Inspired by a Multiplicity of Martyrs

Radically Devoted to the Gospel

Attempting to fulfill the Great Commission (Matt 28:18-20) in their day was deadly for the Apostles. Yet history tells us that they prized faithfulness to that commission above their own lives and well-being. Moreover, they sought to help other believers reframe their kingdom trials as they themselves had done:

“It has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have” (Phil 1:29-30).

Granted? What kind of suffering could be regarded as a gift? What kind of single-minded focus could eclipse all other interests and pursuits under the sun? What kind of life purpose could be loftier than life itself?

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For the Apostles, only one thing could command such radical devotion—the gospel and its worldwide success. When Paul sought to “pass the baton” of his Great Commission passion to his young disciple, Timothy, he wrote in 2 Timothy 4:5-8:

“Keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist [euangelistēs, ‘a gospelizer’], discharge all the duties of your ministry. For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.”

Shortly thereafter, Paul’s tongue and pen were silenced. Yet his worldwide influence remains to this day. The same is true for the other lesser known martyrs of the 1st century. Their witness in the face of certain death changed the world.

The Phenomenon of Apostolic Martyrdom

 The martyrdom of some Apostles is more established than others, as historians have different degrees of certainty concerning the circumstances of their deaths. For example, most historians would not take issue with the credibility of the martyrdom of Peter, Paul, or James. Accounts for other Apostles likewise have much historical credibility. Some apostolic martyr traditions, however, lack definitive support.

Still, it is widely accepted that all but one of the Apostles died a martyr’s death, even if we can’t be sure of all of the details in every case. Amidst some uncertainty, one thing is clear—the reason given for their death was the same in every account. They were killed because they claimed to have seen Christ risen from the dead. The Apostles all died because of an unwavering, unrelenting claim that “Jesus is Lord” because he rose again from the dead in bodily form. In short, they died for Easter.

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In that sense, the gruesome deaths of the Apostles are a gift to the church. They contribute much to an overall apologetic by answering the “How do you know?” question concerning the central tenant of Christianity—viz., the resurrection of Jesus. People will often die for what they believe to be true (wrong though their beliefs may be; e.g., the 9/11 bombers), but they will almost never die for what they know to be false. When the choice is between your life and your lie, your life will win every time.

When the choice is between your life and your lie, your life will win every time.

Had the Apostles known the resurrection to be a falsehood, at least one of them surely would have “come clean” at some point. Instead, history tells us that all of them maintained their belief in the resurrection up to and including the moment of their execution. That none of them recanted argues convincingly that the resurrection was no fabrication to them. They were witnesses to the risen Christ, and they could not un-see what they had seen. Nor could they recant, for that would have been the lie. 

The Martyrs Roll Call

 In summary, the martyrs’ roll call is as follows:

stoning-of-stephen•  Stephen—stoned to death by the Sanhedrin right outside Jerusalem in 35 AD

•  James, the son of Zebedee—beheaded by Herod Agrippa for preaching in the Temple in 45 AD

•  Phillip—flogged and crucified in Phrygia in 54 AD

•  James, the brother of Jesus—thrown from Herod’s temple, and then clubbed to death in 62 AD

•  Peter—crucified upside down in Rome in 64 AD

•  Matthew—beheaded in Ethiopia in 65 AD

•  Paul—beheaded in Rome in 67 AD

•  Mark—dragged to death through the streets of Alexandria with a rope around his neck in 68 AD

•  Andrew—crucified on an X-shaped cross in Greece in 70 AD

•  Thomas—tortured and speared to death by an angry mob in India in 70 AD

peter-crucifixion-upside-down•  Nathanael—skinned alive and crucified upside down in Armenia in 70 AD

•  Matthais—stoned while being crucified in Ethiopia in 70 AD

•  James, the son of Alphaeus—crucified in Lower Egypt in 71 AD for preaching the gospel

•  Thaddeus—beaten with sticks by an angry mob in Persia in 72 AD

•  Simon the Zealot—crucified by the governor of Syria in 74 AD

•  John—boiled in hot oil yet survived, only to be exiled to Patmos near the end of the 1st century (and possibly martyred later, according to one stream of evidence).

How could they do it? How could they surrender their lives when a simple recanting of their faith could have spared them?

They were witnesses to the risen Christ, and they could not un-see what they had seen. Nor could they recant, for that would have been the lie.

Their Motivation—Becoming Like Christ

The martyrs’ mindset is captured well by Paul’s testimony in Philippians 3:7-11:

But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.

Alistair Begg captures well the sentiment of the 1st century witnesses—men who could not and would not recant their faith in Jesus Christ as Lord, or relativize him to the status of just another god among many:


Steve Green
honors the original martyrs in this stirring musical tribute to their sacrifice, noting how they couldn’t recant because they saw the glory of God in the face of Christ:

Courage for Today

The martyrs’ mindset may seem unrealistic and unattainable in our day, but it is important to keep in mind that:

(a) God gives extraordinary grace where it is needed; and
(b) God gives extraordinary assignments to ordinary people.

