One large truth keeps dropping in front of my face ever since the death of philosopher and author Dallas Willard last week.
I’ve read numerous tributes by friends and associates of Willard’s and they keep bringing up this one large truth. I had just one conversation with Dallas Willard years ago, but it confirmed to me that he was driven by this one large truth. Many of my friends who have promoted spiritual formation in the last twenty years have also been speaking about this one large truth since Willard’s death.
John Stott spoke about this one large truth in his last public address given in the summer of 2007, saying that this truth is the sum of the Christian life. Continue Reading…
Psalm 25 says “they will be put to shame who are treacherous without excuse.” In the aftermath of the terrorist bombing in Boston, we may pray other words from the same psalm: “To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul; in you I trust, O my God. Do not let me be put to shame, nor let my enemies triumph over me.”
To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul; in you I trust, O my God. Do not let me be put to shame, nor let my enemies triumph over me. No one whose hope is in you will ever be put to shame, but they will be put to shame who are treacherous without excuse.
Once again the unthinkable has happened. Yet this is the way we now think of the world since 9/11. Another beautiful day ripped apart by explosions that tore the lives of innocent bystanders. Unthinkable. Shameful. Treacherous.
There is a word for this: treachery. But what do you do on the other side of the terrorist’s attack? What can we say in the face of pure treachery? Continue Reading…
Announcing… a new initiative this year, which we are calling “In Search of Dignity.”
I’d like to tell you about a new initiative this year, which we are calling “In Search of Dignity.” I have come to believe that dignity, and its opposite, indignity, sum up the heights and the depths of what our lives can be.
Dignity means worth or value. It is what God intended when he created humanity. It is what the careless and cruel deeds of humanity spoil but cannot destroy. Continue Reading…
Message (“Words of Encouragement”) given by Pastor Stuart Briscoe at the Memorial Service for Jennifer Sebena, December 29, 2012 at Elmbrook Church.
[Jennifer Sebena was gunned down while on patrol in the early morning hours of Christmas Eve, 2012.]
It was Christmas Eve in Wauwatosa. In the early hours of the morning. Most of the citizens were asleep in their beds, warm, comfortable, safe. The Wauwatosa Police Department was on the job patrolling and protecting. A solitary squad car made its way on quiet streets past the Christmas lights and the Santa signs, a lone officer at the wheel. Jennifer Sebena, 30 years of age, two years on the force had wanted to be a cop for as long as she could remember and when she set her mind to something she pursued it with diligence. No surprise she graduated top of her class at the academy. She was on patrol.
Jennifer was suffering under no illusions when she buckled on her bullet proof vest that night. She knew the Wauwatosa Police Department had not lost an officer on duty in their 96-year history, but she also knew that the streets in the early morning hours are not the safest places in the world. Like all her fellow officers she knew that putting on the uniform was a passport to harm’s way.
And I asked “why, why, why, oh God? Why did it have to be only my sister who was killed on the patrol that day?” -20-year-old female American soldier speaking at her twin sister’s funeral.
It is the mystery that always seems to move further from our reach the more we reach out for an answer. The issue you bristle at hearing. The question you can’t help but ask.
Why do bad things happen to innocent people?
Years ago I would have responded to this question differently than I do today. Like most questions, I assumed this one was a blank needing to be filled in, a query looking for the most biblical and reasonable solution that can be offered. And while that is partly true, it is obvious that for many who voice these words, it is not a question at all. It is a cry of anguish. It is the way people say, “I am hurting so badly, and I just don’t understand it.” No matter what “answer” someone gives to the problems of pain and evil, suffering people are still left with the gap of what or whom they have lost. Answers don’t replace people. The question is not one of philosophy, but of personal need: “Why, oh why, does this have to be?” Or, as the Psalms so often say, “How long, O Lord?”
You have said in your word that whenever we know we need wisdom, we should ask for it, and that you will give it generously. As we take the extraordinary step to vote for our local, regional, and national leaders, we pray for your wisdom that comes from above. Continue Reading…
We will perish in foolishness if we do not grow in wisdom.
