November 29, 2013

Clara’s Heart

by Jesse Johnson

Joe and Jo Portnoy are part of Immanuel Bible Church (the church I pastor), and this year they have been through a tremendous trial with their only child, Clara. On Thanksgiving they told our church how thankful they are for God’s goodness, for God’s salvation, and for the constant reminder that no story ends in this life. Below is a 10-minute video we watched about how this trial has strengthened thier faith, and made them even more thankful for their precious daughter, baby Clara.

November 28, 2013

Thankful to Whom?

by Mike Riccardi

Thankfulness is a funny thing.

By its very nature the giving of thanks cuts straight across the grain of the pride and self-focus of the natural human heart. When we are thankful for something, we acknowledge that we are in someone else’s debt—that there are good things in our lives for which it just doesn’t seem appropriate to pat ourselves on the back. We pause for a few days over Thanksgiving break to think about the blessings we enjoy—the way our lives, with all their challenges, trials, and disappointments, are actually much better than we could have accomplished for ourselves in our own strength, and much better than we know we deserve.

And that seems to be the case even for unbelievers. It seems the knowledge of God and His Law that is written on their hearts (Rom 2:14–15)—the knowledge of His invisible attributes that He has clearly made visible by ordering the world as He has (Rom 1:19–20)—gets just a little bit harder to suppress (Rom 1:18) as they perceive the loveliness and virtue in thanksgiving. The inherent, objective pleasantness of the reality that someone other than themselves is most fundamentally responsible for the good things they enjoy bursts forth into their consciousness, causing them to humble themselves and thank someone else for them. Even the most prideful person will admit, if he’s honest with himself, that, strangely enough, it feels good to be thankful. We enjoy giving thanks. Something just feels…right… about it.

And that’s because we’re tapping into the reality that life isn’t most ultimately about us and making much of ourselves. We’re catching a glimpse of the reality that absolutely everything that we have—from our part-time job to the air we breathe—is owing to the beneficence of Another. You see, we are designed to humble ourselves in the presence of Someone infinitely more worthy than us. And we are designed to give praise and thanksgiving to Him for the comforts of this life. The pleasure we feel in thanksgiving is a parable from the God of the universe that teaches us that our glory is not the goal of our lives, but that His glory is.

And so if you’re reading this and you’re not a believer in Jesus Christ, can I ask you to stop and think about why, at this time of year, it feels right to deflect the glory? Would you pause a moment and think about why in the world that is? You truly feel, and therefore say, the words, “I’m thankful for ______.” But have you ever asked yourself whom you’re thankful to for those gifts? Indeed, that they are gifts and therefore have come from a Giver?

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As we all prepare to spend some time today reflecting on things we’re thankful for, let us remember that there is no virtue in treasuring the gifts at the expense of treasuring the Giver. “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow” (James 1:17). This Thanksgiving, recognize that Whom you’re thankful to matters infinitely more than what you’re thankful for.

The greatest gift of all—the gift for which we should all be most thankful—is the Father’s gift of His perfect, innocent Son. His beloved Son, whom He gave to die on the Cross in order to pay sin’s penalty in the place of sinners like you and me. Who rose from the grave on the third day in order to bring true, spiritual, eternal life to all those who forsake their sins and depend entirely on Him to provide their righteousness before a Holy God. Jesus is the One who makes Thanksgiving possible. This Thanksgiving, let’s give Him the glory and honor for that.

Let’s be thankful for the gifts we enjoy. And let’s be thankful to the God who gives them.

(Reposted from Thanksgiving, 2011)

Last week a federal judge ruled that the long standing practice of churches (and synagoges, mosques, dioceses, etc.) giving their pastors a housing allowance was unconstitutional. This story is likely to pick up steam in the media, and my experience with this topic is that most people (including many elders and pastors) have no idea how housing allowances work, or why they are there to begin with. So here are some FAQ’s about housing allowances and the recent ruling striking them down:   Continue Reading…


The fall out from the StrangeFire conference shows a general truth about critiquing the craziness of the charismatic movement. It seems that whenever a pastor points out the flagrant error and false worship associated with the charismatic movement,  charismatics respond by saying that we always grab the “low hanging fruit” on the fringe of the movement and try to pass it off as some sort of accurate representation of the movement as a whole. We’re told that the level-headed, reformed charismatic folks are the obvious mainstream representatives of charismatics, and the entranced glossolalaholics and Fletch-clone healers are the outlandish fringe. Thus, since most charismatics are even-keeled, level headed, and have books in our book store, we should leave the charismatic craziness alone–after all, it is so isolated.


