Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year Prayers

Many Christians set aside time on New Year's Eve to intercede for God's grace and blessing for the coming year. Whatever your plans for tonight, I hope you're planning to 'pray in' the new year in some form.

The people and future events for which we could pray tonight are limitless, yet, if you're a part of Trinity Church, let me suggest you take some time to pray particular blessings for our small groups and those in them. Here's my recommendation:

1. If you're a small group leader, take some time to pray for the members of your small groups. As a member of a small group, I take great comfort in knowing that my leader is regularly interceding for me. Pray for our marriages, that they would mirror Christ's love for the church. Pray for our children, that they would increasingly find their hope and delight in the gospel. Pray for our relationships, that intimacy, trust, accountability and radical expressions of love would multiply. Pray for our outreach, that our connections with unbelievers would result in sensitively bold gospel proclamation as we love the lost into the Kingdom of God.

2. If you're a small group member, take some time to pray for your leader. Considering that shepherding and discipleship at Trinity happens primarily through small groups, please pray that your leader's love for those in your group would grow. Pray for his holiness as he models for you a godly life. Pray for his ability to facilitate biblically-focused, gospel-centered discussion in your meetings which draw all of you back again and again to the Cross. Pray for his desire to shepherd those in your group not only when you meet but during the week as well. Pray for an increase in your own desire to be shepherded and discipled by your leader as you invite his input into your spiritual maturity and growth in grace.

There are many people we could pray for on this New Year's Eve. Let's not forget about our small groups. As we pray, God will bless them, multiply them and use our relationships in them to make us all more like Jesus.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A Bible Reading Plan That Works

Over the years Trinity Church has annually promoted numerous kinds of Bible reading plans, often designed to assist us in reading through the Bible in a single year. These have ranged from Robert Murray M'Cheyne's plan (twice through the Psalms and New Testament and once through the rest), reading straight through the Bible, reading chronologically through the Bible, writing out the New Testament, etc. Each method we've promoted has had its advantages and we would still commend their use.

At the same time, plans like those named above frequently cause discouragement as our New Year's Bible reading resolutions give way to the unexpected X-factors of life which seem to encroach with a vengeance after a few weeks or months. I don't know about you, but I can't seem to find a command in the Bible giving special importance to reading all 66 books of the Bible in a year's time. Furthermore, as we've discussed in recent weeks, trying to speed through a book like Proverbs could be positively harmful since its poetry was designed to be read slowly and thoughtfully.

Therefore, let me suggest a new kind of reading plan for 2010, one that writer Margie Haack calls 'The Bible Reading Plan for Slackers and Shirkers' (I love that title!). Advantages to this plan include:

1. Removing the pressure to 'keep up' with getting through the entire Bible in a year.
2. Providing variety throughout the week by alternating genres.
3. Providing continuity by reading the same genre each day of the week.

In a nutshell, here's how it works:

Sundays: Poetry
Mondays: Penteteuch (Genesis through Deuteronomy)
Tuesdays: Old Testament history
Wednesdays: Old Testament history
Thursdays: Old Testament prophets
Fridays: New Testament history
Saturdays: New Testament epistles (letters)

The advantage of this plan is that it provides guidance as we read each day but does not put us on an internal guilt trip if we miss a day - we just pick up with the next reading on the day it happens to be. Also, this plan allows us to see the many interconnections between sections of Scripture. So, as Margie puts it, on the same day you may be reading about God's covenant with Abraham in Genesis and a few days later read Paul's commentary on the Abrahamic covenant in Romans.

Many Bible reading plans are good, but I find this one unusually helpful, for it combines two biblical values which seem to diverge in most plans: discipline and grace. Beginning this Sunday we'll have hard copies of the plan on our free resource table in the fellowship hall. If you would like to download an electronic version so you can begin today, you can find a link here.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Church is Cancelled

Due to the depth of snow in Minot from our Christmas blizzard, we feel it safest to cancel tomorrow morning's worship service. Tomorrow is still the Lord's Day, so I would encourage us all to spend some significant time reading our Bibles, praying, singing songs of praise and remembering the gospel of Christ's grace. Lord willing, we'll all be back together at church next week.

Be safe and stay warm!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Pray for the Congo

Last Sunday in my pastoral prayer I mentioned the recent civil unrest and threat to people in the Democratic Republic of Congo in the Ubangi region - the part of the country where most of the 900+ Evangelical Free Church of the Congo congregations are. Fighting this week in that region has been no better. The unrest provides a unique opportunity of service and outreach for our Christian Congolese friends, especially through the EFC hospital in Tandala. Unfortunately, the need is so great and the wounded are so many that the hospital is running out of supplies and its staff are in danger. Please pray with me that God would provide safety for His people in the midst of bloodshed and open doors of gospel opportunity through this great crisis. You can read more about it here.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

An Unconverted Prayer God Accepts

As Deuteronomy 1:45 testifies, God does not listen to the prayers of the ungodly. Once the famed, Southern Presbyterian preacher John Girardeau was asked what hope an unconverted sinner, then, has to pray to God to save him. His answer is worth pondering.

"The explanation is that Jesus, the great High Priest, presents His blood in their behalf, sues pardon for them by His availing intercessions, and secures for them the grace of the Holy Spirit Who, coming in the first instance, not in answers to their prayers, but to the prayers of the great Mediator, awakens in them a sense of their spiritual wants, impels them to pray for divine help, and enables them while struggling in supplication to believe in the Person and trust in the merits of the Savior. The people of God, while in their unconverted and ungodly condition, are accepted not because of the efficacy of their prayers, but because Jesus has previously prayed for them. This is the encouragement which the unconverted sinner has in attempting to pray."

- Preachers With Power, Douglas Kelly, p. 158

How precious is Hebrews 7:25: "Consequently, He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them."

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Gift Ideas

Christmas is quickly approaching. If you're still looking for some gift ideas, we've stocked our church book table (located in the library) with some rich reading material guaranteed to help the people on your list better love and live out the gospel. Some new books include:

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Fighting Self-Pity with Perseverance

The sin of self-pity is no respecter of persons. I've encountered it in my children when the family schedule didn't revolve around them. I've seen it in Africans who expect to live as well as we Americans. I've heard its echo in us Americans who've been programmed for comfort 24/7 when an uncomfortable situation unexpectedly arises. Most of all, I know self-pity up close and personal in the ugly recesses of my own, self-deifying heart - not least in the past week as I've been sick.

Perhaps today that's where you find yourself - mad at the world or just plain annoyed because today isn't going your way. Sometimes an an inspiring example of joyful perseverance in the face of suffering is what it takes to snap us out of the sinful reverie of our self-pity. Consider the following story:

Back in 1996 an aspiring, 19 year old, Chinese ballet dancer named Ma Li lost her right arm in an auto accident. Most would have assumed her career was through. Not so. Undeterred by her new 'deformity', Ma Li danced on - now looking to inspire those facing hardships to persevere through them. Then in 2005 she discovered a young man named Zhai Xiaowei who had lost his leg in a tractor accident at age four. She invited him to partner with her in a national dancing competition. They left their self-pity behind, persevered and stole the hearts of millions.

This week Proverbs focuses us on persevering in our faith in Christ to the end. Is your life testifying to His greatness and grace today, or are you letting the sin of self-pity slow you down? The next time you feel like pouting and licking your wounds for how hard your life is or how challenging the people around you are, think of Ma and Zhai, pray for forgiveness and keep going.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

How Much Do WE Love God's Word?

As a litmus test for our hearts, consider the following story from the ministry of 19th century preacher Daniel Baker:

In his diary, Baker writes, "Having been sent an appointment to preach one sermon in a certain place on a week day, I rode up at the hour appointed, and was astonished to see so many horses hitched all around. As no house near at hand could accomodate the persons assembled, we went into the grove, and had such accomodations as we could get. I preached a long sermon, and every individual seemed to listen with an eagerness which I had rarely ever witnessed before. On singing the last hymn, I rose, and gave them some parting words. I then pronounced the blessing, but was not permitted to go; and consented to preach another sermon, after a short recess."

