Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Anger Management

In recent years Dr. Ben Carson has not only become famous for his being the world’s premier brain surgeon, but also a presidential hopeful. What many do not know is that because of an uncontrollable temper as a child, Dr. Carson's career was almost over before it began. In his autobiography, Take the Risk, Dr. Carson writes about the day he invited God to help him deal with this critical character flaw.

One day as 14 year-old boy Carson got into a scuffle with another neighborhood boy. Young Carson became so enraged that he pulled out a pocket knife and tried to stab the other boy. Amazingly, Carson’s knife blade hit the boy’s belt buckle and it snapped. Horrified by the realization of what he almost done—commit murder—Carson ran home with tears streaming down his face.

Carson wrote, “I burst into our empty house, locked myself in the bathroom, and sank to the floor, miserable and frightened. I could no longer deny that I had a severe anger problem, and that I'd never achieve my dream of being a doctor with an uncontrollable temper. I admitted to myself there was no way I could control it by myself. ‘Lord, please, you've got to help me,’ I prayed. ‘Take this temper away! You promised that if I ask anything in faith, you'll do it. I believe you can change me.’”

Carson continued, “I slipped out and got a Bible. Back on the bathroom floor, I opened to the Book of Proverbs. The words of Proverbs 16:32—‘He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city’—convicted me, but also gave me hope. I felt God telling me that although he knew everything about me, He still loved me. I knew that because He made me, He was the only one who could change me.”[1]


Someone has rightfully said that “unchecked anger is a temporary form of insanity.” Paul helps us to understand something important about anger—there is a difference between appropriate anger and inappropriate anger—the difference between resentment or rage and righteous indignation. In Ephesians 4:26-27, “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.”

According to Paul, anger is not necessarily wrong. As Christians we should be hot under the collar about certain issues that involve injustice and evil. Remember when Jesus showed righteous anger when he cleansed the temple of religious hucksters and money changers?  

But, what makes the difference is why you got angry and what you did with those feelings. Sinful anger is a choice and when it gets that far it’s because we’ve allowed it to fester.  Max Lucado writes, “Resentment is when you let your hurt become hate. Resentment is when you allow what is eating you to eat you up. Resentment is when you poke, stoke, feed, and fan the fire, stirring the flames and reliving the pain. Resentment is the deliberate decision to nurse the offense until it becomes a black, furry growling grudge.”[2]

The essence of Paul’s teaching on anger is to diffuse the ticking bomb before it explodes. Deal with anger promptly, privately and peacefully. If you’re married don’t go to bed each facing the wall. If you’ve got a problem with friend or co-worker take them out to coffee and talk it over rather than letting it simmer. If you are really mad at someone and can’t even stand to look them in the face, then start praying about it and ask God to soften your heart.

Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount that we should resolve our personal conflicts privately before we ever try and worship publically, “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Mat. 5:23-24).  

The reason we have to attack anger is because the longer we stay bitter the more it opens the door of your life so that the enemy can come in and wreak havoc! Sinful anger invites Satan in to occupy a space in your heart. Once Satan begins his dastardly work he will use that anger steal your joy, kill your spiritual growth and destroy your inner peace. The cost of harboring anger is much, much greater than swallowing your pride, and humbling yourself to work it out.  

[1] Ben Carson, Take the Risk (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008), 79-81.
[2] Max Lucado, The Applause of Heaven (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2008), 111.  

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Great Omission

In one of his books Kent Hughes tells the story of a missionary to Africa who relayed the story of an elderly woman who was reached with the Gospel. Though she was blind and could neither read nor write, she wanted to share her new found faith with others. The old lady realized that she only had a few years in which to do her soul winning.  

So this dear lady went to the missionary and asked for a copy of the Bible in French. When she got it, she asked the missionary to underline John 3:16 in red and mark the page it was on so she could find it. The missionary wanted to see what she would do, so one day he followed her.

In the afternoon, just before school let out, she made her way to the front door. As the boys came out when school was dismissed, she would stop one and ask if he knew how to read French. When he said “Yes” she would ask him to read the verse that was marked in red. Then she would ask, “Do you know what this means?” and tell him about Christ and present the Gospel. The missionary said that before the lady died, twenty-four of the school boys that lady led to the Lord became pastors.[1]

I think it’s safe to say that lady packed more energy and zeal into the first and last year of her Christian life than most do in a lifetime. She understood what Amy Carmichael said, “We will have eternity to celebrate the victories, but only a few hours before sunset to win them.”

Moments before Jesus ascended to heaven he left the church with marching orders, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20).


This isn’t the Great Suggestion, but sadly the Great Commission has become the Great Omission. He didn't say, “If you can work it into your schedule, go and make disciples of all nations,” or “Only those of you who are called to evangelism are to go and make disciples of all nations. The rest of you are excused.”

