Category Archives: grace

Book Review: God In The Whirlwind

God In the Whirlwind, by Tim Ellsworth

In the circles of the blogworld that I frequent, there have already been a couple of reviews of this book offered, but I feel compelled to add my two-cents worth.

This book chronicles the accounts of several students and faculty of Union University in Jackson, TN, whose lives were miraculously spared from the fury of an EF4 tornado on February 5 of this year.

I have never read a book (the Bible of course being considered separately) that fed my faith like this book. On a night when emergency personnel informed the local hospital that they should be prepared for one hundred casualties, God providentially delivered everyone on campus from dying in this storm.

Testimony after testimony provides a cohesive and gripping account that literally left me with goosebumps on my arms and tears in my eyes. Without a doubt, the faith and lives of those who encountered this twister have been changed forever.

It is a powerful testimony of the grace and glory of God. My recommendation is, “Buy this book.” Read it. Read it again and then pass it along to a friend who may be going through a storm of their own. It just may encourage them to look for God in their whirlwind.

Merry Christmas

Due to a busy holiday schedule and fighting a bad cold the last couple of weeks, I haven’t had a lot of time for productive blogging. Hopefully, after the new year, things will settle down and return to normal (whatever THAT is). 😉

 In the meantime, I want to wish all who come by this site a very Merry Christmas. I hope that the hope, joy, peace and love that characterizes the birth of Lord fills your life. I pray that you and your family will be warmed and filled with the bounty of God’s graciousness.

I pray for our troops. May they be successful in their endeavors, safe in their tours of duty and may our leaders agree upon a reasonable plan to get them home as soon as possible.

I pray for our missionaries. May they know the presence of their Master in a very special way. May God bless them and keep them and give them souls for their labors.

Most of all, I pray that everyone who reads this has received the greatest Christmas gift of all, the eternal life that is found only in the Jesus whose birth we are celebrating. Unto Him be all glory, honor and praise.

 Merry Christmas.

Trophies of Grace

From time to time I post reviews of concerts that I attend. Occasionally I have mentioned the Lighthouse Children’s Home that has sung at a few of these concerts.

We were blessed, yesterday, to have these young ladies come to Pine Park Baptist Church. They were with us in the morning worship service. As they sang and testified, the presence of God was manifested. Those who were in attendance yesterday expressed over and over to me what a tremendous blessing the service was.

They sang a number of songs, including a few a capella numbers that were really nice. Two songs in particular, though, that really touched my heart were the classic, “He Didn’t Throw the Clay Away” and a newer song that I had not heard before, “Trophies of Grace”.

As I sat and listened to these young ladies whose lives had been derailed by the world, and yet had been transformed by a relationship with God, I could not help but feel a deeper appreciation for God’s grace.

The group travels throughout the southeast. I highly recommend them for your church. If you would be interested in contacting them, you can do so through their website.

Christ the Sensitive Leader

   I occasionally often find myself in a bit of a leadership dilemna. There are times when I have a tendency to get too far ahead of those whom I am trying to lead. It’s not because I’m that much better or faster than them, it’s that I fail to be sensitive to where they are.

   Jesus was a master communicator who was sensitive to the individualities of those who were around Him. In one place you will find Him gently correcting Martha for getting her feathers ruffled at Mary. In another, you will see Him sternly rebuking the impulsive Peter who should have known better than to try to correct the teacher. In yet another instance, see Him use what might even be considered to be heavy-handed tactics (calling the Pharisees “generation of vipers”, driving the money-changers out of the temple) to get His point across.

   A great challenge to Christian leaders is to find the balanced sensitivity that Christ showed. Notice what Isaiah 42:3 has to say about Him:

A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench: he shall bring forth judgement unto truth.

   This text indicates that Jesus would be sensitive to both those who were broken and those who were on top of things. A “bruised reed” is quite literally a “cracked rod”. A rod was a very useful tool, especially for shepherds. However, if it ever became cracked due to use, age or stress, it was no longer strong enough to fulfill its purpose. Usually, so that it would not be used by mistake, the owner of a cracked rod would simply break the rod in two over his knee and throw the pieces in the fire.

   How often do we discard the cracked rods? Those who are discouraged, disillusioned or defeated, those who have failed and fallen, those who strayed, do not need to be discarded as being unprofitable. We don’t need to finish breaking them. Why? Because Jesus didn’t do it. The Master had the ability to repair the cracked rod and still use it for His glory. As ministers of His grace, can God not accomplish that same healing through us?

   By the same token, we should never discourage those whose passion for God is growing. Those who are a flax (a candle-wick) that are beginning to catch fire and burst into a light-giving flame for God should receive all of the encouragement that we can give. We should never quench those smoking flaxes with the cold waters of cynicism, pride or judgment.