Baker goes on to relate that after he had preached the second sermon, the large, grateful crowd refused to leave and begged for another sermon. He then preached a third sermon and though the sun was by now setting, the eager people still declined to disperse. He writes, "Hearts were melting, and tears were in many eyes! They must still have some more words. I began to speak again when I saw a dark cloud rise and it begin to thunder. 'Friends,' I said, 'A storm is at hand; we had better retire.' As I left, one man, Captain Wright, coming to me, grasped my hand with much emotion and tears running down his cheeks and said, 'Stranger, for God's sake come back, or send someone to preach to us the gospel.'"

- Douglas Kelly, Preachers With Power, p. 16

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Parental Paranoia?

We've all encountered them before - young parents exhibiting signs of 'first-baby-itis': fleeing a room with baby (or child) in tow when someone sneezes or pulls out food containing high fructose corn syrup, reordering their lives around the child's sleeping schedule with drill-sargeant-like rigidity and life-mapping the child's first twenty years to include the books they will like, the kind of friends they will make and the kind of spouse they will marry.

I can relate because I was that parent during my eldest son's early years. Overprotection and great expectations are natural for first time parents, therefore, Terri and I typically have a lot of patience for them - we've been there. At the same time, our parental desire to create an ideal, injury-free, untainted childhood for our kids may have more to do with idolatry and fear than true love for our kids.

Doug Wolter explores this topic in greater depth here.

Friday, November 20, 2009

A Gospel Metaphor

My friend Ray Ortlund alerted me to the gospel parallels visible through the following ad. Can TV ads lead us to worship Christ with thankfulness? Read correctly, this one can.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Instructive Power of a Broken Heart

"On my desk in New York sits a photograph of a seven-year-old boy. He's wearing a pair of glasses, a freshly ironed shirt buttoned to the neck and his best smile. I placed that picture on my desk at the suggestion of a friend who understood that, as someone who grew up fundamentalist, I was having a difficult time finding my way as an adult. 'Just look at that picture of yourself as a child,' he suggested, 'and try to recall what it was like to be that child.'

Then one morning, while seated at my desk, it all came back. In 1961, we lived in a parsonage next to the church out in the farm country of southern Minnesota, and there was nothing in the world more important to me than baseball. One day my father returned from town with a plastic bat and ball. 'Let's play ball,' he said. I couldn't have been more excited, in part because I knew, even then, that my father had no interest whatsoever in sports of any kind. I recall what happened next as though it was yesterday. After swinging wildly at a couple of pitches, I decided to let a few go by.

'Well, what's the point of all this?' my father huffed. 'If you dont' swing I'm just wasting my time.' He tossed the ball in my direction, turned and headed back to his study.

We never played ball again.

In the midst of my tears that morning in my office I recognized that I had spent most of my life hoping that my father would pitch to me again....Maybe, just maybe, if this kid smiled harder, if he excelled in school, if he suffered through piano lessons, if he obeyed all the rules or if he memorized enough Bible verses, his father would emerge from his study to hit a few grounders or to pitch a few more. This time, I vowed, I would swing at every pitch."

- Randall Balmer, Growing Pains, pp. 17-19

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Honoring a Different Kind of Veteran

Today is Veteran's Day - a day we should take time to thank the men and women who have served our nation in times of peace and war.

But today I'd like to thank a veteran of another kind - a veteran mom: My mom, Sandie Perry.

You see, today I heard Kenny Roger's 1980 ballad "Lady" and was taken back nearly thirty years to a very special time in my life. When I was ten year's old, roller-skating was very popular in my hometown. I practically lived at the rink. It was very much a 'youth culture' kind of place where adults were rarely seen.

Then, my mom discovered that the local rink was offering 'skate-dancing' lessons for couples on Saturday mornings. If I remember correctly, she asked me if I wanted to take lessons with her. Now, clouded by the decades, the details of that experience - including any skating ability I gained - are long gone. What remains fresh is the memory of the two of us skating together to Kenny Roger's "Lady" and the joy I felt to be doing this with my mom. The skating rink was not her world. It was mine. But for the sake of love for me she entered it and helped create one of the tenderest memories of my childhood. Thanks Mom!

Veterans deserve honor today, but moms like mine deserve far more.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Don't Just Bring Them to Church

How important is it for us as Christian men to be daily, proactively nurturing our families on the food of biblical truth? I'll let the Scots preacher of the 19th century, Robert Murray M'Cheyne answer that question:
"[Men], if you do not worship God in your family, you are living in positive sin; you may be quite sure you do not care for the souls of your family. If you neglected to spread a meal for your children to eat, would it not be said that you did not care for their bodies? And if you do not lead your children and servants to the green pastures of God's Word, and to seek the living water, how plain is it that you do not care for their souls? Do it regularly, morning and evening. It is more needful than your daily food - more needful than your work.
- Robert Murray M'Cheyne, The Sermons of M'Cheyne, p. 29
That last line haunts me: "It is more needful than your daily food - more needful than your work." Am I invested and motivated for spiritually training my family MORE than I'm motivated for succeeding in my career? If so, my priorities will reflect that. God help me.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Nurturing Humilty

The more we grow as Christians, the more we realize how prideful we are. Humility doesn't come naturally to any of us. Yet, as James 4:10 and other texts make clear, we can only benefit by growing in humilty. Are there any regular practices we can embrace to nurture humility to the glory of God?

One of the best I recently came across is offered by Roger Merrill, author of First Things First. Its the simple practice of soliciting honest feedback from our family members, truly being willing to hear their concerns about us and make necessary changes. Merrill writes,

"I asked each of our children to write three words on a piece of paper: 'continue,' 'stop' and 'start.' Then I said, 'What are the things I'm now doing you'd like to see me continue to do? What would you like to see me stop doing? What would you like to see me start doing that I'm not doing now?' My childrens' replies amazed me. Their replies were thoughtful, helpful and supportive. They reflected awareness and appreciation. I was astonished at the maturity of their replies." (First Things First, pp. 247-248)

The regular discipline of soliciting feedback can be used not only with our children but with our spouses, co-workers and friends. Though they may occasionally give us feedback out of step with God's will, more often than not their honesty will gently expose our sin and accentuate our need for Christ. When heard, received and responded to with an open heart desirous to change, the discipline of feedback is one of the best means by which to nurture godly humility - and grow in sanctifying grace.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Calvin on the Bible

"To try to establish contact with God without the Scriptures is like trying to behold His face by shutting our eyes or like an almost blind person trying to see without spectacles."

- John Calvin, C.R. 8, p. 427

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Should I Visit the 'Holy Land'?

This week I was interviewed by a Christian magazine about the year in college I spent studying at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Israel back in 1992-93. The discussion raises issues relevant for Christians who might, themselves, think one day of traveling to Israel.

EFCA Today: Tell me more about your major and why you picked it.

Andy: Six months after I became a Christian at 17, I sensed a distinct call toward pastoral ministry. Therefore, when I matriculated at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (a very secular school), I thought, “What could I study which would best equip me for ministry?” The results were to focus on ancient, near eastern history and Hebrew. It was through the Hebrew Department that I discovered the opportunity to study in Jerusalem.

EFCA Today: What were you most looking forward to re the year abroad?

Andy: A combination of deepening my academic studies (Hebrew language – biblical and modern, archaeology, ancient history) and pursuing an ‘experience’ of the ‘Holy Land’.

EFCA Today: What was not as you expected it to be about that year?

Andy: Regarding the two anticipations cited above, the first one (academic) exceeded my expectations and deepened my own scholarship considerably. The second pursuit, though, is a different story. Within my first month in Jerusalem I became very disillusioned with what I found there as a Christian. The Christian presence in Israel seemed either wholly accommodating/idolizing of all things Jewish or ignored the Jewish population, seeking only to ‘use’ them and their land in order to create a kind of Zionistic Disney Land (i.e. the American and European Christian tourists in their buses or winding their way through the Old City in their matching tour hats, buying their olive wood cross souvenirs, taking pictures, walking ‘where Jesus walked’, enjoying the commercialism and individualistic narcissism of it all. Most Christians there failed to care for the Jews or Arabs as people, or seek to build relationships with them or even share the gospel with them. As one who was not a tourist but living in a state run university surrounded by Jews and Arabs, I saw the land and its people from a very different perspective.

