Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Keeping from Worthless Things

Psalm 101 is a powerful little chapter. It is David’s vow of integrity before God. The Psalm consists of a series of “I will” statements. It opens, for example, with “I will sing of steadfast love and justice; to you, O Lord, I will make music.” While  can’t recall the last time I saw a contemporary praise chorus singing about God’s justice (or his “judgments” it could be translated), still, I think we generally are pleasantly surprised to find a promise to worship God in song as part of David’s description of a life of integrity! We can easily give way to the image of a an upright life as being a cold, solemn life of pure, ridged discipline. It is delightful to see that a life of song and heart filled praise and rejoicing is a part of the integrity that God desires.

The list ends with a command that David, as king, could mean literally, but most of us have to adapt a bit in application to our own lives, as few of us are in any position to rightly promise, “Morning by morning I will destroy all the wicked in the land, cutting off all the evildoers from the city of the Lord.” Yet even here, there is certainly a principle which we can rightly apply.

Perhaps the most striking, the most truly daunting of the vows that David here makes (at least for our modern entertainment and media driven culture) is, “I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless.” We are a people who loves, perhaps more than anything else, to set things before our eyes. We love to parade in front of us a constant stream of images, and if we are being honest, the vast majority of them are worthless. Indeed, that is a great part of their appeal! They amuse and distract, they entertain and occupy us exactly because they are designed only for that purpose. I have seen Christians try their dead level best to defend the wonderful “gospel themes” in movies as morally dreadful as Deadpool and Wolf of Wallstreet. I have seen bible studies designed around watching weekly episodes of TV shows like “LOST,” we have become extremely artful and finding ways to “sanctify” our addiction to placing worthless things before our eyes. We scoff at any suggestion by those ignorant, fundamentalist radicals that just maybe, in the fleeting moments between our birth and our death, while the eternity of our neighbors is on the line, that just maybe 18 hours a week of Cat videos or a month without sleep to beat Skyrim might not be the best way to direct our eyes and devote our time and thoughts and energy. We think that guy without a TV is weird, the guy without a smart phone is a hipster, and the guy with no home internet is insane!

Now, if you’re reading this a year from when I wrote it and don’t remember any of the particular movies or TV shows or video games I just listed, ignore that and think about the point. And the point isn’t that owning any of these technologies is innately wrong. I’m posting this blog on the internet for you to look at with your home computer. These things can be used fruitfully, if used productively and for righteous purposes, and in careful moderation. And none of these technologies existed when David wrote his words. There are plenty of worthless things to set before one’s eyes without modern media, we’ve just created new and faster ways to do what was already in the human heart to do. Primitive cultures set worthless things before their eyes. The Amish set worthless things before their eyes. It may help us out a bit to unplug so as to get our devotion to looking at worthless things under control, but the technology is not ultimately the culprit. Our sinful hearts are the culprits. We just really like setting our eyes on worthless things, and if we are being honest, care little in our moment to moment life about the priorities of God.

Proverbs 12:11 says “He who tills his land will have plenty of bread. But he who pursues worthless things lacks sense.” Worthless things are not necessarily themselves “evil” things, but things that are a waste of time. Things that we may enjoy, but that serve no ultimate purpose. We may value them, but we shouldn’t. They simply lack worth. Our priorities are not what they should be. We go to the churches with the best music and the most amusing preachers and the coolest slides while he’s preaching for the same reason we rush out early to get home to the game and then spend Sunday evening watching all the shows we saved on the DVR or we binge the night away on Netflix. The problem is the same. It’s an eye problem. We yearn for amusement. We crave worthless sensation. We attach great significance to what is really little more than entertainment, so as to ease our conscience about how utter devoid of meaning so much of our day to day lives have become. This ought not be, my friend. We are made for more than this!

This doesn’t mean that everything in our life has to be deeply spiritual, at least not in the way we normally think of. The Proverb above shows us that working the field so that you can eat bread is not a worthless thing. Many mundane things in life are not worthless at all. Work is not worthless. Teaching our children is not worthless. Cleaning our home is not worthless. Cooking a meal is not worthless. But, ironically, these are the parts of daily life we try to minimize so that we can spend more time on the things that are worth so much less, or nothing at all. We have trained ourselves to despise the valuable things in life that most people in history spent the majority of every day devoted to! Are we really so much better off than they, in the grand scheme of things?

