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It must be a llama!

If it walks like a duck, looks like a duck, and sounds like a duck, then it surely must be a llama.

By now you have seen the headlines and read the stories about the Supreme Court’s decision today. If not, go here and here to get caught up. In this piece, I will not be taking on the Court’s position – others far more skilled either already have or soon will be doing so. My interest is in our reaction to it.

The pro-gay marriage crowd is pleased. The traditional marriage crowd is not. I suspect that the pro-gay marriage crowd is not only pleased, but perhaps pleasantly surprised – I don’t know to what degree they had confidence the Court would rule in their favor, but there had to be some degree of skepticism and concern.

The traditional marriage crowd is somewhere along the spectrum of apathetic-annoyed-angry. Or perhaps they are riding the wave of one into the other, then riding that one into the other, and starting over again at the end of each emotional set. Much as above, I don’t know to what degree they had confidence the Court would rule in their favor, but there had to be some degree of skepticism and concern.

For the traditional marriage crowd, let me ask this: upon hearing this verdict, were you surprised? Why?

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Please find the smell

The beautiful bride made this request of me more than once. She did so not because I refused any previous requests to do so, but because my earlier attempts were met the next day by the consistent, persistent, violent smell. We discovered said offense in our garage, or more accurately, the stench (without warning and without invitation) took up full time residence in our garage. It is not surprising that something like this might happen, as our garage is home to our dogs and cats, briefly served as a shelter for our young chicks, and since we are out in timber country, it is likely woodland creatures may venture in from time to time. What was surprising is that no matter how much, how diligently, and how aggressively I cleaned, the stench remained. We tend to shy away from commercial cleaning products, but in this instance, I was willing to compromise and begin my own chemical warfare on a clear and present danger.

This weekend I paced through the garage trying to figure out if I could determine the location of where this bouquet of filth emanated. Back and forth, back and forth. I stood in the center of the garage, scanned the area looking for any inch I had not already scrubbed. In all of my efforts, I missed one glaring area – the small gap between the wall and the chest freezer. Clambering atop the freezer, I squished my face in between the gap, and immediately regretted it. The good news – I found the odor. The bad news – I had to deal with the odor. Nothing good can come from sharing with you what the source of the odor was. You’re welcome.

As often as I cleaned the garage floor, I never once pulled out the freezer to see if the fiendish stink was behind it. I may have thought about it, but I convinced myself that the smell wasn’t that bad, or that it surely could not be coming from behind there, or that it would be a considerable pain to move the freezer (those things are not small, and when you live in a rural area like we do, you store up as much as you can, so that appliance is loaded). So, in effect, what I did was consent to live with the stench. I could agree it was unpleasant. I could rightly name it as a stench and not confuse it with an air freshener. I could affirm that something probably should be done about it. Certainly others noticed, but were just too polite to say they noticed, leading me to think that it must not be all that objectionable.

My thinking about the stench is the same way I can be tempted towards thinking about my sin. I can agree that my sin is unpleasant. I can have enough awareness to be able to say “yes, this is sin.” I can even agree that something should be done. Perhaps others have noticed my sin in my life but in the name of politeness (though better identified as fear of man) they say nothing – which in my mind can lead me to believe that my sin must not be all that bad.

If you have ever been near such an unpleasant aroma (please, somebody, join me in my misery – certainly somebody else has had this kind of experience!) you know that they just don’t go away. Often, instead of going away, they get worse. Much worse. I trust you can see the parallel here with sin – sin is just not going to go away. The stench in my garage was discovered and eradicated by bleach. The stench in my heart is scrubbed away by Christ.

I am endeavoring to examine my freezer/wall gaps in my heart. What offense is proceeding from there? What sin reeks in my heart and life? Are there other nooks and crannies in need of being sanitized? Is my heart and subsequently my life a pleasing fragrance to God? Will I welcome rebuke from others when they see sin in my life? Will I take sin seriously and not trifle with it? Will I agree with God that it has no place in my home. I pray that my distaste for sin in my life will be greater than the disgust for the funk in my garage.

 

 


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BB guns and the joy of salvation

If you are a follower of Christ, I want you to think back to when you heard, understood, and believed the gospel. Do you remember what was going through your mind? Do you remember how your heart, both your literal, blood pumping heart and your figurative, soul-driving heart, pulsated at the very thought of the eternal transaction that was made on your behalf and in your favor? Do you remember at last having confidence that by the work of Christ on the cross, you would no longer, never, ever stand in condemnation? Do you remember how delightfully jarring  it was/is to know that though you had violated God’s law and were (and truthfully, still are) very undeserving of such grace and mercy, you received it anyway?