This is to his glory, and it can inspire believers to be courageous today. We very may well need that courage in the years to come. So study the martyrs. Learn what enabled them to “surrender it all for the sake of the call.”

 

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‘Better Than I Deserve’: A Tribute to Tammy Leisey

GUEST POST: Sara Elizabeth is a dear friend of the family who’s been with us through thick and thin. She shares our passion for movies, music, museums, and the grace of God. We love hanging out together, visiting interesting places, and talking about life. We couldn’t ask for a better companion for the journey we’re on, and it’s our honor to welcome her to This New Life.



“He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.” (Psalm 103:10)  

Jesus subjected himself to what he did not deserve so that he could provide for you what you could not earn.” (Paul Tripp)


A Mighty Warrior

“How ya doin’, Tammy?” I call to my friend who shuffles slowly up the sanctuary aisle. “You know, better than I deserve!” It’s a cheery response, with her lopsided grin and upbeat tone, almost as if she’d told a joke, except that she means it sincerely. I did know that answer was coming; it’s what she always says when someone asks how she’s doing.

I am awed and humbled by Tammy’s response. You see, Tammy has battled brain cancer for five years. The brain tumor that at one time had shrunken is growing again. She has trouble walking any distance, hence the lento shuffle of baby steps, grasping pew sides with one hand, leaning on a cane held in the other. Her breathing is labored, and it’s hard to hear her whispery voice. We’ve just been in prayer group together.

Tammy’s a mighty prayer warrior. As far as we can see, God hasn’t answered “yes” yet to our prayers for her healing. She prays still.

WatermelonSized Faith

Tammy’s got watermelon-sized faith. Most of us don’t even have mustard-seed faith. Christ said faith even as small as a mustard seed was enough to move mountains (Matt 17:20). My faith is weak. I’m discouraged after a few weeks or even days of silence. Tammy’s been praying for five years, not just for healing, but praying, “to 100 functional, Lord.”

Tammy’s got watermelon-sized faith. Most of us don’t even have mustard-seed faith.

Despite her illness and many other struggles, Tammy continues to love life and family enough to wish to remain beyond the threescore and ten years (cf. Ps 90:10) most humans can hope for. She knows she’ll be with the Lord one day, but meanwhile, difficult though these days under the sun may be, she also believes she’ll “see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” (Ps 27:13).

grass-blade-water-drops-sun

Faith is certainly one of Tammy’s spiritual gifts, but it’s the joy and cheerful acceptance of her burdens that I find nearly beyond comprehension. “Better than I deserve”? Really? A sweet, kind, steadfast woman of God is plagued by a debilitating cancer, unable to work, unable to serve as she would like, facing an all-too-early departure from her treasured family, and that fate is better than she deserves? I would say she deserves all the wonderful things life has to offer. She doesn’t deserve cancer, and if she must endure it for a time, I believe she deserves a “yes” answer to her prayers:  complete healing with a cancer-free lifetime “to 100 functional.”

Knowing More Than Job

In what way could her situation on any given day in the last five years be viewed as better than she deserves? Even Job, that Old Testament paragon of suffering with integrity, knew his righteous lifestyle did not warrant the tragedies that struck his possessions, progeny, and person. I wouldn’t say that Tammy believes she deserves these burdens, and, thankfully, neither do any of her family and friends (unlike Job’s misguided companions).

Though I’m sure she wonders why healing doesn’t come, I never hear her question God, curse the day of her birth, or wish for death to come like Job did. I reckon that’s because Tammy knows some things Job could not yet know, Someone that Job did not meet on earth—Jesus Christ.

Tammy knows some things Job could not yet know, Someone that Job did not meet on earth—Jesus Christ.

Tammy knows she’s doing better than she deserves because of God’s amazing grace, the kind that saves lost wretches as we once were, giving us life and salvation in Christ. She recognizes that without Jesus we’d be wallowing in sin and shame, spiritually dead, heading for an eternity of torment separated from the holy God who made and loves us.

Providentially, as Tammy’s favorite verse John 3:16 says, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Because of God’s marvelous grace in sending Jesus as a sacrifice for our sins, we are set free to live abundantly on earth and eternally in heaven. That’s a fate supremely better than than anyone deserves.

Challenged by My Hope-Filled Friend

As a believer in Jesus Christ, I am a recipient of this grace as well and forever grateful to God for it. Yet I struggle to find gratitude, contentment, and joy in the midst of the weight of this world’s tribulations, however heavy or light they might be. Perhaps I need to revisit the cross, to ponder anew the hope of this new life that Christ has made possible. As I hear again the old, old, story of Jesus and His love, I can receive afresh the God who is love and love Him and others better in return, as my hope-filled friend Tammy does.

