Dadme-300x208In many ways the family in which I grew up would be considered by modern psychologists as “dysfunctional.” Most of the difficulties that we had stemmed from my father and the demons that he fought his whole life. Like every other father who has ever lived, Dad was a mixture of blessing and curse. The latter was easier to see for the first three decades of my life. By God’s grace, the former has become increasingly apparent over the last half of my journey.

My father’s father was a Muslim who migrated from Damascus, Syria. Dad was born the oldest of three children on September 10, 1911, exactly one month after his mother and father were married. She was a woman of questionable reputation and left her husband and three children when the youngest was an infant. When Dad was 11 he was sitting next to his father on a horse-drawn buggy when a jealous husband fatally shot my grandfather. According to a story in the June 13, 1923 issue of the Arkansas Gazette,

Ascol drove to Hembree’s home in a buggy. Accompanied by his 10 year old son (sic), Abdal (sic), who told Judge Graves at a preliminary hearing this afternoon that his father was shot down without warning. The boy said that Hembree was lying on a bed in the house when his father drove up and that before either he or his father said or did anything, Hembree fired through a window near the bed.

The judge gave custody of the three children to a local farmer who abusively used them until my dad became of legal age and was able to separate himself, his brother and sister from the man’s authority. How Dad came to marry my mother is a fascinating story, much of which they took with them to their graves. Mom came from a strict Baptist family and her influence in our home is both inestimable and a testimony to the power of a faithful, godly, praying Christian mother. Their marriage was marked by the kinds of trials and sorrows that almost always result in divorce. It lasted 63 years until mom’s death in 1994 and stands as a testimony to the power of God’s grace in our broken world.

Before he got married Dad walked an aisle and prayed a prayer in a Baptist church that took such actions as tantamount to saving expressions. Whether or not he was genuinely converted from that point only the Lord knows. He went on to become a Sunday School teacher and a deacon, the latter of which he remained for all of my years growing up.

There were lots of times in my childhood and youth when I was ashamed of and embarrassed by the actions of my dad. His deficiencies were obvious and easy targets for sinful, youthful anger. It wasn’t until I came to understand more clearly the power and workings of the gospel that I began to evaluate those experiences in a more proper, accurate light. That light exposed both the sin in my own life as well as grace in Dad’s in ways that I could not previously see. Self-righteousness always distorts reality and only the grace of God in the gospel can deliver a Pharisee from it. That delivery, I am discovering, is a lifelong process.

Dad died April 28, 1998. The last four years without mom were peculiarly trying on him. My oldest sister, Gay, took him into her home and, together with my youngest sister and oldest brother, cared for him through many physical difficulties. During those years I spoke to Dad every few weeks or so but only saw him on those rare occasions when I could travel from Florida to Texas. In most of those conversations he spoke words of remorse and regret. He knew he had left some deep wounds in his children and would often weep when talking about things he wished he could undo. Just like the rest of his children, I tried always to respond by preaching the gospel to him; reminding him of things that he had heard and professed to believe, and helping him connect the dots between God’s grace and our lives.

What I discovered over those last four years of his life is that the conversations we had were far more for my sake than for his. The gospel that I explained to my dad is precisely what I desperately needed—and need—to sustain me day by day. I often tell people who hear me preach that I preach to myself and they merely get to listen. That was true of my conversations with Dad, too. By having me explain how the gospel makes sense of our lives, grants hope in despair, and sanctifies sorrow with joy, God was causing me to explain the workings of His grace from His Word for my own benefit.

God used my dad to teach me more about the depth of my own sin and the power of sovereign grace than any theological textbook I have ever read. I cannot begin to imagine the way sin ravages the mind and emotions of a small boy who is abandoned by his mother; or an 11 year old who watches his dad be murdered by his side; or an adolescent who feels responsible for his younger brother and sister but who is helpless to stop the abuse of their legal guardian. That my dad even stayed alive is a testimony to God’s grace. That this son of a Muslim married and helped raise (however imperfectly) six children, all of whom (including the one who is now in the presence of the Lord) love Christ causes the manifestation of that grace to be magnified.