I’m hopeful that you are not having too dig too far into the deepest recesses of your grey matter to pull those memories back in to your present thinking. But often Christians do lose sight of it. We end up not so much losing our amazement and joy, but not exercising it. It is not taken from us, we merely neglect it. Neglect it long enough, and your salvation becomes starved of its original amazement and joy. The result of that is a bland, milquetoast, lifeless Christian experience rather than the confident, passionate, victorious life that was assured for us by the cross, at the cross.

Please don’t read this as a rebuke, or if you do, read it as a rebuke of myself. I don’t want to lose that amazement or bewilderment. I daily want to live in light of the joy of my salvation. I want to be like the Psalmist who said “May we shout for joy over your salvation…” (Psalm 20:5). I want my words and my heart to mirror Habakkuk’s when he said “yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. (Habakkuk 3:18) – what’s really fascinating about Habakkuk’s declaration is that he is saying it in the face of suffering. Or we could take David who was caught in tremendous sin, was rebuked, and in repentance wrote Psalm 51 which includes this plea “Restore to me the joy of your salvation…” Daily, I want to have the joy that only Jesus offers “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11). May one of the dominant themes of my life be that I “rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory” (1 Peter 1:8).

What I want to take permanent residence in my mind and heart is expressed on the face of one of my beauties pictured below:

bbgunjoy

Would you look at that face! Do you see the amazement in her face? Do you see the joy? I want my heart to everyday look like her face! Here is the story…while my mom was in town, my boys wanted to show off their shooting skills with first the bow, then the BB gun. As the marksmanship contest to impress Grandma was underway, this walking bottle of Pepto-Bismol joined the festivities. The second boy had completed his round and walked away. The one I affectionately call Babycakes remained and she had a question dangling from her eyes. I asked her if she would like to shoot the BB gun, reassured her that I would help her and protect her, and that it would not cause her to go deaf (my children are very particular about loud noises, which strikes me as odd because they are often the source of the loud noises). As you can see, I was with her and we practiced exceptional gun control, as there were four hands gripping the weapon. She received some assistance aiming at the burn bin in our backyard, 15 yards from where she was standing. When she was ready, I told her to squeeze the trigger. She hesitated, then squeezed, and upon hearing the “PING!” of the BB piercing through the rusty barrel, the picture above was her reaction (big photo credit to Grandma – thanks Mom!).

Oh that my heart would think on my salvation with such expression, with the right combination of stunned amazement and unbridled joy! Do you know what my pink princess did right after that? Shouted with joy and told everyone who would listen about what she had done. For the rest of the night. May my joy, and my amazement, over what Christ has accomplished on my behalf be proclaimed with such vigor, passion, and excitement. Let our hearts be overwhelmed, and “may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; may those who love your salvation say continually, “Great is the Lord!” (Psalm 40:16). Remember, and rejoice.


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You are asking the wrong question

A recent joy of mine has been to be in Bible study with a small group of men from our community. Presently, there are just four of us. We are slooooowwly working our way through the book of Colossians. We have been meeting for over 2 months and we have still not exited chapter 1. We may give D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones seven year journey through Romans a run for its money. However, the glacial speed with which we are approaching this study permits us to really chew on what we are reading and studying. There is a high level of questions and searching for answers. Really it is one of the highlights of my week to be with these men in the Word.

During one of our studies, a familiar question appeared. I’ll spare you the precise interrogative cartography that led us to our destination, but we were considering the existence of evil when the question was asked “why did God allow this?” There was a series of almost answers, before getting quickly tucked back behind the teeth, and silence reigned over those next few moments. Heads and eyes shifted towards me because at that moment they wanted to hear from the pastor. Immediately the way back button in my mind was pressed, and I conjured up an answer I first heard when I was a teenager: “You are asking the wrong question.”

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What are we doing with the gospel?

J.C. Ryle is on my short list of favorite dead guys who lived a long time ago, and he appears near the top of that list. I have read most of his works and benefited tremendously from them. He has had a significant influence on my life. In fact, so great is his influence, I selected Everton as my favorite football team (that’s soccer for those of you who don’t speak footy) in the English Premier League based solely on the fact that Ryle was the first Anglican bishop of Liverpool, where Everton is located. Sad, but true.

