A Glimpse Behind the Walls

Had a couple great sessions in two prisons this week…

Tuesday was Bible Quizzing in WRDCC. Eighteen inmates showed up (each week we have 15-20). We’ve been studying First John; and for the first 45 minutes or so I asked them questions on the first four chapters.

Hard to express how great it is to see the offenders enjoying themselves….a few of them evidently put a lot of time into memorizing and yet they aren’t cocky, but rather spend time telling other men they can do it; just takes discipline and time.

It’s wonderful to see them high-fiving one another as they get questions correct.

And then we discuss the verses, and get into some pretty deep conversations.

Simply a highlight of my week!

Wednesday morning I drove to Crossroads to preach at “Christian General.” About fifty offenders showed up for this weekly service (Crossroads does nothing on weekends). Many of these guys I’ve known for eight years or so. Each time I go I speak to one guy who has been incarcerated for 34 years…and who will never get out.

He was in Vietnam the same time I was. He tells me he became a Christian when he was a young teen; but fell away upon returning from Nam. I never check an inmates record; simply because I don’t trust myself to be objective. This man speaks of his children often; never his wife…so perhaps…

The inmate choir does a great job; many of the attendees seem to be in an attitude of worship. They are very attentive. And most always express gratitude to me for making the trip and effort.

But it is I who am blessed to be able to go behind the walls.

In print this doesn’t convey what I wish it did…just a couple “average” aspects of the ministry to which the Lord has called me; but I remain amazed that I get to do what I get to do!

Waiting for God to Answer?

Though it would be sort of nice if the “name it, claim it,” “blab it, grab it” theology (using the term losely) was correct; we know from reading Scripture and from experience that God answers prayer in His way (which, of course, is the best way) and in His time.

Perhaps you have been praying for something or someone specific for many, many days…or longer…and heaven is silent…May these words from Charles Spurgeon encourage:

“God often delays in answering prayer. We have several instances of this in sacred Scripture. Jacob did not get the blessing from the angel until near the dawn of day—he had to wrestle all night for it. The poor woman of Syrophenicia was answered not a word for a long while. Paul besought the Lord thrice that “the thorn in the flesh” might be taken from him, and he received no assurance that it should be taken away, but instead thereof a promise that God’s grace should be sufficient for him.

If thou hast been knocking at the gate of mercy, and hast received no answer, shall I tell thee why the mighty Maker hath not opened the door and let thee in? Our Father has reasons peculiar to Himself for thus keeping us waiting. Sometimes it is to show His power and His sovereignty, that men may know that Jehovah has a right to give or to withhold. More frequently the delay is for our profit. Thou art perhaps kept waiting in order that thy desires may be more fervent. God knows that delay will quicken and increase desire, and that if He keeps thee waiting thou wilt see thy necessity more clearly, and wilt seek more earnestly; and that thou wilt prize the mercy all the more for its long tarrying. There may also be something wrong in thee which has need to be removed, before the joy of the Lord is given. Perhaps thy views of the Gospel plan are confused, or thou mayest be placing some little reliance on thyself, instead of trusting simply and entirely to the Lord Jesus. Or, God makes thee tarry awhile that He may the more fully display the riches of His grace to thee at last.

Thy prayers are all filed in heaven, and if not immediately answered they are certainly not forgotten, but in a little while shall be fulfilled to thy delight and satisfaction. Let not despair make thee silent, but continue instant in earnest supplication.”

Stormy? Read This Reminder

“Your trials may be many and great. Your cross may be very heavy. But the business of your soul is all conducted according to an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and sure. All things are working togethr for your good. Your sorrows are only purifying your soul for glory;; your bereavements are only fashioning you as a polished stone for the temple above, made without hands. From whatever quarter the storms blow, they only drive you nearer to heaven! Whatever weather you may go through it is only ripening you for the garner of God. Your best things are quite safe.”
J. C. Ryle

Backing Down?

This is a great article about a great song written and performed by a great musician.

Before the article; here’s the song just in case you don’t know it (horrors!) or it’s been a while since you’ve listened (you possibly will recognize a couple members of his band):


The Man and His Song

Tom Petty (1950–2017)

Article by

Executive Editor, desiringGod.org

Our 7-year-old twin boys love listening to Tom Petty.

