Category Archives: faith

Some Thoughts on Ebenezers

Charles Dickens did a disservice to the name Ebenezer when he gave it to Ebenezer Scrooge.  Even though the story of Scrooge ends well his name has become synonymous with miser.   The word Ebenezer is actually a Hebrew word that means “stone of help.”  In I Samuel 7 after God has delivered His people from the hands of the Philistines and returned the Ark of the Covenant safely Samuel erects a stone, names it Ebenezer and says, “Thus far the Lord has helped us”.

I love this idea of the Ebenezer stone.  I love the way it looks backward and forward.  “Thus far the Lord has helped us” strongly implies trust in the fact that the Lord will continue to be faithful.  It is important to keep in mind though that an Ebenezer stone marks a place in the journey, not a final destination.  The Ebenezer stone marks a spot from which we must continue on.

Something I’ve noticed about the Ebenezers in my life is that I want so desperately to stop moving and live there.  Sometimes I might even go so far to say that I forget to be thankful for the Ebenezers.  Instead I get bitter that I can’t live at the Ebenezer all the time. This week I’m basking in the grace and mercy of God as I enjoy some perceived success.  The next week I’m fighting discontent and even despair because God has taken me further and the road is not so smooth.

I think Peter, James and John had an Ebenezer experience on the Mount of the Transfiguration.  I like the way Mark tells it in chapters 8 and 9 because the account has Peter’s fingerprints all over it.  Jesus had just administered their mid-term exams.  On the first portion of the exam they passed with flying colors: Who do you say that I am? You are the Christ. But on the second half they came up way short.  As of yet their view of Messiah did not include suffering and dying.  They’re probably pretty low at this point thinking, “What have we gotten ourselves into?  Are we in on the ground floor of the next big thing or is this some kind of suicide mission?”  So Jesus takes His three closest companions up the mountain to get a little perspective.

This would be the original mountain top experience and they needed it bad.  But Peter once again misunderstands.  What should have been an Ebenezer moment became for him the destination.  “Why don’t we build some tents and just stay right here?”  But that didn’t fit with Jesus’ mission and before they knew it they were back to trying and failing to exorcise demons from little boys. “Lord, why could we not drive it out?”  Meeting Moses and Elijah was great but they still had a lot to learn.

I so often identify with Peter.  Every now and then I get it right, “Lord, you are the Christ,” knowing that I didn’t come to it on my own.  But a lot of times I get it all wrong.  I try to correct the Lord on the suffering and the dying that’s so clearly a part of this work.  Then, by His grace, He gives me a little taste of what it all means.  Somehow, through the Word, or prayer, or a conversation, or an unexpected gift, or a little touch of fruit-bearing I am given perspective.  And it’s really good. It is at this point I need to learn to be more like Samuel and less like Peter.  Go ahead, lay the stone, name it Ebenezer and then keep moving on. When I try to stay at the Ebenezer I turn something good God has given me into an idol.  That which should have become a blessing becomes a snare.

Only after the cross and the resurrection did Peter and the rest of the disciples seem to have gotten it.  It’s baffling to me that none of them even bothered to check the tomb on Sunday morning.  He is risen!  JUST AS HE SAID!  Until then they just weren’t really listening. I suspect Peter experienced the lowest of all lows and the highest of all highs that weekend.  And then, when Jesus ascended from the Mount of Olives a few weeks later no one seems to have suggested building anything there even though He says He’s coming back to that very spot.

The resurrection changes everything.  It proves that Jesus is who He claims to be.  It proves that His promises are true.  And it proves that this life is a journey not a destination.  He is just the first fruits of a redeemed race and we don’t have any business stopping until we get the call to be with Him.

So here’s my point: raise your Ebenezers and rejoice in the goodness of God.  Thus far the Lord has helped us indeed!  But remember that those Ebenezers are just gifts along the way.