Eventually, I realized that my initial approach to Israel (to have a ‘spiritual experience in the Holy Land’) was deeply colored by my Dispensational reading of Scripture which I’d inherited from my Schofield Reference Bible which exalts the Jews and the land of Israel in God’s economy. My years at TEDS after my year in Israel helped me understand the Bible and God’s plan described there as a single, cohesive whole which focused on Israel only for a time in the OT for certain gospel purposes to be carried out through them, but only as types and shadows which point to the ultimate chosen people (the redeemed from every tribe, language, people and nation – Rev. 5:9-10) and the ultimate Promised Land (heaven – Hebrews 3-4).

All that to say, that God used my year of Christian disillusionment in Israel as a means to help me regard the Jews and Israel more clearly and biblically. Though I do believe travel to Israel can be very helpful for our scholarship and in order to visually/geographically place the events of the Bible, I think much harm is done by continuing to see Palestine as ‘the Holy Land’ and regarding the Jews as the concessionaires of our spiritual Disney Land.

EFCA Today: What were the highlights of the year — even if only temporary ones — and in what lifelong ways were you affected/ changed?

Andy: I had many highlights academically, the most memorable doing archaeological research at Caesarea on Pontius Pilate’s promontory palace and giving a presentation on our findings in the ancient Roman theater in that city. Still, the greatest highlight was meeting other Christian students at the Hebrew U., forming them into a weekly small group and discipling one another. We were also taken-in by some Southern Baptist missionaries who ran a Christian bookstore who helped us form a home away from home and with whom we experienced some very rich Christian fellowship.

EFCA Today: What would you say to pastors and other Christian leaders (women as well as men) who are considering taking a trip to Israel? What surprising things would you have to say?

Andy: I would encourage any Christians to visit Israel if they have an interest in doing so. I would say, “Go in order to grow your knowledge of biblical geography, so you can better visualize much of the Bible as you read it.” But I would caution them to leave their expectations of a ‘spiritual experience’ of ‘walking where Jesus walked’ and thinking they’ll get closer to God because they’re in the ‘Holy Land’ – leave those expectations in the states before they board the plane. According to Acts 2, the Holy Spirit lives as truly in their hometown in New Jersey or Florida as He does in Israel because His habitation is now with His redeemed people, not any given ethnic people or place – see I Peter 2.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Is Halloween a Gospel Issue?

Last week's message sought to draw a clear line between the gospel (the only ultimate litmus test for accepting or rejecting someone in the wider church) and the many secondary issues over which we have a host of convictions but which should never compel us to write off another believer.
Convictions of Christians regarding Halloween run the gamut. Is it a gospel issue or a secondary conviction issue? Rick Walston, President of Columbia Seminary, speaks clear-headedly to this often divisive issue in an article you can read here.

Why Focus On Men?

The longer I'm in church leadership, the more convinced I am that the lion's share of ministry focus needs to be directed toward men. With spiritually robust men, the women and children of the church will be taught well and will be protected, provided for and flourish. But when they're absent....

You cannot have a thriving church without a core of men who are true followers of Christ. If men are dead, the church is dead....

If we want to change the world, we must focus on men....

When men are absent and anemic the body withers....

The church and the Titanic have something in common: It's 'women and children first'. The great majority of ministry in Protestant churches is focused on children, next on women....

Men don't follow programs; they follow other men. A woman may choose a church because of the programs it offers, but a man is looking for another man he can follow.

- David Murrow, Why Men Hate Going To Church, pp. 8, 41, 43 & 59

Therefore, in 2010 I'm turning up the volume on equipping men to become biblically valiant leaders. Interested, guys? Ask me about it.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

David's God-saturated Perspective

It is one thing to be told to become God-focused people, but usually more impactful is a living example. If you have any doubt that David was such a man, consider his prayer in Psalm 119:88, "In Your steadfast love give me life, that I may keep the testimonies of Your mouth."

What typically drives our prayers? Self-interest. And though John Piper in Desiring God effectively shows us that happiness in God is perfectly compatible with our own happiness, we have to admit that often our prayers fall short of that, boiling down to mere self-interest. Even our prayers for the lost, for many of us, often are not driven by God's glory in Christ's conquering grace but by the deep-seated feeling that if we pray for them, witness to them and lead them to Christ, God will be a bit more pleased with us. Much of our praying, if we're honest, is more about us than about God.

David's prayer in Psalm 119:88 stands out in stark contrast to that. He longs that God, in His love, would give him life. So far his prayer is unremarkable. I've witnessed the prayers of many people in hospitals who prayed desperately for their own lives. Why? Almost without exception for reasons like the following: Because they feared death. Because their families would miss them. Because they wanted to continue experiencing the joys of earthly life. These are natural prayers to pray when our lives are threatened. But David's prayer is supernatural: "In Your steadfast love give me life, that I may keep the testimonies of Your mouth." David wanted life for one reason: that he might have another day on earth in order to say 'no' to his fleshly longings and say 'yes' to pleasing God through obedience. Only one thing could have motivated such a prayer - the conviction that his joy in God's glory through his obedience outweighed his joy in anything else.

Ultimately, every decision we make today will be motivated by the expectation of joy. By God's grace, let's join David in the expectation that our joy will be most fully realized in God's pleasure, making us prayerfully happy to be alive simply so we might obey Him to His glory.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Calvin on Brilliant Unbelievers

We must carefully notice these two things - that a knowledge of all the sciences is mere smoke when the heavenly science of Christ is wanting; and man, with all his acuteness, is as stupid for obtaining of himself a knowledge of the mysteries of God, as an ass is unqualified for understanding musical harmonies.

- John Calvin, Commentary on I Corinthians, commenting on 1:20

Thursday, October 22, 2009

For Kids the Gospel is More Caught Than Taught

In Gospel-Powered Parenting William Farley writes, "If you ask parents what is the most important thing they can do to raise children who will follow Christ, some will mention adequate discipline, others enrollment in a Christian school, still others the importance of home-schooling or Bible reading. They rarely mention example. Yet example is the first principle of parenting. This should not surprise us. Parenting is about leadership, and example is the first principle of biblical leadership. When parents practice what they teach, God gives them moral authority in their childrens' eyes. All the teaching in the Bible starts with example."

Farley goes on to show that our marriages are the primary realm where our kids need to see the gospel modeled. He writes, "The message that our marriage preaches either repels or attracts our children. God wants your child to watch your marriage and think, 'I want a marriage like that, and I want the God that produced it.' Or, 'When I think of the beauty of the gospel, I think of my parents' marriage. I want to be a part of a church that is loved by God the way my dad loves my mother. I want to be part of a church that finds its joy in submitting to Christ as my mother joyfully submits to my father.'" (pp. 107 & 111)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Adopted For Life

One of the gospel themes we touched on last Sunday was our adoption into God's family through Christ by grace. In light of that, the actual adoption of orphans becomes for us not only a means to share God's love with those most in need in our world, it becomes a living parable of who we've become to the glory of God's grace.
Russell Moore, theology professor at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, recented wrote a book on that theme called Adopted For Life. Whether you've recently adopted a child, are considering adoption or long to understand and more deeply embrace what it means to be a son or daughter of God adopted by His grace, I would strongly recommend Moore's book. You can hear him explain the purpose of his book here.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Don't Forget the Bad News

In his book Gospel-Powered Parenting, William Farley writes, "[God's] wrath introduces us to [His] grace." (p. 88) Think about that. Paul concurs in Romans 2:4 where he writes, "Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forebearance and patience, not knowing that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?" It's not surprising that Paul's words are sandwiched between two sections in the letter (chs. 1 & 3) majoring on our sinfulness and desperate guilt before God. Paul's logic is clear: only when we first encounter the convicting nature of our sin, which warrants God's just wrath, are we moved to repent, thereby reaping the gracious benefits of forgiveness and salvation in Christ. God's wrath, which our sins deserve, surely is the front door leading us into His house of grace.

This reminds us just how important it is to share the 'bad news' of our unbelieving friends' sin with them before we share the good news of the gospel. Most of us are very willing to tell our unsaved friends that God loves them and Jesus died for them. Few of us, though, are as quick to tell them how needy they are for Christ because their sins are so great. Yet, without a clear, bibilcal declaration of the bad news, the good news will fall on deaf ears, for it will only confirm what they already believe: Of course God loves them since they aren't so bad after all.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Food for our souls

You may have noticed in recent weeks that our book table has moved into our new library on the west end of the fellowship hall. It is literally spilling over with a veritable feast for the soul. Let me highlight a few recent arrivals.

