Pop Pop Epistle # 148 – Happy Birthday Asher and the Significance of June 9

 

Happy Birthday Asher!

It sure is fun watching you grow up. So much personality in such a little girl.

I don’t think I’ve ever told you about the significance of your birthday – June 9. Two things happened on that day and had they NOT happened… well, neither would you have.

The first thing happened on June 9, 1929. The New York Yankees were the reigning World Champions and iconic baseball legends like Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig were national heroes. Greta Garbo, Buster Keaton, and Charlie Chaplin were stars in Hollywood. Herbert Hoover had just become president of the United States. And  the US economy was flying high – the stock market had reached all time highs of close to 300  – but it was only a few months away from a colossal crash that would signal the beginning of the Great Depression.

And June 9, 1929 was also, significantly for you, the day that my dad was born. Because of course if he had not been born then I would never have been born and your dad would never have been born and consequently you would never have been born.

The second thing happened on June 9, 1957.  The New York Yankees were again the reigning World Champions and iconic legends like Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra were the heroes this time. John Wayne and Katherine Hepburn were Hollywood stars and Elvis Presley was beginning to make a name for himself. Dwight Eisenhower was the president of the United States. The economy was in a recession. And Hawaii and Alaska had not yet become states.

And June 9, 1957 was also, significantly for you, the day that my mom and dad got married. Because of course if they had not gotten married then… well, you get the point.

But of course THE most significant thing to happen on June 9 happened on June 9, 2017 because that is the day that you were born. It was a great day for Nona and I as we finally were able to say that we had a grand-daughter (to go with 4 grandsons.) It was a great day for your mom and dad as they became parents for the first time. And it was a great day for the world because you make the world a better place and I have no doubt that your influence in the years to come will be incredibly significant.

June 9. Or 6/9. Here is a 6:9 verse to keep in mind as you grow up and grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ…

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. (Galatians 6:9)

May the Lord draw you near to His throne of grace and prepare you this year for the very significant role that you have in your family as big sister to Ezra and soon to be big sister to Judah. And may He give you a great joy in “doing good”  for the sake of the gospel and the blessing of those around you.

Never forget that you are very loved,

Pop Pop

 

 

Brick #93 – 1 Peter 2

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As I pondered this past week, my mind’s attention was captured by some of the little words in the first 12 verses. So, If, As, and But. Today’s Brick by Brick is just going to focus on that first one as there is much to ponder in that one word.

The chapter kicks off with this admonition…

So put away all malice and deceit and hypocrisy and envy and slander.”

The word “so” refers to what came right before it – “And this word is the good news that was preached to you.” (1:25) Peter is saying that our behavior is connected to our beliefs. How we behave is a reflection of what we really believe. Do we believe that the word of God is indeed good news? Do we believe that Scripture is indeed the “living and abiding word of God”? (1:23) Do we believe that “the word of the Lord remains forever”?( 1:25) We can always tell what we really believe by looking at our behavior.

Do you really believe that the Bible is God’s Word and that He speaks to us and uses His Word to nourish our soul? If so, does the amount of time that you spend reading and pondering Scripture each day reflect that this is true?

Do you really believe that God listens to and answers prayer? Does your prayer life reflect this? Do you spend more than a perfunctory minute or two with our Father before His throne of grace?

Do you really believe that people who have not put their faith and trust in the Lord Jesus and in His redeeming work on the cross are desperately lost and eternally damned? If so, is there any sense of urgency to make sure that the people around you have heard the gospel and know about the hope that the Lord offers us in Christ?

Do you really believe that everything we have belongs to God and that we are merely stewarding the resources that we have been entrusted with? If so, does the way that you spend and give and invest reflect that your money is actually His money?

Do you really believe that God has chosen you for His holy purposes and that you have a God-given mission to pursue? If so, do you live each day with a sense of purpose and calling and are vigilantly on the lookout for God-ordained opportunities throughout the day for the Lord to use you as His ambassador to a despairing world?

Do you really believe that God calls us to be a holy people and that sin not only short circuits our relationship with Him but also declares to a watching world that faith in God doesn’t matter? If so, in what ways do you need to repent and turn from your wicked ways and seek the Lord’s forgiveness and a fresh anointing?

