A New Year’s Prayer

new year prayer

Here is the Puritan prayer from the Valley of Vision which I quoted at the top of the message this morning:

O Lord,
I launch my bark on the unknown waters of this year,
with Thee, O Father as my harbour,
Thee, O Son, at my helm,
Thee O Holy Spirit, filling my sails.

Guide me to heaven with my loins girt,
my lamp burning,
my ear open to Thy calls,
my heart full of love,
my soul free.

 Give me Thy grace to sanctify me,
Thy comforts to cheer,
Thy wisdom to teach,
Thy right hand to guide,
Thy counsel to instruct,
Thy law to judge,
Thy presence to stabilize.

May Thy fear be my awe,
Thy triumphs my joy.

Length of days does not profit me except the days are passed in Thy presence,
in Thy service,
to Thy glory.

Give me a grace that precedes, follows, guides, sustains, sanctifies, aids every hour,
that I may not be one moment apart from Thee,
but may rely on Thy Spirit
to supply every thought,
speak in every word,
direct every step,
prosper every work,
build up every mote of faith,
and give me a desire to show forth Thy praise;
testify Thy love,
and advance Thy kingdom.

The Conclusion That Wasn’t


This morning I reversed field rather abruptly at the close to my message about discipleship, defined by me this way: mutual investing by Word and Spirit for growth in Christ-likeness to the glory of God. You can listen to the audio of “A Restoration like Many Others (Part Three)” here.

Battling the clock, as always, I opted to omit a devotional piece by John Piper from Desiring God with which originally I intended to finish. As promised, here it is on the blog:

Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:31–32)

What about the other ten apostles (not counting Judas)?

Satan was going to sift them too. Did Jesus pray for them?

Yes he did. But he did not ask the Father to guard their faith in the very same way he guarded Peter’s.

God broke the back of Peter’s pride and self-reliance that night in the agony of Satan’s sieve. But he did not let him go. He turned him around and forgave him and restored him and strengthened his faith. And now it was Peter’s mission to strengthen the other ten.

Jesus provided for the ten by providing for Peter. The strengthened becomes the strengthener.

There is a great lesson here for us. Sometimes God will deal with you directly, strengthening your faith alone in the wee hours of the morning. But most of the time (we might say ten-elevenths of the time) God strengthens our faith through another person.

God sends us some Simon Peter who brings just the word of grace we need to keep on in the faith: some testimony about how “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Psalm 30:5).

Eternal security is a community project. Whenever God encourages your heart with the promise that in Satan’s sifting your faith will not fail, then take that encouragement and double your joy by using it to strengthen your brothers and sisters.

This pastor calls that discipleship – our priority obligation – if we love Jesus more than life itself.

The Keeper and the Kept


While on sabbatical my wife and I opted to visit the first church I ever served as pastor fresh out of seminary. I had only returned one time since we left in 1985. Nancy had never been back. On our road trip out west we traveled via Southern California for a spiritual blast from the past.

As one can imagine, lots of memories attended the visit. I only spent three short, illness-plagued years at Grace EV Free, but we engaged a lot of people and built some solid relationships. None of those connections proved stronger than the friendship made with Dave and Sheri. We stayed with them during our extended weekend. They showed us extraordinary kindness and hospitality. In the grace of God we simply picked up right where we left off with them. Our experience was at it always has been with them – saints in whom is all our delight (Psalm 16:3).


That Sunday we accompanied them to the church. So much has changed! Three services now. A thousand people. A new facility. Nancy and I both remarked how much it reminded us of our OGC building. But none of that struck me as much as something else. As we walked toward the entrance, we met a man who served on the board during my pastorate. Jim wears his 90 years amazingly well. He shared about his current ministry – caring for his physically failing wife.

Then, after service, came Sonny and his son, Phillip. Sonny used to preach for me when chronic fatigue sidelined me in those difficult days back in the ‘80s. His son, who attends Dave and Sheri’s community group on Sunday evenings, has adopted his Dad’s love for and proficiency in the Scriptures. Others we heard about who had since gone home to their rewards.