Big Thoughts For Little Thinkers

This is a series of four books which helps parents unveil for their children key doctrines of the Bible in a very engaging way. I have been struck by the profound God-centeredness of these little books. Thinking ahead, they would make perfect stocking stuffers for Christmas.

Doing Things Right In Matters of the Heart

Had this book been written when I was young, single and looking for my life-partner, it could have given me invaluable wisdom in the realm of love and courtship which I lacked. I don't know of a book on the topic of young love (or old love, for that matter) with a better grasp on how to relate to those of the opposite sex bibilcally, maturely, joyfully and God-glorifyingly.

Pleasing People

Do you care too much what others think of you? I do. Lou Priolo weilds biblical theology like a surgeon's scalpal to unmask our social idolatry and put us on a path to truly loving and blessing others with our highest affections set on Christ alone.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Sanctification by Grace

Last Sunday I mentioned that one of the most common errors Christians make is approaching justification (at the beginning of the Christian life) largely by faith in Jesus and His grace, while approaching sanctification largely focused on us - our effort, discipline and will-power. But, as we discovered together, unless our sanctification flows from a heart swept up by Christ's grace, our behavior modification will be for naught.

This may be a new concept for many of us 21st century, American Christians, but it was the perspective preached from Puritan pulpits Sunday after Sunday in 17th century England. And no Puritan preacher more clearly proclaimed the 'holiness by grace' nature of sanctification than Walter Marshall, expressed in his masterful book, The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification. 300 year old books can be heavy slogging. Thankfully, Marshall's book has been put into modern English by Bruce McRae. When it comes to the doctrine of sanctification, there is no book I'd more strongly recommend. You can read the original text online for free here, or purchase McRae's update here. To whet your appetite, consider the following quote where Marshall shows that obedience must be, first and last, a matter of the heart that's been captured and changed by the grace of the gospel:

"You cannot possibly keep the commands of God if you hate them! You cannot be indifferent in your heart to what the law requires of you if you are going to keep these commandments. Remember, the greatest of all the commandments is to love the Lord your God with your whole heart, soul, mind and strength. This means that you love everything that is in him, you love his will, you love his ways, and you see him as the best thing in the world! Everything you do has to be driven by this kind of love for God. You have to delight to do the will of God. It must be sweeter than honey to you (Ps. 19:8). And, you must continually love, like, delight in, long for, thirst for and relish God for your entire life. All of your sinful lusts must be taken over by love to God and neighbor. You must fight against your sin, and hate it (Gal. 5:17, Ps. 36:4).

"This is quite different than the way people normally think of obedience. Most people think of true obedience as just a matter of pure duty. They think that obedience is like a salesman who sells his unpleasant goods in the market for money, or like a sick man loves his unpleasant medicine, or like a captive slave who works simply because he is afraid he will get something worse if he does not work. These are things you can do even if you do not want to do them, or even if you hate them. However, this is not true obedience to God. True obedience means you love to obey God!"

But how do we gain hearts which love to obey God? Marshall answers,

"You have to be totally assured that you are reconciled to God and accepted by him. You have to be absolutely sure that the chasm sin has caused between you and God has been completely filled, and that you are now totally under his love and favor."

- The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification by Walter Marshall, pp. 27 & 29

Monday, October 12, 2009


On certain occasions a pastor like myself will sit down after preaching and then be struck with a thought compelling him to say to himself, "I also wish I would have said that." For me, yesterday was one of those moments.

If you heard my sermon yesterday, you know I've begun a four week series on the biblical gospel. My purpose yesterday was two-fold: to define the nature of the gospel (Christ's choosing, saving, sanctifying and restoring grace given to us) and to argue that it and it alone is the primary theme of the Bible and must be our church's non-negotiable focus.

While preaching on the gospel-saturated nature of sanctification, I talked about how Christian parenting rises or falls based on whether we parent according to the Law (focused on behavior modification) or the gospel (focused on heart transformation). The thought which struck me after I finished preaching which I wish I would have said is this: If our true goal in parenting is gospel-saturated, grace-driven heart transformation (which will give rise to increasingly more holy choices in our children as a gracious by-product, but not as the primary goal), then the most fundamental question we as parents should be asking ourselves when our children are increasingly recalcitrant, rebellious and non-responsively sinful is this: "How can I make Christ and His grace more beautiful, glorious and compelling to my child?"

If Titus 2:11ff. is correct, that we are trained for sanctification primarily by God's grace in Christ, then the above question is the most important one any Christian parent can ask him/herself. Remember, a compliant child without a delight in Christ is a Pharisee in the making, but a child who, day by day, learns more and more to see and savor the beauty of the Savior and becomes increasingly desperate for His grace in light of his/her sin - despite the fact that they are not becoming the model child in behavior their proud parents secretly [or not so secretly] hope they'll become - is a monument to the gospel in the making. God did not entrust us with children in order to craft them into model Christian citizens whose behavior we would always be proud of. He entrusted us with children in order to help them become living testaments to His grace.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Gospel-Powered Parenting

Few Christian parents want anything more than to raise their children to become Christ-loving, honorable and holy, Christian adults. Every expert seems to have his/her formula to make that happen, but with the great diversity of Christian parenting perspectives and agendas out there, how are believing parents to know where to put their energy and focus?

Because that's such an important question, I'm so grateful its answered by, perhaps, the most biblical parenting book on the market since Tedd Tripp's Shepherding a Child's Heart. The book is Gospel-Powered Parenting by William Farley. I have found Farley's book both convicting and inspiring - and, most of all, hopeful in Jesus.

This week in my message I'm going to talk about the crucial role which our parenting plays in our childrens' grasp of the gospel. If you have children, I would encourage you to build on what I'm going to say with Farley's in-depth exploration of why the only parenting which pleases God and truly helps our children is centered on the Cross.

You can read a more detailed review of Gospel-Powered Parenting here.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Praying for the Blacks

Here's a note and request for prayer from Vince as they prepare to head out of Minot tomorrow:

Wow, moving day is here. It’s hard to believe. All the months of prayer and preparation are finally upon us and we officially close the North Dakota chapter of our lives and move onto the next. Today, and throughout the day, would you please pray for us?

1). Please pray that we would represent well the name of Christ with all our interactions today. Pray that as we interact with the movers, with our children, with one another, that we would be ambassadors for Christ and that others would see Him through the way we communicate, both verbally and non-verbally.

2). Pray for safe travels. The movers will pack up the truck today. We plan to clean the house, spend the night with some friends, and head out in the morning. Please pray for traveling mercies. Pray that as we shove 4 boys in car seats, 2 adults, toys, food, sleeping items, suitcases and an 80 pound dog into one minivan, that we would be overflowing with patience and kindness and that we would have safe travels, cherishing this time we have together as a family.

3). Praise God for bringing us to this point. It was a year ago that I traveled to St. Louis to go to a church planting conference with the Acts29 Network. It’s amazing how much has transpired in a year’s time. Praise God for His leading and for making His plan so evident. Praise God for the way He has provided. Praise God for His many mercies to us every day and throughout this process.

4). Pray for us as we are about to embark on a huge, and in many ways, unknown adventure. Up until today, just about everything we’ve worked on has looked forward to this transition. We are now officially starting down the path and are excited, nervous and overwhelmed all at once. Pray that we would keep Christ as our focus, grow in faith and love, learn more daily of what the grace of Christ means, extend to others the mercy God grants us, and allow our light to shine before men that they may see our good deeds and praise our Father in heaven. To God alone be all praise and glory!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Vince, preach the word

[An open letter to Pastor Vince Black]

Dear Vince,

As I sit at my computer this morning, just two days away from commissioning and sending you off to plant a church in Ft. Collins, Colorado, I think with thankful wonder at the grace God has given us all these past nearly five years. It was December 2004 that the Lord first brought you to our attention as a potential staff pastor here at Trinity. Since that time - with your help - we've become a church of small groups with robust, relational dicipleship, we've become a philosophically unified church without in-fighting and contentious factions, we've become a more globally minded church, eagerly sharing ourselves and our resources with some of the most impoverished and imperiled Christians in the world to help make them a missions movement to reach their own people, plant their own churches and reach beyond their borders with the gospel. Over the past five years you've grown into a very gifted preacher whose ministry we will miss sitting under.