Tammy loves the Lord Jesus with all her heart, soul, mind, and strength. Her big heart, deep soul, and able mind have a huge capacity to love. I’ve felt it. Her physical strengthnature-path-sunset-trees may be feeble, but there, too, is a love I can only hope to emulate. Her daughter will say, “I love you, Mama.” It takes every ounce of strength to speak, but Tammy pipes up with a robust, “Love you more!” I’m sure she’d say the same to God, but she knows His love for her stretches beyond the skies, unmatched by any human affection, unfathomable to mortals.

It’s a love we cannot earn, a love we could never deserve. It’s a love personified in the incarnate Christ, demonstrated in His death on the cross, experienced in a personal relationship with the resurrected Savior. As the song says, “Life is worth the living just because He lives.” Tammy loves life because she loves Jesus Christ and depends on Him, for everything—every need, every hope, every breath.

Tammy loves life because she loves Jesus Christ and depends on Him, for everything—every need, every hope, every breath.

Somewhere in the midst of the suffering, she experiences the love and presence of Jesus in a way so personal, so intimate, so consuming that the pain pales in comparison and she can mean it when she says she’s doing better than she deserves.

Scooped Up and Loved

I’ve written thus far as if Tammy’s courageous battle were ongoing, but it is finished. Her heavenly Father received her committed spirit at 12:45 a.m. on September 28, 2017. She slipped from the night’s darkness into a glorious, never-fading light. As my dear friend Sonya beautifully phrased it, Tammy has been “scooped up by Jesus and loved to wholeness.”

God did answer our prayers and heal Tammy, on the other side of heaven. She’s not only going to live to 100 functional, she’s living eternally because of her trust in Christ. The pain, the suffering, the prayers, they’re all in the past tense now; but Tammy’s love for the Lord, her faithfulness, her joy, they’re all as present as they’ve ever been, now more complete and full then we can imagine.

God did answer our prayers and heal Tammy, on the other side of heaven. She’s not only going to live to 100 functional, she’s living eternally because of her trust in Christ.

Her watermelon-sized faith has become sight. Is she dancing with Jesus? Maybe, but I think it’s more likely that she’s got her arms wrapped around her Savior, holding on tight as they race across the streets of gold on a big ol’ motorcycle. Tammy loved riding motorcycles, something she hadn’t been healthy or wealthy enough to do for many years. If she slows down long enough for anyone to ask, “How ya doin’, Tammy?” I bet you could guess how she’d respond. With a smile wider than than the motorcycle’s handlebars, she’d laugh and reply, “You know; better than I deserve!”

For once, I accept and agree with that answer. Yes, Tammy, yes you are.

sunburst-clouds-purple

Prayer of Reflection

God, grant me the grace to recognize the ways I am “better than I deserve,” no matter what life’s circumstances might be. I know that with my eyes fixed on You, the cares of earth will grow strangely dim, giving me an eternal perspective. Yet, even now, to have your Holy Spirit within me, to have the assurance of Your unconditional love and abiding presence at all times, such is a condition vastly better than I deserve.

Thank You, my Savior, for your mercy, for withholding from me the punishment I deserve and instead extending grace, to give me love, salvation, and riches in Christ that I could never earn. Thank You for not treating us as our sins deserve, but showing us love more limitless than the heavens, and moving our transgressions as far as the east is from the west, for You surely are merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in love. May I be more like You. Amen.

Version 2Sara Elizabeth says she is slowly but surely growing in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. An art history aficionado, period drama devotee (especially all things Austen), and melancholy introvert, she’s often lost in museums, bygone eras, and thought. Currently she’s fulfilling a long-deferred dream by taking voice lessons at Grace Notes Music Academy, but mostly she just enjoys spending time with Sonya, sipping tea and discussing practical theology.

 

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Just for Fun | Saturday, October 28, 2017

Sometimes it’s good just to laugh a little. Or groan. Here are some lighthearted objects found while surfing the littered ocean of the internet.

This is a real dilemma for someone like me:

ocd-nightmare-picture

Sometimes a dad joke makes it into the comics:

a-frayed-knot

Everyone needs a support group:

anger-management-witch

Perspective is everything:

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Many a truth is said in tweet:

church-curmudgeon-coffee

Rules were made to be broken:

i-before-e-mug

Exuberance meets canine:

hyper-puppy

Every wall should be so beautiful:

books-hoarding

Even vegetables can have personal issues:

cool-cucumber

Sometimes odd speculation leads to real profundity:

jelly-fish-peanut-butter-fish

I need to remember this bit of kitchen advice:

onions-emotional-bond

Imagine the bonds formed here:

periodic-table

Arrested development can be embarrassing:

plato-play-dough

I’m sure you do the same:

potato-masher

The runner-up is still higher up than we are:

second-man-moon-neil

The interior of my car needs this:

starbucks-sippy-cup

I’ve never been bitten in the hypotenuse, but…

triangles-arguing

Here’s the biggest groaner in the collection:

age-of-aquarius

And finally, Yoder, the Amish Jedi:

yoder

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Adopted Twice: How I Became ‘One Less’

Tumultuous Era

The year was 1964. Lyndon Johnson was President of the United States, and the Beatles had just invaded America. The Surgeon General finally admitted that cigarette smoking was bad for our health, and the Warren Commission said—with a straight face—that Oswald had acted alone.