We elected you to office to do near-impossible tasks: to defend us in an unsafe world, to structure the basic services of an ordered society, to protect those who are vulnerable. We ask you to govern, but with our consent. We plead with you to address major social and economic problems, but we know that our culture often works against solutions. Continue Reading…
I have just returned from Hamburg, Germany, having spoken at a conference sponsored by the Evangelical Free Church of Germany and doing two days of workshops. The interactions were lively and engaged as we looked at faith in a postmodern world.
Hamburg is a beautiful historic city in the north, the second largest port in all of Europe. It is prosperous, cosmopolitan, and influential. The Beatles became a real band in the clubs of Hamburg, setting them up to be discovered in England. Some of the 9/11 terrorists came from a cell based in Hamburg. Continue Reading…
We will perish in foolishness if we do not grow in wisdom.
We elected you to office to do near-impossible tasks: to defend us in an unsafe world, to structure the basic services of an ordered society, to protect those who are vulnerable. We ask you to govern, but with our consent. We plead with you to address major social and economic problems, but we know that our culture often works against solutions.
In short, we ask you to do those things that do not come naturally to human beings. But we need you to try.
We all must grow past the foolishness of naivety, irresponsibility, and cynicism. And we need leaders who will lead the way. We call on you to seek a higher wisdom in your leadership.
You have power, but the corruptions of pride and arrogance will ruin your integrity.
You have authority, but you need to develop moral authority to have an enduring and honorable influence.
You have responsibility to speak truth, but there are powerful forces compelling you to spin, obfuscate, and lie.
We need you to be intelligent and learned, but with wisdom. We need strong leadership that comes not from force of personality and will, but from the strength of truth. We do not need you to dictate what we should do, we need streams of wisdom so that we will all understand what we may do and should choose to do.
Above all we need respect. We need you to respect all people in every part of the world regardless of their station in life because the dignity of human beings bestowed by God the Creator is the foundation of a civilized society. (1)
The “unalienable rights” of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness need to be balanced with the responsibilities of justice, equity, and generosity.
We need you to come up with good ideas that are based on great ideals. We, the public, understand that disagreement, debate, and tension are all part of the process of governing. But we implore you to find consensus for the vexing problems of our times.
We have elected you to do near-impossible tasks. That is why you need “the wisdom from above” which is “first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.” (2) If your work is infused with that quality of wisdom, there is no telling how much you might accomplish.
Carry out your tasks by modeling what is required of all people: “to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.” (3)
Winning is not enough. Dominance is empty. Common sense is not at all common. We pray that you will have the the courage and selflessness of Solomon who said to God on the day he became a leader: “give me wisdom… to govern this great people.” (4)
(photo: Bewilderment at the scene of the shooting.)
The tragic murders that took place in the Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, just a few miles from where I live, raises the question, just who are the Sikhs, who constitute the fifth-largest organized religion in the world? One interesting thing: the word “sikh” means “learner.” Same meaning as “disciple.” Here is a short piece by The Gospel Coalition.
Yesterday the Internet and other media lit up with a story of a man quitting his job. His name is Greg Smith, a mid-level executive with the investment banking firm Goldman Sachs. It is what he put in his letter of resignation–carried as an op-ed piece in the New York Times–that grabbed the attention of millions.
In his letter, “Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sachs,” Smith decried a corruption of the culture of the immensely powerful firm. He claimed that in his twelve years there he witnessed a degrading of the company’s most valuable asset, the “secret sauce” of the firm as he called it: a culture in which the company succeeded because it sought to serve its clients well.
Integrity has eroded, humility is non-existent, and the only value driving the firm is the bottom line. Smith recounts executives calling clients “muppets” and describing success as “ripping the eyeballs out” of someone among other choice anecdotes. Continue Reading…
“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched-this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared to us…. We write this to make our joy complete” (1 John 1).