I am grateful for these and many other ways in which God has used you to bless us as a church family. Far more, I am grateful for having been given the privilege of watching your commitment to your wife as you've nurtured her personally and spiritually. Truly, you are an example of a man who "washes [Kirsten] with the water of the Word (Eph. 5:26)." You are a man who ardently disciples his sons, showing and teaching them that "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight (Pr. 9:10)." Your example of godliness - which has been a great gift -that I will miss most of all.

Vince, as you go, know that God has used you profoundly. But know that His use of you is only beginning. So, as you plant a church and begin a new life in Colorado, fix your attention on Paul's commission to Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:1-2, "I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching." Preach the Word, Vince. Live on it and live by it. Let God and His gospel be your joy and let heaven be your hope. The best is yet to come.

With love and friendship,


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Thank You

This week I joyfully return to work as one of your pastors. Though there were moments in the last three months when I thought, "Hey, this sabbatical thing is nice. Maybe I should just retire early," over the past couple of weeks I've been itching to be back in the ministry saddle. As my sabbatical comes to close, let me tell you what we've been up to in September.

As I've expressed in previous posts, between classes in July and rebuilding my fence in August, the first two thirds of my sabbatical weren't very restful. I was committed to changing that during September. We spent the first week or so doing much of nothing (or, at least I don't remember accomplishing much). Then we loaded up our van and headed out to visit friends in Minneapolis and family in Wisconsin where we boated on the Mississippi (discovering that I can still slalom on one ski), our boys participated with my parents in a local parade, we spent time with my sister's family in Milwaukee and Terri and I got away for five wonderful days to Cedarly Pastors Retreat Center with four other pastoral couples (see picture) where we read, biked, swam, canoed, prayed and simply enjoyed being together. Last week, to cap off my time away, I escaped to Assumption Abbey in Richardton to begin planning our upcoming journey through Proverbs. It's quiet setting, as usual, was very conducive to much prayer, reading and reflection.

As my sabbatical comes to a close, I want to say 'thank you.' Thanks to Vince and the elders for a great sermon series on I Timothy and so capably shepherding everyone during my absence, reminding me that I'm not as indispensable around Trinity Church as my pride would like me to believe. Thanks to Tonya, Kathryn and Janet in the church office for continuing to do so much that so few see but which helps our ministry at TC thrive. Thanks, ladies, for sometimes responding to my questions when I'd stop by the office by saying, "I don't think you need to be thinking about that. Aren't you on sabbatical?" Thanks to all of you for being such a supportive congregation who's desire for more of God and more love of His Word makes you such a joy to lead and pastor (Hebrews 13:17). And thanks to the leaders of Trinity who wrote my predecessor's contract fourteen years ago and had the foresight to include a regular sabbatical for rest, study and family nurture. I am the beneficiary of such insight. Lord willing, you will be too as we resume ministry together and pursue an ever-increasing love of the gospel, transformation of our lives, mission passion and hope for heaven. Thanks.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


This Sunday we will be looking at 1 Timothy 6:1-2. This question came to my mind as I studied Paul's letter to Timothy - "Why didn't Paul speak openly against slavery?"

John Piper answers this question, in part, in a recent blog post - How Paul Worked to Overcome Slavery.

Friday, September 4, 2009

What Worry Reveals

"Fear and worry are not mere emotions; they are expressions of what we hold dear. They reveal the loyalties of our hearts. If we know Christ and have affirmed our allegiance to Him, worry is a sign that we are trying to have it both ways....Worry, therefore, is not simply an emotion that erodes our quality of life or a pain to be alleviated. It is a misdirected love that should be confessed. It is trying to manage our world apart from God. It is making life about our needs, desires and wants."

- Ed Welch, Running Scared, pp. 161 & 163

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Some Sabbatical Reflections

Two thirds of my sabbatical are over with one third to go. Thus far it's been taken up with types work which I could not have completed were I in the saddle of active ministry. Ironically, I say 'thank you' for giving me the opportunity for such work. God made us to give ourselves to good, worshipful, redemptive work - so its quite appropriate that I am not resting the entire three months off. What kind of work have I done?

1. Work on my Doctor of Ministry degree. Last Friday I finished my last paper due for my July classes. Yeah!

2. Work around the house. Things like gardening. Cleaning out closets, drawers and over-stuffed files which one always thinks of doing but never has time to do. Seeking to be a daily help around the house to my dear wife.

3. Currently we're camped out on a friend's farm helping out with harvest. What a blessing to have time for that!

4. Spending three weeks dismantling, sanding, sawing, scraping, rebuilding and painting our fence. One never knows how large their fence is until such a task is necessary. One also never knows how offensive one's fence was to one's neighbors until they begin to stop by (many of them!) to comment on how happy they are with the new fence.

Let me make a further comment about our fence project. I was dreading it. I've undertaken enough house projects over the years to know that most take twice as long as anticipated. The fence was no exception. By mid-August visions of paint scrapings, rusty screws and the smell of latex paint were troubling my dreams. I never wanted to see another fence board again! But I did not hire out the job for one key reason: my son.

Carson (my 8 year old) has always been my right-hand 'man' with house projects, and earlier this summer, after spying a pair of kid-sized cowboy boots which were out of his price range, I agreed to pay him to help me with the fence. In the first week alone he logged more than thirty hours of scraping, sawing and screwing and had more than enough money for his boots. Therefore, he was glad to be working on the fence.

My epiphany of happiness came one dewy morning while we were scraping old fence boards together on the same pair of saw-horses. With white paint chips flying, we found ourselves talking about life - our dreams, failures, relationships, work and the gospel of God's grace. Unlike the regular Bible lessons Carson's experienced all his life during our evening meals and bed-time rituals, this context was different. As two 'men' working together, the sometimes artificial nature of parental discipleship was supplanted by something wonderfully natural - working together - which had a way of opening our hearts to each other to create the context for father-son discipleship God intends.

In a few weeks I'm going to begin a sermon series on Proverbs. My fence project with Carson taught me poignantly that the father to son instruction of that great book of the Bible isn't optimally executed from the pulpit, classroom or even dining room table. Godly wisdom from man to man is best imparted while working together. Ladies, you may do your discipleship best over tea, but for us men we'll take a saw, boards and some paint with our Bibles. I just think of the rich conversations I would have missed with my son had I hired out the job.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Competition to the Glory of God?

In his superb book, Respectable Sins, Jerry Bridges has a chapter called "Envy, Jealousy and Related Sins." Out of this chapter a section on competition emerges where he states:

"Let me clarify that I'm not writing against friendly competition but against the competitive spirit that always has to win or be the best. Actually, I believe that healthy competition is good, especially for children and high schoolers, as it can provide an arena in which they can seek to do their best. And this kind of competition is not limited to sports. There is competition at science fairs or among bands or at spelling bees. But in whatever competition, the question the child or teenager and their parents should ask is not 'Did we win?' but 'Did we do our best?'"

Sounds nice but let's be honest, when your son competes on the soccer field you want him to kick the game-winning goal, and when you enter your prize tomato or quilt at the fair, you want to take home the huge, purple ribbon. Right? Talk of 'doing our best' sounds nice, but down deep do we really believe that? Bridges goes on to write:

"Competitiveness is basically an expression of selfishness. It's the urge to win at someone else's expense. It is certainly not loving our neighbor as ourselves. I realize I'm questioning a 'sacred cow' in our culture, because we have elevated competitiveness to a virtue. We teach children directly or by example that it is good to be competitive, that this is the way one gets ahead in the world. I question, however, whether a competitive spirit is a Christian virtue." (pp. 153-155)

At the same time, in Romans 12:10, in an instance of profound irony, Paul seems to link love with competition when he writes, "Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor." Here God seems to command a holy competitiveness - but one limited to bearing the fruit of the Spirit toward the goal of blessing and serving others, rather than triumphing over them.

