!

Monday, December 12, 2011

From Legalism to Sanctification

"Legalism is seeking to achieve forgiveness from God and acceptance by God through obedience to God."  C.J. Mahaney's (The Cross-Centered Life) pithy definition gets at why obeying God in word and deed can be a problem.  It's not a problem that we obey--that's very good, but why we obey.  If we obey hoping God will forgive us, or so He might accept us, perhaps unknowingly we actually blaspheme God.  I don't think that's too strong of a word and here's why: whether we realize it or not, banking on our own efforts curses God's Calvary effort.  It dismisses Jesus' work as adequate.  Because the Bible says we are forgiven by faith in His work alone, obeying to be forgiven in essence refuses the gift.  It's declaring that Jesus dying as a sin sacrifice is not enough.  "I have to somehow complete His work."

Imagine your parents giving you a Christmas gift and hearing you say, "Oh thank you!  This is awesome!  I promise even if I have to work overtime, as soon as possible I'll pay you for this."  Mom and Dad would exchange horrified looks.  For weeks they imagined the look on your face as you unwrapped your present.  They thought you'd receive it with joy.  You did but...  How pained they are to have their child think he needs to repay them for what they freely gave.

It's not that obedience is wrong; it's very right.  But it's the difference between obeying to get, and obeying because you've gotten.  The person who recognizes that God declares him righteous solely by his faith alone in the work of Christ, now happily obeys God and wants to as a result of being justified.  She doesn't obey so she'll be forgiven, but because she's been forgiven.  The difference is enormous. 

Justification saves us and it is God's work alone.  We ...are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. (Romans 3:24-25)

Once we have been justified, we are confident God accepts us, confident God's forgiven us of all past, present and future sin, and no longer live in fear (1 John 4:18).  The rest of life is one of obedience in response to God's mercy and salvation.  We call it sanctification, the process of being made holy.  Unlike justification which is God's solo project, we are sanctified by a partnership of our own efforts (1 Timothy 4:7), and the Holy Spirit's work (Philippians 2:13).

Legalism's curse is not just keeping--or judging others by rules not found in the Bible, it is keeping those rules that are there, FOR THE WRONG REASONS. 

Monday, December 5, 2011

More on Legalism

Several weeks ago when I preached on legalism, I got some of the blowback I expected.  What I heard was similar to what I would have thought or said just 6 or 7 years ago.  I used to be afraid that if I taught a gospel stripped of any works--which I truly believed it was, people would take advantage of it and think I meant they could sin with impunity.  "Hey, it's all covered by the blood."  Now I worry about other things when I preach the gospel.

I had two main purposes in the sermon:
  1. Warn us not to judge the faith of others by behaviors the Bible doesn't address.
  2. Present a gospel that is effective solely because of Christ's work, not an 80 or 90%  deal to which we add our 10 or 20% of effort. 
It was in the judging part that the greatest confusion occurred.  I pointed out that half a century ago, some Christians condemned other women of faith for wearing lipstick or silk stockings, or condemned Christians who played cards.  These are no longer issues for most Christians because we've admitted Scripture doesn't prohibit any of them.  

Then I went further and suggested that smoking and drinking in moderation are in the same category.  Some object that they're evil practices because they can harm the human body which is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor.6:19-20) and with which we're to honor God.  I went out on a limb and insisted that it doesn't say--or mean, that you drink in moderation or can't smoke.  OR, if it does, then other behaviors potentially harmful to the body are just as wrong.  Such as large intakes of sweets or transfats.  Two of my personal favorites come to mind: donuts and chips.  Or eating lots of salt which causes strokes.  Or enjoying dangerous hobbies like racing, skydiving or even skiing.

Face it, we can be very selective in what we interpret "honor God with your body" to mean.  We're sure it includes not smoking, but maybe less sure it includes, "GO GET SOME EXERCISE YOU COUCH POTATO!"  Anyway, the context of the verses in 1 Corinthians 6 has nothing to do with eating, smoking or drinking.  It's not criticizing what's physically unhealthy, but what's spiritually unhealthy; don't use your body for sexual sin and thus dishonor God with it.

Some thought equating smoking with eating bad food--or failing to exercise was mixing apples and oranges.  After all, a person has to eat, but doesn't have to smoke or drink.  True.  Irrelevant.  My point was that when we think of other Christians who smoke or who drink in moderation as spiritually inferior--or disobedient, we don't have a biblical leg to stand on.

What if our children hear the pastor say it's ok to smoke and drink?  First, simply because the Bible doesn't prohibit something doesn't mean it can go on in my home or yours.  I would never have permitted our children to smoke at our house.  Or drink before they were 21 and legally allowed to do so.  And even though I know the Bible doesn't forbid drinking, I don't drink at all, and it's what I advocate.  I told my son, "You know that although the Bible condemns drunkenness, that I don't believe or teach that the Bible forbids all drinking of alcohol.  But I think that's the wisest course of action, and in this culture, best serves our Savior."

I worry about causing a worse disaster by my words than that a young person feels free to smoke a pack of Marlboros or get a six-pack of Bud.  I fear that unless I clearly disrobe the gospel of works, some young person might conclude that he/she can become acceptable to God by behavior.  Or add something to Christ's work by behavior.  I have seen that again and again in the church: people who believe that they are born again because they behave.  At least they do on the outside.

In trying to strip the gospel of all works in that sermon, perhaps I didn't make enough qualifications, enough "yes, buts".  If I overstated the case to the degree that someone understood me to not just open the door to smoking but say, adultery, it was not because I want to be loose on adultery.  It's because I want to be tight on the gospel.  I fear confusing the gospel is an even greater risk than endorsing sin.  I have come to agree with Martyn Lloyd-Jones, the British pastor of the last century who said: If your preaching of the gospel doesn't provoke the charge from some of antinomianism [refusing to keep rules], you're not preaching the gospel."

