Some Gifts Are Amazing…

There are some times in life when God shows his amazing creative power in blessing individuals with unique gifts that leave you breathless. Here is a young man who has been part of my ministry over the past 5 years whom God has blessed. He loves the Lord and loves to use his gift to bring glory to His name…

Enjoy…you won’t be disappointed…

Ricky…I am proud of you!

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Retro Post – An Incredible Testimony – The “Mike Sanders” Story

I have decided to “re-post” an old article that I think has timeless importance for all of us who are believers struggling with the significance of our Gospel and its impact on our lives.  At times we just feel inadequate.  Well, I hope that Mike’s story will cheer you up a bit.

I have also included the comments made at the end of this article when it was posted.  Enjoy!

“The Mike Sanders Story”

I want to share with you the testimony of one of my friends, Mike Sanders.  I realize that me sharing his testimony doesn’t sound really exciting, but let me encourage you to think otherwise as I believe there is a lot for us to learn from it…trust me!

I remember him sharing this during one of our society chapels while attending college many moons ago (1985ish).  So here it goes…I’ll write it as if he is saying it…

“I remember when I was four.  My parents would often fight, so me and my two brothers and my younger sister would sneak off to the basement. From the safety of that room we could hear them screaming and yelling, throwing things around and when it was over we would usually find my dad gone and my mother weeping in the kitchen.  We were too young to know any different, we just thought that all parents behaved like that.  What it did do was keep us as kids close to each other.

We lived in a very rough section of Detroit.  My father was a factory worker, so he didn’t have much money coming in, but we had our bunk beds and our back yard to play in.  It seemed big back then, but truly, it was only 30 feet deep.  My mom wouldn’t let us play in the front as the neighborhood kids were trouble…and she was right, because by the time I was 9 I had already smoked my first joint.  That was just the beginning, and it was soon to get worse. My grades in school began to drop, but I didn’t care, the marijuana would cover any feelings of loss or guilt.  Over the next few years I ended up spending too much time in the drug culture, helping sell it often as the money was easy and good and then one day I was asked to join a gang.  Now, I won’t tell you the name of the gang, but when I did join the gang they beat me up and then welcomed me in, but there was one initiation requirement that still had to be fulfilled to prove your worth.  I had to choose a store or a place of business and steal money from the cash register.  I could hold them up, I could break in after hours, or find some other way of doing the job.  Now, by this time I was 15 and able and willing to handle a gun, so I decided that I would hold up a gas station.  It seemed like the logical choice a the time…quick and easy and I would be accepted into the gang.  Well, without going into the details I did follow through, although somehow the gas station attendee set off  a silent alarm which brought the police and somehow I was able to run through a field and through a housing project to get away…(we didn’t have the baggy pants in those days that wen to our knee)  Fortunately, I knew that area extremely well and didn’t’ feel like it was a problem.

Well, once in I became active.  A little drug sales here and a little coordinated stealing there.  Soon I became the trusted coordinator of all the thievery in the area.  We didn’t do it every night, or every week, but we did do it often enough.  Sometimes it would be getting into homes when we knew people were away, and at other times it was the quick hold up.  I now had a reputation within the gang, the girls looked to me as one of the leaders and I was enjoying life…sort of.

Yes, even with all the money I was getting, the girls and the power I had over people, there was still something missing. Now, somehow I knew that I needed to graduate from High School, so I did study enough to pass, but only just.   Then that day I will never forget took place.  It was a Friday night and one of the rival gangs decided that they wanted to teach us a lesson.  I was standing on the front porch of my best friends house when a car came screeching by and multiple shots were fired.  My friend was shot and killed in front of me and I was wounded in the leg.  I was crushed and I was angry, but my leg hurt too much for me to do anything about it and I knew that I had to go to the hospital.  Even so, in my heart, I was already planning my revenge.

Well, while sitting on one of the gurneys in the Emergency at William Beaumont Hospital I was approached by a man with a sash around his neck.  Clearly he wasn’t a doctor, but even clearer he wanted to talk to me.  At first I endured his introduction and words of concern and care for my injury. Then he asked me a very important question…  “Mike, if you were to stand before God and ask him why you should enter into heaven, what would you say?”  No one had ever asked me that question, but I was a little confused.  Why would a complete stranger approach me in gentleness and ask such a spiritual question at a time like this?  The most our family did as it related to church was to go for BINGO or for the yearly festival where we typically got drunk.  But there was something powerful and attractive about talking with this man about the Bible.  I really didn’t understand much of what he said, but I do remember thinking that maybe, if there is a god, that he would not be pleased with my life.