   This is an area of my life and ministry that God has been reconstructing. My prayer is that God will make me to be a better listener,  a more perceptive, more compassionate, more patient, and generally more sensitive leader to those to whom I minister. I’m just glad that when I fail in these areas, He doesn’t break me over His knee and throw me away.

The Incredible Blackness Of the Human Heart

   With all of you, I have watched in horror for the last twenty-four hours as the awful events that have taken place at Virginia Tech University have unfolded. I have shaken my head at the senselessness of the whole ordeal. I have prayed for the friends, faculty and families of those involved.

   I have listened to the talking heads go on with their speculations, theories and queries. Almost immediately, it seems, people were trying to pin blame on the university administration and security for allowing the situation to escalate as it did. It is human nature,  I suppose, to try to find scapegoats upon which to place our grief and lack of understanding.

   I have listened to so-called “experts” analyze the situation, particularly the mind of the shooter, 23 year-old Cho Seung-Hui. I listened in amazent as one psychologist gave a diagnosis that was based entirely upon theory and guesswork at what might be found if a CAT scan was performed on the young man’s brain. He presented his thoughts that murderers had a different brain than “normal” folk. He had examined the brain scans of a number of murderers and stated that they seemed to have certain “abnormalities” that made them “vulnerable to violence.” His entire thesis was an effort to reassure those who heard him that their basic human goodness was still intact and that this shooter was some kind of deranged victim of a brain configuration that caused him to act the way he did.

   I am not an expert when it comes to matters of the human brain. My knowledge on the subject is limited to the facts that each of us has one and that we do not use it nearly as much as we should. The shooter may indeed have abnormalities in his brain that may have been contributing factors to this outburst of murderous mayhem, but his brain is not the root of the problem.

   The problem is his heart.

   The problem is the incredible blackness that sin produces in the human heart.

   When tragedies such as this occur, it is easy for us to try to identify with the victims, often to the point of feeling violated ourselves. We shed tears of compassion and commiseration. We may actually become sick to our stomach to think of the loss of precious lives. It is indeed sickening to see what sin has wrought in this situation. In one sense, this is a crime against all humanity.

   If we look hard enough, perhaps we can find some way to connect ourselves to these victims. It seems to make us feel better to do so.

   But one thing is for certain, each of us can identify with the shooter. Those words may produce a visceral reaction but they are the sordid truth. Every one of us has a heart that is blackened by the curse of sin. Given the proper series of circumstances and choices, any one of us is capable committing this heinous crime or worse. We can ignore and deny it, try to explain it away, but the truth remains, we are all sinners and there is only one antidote, the blood of Jesus.

   Think about it, the first sin that the Bible records is Adam and Eve partaking of the forbidden fruit. What is the second sin? Cain murdering his brother. Here are two sons from the same family, raised in the same manner. What was the difference? One of them chose to worship God, the other chose to worship self.

   When we put self on the throne of our lives, we remove the moral restraint that prevents us from being murderers, thieves, rapists and child molesters. We become more concerned with self-gratification than we do with obedience to God. His laws become inconsequential to us, our feelings become our prime directive.

   I look at this tragedy and feel incredible sympathy for the victims and their families. I am praying that the peace of God will enfold them and draw them close to Him. I see the utter bleakness of what has happened and realize that only God can bring healing to those who have been wounded so deeply.

   I look at the shooter and say, “There but for the grace of God, go I.”

The Abandoned Savior

   The thing that makes grace so glorious is the guilt that makes it so necessary.    Junior Hill

   One of the most haunting phrases in the Bible was uttered by Jesus on the cross, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabacthani,” that is to say, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.”

   As I pondered this statement recently, I wondered at the fact that God would forsake His Son. When I think of the love that I feel toward my own sons, I don’t believe there is anything they could do to make me despise them. If there is such a thing, it would be so heinous and awful that I cannot imagine what it would be.

   If I, with a flawed capacity to love, can love my sons that much, how much does God, who can love perfectly, love His own Son? I cannot imagine how awful Jesus must have become in the sight of God as He hung on the cross.

   We know, of course, that it was the bearing of our sins that caused God to forsake His only begotten Son.

   Imagine, all of the offense, pain, destruction, disease, brokeness, horror, injustice and death that sin has ever caused, or ever will cause, was concentrated in the person of Jesus Christ in one moment of time.

   Imagine, the wrath of God that is revealed from heaven against all unrighteousness, the same wrath that flooded Creation, poured fire and brimstone upon Sodom and Gomorrah, visited the plagues upon Egypt and all of the other judicial actions of God’s holiness was poured upon one man, in one moment of time.

   In the midst of violent injustice, excruciating pain, horrible shame and the abandonment of His friends, the thing that caused Him the most grief was the knowledge that His Father had turned His back on Him.

   God declared Him guilty, as guilty as sin. My guilt. My sin. My shame. My cross. My death.

   Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.

