>The Lord was the Guest of Honor!


I rarely read the KJV; but I like “the wind bloweth where it listeth.” It just sounds cool…the message being Holy Spirit shows up on His schedule, not ours…But we can invite Him…

Many must have been praying for the Teens For Christ North West Regional Tournament that began Thursday and concluded this (Sunday) afternoon. I had the distinct privilege of being invited to speak a few times as well as quizmaster. I’m grateful that Midland Ministries released me to attend.

I have waited a few hours to write, rode an exercise bike for 45 minutes, relaxed in the hotel hot tub (I fly home tomorrow) and reflected on the weekend.

After contemplating, I remain convinced of what I shared with the quizzers, staff, and onlookers earlier in the day. This event is the best quizzing I’ve ever seen (and we are talking about three decades of being involved in Bible quizzing either as a table official or, for about twenty years, directing the Family Life Network quiz leagues in New York and Pennsylvania).

For those readers who have no idea what Bible Quiz Fellowship quizzing is like, you may stop reading as you won’t understand fully.

When I write “best” I don’t mean these were the most proficient quizzers I’ve ever seen. There were several students who did exceptionally well in the competitive aspect. I mean “best” because every quizzer, coach, and “fan” displayed “sanctified sportsmanship” and tremendous attitudes. There was never a conflict, never a huffy sissy-fit, or anything else that occasionally mars such an event.

I can not put into words the sense of His presence we experienced particularly Saturday night. Several of the teams entertained us (by the way, it is okay for CHRISTians to laugh) with hilarious skits, and then a few graduating seniors shared what quizzing has meant to them. A few other students spoke of how the Lord has used this tool of Bible quizzing to shape and mold them. Many were transparent with their overemphasis on competition at times.

I wrapped up the time by tossing my sermon and talking about our adoption of Janelle and Jacob, and the guilt I once felt because it seemed I loved them more than my “natural” children Josiah and Joel. I went on to say that as I thought about and prayed about that “guilt” I the Lord allowed me to understand…

Though I do love Josiah and Joel like crazy; I sort of had to love them; after all, they were mine (and Jane’s!)
We didn’t have to love Janelle and Jacob; we chose to love them, and jumped through a lot of hoops to “get” them.

And then I reminded us that the Father did not “have” to love us; He chose to love us, and the “hoop” He jumped through was to send His Son to pay the penalty for our sins and to incur the wrath of a holy God as “He who knew no sin became sin.”

And He loves us with an “everlasting love.” He does not love us if we quiz well, or demonstrate good manners, or look good, or perform good. He loves us….period.

When’s the last time you reminded yourself of that fact? I fear too many claim to be “growing deep in the things of God” but their quest becomes a quicksand of apathy as they focus on “stuff” instead of resting in His amazing grace and never ending love. Please don’t misunderstand, spiritual growth should and must be pursued by the redeemed, but we must work to never lose sight of the love of God.Or, heaven help us, we slide into somehow thinking we deserve His love.

If this provokes you, or makes you a tad uncomfortable; first of all, pray that your heart might be softend; reflect on that which is of FIRST importance (“Christ died for us” 1 Corin 15) and, may I suggest, order a copy of “Loving God” by Chuck Colson (us ex-cons gotta stick together!)http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=jacksjots-20&o=1&p=8&l=bpl&asins=0310219140&fc1=000000&IS2=1&lt1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr

>The Gospel is Mirrored in Prayer

>“Prayer mirrors the gospel. In the gospel, the Father takes us as wehttp://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=jacksjots-20&o=1&p=8&l=bpl&asins=1600063004&fc1=000000&IS2=1&lt1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr are because of Jesus and gives us his gift of salvation. In prayer, the Father receives us as we are because of Jesus and gives us his gift of help. We look at the inadequacy of our praying and give up, thinking something is wrong with us. God looks at the adequacy of his Son and delights in our sloppy, meandering prayers.”

– Paul Miller

>Pray for John Piper

>http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=jacksjots-20&o=1&p=8&l=bpl&asins=1581348762&fc1=000000&IS2=1&lt1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifrI am a fan of John Piper…his writing challenges me, makes me think, and though I don’t concur fully with all his stuff; he is a valued brother in Christ.