That question continued to bother me and, even though I couldn’t explain it, over the next few weeks it would stare me in the face while I rested my head on my pillow at night, or at other times when I was alone.  I began to change my feelings about who God might be.  I still ran around with the gang (as best I could with the injury), doing the things that would get me into trouble, but the question and the subsequent questions from that question would always be in the backdrop of my heart.  It wasn’t until one particular Thursday night when I was arrested for disorderly conduct, after some rival gang members strutted into our turf, that a seriousness about life gripped me.  As I sat there at the police station the Officer attending to me, who had a hard shell, noticed that I was tender.  He asked me what I was feeling and it all came out – The loneliness, the struggles, the words that were shared just over a month earlier.  He put his pen down and began to talk to me, not like an officer, but like a big brother.  He looked me in the eye and asked the same question that the man in the hospital asked.  It was clear that something bigger than me was going on.

I don’t know why, but this officer came by my house the next day, not as a police officer, but in civilian clothes to simply talk to me.  He told me of a great God who sent His Son to die in my place when I deserved that death myself because of my sin.  The bits and pieces began to all come together like a jigsaw puzzle and I saw myself in need of God and His forgiveness.  That day, with those simple truths I prayed to receive Christ as my Lord and Savior.

That was two years ago, and now I am preparing to serve God as a Pastor.  If you would have asked me five years ago what I would be doing today at 22 I can tell you with a certainty that preparing for the ministry would not have been anywhere near the radar.  But God can take people from the worst of lifestyles and draw them to Himself.

Now, there is something more that I need to share with you about my life and even what I am doing today.  Everything that I have said over the past 20-25 minutes is a total and complete lie except for my family.  I didn’t grow up in Detroit.  No, I grew up in a pretty middle class suburb called Clarkston.  My parents were a godly example.  Certainly they had their difficult moments, but they would work through their emotions and seek to glorify God through their struggles.  I wasn’t saved late in my teenage years, I came to know the Lord when I was six.  It was real, heartfelt, and there was a radical change in my life that took place.  I haven’t lived a life full of sin and excitement, but have instead sought to live for the Lord and grow in maturity to be like Him all through my teenage years.

So, the reality is, my testimony is rather boring according to man’s standards.  But, it is the truth and is a testimony to God’s faithfulness to parents who wanted nothing more than for their son to learn to love the Lord with all his heart.  I serve a great and powerful God who convicts me when I sin, warns me through the ministry of the Word and Holy Spirit when I am considering compromising my walk, and who is purposeful to grow me where He wants me to grow. I wouldn’t trade that testimony for one that is filled with sex, drugs and excitement.  I am, and have been most of my life, a child of God, saved by grace, pursuing His will.  I thank God for that legacy.

Now, I know, I know…that was rather mean of me to have you wade through all that stuff simply to make a point.  But, my friends, it is a point worth noting.  As I look at my life and where I have been and what I was before Christ, my pendulum swings quite far toward the first example than to Mike’s true testimony.  I don’t share that part of my life often as it opens the door to sensationalism, but I have been in difficult situations invoving gangs.  I have had switchblades held at my chest, walked away from being pulverized by a rival gang, literally run for my life from a group of pursuing gang members…  That’s all true, its all exciting, but it is all unnecessary except for some special situations.

I am first and formost everyman – a sinner condemned – but now a child of God through salvation that only comes through Jesus Christ and the sacrifice He gave on the Cross.  I want to boast in Him, not in what my life was like before He entered.

Comments:

Chris

Thanks for the “testimony” my friend. MY pendulum swings towards the second version, a kid growing up in church always knowing and accepting the truth but secretly, or not so secretly, wanting the first version to have been my life. It’s always a great reminder that the beauty of the testimony of how God saves sinners not the sin of the one being saved. I hope we all remember that.

Phil

A couple of years ago, on the train home after work, I was speaking with a young woman who was also a believer. I offered my testimony, that I was recently saved and because I was so misguided, stubborn and prideful, I am one of those that God found necessary to thoroughly break down (or at least allow to be broken) before building up.

This young woman expressed some envy of my testimony because she was brought up in the Church and came by her faith “naturally” (I suppose). I replied that all things being equal, I would much rather have come to faith the way she had.

I think that those who come to their faith by a “radical” conversion have little choice but to experience it in a very strong and passionate way. This may seem attractive for some people who think their own road to faith was mundane, and it certainly makes for some interesting stories. But I’m convinced that this kind of coming to faith has its own unique dangers.

Such a one might be tempted to follow that powerful passion and emotion for its own sake rather than following Christ for His sake. (I think I recall Pastor Rod delivering a sermon on this.) A very real danger lies in the fact that those emotions and feelings are temporary at best — they simply aren’t sustainable on their own. And when they finally burn out, they can leave a vacuum.