I found myself thinking about Jude 21 during the service – “Keep yourselves in God’s love.” It struck me as I reflected on our experience that these dear folks we reencountered had done that over the years, just as we have done. You can get that perspective over time when you have walked with Jesus for forty-plus years. The three disciplines contextually describing how to do this keeping in Jude 20 & 21 have been our experience. We have built ourselves up in our most holy faith. We have prayed in the Holy Spirit. We have waited and continue to wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring us eternal life. Oddly enough, the lead worshipper used this Jude text for the service benediction. I have never heard anyone do that in all my years as a pastor. I have never used it. That will change in the future as I return to ministry from this sabbatical, Lord willing.

Another related reflection caused me to praise and worship God that first weekend of our extended break. Believers do keeping things like building, praying, and waiting because God’s people are a kept people. Like fixed bookends to our persevering lives in Jesus, Jude 1 and 24-25 frame the security of our lives – “To those who have been kept” and “To him who is able to keep you from falling and present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy, to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.” Our keeping ourselves in the love of God is subordinate; God’s keeping us in Christ is ultimate. The kept enjoy the keeping of the Keeper as they keep themselves in the love of God.

My thanks to the keeping people of my first church for pointing us so plainly and thoroughly to our great Keeper at the outset of my sabbatical. May the kept of God never stop keeping themselves in the love of God.

Why This Cancer Survivor Loves Jesus

Every August since 2005 the same thing happens. I get nostalgic. For good reason.  The eight month of each year marks the anniversary of my finishing treatment for head and neck cancer. I tend to gravitate back to my journal from that year.

Here is a portion of my entry from August 7, 2005:

Felt nauseous much of the day, yesterday, but for the first time in a long while did not throw up [I learned to celebrate the slightest of victories]. I slept better last night too. Thanks be to God. [See what I mean?] I don’t think I was awake for more than an hour at any one stretch. I didn’t get up up yesterday until noon. Read the paper and then watched baseball. I was feeling pretty punk. Wondered if the anemia was affecting me. Nancy read me my Bible chapters [By God’s grace I managed to keep up with my through the Bible in a year reading]. I just didn’t feel up to it. Took a nap. Did some emails. We watched the celebration of Operation Mobilization honoring forty-five years of George and Drena Verwer’s ministry. It was exuberant, funny, touching, and inspiring all at the same time. The man has had a consistent, faithful run. I would really like to finish like that, however much time remains. Would you be gracious to me, Father, and allow that? Thank you for whatever is to come. Help me to be faithful. God is He who tests minds and hearts (Psalm 7:9) and He is righteous in all His ways.

God has answered that prayer, at least for the last eight years. I am exceedingly grateful. That’s one reason this cancer survivor loves Jesus. He answers prayer. Even if He had said no to my request for healing, I want to believe I still would love Him.

Yesterday I ran into a pastor friend of mine who suffered a bout with tongue cancer as well. It has been twenty years clean for him. He still runs the race well. I want to follow in his footsteps as well, Lord willing.

Lord, thank you for these eight years. I love you with all my heart. May I always do just that.

A Disciple's Renewal

At our Recharge men’s retreat this past weekend, our speaker closed with asking us to meditate upon this penetrating Valley of Vision prayer.

I pass it on to us all for our edification.

O My Saviour, help me.
I am so slow to learn, so prone to forget, so weak to climb;

I am in the foothills when I should be in the heights;
I am pained by my graceless heart,
my prayerless days,
my poverty of love,
my sloth in the heavenly race,
my sullied conscience,
my wasted hours,
my unspent opportunities.
I am blind while light shines around me:
take the scales from my eyes,
grind to dust the evil heart of unbelief.
Make it my chiefest joy to study thee,
meditate on thee,
gaze on thee,
sit like Mary at thy feet,
lean like John on thy breast,
appeal like Peter to thy love,
count like Paul all things dung.
Give me increase and progress in grace so that there may be;
more decision in my character,
more vigor in my purposes,
more elevation in my life,
more fervor in my devotion,
more constancy in my zeal.
As I have a position in the world,
keep me from making the world my position;
May I never seek in the creature what can be found only in the creator;
Let not faith cease from seeking thee until it vanishes into sight.
Ride forth in me, thou King of kings and Lord of lords,
that I may live victoriously, and in victory attain my end.