So fill your days with songs of praise, with words of life, with generosity and ministry and prayer, and also with work and children and cooking and love. Live a life! Don’t let the worthless things that tempt our eyes take your attention ever away from the only things that actually matter. 

Luke Wayne is a bi-vocational Baptist missionary in Utah, a professional writer and researcher for CARM, and the chief editor for Perilous Trails. He holds an MDiv from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and an MA in Theological Studies from Midwestern Baptist College. He has served as a church planter in Olathe, KS and a Homeless Shelter Manager in Kansas City, MO. He is also a husband, father, fisher, hiker, security officer, and raiser of livestock.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

A Father's Love

Today I had to take my two year old daughter to get a simple blood draw. It was the first time we have had to do this since we became her parents back in December. To all my friends who are experienced parents this may seem laughable (or maybe you remember back to a moment you felt the same way) but this was perhaps the most horrible experience of my life. I had to be the one to hold her arm still while they stuck her. As she screamed and wept and looked for me to defend her, the betrayal in her face as I was instead the one holding her down and subjecting her and forcing her to endure the pain, it was more than I could bear. The first vein would yield no blood, so I had to then take her other arm and do it again. I know, I know. She has long forgiven me and forgotten the whole thing, and most of your children have been through things far more serious than a couple of little needle pricks. I know that I will have to endure far worse with her myself if, by God’s grace, I live to raise her. But this was the first time I have had to do anything like that, and it brought out emotions I had never felt before. I’d never wanted to punch a nurse for doing her job perfectly well. I had never felt the searing pain of seeing that accusing look in my daughter’s tear soaked face, and yet to persist in aiding in her pain because I know it is the right thing. I am new to fatherhood, and to this side of love, and it hurt. A lot.

I am not big on speculating about the emotional states of biblical characters. I don’t think that’s generally the point. But I do think there is something to be said for the fact that the faith of Abraham is held up in scripture as the faith that all believers are to aspire to. The faith that was ultimately expressed in a willingness to lay down the life of his own son. I have never been able to imagine what that moment on mount Moriah must have felt like, but now I find my eyes literally growing moist just thinking about the scene. Would I have put Lexy on that altar? Would I have trusted God enough to do what Abraham did? Do I have a faith that would pass such a test? I realize now more than ever just how frail my faith truly is. The faith of Abraham is a wonder to me, and of Isaac for that matter, who seems to have submitted to the whole thing right to the end.

I recently read a striking passage in work by Messianic Jewish scholar Dr. Michael Brown where he reported:

“There is a midrash that says at the time of creation, when God was about to make man, the angels asked what man's significance was. One of his answers was this: 'You shall see a father slay his son, and the son consenting to be slain, to sanctify my name' (Tanhuma, Vayyera, sec 18). That was the height of sacrificial service: A father offering his own son, and the son willingly laying down his own life for the glory of God. Yes, I know that sounds like the gospel. In fact, the midrash compares Isaac, who carried on his shoulders the wood for the burnt offering (himself), to 'one who carries his cross on his own shoulder'"

This brings me to an even greater point. God the Father loved me enough to send His own Son to be beaten and mocked and murdered in my place. God the Son loved not only me, but loved His Father enough to willingly go to that end, to redeem a wayward and wholly unworthy people, least of all a faithless wretch like myself, for the eternal glory of the Father. The unimaginable love within and pouring out from the triune God is simply beyond comprehension! As the hymn proclaims so well:

“How deep the Father’s love for us
How vast beyond all measure
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure
How great the pain of searing loss
The Father turns His face away
As wounds which mar the Chosen One
Bring many sons to glory”

At every stage of life I seem to find new reasons to have my breath taken away by this awe inspiring reality. Words simply cannot describe the greatness of our God, and the incomparable magnitude of the greatest act of love the world has ever known, made more indescribable still by how completely and utterly undeserved it is and how truly unable we are of returning such love in kind. If this is not a reason to walk in the faith of Abraham, I can’t imagine what would be. In the end, God did not require Abraham’s son, He instead required His own.

