Until His love we tasted …

Our time in sin we wasted,
And fed upon the wind;
Until His love we tasted,
No comfort could we find:

But now we stand to witness
His pow’r and grace to you;
May you perceive its fitness,
And call upon him too!

Our pleasure and our duty,
Though opposite before;
Since we have seen his beauty,
Are joined to part no more:

It is our highest pleasure,
No less than duty’s call;
To love him beyond measure,
And serve him with our all.

—hymn by John Newton, “We Were Once As You Are”

On Sunday July 3rd we (Renew Church) considered the themes of Duty and Dependence, whereby the beauty of God overwhelms our hearts and what used to be a mere duty receives a whole new energy to be joyfully performed, even with pleasure!

The following Sunday we sang “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” (original lyrics by Sir Robert Robinson) with added closing verses borrowed from one John Newton’s hymns, “We Were Once As You Are,” with the chosen verses from above emphasized (added at 3:21 in song). Listen …

 

The beauty of duty and dependence. 

It is the beauty in Christ that fuels true obedience in us.

“Our pleasure and our duty,
Though opposite before,
Since we have seen His beauty,
Are join’d to part no more:
It is our highest pleasure,
No less than duty’s call,
To love Him beyond measure,
And serve Him with our all.”
—John Newton, “We Were Once As You Are” (Olney Hymns)

We delved into this dynamic last Sunday with “Beauty of Duty & Dependence“.

“Do not rest until love and faith in Jesus are the master passions of your soul.” —Charles Spurgeon

“We are called to an everlasting preoccupation with God.” —A.W. Tozer

 

Thirty-eight words on the occasion of turning 38.

This week I fade from mid-thirties to “late-thirties,” and so hit pause to consider the milestone and road ahead. A summary in thirty-eight words:

RunningShadow of life lengthens,
While the spark inside brightens.
The path to joy becomes clearer, obedience lonelier.
Healed back, finding strength, embracing weakness.
What makes a man? Not what … WHO!
Finish well.
In lieu of presents … GIVE WATER! 1

Family finish line

An estimation of times and efforts for Saturday’s solo training race:

Loneliman 38.3

Will you join in to provide life-saving water for 100 kids in Africa? (Every $50 provides water for life!) Team World Vision

  1. Access to Clean Water is a deep need for more than 700 million people, who are left alone to cope. Let’s do something about it. Will you join me? As part of a training regimen to raise donations for life-giving world projects, I’ll be competing solo this Saturday in the Loneliman 38.3, and while training for October’s bigger race, Ironman AZ 70.3. I promise to swimbikerun faster as you give!
 

Enduring even further, for their sake (IMAZ 70.3)

I’m participating in IRONMAN Arizona 70.3 on October 16th, 2016, racing for Team World Vision to help provide clean water for kids and families in Africa! The needs are real, and there is something we can do!
Water-Effect-every-5-min_1024x530$50 = clean water for 1 person

I believe that Every Child Deserves Clean Water!
Do you? If so, please consider a donation of any size!
Thanks for your support!

Father-son joy! We did it, son.

Father-son joy! We did it, son.

Last year we set a modest goal of $1,500 while I trained for a sprint triathlon. In hopes of staying motivated I personally promised to match the amount raised if I finished the race in first place. (What happened? Read about it here, but suffice to say it was the best Father’s Day I can remember.)

We did much more than I even dreamed. Together we teamed up to provide life-changing water for more than 100 children in Africa!

Let’s do it again this year!

I’ll do the training and sweating, more than quadrupling the distance in this year’s race. It’s called a Half IRONMAN — or “70.3” (seventy-point-three) for the total miles. For about five hours I’ll endure and push my body to full exertion.

What drives me forward is thinking about those children who long to have life-changing water. Let’s provide it for them!

» Give CLEAN WATER!

every-child-deserves-clean-water Continue reading

 

Renewing Advent: Rescue is on the Way

“Christmas has become cozy.
Advent calls us to stay awake.”
—N.T. Wright

The forgotten season of Advent is upon us. What’s this “Advent,” you say? Well, it’s akin to Christmas but much bigger — and better — I say. Advent is a forgotten season because in the Christian Church around the globe we know Easter is a big deal, even though it moves around from year to year, can vaguely remember there’s something to give up during Lent (was it all sugar or just chocolate or do we give up unforgiveness?), and Pentecost sounds like a party with a delicious potluck.

