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The Giving Tree

As usual I have a pile of books next to my recliner which I am currently reading through. I picked up the late Brennan Manning’s small volume titled the “The Furious Longing of God” in order to finish the last few pages his book I have been reading.  It was a delightful read that was encouraging as I finished it.

Manning who is always able to redirect us with his writing to the Cross and remind us that we are deeply loved by Jesus and we have done nothing at all to earn it or deserve it.

One small chapter in “the furious longing of God” that was weighty in its telling of God’s love for us is the chapter  titled “giving”. The author begins by sharing that at times there are stories you hear that leave an incredible mark on your heart and mind. He recollects how in 1967 he heard such a story. It was Shel Silverstein’s children’s book “The Giving Tree”.

“Once there was a tree…and she loved a little boy.” And so begins the story of a tree being happy because she is able to make the boy happy. At first the boy desires nothing but to climb on her branches, eat her apples, and lie in her shade.

But as the boy grows, so do his desires. But because of the tree’s love, she gives her apples for him to sell for money to have real fun; her branches that he might build a house for a wife and family; and her trunk so he could build a boat and sail away from the boredom of life.

And then one day, the prodigal returns to the tree that loves him. By now, she has given him everything; all that remains of her is an old stump. The boy, now an old man, needs only a quiet place to sit and rest. And the Giving Tree gives once more.  (p.123 – 124 the furious longing of God)

It is a wonderful yet sad tale of the story of love and its hardships even when it is no reciprocated appropriately. It’s a melody of pain and violence depending on perspective. One popular story surrounding this popular children’s story is that Manning and Shel Silverstein met when they were young and stayed in touch according to Manning. After many years Shel was an author and Manning had become a priest and once struck up a conversation concerning what God’s love felt like. According to Manning, Silverstein thought deeply on this for some time but was not sure how to respond at the moment. Sometime later though in touch once again with Manning he supplied him with a copy of The Giving Tree and explained this was his answer to Manning’s question.

Having read a few of Manning’s books primarily his more prominent works written later in his life like The Ragamuffin Gospel, Abba’s Child, and currently reading through Ruthless Trust. I would say I enjoy his writing most for the simplicity of the astonishment in God’s love and grace for sinners. My first experience hearing from Manning was in a vocal quote in the late 90’s on a DC Talk track “What if I stumble?

The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians: who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, walk out the door, and deny him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.

I constantly hear through all his writing the ringing theme that I first read in The Ragamuffin Gospel. “My deepest awareness of myself is that I am deeply loved by Jesus Christ and I have done nothing to earn it or deserve it.” – Brennan Manning

“Our Father” Familiar Words So Familiar They May No Longer Be Real

I always enjoy reading the works of Brennan Manning. They always warm my religious affects for God in who he is and for what he has done. Lately I have been reading his small book title “The Furious Longing of God”. It speaks of God’s love for us as a force that is both fierce and majestic. A power that is nothing short of furious. One particular chapter that wraps this theme of God’s furious longing for us is found in the chapter “our Father”. If we focus for a moment on Chapter of 11 of Luke’s gospel we find Jesus who appears to be exhausted from the grind of ministry and people. He cuts out from the crowd to grab a quiet moment of solitude to pray. The disciples noticing he is gone search for him and then they find him absorbed in praying and they ask to teach them how to pray as he does.

And he said to them, “When you pray, say: “Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread,and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.” – Luke 11:2-4

Our Father, Familiar words, maybe so familiar that they are no longer real. Those words were not only real, but also revolutionary to the 12 disciples. Pagan Philosophers such as Aristotle arrived at the existence of God via human reason and referred to Him in vague, impersonal terms: the uncaused cause, the immovable mover. The prophets of Israel revealed the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in a warmer, more compassionate manner. But only Jesus revealed to an astonished Jewish community that God is truly Father. If you took the love all the best mothers and fathers who have lived in the course of human history, all their goodness, kindness, patience, fidelity, wisdom, tenderness, strength, and love and united all those qualities in a single person, that person’s love would only be a faint shadow of the furious love and mercy in the heart of God the Father addressed to you and me at this moment. (The Furious Longing of God pg. 42-43)

This theme is also echoed by Paul in his letter to the Romans in chapter 8:15 “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”

Abba in English literally means daddy, papa, my dear father. “ABBA ăb ə (אַבָּא, father). An Aram. form of the Heb. äb, transliterated into Gr. in the NT and then into Eng.2 It is important to note the word does not occur in either the Hebrew Old Testament or the LXX. In both Romans 8:15 and Galatians 4:6, Paul uses the term in relation to the expression of the consciousness of the intimate relationship of the Christian to God as his Father, a relationship based upon its relationship through and in Christ.