The Cold War was on, and flower children were getting it on in the new era of free sex and psychedelic drugs. “The times, they are a changing,” sang Bob Dylan. Indeed, they were changing as America grew into something of an adolescent nation. What Tom Brokaw now calls “the greatest generation” was giving way to what President Kennedy called, “a new generation, born in this century, tempered by war.”

The results of that generational passing of the baton proved to be tumultuous. The social fabric of society—which was newly awash in tie-dye—was tearing apart at the seams. The once-sacred institutions of our great country were getting a black eye in sit-ins and sit-coms all across the country. Our national face was not only getting bruised, it was getting a bad case of acne. Some of our shame was well deserved, but a good bit of the rebellion was gratuitous.

Back in the day, beards and beads were all the rage, as were fondues, fringes, and frolics in the park. In fact, one of the few places you could go to find the clean cut with a crew cut was NASA, but those guys were trying to leave the planet. Nearly everybody else was trying to make love, not war. Peace, baby.

The City of Brotherly Love

In the summer of 1964, there was a young, unmarried couple living in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In time the young girl became pregnant. When that happened, the guy split, and the pregnant lady was left all alone. “Who would want me now?” she thought to herself.

But eventually she became romantically involved with another man—even while pregnant—and the new relationship seemed like it might fare better than the previous one. There was, however, one small problem. The new guy on the scene was not so sure he could accept—as his own—a child sired by another man. “I want you,” he said to his new lady friend, “but I’m not so sure I want the baby inside you.”

So a decision was made. When the baby finally came, he or she would be placed in a foster home. Abortion was not legal in 1964, so the options were limited. The young woman from Philadelphia had to carry her baby to term.

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The Following Spring

On March 31, 1965, that baby was born and placed immediately—as planned—into a foster home. It was a boy. Because he was unplanned and unwanted, he needed a place to stay, and he remained in foster care for 13 months.

Enter the Children’s Aid Society of Philadelphia. “We’ll find parents for the boy,” they said. “We understand full well that one couple’s mistake is another couple’s dream—the answer to all their prayers—a blessing from heaven.” And “Miss Andrews” from the Children’s Aid Society went to work. Her labors eventually paid off. On April 20, 1966, another young couple—this one from Reading, Pennsylvania—walked out of the Berks County Courthouse the proud new legal parents of that baby boy.

This couple could not produce children of their own, but they could receive children of their own. And they did so through the miracle of adoption. In fact, this was their second of three trips down the adoption aisle, and they were thrilled with their new bundle of joy each time.

I am that second child—the adopted child of Carl and Cherie Valentino. This unwanted boy was wanted after all. And that’s why I am “one less”—one less orphan in the world today.

A Word of Thanks

To all those who are reading this post who have fostered a child, adopted a child, or provided resources for others to do the same, let me offer a sincere “thank you.”

valentino-tim-headshot-2017I am here today because of people like you.

I owe my very existence to people like you.

I can write this post today because of people like you.

You are the people who are filled with compassion, who genuinely care, and who not only love children but reach out to expectant mothers in crisis.

Charles Spurgeon once wrote, “Before we ever had a being in this world, we had a being in God’s heart.” That’s one of the great truths we find in Psalm 139.

God Almighty has a plan and a purpose for every child—each tiny miracle conceived in the secret place and knit together so fantastically in the womb by the Master Artist. And those plans are to give the little ones a future and a hope, just like he did for me.

The Beauty of Adoption

It’s an amazing thing for me to think about:

  •  I didn’t have a home, but through adoption the Valentinos gave me one.
  •  I didn’t have a name, but through adoption the Valentinos gave me one.
  •  I didn’t have a family, but through adoption the Valentinos gave me one.
  •  I didn’t have an inheritance, but through adoption the Valentinos gave me one.

I didn’t have food, clothing, shelter, money, hope or love, but through adoption the Valentino’s gave me all of those things, and so much more. Through a binding legal covenant, sealed in a court of law, I became the real child of Carl and Cherie Valentino.

It may sound like a bumper sticker cliché, but it’s true: Adoption is the option everybody can live with. Literally.

A Spiritual Illustration

When I read in scripture that God has “predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 1:15), I get excited because I have a little bit of insight into that great truth. When we believe into Christ, everything changes.

  •  Spiritually speaking, we didn’t have a home, but God gave us one in Christ.
  •  Spiritually speaking, we didn’t have a name, but God gave us a new one, written down in the Book of Life.
  •  Spiritually speaking, we didn’t have a family, but God put us in one—his church, the Body of Christ.
  •  Spiritually speaking, we didn’t have an inheritance, but God gave us “every spiritual blessing in heavenly places” and a salvation that can “never rot, perish, spoil or fade away.”