In Christianity, legalism means to add some behavior to the work of Christ as a requirement of faith.  John Hendryx, a prominent blogger has given this helpful definition of legalism: "Legalism is a distortion of the gospel which denies that Jesus Christ is completely sufficient for salvation. That some additional element of self-effort, merit or faithfulness on our part is necessary to either attain or maintain a just standing before God. (Gal.3:3).

Now for the "Yes, but".  Does a true Christian sin willy-nilly?  No.  No.  No!  For several reasons:
  • When God saves, He changes the heart.  Which leads to obedience.  (1 John 3:6-9 makes clear that the person who claims to be a Christian yet has an ongoing practice of sin, is not truly born again. 
  • When God does a true work of grace and saves a person, He changes her heart with the result that the works God prepared for her to do, do follow  (Phil.1:6; Eph.2:8-10).  
  • Those works are not perfect.  Or constant.  But because God the Spirit lives in her, obedience to God is initiated by Him.  She responds but the initiative is supernatural; it's His (Phil.2:13).
  • Because of Christ's love for us in the gospel, a desire to please Him has replaced our old desire to find pleasure in sin (2 Cor.15:14-15).  
It would break my heart to discover that any of my words led people into sin.  But it would break into even smaller pieces if my words conveyed a muddied gospel embedded with hints that avoiding things like smoking or drinking could add to it--or take away from it.  Which is what I fear behavioral teaching can so easily do without meaning to.  Love God and live as you please.  (Augustine)

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thank You Lord

One of my favorite holidays is today.  Thanksgiving is custom-made for a man whose best future was eternal hell but is now the proud owner of adoption papers stamped by the King of heaven.  And there's more.  As a recovering depressive, I know how easy it is to crawl inside a bottle stuffed with dark clouds, shortcomings, fears, unfulfilled expectations and get coated with a suffocating dark tar of gloom.  

As a recovering depressive, I now have access to a bottle that is filled with grace including my deliverance, my bride of 39 years (tomorrow), my children who are all walking in faith, elderly parents still in good health, our house, plenty to eat, wear and drive, good friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, colorful birds, sunshine, at least a little remaining hair...  Don't you have a bottle of grace too?  What do you have that you did not receive? (1 Corinthians 4:7)

Monday, November 7, 2011

Pride by Another Name [Self-Pity]

I store it everywhere so it's always within easy each.  Maybe you do too.  There's a bottle on the shelf of our marriages, one in the break room at work, and containers strategically located in places at school.  There's always one handy when the family gets together, an app on the cellphone, and a nice big one for the church.

Self-pity is like the edible note God gave John in Revelation 10:9-10.  In my mouth it's as sweet as a cinnamon bun (yummm!!), but in my stomach it's like raw, rotten eggs.  What began as an opinion turns into a conviction: I HAVE BEEN WRONGED!  I have been treated differently than I deserve to be.  If he/she would only know what a wonderful person I am, how hard I've worked, how much I've put up with, how capable I am or worthy of being admired, I would have been treated better."

It's my natural refuge when someone criticizes my preaching.  Or how I handled a situation.  Or appears to have a better idea than mine.  Or leaves the church.  We don't like..., ok, I don't like to admit it's self-pity because it sounds so petty and self-absorbed.  It is.  And in biblical language, beneath the costume of self-pity lurks pride.  "I deserve better."  Even though I realize there are many other people treated like this--or worse, I shouldn't be.  "People shouldn't be like this to me, think about me in those ways, or speak to me like that."  The one we think is treating us with too little regard may be God, spouse, a sister, boss, someone we thought was a friend, or someone in the church.

First, since self-pity is the fruit of believing I deserve certain things, that I'm entitled to certain things, basic theology on the human condition can help: I am a sinner and the only thing I rightfully deserve is God's judgment and hell.  Having been relieved of that in Christ, everything else is a bonus.  

Second, since God is sovereign and always up to something (actually a lot of somethings since He's great at multitasking), maybe it's not even about us!  Maybe the other person's criticism isn't accurate but it's his/her way of trying to drown out what God's trying to say to him/her.  Or, maybe we're feeling sorry for ourselves because we weren't invited to something.  Unknown to us, it had nothing to do with us.  But in our pride, we assume the world revolves around us and surely, why we weren't invited was because of something the other person has against us.  Surely, it was about me.  

Maybe not.  Self-pity can lose it's power as God grows greater in our eyes, as people matter more and more, and as "me" takes its rightful but limited place.  Professionals urge us to think well of ourselves; God urges us to think rightly of ourselves.  
  • Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.  Romans 12:3
  • Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit but in humility consider others better than yourselves.  Philippians 2:3
  • We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.  Luke 17:10

Friday, October 28, 2011

Friday books

Other than your Bible, a basic tool to take believers' concern for the world's lost to the next level--as well as impact those lost people through prayer, is Operation World, the Definitive Prayer Guide to Every Nation.  Released a year ago, Jason Mandryk's 7th edition is a gold mine of info about the world's nations, its people groups, their religions, the gospel work that is or isn't going on among them, and what to pray for.  Which is where we come in.  You may not be called to Craigslist all your stuff for an airline ticket to a dot on a map where there's an unreached people group and no cell service.  But you are called to be involved in getting Christians to that spot, keeping them there, and interceding for their success.  When God saved us, we all became enlistees to serve Christ in His mission of building and expanding His kingdom.  Prayer is a contribution everybody can make to that effort.  The book will set you back about $13.50 at CBD and under $13 at Amazon.

Just watch out.  It has been proven time and time again that believers who pray for other people often are moved to get involved in some way with those same people.  You might end up spending money, time, or something else on their behalf.  