It is evident from the almost complete silence of the OT in regard to the use of such words in personal relationship with God, that the NT use of “Abba, Father” was highly significant description of the relationship between Jesus and His Father, and then between the Christian and God as Father, which greatly transcended OT concepts.

In closing Manning throws out a question which is spurs on some inward reflection. Is your own personal prayer life characterized by the simplicity, childlike candor, boundless trust, and easy familiarity of a little one crawling up in his father’s lap?


Manning, Brennan. The Furious Longing of God, (2009), 42-43.

G. Kittel, ed.; tr. and ed., G. W. Bromiley, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, (1964), 5- 6.

John Calvin on the Purpose of Preaching

The preaching of the Word of God being made into the central event in the life and worship of the church was one of primary marks of the Reformation. “13 And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.” (I Thessalonians 2:13).

Here is Calvin on the purpose of preaching in a noteworthy commentary on Job where he insists that it must address the particular needs of those to whom the preacher is speaking. Calvin emphasizes that…

The word of God is to teach the ignorant, to fortify the weak…. It exhorts those who are slack and…cold… it revivifies the dead. …Let us note well, then, that the word of God will be treated as it should when it will give us courage to walk, fortify us in our feebleness, and render us agile when we would have had broken legs; when, instead of being deprived of all strength as before, it would make us strong and robust; but it should give us life when we would otherwise be as good as dead. 1

1 Douglass, Jane Dempsey. Women Freedom & Calvin (1983 annie Kinkead Warfield Lectures). Pennsylvania: Westminster John Knox Press, January 1985.

Ed McCully’s Reckless Abandon

File:Nate Saint.JPGI been rereading portions of a small book I read last year which I am sure many have heard of titled “Through Gates of Splendor” by Elizabeth Elliot. It was popularized in the several years by a couple of films with similar titles. While at the office one portion that came to light this week that I found inspiring to read was one of the letters by Ed McCully.

He was of the Christian missionaries to Ecuador along with four others — Jim Elliot, Pete FlemingNate Saint, and Roger Youderian — who were killed while attempting to evangelize the Huaorani people through efforts known as Operation Auca.

In the fall of 1945, McCully enrolled in Wheaton College where he majored in business and economics. It was also at Wheaton where he met and became good friends with Jim Elliot.

After graduating from Wheaton in 1949, McCully entered Marquette University Law School intent on becoming a lawyer. Just before his second year there, he took a job as a hotel night clerk. Originally intending to spend the long hours studying class work, he instead began reading more of the Bible. The story of Nehemiah as well as his correspondence with Jim Elliot, who was making preparations to leave for Ecuador at the time, inspired McCully to consider missionary work.

This particular letter he wrote to Jim Elliot on September 2, 1950 during which he was a law student and working as a hotel night clerk. 

Since taking this job things have happened. I’ve been spending my free time studying the Word. Each night the Lord seemed to get hold of me a little more. Night before last I was reading in Nehemiah. I finished the book, and read it through again. Here was a man who left everything as far as position was concerned to go do a job nobody else could handle. And because he went the whole remnant back in Jerusalem got right with the Lord. Obstacles and hindrances fell away and a great work was done. Jim, I couldn’t get away from it. The Lord was dealing with me. On the way home yesterday morning I took a long walk and came to a decision which I know is of the Lord. In all honesty before the Lord I say that no one or nothing beyond Himself and the Word has any bearing upon what I’ve decided to do. I have one desire now–to live a life of reckless abandon for the Lord, putting all my energy into it.

Maybe He’ll send me someplace where the name of Jesus Christ is unknown. Jim, I’m taking the Lord at His word, and I’m trusting Him to prove His Word. It’s kind of like putting all your eggs in one basket, but we’ve already put our trust in Him for salvation, so why not do it as far as our life is concerned? If there’s nothing to this business of eternal life we might as well lose everything in one crack and throw our present life away with out life hereafter. But if there is something to it, then everything else the Lord says must hold true likewise. Pray for me, Jim.

Man, to think the Lord got hold of me just one day before I was to register for school! I’ve got money put away and was all set to go. Today was registration day so I went over to school to let them know why I wouldn’t be back. I really prayed like the apostle asked the Ephesians to pray, that I might ‘open my mouth boldly.’ I talked to all the fellows that I knew well. Then I went in to see a professor I thought a lot about. I told him what I planned to do, and before I left he had tears in his eyes. I went in to see another professor and talked to him. All I got was a cold farewell and a good luck wish.