The last time that I saw my dad was on Christmas day, 1997. He had received a day pass from the hospital facility where he was being treated for one of his many ailments. Most of the family had gathered at my sister’s house and Dad enjoyed every minute of it. I drove him back to the hospital that night and helped get him settled back into his room. I kept finding excuses to delay my leaving because I was trying to formulate words that I had wanted to speak to him for the previous few years. I knew what I wanted to say, but I wasn’t sure exactly how.

As he told me how much that day had meant to him and how grateful he was to be able to spend all of it with family, he began to veer again into the territory of his lingering sorrows and regrets for the pain he had inflicted on the family. I stopped him and reminded him that it was real sinners like us that Jesus came to save. I tried to explain that his life had not disrupted God’s purpose, it was an integral part of it. Grace shines brightest where sin is seen most clearly. Just as Dad had come to grips with his sin so he needed to come to grips with God’s grace and love for sinners in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Dad assured me that he believed that, and that he was trusting Christ as Lord but that he still wished he had been a better father.

At that point it was as if God opened my mouth and gave me the words to speak. I remember it as if it were yesterday. I told him that I had been reflecting on my life the last few years. Each time he talked about how sorry he was for his failures as a father and the many regrets that he had for the things he did became an opportunity for me to think about all of those things in the light of God’s sovereignty, wisdom and love. “And Dad,” I said, “As I think about my life now, with my own fears and sorrows and regrets and the ways that God has shown Himself so loving and merciful to me I have come to a very firm conclusion. I have thought a lot about it, and if I could go back and choose any man in the world to be my father, I’d choose you. Because you have been God’s gift to me and the Lord has used you in wonderful ways to teach me about and shower His grace on my life.”

We wept. We prayed. We hugged. And I left with an overwhelming sense of God’s love for me and with deep gratitude for my earthly father. In certain ways he was an amazing man. More accurately, he was a man whose life reflects the grace and power of an amazing God. Despite challenges and failures that could have easily destroyed him, God sustained him, used him and brought him to a hopeful, if at times wavering, faith in the only Savior that real sinners have. I am grateful God made me his son.

31 Days of Purity

Through the month of March, I am inviting you to 31 Days of Purity—thirty-one days of thinking about and praying for sexual purity. Each day features a short passage of Scripture, a reflection on that passage, and a brief prayer. Here is day twenty-eight:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

God tells us that victory over sin is certain—even those sins we have held to for so long. This can be hard to believe when we look to the past and see only failure after failure. It can be hard to believe when sin’s power is so strong and when giving in to sin promises such satisfaction. Yet we must believe that in Christ we are new creations—the old has gone and the new has come. In Christ we are becoming who we are, increasingly taking hold of who we are in Him. Where we once delighted to do evil, we can have confidence that one day we will delight to avoid evil. Where we once hated to do what is right, we can have confidence that one day we will delight to do what is right.

We really can hope and believe for such radical change. However, there may be a long period of time and many struggles between the two extremes. It rarely happens overnight. In that period where you are battling hard against sin, where you are developing new patterns of doing what is right instead of doing what God forbids, be sure to celebrate the small victories. Each of those victories is an evidence of God’s grace in your life. When you choose to do the right thing instead of the sinful thing, give thanks to God. When you have gone longer than you’ve ever gone before without succumbing to the temptation, celebrate with a friend and thank the Lord. Celebrate his grace by praising his name.

Father, I am thankful that in Christ I am a new creation. I believe what you say: the old has passed away and the new has come. Let me be who I am in Christ. Let me take hold of all Christ offers. I thank you for giving me grace—grace to see my sin, grace to hate my sin and grace to overcome my sin. All of this is an evidence of your work in my life, and I thank you for it. Help me to celebrate day-by-day what you are doing in and through me.

What Now? Consider joining our 31 Days of Purity Facebook group. It is optional, but you will find it a good place to go for discussion and encouragement. (Note: that Facebook group is for men only; here is one for Women Supporting Men).