Somehow his songs have resonated with them more than Daddy’s other tunes. “The waiting is the hardest part” struck a nerve early on, and they sang it as 3-year-olds to pacify themselves when life was moving slower than desired. Perhaps it was “Runnin’ Down a Dream,” such a good car song. But probably what made Petty a legend in our home was Dad’s love for “I Won’t Back Down.”

Once the boys were showing houseguests their new musical instruments. One of the guys raised his kid guitar to me and said, “Dad, could you tune this to Tom Petty?” He rose to an unusual status with our boys.

Last night at dinner I told them that Tom Petty had a heart attack and wasn’t doing well. The response came back from a serious 7-year-old face, “I hope he doesn’t die.” This morning in the car, I broke the news. Petty passed last night at age 66. After a reflective pause came a sober and earnest question, “Dad, can we still listen to his music?”

“Yes, buddy, that’s one of the great things about writing songs — they keep playing, even after you die.”

Spine Enough for Pastors

From all I know, Tom Petty was no Christian and had no religion but music itself. But I don’t know the condition of his soul and am not the one to issue that judgment. Love hopes all things (1 Corinthians 13:7) and trusts that the Judge of all the earth will do right (Genesis 18:25). I’m in no position to eulogize Tom Petty, the man, but I am eager to pay tribute to one of his defining songs.

Despite his known history of drug use (and recovery), Petty wrote with about as much virtue as anyone in the mainstream of the last generation — which doesn’t say much, but does leave us a kind of “common grace” to appreciate in Petty’s work. In June, I went with two fellow pastors to Petty’s fortieth-anniversary tour in St. Paul. As expected, it was Christ-less, but clean. He played nearly all his biggest hits from the 80s, when he was at his height, but the signature moment for us was “Won’t Back Down.”

Tribute to a Song

It was the first hit from Petty’s first solo album in 1989, and had so much spine that he initially feared it might not fare well, even a generation ago. “I kind of felt nervous about it,” he said, “like maybe I should take it back and disguise it a little bit, but I’m glad I didn’t.”

The song’s message is unprogressive. Petty doesn’t sound ready to try new things or compromise for the sake of everyone getting along. Rather, he comes off as one deeply principled, if not stubborn, full of conviction, resolved not to bend. He will stand alone, if he must, against the pressure to give in. He won’t back down — against what, he doesn’t specify. The song, according to one source, is “a message of defiance against unnamed forces of difficulty and possibly oppression.”

Mood of Christian Resolve

The risk of the song’s generic nature is that mindless conservatives and mere curmudgeons can draw strength from such lyrics. But the corresponding virtue is that the song is ready-made for application to truly worthy causes, where the pressure to back down on something important needs to be met precisely with a calm but resolute declaration, “I won’t back down.”

What makes the song so powerful is not only the lyrical backbone, but a mood that embodies an approach to not backing down — the very mood we need in the post-Christian moment which relentlessly pressures biblically faithful Christians to back down. Back down on your stance against abortion. Back down on your refusal to condone homosexual practice and so-called “gay marriage.” Back down on claiming your Bible is inerrant. Back down on male leadership in the church and the home. Back down on the exclusive sufficiency of Jesus’s person and work for salvation, and your claim that there is only one name given among men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12).

Not only do Petty’s lyrics echo the words of Matthew 16:18 (“You could stand me up at the gates of hell”), but they challenge us to “know what’s right,” take care to steward the “just one life” we have, “keep this world from draggin’ me down,” and not back down against “a world that keeps on pushin’ me around.”

Call to Christian Resolve

Based on the nerve of the song’s message, you might expect something that sounds like a frenzy of zeal from Metallica. But Petty is not swollen with adrenaline. There’s no yelling, no rashness, no recklessness. The pace is smooth and melodic — composed and collected, but not sluggish. Deep inner strength meets with great self-control. It’s solid confidence on a mid-tempo beat. The song is both patiently reserved and full of resolve.