My Brother once wrote a song relating to our own father's struggle back when my brother was eight year old and required open heart surgery. It is worth a listen:

Luke Wayne is a bi-vocational Baptist missionary in Utah and the chief editor for Perilous Trails. He holds an MDiv from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and an MA in Theological Studies from Midwestern Baptist College. He has served as a church planter in Olathe, KS and a Homeless Shelter Manager in Kansas City, MO. He is also a husband, father, fisher, hiker, security officer, and raiser of livestock.  

Monday, February 15, 2016

Debt, Freedom, and a Life for the Kingdom

Years ago, while my wife and I were both working at a homeless shelter in Kansas City, one of our co-workers anonymously dropped the audio book “The Total Money Makeover” by Dave Ramsey into our employee mailbox. I took it home and put it on my book shelf, and there it sat for a year or so untouched and scarcely remembered until one day when we were about to take a very long drive across the country, and I grabbed the few audiobooks I owned just to help keep me from falling asleep on the road. We weren’t really looking to gain anything from the book except a few hours of distraction, but in fact that little book would change our lives forever. I’ve since made it a habit to taking it a bit more seriously when someone sincerely recommends a book, much less thinks so much of it that they buy a copy for all their co-workers.

Now, I am not here endorsing literally everything Ramsey says. The point of this post is not to promote this particular book or author. But the portion of the book dealing with debt, how it harms, and how to get out of it forever, is what set us on a very valuable path to biblically reorienting our finances and challenging many cultural assumptions about money, lifestyle, and purchasing decisions. If these are things you have never paused to really think about, Dave Ramsey really might not be a bad place for you to start, though maybe balance it by spending some time reading guys like David Platt and Francis Chan, just to help make sure you keep the proper goal in front of you beyond money itself.

Having said all of this, what I really wanted to emphasize is simply this: in a culture where debt has become the only way people know, where credit cards and student loans and mortgages and car financing are simply assumed to be the only ways that normal people can obtain things, and where being “able to afford something” simply means being able to make the payments on it each month, we often don’t even pause to think about debt from a biblical perspective. But if we are going to live as people who believe the gospel, and therefor live in a way that prioritizes eternity over now, a life as a sojourning people in a foreign land not tying ourselves down to this world, a life in which the kingdom is held in priority above all else, than this issue simply cannot be ignored. A man who is debt free could quit his job, sell all he has, and move to the mission field tomorrow. He doesn’t have to, but he is free to. Nothing is stopping him. No one owns him, save his Lord in heaven. But a man in debt is a man who cannot quit his job without first securing another, and only one that pays him well enough to make at least his minimum payments each month. He can only go where such limited and restrictive work requirements allow him, and if his debt is tied to property, he may be unable to sell and move and all! How about monthly giving? How hard is it to give freely when one owes each month on so many other things? These are just a couple simple examples of how being tied to earthly matters by debt can hinder our lives from being fully surrendered to the priorities of the kingdom. A man in debt is necessarily forced back to materialistic concerns to a degree that a debt free man does not have to be. Debt is a binding chain on a kingdom man. On any man, really.

Paul tells us in Romans 13:8 that as Christians we ought to owe nothing to anyone except love. Charles Spurgeon commented on this, “Scripture says, ‘Owe no man anything,’ which does not mean pay your debts, but never have any to pay.” If you do have debt, of course you should pay the debt you already have, but what if Christians decided to live so unlike the world around us that we did not borrow money to have the comfort and convenience of things that we don’t actually have money for? What if we saved and payed the full amount for everything we bought, and only bought things that were worth saving up for? We would certainly become a peculiar people, a people unlike the materialistic world, a people quite strange in their sight. But isn’t that what Scripture tells us we are supposed to be? And would it, perhaps, give weight to our claim to truly believe that our comfort and reward is not in the things of this life anyway, but in things to come, so we are in no hurry to obtain materialistic pleasures now and are fine to do without them entirely if need be? Would it aid our proclaiming of a gospel of eternal life in the kingdom of God to come? It certainly would not hurt!