Tim Challies

It was pretty ornery preaching,” Huckleberry Finn mused when he found himself in church one particular Sunday morning, “and had such a powerful lot to say about faith and good works and free grace of preforeordestination, and I don’t know what all, that it did seem to me to be one of the roughest Sundays I had run across yet.” “But,” according to Daniel Montgomery and Timothy Paul Jones in their book PROOF, “free grace and preforeordestination” were never meant to produce rough Sundays or “ornery preaching.” Here’s what the doctrine of predestination provides for the people of God, according to the Scriptures:

  1. Comfort in trials, because — if God is capable of choosing zombie rebels and turning them into beloved children — there is no hardship in all creation that he won’t be able to work together for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28-30).
  2. Motivation for praise, because praise was part of God’s purpose in predestining particular people for salvation (Ephesians 1:5-6).
  3. Encouragement for evangelism, because sharing the gospel with unbelievers is a necessary means that God uses to bring his predestined people to faith and repentance. Paul persisted in evangelism and church planting even during times of persecution precisely because he knew that God had already chosen particular people to salvation: “I endure everything for the sake of the elect that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:10).

(Taken from PROOF: Finding Freedom through the Intoxicating Joy of Irresistible Grace by Daniel Montgomery & Timothy Paul Jones)

 

31DaysOfPurity2-0171Through the month of March, I am inviting you to 31 Days of Purity—thirty-one days of thinking about and praying for sexual purity. Each day features a short passage of Scripture, a reflection on that passage, and a brief prayer. Here is day twenty-one:

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:15-16)

This passage tells us to come to Christ in our weakness and in our sin. Yet we often prefer a route that is opposed to Hebrews 4:16. I cannot describe it any better than Heath Lambert has:

Mental punishments are not helpful because they deal with sin in a self-centered way instead of a Christ-centered way. Meditating on how miserable and pathetic you are only perpetuates the sinful self-centeredness that led you to look at pornography in the first place. Condemning self-talk still has you standing center stage as you reflect on what you think you deserve because of what you did. … The only way to break this vicious cycle is to get outside of yourself to Jesus. You need to stop talking to yourself in categories of condemnation and begin talking to God in categories of confession. (Lambert, 26)

Jesus doesn’t need your condemning self-talk. Neither do you, for it accomplishes nothing good. What you need is to believe the gospel and boldly draw near to the throne of grace. It is here—in our Great High Priest—that you will find the healing that you long for. It is here that you will find the mercy and grace that you so desperately need.

Lord, you were tempted just as I have been tempted. I am thankful that where I have failed, you have succeeded. You know how strong temptation can be. You know what it is like to be in a mortal body. You can sympathize with my weakness. I am grateful that you know my frame and remember that I am but dust (Psalm 103). Rescue me from foolish self-talk and replace it with your words of grace. You say that when I confess, I am clean. Help me to believe you. Today I draw near to your throne of grace confident that you will meet me with mercy and grace to help in this time of need. 

What Now? Consider joining our 31 Days of Purity Facebook group. It is optional, but you will find it a good place to go for discussion and encouragement. (Note: that Facebook group is for men only; here is one for Women Supporting Men).

Todays devotional was prepared by Mike Leake. Mike is associate pastor of First Baptist Church of Jasper, IN. He and his wife, Nikki have 2 children (Isaiah and Hannah). Mike is the author of Torn to Heal and regularly blogs at mikeleake.net.

31 Days of Purity

Through the month of March, I am inviting you to 31 Days of Purity—thirty-one days of thinking about and praying for sexual purity. Each day features a short passage of Scripture, a reflection on that passage, and a brief prayer. Here is day three:

For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. (2 Corinthians 7:10)

We are all familiar with the ugly pattern of sin. You have just sinned again and you feel the weight of what you’ve done. You promise yourself you will never engage in that kind of sinful behavior again. You wake up in the morning with new resolve, but you just can’t shake the nagging feeling of guilt. But still, over time those feelings of shame and guilt begin to dwindle and fade, and as they do, so too does your resolve. Before you know it you have sinned again and the cycle starts anew. It is just like the Proverb says: “Like a dog that returns to his vomit is a fool who repeats his folly” (Proverbs 26:11). Apart from the grace of godly sorrow this cycle will continue. It is only when we are granted a godly grief—a grief that hates sin more than its consequences—that we will pursue lasting change.