   He was wounded so that I could be healed.

   He was rejected so that I could be accepted.

   He was hated so that I could be loved.

   He was declared guilty so that I could be justified.

   He died so that I could live.

   He became what I was so that I can become what He is.

   Thank God for His wonderful, matchless, amazing grace.

   May my life be lived to the praise of the glory of that grace.

The Art of Christian Statesmanship–Part 2

   In the previous post in this series, I listed some negative aspects of debates that I have observed in theological debates that have taken place around the blogosphere. In the discussion that followed, some excellent points were made concerning right motives in debating and in the methods we employ while engaging in debate.

   I want to share with you some principles that I am trying to keep in mind when I engage in debates. As the Apostle Paul stated in Philippians, “I count not myself to have apprehended.” I am still learning to apply these, and at times my fleshly nature still rises up and works against these principles, but they are the goal to which I strive.

1.  I will assume that my opponent is a brother or sister in Christ. Unless I am debating and atheist or someone from a different religion, I am not going to assume that differences in interpretation of scripture arbitrarily mean they are not saved. Thus, I am going to give them the respect that the Bible says is due between children of God.

2.  I will remember that my goal should be edification.If I am only trying to prove that I am right and my opponent is wrong, then I will never achieve this goal. I cannot presumptiously excuse ungracious language or behavior simply because I think I am right. I must define a “win” as being the edification of the one whom I am debating. I do not have to compromise to achieve this, but I must be kind, gentle, meek, patient, temperate and above all, loving as I express what I believe to be the truth.

3.  I will remember the likelihood that my remarks are being read by unbelievers. I do not want my comments to be so vitriolic that they would harm the testimony of Christ and hinder someone from coming to Him.

4.  I will remember that I am not perfect and still have much to learn. Just because I have believed something all my life does not mean that it is true. Truth is defined by God’s Word alone, and even the brightest of theologians can be mistaken. If they can be wrong, who am I to think I have a monopoly on truth? Along those same lines, I will try to remember that just because my opponent may be wrong on one point does not mean that he is wrong all the time.

5.  I will remember that my ultimate goal will be the glory of God. Before I fire off that fiery response, I should ask myself, “Will God be glorified in this?” If I am trying to make myself appear intelligent, wise or superior to my opponent, I will be operating from the wrong motive and will be prone to use methods and language that do not glorify the Savior.

   As I said, I am learning these principles. I am ashamed to say that I have learned their importance because of my own shortcomings as much as those I have observed in others. By God’s grace, I intend, however, to adhere to them as closely as possible from now on.

   May Christ be glorified in all I say and do.

The Art of Christian Statesmanship–Part 1

   From time to time, I have posted on this blog about gracious speech. Christians are called upon by God to use speech that is filled with grace and ministers edification to the hearer. I would like to take that thought a little further and apply the principles of grace to methods that we sometimes see employed in theological debates, particularly on the internet.

    Let me say up front that I am exploring these ideas as a learner, not a master. I have been tempted, at times, to use every underhanded tactic that I am about to describe. I am ashamed to say that there have been times when I have stooped to using some of them in one form or another. I have been doing a lot of praying and thinking about this topic, though, and am trying to set a higher standard for myself. I want to share it with you. In this post, I want to point out some of the unsavory methods that I have seen used in theological debates. In the next in this series, I will propose some positive methods to which I am going to try to hold myself to following.

   I titled this post, “The Art of Christian Statesmanship,” because of the implications of the phrase, “Christian statesmanship”. Statesmanship is the art of diplomacy. I would like for us, for the sake of this conversation, to view debate as a diplomatic endeavor.

   Debate can be a very healthy thing. Debate can cause us to re-examine our theology, thus giving us opportunity to see where we may be wrong, or further solidifying our grasp on truth. Debate can broaden our understanding of the way others think. We can be exposed to ideas, concepts, and tenets that we previously were not aware of. Debate can clear up misconceptions that one may have about another’s position.

   Debate can be a healthy thing, it can also turn ugly. 

   What I am about to share is hardly earth-shattering news. If you have been involved with, or simply observed many theological debates in bloggyland, you have more than likely seen some of the things I am about to describe.

   In its simplest and purest form, debate should be a dialogue between opposing points of view. It should consist of one side presenting its own perspective, allowing the other side to present their perspective, and then perhaps each side responding with further information about their own position or questioning the validity of the opponent’s position (not the opponent’s intelligence, etc.). I call this “statesmanship” because it should be an exercise in diplomacy. I call it “Christian statesmanship” because above all it should be carried out in a manner that reflects the grace of Christ.