The Incarnation was not a divine visitation in the mere form of a human being. Jesus was no holograph of divinity. Some ancient self-described sophisticates called the Gnostics, who wanted to make Christianity more spiritual than it already was, said that the Savior only appeared human and to possess real flesh. He was a super-spiritual being who came to impart cryptic saving knowledge. If you could understand this coded truth and grasp the lingo, then you would be enlightened, and thus saved by the knowledge. They even said that the Savior went nowhere near the cross. He switched identities with Simon of Cyrene, the man who was forced to carry Jesus’ cross, and then stood at a distance, laughing at the foolish Romans who thought they had nailed the man who claimed to be Messiah to the cross.
In the 11th century, a wise Christian by the name of Anselm wrote a small book called Cur Deus Homo, Why God Became Man, and in it he offered a straightforward interpretation of salvation. Anselm said that only man should solve the problem of sin—but only God could. Who ought to suffer the consequences for the mistakes and crimes of human beings? Human beings, of course. But the problem is, we cannot really pay for our own sins. We were designed as creatures of perfect goodness and nobility. So every failing, every negligence, every assault against another person puts us deeper and deeper into a moral deficit. No one can make up for all that.
If you are looking for a set of values that will give dignity to your life, that will connect you with the life of God, and that will work at a practical level, you need not look any further than these: reverence and respect.
Reverence is what is supposed to happen in our hearts when we are exposed to the power and majesty of God. Reverence (Latin, reverentia) means awe. Wonder. Esteem. Even fear. Reverence is the prophet saying “Woe to me… I am a man of unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5). It is the newly-called disciple of Jesus saying “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8). It is the submissive apostle saying: “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!” (Romans 11:33).
The purpose of worship is for us to be awe-filled (different from aw-ful!) to the point that we are driven to submission to God. The main word for worship in the Greek New Testament means “to bend the knee.” So every act of worship: praise, prayer, offering, the reading and exposition of Scripture, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, are all most effective when they lead to awe. And that awe is not confined to a church building. We can, and must, stay bowed before God in the workplace, at school, in our families. Even a professional football quarterback may go down on one knee when he feels grateful to God for being able to his job well–even though the brief act of submission will bring derision and ridicule down on him. People just don’t get it. In our culture we like it when our leaders strut and brag. Reverence makes people uncomfortable.
I have always had mixed feelings about believers in the U.S. who complain constantly about the persecution they experience for their faith. That is because there is a history of persecution of Christians with real blood on the ground. Actual blood. Torture. Corpses. And this is the reality today. I know people who have been killed. I’ve spoken in churches in other parts of the world where bullet holes are still visible. Christian persecution is real.
One cannot deny that there are strong anti-Christian cultural forces at work today in the U.S. which require thoughtful and substantive responses. Real apologetics (like the Christian leaders did in the second century to respond to the rumors and biases against them). Real witness. Not just complaining.
Then week before last I was stunned to see the cover of Newsweek magazine with the article title: “The War On Christians.” I thought it might be a sarcastic reference to religious rancor in the U.S. right now. But it wasn’t. It was a chilling report by Ayaan Hirsi Ali about the many places in the world where real martyrdom is occurring.
When I’m honest I admit that there are so many other competing desires, so many other internal voices, that this longing is easily compromised by my own self-centeredness and by the clamor of living in this world. I know I need ways every day to think about and follow patterns that will keep me in touch with this one unalterable reality: God “fills everything in every way” (Ephesians 1:23). And he is the only one who can. The opposite of a filled life is an empty life. Yet for everything that seems to offer a certain “fullness” of life—our work, our recreation, our relationships, our belongings, our adventures—there is only one who can really fill our lives, or fulfill our lives. Who can put in our hearts a deep and enduring sense of peace? Who can motivate us to truly love? Who can fill our minds with thoughts that will elevate us and make us wiser people? Who can guide our wills so that the decisions we make will be smart and respectable? Who can give us a sense of greatness and nobility in our lives? Who can fill us with strength when we’re in the middle of a struggle? Only God.
Download the E-booklet “Living a God-Filled Life” when you sign up for “The Brook Letter.” (Already subscribed to “The Brook Letter” and want “Living a God-Filled Life”? Send a request to info AT thebrooknetwork.org.)