Your thoughts?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Our Desires Reveal Our God(s)

“The more a true saint loves God with a gracious love, the more he desires to love him, and the more uneasy is he at his want of love to him: the more he hates sin, the more he desires to hate it, and laments that he has so much remaining love to it: the more he mourns for sin, the more his heart is broke, the more he desires it should be broke: the more he thirsts and longs after God and holiness, the more he longs to long, and breathe out his very soul in longings after God: the kindling and raising of gracious affections is like kindling a flame; the higher it is raised, the more ardent it is; and the more it burns, the more vehemently does it tend and seek to burn.”

- Jonathan Edwards, Religious Affections in Works, Vol. I, p. 312.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

A Jonathan Edwards Heart Check

“The Scripture knows of no such true Christians, as of a sordid, selfish, cross and contentious spirit. Nothing can be invented that is a greater absurdity, than a morose, hard, close, high-spirited, spiteful true Christian.”

- Jonathan Edwards, Religious Affections in Works, Vol. I, 307.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Fighting relational sin

At its core, sin is relational in nature. As a means of loving God, we want to love our spouses, our kids, our co-workers and others well, but before we know it, we've said or done something that wounds them all over again. What's the answer to our battle to love others well? Paul tells us in Galatians 5:16, "But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh."

Our daily battle to love others well by walking in the Spirit and not in the flesh is captured poignantly by John Michael Talbot in his beautiful song "Nature and Grace" - the words he uses to describe "Flesh and Spirit". Read his lyrics carefully as you think about how you've been talking to and treating the people in your life today.

Nature and Grace

Deep within me, there lies a true distinction
Between the things I would and what I really do.
I cannot believe I am so unusual.
Isn’t this the common sorrow within me and you?

Nature will seek only its own advantage.
It considers only how another might be used.
But grace will breed a new humility
To comfort those afflicted and to help those once abused.

Chorus: Nature might seek its fair consolation.
But it never offers its help without its price, without reward.
Grace finds reward in another’s consolation
Learning in this paradox the power of our Lord.

And nature will seek to be exalted in authority
To argue its opinion and have all the world conform.
But grace humbly comes in a silent assuredness
Speaking only to conform a man to his Lord.

Monday, August 10, 2009


Randy Alcorn recently wrote about watching television on his blog. Below are some guidelines he has written to help in our discernment. You can read the explanations to each point HERE.

1. Keep track of how much time you spend watching.

2. Decide in advance how much TV to watch per week.

3. Use a schedule to choose programs for the week--then stick to your choices.

4. Keep your television unplugged, store it in a closet, and/or put it in a remote part of the house (prevents mindless flip-on).

5. Periodically "fast" from television for a week or a month. Notice the "cold turkey" effects. (Avoids addiction, reminds you of all that can be done when TV off).

6. Choose programs that uplift rather than undermine biblical values.

7. Use the "off" switch freely. If it's wrong and you keep watching, you're saying "I approve." (Unless it doesn't present temptation and you're critically analyzing it).

8. Use the channel changer frequently.

9. Watch and discuss programs together as a family--to avoid passivity and develop active moral discernment through interaction. (Avoid the second TV set that splits the family and leaves children unsupervised).

10. Don't allow young children to choose their own programs--that's the parent's responsibility.

11. Don't use television as a baby sitter.

12. Spend an hour reading Scripture, a Christian book or magazine, or doing a ministry for each hour you watch TV.

13. Consider dropping cable, Showtime, HBO, or any other service that you determine is importing ungodliness or temptation into your home.

14. If you find you can't control it--or you're tired of the battle--get rid of your television.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Sons & Daughters - Songs of Adoption

The fine musicians at Sovereign Grace Music have released a new album called Sons & Daughters.

The songs on this album are meant to direct our attention to the unfathomable love God has shown us in adopting us through Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:5). We are now part of God’s family - in Christ we will forever be the objects of God’s particular and passionate mercy and love. That biblical reality, rather than leaving us focused on ourselves, drives us once again to proclaim the greatness of the God whose grace turns hopeless rebels into the precious children.

“And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!” (Gal. 4:6)

Purchase the CD HERE ($12) or purchase an MP3 download of the album HERE ($9).

Friday, July 31, 2009

The Edwards' Lives Still Speak

I'm currently enjoyng George Marsden's wonderful biography on Jonathan Edwards. Chapter 20 includes a snapshot of parenting in the Edwards home. We can learn much from the following excerpts, not least the final one which underscores just how thankful we men should be for our godly wives:

The first impression a visitor would have upon arriving at the Edwards home was that there were a lot of children. The second impression would be that they were very well disciplined. Jonathan aided Sarah in disciplining the children from an early age. 'When they first discovered any considerable degree of will and stubbornness,' wrote biographer Samuel Hopkins, 'he would attend to them till he had thoroughly subdued them and brought them to submit with the greatest calmness, and commonly without striking a blow, effectively establishing his parental authority and producing a cheerful obedience ever after.
Care for his children's souls was his preeminent concern. In morning devotions he quizzed them on Scripture with questions appropriate to their ages. On Saturday evenings, the beginning of the Sabbath, he taught them the Westminster Shorter Catechism, making sure they understood as well as memorized the answers.
Edwards also believed in not holding back the terrors of hell from his children. 'As innocent as children seem to us,' he wrote, 'if they are out of Christ, they are not so in God's sight, but are young vipers....' At the judgment day unregenerate children would hardly thank their parents for sentimental tenderness that protected them from knowing the true dangers of their estate. Always looking for opportunities to awaken the young to their condition, he had taken the children to view the remains of the Lyman house fire that claimed two girls' lives.
By far the greater burden of childrearing fell to Sarah....On one occasion, when she was out of town in 1748, Jonathan was soon near his wits' end. Children of almost every age needed to be cared for. 'We have been without you,' Jonathan lamented in a letter, 'almost as long as we know how to be!'
- Jonathan Edwards: A Life by George Marsden, pp. 321-323

Thursday, July 30, 2009

A Family is Blessed and a Baby is Healed

The following story is written by Daron Tienhaara. Daron and his wife Corrie are former members of Trinity Church and now attend Mars Hill Church in Olympia, Washington.

God is sovereign. We’ve heard this before, but do we really know what it means? And do we live like we believe it? I can say with complete certainty that the statement, “God is sovereign,” is 100% true and it’s not because He’s given me untold riches, vast lands, or unspeakable power. It’s because of what He’s shown my wife and I: He has the power to take away and at the same time the grace to say, “I will let you enjoy this gift for one more day.” (READ the entire story HERE)

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Modesty Heart Check

This morning we looked at 1 Timothy 2:8-15. In this section Paul deals, in part, with modesty.

to view the Modesty Heart Check that I mentioned. I would recommend this Heart Check for every woman at Trinity Church.
I would recommend that you print out the Heart Check (2 pages) and use it as a resource in the following ways,

Mothers - read it with your daughters.
Wives - read it with your husbands.
Fathers - read it with your wives and daughters.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God

On Sunday I mentioned that Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God by J.I. Packer was one of the best books on evangelism. It's Monday morning and I still believe it is. Order a copy of this book at the link below or find it in the Trinity Church library.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Impacted by Godliness

Today I'm wrapping up my class on Christian leadership at Reformed Seminary. I've learned so much, and I can't wait to share it with you when I get back into the saddle of ministry in Minot.

One of the most inspiring and stimulating discussions we've had was one morning when each student shared about the one or two most significant Christian leaders who've shaped our lives for the gospel. When we boiled down the various characteristics of those who've impacted us the most, this is the list which emerged:

1. Humility
2. An embodiment of the gospel and its sweetness
3. Christian courage
4. Single-minded devotion to Jesus and His mission of grace
5. A passion for investing in others
6. An ability to recognize evidences of God's grace and potential in others
7. A supernatural self-forgetfulness
8. An unswervingly commitment to be shaped by the Word of God
9. The discipline to listen well to others

It's a rare blessing when God brings people who embody such elements into our lives. We need to thank God for them. But we also should inquire whether or not we're becoming like them. I would encourage us all to read through the list as a mirror for our own lives. "Is this a description of me?" That is the question. By God's grace, as we grow into this picture of godliness, our lives will leave an impact of godliness for generations to come.

Monday, July 13, 2009

A Worship Opportunity

My class on the theology of Jonathan Edwards last week was rigorous, and today I begin a new class on church leadership. So, when Saturday (2 days ago) arrived, I was ready to give my brain and body a break from study and do something refreshing.