May the Lord use this brick to help you evaluate to what extent you really believe what you say you believe.

 

Brick #92 – 1 Peter 1

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There is so much that is ponderable in this chapter. So much! The one sentence in the ESV version that kicks off chapter one could keep you pondering for a week by itself…

According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,  to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you,  who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (1:3-5)

And that’s just one sentence.

But there is another phrase that I want to focus on in this Brick. It is found in verse 13: “Therefore, preparing your minds for action…” I actually like the way that the KJV translates the verse because I think it gives a better sense of what Peter is saying. “Wherefore, gird up the loins of your mind…”

Peter is using military language here. When you went into battle you would take the lengthy robe that was part of the dress code of the day and tuck it (gird it up) into your belt so that you had freedom of movement as to better do battle. So what does it mean to “gird up the loins of your mind,” or to “prepare your minds for action”? Here are 4 thoughts…

1) We must be fiercely determined – Make no doubt that we are involved in a war. And the war begins in your mind. The enemy has done a great job of leading people to forget that we are at war – and therefore our determination to overcome the evil one is for all practical purposes tenuous at best and nonexistent at worst. Where is the fierce determination to stand firm against and boldly battle the enemy of our souls?

2) We must be vigilantly aware – A good soldier is constantly alert and continuously on the lookout for an attack. They live by the motto “When you least expect it, expect it.” It is often when things seem to be going well in our lives that we are spiritually blindsided because we have let our guard down just enough to give the enemy an opening that he can take advantage of. We must maintain a state of vigilant awareness if our minds are going to be prepared for action.

3) We must be adequately armed – John 10:10 tells us that our enemy wants to “steal, kill, and destroy” us. 1 Peter 5:8 reminds us that he is a roaring lion “seeking someone to devour.” It would be silly to try to defend ourselves against such an enemy weaponless. And yet, more often than not, that is what we do. We do not utilize the weapons we have been given We neglect the Word. We forsake prayer. We do not cling to the gospel. We respond in fear rather than in faith. The Lord has given us all that we need to fight the good fight but many believers have chosen to lay down their weapons in obsequious surrender.

4) We must be appropriately trained – Having the right weapons to fight the enemy is good. But being trained to use those weapons with excellence is much much better. So here are a few questions for you to think about as you discern whether you are appropriately trained to fight the evil one… or not.

  • Do you find that reading your Bible is a duty or a delight?
  • Do you regularly hear God speak to you as you read His Word?
  • Are you daily putting God’s Word into practice in your day to day life?
  • Do you experience prayer as sweet and sacred or as monotonous and mundane?
  • Do you regularly “preach the gospel to yourself” and remind yourself that “according to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”
  • In what ways are living “by faith and not by sight?” Would anything be different about your the way your life is practically lived out if God was stripped away?
  • Do you find that joyfully engage in worship or dutifully endure worship with other believers?

If you find that you need training in one of these areas I would be delighted to help. Just let me know.

May this brick better help you to prepare your minds for action as you anticipate going into battle today.

 

 

 

Brick #91 – James 5

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It is not uncommon to read a passage of Scripture that I have read many times, like James 5, and see something that I have never seen before. Verse 8 grabbed my attention this week – and especially one phrase in verse 8: “You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.” 

Two questions come to my mind: 1) why is the phrase “establish your hearts” linked to the coming of the Lord, and 2) how do you “establish your heart.”

James certainly believed that the Lord could return imminently. Even though it has now been 2000 years we should live with that same anticipation. We should live as if we will meet the Lord today. Why? Because we might. Maybe He won’t come  to us (or maybe He will) but we never know when we might go to Him. Many many people every day find themselves un-expectantly in the presence of the Lord. 1 Peter 3:15 says this: “In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy…”

James had some genuine concerns about the health of his reader’s hearts. Even a cursory reading of his letter to them will reveal this. He also knew that because of the persecution directed toward Christians that any day any one of them could find themselves in the presence of the Lord. No doubt James would have the same concern for the hearts of believers in 2021. So how do we make sure that our hearts are established – or strengthened (as the Christian Standard Bible says) – and ready for “the day of Christ’s appearing?

Heart health features several components:

1) Things you need to STOP doing because they are bad for your heart. You know what these are. You know the things that you are doing that are creating an unholy heart. The only real question is are you willing to STOP doing these things so that your heart can heal.