Today I am turning 40.  The Lord has given me 4 wonderful decades of life on this earth that He has created.  At this point in my life I am more blessed than I would ever have imagined.  He has filled my years with good things: an excellent wife, 4 precious children and new mercies every single day.

The Lord has given me the desires of my heart.  But by His grace He has consistently given me new desires.  I think that, had you described my life at 40 to my 20 year old self, I might have wrinkled my nose.  But I am so thankful for the unexpected blessings that God has brought me.  My plan would have been inferior in every way.

I am thankful that the Father saw fit to open my eyes to my sin and His gracious provision to cover that sin. I am thankful that Jesus Christ humbled Himself as a man and died a shameful death on a cross for the glory set before Him.  I am thankful for His resurrection so that death has lost its sting.  I am thankful that He lives to make intercession on behalf of those who belong to Him. I am thankful for the Holy Spirit who reveals Christ to me and opens the eyes of my heart so that I can see wonderful things from the Word.

If you are reading this I want you to know that God is a rewarder of those who seek Him.  He takes the initiative on behalf of His people.  His promises are true.  And I am thankful.


The T-Shirt Sale

I thought it would be good to give a little explanation about this new fundraising project.  One of the biggest roadblocks to adoption is the cost.  It’s hard to imagine coming up with tens of thousands of dollars.  Lots of people have huge questions about the price tag.  But if you’re using a reputable agency (which we are) you can see clearly where every dollar is going.

A reasonable question to ask at this point would be, “How did you plan to raise this much money?”  Our plan has always been to pray and trust God.  But I don’t think we were presuming upon God. I definitely had in mind the way I thought God was going to provide.  When we adopted Gus in 2011 we were able to claim a dollar for dollar tax credit up to $13,000.  Since so many people helped us adopt Gus our plan was always to put that money into another adoption.  We actually filed our amended tax return for 2011 about the same time we started the process of adopting Archie.  That was almost a year ago.


The moral of this story is:  depend on God not on the US government.  You may have heard that the IRS isn’t excited about paying money to conservative causes right now.  Our amended return has been audited and as of the current government shutdown I don’t see us getting our return on this side of 2014.

It’s God’s money and He can direct it where He pleases.  We see this as an opportunity to trust Him through prayer and faith.  His ways are not our ways.  He may choose to move the IRS to process our return.  Or He may not.  In the meantime, we need to raise about $15,000.  It seems crazy but our God distinguishes Himself as a God who demonstrates His glory by providing in the midst of crazy circumstances.

So this t-shirt thing is a way to let our friends know the need.  We need to sell 50 for the project to go forward.  But we’d love to sell 2,000.  Will you help us by praying and sharing the website?  As Facebook continues to decline in use we’re looking for other ways to get the word out.  As always, if you’d like to make a tax-deductible donation (and not receive a t-shirt) you can do so at our Adopttogether site.  Or you can buy a t-shirt here:  Archie Cleland Adoption Fund.

Because He Trusted in His God

I’ve been in Rochester, Minnesota all week teaching on the book of Daniel. I’ve been blessed immeasurably by the people here at Victory Baptist Church.  And I don’t take it for granted that it is a rare joy to be able to stop and immerse oneself in a book of the Bible for a whole week.  Since Sunday I have lived and breathed Daniel.

Having reached the end of the historical section of Daniel (a phrase I use loosely since much of the rest of the book, though considered to be prophecy, has already taken place in history), I think we can confidently affirm that while Daniel lived a blessed life, it would be absolutely incorrect to say that Daniel lived an easy life.  Taken away from his home as a young teenager he was separated from family and friends and marched some 900 miles to a distant land.  Upon arrival he was chosen to be trained and serve in the court of the king only to discover that he could not in good conscience eat the food provided.  Soon after, he was awoken in the middle of the night by the king’s chief executioner who had come to “tear him limb from limb.”  At 80, in a city surrounded by a ruthless enemy, he was called by another king who didn’t even bother to disguise his contempt for him to read the writing on the wall and proclaim judgment on Babylon.  And then, pushing 90, having been once again appointed the court of the ruler of the known world, he was cast into a den of lions for the crime of prayer.