Now, let me be clear, I am not saying that literally all debt is sin. Some debt is, and the attitude behind borrowing certainly can often be sinful, but all of that we can save for another post. My point here is not to call debt sin, but rather to suggest that it holds us back from fully embracing an eternal focus, a kingdom priority, and biblical generosity. Debt is an anchor, and the Christian life is about setting sail and moving forward, not staying put. Why not stop borrowing right now, responsibly pay off the debt you already have over the next several years, and free yourselves to live out the kingdom life like never before? There is freedom in seeing that last check clear, freedom in a monthly budget without monthly payments, and freedom in an unhindered focus on where God wants you to be rather than where the banks will let you be, and I hope and pray that some of you will find it! I will be forever grateful for the co-worker those years ago who quietly bought me a book so that I could find it!

Luke Wayne is a bi-vocational Baptist missionary in Utah and the chief editor for Perilous Trails. He holds an MDiv from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and an MA in Theological Studies from Midwestern Baptist College. He has served as a church planter in Olathe, KS and a Homeless Shelter Manager in Kansas City, MO. He is also a husband, father, fisher, hiker, security officer, and raiser of livestock

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Now and Eternity

“And Peter said, “See, we have left our homes and followed you.” And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.” (Luke 18:28-30)

The gospel is a call to completely forsake the world as it is and live for the radical hope of the world as Christ will one day make it. To give up the comfort and the priorities of this life, trusting that they are temporary and that the promise is true of a permanent future and of resurrection life in the new heavens and earth in the age to come when our bodies are given health and vitality that cannot be taken away and where we live forever as perfected men and women humbly in the presence of our great and glorious God. Truly believing this, truly trusting in this hope purchased for us by the suffering, death, and resurrection of our Lord changes everything. One simply cannot have faith that this is true and yet live as if this life is all there is, drinking in its pleasures because “you only live once,” checking worldly goals off our “bucket list” because you “have to experience this before you die.” No, the way of the world is simply not possible for those who believe in the grace of God in Christ Jesus and the glorious eternal kingdom at His future return. Believing in Jesus changes everything. The gospel is a call to forsake this life, and to live for the promised eternity.

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.” (Matthew 13:44-46)

Christ Himself left his heavenly glory and took on the form a servant, even faced death on the cross, to purchase the kingdom and display its glorious future hope in His bodily resurrection and ascension to the right hand of the Father. In this, Christ is not only our master and savior, but also our model (Philippians 2:4-11) He was born outside in a manger, in his ministry the Son of Man had no place to lay his head, and at His death He was naked, mocked, spat on, beaten, shamed, tortured, and murdered. He could have come as a king, and the crowds often wanted to make Him one. He could have multiplied food and turned water to wine for himself instead of only for the hungry crowds (but He would not even turn a stone to bread for Himself when He was at the brink of starvation). He could have called an army of angels to strike down the crowd who called for His crucifixion. Indeed, with a single word He could have snuffed out the lives of His enemies by His own divine power. He would have had every right, yet He did not. He forsook all to bear our sins and to purchase the sinners redemption, and He has called us to also forsake all to bear our brother’s burden and call the sinner to repentance and to faith in the redemption that Christ alone has purchased. We are to daily take up our own cross and follow Him. This will surely look different for different Christians in different situations. We are not all of the same gifts and ministries, but we are all of the same body and Spirit, and of the same gospel call that is simply not compatible with the pleasures and priorities of this life and of this world’s manner of thinking and living. Indeed, it is like forsaking all other women to take a wife. When we enter into to covenant with God by faith in the sacrificial blood of Jesus, we are giving up the world. To live like we haven’t is a great sin!

“You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” (James 4:4)

Abraham left his home for a promise he would not live to see fulfilled, but he trusted that God would be true to His word. Elisha left his family and his inheritance to live in the travails of a life as a prophet of God amidst a wicked generation, putting his hope in the LORD alone. The apostles left their nets, their parents, their offices, their lives. They lived without financial security and in constant threat of pain, prison, and death for the sake of the gospel and in hope of the kingdom to come. This is faith. This is the Christian life. Suffering now, glory later. A sojourner in a foreign land now, an heir to an eternal homeland in the age to come. 