Well, that’s it. Two days ago I was a law student. Today I’m an untitled nobody. Thanks, Jim, for the intercession on my behalf. Don’t let up. And brother, I’m really praying for you too as you’re making preparation to leave. I only wish I were going with you.

Who would have known that several years later he would fulfill this innate desire to fulfill the great commission and find himself in the mission field with his friend Jim. This reckless abandon would cost his life in the mission field of Ecuador as II Timothy states, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. But through this sacrifice a tribe would come to know Christ and be brought out of darkness into his marvelous light (I Peter 2:9).

Martin Luther Counseling Discouraged Preachers

I once read that the ministry of preaching seems to be a fertile ground for discouragement. It is easy at times to feel disheartened and short sighted in thinking that one’s labor is fruitless even at times behind the pulpit. One great preacher John Stott stated that, “Discouragement is the occupational hazard of Christian ministry.” Most rarely know or experience the heavy burden of a preacher and all that he must endure and carry upon his heavy heart behind the scenes of church ministry.

Being the son of a Pastor along with having numerous friends who are preachers and preaching myself behind the sacred desk for many years I know the back stories of many preachers who have gone through such seasons of discouragement in their ministry and life. It has its ups and downs and sometimes it can be frustrating an a lonely place.

I always recall Paul’s written words in his epistle to the Church of Corinth in I Corinthians 15:58 where he states, “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” Paul states with endearing but challenging words that we should keep in our minds that no labor in the Lord is ever in vain. C.T. Studd the British missionary poet said it like this, “Only one life, ’twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.”

Luther offers some encouraging counsel to discouraged preachers here which I found even after all these years being separated from his time still so very relevant to us today. He express emotions, fillings, and experiences I know I and many others have been through.

‘If Peter and Paul were here, they would scold you because you wish right off to be as accomplished as they. Crawling is something,even if one is unable to walk. Do your best. If you cannot preach an hour, then preach half an hour or a quarter of an hour. Do not try to imitate other people. Center on the shortest and simplest points, which are the very heart of the matter, and leave the rest to God. Look solely to his honor and not to applause. Pray that God will give you a mouth and to your audience ears. I can tell you preaching is not a work of man. Although I am old [he was forty-eight] and experienced, I am afraid every time I have to preach. You will most certainly find out three things: first, you will have prepared your sermon as diligently as you know how, and it will slip through your fingers like water; secondly, you may abandon your outline and God will give you grace. You will preach your very best. The audience will be pleased, but you won’t. And thirdly, when you have been unable in advance to pull anything together, you will preach acceptably both to your hearers and to yourself. So pray to God and leave all the rest to him.’” 

(Roland BaintonHere I Stand – A Life of Martin Luther”, Abingdon-Cokesbury Press, New York, 1950, p.348-349)

Meditations of a Christian Hedonist

For over twenty-seven years now pastor John Piper has been provoking Christians with the simple but paradigm-shifting truth which is not only the theme of this book but is found running through all his ministry the truth that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. Piper builds and supports his message upon numerous texts of scripture from the Bible echoing the voices the apostle Paul and Christ Jesus. Along with them one will find the supporting words of influential Christ followers throughout the timeline of history like Blaise Pascal, Jonathan Edwards and C.S. Lewis.

Noted author John Piper uses the term Christian hedonism frequently in this book a term which goes back to a section of the Westminster Catechism. The Westminster Shorter Catechism summarizes the “chief end of man” as “to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” Piper has suggested that this would be more correct as “to glorify God by enjoying Him forever.” John Piper points to figures such as Blaise Pascal and Jonathan Edwards as exemplars of Christian hedonism from the past, before the term was current.

The question as to what is Christian Hedonism is Piper’s shortest summary is God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. As people we all make into a God that which we take the most pleasure in. Christian Hedonist though wants to make God their God by seeking after the greatest pleasure which is pleasure in Him.

“The overriding concern of this book is that in all of life God be glorified the way He Himself has appointed. To that end this book aims to persuade you that the chief end of man if to glorify God by enjoying Him forever” (p. 18).

Piper provides a compelling and liberating case where we are finally free to enjoy Christ not only as our Lord and Savior, but also as our all surpassing, supremely soul-satisfying Treasure. He begins his case with the premise that happiness and pleasure are the motivations for everyone. This is illustrated through Pascal in the introduction and that God is the ultimate pleasure available to us. He further provides answers to the questions like, what is the connection between pleasure/happiness and the Christian faith and What should my motivation be for following God? We follow God out of delight not out of mere fear or duty. This delight is found in the deepest pleasure available in God alone. Also that this pursuit of pleasure in God is not only permissible but it is essential.