Sarah Hale, a magazine editor, petitioned for a national day of thanksgiving for fifteen years. In 1863 she got her wish in the Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1863 made by President Abraham Lincoln. Here is the remarkable text, worth three minutes of our time to read, and a day to digest…
On Sunday morning, September 16, 2001, people crowded our church, as most other churches, like we only see at a holiday like Christmas or Easter. This non-holiday, precipitated by the unholy events of September 11, was a scurrying to God. The mood was unlike anything I’ve ever seen. People were subdued and sober. They spoke sparingly to each other. People came with a kind of chasm in their hearts. We could all sense it. Not only were hearts blasted open, but we could sense what was really inside: where there was strength where there was weakness.
[Here is the sermon I shared with Elmbrook Church the Sunday after 9/11, ten years ago, based on what Psalm 25 says about treachery.]
A message given at Elmbrook Church, September 16, 2001 Mel Lawrenz, Senior Pastor
We have been through a harrowing week. It is good that we are here to worship today. Every evening since Tuesday hundreds of people have come together here to pray and to be with each other. This week people have gathered in churches all over the world with a deep conviction that this is a time to pray and to seek God. Whatever you have brought with you to this time of worship in your mind and heart–be it fear or rage or confusion or compassion or hurt or confidence or anxiety–you are meeting with God who gave you life and who knows you better than anyone else knows you and even better than you know yourself. He is the only one who loves you enough to work in you to give you a peace that passes all understanding.
I find this week’s cover of Newsweek magazine for the 10-year anniversary of 9/11chilling. It is simply a brilliant blue sky and in the upper right corner the underside of a jetliner frozen in a moment of time before calamity.
People are starting to tell their 9/11 stories to each other again. Where were you? What were you thinking? How did it affect you?
[I have given copies of this to many leaders, and have had leadership groups listen to the audio in groups. This is a seminal address. Every Christian leader should read this!]
John Stott’s Final Public Address ‘The model – becoming more like Christ.’ Sermon delivered at the Keswick Convention July 17th 2007.
I remember very vividly, some years ago, that the question which perplexed me as a younger Christian (and some of my friends as well) was this: what is God’s purpose for His people? Granted that we have been converted, granted that we have been saved and received new life in Jesus Christ, what comes next? Of course, we knew the famous statement of the Westminster Shorter Catechism: that man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever: we knew that, and we believed it. We also toyed with some briefer statements, like one of only five words – love God, love your neighbour. But somehow neither of these, nor some others that we could mention, seemed wholly satisfactory. So I want to share with you where my mind has come to rest as I approach the end of my pilgrimage on earth and it is – God wants His people to become like Christ. Christlikeness is the will of God for the people of God…
[Rev. John R. W. Stott, one of the greatest Bible teachers, pastors, and evangelical statesmen of all time, passed away this morning. Here are some reflections I had written a few weeks back...]
One day New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote a piece called “Who Is John Stott?” Brooks was bemoaning the fact that the media always choose the wrong people to represent evangelical Christianity, putting the microphone in front of people who are, in his opinion, “buffoons.” If reporters were smart, Brooks said, they’d look to John R. W. Stott as the voice of evangelical Christianity. It is a voice that is “friendly, courteous and natural. It is humble and self-critical, but also confident, joyful and optimistic.” Brooks went on to reflect on why this evangelical preacher is so compelling to him, a Jew. It has to do with Stott’s uncompromising “thoughtful allegiance to scripture.” Brooks concluded: “most important, he does not believe truth is plural. He does not believe in relativizing good and evil or that all faiths are independently valid, or that truth is something humans are working toward. Instead, Truth has been revealed.”