“The earth will soon dissolve like snow, the sun forbear to shine. But God who called me here below will be forever mine” (John Newton, “Amazing Grace”)

So what are we to do? As I said, this looks different for each of us, but for all of us it looks radically different than the people around us. It definitely means that you need to boldly proclaim the gospel and live obediently to biblical standards, even if that costs you your job, your career path, your relationship with family and friends, your financial security, your comfort, even your freedom or your life. It means you might get fired from the job you worked and studied so long to obtain, and could even mean that because you got fired for your stand for biblical truth that you end up working a hard, dirty, lower wage job and just scraping by even though you are qualified for something more. It might never go that way for you, but it means Christ and the gospel being so central in your life and speech that it could go that way.  It means being willing.

But it also means more. A complete shift in priorities. For some of you maybe it means you relocate your business or transfer your work and your family to a place in the world, or even a region in the U.S., where the gospel is not often heard and to devote yourself to reaching the lost and helping the needy there. Maybe you are to stay right where you are, but to downsize your house, cancel your cable, eat out less (or even not at all), live like the poor and give all that money to support missions, or your local homeless shelter, or to fund adoptions, or to support a local pro-life ministry in rescuing children from death. Maybe you would even use some of your hours off work and your vacation days to participate in these things rather than merely pursuing the pleasures of personal leisure. Maybe you are young and married and ought to consider adopting or fostering children to show God’s special compassion to orphans. Maybe you need to quit your work and go into full time mission work, or use your skills in accounting or law or medicine or the like in the service of a ministry that needs such things (even though it will likely mean a pay cut, and even though behind the scenes work like this is not a very “glamorous” side of missions.) Or maybe it means stopping the advance of your career and “settling” for a lower position that will demand less of your time and focus because money and title are not as important as time with church and family and time to share the gospel in the street and to serve the poor. A quiet, simple, modest, hard working life that is devoted to the service of others is a radical thing in this materialistic and self centered world, even if it isn’t the kind of story you read Christian books about (as we previously discussed here). This is not an exhaustive list, only a few possible ideas out of many. Read your Bible, and apply what it says, even if what it says will make you look crazy to others around you. Read your Bible, and apply what it says, even if what it says will make you look mundane and boring to others around you. But in all things:

"Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you" (Matthew 6:33) 

Luke Wayne is a bi-vocational Baptist missionary in Utah and the chief editor for Perilous Trails. He holds an MDiv from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and an MA in Theological Studies from Midwestern Baptist College. He has served as a church planter in Olathe, KS and a Homeless Shelter Manager in Kansas City, MO. He is also a husband, father, fisher, hiker, security officer, and raiser of livestock.   

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Walking The Afflicted Road

The classic book “The Pilgrim’s Progress” (the first on my list of “must reads” for 2016) is the story of the Christian life pictured as a treacherous journey from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City on Mount Zion. It is a strait forward allegory that powerfully makes its point. There is a particular scene where a group arrives at a hill called “Difficulty.” The strait way on which they were instructed to follow goes straight up the steep and rocky hill at a horrible and painful incline for a distance that will take a man the greater part of the day to climb. To the right and left, however, there are other roads that go around the hill rather than over it and make for easy traveling. While the faithful Christian follows the instructions and stays to the path, enduring the pains of the Hill Difficulty in obedience to the Lord, the others take the easier ways that lead them to their untimely demise.

Jesus Himself used a very similar image in His famous sermon on the mount. “Enter through the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the road is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who go through it. How narrow is the gate and difficult the road that leads to life, and few find it.”
(Matthew 7:13-14). Consider how often the New Testament pictures life this way. Like Jesus words about the two roads, the whole of the New Testament speaks of two ways of walking. There are those walking according to the flesh, walking in darkness, walking according to their desires, and the like. This is the path of the world. There are also those walking in light, walking in the Spirit, walking in truth. This is the way of Christ. The narrow and afflicted way. The way of life. Indeed, we see often in the Book of Acts that in the days of the early church our faith was often called "The Way." Life is a journey, and we are promised that a Christian life will not be an easy one.