This is what happened to me, and when it did I experienced a deep despair — I honestly thought that I had lost my faith. But the Lord is faithful and He kept me from wandering and saw me through that despair. I later came to realize that all I had really lost was the immediacy of my conversion. Now I was free to begin building my passion on the real foundation.

One of the many manifestations of my despair in that period was a fretting over the parable of the soils (Luke 8:4-21). I would wonder which one I was, the second shallow one, or the third weed-ridden one. I now believe that I could well have been either of those had the Holy Spirit not empowered me to persevere and finally arrive at the truth. I am saved, and I can say that with certainty.

Only now (four years after being saved) do I feel that am I becoming grounded in my faith. And although the magnitude of my spiritual struggle has not decreased (quite the opposite in fact), the nature of those struggles has changed, as has my ability to deal with them. I can much more easily find lasting spiritual guidance and solace in the Word now that my efforts are not being clouded by emotion.

So to that young woman I would like to say, you may have missed out on the temporary “emotional high” of a radical conversion, but you also have avoided the subsequent confusion and despair that might easily follow. However you got there, the real prize is that you are saved. This is perhaps one case where the destination is more important than the journey.

Rod

Phil,

You couldn’t have said it better. You get it, and I hope that others will read your comments and see the beauty of growing up in the church and in a Christian home. We are not trying to impress one another. We should be impressed by God!

Thanks,

Rod

The Gospel for Muslims – A Review

At the recent 2010 Together For the Gospel conference each participant was blessed with a suitcase load of books recommended by the keynote speakers.  So, over the course of the past few months I have been working my way through the books that I feel I need the most, and without exception each book chosen has been significantly helpful to minister to my soul, to challenge my fears, to encourage my heart and to focus on Christ and His glorious Gospel.

The Gospel for Muslims: An Encouragement to Share Christ with Confidence by Thabiti Anyabwile is one of those books.  Although I have served the Lord in ministry for over 21 years I can identify with the question on pg. 13, “How do you share the gospel with Muslims?  I feel so unequipped.”  Yet, Thabiti, a converted Muslim, shares with compassion, knowledge and boldness how this question has a fatal flaw.  “It assumes that somehow Muslims require a different gospel or a special technique, that Muslims are somehow impervious to the gospel in a way that other sinners are not.” (pg. 13)  So, in this short book of 176 pages, our friend Thabiti carefully unfolds an answer to those concerns in very helpful and practical ways and divides his comments into two sections: the Gospel and the practical (as you witness).

In this first section on the gospel, Thabiti follows the God, man, Christ, response pattern so clearly revealed in Scripture (and fleshed out in Greg Gilbert’s “What is the Gospel?”).  Under each category he seeks to teach the truth revealed in God’s Word about that subject in a clear, yet concise way.  He then turns his attention to helping us find the common ground with Islam with the similar themes and language contained in that section.  For example, in the section concerning God he says…

“Some things are not in dispute between Muslims and Christians when it comes to many of the attributes of God.  Muslims cheerfully agree with Christians that God is sovereign, omniscient, omnipotent, merciful, just, holy, righteous, benevolent, and so on.  Both groups maintain belief in the moral perfections of god.  And both groups believe that there is only one God.”

Now these are excellent places to begin discussions with our Muslim friends, yet he continues later in the chapter by identifying the differences saying, “Muslims and Christians agree that God is holy, just, righteous, and our judge.  But our Muslim friends do not understand that that holy, just and righteous Judge is none other than the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” He is, therefore, the Triune God that they reject and as a result they have a distorted view of God and thus, of His attributes.

Each chapter finishes with a summary of “Things to Remember” which will help the reader process the guidance Thabiti is giving as well as aide in putting these insights into memory and practice.

In the second section Thabiti gives practical advise to the methodology or our witness.  As we witness we should be filled with the spirit, trusting in the power of God’s Word, practicing biblical hospitality, leaning on our local church and be willing to suffer for the purpose of the Kingdom.  Each of these chapters is chalked full of truly helpful insight and practical steps to follow.  As I read each chapter I felt that I would be saying, “read this book, if for no other reason, the content of this chapter will be very helpful.”  Yet, chapter after chapter I encountered knowledgeable advice and frank discussion that truly encouraged me in my desire to interact and reach out to my Muslim brothers and sisters.

Of most help in this section, however, would have to be the last two chapters:  In his discussion on Suffering for the Name he reminds us that…

“Suffering is the crucible where the promises of God are ground more deeply into our souls.  As a result, we’re made more like Him and we endure with joy.”