I’ve have spent the past several weeks preaching through the Gospel of Mark, and Ryle’s commentary has been an oft-used resourced. I read ahead, I re-read, then read ahead again. It was during a read ahead moment I stumbled upon this quote:

What are we doing with the Gospel? We live in a Christian land. We have the Bible in our houses. We hear of the salvation of the Gospel frequently every year. But have we received it into our hearts? Have we really obeyed it in our lives? Have we, in short, laid hold on the hope set before us, taken up the cross, and followed Christ? If not, we are far worse than the heathen, who bow down to stocks and stones. We are far more guilty than the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. They never heard the Gospel, and therefore never rejected it. But as for us, we hear the Gospel, and yet will not believe. May we search our own hearts, and take heed that we do not ruin our own souls! – Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: Mark, [Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1985], 115.

Written in 1857, the question is still very much a valid one – what are we doing with the gospel? One of the reasons I appreciate Ryle so much is that he is both incisive and practical. He is not prone to fluff. The 3 follow up questions he asks are worthy of our attention, as is his strong urging at the end to search our own hearts. Examine ourselves, not in a checklist Christianity approach, but examine ourselves for evidence of the gospel being at work in our hearts. I’d like to think it is the result of wisdom and maturity, but more likely it is birthed in an awareness of my limitations and out of necessity, I am daily having to come back to questions like this. I daily have to come back to examining my heart. In examining my heart, I must be wary of not looking for a performance rating, trying to assess my standing based on how I have done. Rather, I must come back to realizing that I am incapable of doing anything anyway, which is why I need the gospel – everyday. The antidote to fear, complacency, worry, pride and a whole bunch of other things I am tempted towards – everyday – is the gospel, which when applied – everyday – frees me from those things, frees me from the performance trap, frees me from my own artificially crafted and self serving criteria. That is one of the innumerable measures of the “hope set before us”, that my hope is not found in me, my abilities, or my strength. Rather hope is found in Christ and Christ alone. Why did this quote jump out at me? Because I can so easily find myself ignoring the gospel. I hear the gospel, I preach the gospel, but am I thinking/speaking/acting/living in light of the reality of the gospel’s work in my life? Am I taking the gospel seriously? Am I appropriating the full benefit of the gospel everyday? Am I examining my heart and soul on a regular basis? Are you? What are you doing with the gospel?


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Dead chickens and the gospel

Back in April, we crossed a threshold that we never anticipated. I’m not sure that this new benchmark was even fully desired. But, we have come to embrace it. What is the it? As of April, there are more animals on our property than people. We moved here as a family of 6, plus one dog. Six on one, that’s easy dominion. Now the odds have changed. In April the totals were 2 dogs, 2 cats, and 1 rabbit. We had the advantage, but just barely. From some of the stories we have heard from previous missionary pastors with Village Missions, inheriting animals was just part of being a rural pastor – at the time I promised that would never happen to us.

So what happened? At Christmas, our children were the recipients of some money that they were free to use however they wished. It was an unexpected blessing. The beautiful bride and I came up with some great ideas of what they could do with the money. Our 8 year old surprised us when he turned down each of our grand plans. His reasoning was that each of the ideas we came up with meant that the money would be spent right away, and then it would be gone forever. Instead, he was looking for a way to make that money stretch farther, and perhaps produce more money. It is like we have a miniature Dave Ramsey in our home. “Well then, what do you think you would like to do with the money?” said we, the parents with a twinge of a patronizing tone in our voice. There was a one word answer. “Chickens.”

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Arise

 

Currently, I’m preaching through the Gospel of Mark. I have taught from and preached from portions of Mark’s gospel, but this is the first time I have preached from the beginning with the intent of (Lord willing) having covered every chapter and every verse. It has been a delightful challenge to work through Mark. Often, there are large chunks of narrative with little didactic material, and it is in those sermons where my prayer attention and request for assistance from the Holy Spirit in preparation is even more vigorous. This past Sunday, I preached from such a passage in Mark 5:21-43. If you didn’t click on the link to the passage, the short summary goes like this: Jesus heals the woman with a 12 year discharge of blood, and He brings back Jairus’ daughter from the point of death. There was something I missed while preparing for this sermon the week before. The Lord, in His providence, brought it out during the sermon.

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