This is a weighty book with priceless truth in which Piper who admittedly writes with a Calvinistic bent provides a number of important insights into living life with a focus on chasing after the heart of God with the hedonist’s abandon. I can’t overstate the tremendous impact this book has had on the structuring my theological view of God and how it weaves together my happiness and pleasure in God. So this book is a must read in my opinion full of Piper’s gift of meshing logic, theological insight and passion.

I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


Free Audiobook of the Month: “Basic Christianity” by John Stott

Thanks to the people at Christian Audio who are not offering for the month of August a free download of John Stott’s classic book “Basic Christianity”. You can go to there website and download it here. Thanks to Christian Audio for this wonderful gift. You may want to consider if there are believers or unbelievers in your circle of influence who might benefit from this free audio book.

This concise classic written by Stott who in 2005, Time magazine ranked him among the 100 most influential people in the world, discussed if Jesus was not God in human flesh, Christianity is exploded, writes John Stott. John Stott’s clear, classic statement examines the historical facts on which Christianity stands. Here is a sound, sensible guide for all who seek an intellectually satisfying explanation of the Christian faith.

I have also added a link to some additional small group resources (here). These resources have been created to support John Stott’s classic work. They are ideal for churches who would like to use Basic Christianity as an introductory course, or for use in small group & home group settings as a group of people read through and study Basic Christianity together.

Connecting Church & Home by Tim Kimmel: Book Review

In recent years one of the biggest debates in the marketplace of ideas within the church is the question of how when it comes to family ministry. How does the church minister and meets the spiritual needs of the family. As their area variety of different views and methodologies on how this should be done (ref. Perspectives on Family Ministry) author Dr. Tim Kimmel in this new book “Connecting Church & Home” offers up his own perspective. Dr. Tim Kimmel is the founder and Executive Director of Family Matters whose goal is to see families transformed by God’s grace into instruments of restoration and reformation by equipping families for every age and stage of life.

The author in the first part of the book drags out onto the floor what he finds to be the crippling church paradigm that so many within the church have abdicated the spiritual education of the their children to the professions at the church. Being a youth pastor for many years I found the author’s words to ring true as he challenges the church to review this method of partnership between the family and church. As Kimmel states the consequences are young people are leaving the church in large numbers, parents are disconnected, churches are overwhelmed, and children are growing up without an example of God’s grace in the home.

In turn Tim Kimmel offers up his own comprehensive strategy to churches for family ministry as well as a plan for parents seeking to promote generational faithfulness to their children. He lays out a plan called grace-based parenting between churches and parents. Kimmel suggests that grace is the missing element as the role of a parent is to connect the heart of their child in such a way that prepares the child to more easily connect to the heart of God.

“Strong churches don’t make strong families.  Strong families make strong churches.” – Dr. Tim Kimmel

Kimmel’s book does the job of shedding light on the problem I don’t think he is the final word on the resolution but offers up a very usable option. I recommend this book to parents and church leaders alike as it is a short but concise easy read that strikes at the heart of the issues facing the church and home today.

Disclaimer: Thanks to the associates at LibraryThing and Randall House I received a free copy of this book for the purpose of an honest review as the opinions about the content and value of this book are solely my own.

Being People of “The Way”

The first time the term Christian was used in describing the followers of Jesus Christ was in the city of Antioch in Syria (Acts 11:26). Prior to this time the followers of Jesus Christ were known as “people of the Way”. Take for instance the many references found in the book of (Acts 9:219:919:2322:424:1424:22) which was in reference to their lifestyle. “People of the Way” was the name given to members of the movement around Jesus in the earliest Christians. The term “the Way” denoted a pattern of living which consisted of instruction and training required for discipleship.

In other words, it was their lifestyle that identified them as being followers of Jesus Christ, not their words. Christians were associated with a particular and discernible way of living and relating that both grew out of their faith and gave testimony to that faith.

“I beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:1-2).

It is when Christianity is understood primarily as a “way” of life not just a doctrinal system or promise of eternal life it begins to change the spiritual climate of its culture. Reading Diana Butler Bass’ book “A People’s History of Christianity: The Other Side of the Story” the author makes note how through the history of the church Christianity has succeeded because it transformed the lives of people in a chaotic world. Christians are more than just individuals who had a changed religious position, they were now a new people, a new community embarking on a new “way” of life — a life worthy of their calling. Their proclamation that in Jesus Christ the reconciling and transforming reign of God had become an historical reality was more than an intriguing idea, it had become visible in a people whose life together was the first fruit of the new social order intended by God for the whole of creation.