As you read the following that he posted on his blog today, be grateful for his transparency, and pray for this man of God, his family, and the church he shepherds.

As you may have already heard in the sermon from March 27-28, the elders graciously approved on March 22 a leave of absence that will take me away from Bethlehem from May 1 through December 31, 2010. We thought it might be helpful to put an explanation in a letter to go along with the sermon.

I asked the elders to consider this leave because of a growing sense that my soul, my marriage, my family, and my ministry-pattern need a reality check from the Holy Spirit. On the one hand, I love my Lord, my wife, my five children and their families first and foremost; and I love my work of preaching and writing and leading Bethlehem. I hope the Lord gives me at least five more years as the pastor for preaching and vision at Bethlehem.

But on the other hand, I see several species of pride in my soul that, while they may not rise to the level of disqualifying me for ministry, grieve me, and have taken a toll on my relationship with Noël and others who are dear to me. How do I apologize to you, not for a specific deed, but for ongoing character flaws, and their effects on everybody? I’ll say it now, and no doubt will say it again, I’m sorry. Since I don’t have just one deed to point to, I simply ask for a spirit of forgiveness; and I give you as much assurance as I can that I am not making peace, but war, with my own sins.

Noël and I are rock solid in our commitment to each other, and there is no whiff of unfaithfulness on either side. But, as I told the elders, “rock solid” is not always an emotionally satisfying metaphor, especially to a woman. A rock is not the best image of a woman’s tender companion. In other words, the precious garden of my home needs tending. I want to say to Noël that she is precious to me in a way that, at this point in our 41-year pilgrimage, can be said best by stepping back for a season from virtually all public commitments.

No marriage is an island. For us this is true in two senses. One is that Noël and I are known inside-out by a few friends at Bethlehem—most closely by our long-time colleagues and friends David and Karin Livingston, and then by a cluster of trusted women with Noël and men with me. We are accountable, known, counseled, and prayed for. I am deeply thankful for a gracious culture of transparency and trust among the leadership at Bethlehem.

The other way that our marriage is not an island is that its strengths and defects have consequences for others. No one in the orbit of our family and friends remains unaffected by our flaws. My prayer is that this leave will prove to be healing from the inside of my soul, through Noël’s heart, and out to our children and their families, and beyond to anyone who may have been hurt by my failures.

The difference between this leave and the sabbatical I took four years ago is that I wrote a book on that sabbatical (What Jesus Demands from the World). In 30 years, I have never let go of the passion for public productivity. In this leave, I intend to let go of all of it. No book-writing. No sermon preparation or preaching. No blogging. No Twitter. No articles. No reports. No papers. And no speaking engagements. There is one stateside exception—the weekend devoted to the Desiring God National Conference combined with the inaugural convocation of Bethlehem College and Seminary in October. Noël thought I should keep three international commitments. Our reasoning is that if she could go along, and if we plan it right, these could be very special times of refreshment together.

The elders have appointed a group to stay in touch and keep me accountable for this leave. They are David Mathis, Jon Bloom, Tom Steller, Sam Crabtree, Jon Grano, Tim Held, Tony Campagna, and Kurt Elting-Ballard. Five of these have walked with Noël and me over the last two months, helping us discern the wisdom, scope, and nature of this leave. They brought the final recommendation to the elders on March 22.

I asked the elders not to pay me for this leave. I don’t feel it is owed to me. I know I am causing more work for others, and I apologize to the staff for that. Not only that, others could use similar time away. Most working men and women do not have the freedom to step back like this. The elders did not agree with my request. Noël and I are profoundly grateful for this kind of affection. We will seek the Lord for how much of your financial support to give back to the church, to perhaps bear some of the load.

Personally, I view these months as a kind of relaunch of what I hope will be the most humble, happy, fruitful five years of our 35 years at Bethlehem and 46 years of marriage. Would you pray with me to that end? And would you stand by your church with all your might? May God make these eight months the best Bethlehem has ever known. It would be just like God to do the greatest things when I am not there. “Neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:7).

I love you and promise to pray for you every day.

Pastor John