The Killing Disease Among Men

That’s what Stu Weber in his book The Four Pillars of a Man’s Heart (Multnomah, 1997, 286 pages) calls isolation.

He writes: The tendency toward rock-ribbed, self-sufficient isolation is a killing disease among men. It’s as common as prostate cancer and every bit as destructive to life (p. 225).

Overstatement? I’m not sure. More than one man has shipwrecked on the shores of independence and loneliness. The verdict of Scripture is plain. It is not good for the man to be alone (Gen. 2:18). Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil (Ecc. 4:9). Iron sharpens iron and one man sharpens another (Prov. 27:17). Every man needs an armor bearer – at least one (1 Sam. 14:1ff).

Men, do you want to ward off this killing disease? There are all sorts of ways to prevent it. May I suggest than one is coming to our annual retreat on Nov. 16 & 17? Dr. Richard Parker will bring substantive, biblically-saturated messages on running the race well to the finish line. We will have opportunity to connect, deepen relationships, and initiate friendships. Scholarship funds are available if a lack of funds stands in your way.

Go to the Recharge website and register today! The price goes up this Monday, please be advised.

Why Does God Delay to Answer Prayer?

Why does God delay to answer prayer?

Consider these thoughts by the Puritan Thomas Watson in his book The Body of Divinity.

  1. Because he loves to hear the voice of prayer. ‘The prayer of the upright is his delight.’ Prov 15: 8. You let the musician play a great while ere you throw him down money, because you love to hear his music. Cant 2: 14.
  2. God may delay prayer when he will not deny it, that he may humble us. He has spoken to us long in his word to leave our sins, but we would not hear him; therefore he lets us speak to him in prayer and seems not to hear us.
  3. He may delay to answer prayer when he will not deny it, because he sees we are not yet fit for the mercy we ask. Perhaps we pray for deliverance when we are not fit for it; our scum is not yet boiled away. We would have God swift to deliver, and we are slow to repent.
  4. God may delay to answer prayer, that the mercy we pray for may be more prized, and may be sweeter when it comes. The longer the merchant’s ships stay abroad, the more he rejoices when they come home laden with spices and jewels; therefore be not discouraged, but follow God with prayer. Though God delays, he will not deny. Prayer vincit invincibilem [conquers the invincible], it overcomes the Omnipotent. Hos 12: 4. The Syrians tied their god Hercules fast with a golden chain, that he should not remove. The Lord was held by Moses’ prayer as with a golden chain. ‘Let me alone;’ why, what did Moses? he only prayed. Exod 32:10- 11. Prayer ushers in mercy. Be thy case never so sad, if thou canst but pray thou needest not fear. Psa 10: 17. Therefore give thyself to prayer.

Dear ones. Don’t give up. Persevere in prayer.

Nothing for Which Jesus Cares So Much (Part 3)

Today’s message from John 14:15-24 is now on the web. You can listen to the audio here.

Here’s how I brought the message home:

If you believe you do possess this priceless gift, then understand that the acid test of ownership comes with “owning” His commandments and keeping/obeying His words. Jesus put it this way in an exchange with the crowd on the Via Dolorosa in Luke 11:27-28 –

As he said these things, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”

Are you hearing the word of God and keeping it? Where must you repent today? Understand this. If you are blatantly and wantonly disregarding some command of Jesus that you know He requires of your in your ethics of life, you have no reason to be assured of a saving knowledge of Him. What idolatry or disobedience must you bring to the cross for pardon and plead to Jesus for gospel power based on your true identity as a beloved son or daughter of God. Don’t delay. Do business with God now. That is evidence of true saving faith for sure, no matter how many times you must do so.