2) Things that you need to START doing because they are good for your heart. You know what these are as well: reading and pondering the Word, focused time in prayer, resolute obedience, fellowship with believers, worship with the saints of God.

3) Regular Check-ups. Twice a year I go to the doctor and let him listen to my heart and ask me questions about my healthy (or unhealthy) heart habits. Once a year I have comprehensive lab work done to try to spot anything that might need attention. Shouldn’t we be as diligent spiritually as we are physically? Who in your life has permission to ask you about the health of your heart? When was the last time that you reviewed your heart diagnostics? What would a spiritual check-up reveal about the health of your heart?

May this brick help you to establish and strengthen your heart so that not only are you able to run the race with endurance but also are prepared to to meet the Lord whenever that may be.

 

 

Pop Pop Epistle # 147 – About May the 8th

 

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Dear Grandkids,

Today is what is known as V-E Day. Victory in Europe. It is the day in 1945 that the German army laid down their arms in surrender and officially gave the Allied forces victory over the Nazi war machine in World War 2. It is also a great day to remember the victory that has been secured for us at the cross  – and even though the enemy of our soul still fights a hopeless battle we take heart knowing that we have victory in Jesus.

May the 8th!

For the 4th year in a row I want to pronounce some benedictions over you – benedictions that reflect the great victory that Jesus won at the cross when He defeated death and the evil one.

May the 8th verse of Acts 1 remind you that as believers we are empowered by God via the presence of His Spirit to boldly proclaim the gospel wherever we go:

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.

May the 8th verse of Romans 5 help you to never forget the incredible depth of the love that God has for you:

But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

May the 8th verse of Ephesians 2 cause you to live gratefully knowing that it is the magnanimous gift of God’s grace that has granted you salvation and a restored relationship with the Father:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,

May the 8th verse of Philippians 3 inspire you to forsake anything that this world might seduce you with because of the incomparable value of knowing Jesus:

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ

May the 8th verse of Philippians 4 stir you to think great thoughts of God and fortify your mind against the assault of the enemy:

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

May the 8th verse of 1 Timothy 4 and may the 8th verse of James 4 energize you to pursue  daily disciplines that strengthen you unto godliness and provides nourishment for your soul.

For while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.

Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.

May the 8th verse of Psalm 34 reassure you of God’s goodness and blessing as you look to Him for refuge and refuse to find your identity in the eyes of this world.

Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!
    Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!

 

And may the 8 of you (soon 9) never forget that you are very loved!

Pop Pop

 

 

Brick #90 – James 4

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I am an adulterer! There, I said it. Unfortunately most of you reading this are also adulterers. James is writing to Jewish believers and in 4:4 he calls them out (and us) when he says, “You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world makes you an enemy with God.” 

I think he is trying to shock his readers by using such graphic language – and he no doubt does a good job. He wants them to see themselves as he sees them – a people who are on the one hand trying to love God but on the other hand are having an affair with the world. This pretty much describes most believers today. But James does not just lambast them with the truth – he also tells them how to correct the situation. In effect, he gives them 6 tips on how to “affair proof” their relationship with God.

Tip #1: “Submit yourselves therefore to God” – First of all there has to be an acknowledgement that God is God and we aren’t. And because He is God He gets to set the rules of the game and we must play by His rules. The cool thing is that when we do play by His rules, when we obey what He says, we find ourselves experiencing and enjoying the blessings of God.

Tip #2: “Resist the devil” – The devil will work hard to get us to ignore the rules of God and play by his rules. He does a good job of conning us and making us think that his short term benefits are better than God’s eternal blessings. The word “NO” must become a regular part of our vocabulary when the devil tries to seduce us – and most of us are not very good at saying NO.

Tip #3: “Draw near to God” – It’s hard to have an affair with the world when your focus and priority is on staying close to God. It is when you separate yourself from God – stop going to church, stop reading His Word, stop spending time in prayer, stop fellowshipping with other believers – that an affair with the world becomes not only possible but probable. 

Tip #4: “Cleanse your hands” – We all mess up. We all need forgiveness. We all need to come to God and confess our sin and say “I’m sorry!” When we have no desire to make things right with God, that is when we are susceptible to the allures of the world. When we become numb to our sinfulness we make dumb decisions that often lead us down the road of no return – and adultery becomes an easy option.