He then graces us with five reasons why suffering and evangelism should be understood as vital components that are working together:

  1. Knowing the Bible’s teaching on suffering can prepare us to rejoice when it comes rather than be surprised.
  2. Knowing the Bible’s teaching on suffering can help us to shun the convenience and carnal pleasure that otherwise could dominate our lives.
  3. By knowing the Bible’s teaching on suffering, we need not be afraid of Muslims when we share the gospel.
  4. Knowing the Bible’s teaching on suffering will help us prepare Muslims converts to endure suffering.
  5. Having a right theology of suffering will bring more intimate fellowship with Christ.

In his final section, The Good News for African-American Muslims, Thabiti encourages us to understand and reach out to the fastest growing community of Muslims in the United States.  He stresses that the African-American Muslim has some unique objections to Christianity such as:

  • The belief that Islam is more indigenous to African peoples, culture, and history than Christianity.  That it is in some way more “authentically black,” although Christianity has roots in Africa far more ancient than Islam or even the slave trade.
  • The belief that Islam represents a certain reactionary posture toward Western (insert “Christian” here) society, history and values.
  • The belief that the African-American church, because if its capitulation to a white Christ, has tarnished the African-American culture and slowed down African-American progress.
  • The belief that Islam is the answer to the health and strength of the family unit that see’s a strong loving husband and father lead his family.

Now, one of the beautiful things about this resource is that Thabiti is speaking from both experience as a practicing African-American Muslim and as one whom God has used as a Christian to speak in contexts or debates, where these very same issues are under fire.  So, his stories are true, relevant and encouraging.

I would like to finish up with three strengths that I see in this book that will help God’s children serve Him to reach our Muslim friends with great faith and confidence.

First, this book is a rock solid reinforcement of the Gospel that we hold dear.  Using this as a personal tool or a small group resource will bring every reader personally to the place where they are confronted with the full realities of the Gospel.  In other words, using this book is a way to preach the Gospel again and again to our hearts, to reinforce it beauty and power and to rest with confidence and its eternal implications.

Next, this is a practical book that liberates the reader to confidently begin to dialogue with that neighbor, co-worker or regular Starbucks consumer that might be a follower of Islam.  The practical insights and helps are invaluable and provide seed to be watered and nurtured with further discovery.

Finally, this book and Thabiti’s arguments are not sales gimmicks for conversion.  Rather, they are rooted in the confidence of a sovereign God Who is at work through the faithfulness of His servants who are sharing His Gospel with boldness and clarity.  The emphasis is always on the sufficiency of the One True God to break through the heart of any and all sinners, but in particular, the heart of a follower of Islam.

I recommend this book highly and encourage you to read it repeatedly with highlighter in hand as well as to read it with others with whom you can dialogue.  Let me also recommend that you listen to Thabiti’s talk, “Fine-Sounding Arguments – How Wrongly ‘Engaging the Culture’ Adjust the Gospel”, at the Together for the Gospel Conference as well as another of his excellent books, “What is a Healthy Church Member.”

Boating For Dummies

“Reflections on Mark 6:45-56”

I have recently been reflecting on a short passage in Mark 6:45-56 that tells the story of Jesus and His disciples, but in a new and unexpected way.  You see, they are having the ministry time of their lives.  Jesus has been teaching the people all day, He has been taking time to show mercy on them by healing the sick and lame and casting out demons.  Finally, as the evening came Jesus performs an incredible miracle and takes five loaves and two fish from a little boy and divinely multiplies them so that everyone present is able to eat to their fill.  There were between six to eight thousand people there, taking in all they were hearing, seeing and now enjoying…  You can almost imagine the disciples saying to one another, “Hey, this is really getting fun.  Our Master is a really cool guy he does really amazing things and we get to go with Him wherever He goes.  We are going to enjoy this.”  You can even imagine them mingling among the people telling story after story of the ways in which Jesus has been miraculous.  They are reveling in it all…then…

“Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd.” (6:45)

Get in…

What?  Why?  Ministry is going so well.  Jesus and the disciples are experiencing effective ministry, why would Jesus want them to leave?  Well, it is interesting that the text tells us that Jesus “made” them get into the boat.  Literally they were forced, compelled and corralled by Jesus into the boat and pushed off toward Bethsaida.  Now, maybe it was because the crowd was getting all in a frenzy thinking that Jesus was the Prophet who would come and overthrow Rome.  It could also be that the disciples were getting caught up in that frenzy or even because the disciples were thinking of themselves as “big shots” or something similar.  Truly, we don’t know.  What we do know is that Jesus, the one who knows all and knows best sends them away onto the sea to another town.  Their leaving was immediate, urgent and forced by Jesus Himself.

And friends, life with Christ is like that.  It is always moving and we “must” remember that.  We often look back at all the spiritual successes of the past and wish that we could reproduce them again and again as if “the good old days” were the only time when God moved among people.