Are you in the Milwaukee area? Interested in free, public training at Elmbrook? Elmbrook’s Women2Day ministry is hosting Spring Expo in a couple weeks. Open to men and women, Elmbrookers and non-Elmbrookers, believers and those that are questioning faith. Continue Reading…
I read Love Wins the day it came out and wrote a blog post that got some reaction. In the post I thought I was pretty careful to indicate I was not reviewing the book that early on, but rather, linked to some pretty incisive critical reviews by some real experts. I also suggested that there is nothing wrong with wrestling with the idea of hell. Abraham, after all, wrestled with the judgment of God, as did many other writers of Scripture. I don’t mean rejecting it, but sensing the severity of the doctrine. Of realizing what eternal separation from God really means.
Did you miss out on last week’s “Pursuit”? Don’t live near Milwaukee? Here’s the audio so you can listen in!
This presentation featured Mel Lawrenz speaking on “How Many Ways are There to God?” with special live video guest Mark Mittelberg, author of Becoming a Contagious Christian and The Questions Christians Hope No One Will Ask. Continue Reading…
If you’re in the Milwaukee area, join us this Thursday night for PURSUIT, a one- night presentation on the meaning of the death and resurrection of Christ. Do you know someone who believes that Christ died but just doesn’t understand how it impacts life today? Have you ever wondered what Christ’s resurrection means for Christians living 2,000 years later? What does the atonement really mean? This event will seek to answer some of those questions… free and open to the public, it will feature a presentation by Mel Lawrenz, live video guest Dr. Scot McKnight, and an extended time of Q&A. Continue Reading…
When I went through the mail today I found and opened a box and was surprised and delighted to find six copies of my book I Want to Believe: Finding Your Way in an Age of Many Faiths in a brand new German translation. I didn’t even know a German publisher had picked up on it. The cover and print quality is great! (Leave it to the Germans.) So, if you know a German-speaker, feel free to point him or her to Wenn Ich Glauben Konnte.
Let’s just be straightforward about it: Rob Bell’s newly released book Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived is controversial, provocative, and potentially divisive. Controversial? Of course, the topic is! Provocative? Of course, he states that he means to challenge widely-held assumptions. Divisive? Only if we allow it to be.
It may be too much to hope for, but it would be a good thing if the controversy stirred up by this book prompted people to do some careful biblical study and theological reflection on the issue of eternal judgment.
The spirit and substance of the Lausanne movement, which focusses on spreading the good news of Jesus in the world, is encapsulated in two historic documents, The Lausanne Covenant, and the Manila Manifesto. Now a third communication has been completed and released in final form today. “The Cape Town Commitment: A Confession of Faith and a Call to Action” is the result of the historic gathering of 4,000 Christian leaders from 190 different countries last year in October.
Lindsay Brown, Lausanne Movement International Director, says of the document: “Each generation needs to restate the biblical gospel for its own time. Continue Reading…
Christianity Today to Billy Graham: What are the most important issues facing evangelicals today?
“I’m grateful for the evangelical resurgence we’ve seen across the world in the last half-century or so. It truly has been God’s doing. It wasn’t like this when I first started out, and I’m amazed at what has happened—new evangelical seminaries and organizations and churches, a new generation of leaders committed to the gospel, and so forth. But success is always dangerous, and we need to be alert and avoid becoming the victims of our own success.
Will we influence the world for Christ, or will the world influence us? But the most important issue we face today is the same the church has faced in every century: Will we reach our world for Christ? In other words, will we give priority to Christ’s command to go into all the world and preach the gospel? Or will we turn increasingly inward, caught up in our own internal affairs or controversies, or simply becoming more and more comfortable with the status quo? Will we become inner-directed or outer-directed? The central issues of our time aren’t economic or political or social, important as these are. The central issues of our time are moral and spiritual in nature, and our calling is to declare Christ’s forgiveness and hope and transforming power to a world that does not know him or follow him. May we never forget this.” Read the whole interview in CT.
.22 caliber bullets ripping into the bodies of nineteen people in Tuscon, Arizona, was just the beginning of the wounds felt in America in the last few days. A disconnected young man, a handgun, and a scrambled mind is all it took for one minute of horror to erupt in the sheer ordinariness of a supermarket parking lot. Six dead. A U.S. Congresswoman shot in the head, but surviving.