Daniel had been sent to Babylon at a time when God’s glory was in danger.  God’s people had been defeated by a pagan nation.  In that day that meant that their God had been defeated by the gods of Babylon.  God raised up Daniel to show that He was still on His throne.  Because of Daniel’s faithfulness (and that of his three friends) 2 different pagan rulers issued 4 separate decrees proclaiming the God of Daniel.  By the time Daniel died the glory of God had been declared to the nations in every direction.  And then, through Daniel’s prophecies, God declared the whole history of the world all, the way to the Kingdom of the Messiah.  Can you imagine the joy of being used like that for the glory of God?

At the end of chapter 6 as he is hoisted out of the lion’s den we read:  “no injury whatever was found on him, because he had trusted in his God.”  This could serve as summary of Daniel’s life.   Do not think that Daniel was a spiritual super man.  Like Elijah he was a man with a nature like ours. Do not think that Daniel had an easy life. From a young age he endured great suffering.  But through it all Daniel was faithful.  He was faithful where God had him whether marching into exile or studying in the Babylonian University system.  He spoke wisdom, truth and sometimes even judgment to three pagan kings all the while maintaining his habit of praying three times a day.

What does it mean to be a Daniel?  It means faithfully obeying God in every circumstance.  It means speaking the truth in love to those God has put in your life.  It means fearing God more than man.  It means that, in the words of Peter, you “keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.” (I Peter 2:12)

Can you really pray for that?

I’m still learning to pray. Most of the time I tend pray general prayers rather than specific. At best this is a reflection of my lack of creativity. I’m just not that good at thinking of things to ask for. At worst this is a reflection of my own lack of faith. “If I ask for something too specific and it doesn’t get answered then what?” I love what John 15:7 says I just don’t always pray in light of that promise.

Recently Erika and I were challenged by another family who has adopted. I’ll guarantee you this woman did not mean to challenge us when she told Erika their story of adopting from China. But the Holy Spirit used it like a sledge hammer in my heart. A few years ago they adopted a little boy with special needs from China. They had the audacity to pray that their little boy would have significant contact with other people in his orphanage. They prayed he would be held, hugged and loved. This is no insignificant thing in a Chinese orphanage. Plus, they prayed that he would have already heard the name of Jesus. THEN, they prayed that he would be familiar with the English language.

Do you see what I mean about creative, specific praying? My prayer that God would help us bring him home soon pales in comparison to the way these people are coming before their Father in heaven specifically on behalf of their little boy!

So they get to China, pick up their boy and can’t figure out how to make him eat. For a couple of days their struggling until one afternoon an American woman walks up to them and asks is that “_______” from such and such orphanage? Why yes it is. They talk about their problem with the woman who then goes out and buys exactly what the little guy likes to eat from the local Wal-Mart. (Who knew they had Wal-Mart over there?) You can probably see where this is going.

They soon discover that this American young woman had moved to China to serve in THAT orphanage. She is a Christian. She had been holding, singing to AND telling their little boy about Jesus. Oh, AND because of her influence he understood some English.

“If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”
John 15:7

We are working to change how we pray. I know this doesn’t count as creative (is there some kind of plagiarism rule when it comes to prayers?) but I’ve started praying the same thing. I’m praying that our boy is being loved and sung to and that he’s heard about Jesus. And I’m even praying that he’ll know a little English.