Representative of this are founders of the e3 Partners mission organization, Tom and JoAnn Doyle.  "Operation World changed our lives!  In 1999, my wife and I began praying for a country each night in Operation World.  God opened our hearts wide for lost people, especially in the Middle East.  Every night as we would read about Iran, Israel and other nations, our hearts were gripped with the need to reach these countries for Christ.  Within two years, God called us to leave senior pastoring a local church in the Colorado Springs area, and to go to the very places that we had been praying for!  So as you pray through Operation World, just remember, God may radically change your world to reach His world."

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Is your faith real or imitation?

I was a sinner.
What could I do?
"I can rescue you," I heard Jesus say.
I turned in faith and He forgave me, made me God's son.
I rejoiced.
And went on my way.

That was a year ago.  I've shared my story of being rescued with a lot of people who've wished me well.  Privately, my wife tells me she's not seen much change in me.  It's true, I've still got a few things that make me human: a short temper, I don't help with the kids all that much, and I do enjoy some me time on certain websites that some of those people at the church would probably object to.  And no, I don't worry myself too much with people around me who are lost like some say I should.  But hey, I'm saved!  That's what matters!

I should probably read my Bible one of these days but I've found it's really hard to understand.  Some of our friends keep saying I should come to worship, but I don't see the need.  I can just as easily talk with God in my garage or out on a trail in the woods.

I do pray.  Just the other night our daughter was 45 minutes late for her curfew and hadn't checked in.  I was really praying then!

I'm a pretty good guy I think.  Ok, so maybe I don't help a lot of people but at least I don't hurt anybody.  That should count for something!

Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves.  2 Cor.13:5

They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him.  Titus 1:16

The Lord knows those who are his...  Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness.  2 Tim.2:19  

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’  Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’  Matt.7:21-23

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Main Missionary question

Is all mission work equal?  Not anymore.  Not when 90% of our missionaries are deployed to "Christianized" people groups.  Not when only a penny out of every $100 given to missions goes to those working among people who have no Christian near enough--or none who speaks their language to tell them about Jesus.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

I'm done hunting

It was poor judgment on my part.  We scheduled our wedding 2 days before the opening day of Pennsylvanian's deer season.  Course, at the time I wasn't a hunter.  Nor the son of a hunter.  There wasn't one in the family; not my dad, not his dad.  Nor my other grandfather.  Except for the family I'd married into, my closest hunting relative was an uncle.  So, no need to avoid a late November wedding lest hunting season conflicted with future anniversaries.

The next year my company closed on the first day of deer season so Betty and I decided to celebrate our first anniversary in the woods.  Hunting.  Our rifles were mostly window dressing.  Neither of us had any intention of hunting.  Good hunters work hard at minimizing odors and sounds but my wife and I talked irritatingly loud, ate our picnic lunch noisily, and generally drove other hunters away.  

During the day we heard gunshots, watched as a fox ran by, but hadn't seen any whitetails.  Mid-afternoon that began to change as one doe after another soundlessly appeared.  Beautiful animals, regal, elegant, so stealthy.  By the 4th or 5th one I was hooked.  The change from spectator to hunter was all but instantaneous.  In the 38 years since, I've taken several nice buck and numerous does with both rifle and bow. 

Now I'm done.  After last season, I quit.  I've threatened to write the PA Game Commission a letter but probably won't.  What drew me to hunt deer--seeing them, has been reversed by Game Commission rules which have severely reduced the state's deer herd.  Especially on state land where I hunt.  It's not unusual to hunt several days without seeing so much as a tail.  I love to hunt even if I don't bring home venison.  But with not seeing deer in the woods becoming the norm, I'm done.

I have other hobbies and nobody will suffer if I don't hunt.  But what if that's our thinking about sharing the good news?  Could not seeing fruit lead us to say, "Fine, I'm done."?  In that case, others might suffer.  God assigned each of us to be on mission right where we are.  Wherever a believer doesn't act on his/her assignment, there's a hole in the coverage.  Are each of us attentive to the Spirit's promptings?  Are we available for God to use in someone's journey towards God's salvation?  

Admittedly it's discouraging when we don't see fruit from our efforts.  But do not be dismayed.  God always gets his man.  Or his woman.  Or his child.  Our job is to tell.  His is to call.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Muslim-proof gospel?

Osama Bin Laden is dead.  So is Fazul Abdullah Mohammed (Somoli who directed 1998 Kenyan & Tanzanian US embassy bombings).  Drones took out Ilyas Kashmiri (Mumbai attack leader based in Pakistan) as well as Al-Qaeda's American-born Al-Awlaki in Yemen.  In a matter of months four of the world's most notorious jihadists have been taken out of play. 

But Al-Zawahiri was crowned OBL's heir.  It's like frogger: take out one and another takes his place; men dedicated to the destruction of the west and Israel.  Hate, a bloodlust stirred by religious zeal, and revenge drive them to inflict as much destruction and death as they possibly can.

While I realize these are professing Muslims, I do not think they have much in common with the world's Muslims--the vast majority who go to mosques, recite the Qur'an in Arabic, but have no plans to dress up as a bomb.  The debate will not end about whether the many peaceful Muslims or the few jihadists are most faithful to Muhammad's words.  But this much we know: they all need the good news, they all need to discover the God who--instead of shedding His enemies' blood, shed His own on their behalf.

What will it take to reach the planet earth's 1.52 million Muslims with the good news about Jesus?  What technology will be required, what resources and plans?  In addition to the willingness of growing numbers of gifted Christians to die, I think it will be love that leads to risk-taking.  Will well-intentioned strategies or goals matter if none of us will take some risks for Jesus?  Start a gutsy conversation with a Jordanian Arab on a plane or a woman wearing a Hijab at the supermarket.  Set aside some time to pray with your spouse or children for Muslims (get "Operation World" to guide you).  We--every person who claims to love Jesus Christ--could decide that lost Muslims are no longer acceptable.  Think of it.  