In a previous post, we looked at the biblical reality that in this present age of sin and corruption as we await the triumphant return of our King, we are to see ourselves as temporary residents in a hostile foreign land, as sojourners and pilgrims of a distinct and peculiar people. Similarly, Jesus also wants us to picture our lives as a difficult road, as a treacherous and narrow mountain pass which we must rely on Him to cross safely to the other side. God delivered his people out of Egypt and brought them by way of a deadly wilderness on a journey to the Promised Land. Even when they reached their destination, God desired them to maintain a sense of their identity as desperate traveler’s dependent on Him. Every year they were to eat the Passover feast loins girded, their sandals on their feet, and their staff in their hand as if ready to fly in the wilderness anew joyfully following their deliverer. They were never to forget. It is directly from this imagery that we
were given the communion meal, our feast of remembrance by which we keep before us our great deliverance and remember that we have not yet arrived in our promised land, but still trust Him in this wilderness while we await His return. 
They were also to celebrate the feast of booths, where they were to leave their homes and sleep in tents and temporary shelters and remember those days in the wilderness when God fed them with manna from heaven and water from the rock. We are reminded, too, that Jesus is our manna from heaven (John 6:30-33) and is our living water giving rock (John 4:13-14). In fact, Paul warns us in 1 Corinthians 10:1-13 tells us that Israel’s wandering in the wilderness with all their struggles and all their failures was written down as a warning and reminder to us! We must remain faithful amidst this perilous path, letting this vision of our lives reshape our priorities and letting the inherent struggles drive ever back to our dependence on Him.

This should reshape our priorities. When you are traveling a difficult road, luxuries become a burden. You carry only what you need. You sleep in modest shelters easy to carry rather than comfortable ones more suited for longer stays. You share what you have equally and bare one another’s burdens, lest keeping to much in your own hands you wear yourself out and stumble off the mountain to your demise, or else leaving all the work to another he should fall under the weight, taking all the precious supplies with him, and your ruin is as great as his! You keep focused on the destination, and don’t let the things on the way deter you. If this life is a journey to the kingdom of God, all your priorities change. You live differently, not because comfort and abundance is of itself wrong, but because it is not appropriate for such a journey. You will enjoy it later at the destination. As Jesus said:

“Don’t keep striving for what you should eat, what you should drink, and what you should wear, and don’t be anxious. For the nations eagerly seek all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek His kingdom, and these things will be provided for you. Don’t be afraid, little flock, because your Father delights to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Make money-bags for yourselves that won’t grow old, an inexhaustible treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Luke 12:29-34)

Luke Wayne is a bi-vocational Baptist missionary in Utah and the chief editor for Perilous Trails. He holds an MDiv from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and an MA in Theological Studies from Midwestern Baptist College. He has served as a church planter in Olathe, KS and a Homeless Shelter Manager in Kansas City, MO. He is also a husband, father, fisher, hiker, security officer, and raiser of livestock. 

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Post Adoption Reflections of a First Time Mom

My wife and I recently came home from Bulgaria with a beautiful two year old girl who has joined our family. The following are the thoughts that my wife journaled in the first couple weeks home with her. I present them with her permission and without further comment

So I wanted to write down some of the more serious and thought provoking things that I have been pondering over (in the few brief moments when I can have the time for introspection lol) during these last few days with Lexy.  I knew being a mother would change me in so many ways, most that I don't even know what they will be yet.  But I've already learned a few things about myself and about God and His care for me as His adopted child through the work of Christ Jesus...  For anyone who cares, I thought I'd write it down and share and also so that I wouldn't forget it.

One of the first realizations happened in an odd way.  So we were walking around town in Sofia, and I went to place Lexy back in her carrier after she had been walking with Luke for a bit (holding his hand, getting some exercise).  Her leg got caught in one of the straps and I didn't realize it immediately until she started to cry.  That was the first time I ever heard her cry; that was very hard. This caused me to think about discomfort in my own life.  When (not “if” lol) I mess up in some way in caring for Lexy, all I can do is try and do  better afterwards, I can't provide any higher purpose/meaning for her sake in those moments of discomfort or difficulty that I accidently cause her.  But God, my heavenly Father, first of all will never make mistakes in caring for His children in Christ.  When difficulties or painful things come into my life, it is for a purpose.  God in His sovereignty will bring meaning from any trials I might go through in this life.  Unlike me, He isn't scrambling to make up for past parenting failures or trying to come up with a plan B for an unexpected situation.  As I read in James Chapter 1:

"Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.  If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.  But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.  That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.  Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do. Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position.  But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wild flower. For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich will fade away even while they go about their business. Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him."