Father, only godly sorrow will do. I want godly sorrow for my sin, so help me to see my sin the way you do. Rescue me from a worldly and self-centered grief that only produces more death. Deliver me to a grief that cries with David, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (Psalm 51:4). I trust that through the finished work of Christ you meet my repentance with grace and forgiveness. Lord, I plead with you to give me the painful grace of godly sorrow and repentance, today and every day. Amen.

What Now? Consider joining our 31 Days of Purity Facebook group. It is optional, but you will find it a good place to go for discussion and encouragement. (Note: that Facebook group is for men only; here is one for Women Supporting Men)

Todays devotional was prepared by Mike Leake. Mike is associate pastor of First Baptist Church of Jasper, IN. He and his wife, Nikki have 2 children (Isaiah and Hannah). Mike is the author of Torn to Heal and regularly blogs at mikeleake.net.

 

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon

The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from the lifetime of works from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  The following excerpt is from The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, volume 34, sermon number 2,031, “David dancing before the Ark because of his election.”

“A sense of electing love will render you base in your own sight.”

I cannot exalt myself, nor talk of my works, my prayers, my desires, my seeking of the Lord, or anything that is my own; for my salvation was all of grace, and the Lord wrought all my works in me. The doctrine of distinguishing grace sinks us, and our experience in connection with it sinks
us; we cannot lie low enough before the Lord.

David’s high position must have made him feel lowly when he knew to whom he owed it all. When a man prospers little by little he may become used to it and grow proud; but when the Lord heaps on his bounties, we become like Peter’s boat, which was so filled with fish that it began to sink.

Well may we be humbled by the great mercies of the Lord. “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God.” A little while ago we were heirs of wrath even as others. How could the Lord adopt such poor creatures? I cannot make it out.

I that once loved sin am now made to hate it. I that was a stranger to God and to his service, am enriched with access to the throne of God. I that was without strength have now grace to do all things through Christ that strengtheneth me. Oh the greatness, the unspeakable greatness of almighty love!

Brothers and sisters, if this does not humble you, then you are not really believers. If you have really obtained the mercies of the covenant through the Lord’s gracious choice of you, the knowledge of this fact will lay you low and keep you there, your cry will be, “Why me, Lord; why me?”

I once had a dear friend, a man of God who is now in heaven, a clergyman of the Church of England, his name was Curme, and he used, with a pleasant smile, to divide his name into two syllables, and say—Cur me, which in the Latin signifies, “Why me?”

“Why was I made to hear thy voice,
And enter while there’s room;
When thousands make a wretched choice,
And rather starve than come?”

All the while David had a deep sense of his personal unworthiness. He did not know his own heart fully—no man does so. But he knew enough of himself to make him base in his own sight; for he could never think himself worthy of the choice of God, and all that it involved.

Our heart adores and wonders as we think of the election of God. As we rise in the assurance of the divine choice, we sink in our valuation of ourselves.


This poem by John Piper has been put into a video to make it more memorable. It is moving in it’s depictions of a mind and heart gripped by grace. Some may be offended or put off by the title. I suppose that can’t be helped, but John Piper gets it. And those who love the gospel as understood and expressed in the historic, biblical categories that have been nicknamed, “Calvinism,” will also get it. If the voices sound familiar it’s because they most likely are, as the end credits make clear.

The Calvinist from Desiring God on Vimeo.

Thirty-five years ago this month I began serving my first church as pastor. The Rock Prairie Baptist Church in College Station, Texas took a major risk on a senior Texas A&M student by issuing me a call to be their pastor. It was my happy privilege to serve them for nearly two years before being called to the Spring Valley Baptist Church in Dallas. I am currently in my twenty-eighth year of serving Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, Florida.