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

update on Pastor Nadarkhani

And found it.  Following international pressure including words from the white house, Iran scrambled for a more legitimate crime for which to execute Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani.  The government now says they're going to put Nadarkhani to death for rape, extortion, and security issues (specifically, they say he's a Zionist--an agent of Israel).  Huh?  Despite court records clearly stating apostasy was the sole issue originally, it looks like they'll try to dodge the world's condemnation with this legal sleight of hand.  Keep asking our Father to intervene!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Quick, PRAY!

A pastor in Iran may be executed as early as today because he will not renounce Christ.  Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani was condemned to death in September for "apostasy" even though there is no such clause in the Iranian code of law.  Ask God to intervene!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Friday books

At every wedding I channel Jerry Bridges: "preach the gospel to yourself every day."  I believe talking to ourselves is not a habit to break, but a discipline to cultivate.  In Spiritual Depression Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones suggested that we Christians often "...allow our self to talk to us instead of talking to our self.  He asks, Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself?  I remember the "WOW!" that echoed in my stunned silence the first time I read those lines.  I am better at listening to/endorsing my natural inclinations than bringing supernatural truth to bear on them.  

Note to Self--Joe Thorn's book on preaching to yourself, gives you a tool for doing what Bridges suggests, and makes much of Lloyd-Jones' warning.  It's the perfect book for your quiet time with each devotional just about a page and a half.  It's written by you, to you.  But I think you'll agree that most chapters have the eerily familiar voice of the Holy Spirit.  Which explains why it seems as if someone's been reading your mail.

Dear Self,
Too often you let your sin anchor you in place.  You do not move beyond it or even see beyond it.  In some cases this turns into a form of self-pity when you are grieved by your sin, but not so deeply that you are moved to repent and discover joy in your salvation.  You feel victimized, defeated and beyond help. In some ways that actually relieves you of a sense of responsibility.  After all, what could you have done?

Now that's talking to yourself!  At April's Gospel Coalition conference I picked up copies of this for all the staff and elders.  Ask one of them what they thought.

Monday, September 12, 2011


My youngest son was 15 when it happened.  Driving to the office with the radio on that Tuesday morning, I was stunned to hear announcers reporting that a plane had hit one of New York City's World Trade towers.  At work we switched on the TV in the youth room.  

We watched in fascinated horror as a second plane hit the second tower.  And then the Pentagon.  And then as the two towers collapsed on Manhattan.  And then the story of yet another plane crash: flight 93 buried itself in a Shanksville field.

It was a defining day.  It changed our president.  It changed our military mission.  It changed our intelligence efforts.  It changed America.

And it changed my son.  Sometime after 9-11 a huge American flag appeared on his bedroom wall.  Four years later he enlisted in the army.  The last two, a consequence of the first.  Putting on the uniform is not something I would have chosen for him, but I'm proud that he did.

The 9-11 attackers were all Muslims.  No revision of history will change that fact, or the fact that they saw themselves as pilots on a religious mission.  Prior to 9-11 I wonder how many Americans even knew there was a world religion call Islam.  Or that its adherents are only second in number to Christianity's.  Or that it's the fastest growing faith in the world.  Or that some interpretations of its holy book lead followers to force others to convert or die.  Or that there are already nations of the global family governed by its code.  In fact, the Islamic legal code of Shariah is practiced completely or in part by 35 countries.

I pray for Muslims.  I hope you do too.  And there should be no animosity towards them.  The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ... (2 Cor.4:4).  We who now know Christ were once every bit as blind.  It's just that the gods we worshiped most likely produced self-indulgence rather than self-deprivation.  Does that make us more noble--or Muslims less worthy of God's grace?

I'm thankful there are Muslims who are assuring Christians and others that they do not want to force us to convert..., or put us to death if we don't.  Some point to the Qur'an's assurance, there is no compulsion in religion (Surah 2:256)But their affection for both Muhammad's words and deeds, makes Muslims preshaped to be receptive to the indoctrination--mainly by Saudi Wahhabism--that it is the duty of every Muslim to expand Islam by all means necessary, including armed conquest.

Therefore, as we pray for the light of the gospel to shine on these people created in the image of God, we can never forget that we have a nation to defend.  The pluralism which has resulted from our founding fathers' wanting to establish a nation of unparalleled liberties, will not serve us well if we turn a blind eye to obvious threats from foreign powers or those cropping up among us at home.  Endurance of the republic demands both our prayers, and our vigilance. 

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Good resources on good sex

In light of my sermon tomorrow morning on married sex, here are some good books for couples whether you're dissatisfied with your sexual relationship, or you just want to make sure to keep the fires stoked.
  • Uncovered: Revealing the Secrets of a Sexy Marriage by Susie Davis 
  • Sheet Music by Kevin Lehman 
  • Intimate Issues  by Linda Dillow & Lorraine Pintus
  • The Gift of Sex by Cliff & Joyce Penner 
  • Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas 
  • Laugh Your Way to A Better Marriage by Mark Gungor 
  • A Celebration of Sex by Douglas Rosenau 
  • For Men Only  by Shaunti & Jeff Feldhahn 
  • For Women Only  by Shaunti Feldhahn

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

the sermon the hurricane drowned

Hurricane Irene left so many people without power, or a mess to clean up, or unable to get around swollen creeks that many missed my sermon Sunday on women dressing modestly.  Admittedly, not a fashionable topic.

Growing up Anabaptist I remember hearing sermons on how women should dress.  Having left the Mennonite church over 20 years ago I never thought I'd be one to one day preach that sermon.  But what some Christian women are wearing--and not just teenagers or the twenty-somethings--in effect shouts down the gospel, and undermines their brothers--some of whom are in a life and death struggle with the lusts of their sinful nature.