In that sense, I’ve been adopted twice, and I thank the Lord that he has allowed me to proclaim this good news as a minister of the gospel.

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They Told Us Early

Mom and Dad told us right from the beginning that all three of us were adopted. They were proud of that fact, and they wanted us to be proud of it, too. So they told us when we were very young. In fact, I think we were a little too young. I was maybe four or five years old, and I just didn’t know what the word “adoption” meant, so I formulated my own definition based upon the context of what they were telling us.

I thought the word “adoption” meant some special arrangement whereby no matter how bad we three kids were, mom and dad couldn’t give us back; they had to keep us! The other kids in the neighborhood—if they were bad enough, their parents could give them back at any time because they didn’t have this special arrangement called adoption.

Spiritually speaking, that’s not a half-bad definition of adoption! Having become a child of God by faith in Jesus Christ, we’re in the family of God to stay (John 8:35).

The Card That Came with Me

It was fascinating to me—and hopefully encouraging to you—that there was a greeting card that accompanied me back in 1966 on my journey from Philadelphia to Reading. I got to see it for the first time a few years ago.

card-new-baby-momIt was a card from my foster family, and it was addressed to “Timmie’s Parents.” (Now, if anybody tries to call me “Timmie,” you’re dead meat!)

It’s clear from the language in that card that the foster parents who took care of me for 13 months were people of faith. They were followers of Christ.

I don’t know their names. In fact, I don’t know anything about them except this: They had a very powerful ministry to children in need. The card indicates that they had prayed for me, for my new home, for my new siblings, and for my new parents.

The Valentinos were far from a perfect family, but I believe that God honored their prayers. In fact, those prayers are why I’m here today.

And to those prayers I would like to add my own grateful “amen.”

Image Credit: https://www.adoption-connections.com
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Why Does God Want Our Praise?

It is clear from Scripture that God is worthy to be praised, but why does he want to be praised? Indeed, why does he demand to be praised (cf. Deut 6:13)? The first commandment allows no room for any other gods besides Yahweh (cf. Exod 20:3). Such a claim seems narrow and exclusive in an age of pluralism and tolerance. Here’s a God who says that alternatives and substitutes are off limits to his people.

lewis-book-reflections-on-the-psalmsThat raises the question of whether or not God is ego-heavy after all. Is he not humble? Is he needy in some way? Is he insecure? Why must he always get top billing? People who act like that are considered narcissistic.

C. S. Lewis pondered the question, and he was troubled for some time by its possible implications. Is God, he wondered, like “a vain old woman seeking compliments?” After soaking his head in the book of Psalms, Lewis came to an insightful conclusion. In Reflections on the Psalms he writes:

“I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete till it is expressed. It is frustrating to have discovered a new author and not to be able to tell anyone how good he is; to come suddenly, at the turn of the road, upon some mountain valley of unexpected grandeur and then to have to keep silent because the people with you care for it no more than for a tin can in the ditch; to hear a good joke and find no one to share it with. . . .

“The Scotch catechism says that man’s chief end is ‘to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.’ But we shall then know that these are the same thing. Fully to enjoy is to glorify. In commanding us to glorify Him, God is inviting us to enjoy Him.”

“I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. In commanding us to glorify Him, God is inviting us to enjoy Him.”

Still, the question remains: Is the first commandment somehow a violation of meekness? Is there something arrogant about God wanting to be regarded as utterly supreme in the universe? No. God is utterly supreme in the universe! Moreover, he wants his people to live in sync with reality; anything less would be insanity.

Ancient gods that were the products of people’s imaginations—idols that needed to be worship-woman-field-sky-armsfed, dressed, bathed, and cared for by the priests in order to function—were not and are not ultimate; therefore, they are not worthy of worship. Serving such gods is a delusion, a waste of time, and ultimately disappointing. Only Yahweh is authentic, supreme, and able to “deliver the goods.”

Recognizing this theological truth is the beginning of wisdom and the first step toward living in accordance with reality. Deviate on this issue, and everything else will be askew—like missing the first buttonhole in a shirt; every other button is wrong, and the entire garment is misaligned. But to be properly aligned by recognizing the supremacy and exclusivity of Yahweh, and worshiping him alone, brings with it its own spiritual benefits, not the least of which is genuine life transformation. As Archbishop William Temple once said:

“Worship is the submission of all of our nature to God. It is the quickening of the conscience by his holiness; the nourishment of mind with his truth; the purifying of imagination by his beauty; the opening of the heart to his love; the surrender of will to his purpose—all this gathered up in adoration, the most selfless emotion of which our nature is capable.”

Such selfless adoration is indeed a great pleasure. Gone, for the moment, are all the cares of this world during true acts of worship. As Lewis said, “The most valuable thing the Psalms do for me is to express the same delight in God which made David dance.”