But as we reflect on God’s goodness in the past we must also remember that He is calling us to new adventures today.  He is telling us every day to “Get in the Boat“, and that, for some of us, is very difficult to do because we have become so accustomed to where we have been and are somewhat skeptical about ministry today.

The point is that we must not get too comfortable where we are.  We cannot get complacent or used to your Christian walk.  Jesus is saying to us all, “I have a new voyage for you to experience…today.”  It may be different, similar, bumpy or smooth, but it is His journey for us today.  Are we willing to “get in the boat”?

Stay in…

Well, the disciples went out into the sea while Jesus went off into the mountains to pray, and while the disciples were pulling on the oars with all their strength a storm brews up.  Not a big storm, but one that meant hours on the sea, rain, water sloshing about the basin of the boat.  They were straining painfully the text tells us because the wind was against them.  Now, can you imagine what the disciples were thinking as they pulled on the oars multiple hours after they had left the comforts of the shore?

  • “Jesus, why did you send us out here?  We were perfectly fine on the shore!”
  • “When will this storm die down?  I don’t want to do this any more.”
  • “I’m hungry and thirsty…and we left food and plenty.”
  • “Why did Jesus leave us alone…doesn’t he care any more?”

Of course we know from the text that Jesus had a close eye on them the whole time.  He knew what they were experiencing and how hard it was.

And think about it.  Jesus sees all those things we are facing:  Bills piling high, a bad doctor’s report, the argument you and your spouse had and the way you left the house, that sick child that you are kneeling over and the ailing parent that you are praying for.  He sees your struggles even though you can’t feel His gaze on you.  He is always watching over us.

Then Jesus came to the disciples “walking on the water.”  Literally it means, “walking about the sea” as if he was gliding through the wind and waves.  But as Jesus is Passing By they think that He is a ghost and scream in total panic and fear.  It was everything they could do to stay in the boat.  But what is going on here is not obviously clear to us.  To a trained Hebrew this Theophony, a personal revelation of God to persons, would be clear.  Moses stood in the cleft of the rock as God passed by.  Elijah stood on Mt. Horeb as God passed by him.  Even in Job we are told that God passes by.  It is a declaration of who Jesus is.  Jesus wants the disciples to see Who He really is, but their hearts are hardened, but growing.

So, Jesus speaks and says, “Take heart; it is I.  Do not be afraid.” Again, this is an “I am” statement accompanied with a command not to fear.  You see, Jesus is sending these disciples away from “successful” ministry to go through a storm so that they could learn more about Him.

He sends them, prays for them, watches them, joins them, comforts them all with a purpose to teach them.

And friends, not only does Jesus tell us to “get in the boat” He also wants us to “stay in the boat.” He doesn’t want us to abandon ship even though it  may be miserable.  That’s the point here.  The disciples were not fearing for their lives with the storm, they were just miserable.  And when we get miserable we begin to see only our own comforts and we begin to question God.

Get out…

Now that Jesus is in the boat with them He takes them to their destination, Gennesaret.  Wait, didn’t He tell them to go to Bethsaida?  Yes, but ultimately He wanted them to go to Gennesaret.  This is more common in Scripture than you may think.  Joseph was sold into slavery only to end up in Egypt.  Israel left Egypt and found themselves at the Red Sea, then Kedesh Bernea, then the Wilderness, then the promised land.  Paul was on his way to Bythinia when he got the call to go to Macedonia.  And that is often how He works with us.

He may lead us down a path only to have us take a turn to go down another path, which in turn takes us down another path.  We may not know exactly where we are headed, but we know that it will be where God wants us to be when we get there.

So, Jesus tells us to “get in the boat” and “stay in the boat“, but eventually He tells us to “get out of the boat” and begin the new voyage, the new challenge or the new opportunity that He has for you..

Now, on a final question.  What would disobedience on the part of the disciples have looked like?  Probably it would be the comfort of dry clothes, a warm bed, full tummies, social popularity with those who had heard and watched Jesus.  These are all reasonable things, yet, for the disciples they would have been disobedient things.  We must be careful that we don’t equate obedience with pleasantness and prosperity in this world.  No, obedience will often take you down paths that are difficult, harsh and will put you to your limit.  But they are paths of joy found only in Jesus and His grace and mercy.

So, let me encourage you to, “Get in, stay in, and get out” when He tells you to…and enjoy the ride…

Don’t forget to wear your life jackets!!

Pursuing Christ Together…or “Progressive Marrification”

Marriage is always under attack and being undermined by the myriad of voices in our culture, yet, there is one voice that speaks clearly to us, encouraging us to hang in there, work on our partnerships and all of this for the glory of God, Himself.  Of course, that voice is the creator of the universe, the one who took a rib out of Adam to create Eve, the One who said, “it is not good for a man to be alone” and the One Whose Son died on the Cross as a sacrificial substitute for mankind and Who is the head of the body, the church, His bride.