As I recently reflected on the last thirty-five years I wrote down some lessons learned and convictions I’ve come to or continued to hold. Here are thirty-five of them.

  1. Long-term perspective helps you to endure and to think wisely about immediate problems.
  2. The kingdom of God does not—and will not—skip a beat when I am sidelined.
  3. The church is more important than I thought when I started.
  4. Some of my words and actions to which I am most oblivious can be hurtful to people.
  5. Pastoral ministry is indeed, as John Newton puts it, “a bitter full of sweet” and “a sorrow full of joy.”
  6. Christians are the greatest people in the world.
  7. Christians are capable of the most wicked actions in the world.
  8. My greatest challenge at the beginning of my ministry continues to be dealing with my own heart.
  9. An excellent wife is the greatest earthly gift I have, and she is more excellent than I ever could have imagined.
  10. True friends are rare and invaluable.
  11. Some of the most outwardly religious people can be the biggest hypocrites.
  12. It is nearly impossible for a man who marries poorly to make it in the ministry.
  13. Some of the most humble, unassuming saints provide the greatest encouragement to pastors.
  14. Some of the most effective pastoral ministry I have ever had has come through my presence more than my words.
  15. Some words I have spoken incidentally have ministered God’s grace more powerfully than others over which I labored and prepared for hours.
  16. Preaching really is a divinely ordained, foolish activity.
  17. Every conversion to Christ is a miracle of grace involving intricate acts and provisions that have been divinely orchestrated.
  18. Having the right books is far more important than have many books.
  19. God’s grace has shined brightest through the suffering of His people.
  20. Justification by faith is a bottomless well of grace.
  21. The complete humanity and spotless righteousness of Jesus has become more amazing to me.
  22. There is no easy way to do a hard task and ministry is full of hard tasks.
  23. The propitiatory work of Jesus on the cross amazes me more and more.
  24. The relationship of God’s law to His gospel has implications for every biblical doctrine.
  25. Some of the greatest pastors are men who live, serve and die in relative obscurity.
  26. Incremental progress is real progress and should not be dismissed.
  27. God is far more patient than I could have ever imagined.
  28. Forgiveness is one of the sweetest graces both in its giving and receiving.
  29. Though I’ve stayed in one place a long time, I have served at least 4 different churches during that time and my people have had at least that many different pastors in the same man.
  30. Wherever you see a long pastorate you can be sure there is an abundance of grace in the congregation.
  31. Godly widows and widowers are worthy heroes.
  32. The advance of the gospel and the spread of God’s kingdom is a testimony to power of His grace.
  33. Raising children is one of the greatest privileges and challenges in human experience.
  34. Having adult children is a greater joy and blessing than I ever imagined it would be.
  35. Grandchildren rock!

I came across this video today from The Atheist Antidote and I found his tone to be calm and his presentation to be well-reasoned about what true love is. Please take the time to watch here:

I have a number of friends that have chosen worldviews and lifestyles that are contrary to the worldview that God has revealed to me through the reading of Scripture. I don't know all the circumstances that led them to their lifestyle choices but I do know that the Word of God is clear on these issues that are at the forefront of the culture today. What ever their worldview and lifestyle choice, I want to be abundantly clear that the reason I oppose their choices and worldview is certainly not because I hate them. Quite the contrary. I know what lies ahead of them if they do not repent and through God's gift of faith, trust in our Lord Jesus Christ and His imputed righteousness on their behalf and renew them to a right standing with God, their end will be an eternity living under the full fury of the wrath of God. But it doesn't need to be this way. God has graciously provided the way of escape, even though He is under no obligation to save ANY of us! To my friends caught up in these lifestyles and worldviews, ask God to reveal Himself to you through the reading of His word. My first suggestion is to read the book of John once a day for two weeks and answer this one question, Who is Jesus Christ? If you are willing to do this, I would love to hear your answer at that time. You may contact me here. To those of us who don't happen to struggle with these particular sins, let us always remember that the sins we DO struggle with are just as heinous to God as any we oppose in others.