Tip #5: Be wretched and mourn and weep”– Confession (Tip #4) is vitally important. But if it is not coupled with sorrowful repentance then it is meaningless. Repentance acknowledges that we have turned away from God but then deliberately and intentionally turns back to God with a desire to please Him and restore the broken relationship that our sin caused. True repentance grieves that we have grieved the heart of God who loves us so much and hates what sin does to His beloved children.

Tip #6: “Humble yourselves” – “Humility is honestly assessing ourselves in light of God’s holiness and our sinfulness.” (CJ Mahaney). Humility demonstrates a posture of dependence upon God. We love to exercise our independence. Humility requires a day by day fight against the pride and self-assertion that is hard-wired into us from birth. Adultery (both spiritual and physical) is just one short step away when we declare our independence from God and decide to do what we want to do regardless of the cost to our relationship with God or others.

May this brick help you to guard your heart and keep you from entering into an adulterous relationship with the world – and/or help you to find your way back into the loving arms of your heavenly Father.

 

 

 

Brick #89 – James 3

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The first half of James 3 talks much about the battle to tame the tongue. James pours on word picture after word picture to try to get his point across. His point is summed up by what Proverbs 18:21 says, Death and life are in the power of the tongue.”

Scripture uses lots more word pictures to try to make this point:

  • Matthew 12:34 – You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.
  • Ephesians 4:29 – Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.
  • Colossians 4:6 – Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.
  • Proverbs 26:20 – For lack of wood the fire goes out, and where there is no whisperer, quarreling ceases.
  • Proverbs 10:11 – The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life, but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence.
  • Proverbs 12:18 – There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.

1 Kings 12:6-14  gives a great example of the consequences of using our words foolishly, as well as the consequences of listening to foolish counsel. King Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, lost 5/6 of his kingdom just because he spoke rashly and his legacy of ungodliness was cemented  – all because he could not tame his tongue.

Most of us don’t have a huge problem with destructive speech. Believers do a pretty good job of not saying the wrong things but a lousy job of intentionally saying words that bless others. We really need to work on doing what Ephesians 4:29 talks about above – building others UP and speaking words of grace.

I came across this prayer in Psalm 141:3 which is a great prayer to pray often and repeatedly: 

May this brick help you to to think before you speak and to be intentional about using your words to bless and build others up.

 

Pop Pop Epistle # 146 – Happy Birthday Miller: God’s Not Dead

 

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Happy Birthday Miller,

It was lots of fun spending this past weekend with you and your family. It was fun to hear your excitement for your Chick-fil-A themed birthday. It was also fun to hear your enthusiasm for your new favorite song – God’s Not Dead.

I love the way that you contrast your loud voice and your quiet voice to emphatically proclaim that God’s not dead. Let me tell you a little about the backstory to your song…

It was the year 1884 when Friedrich Nietzsche famously said in his Parable of the Madman that “God is dead.” 82 years later, that quote  inspired one of the most iconic magazine covers of all time when Time Magazine published it’s cover that asked the question, “Is God Dead”? (April, 1966). The story, and the magazine cover, became a symbol of the tumultuous decade of the sixties (which your Pop Pop lived through) and inspired the movie entitled “God’s Not Dead” 48 years later (2014). It was this movie that featured the song that you are singing.

The song was written by Daniel Bashta in 2010 but made famous by The Newsboys when they covered it in 2012 and then released as part of the soundtrack for the God’s Not Dead movie. HERE is the YouTube version of the song from the movie.

The movie is about a committed Christian college student who is confronted  by his atheist professor and challenged to prove the existence of God. The student ultimately confronts the professor with the question, “Why do you hate God”? In my experience, it is hard to deny the existence of God. But most people who do deny His existence have dismissed Him because they can’t make sense of tragic circumstances in their life and have turned their anger and hate towards God into a complete dismissal of Him. It is easier for them to NOT believe in God than to believe in a God that allows catastrophic suffering to happen – especially when that suffering becomes intensely personal. Scripture tells us that the existence of God is the ONLY way to make sense of the evil and suffering in the world – not the other way around. I believe this wholeheartedly.