I think that it is probably true to say that most Christian marriages are struggling to honor God in their pursuit of Him “together”.  I say “together” to stress that there may be an individual pursuit of God by both husband and wife, but there is a struggle in the pursuit of God together as a couple.  Honestly, it is hard work, but it is a life-long calling.  Just like our pursuit of Christ is a progressive sanctification, i.e. becoming like Christ, or becoming what we are positionally in Him, so is our growth in marriage.  I like to call it, Progressive Marrification! – That word (or phrase) probably won’t show up in the American Heritage Dictionary, but it does encompass what God is calling us to do…”to progressively be growing in our pursuit of Him together in our marriages.”  You see, if we are married, “we are one flesh” and we are to be pursuing “being one flesh.”  So, it is our position in marriage as well as our pursuit.

Here is the seminar that I taught on the subject, “Pursuing Christ Together“, at the Making Marriage Last 2010 Conference at Northcreek Church in Walnut Creek, CA.

World Cup 2010 – My Final Thoughts

As you know I am a big soccer fan and I have been a lifelong fan of West Ham United, so it was with great anticipation and excitement that I waited for the final stages of the 2010 World Cup to take place this June and July, and honestly, it was well worth the wait.  There was plenty of excitement, shock victories, agonizing mistakes, bad calls, explosive finishes, outstanding goals, incredible saves and unnecessary tackles to satisfy the hopes of any casual viewer of the game.

I think that much of the watching world has been pleasantly surprised by the host country of South Africa.  Most reports stress the great hospitality, accommodations and general pleasant experience they encountered which can only bear fruit in ongoing vacationing in the country of South Africa.

As I remember the month the following are resounding high’s and lows that grabbed my attention…

1. Robert Green’s Golden Mistake – Why is it that I felt that this was going to take place?  Honestly, when I saw that Robert Green was chosen over David James I was both thrilled and concerned.  I was thrilled because I know that quality of goalkeeper that he is.  He has played for West Ham United for the past few years and has done outstanding.  I was concerned because the stage was being set for something.  It was definitely something unnerving that I could feel in my bones and part of me was wishing he wasn’t in goal, not because he couldn’t do it, but because I felt that something just had to go wrong.  And then, amazingly out of nothing, Green is kneeling in emotional agony with the ball in the back of the net.  The whole world felt for him — you don’t have a rookie goalkeeper starting for England, but one of the best.  And that is just it.  Even the best goalkeepers at the highest level can have a lapse in concentration or somehow simply fumble the ball.  Every coach watching was feeling two things:  1) How sad, and 2) What a fantastic lesson for every up-and-coming soccer player to learn from — fundamentals!  Fundamentals! Fundamentals!

Now, what is interesting if you watch the game again, is the great service Rob Green gave all throughout that game:  Good saves, great confidence, excellent passes to players up field and on defense.  Except for that one incident, he had a solid game.  Of course, England’s manager Capello, replaced Green with James, who also played well, but seemed to be out of touch a little in the game against Germany.  It is a cruel game at times.

2. Disallowed Goals – Well, as one who was rooting for both the USA team as well as the England team, this was exceptionally unusual and had a great impact on the World Cup.  First, the USA were disallowed two goals because of wrong calls by the Referee’s.  Now, I say “wrong” rather than “bad” as I have been a referee before and I am thankful that I have never had to referee while my game was being watched on TV with cameras at all different angles.  But the reality is that the calls made were considerably wrong and clearly the Goals should have stood.  In England’s case it was simply a matter of a linesman somehow not seeing that the ball did cross over the German line.  Of course, the way the game was going, that goal not being allowed did shape the ongoing game and had rippling effects on how the English were going to play.  I am not one for adding technology for the sport, but like Sepp Blatter, the Fifa president, I could listen to discussion regarding goal-line issues.

3.  Underdogs – What can I say?  Two teams come to mind that showed far more grit and determination than most thought.  Slovenia & New Zealand.  New Zealand were not expected to do much, but they kept hanging on for dear life in every game and left the competition without being beaten, but tying Slovakia, Paraguay and Italy.  Slovenia also turned heads as they buried the USA in the first half of their matchup 2-0, only to have the USA storm back in the second half.  They also kept England at bay and showed that they were far better quality than most were willing to admit.  I always enjoy rooting for some of the underdog teams.  In 2006 it was Trinadad & Tobego.