No, this command has been given to all of us, not just evangelists and pastors and missionaries. It has been given to every follower of Jesus, including soccer moms, office workers, students, and construction workers. I have heard people say that since they don’t have the gift of evangelism then they are exempted from it. Where did that come from? That’s a cop-out; the Great Commission is for every Christian. There is no plan B—it’s up to you and me.

Yet, a 2013 Barna report said that 47% of professed born-again Christians do not think it is their personal responsibility to share their beliefs with those who do not know Christ and when thousands of unchurched adults were asked why they didn’t attend church 73% said it was because they were never invited.[2] Just think of all that could be saved, if we simply invited.  

The truth is if you have air in your lungs and have been born-again then God has called you to a mission field in your neighborhood, school or workplace. The reason God has placed where He has is because only you have direct access to the people in your social circle. If reaching the world with the Gospel were only for missionaries and pastors it would never be accomplished.  

If you were a doctor and discovered the cure for cancer, Alzheimer’s or the common cold and you never told a single patient how to be healed you would be a terrible physician. You would have violated the Hippocratic Oath. So if most Christians go their entire lives without ever sharing the only message that save people from eternal death, what does that say about them?   

As we think of the closeness of eternity, we need to look at our opportunities and ask ourselves, “What am I doing with what God has given me to fulfill the Great Commission?” Perhaps, Adrian Rogers said it best, “Churches that fail to evangelize, eventually fossilize.” That’s true of individual believers as well. Let’s ask God to give us a renewed passion for lost souls. Because, let’s face it . . . at one time we were one until God sent a witness. -DM

[1] R. Kent Hughes, Colossians & Philemon: The Supremacy of Christ (Wheaton, IL: Corssway, 1989).
[2] Mary Schaller, “The Art of Spiritual Conversation in a Changing Culture,” Barna Group,17 July 2013 <https://www.barna.org/barna-update/culture/621-the-art-of-spiritual-conversation-in-a-changing-culture#.VD6aI_ldVAg> 

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Your Days Are Numbered

There is no shortage of anecdotes and quotes from the courageous life of missionary David Livingstone (1813-1873), who blazed a trail through much of uncharted Africa to evangelize the natives. During his expeditions he survived being mauled to death by a lion, several bouts with malaria, hostile African tribes, horrific ulcers on his feet and constant struggles with IBS. On one of his fundraising trips back in England a reporter asked him if he feared all the danger in Africa, to which he replied, “I am immortal until the will of God for me is accomplished.”

Stonewall Jackson (1824-1863), the Confederate Civil War general, also shared a similar view. He wrote in one of his journals, “My religious belief teaches me to feel as safe in battle as in bed. God has fixed the time for my death. I do not concern myself about that, but to be always ready.”

These quotes about the sovereignty of God reminded me of a story from the life of John Wesley (1703-1791). His father Samuel Wesley was a dedicated pastor in Epworth, England, but there were many who opposed his preaching. On February 9, 1709, a fire broke out in the rectory at Epworth, possibly set by one of the pastor’s enemies.

Young John, not yet six years old, was stranded on an upper floor of the building. Two neighbors rescued the lad just seconds before the roof crashed in. One neighbor stood on the other’s shoulders and pulled young John through the window. Afterward, Samuel Wesley said, “Come, neighbors, let us kneel down. Let us give thanks to God. He has given me all my eight children. Let the house go. I am rich enough.”


When he grew into the powerful evangelist, John Wesley often referred to himself as a “brand plucked out of the fire” (Zech. 3:2; Amos 4:11). In later years he often noted February 9 in his journal and gave thanks to God for His mercy in sparing him. Samuel Wesley labored for 40 years at Epworth and saw very little fruit, but consider what his family accomplished!

John traveled a quarter of million miles in the days of horse and buggy, preached 40,000 sermons and saw thousands submit their lives to Christ. His brother Charles Wesley composed over 8,000 hymns, many of which are still being sung by believers today.[1]

The Wesley brothers didn’t die in the fire because it wasn’t their time yet. God still had much more to accomplish through them. We can take comfort friends that God is absolutely sovereign over our days here on earth. David wrote in Psalm 139:16, “Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them.” Job uttered a similar thought, “Since his days are determined, the number of his months is with You; You have appointed his limits, so that he cannot pass” (14:5). Ecclesiastes 3:1-2 also reminds us, “To everything there is a season, A time for every purpose under heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die.”

The days of our lives are marked out on God’s calendar and we shall not receive one day more or one day less than what we are allotted. Now that may not seem like a cheery thought to you, and in fact, most people would find that sobering, at best, and frightening, at worst. However, if we correctly understand this profound truth, then we are freed from the fear of death to fully live the life that God has planned for us. God has our days planned by appointment not accident. God’s timing is always perfect—even in death. You can never be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Every activity of mankind has a proper time and a predetermined duration. Our lives will be a lot less stressful if we recognize that the omniscient hand of God has appointed a time when things are to be done, and He has a predetermined duration for those things to last. 

