Friday, November 12, 2010

Singular femininity

This week's message on wise womanhood will be easiest to apply for those who are or one day will be married women with children, since that is God's general design for most women and the assumption of Proverbs. But what about the single, Christian woman who would like to be married but isn't? Whether her singleness is just temporary or lifelong, a short article by Carolyn McCulley beautifully reminds us that God has a very intentional plan to use such a woman for His glory. You can read it here.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Wise Womanhood

Ok, ladies. Now it's your turn. This week Proverbs unfolds the character and orientation of a biblically wise woman. To get a foretaste and go deeper in your embrace of biblical femininity, check out this message by Carolyn Mahaney.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Wise manhood

This week's message will take us into the pages of Proverbs to discover what it means to be a wise man. A large part of that, for those of us who are or will be married, is loving our wives well to the glory of God. On that important topic I've found few messages as helpful as one by CJ Mahaney given a few years ago at a marriage conference at Covenant Life Church. You can download the message for free here.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Wondering about Halloween?

If you're a Christian wondering how to approach today with biblical wisdom, the following article by John MacArthur may prove helpful. You can read it here.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The marks of a true Christian

Have you ever been perplexed by a friend who claims to be a Christian but displays so little of it in his or her life? They've 'received Christ' but that seems to be about as far as it goes. I'm not talking about days or seasons of back-sliding sloth. All true Christians temporarily distance themselves from the lordship of Christ in isolated situations. I'm talking about those who claim to be believers but the overwhelming evidence long-term testifies that their loves are elsewhere. How are we understand such people? John Piper helps us when he writes:

"One way to describe this problem is to say that when these people 'receive Christ,' they do not receive him as supremely valuable. They receive him simply as sin-forgiver (because they love being guilt-free), and as rescuer-from-hell (because they love being pain-free), and as healer (because they love being disease-free), and as protector (because they love being safe), and as prosperity-giver (because they love being wealthy), and as creator (because they want a personal universe), and as Lord of history (because they want order and purpose). But they don't receive him as supremely and personally valuable for who he is. They don't receive him the way Paul did when he spoke of 'the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.' They don't receive him as he really is - more glorious, more beautiful, more wonderful, more satisfying, than everything else in the universe. They don't prize him or treasure him or cherish him or delight in him." - John Piper, Think, pp. 71-72

Will we love such 'Christian' friends enough to challenge them with the demands of the grace of the Cross?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Spiritual disciplines?

In recent decades we've seen an upsurge in focus on practicing key spiritual disciplines toward a deeper walk with God and greater sanctification. Much good has been gained in the church and our lives as a result. At the same time, for performance-driven people like me, emphasizing spiritual disciplines has often caused us either to become proud of our spiritual accomplishments in keeping the disciplines well or become discouraged at our frequent failures. Tim Chester admirably helps address this issue when he writes the following:

"Some people call [such things as Bible reading, prayer, community, worship and service] spiritual disciplines. But I believe this is unhelpful terminology. It can make Christian growth seem like an achievement on our part. In reality, it's God who changes us through his grace. The only true spiritual disciplines in the Christian life are faith and repentance, actions that direct our attention to God's gracious activity. So I prefer the traditional term the means of grace. These are ways in which God is gracious to us and by which he strengthens his work of grace in our hearts. They are the means God uses to feed our faith in him. This is what sowing to the Spirit looks like in practice." - Tim Chester, You Can Change, p. 140

Well said.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Cult alert

Ephesians 5:11 tells us, "Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them."

One of the less enjoyable but sometimes necessary duties of spiritual leaders is to alert the people of God to wolves in sheep's clothing. Sadly, that is necessary today due to the recent arrival in Minot of a group called The World Mission Society. They are a non-orthodox movement from Korea claiming to be a Christian church who most often target women, college students and youth. Their founder, Ahn Sahng-hong, claimed to be an incarnation of the second coming of Christ. His wife claims to be 'Mother God'. They bear the classic marks of a cult.

In light of this, I encourage you to do the following:

1. Educate yourself. You can learn more here.

2. Pray. Ask God to protect people in Minot from the unbiblical lies touted by this group and for
the Holy Spirit to awaken them to the bibilcal truth about Christ.