Let's forever reject the notion that godly women are supposed to be ugly, or unfashionable.  I say,  "Ban the burkas!"  I don't see anything in Scripture that applauds the notion that some extreme Christian groups have that her clothes should successfully erase a woman's form.  Ladies, God made you look like that.  And while it's dangerous to say this is ok or that isn't, personally I don't know that your knees need covered up.

But ladies, the real question is, do my clothes glorify God?  Do they let me make much of Jesus or are they busy making much of me?

When you shop, as well as asking, "Does it look good on me?", ask "Does it look modest on me?"  Too many fashion designers are selling you tops which you may not even realize from your view in the mirror, put your breasts on display--especially when you lean forward.  If I'm the person you happen to be talking to at the time, I'm put in a predicament: do I look away while we're talking and appear rude, or try to continue looking at your face while doing battle with the male magnets in my eyes?  Young women (and some older) wear strapless gowns or dresses to proms and weddings--sometimes even to worship--which are at risk of succumbing to gravity.  While watching men pray for fabric failure, every few minutes the woman has to yank the slipping assembly up again.

Sisters, the more skin that's exposed, the more underwear parts that are not covered up, the more many men around you waver.  Brothers, we have a responsibility to learn to control our own bodies [and minds] in a way that is holy and honorable--not in passionate lust like the heathen who do not know God. (1 Thess.4:4-5).  Our control is not the ladies' job.  But ladies, please help us.  We desire to glorify God and point people to His gospel.  You can make that more difficult..., or more likely.

To hear the entire sermon, click on

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Are spending cuts or protracted debt immoral?

Here's a question: if I owed you boatload of money you know I'll never be able to pay back, would you keep loaning me money?  Think of the $14 trillion America's in debt.  Once despised, debt has become a way of living not only for individuals, but for the government.  Some critics swear it's driving us off a precipice while others insist it's good for the economy.  Kinda like arsenic is good for your fever blister.

The political brinkmanship both parties played last week before the S & P downgrade of US creditworthiness, shows that our so-called debate over the national debt really isn't a debate; we're on two different planets.  At least two.  Conservatives insist we must stop spending money we don't have while liberals ("progressives" if you prefer) insist we must spend play money because the innumerable federal programs they pay for help so many people in need.

This blog's not for analyzing national politics but when holding the line on spending is labeled "immoral" by people like NY Senator Chuck Schumer, I'm going to wade in.  Suddenly, everybody's got religion--even on Capitol Hill where they're asking, "What would Jesus do?"  Democrats insist that because Jesus favored the poor in his teachings, he would condemn the proposed cuts in increased spending demanded by Republicans.  And Republicans claim that because delaying coming to grips with our soaring debt could bankrupt future generations--or even this one, Jesus would insist we get our financial house in order.

At the crux of any discussion on the morality of a federal budget and debt must be right thoughts about borrowed money.  My wife and I are not wealthy by American standards but proportionate to our income, we try to give away a lot of money.  Yet, we have never donated someone else's money.  Or borrowed money to donate to someone.  I once heard of a pastor who borrowed $50,000 to give to his church's building project.  That's just looney.

The Bible says that borrowing turns people into slaves.  Meaning, since the lender could call in the loan at any time, we must dance to his tune.  We are not free to do as we wish (think of China playing a flute in 2025).  And, we have a spiritual/moral obligation to repay any loan (Let no debt remain outstanding... Rom.13:8). 

What would Jesus do?  It's true that He advocated for the poor.  He condemned the rich who mistreated them.  He condemned all the people who were unconcerned about them.  But when he was preaching to thousands on a hillside, what Jesus wouldn't do is have one of His disciples write a letter to Rome demanding that they feed his audience.  He fed them Himself.  King David and King Solomon did not use the Israeli treasury to feed those who were in need.  It was not the government's responsibility to feed the poor, that was the responsibility of the citizenry; to be generous.  Too often I see people apply Scriptures for individuals, to government.  Careful.

Interestingly enough, the very people attacking conservatives for not caring about those in need, give away the least.  Arthur Brooks' book Who Really Cares? studied who gives the most to charity.  Armed with certain assumptions, he was stunned to learn that conservatives give 30% more than liberals.  Google's research was even worse: conservatives give twice as much as progressives.  Noted liberal columnist Nicholas Kristof says "We liberals are personally stingy."  In 2008 he wrote, Liberals show tremendous compassion in pushing for generous government spending to help the neediest people at home and abroad. Yet when it comes to individual contributions to charitable causes, liberals are cheapskates.
If there's no personal sacrifice, can you really claim to be compassionate?  If to meet John's need I reach for your wallet instead of mine, would you call me compassionate?  When congressional representatives vote to increase taxes to fund both their worthwhile and their worthless programs, there is no personal investment or sacrifice.
And who with a straight face can define compassion as voting to spend money you know you won't have?  That too is immoral and something for which future generations will demand an accounting. 
Part of the "immorality" charge against those promoting spending controls and tax breaks is that very wealthy people and large businesses are using tax loopholes to pay little or no taxes.  Looking for additional revenue, critics want them to pay "their fair share".  I could not agree more that our tax system is inequitable.  Which will not change until we send enough people with moral backbones to Washington to eliminate all tax breaks for anyone--especially those who can afford lobbyists--and impose some sort of a flat or fair tax.  Now THAT would be moral.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Is there something sinister in the Campus Crusade name change?

You may have heard a couple of weeks ago that the worldwide ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ is changing its name to "Cru".  I heard it mentioned briefly on the news but didn't know much about the rationale.  One thing I heard that was instructive was that founder Bill Bright's widow Vonette said a name change had long been in the works and that Bill had been supportive of it.  Having recently learned what fears name changes can spark, I was reluctant to judge CCC until I heard more.