Find a Christian


NKI’ve been reading Melanie Kirkpatrick’s excellent book Escape from North Korea. There are many notable things about the book from the horrible testimonies of oppression to the inspiring accounts of those who risked everything to escape.  But most surprising is Kirkpatrick’s observation that North Koreans are turning to Christianity in droves.  Kirkpatrick pinpoints the reason for the attraction of Christianity among North Koreans: “Much of the informal assistance that refugees receive comes from Christians, especially local Chinese.  Christians are the only people who seem to care.  In a country where helping North Koreans is against the law, there are few others to whom a refugee can turn for protection and support.” (p. 156)

Many North Koreans who have just crossed over into China have little or no knowledge of Christianity.  For some their freedom depends upon which door the knock  on first.  Many Chinese are happy to report refuges to the authorities or worse, make a little money by calling a broker who will sell the women as brides.  A knock on the door of a Christian’s house is often the first step towards freedom, not just from the oppression of the Kim family, but also from sin and death.

In I Timothy 3:15 Paul calls the church “the pillar and support of the truth.”  In the architecture of the ancient world the job of the pillar was not just to support the roof.  It was to make the structure beautiful.  Paul is saying here that the church of the living God doesn’t just support the truth but it makes the truth beautiful.  To harbor illegal aliens is strictly forbidden in China and could lead to fines and imprisonment if discovered. These Chinese Christians are obeying Paul’s command to make the truth beautiful by their sacrificial compassion for these North Korean refugees.

How can we, the church in the USA, obey Paul’s command to make the beautiful?  Are we living in such a way that someone would say, “You should find a Christian and they will help you?”  Those Chinese Christians are examples of Christ’s command that His followers be salt and light in the midst of darkness.  Clearly God is using their example to bring the lost to Him.

As faith in Christ continues to decline in the West we should take notice of Christians in other parts of the world who are experiencing the power of the gospel in ways that we know almost nothing about.  In spite of their lack of obvious talent and resources people are coming to Christ in droves because of their example.  We have powerful men and full bank accounts but that can’t compare to the power of one poor Christian peasant in China who makes the truth beautiful by opening his door to protect and feed a foreigner.

John Newton’s Perspective on Trials

I’ve been reading a book called Wise Counsel that is a collection of letters written by John Newton to a much younger pastor named John Ryland Jr.  I do believe that God has providentially placed this book in my hands specifically during these days of the infancy of Cornerstone Church.  Sometimes it is as if Newton is writing directly to me.

It is not surprising that in a collection of letters between two pastors the subject of trials would come up again and again.  In Letter Thirty-five Newton writes to Ryland to comfort him in the midst of some difficulties that have arisen due to the financial difficulties of his father.  I am deeply encouraged by the theology of trials that comes through in Newton’s response.

“Trials, my dear friend, of one kind or other, to prove, exercise and manifest our faith, patience and grace, are as necessary to us as weights are to a clock; if they were not we would not have them.  For the Lord does not grieve us for His own pleasure but for our profit.”  This perspective on trials is almost unheard of today that the Lord would actually bring trials to our lives for our own good.  Our perspective on trials is to avoid them or escape them a fast as possible.  Rarely do we consider that the trial may be for our profit.

Newton explains that he can think of many loved ones who, once firm in the gospel have fallen away. He wishes that perhaps they had grappled more with trials and difficulties that might have forced them to hold more firmly to Christ. He says that he has come to see his own afflictions as desirable and merciful because they keep him humble and watchful.  Some of his trials have felt sharp upon his flesh and yet he says, “Perhaps I should have been ruined without them.”

How few today think like this? When is the last time I stopped and thought of a trial as God’s mercy to me lest I fell without it?  And yet this is entirely consistent with the teaching of the scriptures: “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials.”  Why? Because you know that “the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4)

Our Father in Heaven loves us and brings trials to us for our good!  Because of the trials we cling to Him more firmly.  These trials make us complete lacking in nothing.  In the absence of trials we are more prone to trust in ourselves and this is not for our good.

Yet, in the midst of trials God is never distant. Newton continues, “In the mean time He knows our frame, remembers that we are but dust (Ps. 103:14), and has promised to lay no more upon us, than He will enable us to bear (I Cor. 10:13).  He will either diminish the burden when to heavy or increase our strength to support it which amounts to the same thing.  Let us therefore praise Him for all that is past and trust him for all that is to come.”