Next were the fusillades of words–accusations, recriminations, thrashing for understanding. Is there a connection between bitter political rhetoric and acts of violence? Or, at least, does a society suffer when the business of governing, law and order, is seen as a war unfolding, and victory for one’s tribe as the only suitable outcome? Continue Reading…
Over a period of decades millions of people have tuned into the granddaddy of television-evangelism church services: the Crystal Cathedral of Dr. Robert H. Schuller. But from the start it has not been without controversy.
Schuller’s unapologetic philosophy of ministry was to address the emotional brokenness in people and make them feel better about themselves. But even the gentlest critics of the message and ministry of the Crystal Cathedral have pointed out that this cannot possibly be the whole gospel. The ministry has now filed for bankruptcy. An editorial in Christianity Today, Cracks in the Crystal Cathedral: Why we are better off letting God make the gospel relevant, offers a perspective.
Thinking about making some New Year’s resolutions? The Resolutions of Jonathan Edwards began as a list of 21 when he was a young man. Edwards, considered by many the greatest theologian in American history and a central figure in the Great Awakening, added to the list over the years, and reviewed the list on a weekly basis. Eric Reed gives some highlights. (Who is Jonathan Edwards?)
Here is the complete list (not for the faint of heart!)…
Being sensible that I am unable to do any thing without God’s help, I do humbly entreat him, by his grace, to enable me to keep these Resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to his will, for Christ’s sake.
Remember to read over these Resolutions once a week.
1. Resolved, That I will do whatsoever I think to be most to the glory of God, and my own good, profit, and pleasure, in the whole of my duration; without any consideration of the time, whether now, or never so many myriads of ages hence. Resolved, to do whatever I think to be my duty, and most for the good and advantage of mankind in general. Resolved, so to do, whatever difficulties I meet with, how many soever, and how great soever.
2. Resolved, To be continually endeavouring to find out some new contrivance and invention to promote the forementioned things.
3. Resolved, If ever I shall fall and grow dull, so as to neglect to keep any part of these Resolutions, to repent of all I can remember, when I come to myself again.
4. Resolved, Never to do any manner of thing, whether in soul or body, less or more, but what tends to the glory of God, nor be, nor suffer it, if I can possibly avoid it.
5. Resolved, Never to lose one moment of time, but to improve it in the most profitable way I possibly can.
6. Resolved, To live with all my might, while I do live.
7. Resolved, Never to do any thing, which I should be afraid to do if it were the last hour of my life.
8. Resolved, To act, in all respects, both speaking and doing, as if nobody had been so vile as I, and as if I had committed the same sins, or had the same infirmities or failings, as others; and that I will let the knowledge of their failings promote nothing but shame in myself, and prove only an occasion of my confessing my own sins and misery to God. Vid. July 30.
9. Resolved, To think much, on all occasions, of my dying, and of the common circumstances which attend death.
10. Resolved, when I feel pain, to think of the pains of martyrdom, and of hell.
11. Resolved, When I think of any theorem in divinity to be solved, immediately to do what I can towards solving it, if circumstances do not hinder. xxi
12. Resolved, If I take delight in it as a gratification of pride, or vanity, or on any such account, immediately to throw it by.
13. Resolved, To be endeavouring to find out fit objects of liberality and charity. Continue Reading…
Thanks to all of you who have stopped by the website of The Brook Network since we opened up just a few months ago. You are from all 50 states and 82 different countries. And here are the top posts you visited or invited others to visit in 2010…
I guess we share with others things that make us smile and things that make us cry.
2010 will soon be history and we’ll be off into a new year. Deuteronomy 1:30-31 would be good to remember now: “The LORD your God, who is going before you, will fight for you, as he did for you in Egypt, before your very eyes, and in the desert. There you saw how the LORD your God carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went until you reached this place.”
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders… and of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.” (Isaiah 9:6-7)
Government. Does that word strike a positive note in you, or negative? Of course, we’re used to complaints about “government” because governing often falls into the hands of imperfect people Continue Reading…