“The most valuable thing the Psalms do for me is to express the same delight in God which made David dance.”

In the end, God allows people to reject him, disbelieve him, and not worship him as God (at least for now). And that’s the very definition of humility—to have infinite power to compel submission while putting oneself in a position to be rejected.

Like Father, like Son.

Image Credits: Crosswalk.com; Lori Thomason (Pure Devotion)
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Blessings All Mine, with Ten Thousand Beside

“From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another.” (John 1:16)

In the movie, A Few Good Men, Demi Moore tells Tom Cruise, “I’m going to Cuba with you tomorrow.” Exasperated, he replies: “And the hits just keep on coming.”

We’re all good at cataloging the “hits” in our lives, but it’s better to highlight the blessings we receive whenever we can. We’ve had plenty recently, and we’d like to praise God for them.

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L to R: Tim, Drew, Micah, Bethany, and Sonya.

Tim

•  Installed today as a member of the Faith E.C. Church Staff (Pastor of Connectional Ministry).

•  Promoted recently to ranked faculty member at Evangelical Seminary (Instructor of Biblical Studies and Practical Theology).

•  Forging new connections in new places of ministry, and swimming again in the newly renovated Keystone Pool at Kutztown University.

Sonya

•  Installed today as a member of the Faith E.C. Church Staff (Ministry Director).

•  Recently received an expanded role at Evangelical Seminary (Prospective Student Liaison).

•  Completed the Master of Ministry degree program at Evangelical Seminary (with distinction).

Andrew

•  Continues to be a valuable part of the videography/editing team at WFMZ-69, covering important stories in the Reading-Berks region.

•  Recently finished a multi-month review of Battlestar Galactica with his behind-the-times parents.

•  He’s still “our beloved son in whom we are well pleased.”

Bethany

•  Continues to be a valuable part of the psychiatric support staff at Pennsylvania Counseling Services in Lebanon, PA.

•  Recently served as a bridesmaid at a friend’s wedding.

•  As Euripides said, “To a father growing old, nothing is dearer than a daughter.”

Micah

•  Hitting his stride as a new family counselor at Salisbury Behavioral Health in Wyomissing, PA.

•  Recently served as a groomsman at a friend’s wedding.

•  We like him so much we once said to Bethany while they were dating, “If you guys break up, can we keep Micah?” 🙂

Reality

Social media is notorious for letting people present an overly polished image of themselves, and we don’t want to be guilty of that. So here are a few of our challenges.

•  For Tim and Sonya, the plate is full again, and ministry is often a heavy burden to bear. The unseen landmines are everywhere, and we don’t want to step on them. Please pray that we would minister in the power of the Holy Spirit and with the joy of the Lord.

•  For Drew, the stories he covers at Channel 69 are usually negative, and after a while, they can take their toll. Please pray that he would have some spiritual and emotional relief from broadcasting the endless heartbreaks of a fallen world.

•  For Bethany and Micah, they’re 20-somethings finding their place in this world. Both are involved in therapeutic services to the public, so they also see much heartbreak in a day’s time. Please pray that they would have times of joy in the midst of the tough cases they process.

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Faith Evangelical Congregational Church, Temple, PA

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!

Great is Thy faithfulness!
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see.
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided;
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!

Thomas O. Chisholm (1866-1960)

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25 of the Most Majestic Libraries in the World

“I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.”
– Jorge Luis Borges

While they’re losing ground to the modern e-book and audio book industries, libraries once were the central hubs of human intellectual progress. There’s something about them that still attracts people today.

Whether it’s their magnificent architecture, the distinct smell of old books, or the charm of intimate spaces that no other type of building can command, scholars and dreamers alike still enjoy perusing their literary treasures in traditional libraries.

Because of their cultural importance, libraries often were built to be beautiful and built to last. The folks over at boredpanda.com have assembled an impressive gallery for your viewing pleasure. You can check it out here.

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Who Asked for Your Two Cents?

Divine math is different from what we learned in school. That’s a comfort to those of us who sometimes find it hard to reconcile our checkbooks with our bank statement. But what if we totally drained our account one day and had nothing to reconcile? What’s our net worth then? The answer might surprise you.

Mark records the story of a poor widow who put “two very small copper coins” into the temple treasury (Mark 12:42). Surprisingly, Jesus tells his disciples that she “put in more than all the others.” At first blush it’s an odd statement because all the other people that day had surely given larger amounts than she did. So how was it possible for her tiny gift of “two cents” to be larger than theirs?

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Jesus said it was because they gave out of their wealth, but she put in all she had to live on. In God’s mind, the size of the sacrifice is more noteworthy than the size of the gift. In other words, the real value of an offering to God is not in the amount given, but in the cost to the giver. How much does it pinch our pocketbooks? How much does it interfere with our selfish pleasures?

Others at the temple that day gave what they could spare. This poor widow spared nothing. And Jesus took note. But where would her next meal come from? How could she buy flour for bread, or oil for the household lamps? What about new clothes to replace her tattered garments? What about the broken plow in the field?