The second thing that I've realized over these last few days is how much I want to make everything all right for her.  I want her to be happy, healthy, safe, warm, well fed, clothed, have things and others to play with, not grieve, feel loved, all the time.  That just isn't possible, no matter how much I try.  There will be many outside things beyond my control that will happen and like I said above, I will make mistakes that will compromise that goal.  But when I think about the day of Christ's return, He really will be able to make all things right, completely.  There won't be any aspect of life that He can't make perfect on that day; even on my best days, I can never do that.  And He won't just do that for one person, but in His power He will accomplish this for all His children in Christ!  That, at least to me, is such a beautiful comfort and realization and until I had Lexy, the weight of that hadn't really hit me.  It is definitely a reason for joy!  I couldn’t help but think of Revelation 21:

"Then I saw ‘a new heaven and a new earth,’ for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.  I saw the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and He will dwell with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.  Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be My children."

Third, I have come to a greater understanding and am more in awe of Christ's selflessness in His coming to earth and sacrifice.  During these last few days, I have done all I could think to do to show Lexy that her needs are above mine.  Sometimes this put me in uncomfortable positions, like on the plane, positioning myself in a way that would allow her to sleep comfortably but made me unable to.  I've sacrificed sleep and sometimes not eaten immediately when I was hungry so I could be there for her.  I'd love to say that I've done all this with a humble and non-complaining attitude all the time, but that would not be true.  It is a struggle sometimes, especially when I am tired or frustrated/confused because I don't know what she wants/needs or why she is upset.  And she is so young that she can't have any appreciation for all I am trying to do for her.  For many years to come, I will do my best to show her true selflessness and sacrifice for others, but I will fail many times, if not outwardly in action, definitely inwardly in my grumbling thoughts or attitude.  One of the best things I can do to show her true self-sacrifice and service to others is to point her to Christ, the Son of God, both God and man.  He lived the perfect sinless life that we never could; He came to earth, leaving His throne and glory for this messed up world, full of people who did not appreciate in the least who He truly was or all that He was doing for them.  He was mocked, betrayed, lied about, spit on, beaten, stripped naked, and killed by crucifixion on a Roman cross to take the guilt of our sin against a holy God!  The creator of the world humbling Himself beyond imagination for an ungrateful people, that is the pinnacle of selflessness!  I love Paul's description of this in Philippians 2:

“Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion,  then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.  Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, He made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."

Lastly, I have learned that God truly does give us what we need to make it through each day. Often I wake up (earlier than I'd like, considering when I went to bed) and wonder how I will make it through another day.  I have quickly realized that on my own strength/will, I won't.  But each day I realize at the end of it that I did make it through, and that is due to God's kindness.  As Paul put it so much better than I could in 2 Corinthians 12:

"Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.  But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong."

 As I was laying in bed at the hotel in Bulgaria the night before we were to get on a 6:40 AM flight, trying to sleep, the Rich Mullins song "hold me Jesus" kept coming to mind. I was struggling with my exhaustion (and we hadn't even left Bulgaria yet) and worry over how the flights would go and how she would do and I was also thinking about the next 18 years or so and how I would be able to parent. I can say I definitely have a greater appreciation for and understanding of this song now. I'd suggest a listen.

Luke Wayne is a bi-vocational Baptist missionary in Utah and the chief editor for Perilous Trails. He holds an MDiv from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and an MA in Theological Studies from Midwestern Baptist College. He has served as a church planter in Olathe, KS and a Homeless Shelter Manager in Kansas City, MO. He is also a husband, father, fisher, hiker, security officer, and raiser of livestock. 

