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