The real value of an offering to God is not in the amount given, but in the cost to the giver.

By offering all she had to live on, the widow was entrusting herself to God’s care. She was offering herself completely to the One she had come to the temple to worship in the first place. Indeed, for her, devotion to God and his work took priority over everything else.

Still, was it wise for the widow to empty her account? What happens now? Would God provide for her? Would she be able to eke out a living? Would her fellow Israelites—charged in the Torah with being attentive to her needs as a widow—forget about her?

widow-bible-staff

Not to worry. God has a way of taking care of the generous. On one occasion in my younger days, I emptied out our checking account completely because a man told me he had a need. I was an easy touch and quite unaware that he was a professional extortionist. The man preyed on my commitment to Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount, “Give to the one who asks you” (Matt 5:42a).

So I did. I gave him everything I had.

At the time, I thought it was the right thing to do, but it made me nervous. How was I going to pay our bills? How was I going to feed my family? We had two young children at the time, and I was still in seminary. We had obligations all over the place.

money-extortion-handsShortly after I gave away all our money, a widow in our church (a widow!) came to me and said, “Tim, the Lord is impressing on my heart that I should pay off your student loan. I don’t know what the balance is, and I don’t really care. God has blessed me with resources at this stage in my life, and I just think he wants me to do this for you.”

Sonya and I were deeply moved. The woman didn’t know I had just emptied my checking account to help somebody else. She was just walking her own journey of faith and trying to follow Christ.

As Providence would have it, the Lord intersected our paths. Amazingly, the balance on my student loan was just about double the amount in my checking account the day I emptied it. Double! God saw fit to take care of our family in a big way the very week I gave away all our money. We rejoiced and celebrated God’s goodness to us.

Document with title student loan forgiveness.

It’s a great story, but honestly, it’s an old one. It’s been a while since I’ve taken such a radical step of faith with my money like that. Maybe that’s the problem. It’s not really my money, is it?

I need to get back to those days when I acted like everything I have belongs to the Lord, because it does—a time when I was willing to fling myself into God’s arms like a toddler jumping from the top step of the living room stairs, knowing for sure daddy will catch him.

It’s time to be openhanded again and watch what God will do. Problem is, we always assume the more we have, the more we can give. That’s only partially true. The widow in Mark 12 shows us the bigger miracle—the more we share, the more we have.

We always assume the more we have, the more we can give. That’s only partially true. The widow in Mark 12 shows us the bigger miracle—the more we share, the more we have.

In the end, God has always wanted my two cents. He wants yours, too. The amazing thing is, we never have to say a word to give it.

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Needing and Needling: The Painful Search for Christian Community

Authentic Christian community is hard to find. It’s even harder to create. The biggest challenge, perhaps, is to sustain it once you’ve found it. But the search for the body of Christ on earth is worth the effort.

Having made the rounds in all kinds of churches, fellowships, small groups, and denominations, I can assure you, it’s out there. Where and with whom might surprise you, but it’s there—a place where the “one anothers” of Scripture are practiced as a way of life. Even when it’s hard.

ischope001p1Arthur Schopenhauer’s well-known fable comes to mind—the one where two porcupines find themselves in a serious dilemma. On the one hand, the creatures need each other, so they huddle up to keep warm in the winter.

On the other hand, they needle each other while they’re together, so they have to separate to avoid the pain of getting poked by each other’s quills. The cycle never ends.

Here’s the perennial problem of human intimacy: Can the individuality we display permit the closeness that our interdependence demands?

Not without grace.

Only grace can prevent the endless cycle of needing and needling. But grace can be its own thorn, too. According to Jesus, divine grace especially pierces the self-righteous.

Can the individuality we display permit the closeness that our interdependence demands? Not without grace.

Just ask the older brother in Luke 15. Or the religious bureaucrat in Luke 18. Or Simon the Pharisee in Luke 7, whose spiritual debt was a whopping 450 denarii less than the sinful woman’s debt—but Jesus said he couldn’t pay the bill, either. So he forgave them both. (How humbling must it be to find yourself in bankruptcy court needing the protections of Chapter 11 when you thought you were so rich?)

Jesus’ grace toward the sinful woman was a thorn to Simon. But the forgiven woman now had more to offer her community. She had more love (cf. Luke 7:47), without which community cannot survive. It’s not the broken who destroy community. It’s the self-righteous and the high-minded. That’s why bars often feature a better community feel than churches.

It’s not the broken who destroy community. It’s the self-righteous and the high-minded.

Few people have done more reflective work on the subject of Christian community than Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Here are some gems from his book, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community.

Dietrich BonhoefferWherever you are in the needing-needling cycle, may these words help you find, create, and sustain authentic Christian community:

•  “Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest, and sacrificial.”