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Five books every Christian should read this year (even if you have read them before)

At the beginning of every year, I always try to put together a list of books that I plan to read before the year’s end. I read plenty of things that are not on the list, but I make a commitment to get through the books I have written down on the list before the year comes to an end. It is a discipline that has been a great help to me over the years, and has broadened my learning and sharpened my focus in most meaningful ways. While I look for new books each year, there are also several books that find their way back to my list again and again, and a few that are even on it literally every year. After years of this practice, I have decided this year to offer up what, in my humble opinion, are five books that every Christian I know should read in 2016. Whether you are a reader or not, whether you have read these titles a thousand times or whether you have never read them in your life, I urge you to take up at least these five titles in addition to the regular scripture reading that I would hope as Christians you would all be doing anyway. Here are my five must reads for 2016:

1.) “Pilgrim’s Progress” by John Bunyan – One of the most translated works in human history, Bunyan’s little allegory written from prison in the late 1600s has been one of the most transformative and enduring Christian works ever written. Charles Spurgeon said, outside of the Bible itself, it was the most important book, and it is an annual feature on my own list. This simple parable of the Christian life is one we could all bare to revisit and remember who we are, what we believe, the journey we are on, and the cost of being a disciple of Jesus Christ, a sojourner on a perilous trek home. Make sure to get an unabridged version, as the most deep and important dialogues and discourses are always what end up being cut in any shortened or modernized reading of the work.

2.) “Robinson Crusoe” by Daniel Defoe – This 1719 novel about a man stranded alone on an island is considered to be the first novel ever written in the English language. Defoe’s puritan conviction leads to a deeply philosophical, even theological delve into the life and soul of man fleshed out in the struggle to survive the forces of nature without and the turmoil of isolation within. As with Bunyan’s work, make sure to get an unabridged copy or you will miss out on the real value of this fantastic work that is at once both an adventure story and most useful treatise on timeless truths.

3.) “The Forgotten Trinity” by Dr. James White – The Christian faith rests on the incredible, incomparable, awe inspiring truth that the one and only, true and living God has made Himself known in the incarnation of Jesus Christ and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit to be what Christians since the earliest centuries have called “the Trinity”, yet few Christians today bother to truly marvel at this incredible and unique reality and to delve deeply into the biblical revelation of this central aspect of all that God has revealed Himself to be. Dr. White approaches the subject in a plain, readable, and easily understandable manner and in a way that seeks to wonder at God rather than merely win arguments about the deity of Christ with non Christians. It is thorough, instructive, engaging, and solidly biblical from beginning to end.

4.) “Radical” by David Platt – I am not typically a big promoter of recent Christian fads. Actually, I’m generally fairly prejudiced against them. I prefer time tested works, or the rare recent works with the sort of depth and rigor that will never be popular at the local Christian book store. But in this case I have to be honest and say that this trendy little paperback literally changed my life. It didn’t do so by telling me things I did not already know, but by slapping me in the face with things I shamefully already knew quite well. It presented plain Christian truths in a way that shined an exposing illumination on the fact that I was not living in light of them in ways that I ought. It’s the kind of urgent reminder about the main things that we all need to go back to once in a while, just to be sure we are keeping our priorities straight. I think 2016 is going to be a year we all need to do that again, and I think revisiting this book will be of some help.

5.) “Life Together” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer – My former pastor and mentor back in Kansas City always made much of this book, but I have to admit, my first time through I actually found it pretty underwhelming. That seems like an odd endorsement for a “must read” book for the year, but it’s the truth. It wasn’t until this past year when I revisited the book that I was finally struck by the simple and practical devotional truths and their implications for my daily life in both family and church community. But strike me they did, and I found the book a tremendous help in my daily walk and worship, and began sharing it with others as my old pastor had done with me. It didn’t lead to big, life altering changes, but rather to a thousand little changes that together have had a profound impact on my home life and my walk with other believers in mundane life and in gospel fellowship. It is my sincere hope that it, combined with the other four books above, can do the same for you.

Luke Wayne is a bi-vocational Baptist missionary in Utah and the chief editor for Perilous Trails. He holds an MDiv from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and an MA in Theological Studies from Midwestern Baptist College. He has served as a church planter in Olathe, KS and a Homeless Shelter Manager in Kansas City, MO. He is also a husband, father, fisher, hiker, security officer, and raiser of livestock.