4.  Amazing Games – There were so many great games to remember, but I thought that the two games that truly showed why Soccer is such a beautiful game were the Semi-Finals (Holland vs. Uruguay, Spain vs. Germany).  Each game was entertaining, passionate, respectful, stunning and truly breathtaking.

5.  National Disasters – You can summarize the national disasters in two words:  France & Italy!  What a farce France were.  Of course, they only just squeaked into the World Cup through a playoff game, but clearly, they haven’t gotten over themselves.  Lots of big heads, selfishness, and really slow soccer.  They were a disgrace to the competition, to their country and to soccer in general.  In just 8 years they have fallen from respected champions to ridiculed mama’s boys, and they only’ have themselves to blame.  Italy, on the other hand, somehow just couldn’t get their cylinders all firing at the same time or even at all.  No one expected them to bow out at the group stages.  I didn’t include England in this list as I didn’t think that they were as aweful.  They were underachievers, but they did show some grit against both Slovenia and Germany.

6.  Shock Therapy – Germany 4 – Argentina 0.  Who would have thought?  Argentina seemed like the team that was going to take it all.  But they were picked apart by an “on fire” Germany.  Holland 2 – Brazil 1.  What?  The favorites are out?  Full credit to Holland they deserved the win.

7.  Amazing Goals – Again, there were many, but the most outstanding goal that I saw had to be the VanBronkhurst goal against Uruguay.  35 yards from the left side of the goal and in the top right hand corner.  Out of nothing.  A close second must go to Landon Donovan for the win against Algeria in the final seconds.

8.  Ear Plugs – The Vuvuzelus – I know that this is something that is somewhat unique to African soccer, but I truly hope that it stays in Africa.  I honestly missed listening to the singing of the different nations as their teams played, and I am sure that it affected how some of the teams performed.

9.  Pleasant Fans – Did you notice how little, if any, discussion took place regarding clashing fans and/or hooligans running loose over South Africa.  In stead you had Portugal fans who drove to the World Cup.  Although a truth by omission, the lack of problems only speaks well of the progress of the game around the world.

10.  Yellow Card – I am always uncomfortable with the way that the Yellow or Red cards are added up and scratched away.  I do understand the thinking behind it, but I also recognize how it can be inconsistent and, in particular, can be taken advantage of.  I truly believe that part of Hollands strategy to be so aggressive in the final was due, in part, to Howard Webb’s record of very few Yellow Cards.  They took advantage of the Referee who did nothing other than correctly call the game which had 14 yellows and 1 red.  I don’t think that anyone can blame Howard Webb for his officiating.  I thought he handled the game as best as can be expected.  If anything there should have been more cards, but there is more at stake than just the foul or the player.  It was the World Cup final and the whole world was watching.  The integrity of the game had to be maintained.  He did exceptionally well under the very rough circumstances.  Well done Howard Webb.

On a final note, full marks to Spain for perseverance.  They deserved to be crowned World Champions (That’s who they really are – unlike the Yankee’s, Lakers or Patriots – who only play their sports in the context of North America.)  They showed that total football is still worth the discipline and that a strong defense is a great offense.  The were a true all around team.  It was great to watch their captain, Iker Casillas, weeping at the end of the game.  There was a lot of heart our there and it paid off.

Links…

World Cup Commentary

West Ham United

The Global Problem of Word Hunger!

I was having breakfast with a young man this past week whom I greatly respect and who, along with his wife, is eager to grow in the Lord.  Well, as we talked he told me that he had just recently started a Bible Reading program that was both challenging and exciting him.  Of course, I was intrigued.  I have a Bible reading schedule that I have used for years, but like many of you, I have my ups and downs and seasons in the wilderness of discouragement, so I was all ears.

So, he told me the basic idea is to read ten chapters every day, but ten different chapters from different sections of the Bible.  Of course, I know what you are thinking…

“Ten chapters! I am having a hard enough time reading my four chapters so I can read the Bible in a year…and you want me to notch it up a bit to ten…sheesh!”

Well, I won’t deny that some of that thinking crossed my mind, but something in me wanted to hear more.  So he pulled out his Bible and showed me where he had ten bookmarks in ten different sections of the Bible.  The sections are:

  • List 1 (89 days) – Mahew, Mark, Luke, John
  • List 2 (187 days) – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy
  • List 3 (78 days) – Romans, I&II Cor, Gal, Eph, Phil, Col, Hebrews
  • List 4 (65 days) – I&II ess, I&II Tim, Titus, Philemon, James, I&II Peter, I,II&III John, Jude, Revelation
  • List 5 (62 days) – Job, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon
  • List 6 (150 days) – Psalms
  • List 7 (31 days) – Proverbs
  • List 8 (249 days) – Joshua, Judges, Ruth, I&II Samuel, I&II Kings, I&II Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther
  • List 9 (250 days) – Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi
  • List 10 (28 days) – Acts

Wow!  That is impressive.  But still, it is “Ten Chapters” a day!!!  Well, it is, and when I think about it, that’s not that much.  In reality, though, the one who developed this Reading Plan stresses that we should read these ten chapters at a fast pace.  No, he’s not talking about speed reading, but it should be steady so that you are moving at a good pace and not going back to things you have just read.  In fact you can read much more from Professor Grant Horner at the Masters College who developed it at www.jtreis.com/grant/plan.php.  You can even print up the available PDF file that has the list and the bookmarks so you can crop them and place them in your Bible.  He also offers a lot of encouragement as well as suggestions for how to approach your reading.