3. Engage. If you know of any Koreans in Minot - particularly at MSU - alert them and educate them about The World Mission Society. If you encounter folks from this cult, go out of your way to show them the love of Christ and lovingly challenge them with the truth of the gospel from Scripture. God may open their eyes to the truth. Let's pray He does.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Godly thoughtfulness

John Piper's book Think was recently released, encouraging Christians to maximize our minds to the glory of God - toward very practical ends. I'm currently reading the book and not being disappointed. Why is a book like this important for American Christians at the beginning of the 21st century? Piper gives some cogent reasons:

"I hope this book will rescue the victims of evangelical pragmatism, Pentecostal shortcuts, pietistic anti-intellectualism, pluralistic conviction aversion, academic gamesmanship, therapeutic Bible evasion, journalisitc bite-sizing, musical mesmerizing, YouTude craving, and postmodern Jello-O juggling. In other words, I believe thinking is good for the church in every way." p. 17

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The danger of obedience

"Do not be fooled by people who say to you, 'You do not have to keep the law perfectly in order to be saved. You just have to be sincere. It is Jesus plus your own sincere obedience that will save you.' As attractive as those words might sound, do not accept them. They are a mask for a false gospel.

Second, remember the basic difference between the law and the gospel. It is not that the law requires perfect obedience, and the gospel just requires sincere obedience. Rather, the difference is this: the law requires doing, and the gospel requires not doing. The gospel requires believing for life and salvation. The 'terms of the deal' are totally different. They are not just different in degree: 'The law requires 100% obedience for your salvation whereas the gospel requires only 51% obedience for your salvation.' No! The terms are different in their very nature! The law requires 100% doing. The gospel requires 100% not doing. The gospel requires believing!"

- Walter Marshall, The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification, p. 82

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Gifts that hurt and heal

"In Amos 4 God speaks of a gift he gave to his people: 'empty stomachs' (v. 6). He 'withheld rain' so that 'people staggered from town to town for water' (vv. 7-8). He struck their crops with mildew (v. 9). These might seem strange gifts! But God gives them so that His people might repent. The gifts are terrible things, but idolatry and its consequences are worse. God always seeks the best for His people, and that best is Himself. Famine and thirst are acts of divine love when their aim is to bring us back to God."

- Tim Chester, You Can Change, pp. 105-106

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

What's really important this fall

Like most cities around our nation, Minot is slowly becoming blanketed with campaign posters for every office from US Senate to county sheriff. The next month and a half will only be more of the same. It is a privilege in our nation to be able to have a say in who leads us politically, so I support politics and we should support the candidates who demonstrate the greatest character qualities for service.
At the same time, politics is rarely as important as we think. It is of immediate but not ultimate importance. Isaiah 40 reminds of that.
Behold, the nations are like a drop in a bucket, and are accounted as the dust on the scales....All the nations are as nothing before [God], they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness. (vv. 15 & 17)
This morning the news was all abuzz about a conflict between China and Japan over who controls the fishing waters which separate them. According to Isaiah, they will soon be forgotten. How important is it that we as America retain our economic and military supremacy in the world? According to Isaiah, our 300 million people and two hundred plus year history and rise to dominance is 'less than nothing.' We're not as important as we think - nor are any of the political campaigns so strongly under way.
What is truly important? Isaiah continues,
It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent...who brings princes to nothing, and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness....The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. (vv. 22-23, 28)
Even better, such a God is not just great, to us His people He is gracious. Listen to how Isaiah begins the chapter:
Comfort, comfort, my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare has ended, that her iniquity (sin) is pardoned.... (vv. 1-2)
Our world is full of news, and some of it is important, but only the good news of God's greatness and grace to us in Jesus is ultimate. Let's put our greatest hope in Him this fall, the one 'Politician' who rules perfectly.


Saturday, September 11, 2010

Thinking about sanctification

Feeling hopeless about your struggle with a particular sin? Among other things, I would strongly recommend Tim Chester's book You Can Change which gets to the heart of sanctification by deepening our affections for the grace of Christ poured out to us through the Cross. Here is a quote which I recently found helpful:

"I used to think sanctification was a bit like pushing a boulder up a hill. It was hard, slow work, and if you lost concentration you might find yourself back at the bottom. But it's more like a boulder rolling down hill. There's something inevitable about it, because it's God's work, and God always succeeds. The sad thing is that often I try to push the boulder back up the hill. I say in effect, 'Don't change me yet - I like doing that sin.'" (p. 55)

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Thinking Christianly about book burning

Last week a Jewish friend of mine called me up to ask my opinion of Terry Jones, the Florida man planning on holding a Koran burning on September 11th. He stated that if any Jew promised to perpetrate such an outrageous expression counter to free speech - especially religious free speech - Jews from around the world would descend upon him to silence and marginalize him for the sake of all Jews (who are against book burning of any kind).