So, if you are reading this then it means that you still have time and God is not done with you yet! Let’s use the time we have been given to plan and prepare for eternity.   -DM

[1] Warren Wiersbe, Wycliffe Handbook of Preaching and Preachers, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1984), 251.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The Language of God

Francis Collins grew up an avowed atheist. He enrolled in Yale University as a young man and there his studies in science further confirmed his disbelief in God. He concluded that religion and faith was a carryover from an earlier, irrational time, and now that science had begun to figure out how things really work, and so we didn’t need the crutch of God anymore.

Midway through his scientific career, Collins changed courses and became a doctor. He was not prepared for how the medical profession would challenge his airtight worldview. What changed his thinking was how his patients handled death. Many had terrible diseases from which they were probably not going to escape, and yet instead of railing at God, they seemed to lean on their faith as a source of great comfort and reassurance. This was interesting and unsettling to Dr. Collins.

Dr. Collins said, “As I began to ask a few questions of those people, I realized something very fundamental: I had made a decision to reject any faith view of the world without ever really knowing what it was that I had rejected. And that worried me. As a scientist, you're not supposed to make decisions without the data. It was pretty clear I hadn't done any data collecting here about what these faiths stood for.”


Collins started talking to local Methodist minister who answered his questions about God. Then he started reading C.S. Lewis’ classic work, Mere Christianity. Collins long held atheism began to crack. “I didn't want this conclusion,” speaking of God’s existence. “I was very happy with the idea that God didn't exist, and had no interest in me. And yet at the same time, I could not turn away. I had to keep turning those pages. I had to keep trying to understand this. I had to see where it led. But I still didn't want to make that decision to believe.”

Collins ended up giving his life to Christ at the age of twenty-seven. In 1993 he was given one of the most prestigious jobs in all of science. He became the director of The Human Genome Project whose mission was to map out and decode the genetic code found in DNA.

In 2006 he released his groundbreaking book, The Language of God in which he presented staggering evidence in favor of a Divine designer. Consider just one piece of information:

“At the moment of conception, a fertilized human egg is about the size of a pinhead. Yet it contains information equivalent to about six billion chemical letters. This is enough information to fill 1000 books, 500 pages thick with print so small you would need a microscope to read it! Moreover, a live reading of that genetic code present in just one human cell, at the rate of three letters per second, would take thirty-one years reading nonstop day and night. And if all the chemical letters in the human body were printed in books, it is estimated they would fill the Grand Canyon fifty times!”   

Author and speaker Ravi Zacharias, tells this amazing experience in his book, The Grand Weaver:
Some time ago I had the privilege to speak at a conference at Johns Hopkins University on the theme “What Does It Mean to Be Human?” Before my address, Francis Collins, the director of the Human Genome Project and the co-mapper of human DNA, presented his talk. He spoke of the intelligibility and marvel of the book of life, filled with more than three billion bits of information. In a strange way, he became both the subject and the object of his study, both the designer and the design of his research. Extraordinary thoughts swarmed within me as I listened, virtually tuning in and out of the talk in order to reflect on the wonder of it all.
In his last slide, he showed two pictures side by side. On the left appeared a magnificent photo of the stained-glass rose window from Yorkminster Cathedral in Yorkshire, England, its symmetry radiating from the center, its colors and geometric patterns spectacular—clearly a work of art purposefully designed by a gifted artist. Its sheer beauty stirred the mind.
On the right side of the screen appeared a slide showing a cross section of a strand of human DNA. The picture did more than take away one’s breath; it was awesome in the profoundest sense of the term—not just beautiful, but overwhelming. And it almost mirrored the pattern of the rose window in Yorkminster.
The audience gasped at the sight, for it saw itself. The design, the color, the splendor left everyone speechless, even though it is this very design that makes us capable of speech. Because of this design we can think in profound ways, but we felt paralyzed by the thought and could go no further. Because of that design we remained trapped in time but were momentarily lifted to the eternal. Because of that design we were capable of love and suddenly could see the loveliness of who we are.
We can map out the human genome and in it see the evidence of a great Cartographer. We can plan and now see a great Planner. We can sing and now see poetry in matter. We speculate and see the intricacies of purpose. We live, seeing the blueprint of life. And we die, but we can look through the keyhole of life. At Johns Hopkins that day we saw the handiwork of the One who made us for himself.”[1]

Whether an atheist by choice or by callousness, it takes a lot of energy to maintain atheism. It takes energy to surpass evidence that is abundantly available. In Romans 1:18-20 Paul wrote about those who suppress the truth, “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.”