Of all people, biblically faithful Christians have something to stand for. We have a real reason to not back down. We have an indomitable, risen Jesus who promises to build his church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18) — that’s why we can stand against those gates and not back down. This is no mere stubbornness or determination of will. We have what Petty didn’t — infinite power at work in us to will and to work for God’s good pleasure (Philippians 2:13).

Legacy of Christian Courage

It should be no surprise that Christ in us would lead us to take a stand and not back down. Jesus himself didn’t back down before Pharisees and Sadducees, before Zealots and Herodians, before scribes and priests. He made the good confession before Pilate (1 Timothy 6:12), and held his peace when he could have called twelve legions of angels (Matthew 26:53).

The apostle didn’t back down before Judaizers and Helenizers, before Felix and Festus and Caesar himself. The early church didn’t back down against Greek intellectual assaults and Roman capital punishment. Athanasius stood against what seemed like the whole world and held his ground on the deity of Christ. Luther and Zwingli and Calvin didn’t back down to medieval nominalism and sacramentalism — as we celebrate this month 500 years of Reformation. Spurgeon and Machen and Henry and Graham didn’t back down to post-Enlightenment naturalism and ecclesiological liberalism, but paved the way for the day in which we carry the mantle and keep standing.

Here We Stand

When tempted to cave in to society’s pressure, we can be confident to stand calmly, collectedly, with a gentle, sure voice, and unshaken resolve in our hearts, to take whatever comes at us in stride, knowing that, God willing, our feet aren’t moving. Because the one with whom we stand, for whom we stand, simply cannot be defeated.

Perhaps God would be pleased to plunder the sentiment and spine of such a tune from the late Tom Petty, fill its generic form with biblical contours, and inspire my 7-year-old boys for the composed and God-confident calling of not backing down in the days ahead.

Doesn’t Matter If You “Like” It Or Not…

cross tozerA local pastor preached a series concerning the “Monster God.”

His thesis? If the verses from the Getty’s “In Christ Alone” – “til on the cross, where Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied” are correct…then the God of the Bible is a monster similar to a child molester.

What is called “Penal Substitutionary Atonement” has apparently embarrassed many a professing Christian. The song referenced in the above paragraph has been covered by many artists…and many of them have dropped the verses cited. An entire denomination wanted to put the song in their hymnal without the “offensive” words…they were denied (thankfully).

Here’s the take of J. I. Packer (from “The Heart of the Gospel” in Knowing God):

“Has the word propitiation any place in your Christianity?

“In the faith of the New Testament it is central. The love of God [1 John 4:8-10], the taking of human form by the Son [Heb. 2:17], the meaning of the cross [Rom. 3:21-26], Christ’s heavenly intercession [1 John 2:1-2], the way of salvation–all are to be explained in terms of it, as the passages quoted show, and any explanation from which the thought of propitiation is missing will be incomplete, and indeed actually misleading, by New Testament standards.

“In saying this, we swim against the stream of much modern teaching and condemn at a stroke the views of a great number of distinguished church leaders today, but we cannot help that. Paul wrote, “Even if we or an angel from heaven”–let alone a minister, a bishop, college lecturer, university professor, or noted author–“should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! (“accursed” KJV and RSV; “outcast” NEB; “damned” Phillips–Gal. 1:8). And a gospel without propitiation at is heart is another gospel than that which Paul preached. The implications of this must not be evaded.”


Tough to Read? Good advice/counsel:

I can’t even imagine doing time and not knowing how to read. The four years I spent locked up were tough in many ways; but would have been incredibly more difficult if I was not able to read…

But many inmates are functionally illiterate…at best…Thankfully many prisons have programs to help (sadly, many offenders don’t take advantage of any of the educational stuff available because that is “cooperating with the man”).

Certainly it is not just prisoners who have reading difficulties.

Here is some great advice and ideas to help…it can be read or listened to…highly recommended: CLICK HERE

Tough To Read – Deadly Accurate

Written decades ago; true then, truer now:

“People seem to think that the masses are outside the Christian church because our evangelistic methods are not what they ought to be. That is not the answer. People are outside the church because looking at us they say, “What is the point of being Christians? – look at them!” They are judging Christ by you and me. And you cannot stop them and you cannot blame them.”

Martyn Lloyd-Jones