Rodney Stark an American sociologist of religion, who is co-director of the Institute for Studies of Religion at Baylor University, in his study of the growth of Christianity in the ancient world suggest that:

The power of Christianity lay not in its promise of other worldly compensations for suffering in this life, as has so often been prop0sed. No, the crucial change that took place in the third century was the rapidly spreading awareness of a faith that delivered potent antidotes to life’s miseries here and now! The truly revolutionary aspect of Christianity lay in moral imperatives such as “Love one’s neighbor as oneself,” “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” “it is more blessed to give than to receive,” and “When you did it to the least of my brethren, you did it unto me.” These were not just slogans. Members did nurse the sick, even during epidemics; they did support orphans, widows, the elderly, and the poor; they did concern themselves with the lot of slaves. In short Christians created “a miniature welfare state in a empire which for the most part lacked social services.” It was these responses to the long-standing misery of life in antiquity, not the onset of worse conditions, that were the ‘material’ changes that inspired Christian growth. But these material benefits were entirely spiritual in origin. Support for this view comes from the continuing inability of pagan groups to meet this challenge.

Practicing hospitality and ministering to the sick, they offered simple practical solutions to deal with the miseries of life. Early Christians shared their resources and were known for their hospitality towards the stranger and those in need. More than that, Christians found their lives changed by the new values they upheld. Justin Martyr, who lived in the second century, spoke of the impact of Christianity: “We who formerly… valued above all things the acquisition of wealth and possession, now bring what we have into a common stock, and communicate to everyone in need; we who hated and destroyed one another, and on account of their different manners would not live with men of a different tribe, now since the coming of Christ, live familiarly with them, and pray for our enemies.” This radical spirituality that dealt with social realities and injustices won new and unlikely admirers.

In his Apology, Aristede, a second century Greek philosopher describes the early Christians as follows: “They appeal to those who injure them, and try to win them as friends; they are eager to do good to their enemies; they are gentle and easy to be entreated; they abstain from all unlawful conversation and from all impurity; they despise not the widow, nor oppress the orphan; and he that has, gives ungrudgingly for the maintenance of him who has not. And when they see a stranger, they take him in to their homes and rejoice over him as a very brother; for they do not call them brethren after the flesh, but brethren after the spirit and in God.” The concern also extended to families of the dead, those who were persecuted or imprisoned and of course, the poor. “And whenever one of their poor passes from the world, each one of them according to his ability gives heed to him and carefully sees to his burial.

By followers enacting Jesus teachings, Christianity changed and improved the lives of its adherents and served as a practical theology and bettered the existence for countless ancient believers. Christians were practicing a Way that was inclusive, breaking down social barriers by bringing people of diverse backgrounds together. The love of God fleshed out in there love for people being more than a new religion transformed people like woman, peasants, and slaves by giving them the ability to change their lives.

1 Rodney Stark, Cities of God: The Real Story of How Christianity Became an Urban Movement and Conquered Rome. pg. 30

Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart – Book Review

At first the author provides a gentle but theological critique of the methodology of getting people saved through the use of “The Sinner’s Prayer’. He shares his own experience recounting the multiple times he asked Jesus into his heart and getting baptized a number of times also.new book “Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart” we have author J.D. Grear, who is the Lead Pastor at the Summit Church of Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, provides for the reader a look at assurance of salvation.

Which leads to his premise which is “assurance is not found in remembering a prayer that you prayed, however but by continuing in the posture of repentance and faith that you began at your conversion.” In turn Grear explores and explains what the bible says is true belief, faith and repentance. He explains how everyone’s conversion experience is many times quite different but the truths of faith and repentance are the same. He further show how the “sinner’s prayer” is not some sort of magic incantation that saves. Our assurance is only in the finished work of Christ. Grear writes:

The Bible depicts the moment of salvation differently. Instead of asking Jesus for a “certificate” of salvation, you start believing what God’s Word says about His Lordship and His completed work at the cross. You understand that you have lived in rebellion against the rule of God and have no hope of escaping God’s wrath on your own. You “kneel” in submission to His claim on your life, and rest your hope of heaven upon Him. Picture this as hopping up into His arms, submitting to go wherever He takes you, and trusting in Him to carry into heaven.

Grear writing from a moderate Calvinist perspective assures readers they cannot lose their salvation as he goes through texts of Scripture showing three primary bases for assurance which are; a present posture of faith and repentance; perseverance in the faith; and evidences of eternal life in our heart—a love for God and a love for others. He states these three combine to provide us with a great sense of assurance that we belong to God.

I found this book delightful to read and a great resource. It would be quite helpful both to Christians concerned with if they are saved or not or the unsaved who have been propped up with false assurance that they are. It is a quick and easy read written with biblical truth and sprinkled with good humor.