For more information about human trafficking click here.

For more information on the movie Amazing Grace about William Wilberforce click here.

For more information on John Piper’s book The Roots of Endurance click here.

Fuel for the Fire of Faithful Ministry

Today’s message from 1 Corinthians 15:50-58 is now on the web. You can listen to the audio here.

I summarized the theme of the text this way: the victorious reality of our future resurrection anchors us in an unshakeable constancy in ministry. Work for God fueled by the fire of a gospel-resurrection hope will be an amiable, abounding, arduous, assured, and awarded kind of work.

Here are Charles Spurgeon’s words with which I closed:

Take this henceforth for your motto—All for Jesus, always for Jesus, everywhere for Jesus. He deserves it. I should not so speak to you if you had to live in this world only. Alas, for the love of Jesus, if thou wert all and nought beside, O earth! But there is another life—live for it. There is another world—live for it. There is a resurrection, there is eternal blessedness, there is glory, there are crowns of pure reward—live for them, by God’s grace live for them. The Lord bless you, and save you. Amen.

How Great Is Our God?

Last October Nancy and I visited a church  we’ve never attended before near our mountain retreat during our annual fall vacation.

The pastor preached a message from the book of Hebrews. He concluded from the numerous warning passages in places like Heb. 2:1-3 that believers in Christ can lose their salvation. Controversy notwithstanding and readily admitted, he outright dismissed the doctrine of eternal security placing the responsibility for our future destiny on our own heads.

From there we went immediately to the close of the service with the singing of Chris Tomlin’s tune How Great Is Our God. Normally I sing that song, which I enjoy very much, with passion and energy. After that message however I lacked the usual gusto. The preaching didn’t build my faith in God who keeps His own to the end but rather sought to dampen that faith. Hence my question mark at the end of this blog post title.

I have since recovered by revisiting the rest of Scripture by which we must interpret the warning texts in Hebrews, including chapters six and ten, considering them as means of grace God gives to help Christian’s persevere. For the overwhelming testimony of divine writ is that what God begins He completes (Phil. 1:6). He who keeps Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps (Psalm 121). The One predestined, also calls, justifies and glorifies – note the past tense in Rom. 8:30 which speaks of future glorification so certain as if it has already taken place. Jesus refers to His own as doubly secure in His and the Father’s hands from which no one may snatch us (John 10:28-29).

Peter speaks of believers as those who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation to be revealed in the last time (1 Pet. 1:5). Jude calls us the kept for Jesus Christ (Jude 1) and ascribes blessing at the conclusion of his letter to Him who is able to keep us from stumbling and present us blameless before the presence of His glory (Jude 24).

The 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith calls this doctrine the perseverance of the saints and states this from the Scriptures about it in paragraph two:

It is on no free will of their own that the saints’ perseverance depends, but on the immutability of the decree of election, which in its turn depends upon the free and unchangeable love of God the Father, the efficacious merit and intercession of Jesus Christ and the saints’ union with Him, the oath of God, the abiding character of the Spirit’s indwelling of the saints, the divine nature of which they are partakers and, lastly, the terms of the covenant of grace.  All these factors guarantee the certainty and infallibility of the saints’ perseverance.

Now if my friend in Idaho had preached something of that nature from the Bible during my visit last fall surely my singing of Tomlin’s tune would have been more robust as it normally is!

This day of days during each year I value the biblical doctrine of perseverance more than ever because I observe my spiritual birthday. Thirty-nine years ago today I professed Christ at age twenty in my Pennsylvania living room. I got up this morning all these years later still believing the gospel, still fighting the good fight, still running the race, still keeping the faith, not because of any resolve that resides in me but because of the keeping power of my great God in which I implicitly trust.

I look forward to declaring the same praise a year from now on my fortieth birthday should the Lord grant length of days.

Suddenly I have a desire to listen to some Chris Tomlin.