   Here are some tactics that I feel have no place in Christian debate:

  1. Allowing debates to devolve into a series of personal attacks. Name-calling and character assassination do not minister grace to the hearer.
  2. The use of “straw men.” This is a deliberate attempt to misrepresent an opponents position for the purpose of making their position look ridiculous.
  3. Attempting to align an opponent’s view with another view that is heretical without a clear line of connection. It is not unusual for various theological camps to share some common ground and even common terminology. The fact that they do so does not mean that they are in line with each other. Those who resort to this tactic should be careful, it is likely that their own position could be connected in this manner to a doctrine that they find revolting.
  4. Ridicule, sarcasm and generally rude behavior. Making fun of someone who holds a differing point of view does not minister grace. I have heard it argued that men of God (including Jesus) used sarcasm at times to make their point. I would say that there is a significant difference between Elijah using sarcasm against the prophets of Baal, Jesus using sarcasm against the Pharisees, and us using it against a brother or sister in Christ who has an opinion (or even a conviction) that differs from our own. I have yet to see any of these tactics used in a positive way in contemporary debates.
  5. Using a difference of opinion as a basis for judging.This is perhaps the most reprehensible of all tactics. When we allow our distaste for someone’s pet doctrine to cause us to question their love for God or their salvation, we should immediately step back and examine our own heart. I am not speaking about differences in religions, I am speaking about brothers and sisters in Christ who may interpret a particular Scripture text differently than we do.

   This list is not exhaustive, but it certainly covers many areas which Christians should avoid in our debates. Hopefully, in the next post we will take a look at some positive methods of discussion.

   Until then, be filled with the grace and peace of God.

  

A Rose Among the Thorns

Please don’t read this and feel sorry for me. I am going to share a lot of frustration to just let you know what was going on in my life this past weekend, and then to share with you how God let me know He is still in control.

It actually started during the beginning of last week. My telephone suddenly developed the habit of just cutting out. (Yes, I payed the bill for those who are curious 🙂 ) In the middle of calls, or for hours on end, I would be without a telephone. It has something to do with technical problems that my provider is experiencing.

On Friday and Saturday, absolutely nothing went as planned. Not everything was a catastrophe, but it seemed like no matter what I had planned, it went awry. Once my phone finally started working again, the battery in the thing went as dead as a hammer.

I had great intentions concerning visits, events, etc. I was supposed to leave yesterday to attend the Georgia Baptist Convention, none of that worked out.

The one thing I thought would be good, turned into an absolute disaster. I took my son, Clay, to the Florida State-Wake Forest game Saturday evening. The weather report called for a mildly cool evening with no rain. WRONG! Just before kick-off, it poured rain on us, soaking us to the skin. This was followed by a cold wind that felt like it was going to cut through us. On top of that, the Seminoles looked like they had never even seen a football before. Cold, wet, miserable and getting disgusted with our team, we left at half-time.

It continued at church the next morning. For some reason attendance was low for the day. Just before Sunday School, I got word that one our deacon’s wife was taken to the emergency room with congestive heart failure.

Between Sunday School and morning service, another of our deacons asked me if he could share a testimony in the service. I asked him to come up when I finished the announcements.

He got up and thanked the church for praying for him. For a little over a year now, he has been battling an aggressive form of lymphoma. The doctors opted to use an advanced schedule of chemotherapy to treat him which was nearly more than he could stand. He stood before our church body yesterday and proclaimed, “The doctors told me that three times they had given up on my chances of survival. I am here today by the grace of God in answer to the prayers of God’s people.” As of his last report, there is no cancer in his body.

As he stood there praising the Lord for the gift of life itself, the problems of the last week returned to their proper place in my perspective. I repented for my self-pity and went on with the service. God blessed and we had a great day.

God is good.

Welcome Aboard

Welcome to the new home of Heavenly Heartburn. For some time now I have been very dissatisfied with the technical inconsistency of Blogger. At the recommendations of some blogging friends I have decided to move to WordPress. (Thanks Steve and Tim).

Making this move will allow me to do several things that I have been wanting to do for some time now. It is my hope that visiting Heavenly Heartburn will enhance your walk with Christ. I want my blog to be a place where worship, missions and discipleship is promoted. For this purpose, I have added several pages that contain links to music, missions, books and resource sites. I hope that you will explore them and take advantage of them.

I also want to take this opportunity to reaffirm the purpose of Heavenly Heartburn. From time to time I get asked where did I come up with the name. It is based on the response of the disciples who walked with Jesus on the road to Emmaus, “Did not our hearts burn within us as He expounded the Scripture?” I hope that as I share what God is teaching me on my journey it will cause the flame of your passion for Christ to be kindled to greater heights.

I want my blog to be a place that honors God. I hope that those who visit will find that it is a site where they can discuss, pray, share and laugh with others in a spirit of gracious Christian fellowship. I hope that iron will be sharpened here and that each of you will be encouraged to serve God more in His kingdom.

So come on in, make yourself at home, look around and check out all the new things. I always enjoy hearing from you so leave a comment and check out some of the links (more will be added soon).

 God bless.