I hear some believers are afraid CCC is throwing Christ overboard since they've dropped His name.  That's hard to imagine for a ministry which has historically been so driven to evangelize.  Can anyone say "Jesus Film"?  Now I'm learning that donors are dropping their support of individual Cru missionaries for no other reason than that their organization has changed its name.  If these men and women are still doing the same work and have been faithful, that's ungodly in the middle of an economic perfect storm where more and more faithful servants of Christ are being forced from their mission fields due to insufficient support.

John Piper has done the Church a service with this incisive assessment: 
Since Campus Crusade for Christ announced (and explained) that it will change its name to Cru, some donors have withdrawn support from Crusade staff. I am writing to say: That’s not a good reason to withdraw your support.
Here are some factors to consider:
  1. Glenn Beck ridiculed the change as he wadded up the report and threw it away. His entire focus was to attack the wimpy people who avoid using the name Christ for fear of giving offense. The problem with Beck is that he cared nothing about dealing with the real problems created by the name "Campus Crusade for Christ."
    The problem was not “Christ”. The problem was the limiting word “campus” (when CCC ministers to millions that have nothing to do with any “campus”) and “crusade” (which for millions of people has one main connotation: Medieval crusades against Muslims). Beck’s approach is not responsible journalism but careless hype for the religious right.
  2. Bill Bright was moving toward a name change much earlier, and Vonette Bright approves of the change that is being made.
  3. The fact that one of the earliest names for the Christian Movement in the New Testament was the fairly innocuous “The Way” (Acts 9:2; 19:9, 23; 24:14, 22) did not imply that these radical followers of Jesus were ashamed of the Name (Acts 5:41).
  4. The fact that “in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians” (Acts 11:26), does not signify that the disciples were ashamed of “Christ” in the years before the Antioch mission.
  5. The fact that the church I serve is called Bethlehem Baptist Church does not mean that I value being a Baptist more than being a Christian. Nor should the Christ-exalting faithfulness of any church be judged by the absence of “Jesus” or “Christ” or “Christian” in the name.
  6. There is no parachurch movement or denomination where all the leaders are equally theologically astute or articulate or solid. Therefore, our alignment with, and support for, missionaries and churches should be discriminating. No one should be assumed as doctrinally sound because of being a part of any organization. Neither should we assume they are unsound. The individual is key to what the individual believes. In our support of missionaries at Bethlehem we are far more concerned with their personal beliefs and commitments and practices than we are with the organization they are connected to.
  7. In my judgment Campus Crusade seems to be more doctrinally awake and sound today than in decades gone by. But in the end that is not decisive when it comes to whether I would support any particular Crusade staff. What the staff believes is decisive in the end.
  8. Therefore, I encourage you: Don’t drop your support from Crusade staff simply because the organization made a decision you disagree with. That would be like saying to a fellow-soldier on the frontlines: I’m not giving you any fire-cover because I don’t like the new name the Colonel gave to your unit. Is the soldier faithful and fruitful? That is the decisive issue.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Must see video

There are any number of good reasons to click this link and watch John Piper interview Jon Knight.  It will be a very fast 24 minutes.  What I especially love is how the church was the church to this good but lost "elder brother" who has gone through very deep waters: a son born blind and with many other problems, and a wife with cancer.  

Friday, July 29, 2011

John Stott, 1921-2011

Even the New York Times and the BBC noticed.  John R.W. Stott, the man once called the "Evangelical Pope" died in London Wednesday at the age of 90--just four years after his retirement.  Former pastor of London's All Souls Church, in his spare time Stott wrote more than 50 books including Basic Christianity and The Cross of Christ.  Of the latter, Stott's friend J.I. Packer claimed, "This, more than any book he has written, is his masterpiece." 

You may never have heard of the man but 6 years ago TIME magazine ranked Stott among the 100 most influential people in the world.  An Anglican, Stott turned down the chance to be a bishop in favor of influencing evangelicals across denominational lines.  He crafted the Lausanne Covenant which united evangelicals in the mission to reach the world for Christ.  In its obituary Christianity Today praised Stott as "An architect of 20th-century evangelicalism [who] shaped the faith of a generation".  His imprint on the landscape was massive.  

Single and celibate all his years, he contended: "The gift of singleness is more a vocation than an empowerment, although to be sure God is faithful in supporting those He calls."  He left no heirs, except for the millions who received his teaching in conversations, preaching and books.  I think his greatest contribution was The Cross of Christ in which he claimed the cross was where, "Divine love triumphed over divine wrath by divine self-sacrifice."   Brother, now enjoy what there Christ accomplished for you.  

Monday, July 25, 2011

Oslo killer crazy?

Crackpots and all varieties of religious or political zealots have made bloodying civilians the yellow brick road to notoriety.  Being their SOP, jihadis are instant suspects in any breaking news horror crawling across the 24-hour news channel.  (Of course, there was Tim McVeigh...)

When the first alerts on Olso popped up Friday, I figured Muslim rage had migrated from Europe to Scandinavia.  Instead, it turns out the suspect's a blond-haired Norwegian with conservative and right-leaning politics who hates Muslims.  Oh yes, and he's being described as a "Christian fundamentalist".  Outstanding.

Bullets and bombs leave nearly a hundred dead.  Make that, a man leaves nearly a hundred dead.  The analysts should start unraveling him momentarily but let me see if I can predict the result: the man is insane, or "ill".  

Yes, I've found them already.  Comment left on the Huffington Post: "This man is obviously mentally ill."  In fact, I've found half a dozen statements insisting his mental illness is "obvious", or that "only" someone mentally ill would do such a thing.  Really?  Obviously?  As of yet there's been no psychiatric examination, no court trial, but this is all obvious?  Why?