Advent: Rescue is on the WayBut why Advent, and why not just call it Christmas-time, or even more broadly, “Happy Holidays”?

Well, let me say this at the outset: I’m not outraged when someone neglects to say “Merry Christmas,” or when a certain purveyor of caffeinated beverages takes those words off their red cups in order sell more of those red cups.

Christmas is so special, and the Holidays are “Holy Days” because JESUS is so special. He alone is Holy, pure, whole. That’s why we care, and He’s the reason for the season. His image is meant to be impressed upon every aspect of our lives. No gift or purchase can do that for me; I must enter into God’s Story and discover the meaning of Jesus personally.

I won’t rail against consumerism (much) here, nor rant about how we should have more Christmas cheer and be making more merry. I will say this: I long to embrace and embody the kind of Hope I find in the great promises of God. Advent is a reminder that I don’t often do this, and how we can again. More than one message, Advent is an unfolding narrative — the whole of Scripture and all of history — coming together in the incarnation of Jesus. This God-Man moved into the neighborhood and made God’s promises real. For us. To us.

So for this season of six weeks, we as a church family and as families within the church will join with our brothers and sisters around the globe keeping watch and waiting for the coming (again) of our King Jesus. Advent means “arrival” or “coming,” derived from the Latin word Adventus. So, as we celebrate His arrival through an unexpected and miraculous birth, we keep in mind His second coming, for the Son of Man will come again to wrap up the scrolls of history and right every wrong. And much wronging there has been! Jesus will make every sad thing untrue (as our favorite children’s Bible reminds).

Our efforts this season will be guided by the Advent Catechism 1, a helpful resource for all ages. Each Sunday from November 29th to January 3rd we will dive into the rich themes of the Advent Story, for all ages of Renew Kids and the main sermon teaching as well. I’m excited! 2Advent Catechism

Why six weeks? There’s much more to be discovered about this season 3, but suffice to say that the weeks leading up to Christmas Day cannot tell the whole story. There’s the travels of the Magi to come and behold the newborn King, on the day known as Epiphany (celebrated on Sunday, January 3rd, 2016). Technically, it’s really four weeks of Advent, followed by two weeks of Christmas.

Here’s the plan of emphases we’ll follow, each Sunday kicking off a new week:

11/29 (wk 1) A Distant Promise
12/6 (wk 2) Silence Broken
12/13 (wk 3) Hope Dawning
12/20 (wk 4) Beyond Belief
12/24 (Christmas Eve gathering @ 5 PM @ the Revival Building)
12/27 (wk 5) An Unlikely Rescuer
1/3/16 (wk 6) The Longing (+ Benediction)

Each week’s entry in the Advent Catechism has a story centered on that theme, bringing to light the promises of God and hopes of His people. All are encouraged to READ, MEMORIZE, CHAT, and PRAY. This four-fold pattern helps us remember well God’s remedies for what aches our souls. And it’s a helpful way to invest time around the dinner table.

This first week we honed in on the first lesson of Advent: “A Distant Promise.” With five responsive lines of biblical history we see God’s promises becoming a clearer reality:

Will you join us for Advent?

Advent is an invitation to ache with the longings of the world by believing that the incarnation of the Son of God is the solution to all of our problems. It’s rare to hear about a problem in today’s world that does not have a promising human-made solution, only to realize that today’s solutions will inevitably create tomorrow’s problems. On and on it goes, and without God and the Hope He brings by entering the Story, we will be left to our own devices.

Let us keep focus upon the coming of Jesus our King. He comes in unexpected ways, disrupting history, illuminating God’s promises, waking us up to the stunning reality of His promises.

But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light.
Therefore it says, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

—Ephesians 5:13-14

Advent Catechism

  1. Available for purchase in print ($15) or to download as a PDF ($10). Email hello@Godrenews.us to get your copy.
  2. There are many more helpful guides to the Advent season. My friend Tyler Braun has sound guidance on embracing and entering Advent, some of Bonhoeffer’s writings on Christmas and Advent have been edited for us, and I find that in every season the Mosaic Bible (NLT) helps me return to gospel roots each week of the year.
  3. See Justin Holcomb’s summary “What is Advent?”
 

Punching Monday in the face. (Why your pastor might be depressed today.)


Mondays are the worst, right? They just punch you in the face.

Unless you punch Monday in the face first.

(Not advocating violence per se, except that winning your heart decisively — and winning their hearts — is the key to finding joy, even on a Monday.)