I promise that you will indeed experience suffering in your life. I can also promise that God is not dead and that he will be with you every step of the way through that suffering. May this song that you sing so passionately be an anthem for your life as you experience many more birthdays in the years to come.

God’s not dead – He’s surely alive!

Never forget that you are very loved!

Pop Pop

 

 

Brick #88 – James 2

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There are two major sections to this chapter. I will make a few comments about each.

 

James 2:1-13 The Sin of Partiality

In his autobiography, Mahatma Gandhi wrote that during his student days he read the Gospels seriously and considered converting to Christianity. He believed that in the teachings of Jesus he could find the solution to the caste system that was dividing the people of India.

So one Sunday he decided to attend services at a nearby church and talk to the minister about becoming a Christian. When he entered the sanctuary, however, the usher refused to give him a seat and suggested that he go worship with his own people. Gandhi left the church and never returned. “If Christians have caste differences also,” he said, “I might as well remain a Hindu.” That usher’s prejudice not only betrayed Jesus but also turned a person away from trusting Him as Savior.

In my church experience we don’t tend to favor the rich over the poor, the white over the black, the “Christian” over the Hindu – but we do play favorites. We don’t do a very good job of being on the lookout for first time guests and new people to our fellowship. We favor our friends and those we enjoy talking to and just hope that someone else – like the pastoral staff – is doing a good job with newbies. It is not uncommon for us to have visitors come to our church and never have someone initiate a conversation or introduce themselves to them. Who knows how many “Mahatma Gandhi’s” have come through our doors only never to return because they were not intentionally welcomed.

I realize that it can be awkward to introduce yourself to someone that you don’t know. But take the risk anyway as an act of faith, knowing that perhaps the Lord will use you to make an eternal difference in someone’s life.

James 2:14-26  Faith Without Works Is Dead

How do you reconcile what James says in these verses with what Paul says in Ephesians 2?

James:

  • What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? (v. 14)
  • So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. (v. 17)
  • You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. (v. 24)
  • For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead. (v. 26)

Paul:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

The simplest way for me to explain it is this: Ephesians answers the question how are we saved? James answers the question how do you know that you are genuinely saved? They are not saying different things they are just looking at salvation from two different timelines. We are saved not by our own work but by the work of Christ on the cross. But genuine faith will produce good works in the life of a believer. In other words, his faith will be backed up by his actions.

A young man at our college Bible study put it like this… I can say that I work at Chick-fil-A. I can even really like the food at CFA. I can wear a CFA hat and even be able to tell you how great the food is at CFA – but if I never actually work at CFA and I’m not on the payroll – then I really don’t work for CFA no matter what I say.

May this brick encourage you to be on the lookout for people new to your church as well as to help you understand the role of good works in a believer’s life.

 

Pop Pop Epistle # 145 – About National Haiku Poetry Day

 

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Dear Grandkids,

Apparently there is a “national day” for just about everything. It turns out that today is National Haiku Poetry Day. What is Haiku you might ask?

Haiku poetry is a form of Japanese poetry that is non-rhyming and usually consists of 3 lines with a syllable pattern of 5-7-5. English haiku however does not always follow the strict syllable count found in Japanese haiku. The typical length of haiku in the English language is 10-14 syllables.

The challenge with haiku is trying to say a lot with only a few words. And trying to be profound in only a few words. And trying to capture a breathtaking moment in only a few words.

I generally like poetry. You already know that I have tried my hand over the years at writing poetry. And I generally like challenges. So in honor of National Haiku Day here are a few haikus for your enjoyment and amusement.

A Pop Pop’s great joy.
Almost nine little munchkins.
The Lord’s handiwork!

A gift from the Lord.
Your Nona. My wife. My joy.
Forty years of adventures.

Pondering the Word.
Abiding in the Lord’s love.
Strength for each new day.

A rainbow of colors
Red, yellow, blue, green, and brown.
Peanut M&Ms.

Sleep. Glorious sleep.
Yet dreams that keep me awake.
Anticipation!

When you get some time try your hand at writing a haiku and then send it to me. It’s not as easy as you might think – especially if you stick to the 5-7-5 pattern of traditional haiku.

Never forget that you are very loved!

Pop Pop

 

 

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