Just for the record, I do believe some people are insane, and I do believe there are such things as mental illnesses.  However the belief is widespread that whenever an awful crime occurs, it proves the perpetrator is mentally unhinged.  It is the only explanation left since words and concepts like evil, wicked, sin are being purged from the language.  As one Canadian observer said about a child pornographer, "He is obviously sick and mentally ill.  No one who does that is not." 

For those who inhabit a godless world, mental illness is the only explanation left to explain awful crimes.  It's interesting to note several things about Norway that may be related: 
  • As a socially liberal nation, in addition to not having a death penalty no crime gets you more than 21 years in prison.
  • On any given Sunday, only 4 % of the people go to some sort of church.
  • More than half the people don't believe in--or doubt the existence of God. 
Most who don't believe in a God do believe that people are essentially good.  That leaves them nowhere to turn when someone truly horrible surfaces like a mass murderer who slaughters defenseless children with exploding bullets.  Having eliminated the possibility of real evil, they cannot even label as such someone who classically fits the bill.  Nor can they see the evil that is resident even in their own hearts--a problem that God longs to solve.

I cannot pass judgment on Mr. Breivik without passing judgment on myself.  God says that people are by nature bad, and not just a little bit; we are totally depraved.  That doesn't mean we're all as bad as we could be, but that every part of our being has been contaminated by sin: body, intellect, emotions, cravings, fears, and attitudes.  That's true of a mass murderer, and true of me.  Indeed, I am the "chief of sinners".  There is no hope for me, or for Oslo's butcher...except in Jesus Christ.  He can and will rescue us from ourselves, our sin, the wrath of God, our lovelessness, and our fears (such as, of being overrun by Muslims). 

Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners--of whom I am the worst.  But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.  (1 Timothy 1:15-16)

Friday, July 22, 2011

Friday books

The gospel I grew up with was polluted with works.  It's not that anyone ever specifically claimed that a person's works augment Christ's work on the cross, but it was implied.  Never really trying to intellectually make these two incompatibles compatible, I simply drifted through life believing that Jesus died to save me yet somehow I had to help save myself by what I did.

Which turned me into a stubborn moralist.  Despite teaching orthodox theology I scrutinized myself and others by a measuring bar of behavior and attitude.  Even once I concluded that Jesus' work and His alone saved people completely, my functional faith formula still demanded human works.  Which made me impatient with others who didn't measure up, and drove me to the depths of despair when I didn't.

Tim Keller talks about me and similar species in his must-read The Prodigal God in which he unpacks Jesus' well-known parable we say is about the prodigal son (even though it's really about 2 sons).  If you're wondering why anyone would label God the prodigal, Keller explains: The word "prodigal" does not mean "wayward" but, according to Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, "recklessly spendthrift".  It means to spend until you have nothing left.

Keller sees not just one lost son, but two and takes aim at the moralists who think their goodness is just another way to get God to do their bidding.  These were not just the Pharisees of Jesus' day, but the many elder brothers who dot our churches today.  Seriously, this is one "Friday book" no Christian or professing Christian should skip.  (Great for unbelievers too.)  It's just 133 pages long, and the book's small to begin with.  Keller has a brilliant mind but talks and writes in a way easy to understand.  

What is the problem [with the elder brother kind of person]?  Pride in his good deeds, rather than remorse over his bad deeds, was keeping the older son out of the feast of salvation.  The elder brother's problem is his self-righteousness, the way he uses his moral record to put God and others in his debt to control them and get them to do what he wants.  His spiritual problem is the radical insecurity that comes from basing his self-image on achievements and performance, so he must endlessly prop up his sense of righteousness by putting others down and finding fault.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

a world of hurt

"Am I going to throw up?"  Forces of queasiness were launching probing actions in my stomach.  Within the hour I started to feel drained and exhausted.  A searing headache .  

My unease went beyond sickness.  I'd started with a sore throat 2 days before but these didn't seem like cold symptoms.  What they mirrored were symptoms I'd had 3 weeks earlier when the doctor told me I had Lyme Disease--a  diagnosis the huge bullseye on my leg made easy.  5 more days of antibiotics attacking bacteria left courtesy of a tiny tick 4 weeks ago.

Colds.  Lyme.  Flat tires.  Falling out with your mother-in-law.  Your marriage ends.  Teenage son is put in jail for DUI.  You lose your job.  An investment goes south.  DISHNET goes out for the entire fourth quarter of the last game of the NBA finals.  Seriously!  OK, so it wasn't lifethreatening but we all have our burdens to bear.

Whether just inconvenient and trivial, or terminal and lifechanging, things don't always go right.  Maybe often don't go right.  Does that surprise you?  In this world you will have trouble.  Maybe that's one of Jesus' promises you haven't memorized.  He was trying to warn his followers: expect stuff to go wrong.  But immediately following the warning came this reassurance: But take heart! I have overcome the world.

Sitting upright on a recliner the last few nights, hoping to fall asleep, I ask God to heal me.  But if he doesn't--or it takes longer than I think it should, Jesus has not failed me.  He's never broken this promise in the midst of troubles: I will never leave you or forsake you.  Troubled..., but never alone or without heaven's resources.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Friday books

Since I'm going to preach on the gospel the next few months, some Friday Books will be gospel reads.  Like Milton Vincent's excellent The Gospel Primer.  Just 53 pages of "Learning to see the glories of God's Love".  Like Vincent, I was a Christian for many years before starting to figure out that the gospel which saved me was what I needed to live by--and rest in.  Its power courses through our veins because of our relationship to God through Christ but is too often the missing link that explains a lot of defeat, joylessness, self-effort, and despair in believers.

The gospel also reminds me that my righteous standing with God always holds firm regardless of my performance, because my standing is based solely on the work of Jesus and not mine.  On my worst days of sin and failure, the gospel encourages me with God's unrelenting grace toward me.  On my best days of victory and usefulness, the gospel keeps me relating to God solely on the basis of Jesus' righteousness and not mine.