We have overwhelming evidence for God, but that evidence can only lead us so far. Often times people stop at the edge of reason and the beginning of faith and insist on another piece of evidence before they take that step. However, we must come to point where we say, “God there is no way I can know everything, but I believe there is enough evidence to place my trust in what you have said about Your Son being the way to eternal life.” 

Collins wrote, “I do not believe that the God who created all the universe, and who communes with His people through prayer and spiritual insight, would expect us to deny the obvious truths of the natural world that science has revealed to us, in order to prove our love for Him . . . The God of the Bible is also the God of the genome. He can be worshiped in the cathedral or the laboratory.”[2]

[1] Ravi Zacharias, The Grand Weaver (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007), 29-30.
[2] Francis Collins, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief (New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 2006), 220-211. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

He Couldn't Outrun Mother's Prayers

One of the greatest and most influential theologians of the early church was Augustine (354-430 AD). His writings on The City of God and The Confessions remain to this day as Christian classics.  But Augustine’s early life gave no indication he was to become such a strong voice of faith. Were in not for the intervention and persistent prayer of his mother, Monica, then Augustine could have been forever lost to the world. Like so many faithful mothers today, Monica was the major Christian influence in his life.

However, Augustine spurned his mother’s teaching and godly direction at a young age. He writes in his Confessions about his propensity of stealing pears from farmer’s grove just for the thrill of doing evil. One day, to the heartbreak of his mother, he announced that he was throwing off her faith in Christ to peruse the hedonism and heresies of the day.

At the age of 16 in the year 371, Augustine sneaked away from his mother in Carthage. During the night he sailed away to Rome, leaving her alone to her tears and her prayers. He lived with a woman not his wife and fathered an illegitimate child. Augustine also committed to the cultic religion of the Manichaeans (a religious sect from Persia which taught a form of dualism that promised salvation from this evil world through the acquisition of “secret knowledge”).

Desperate over his prodigal lifestyle, Monica begged a bishop, a man deeply read in the Scriptures, to speak with her son and refute his errors. But Augustine’s reputation as a powerful orator and thinker was so great that the holy man dared not try to compete with such a vigorous jouster. But Monica pressed him with many tear-filled pleas. At last the bishop, annoyed by her persistence and moved by her tears, answered with a roughness mingled with kindness and compassion, “Go, go! Leave me alone. Live on as you are living. It is not possible that the son of such tears should be lost.”


Monica continued to pray for her derelict son. By the year 386 Augustine obtained a prestigious teaching position in Milan, however he was inwardly destitute. His playboy promiscuity had left him miserable. One day he sat weeping in a garden, distraught over his wretched lifestyle. He was almost persuaded to begin a new life, but lacked the final resolution to break with his pet sins. As he sat, he heard a child singing in Latin from a neighboring house, “Tolle, lege! Tolle, lege!” (“Take up and read! Take up and read!”)  Augustine thought to himself that these were strange words indeed for a child to be singing at play, and so he took them as from the Lord.

Picking up a scroll of the New Testament which belonged to his friend, he let his eyes rest on the words: “. . . not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.” (Rom 13:13-14). “No further would I read,” Augustine wrote later, “nor had I any need; instantly at the end of this sentence, a clear light flooded my heart and all the darkness of doubt vanished away.”

Augustine could no longer outrun his mother’s prayers. When he announced to his mother his decision to turn to Christ, she was obviously overjoyed.  As we know, Augustine would go on to more than fulfill all his godly mother's hopes and prayers, becoming a bishop and a defender of the truth. Having come home at last, this prodigal would help build a house of faith that stands to this day. In the words of the British journalist Malcolm Muggeridge, “Thanks largely to Augustine, the light of the New Testament did not go out with Rome’s but remained amidst the debris of the fallen empire to light the way to another civilization, Christendom.”[1]

As for Monica, her work on earth was done. Shortly after Augustine's conversion, she announced to him that she had nothing left to live for, now that she had achieved her lifelong quest of seeing him come to faith in Christ. Just nine days later, she died. Augustine was only 33 years old. In his Confessions Augustine spoke of his grief and weeping for the mother “now gone from my sight, who for years had wept over me, that I might live in God’s sight.”[2]

Thank God for praying mothers. They have turned back many prodigal sons and daughters from the fires of hell back to the safety of home. As Abraham Lincoln would write, “I remember my mother’s prayers and they have always followed me. They have clung to me all my life.” -DM      

[1] Diane Severance, “Augustine Couldn’t Outrun Mother’s Prayers,” <http://www.christianity.com/church/church-history/timeline/301-600/augustine-couldnt-outrun-mothers-prayers-11629656.html>  
[2] Ruth Bell Graham, Prodigals and Those Who Love Them, (Colorado Springs: Focus on the Family Publishing, 1991), 3-11.