•  “God hates this wishful dreaming because it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. Those who dream of this idealized community demand that it be fulfilled by God, by others, and by themselves. They enter the community of Christians with their demands, set up their own law, and judge one another and even God accordingly.”

•  “Because God has united us in one body with other Christians in Jesus Christ long before we entered into common life with them, we enter into that life together with other Christians, not as those who make demands, but as those who thankfully receive. . . . We do not complain about what God does not give us; rather we are thankful for what God does give us daily.”

•  “Will not the very moment of great disillusionment with my brother or sister be incomparably wholesome for me because it so thoroughly teaches us that both of us can never live by our own words and deeds, but only by that one Word and deed that really binds us together, the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ? The bright day of Christian community dawns wherever the early morning mists of dreamy visions are lifting.”

•  “The Christian community has not been given to us by God for us to be continually taking its temperature. The more thankfully we daily receive what is given to us, the more assuredly and consistently will community increase and grow from day to day as God pleases.”

community-circle-color•  “Christian community is not an ideal we have to realize, but rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate. The more clearly we learn to recognize that the ground and strength and promise of all our community is in Jesus Christ alone, the more calmly we will learn to think about our community and pray and hope for it.”

•  “Let him who cannot be alone beware of community. . . . Let him who is not in community beware of being alone. . . . Each by itself has profound perils and pitfalls. One who wants fellowship without solitude plunges into the void of words and feelings, and the one who seeks solitude without fellowship perishes in the abyss of vanity, self-infatuation and despair.”

•  “There is a kind of listening with half an ear that presumes already to know what the other person has to say. It is an impatient, inattentive listening, that despises the brother and is only waiting for a chance to speak and thus get rid of the other person. This is no fulfillment of our obligation, and it is certain that here too our attitude toward our brother only reflects our relationship to God.”

•  “I can no longer condemn or hate a brother for whom I pray, no matter how much trouble he causes me.”

•  “Self-centered love loves the other for the sake of itself; spiritual love loves the other for the sake of Christ.”

When it comes to Christian community, do we prefer the “needing” or the “needling”? Will we choose the cold of isolation or the blood of interaction?

Or might there be a third way—the way of Christ? The way of grace?

Image Credit: Barcroft Media
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Bookends of Grace

It’s interesting to note that David’s name is mentioned in the New Testament, but Shimei’s is not.

Shimei? Who’s that?

Exactly.

Shimei was one of David’s severest critics and verbal tormentors (cf. 2 Sam 16). He delighted in publicly cursing the man whom God had called and anointed to lead his people. On one occasion he even pelted the king and his men with stones.

david-shimeiShimei was way out of line. Still, the critic had a point. David, of course, had failed miserably a few times, both in his leadership and in his moral life, so Shimei was partly right.

Dead right.

(Isn’t it scary that we can sometimes be right in a wrong way?)

Amazingly, David brushed him off and went to God for strength. It’s a good thing for Shimei that he did. When given the opportunity to kill the guy, David refused to execute him for his slander and abuse.

He even forgave the rascal and granted him amnesty. Who does that?

  • A man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22).
  • A man who had deeply repented of his own sin (Psalm 51).
  • A man who himself had received of God’s free grace (Psalm 32).
  • A man who had a rock-solid faith in God and a hope-filled destiny (Psalm 3).

Maybe that’s why the Holy Spirit ensured that David would be the first and last human name in the New Testament (Matt 1:1; Rev 22:16). It’s a phenomenon seemingly rooted in more than just literary happenstance.

The Holy Spirit ensured that David would be the first and last human name in the New Testament.

Outside the names for deity, David’s name opens and closes the New Testament. Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega—the A and the Z—but David is the B and the Y.

Indeed, the literary game Matthew plays with the number 14 in Jesus’ genealogy (Matthew 1:1-17) corresponds to the numerical value of David’s name in Hebrew (D=4 + V=6 + D=4). Matthew’s point is hard to miss: “I give you Jesus, the Messiah, the son of David.” Christ is the long-awaited fulfillment of the Davidic covenant.

But how is it possible for David to receive such an honor given the various ways in whichking-david-bust he had failed the Lord? We may not have any other answer to that question but that God is God.

In his infinite wisdom, God chose to bookend the story of Jesus with reminders of a flawed leader for whom Christ also died. The very layout of the New Testament shows us that Jesus is truly “the friend of sinners” (cf. Matt 11:19; Luke 7:34). Jesus, the perfect king, lovingly and literarily envelops his people.

That should give all of us hope.

Yes, David endured certain consequences for his sins (some inflicted by the likes of Shimei), but he never lost his kingship, he never lost his calling, he never lost his relationship with God, and he never lost his pen.

While Shimei was out publicly slandering David because of his flaws, David was writing sacred Scripture. Keep that in mind next time you hear that your enemies are gloating over you because of your failures.

While Shimei was out publicly slandering David because of his flaws, David was writing sacred Scripture.

Just keep doing what God told you to do because his judgments are vastly different from man’s judgments.

Shimei who?

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