So Geoff, thanks for picking this up for me at that worship conference.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

No big deal?

Completely fine with not sounding real PC, it is a nation's constant readiness to wage violent war that makes peace most likely.  Similarly, in the Christian life the only peace we get comes from waging a cunning, relentless, take-no-prisoners war against indwelling sin.  Ephesians 4:27 warns us that like marijuana, even our "small" sins become gateways through which the enemy can get a foothold in our lives and lead to even more God-dishonoring stuff.

I started swearing when I was about 12.  Not just the damns and the hells but in short order I'd memorized and perfected the full Glossary of Foulness in fine fashion.  Peers at school were my tutors.  Public school, but years later at my Christian high school it wasn't any different.  I turned it off when I got home and back on the next morning at the bus stop.  

I once got into a name-calling fight with an older kid that my dad tried to referee.  My opponent pointed out that I had called him an SOB but for some reason my dad didn't say much to me about it.  Although pretty foul in school, it was in the workplace where I got immersed in a world of profanity and vulgarity.  

When God rescued me at age 25, it was my tongue that despaired me the most; how would I ever beat this sin?  Despaired because although I'd been a lifelong churchgoer, I understood almost nothing about the "new man", or how the power of God worked in a believer to do what I could not do.

Thankfully, within 2 years my tongue had been mostly tamed and I banned from my mouth even the milder words that some Christians think nothing of.  For 25 years I had a nearly 100% success rate.  Then my high school age sons started using some of the "think nothing of" words, and though I fought it for some time I soon decided they weren't hills I wanted to die on.  I still chided them but since it wasn't regular, left the occasional offense pass.  

It was about then that I was just beginning to recognize and hate my pharisaism so I found myself letting "crap" or "suck" slip out of my own mouth--almost as if to prove to myself I had shed the mantle of the self-righteous.  Guess what else started showing up again; something would go wrong in my shop and I'd "?*$!". 
A friend who struggled with various addictive behaviors once told me it seemed that when he stopped using smokeless tobacco it was the bellwether to other victories.  Conquering the smallest addiction seemed open the door to bigger victories.

We are not saved by what we do but by what Christ did; on the cross, and what he did in us.  He has made each of us a new person.  Now our response to His grace is to ruthlessly war against the God-dishonoring stuff threatening us that's big, and small (Romans 13:14).  But it may be the smaller stuff--that's the bigger deal.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Should you get an ESV?

Since I will begin to preach from the ESV (English Standard Version) in January, some people in the church wonder if they'll have to replace their NIV's or will they still be able to follow.  It would be good to get the ESV, but it's probably not necessary.  Compare them side-by-side:

NIV 25 Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. 27 And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
ESV25Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, 26 "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.

1 Cor.15:33-34
NIV33 Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character.” 34 Come back to your senses as you ought, and stop sinning; for there are some who are ignorant of God—I say this to your shame.
ESV: 33 Do not be deceived: "Bad company ruins good morals." 34 Wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning. For some have no knowledge of God.  I say this to your shame.

1 Pet.2:9-10
NIV9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
ESV9But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

Westminster Seminary bookstore has ESV study Bibles 40-43% off:

Christian Book Distributors has ESV Bibles up to 44% off:|58674|1003

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Friday, June 17, 2011

Just for fun..

Friday books

  • With resolve in her voice Irma declared "I'm going to start praying 30 minutes a day!"  Two weeks later the best she's done so far is 12.4 minutes.
  • Kevin told friends he was going to start reading a Christian classic a month.  Starting with Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, he (Kevin, not Bunyan) got bogged down in the third chapter and never finished.  He feels guilty.
  • Trevor slumps across the keyboard, the computer now black.  He wonders if he'll ever be able to go more than 2 days without looking at pornography.  "If Lauren finds out she'll kill me.  I tried confessing to God my wounds from the past but nothing's changed.  I tried keeping myself extra busy but I still seem to find time for this dark hobby."  
  • Candice came home from the woman's conference and admitted to her husband, "I feel like a real washout.  Our speaker was so vibrant, so in love with Jesus and she says her secret is fasting and Bible memorization."  With a sigh she shook her head.  "Maybe I'm not even a real Christian."
Although I know intellectually that God just wants me to love Him with everything I am and have, I sometimes find myself deciding how close to or far from that goal I am by measuring prayer minutes, comparing myself to other's evangelistic zeal, etc.  And despairing.

I can only describe Larry Osborne's Spirituality for the Rest of Us as a breath of fresh air.  Originally published in 2007 as A Contrarian's Guide to Knowing God, Osborne, a west coast Free Church pastor known for the multiple worship venue innovation, gives hope to Christians who don't fit the spiritual-growth molds cast by well-intentioned Christians.  Like pastors.  But even if you don't read many Christian books, or don't fast, or don't pray as long as someone else, or don't positively confess, or aren't as emotionally as bouncy as others about Jesus, or can't seem to memorize Scripture, maybe you can still know Him deeply even if you don't do things like I do, or like someone else does.

Larry introduces the book with a frustration I resonate with: the "must see" marriage conference (or book, or retreat) that told him and his wife how to have a great marriage.

We viewed our relationship as characterized by oneness of spirit, soul, and mind--a connectedness that made us one.  But the books and conferences informed us that we were doing it all wrong.  We weren't eating enough meals together, the TV was on too much, our date nights were far too rare, and our prayer time as a couple was sorely lacking.  The message was clear: The fact that we had a strong marriage didn't matter; how we got  there was what mattered most.  And we'd apparently gotten there the wrong way.  Their tools for building a strong marriage had somehow become the measure of a great marriage.

I think you'll be surprised--maybe initially even alarmed at chapters like "Why Results Don't Matter" and "Glass House Living", but press on; it'll be well worth it.