This argument has always made me puzzled since it’s so horribly obvious to me that the theologically absurd charismatic church of 20,000 obviously has far more influence in the movement and “on the street” than the theologically cautious charismatic church of 2,000 (and that’s being generous since the theologically absurd churches aren’t just bigger, but far more numerous).

Continue Reading…

This post is an excerpt from my book, Holding the Rope: Short-term Missions, Long-term Impact published

by William Carey Books, to be released in 2014.

In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue. That little ditty has helped many historically challenged kindergarteners cement the date of the discovery of America into popular consciousness. But a comprehensive and true-to-life rhyme of Christopher Columbus’ success would read more like a dissonant tale by the Brothers Grimm. The iconic explorer commanded almost no skills besides sailing a ship. He could travel far, but rarely to where he was aiming, and upon arrival was never quite sure how to make the most of the accomplishment. The popular historian, Bill Bryson, commented wryly,

It would be hard to name any figure in history who has achieved more lasting fame with less competence.”

HTR 1 hands

Resolutely aiming his fleet at the Orient, Columbus inadvertently stumbled upon South America, believing it to be India, which explains why natives in the Americas were unceremoniously dubbed “Indians.” He then haphazardly explored this area for about eight years, bumping into various Caribbean Islands, which he pertinaciously continued to label as Oriental. He mistook the island of Cuba for mainland Asia, and he neglected to actually set foot in America, the territory most people assume he discovered.

Throughout his voyage he gleefully loaded his flotilla with copious amounts of fool’s gold and prodigious quantities of random plant matter that were to his estimation highly valuable spices from the East. Upon his return to Europe, as part of their exotic cargo, his surviving crew delivered their own dubious contribution to the Old World, namely syphilis.

Nevertheless, Christopher Columbus undeniably changed the world forever. By establishing contact with the New World and lugging unknown foodstuffs back home, he began an irreversible historical movement of seismic proportions, the social, political, economic aftershocks of which are still being felt today. The quake would significantly affect Church history.

In a similar way, a short-term missions trip (STM) can have lasting effects that cannot be predicted. A poorly aimed trip has the potential to wreak cultural and spiritual havoc in a village in Africa, or it can create a lasting bridge for the gospel to bring hope and change that echoes in eternity.

Continue Reading…

Smeaton - Holy SpiritOne of the effects that all the discussion surrounding Strange Fire has had on me, personally, has been to renew my interest in the Person and work of the Holy Spirit. And not just the discussion as it relates to the gifts of the Spirit, but in all the ways the Third Person of the Trinity exists and works to be worthy of all worship.

To that end, I’ve been reading some stuff on pneumatology. And one of the books that has invariably come up in discussions of good theology books on the Holy Spirit is George Smeaton’s The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit, first published in 1882. Having been published two decades before Charles Fox Parham and Agnes Ozman would introduce the modern versions of the miraculous gifts to the church, Smeaton’s discussion of the gifts is particularly interesting to me. So, I’ve been reading selections of his work, and wanted to share with you some of the things he includes in his lecture entitled, “The Work of the Spirit in the Inspiration of Prophets and Apostles.” I’m quoting from the 1958 Banner of Truth edition.

The Sufficiency of Scripture

“These extraordinary gifts of the Spirit were no longer needed when the canon of Scripture was closed. Up to that time they were an absolute necessity. They are now no longer so. Nor is the Church warranted to expect their restoration, or to desire prophetic visions, immediate revelations, or miraculous gifts, either in public or in private, beyond, or besides, the all-perfect canon of Scripture. The Church of Rome, which still claims these extraordinary gifts, is to that extent injurious to the Spirit as the author of Scripture. And enthusiastic sects [he gives as examples ‘the Montanists of the second century and the Irvingites of the nineteenth century’] that cherish the belief of their restoration, or an expectation to that effect, have not learned or duly pondered how great a work of the Spirit has been completed and provided for the Church of all times in the gift of the Holy Scriptures.” (150–51)

Continue Reading…