Fight the good fight Winning the battle on Monday starts with surveying the land: What. Just. Happened. (?)

As a preaching pastor, I can wake up with a “case of the Mondays.” You ever feel that way? Lethargic, not wanting to move. Tough to get motivated. In a malaise, mentally and emotionally. 1

This experience is not confined to pastors, and it’s not just a spiritual thing. Rather, the root of this Monday feeling comes from what Archibald Hart calls “Post-adrenaline depression.” He describes it this way:

“…what I was experiencing was a profound shutdown of my adrenal system, following a period of high stress or demand. It was as if my adrenal system were saying, ‘That’s enough abuse for now; let’s give it a break,’ and shut down so that I had no choice in the matter.”

While this might seem like a mini-crisis, this slow-down provides a helpful clue to something we all need: active rest. Have you noticed that when you lay in bed all day you  feel achy later, while going for a brief walk actually energizes your body? Your body needs rest, but active rest is better.

The impetus (and partial title) for this post came from Mike Leake, who points out:

“This really isn’t unique to pastors. Even if you aren’t a pastor I’m guessing that you have had times of a great spiritual high, only to find yourself the next day feeling like a total schmuck.”

I’d say if you’re never honest about when you feel like a “schmuck,” then you have other problems.

Yet we need not be surprised or sidelined about needing to work at a slower pace in our jobs. While we seem to naturally swerve between over-confidence and despair, let us find a new rhythm to combat the inevitable fatigue and mental battles. Continue reading

  1. Surprise: not all pastors preach regularly, and so until the last three years hit me I didn’t realize the weight of the day after Sunday. Until this new season with Renew Church I was just as much a pastor/shepherd, but I did not preach regularly so this is all new-ish to me.
 

Do you only run when you feel like it? (And where do you run?)

Most mornings I wake up and go for a run, creating a mini-crisis.

Every run in 2015, visualized.

Every run in 2015, visualized.

What do you think about while exercising? I think about many things while running. For one, my thoughts are scattered in the darkness around, but eventually they take upon a new order as I turn to meditate on Scripture. Usually the passage from Sunday’s sermon (e.g., if on an early Monday morning) comes to mind, and I mull over what I said and should have said. Or the text I will speak on the following Sunday fills my mind, followed by its implications. I meditate on truth, and meaning, and beauty, and most of all, seek to loop back to the Father’s character.

To be honest, I don’t always feel like running, nor do I always feel like thinking. Sometimes I just want to “zone out.” But this is a sacred moment, perhaps an hour of uninterrupted personal space, the only of its kind that day.

Rise & Run

Rise & Run

The discipline of running — and going for a run, whether I feel like it or not — is akin to other disciplines in life. Like the effort needed empty the dishwasher, fold clothes, listen to voicemail, or respond to that ill-timed email. These habits are hardly convenient, but daily necessary. Like getting in the rhythm and routine of opening the Bible to allow God’s thoughts to interrupt and intersect my thoughts. This is Letting in Light, the brightest Light shining in the deepest darkness. 

[Video: God Wrote a Book from Desiring God.]

In chapter nine of When I Don’t Desire God, John Piper introduces a memorable and helpful acronym for what to pray before reading Scripture: I. O. U. S. »

  • Incline my heart to you, not to prideful gain or any false motive. (Psalm 119:36)
  • Open my eyes to behold wonderful things in your Word. (Psalm 119:18)
  • Unite my heart to fear your name. (Psalm 86:11)
  • Satisfy me with your steadfast love. (Psalm 90:14)

An unfortunate side effect of repeatedly praying the same prayer is that, over a period of time, it can lose its sense of pertinence. One way to keep it fresh is to unpack the content with language that expresses what you mean in a new way. 1

For example, here’s an amplification of the I. O. U. S. prayer:

  • Incline my heart to you, not to prideful gain or any false motive. That is, focus my affections and desires upon you, and eradicate everything in me that would oppose such a focus.
  • Open my eyes to behold wonderful things in your Word. That is, let your light shine and show me what you have willed to communicate through the biblical authors.
  • Unite my heart to fear your name. That is, enthrall me with who you are.
  • Satisfy me with your steadfast love. That is, fulfill me with the fact that your covenant love has been poured out on me through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

A prayer for each new day, and our new Family Verse for Renew Church:2

Psalm 90:14

  1. I.O.U.S. Devotional by —Jonathan Parnell of Desiring God.
  2.  Psalm 90:14 Scripture artwork by Hand Lettering Co.