Some of you know about my love for residential architecture. And it just so happens that two hours west of Charlotte (where I'm in school) is America's largest and, some would say, most beautiful home: Biltmore, the residential masterpiece built by George Vanderbuilt in the 1890's. What better way to spend a day off than touring this most remarkable of homes? So I did.

The drive from Biltmore's front gate to the house took me on a road which wound three miles through the Blue Ridge Mountains. As mountain mist hung in the air around towering spruce and cedar trees, I felt like I'd entered a fairy land and found myself spontaneously exclaiming, "Praise You, Creator God!"

After arriving at the house, I purchased a day pass which allowed me to tour the rooms which are open to the public. I was awestruck by the grand dining hall, with a table seating 44 and a 70 foot vaulted ceiling. I was dumbfounded by the richness of the breakfast room with its hand-worked, leather wall coverings and red, Italian marble trim. Most of all I was continually struck by the ingenious design of the house which actually makes much of this 255 room mansion feel like a warm and cozy cottage.

After my tour as I beheld the house one last time from the beautiful garden I thought, with amazement, of the genius of Fredrick Law Olmsted (the landscape architect) and Richard Hunt (the house architect). But then the Spirit corrected me saying, "But who gave these men the ability to craft such a home? Who created the stone, brick, wood and slate necessary to build it? Who made the Blue Ridge Mountains whose beauty so well accentuates the glory of Biltmore?" "You, O God!" I exclaimed. "You have made this house. Praise You!"

God has graciously filled our world with beauty in a thousand forms which all point to Him and call forth our praise. Unbelievers enjoy earthly beauty and human wisdom and stop short in their praise, missing the Master Creator behind it all. Only we Christians can enjoy music and let it cause us to praise the God of music, we can taste delicious food and delight in its Maker, we can feel the refreshment of a cool pool on a hot day and trace its joy back to the Master Who said, "Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place...." (Gen. 1:9)

We swim everyday in an ocean of worship opportunity. This summer may the God of beauty hear our praise.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Happy Birthday John!

Greetings to everyone at TC from lovely and humid Charlotte, North Carolina. Our family had a very enjoyable trip out to Virginia, and my class on the theology of Jonathan Edwards this week has been very stimulating, stretching and is impacting how I think about ministry in the local church. Today our class (though not my work for it) comes to an end.

That may make today significant for me, but this date is significant for the church worldwide for another, greater reason. Today marks the 500th birthday of John Calvin. Though you may personally know little about Calvin, many consider him the greatest post-apostolic theologian the church has ever had. Not only did Calvin lead the 16th century Reformation in France and Switzerland. Not only did he write the first systematic theology (his Institutes of the Christian Religion). Not only did he mentor such significant church leaders as John Knox. Not only did he reform Christian worship in a biblical manner. Not only did he write commentaries on almost every book of the Bible. Not only did he preach at least five times a week and serve as shepherd for the entire city of Geneva. Not only did Calvin do these great things, but more important and imforming them all, he worked hard to ensure that a conscious focus on God was at the center of it all. We call John Calvin the father of all truly God-centered ministry, preaching, worship and life in its modern expressions. And because we strive for a decidedly God-centered focus more than anything else at Trinity Church, we owe a tremendous debt to John Calvin.

After our class ends today here at Reformed Theological Seminary we're going to sing 'Happy Birthday' and eat birthday cake in honor of Calvin. My prayer is that you would honor his memory today too. Even better than a birthday party, let me encourage you to celebrate him by more fully embracing his vision of living a truly God-centered life to the glory of Christ.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Thinking about the grace of God...

Today I have been studying 1 Timothy 1:12-20 in preparation for this weekends worship service. I began to think about God's grace and Paul's humility in verses 12 and 13 and was reminded of a very practical list in C.J. Mahaney's book Humility: True Greatness. I would encourage every believer to read this book...and I believe we have at least one copy in the church library.

How To Weaken Pride and Cultivate Humility

1. Reflect on the wonder of the cross of Christ.
2. Being your day by acknowledging your dependence upon God and your need for God.
3. Begin your day by expressing gratefulness to God.
4. Practice the spiritual disciplines - prayer, study of God's Word, worship. Do this consistently each day and at the day's outset, if possible.
5. Seize your commute time to memorize and meditate on Scripture.
6. Cast your cares upon Him, for He cares for you.
7. At the end of the day, transfer the glory to God.
8. Before going to sleep, receive this gift of sleep from God and acknowledge His purpose for sleep.
9. Study the attributes of God.
10. Study the doctrines of grace.
11. Study the doctrine of sin.
12. Play golf as much as possible - ("I don't think there is a more difficult or humbling sport.")
13. Laugh often, and laugh at yourself.
14. Identify evidences of grace in others.
15. Encourage and serve others each and every day.
16. Invite and pursue correction.
17. Respond humbly to trials.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

A letter from a husband/father...

Below is the letter I mentioned in my sermon today. It is a letter that Ray Ortlund Sr. wrote to his family before he went to be with the Lord. His son, Ray Ortlund Jr. found the letter in his father's desk. What a great example of godliness from a father and husband to his family!

Dear Family,
"The time has come for my departure" (2 Tim. 4:6). It's strange to write this when I'm feeling well and vigorous, but unless Christ returns first that departure time will come. When you read this it will have happened.
I have had a great journey with Jesus Christ. From childhood I have known about God and revered Him. The name of Jesus has always been precious to me. I thank my dear parents for this heritage. Now, life on earth is over and I go to meet the Lord face to face. I trust in Him as my sure Savior and rest in His grace at this momentous time of my death. I do not fear death. (I don’t like the pain, blood, and guts of it all!) Actually I have been anticipating this new adventure and at the time you read this I will be with Christ in heaven. So it’s happened and I’m now in God’s presence, probably shocked at all I’m seeing for the first time.
I am sorry for my sin and failures which have been many, but I know Christ has forgiven them. “There is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.” Some of those sins have been against you, my dear family, and I am sorry. You probably know my sins better than I. Some you don’t know, I know all too well. But "where sin abounds grace does much more abound."
My dear Anne has been my most treasured friend. If she is still living as you read this I know you will treat her well. When she goes to heaven God will give her blue ribbons and gold medals. What a great woman and wife! She has loved and stood loyally by me all our life together. And our last years have been our best. May God reward her for hard work, a forgiving spirit, relentless faith and enthusiastic acceptance of life as it came. She is a woman of God... my Cadillac. We shall meet on the other side and sing a duet of praise to God. As you know, Psalm 34:3 has been our verse. We trust you’ve seen that we did magnify the Lord.
Each of you children and spouses have been the joy of my life, as have been the grandchildren. I include Melinda and John in this because they are family to us, too. I have never doubted your love for me and you have been too kind. I will see you in heaven and we'll bless God together.
I urge you to remain true to your Savior. I have no doubt that you will. Love each other deeply in your marriages. Keep your family ties strong. Lay up treasure in heaven because the stuff of earth is empty. Bank accounts, houses and furniture mean nothing to me now. Actually they never did. Beware of sin, and confess it as soon as you discover it in your life. And let the Spirit's gift of joy color all your life. As you mature remain a happy person in Christ. Get even sweeter as you get older. Sour old people are a pain.
In my death be sure God is glorified. Jesus glorified the Father most in His death. John 17:1-5 tells us He faced impending death with that prayer for the Father to be glorified. So at my memorial service glorify God. Have a holy party. I was saying to Anne recently that this world has become less attractive lately and I feel a bit out of place. So it's good to go "home" now. I 'd like to make my burial simple. Cremation is fine with me. Bury my remains in a simple container to wait for the resurrection of my new glorified body. If cremation upsets you then don't do it, of course. I want you to be comfortable with it all.
Heb. 13: 20,21: “May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”
I love you all and each one. I’ll see you sooner than you think!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Sovereign Grace Music for Children

To Be Like Jesus contains twelve worship songs that teach the fruit of the Spirit in a creative and memorable way.Through these songs kids will learn that Jesus is our perfect example of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness,and self-control. More than that, they’ll discover that we can’t be like Jesus unless we trust in the power of his cross to forgive us and the power of his Spirit to change us.