Now, I have only been doing it for a few days, but I wonder if we can get a few people who will read God’s Word with the Grant Horner Bible Reading System together so we can be an encouragement to one another.  Of course, we will be in different places along the journey, but the steady stream of God’s Word feeding our hearts will only produce in us a greater understanding of God’s will and ways.

Won’t you join me?  You know that deep down you really want to…Just saying!

Fear Not! – A Brief Review

If you are like me, you find it difficult to be sure that the words you use in the context of tragedy or death are the right words and not just empty platitudes that have crept in to our thinking and vocabulary.  In fact…

“most people, even Christians, live in a state of semi-denial about death.  We hesitate to say a dearly loved relative or friend “died.”  We prefer to say she “passed away” or she “went to be with the Lord.”  Even unbelievers who assume that everyone ends up in heaven are known to say something such as “he’s gone to a better place.”  (Jerry Bridges)

Enter J. Ligon Duncan who has written, with the help of J. Nicholas Reid, a worthy help for all of us entitled “Fear Not! Death and the Afterlife from a Christian perspective.” Having been convinced that God’s Word, the Bible, tells us everything we need to know for our instruction and comfort the authors lay a solid foundation and give healthy tools for these delicate and difficult times as we personally face death and dying or come along side those who are.  As one of my hero’s, Martin Lloyd-Jones has said so plainly…

“When you are traveling through a bog, you look for solid ground.”

The solid ground that Duncan and Reid offer up is laid out in five chapters under the following headings:

1. What is Death? – In this chapter, the authors discuss our hesitancy to be clear and honest about the reality of death.  Although mankind feels comforted to live in a state of denial regarding death we must lay the solid Biblical foundation of understanding that recognizes what death really is – a separation from God.  Also, it is important to know that our heavenly Father understands things about death that even we cannot conceive.  Therefore, we should learn from Jonathan Edwards who once said…

“Resolved, to think much, on all occasions of my own dying, and of the common circumstances which attend death.”

2. What happens after Death? – In this chapter the Westminster Shorter Catechism 37 is unpacked which states, “The souls of believers are at their death made perfect in holiness, and do immediately pass into glory; and their bodies, being still united to Christ, do rest in their graves until the resurrection.”  The contrast between what happens to a believer and an unbeliever at death is discussed.

“There will be no one in hell who wants to be in heaven; they will all want to be out of hell, but none will truly desire to be in heaven.”

3. What happens when Christ Returns? – In this chapter the significance and power of the resurrection is laid as the foundation to our hope.  Because of the resurrection the believer will be raised and changed to glory; acknowledged by Christ on that Day of Judgment; acquitted by Christ openly for all to see; and will be completely happy for all eternity.  William Guthrie, a great Scottish pastor, once said of Christ and the believer’s sight of Him…

“Less would not satisfy, but more could not be desired.”

4. The Final Judgment – This chapter identifies the players at the Judgment (God, Christ, Believers, Unbelievers, Satan, Angels) as well as the events: A separation, a sentencing, a public  revelation, an explanation for the sentencing, an execution of the sentence and a vindication for God Himself, for Christ and for all of God’s people through the ages.

5. What is Heaven? What’s it like?  Where is it?  Who will be there.  There are so many views of heaven and hell that are foreign to Scripture and  we must strive to have our heads in the Biblical clouds and have our footing on the solid foundation of His Word.

I found this short 96 page book to be of immense help to me personally.  It helped me to be honest about my tendency to be soft about using the word death.  To change that and replace it with Biblical terminology and truth so that in facing death myself or in helping others through it I am not giving them empty talk, but solid ground to plant their feet on.  I would also agree that…

“one of the greatest responsibilities of a pastor is to prepare his congregation for tragedy, death and dying.”

There are so many passages that scream at us with divine perspective which counsels and comforts us all.

So, I thank Ligon Duncan and  Nicholas Reid for seeing the need for such a resource and I encourage you all to get a copy, pour over it, memorize the principles revealed and this speak with a confidence that only comes from being grounded in His Word.