Purchase the CD HERE! You may also purchase an MP3 download of the album and begin listening today.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

A Time Away

This Sunday my family and I embark on our family vacation which will take us to the eastern part of the United States where I will begin my three month sabbatical. As I prepare to step away from my pastoral position at Trinity for a time, let me share with you two things: what a pastoral sabbatical is, and specifically how I plan to use mine.

What is a pastoral sabbatical?

It is an intentional time away from the people and routine of one's local congregation in order to recalibrate one's spiritual perspective, rest one's body, reinvigorate one's mind and renew one's family relationships. A sabbatical provides a pastor a period of disengagement to remind him that he is a person, not just a pastor; that he is married to his wife, not the church; that he has a lot to learn from wise teachers from elsewhere, not just from the books on his study shelves. A sabbatical is a gift to a pastor, but it is also a gift to the congregation he serves, for it reminds them that their greatest need is not their pastor but Christ.

What am I planning for my sabbatical?

1. Education
In July I will be at Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, North Carolina taking two classes, one on church leadership and one on the theology of Jonathan Edwards. After I return I will work hard to finish my reading assignments and complete assigned research papers - hopefully by early August.

2. Time with family
After I complete my schoolwork, I plan to do a number of things in August and September with my family. They include a Cub Scout family camp in Minnesota, rebuilding and painting our fence with Carson and Evan, taking Terri to a pastoral couples retreat center in Wisconsin for a week, reading lots of stories, taking lots of bike rides and spending a few days alone with our boys while Terri has the opportunity to get away by herself for awhile.

3. Time alone with God, the Bible and my books
I will likely take a few days at Assumption Abbey in Richardton to pray, read and write. I may also do that at a friend's cabin. Though I need to do some reading to get ready for my Proverbs sermon series, most of my study will involve my continuing exploration of several theological topics, continuing to wrestle with Christianity and contemporary culture, a potential writing project I'm thinking of pursuing and enjoying some great works of fiction. I look forward to the chance to spend unhindered time in prayer, and some time practicing the spiritual discipline of just 'being' to the glory of God.

While I'm 'away' you'll still often see me in church and around town. Feel free to ask me how my sabbatical is going, what I'm learning, whether or not I'm resting and how you can be praying for me. I'll be happy to share.

Our other elders are eager to continue ministering to you while I'm 'away'. Vince is going to be preaching a series on I Timothy beginning next Sunday. I'm excited to hear it! He and Doug, Dave and Jay are here to serve you, teach you, pray with you and encourage you any way they can. My time away won't diminish ministry at Trinity at all.

Finally, let me say 'Thank you' for being the kind of congregation that would think to give their pastors an occasional sabbatical away for rest and growth. It reflects your generosity and your Kingdom-focus. All of us Perrys are tremendously grateful for the gift of the next three months.

Grace and peace,


Saturday, June 13, 2009

Suicide of the Soul

"The paradox of self-love is this: The more you fill the self, the more it echos with the emptiness of unfulfillment. Living in itself and for itself, the self remains mysteriously unsatisfied and insatiable."

- Miroslav Volf, Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace, p. 52

Who are you giving yourself away for, to the glory of God, today?

Friday, June 12, 2009

Chess, Church and American Culture

"Years ago, Aron Nimzovich became the defining personality at the heart of a revolutionary and unconventional form of chess. It was called Hypermodern. It was a response to what is commonly known as classical chess. In classical chess, you control the middle, protect your pieces, and, by all means possible, leave yourself with no weak spaces. Hypermodern chess saw the board differently. You relinquish the center, you send your bishops to the edges, and you allow perceived and present weaknesses in exchange for the opportunity to return with greater strength.

I think there is much for the church to learn from this innovation. I am convinced that the friction of postmodernism can create tremendous traction for the church if we will do much the same. Concede the [cultural] center - the church is supposed to live on the edge anyway."

- Erwin McManus, An Unstoppable Force, pp. 60-61

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Bringing Bella Home

A Trinity Church family made the local news Monday evening. The story was about the four- year-old little girl they are in the process of adopting. Her name is Bella and she is from Ukraine.

If you missed their story on the news last night click HERE to watch it from the local news site.

If you would like to stay up to date with the latest news on the adoption you can visit the Burckhard's blog HERE.

Engaging the Whole Person

The biblical mandate for Christians to evangelize requires two things: clear, bold proclamation of the gospel and thoughtful, compassionate, relational engagement of the unbeliever. Our evangelical subculture often promotes the first without the second or practices the second while ignoring the first. What does entering into a gospel-focused relationship which balances both look like? Denis Haack points us to the wisdom he recently received in this regard from a surprising source: a Muslim named Eboo Patel.

"Patel, a Muslim, argued [in a recent lecture at Mayo Clinic] that we are in a dangerous period of history where religious rivalry often ends in violence. He pointed out that the media tends to portray religion in terms of conflict, often ending in sectarian violence. This need not be, Patel said, the only narrative that is told. The Mayo Clinic, he said, in contrast demonstrates how people of multiple faiths or no faith can respect one another and can work together for the common good. This story needs to be told more widely since religious faith, globally, is not diminishing but is increasing.

During the Q&A following his lecture, Dr Patel was asked about evangelism and whether his vision of “proactive cooperation” among believers of various faiths conflicted with their mandate to proselytize. His answer was, I think, both personal and very wise.

Patel said he respected his friend’s faith commitment that included the mandate to pray for his salvation and to evangelize him. That conversation should occur, he said, but it shouldn’t be the only conversation that occurs. We also need, Patel said, to get to know one another; to listen and ask questions; to learn each other’s traditions, ideas, and beliefs; to respect one another; to learn from one another; and to work out how we can live and work together for the common good.

I like that way of putting it: evangelistic conversations should occur but they shouldn’t be the only conversations that occur."

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Father's Day Gift Ideas

Father's Day is quickly approaching. This year, rather than a tie or new power tool, let me suggest that you buy your husband or father a book to further his sanctification and growth in grace. You'll be blessed by the Spirit's transformative work in your man's life. Here are some titles that would fit the bill, currently available on our Trinity Church Book Table (in the new library):

The Exemplary Husband by Stuart Scott

Water of the Word by Andrew Case

Sex, Romance and the Glory of God by CJ Mahaney

Boy's Passage, Man's Journey by Brian Molitor

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Our Misled Loyalty (to the self via the state)

We in 21st century America (Christians included) may be the most narcissistic in history. We want it all, we want it now, and its the job of the government to give it to us. How did we get in this mess? Missiologist Leslie Newbingin provides a very thoughtful analysis. Read it carefully and then consider how our nation's evolving self-focus has informed your own thinking.

"From the Enlightenment onwards, it is the 'rights of man' which has seemed axiomatic. To the founding embody the principles of this new philosophy, it seemed necessary and natural to begin with the famous words: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.' The rights of the human person are the unquestioned starting point from which all else follows.

These rights include the right to pursue 'happiness.' Happiness was hailed by the eighteenth century philosophers as 'a new word in Europe.' In place of the joys of heaven to which the medieval person was encouraged to look forward, Enlightenment people looked forward to 'happiness' here on earth.

Hannah Arendt (On Revolution, 1963) has pointed out that, for some at least of the American founding fathers, the happiness intended was the 'public happiness' of actively shared responsibility for public life. She also shows, however, that while any sort of private hedonism was very far from their purposes, the course of events led inexorably to an interpretation of their language as meaning the pursuit of private wellbeing. The result is that the world becomes a place where each individual has the 'right' to pursue 'happiness' in the domestic and privatized sense, and it is the responsibility of the state to see that this right is honored.

Nationalism [read 'patriotism'], therefore, becomes our effective ideology, always in times of crisis proving stronger than any other ideological or religious force [think American flag draped and 'God Bless the USA' saturated Christian churches after 9-11]. If there is any entity to which ultimate loyalty is due, it is the nation-state. In the twentieth century, we have become accustomed to the fact that - in the name of the nation - Catholics will fight Catholics, and Protestants will fight Protestants. The charge of blasphemy, if it is ever made, is treated as a quaint anachronism; but the charge of treason, of placing another loyalty above that of the state, is treated as the unforgivable crime. Tha nation-state has taken the place of God."

- Leslie Newbingin, Leslie Newbingin: Missionary Theologian, A Reader, pp. 195-96

The reason for this mess? Our primary pursuit of present, private happiness.