I told my friend that I believed Terry Jones would not receive the same response from global Christians for a number of reasons. First, unfortunately, many professing believers agree with him that such displays are the means to stamp out Islam. Second, unfortunately, the Christian world has become so large and so fragmented that any semblance of unity in response to someone like Terry Jones is very unlikely. At the same time, I expressed my sorrow to my friend that Christians - if Terry Jones truly is one - would stage such a display of thoughtless militance.

Professor Carl Trueman gives a level-headed response when he writes:

"Has book burning ever done anything other than make the object of the fire more interesting and sought after, and make the perpetrators look like mindless reactionary vandals? The Reformation is a great example of this: the Catholics burned Luther's books and, hey presto!, they became bestsellers, and the Reformers had, at least for a while, the public sympathy that comes with being victims. That's censorship for you. The same kind of thing happened in the sixties with the Rolling Stones: ban them from the airwaves and suddenly they are top of the charts. Book burning is entirely counterproductive because it only ever achieves the opposite of that which it intends. Luther understood this -- when Prierias published his criticisms of Luther in 1518, Luther did not burn the book; he republished it with a new, witty preface and a refutation. He understood the subtleties of polemic in a way that left his opponents playing catch-up.

This Koran burning is childish; it will at best only draw attention to the book and fuel curiosity; at worst, it could jeopardise young people serving their country. Christians would be better served spending the time praying for the conversion of their Muslim neighbours and reaching out to them with love and with God's true word, rather than with a box of matches and acts of counterproductive immaturity."

It is hard to square Koran burning with the way of the Cross. It reminds one more of Nazi tactics to suppress German minorities than Christian mission to win the world for Christ. Fighting for the truth this side of the Cross must take constructive, not destructive, paths.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Thinking Christianly about Glenn Beck and Co.

Will America's hope for Christians like us be found in Fox News celebrities like Glenn Beck (and Sarah Palin) who's Washington rally last Saturday drew many thousands? Is their cause our cause? For a biblically wise assessment, read this by Russell Moore, theologian at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

We're not alone

Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Isaiah 41:10

"Just imagine crossing the street with a little three-year old. Although those sweet, little fingers are grasping your hand, you aren't relying on them to hang on to you. No, you hold his whole hand (and part of his arm) in your grip, and nothing will pry your fingers loose. That's a picture of what your heavenly Father is doing with you. He's holding onto you. And He's stronger than you could ever imagine. To put it in Jesus' words, "no one is able to snatch you [his sheep] out of the Father's hand" (John 10:29) - no, not even you. He's going to get his children across the street without any accidents."

- Elyse Fitzpatrick, Love to Eat, Hate to Eat, pp. 192-193

Monday, August 23, 2010

Godly ambition

In light of our study on wise work from Proverbs yesterday, this Driscoll clip is more than apropos. Thanks to Jason Skjervem for supplying the link. If you want to read more about godly ambition, check out Dave Harvey's excellent book, Rescuing Ambition. You can find it here.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Humility in surprising places

Of all the Christian marks of grace, humility may be the most rare. We find it rarely in Christian circles, let alone in the secular world. Therefore, it struck me all the more when I recently came across a great example of self-effacing humility in the world of 80's rock and roll.
As a 12 year old kid in 1982, one of the songs I heard most that summer was Toto's smash hit 'Rosanna.' The album that spawned it, Toto IV, went on to take the grammy that year for best record. Without doubt, the guys in Toto raked in heavy cash in 1982. The accolades for 'Rosanna,' which peaked at #2 for 5 weeks, were replete.
So what does this have to do with humility? Fast-forward in time from 1982 to 2008. It was then that I noticed a drumming instruction video by Jeff Porcaro, the drummer and founder of Toto. In the video, Jeff explains and demonstrates the unusually complex rhythm he developed for 'Rosanna.' Here's where humility comes in: the rhythm of the song - to the technically uninitiated - is sufficiently masked and subdued that his brilliant drumming is never front and center in the song. In fact, in my relatively uneducated opinion, what Jeff Porcaro pulls off in 'Rosanna' is far more difficult than many elaborate drum solos which wow the crowds to thunderous applause. For 'Rosanna' Jeff Porcaro personally received little applause. What it did produce is an unusually rich song which is much more technically complex than one might imagine. For Jeff it was all about Toto and producing a great song by a great band. It wasn't about him and his percussive genius. That's humility. There's something there, I think, for us Christians to imitate.
You can see Jeff's drum lesson here.
You can listen to 'Rosanne' here.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Can it be godly to own a great car?

Personally, I don't care much about cars. Though I would love to drive a Mini Cooper someday (just because they're SO British and I'm a commited anglophile), most of the time I'd be happy with public transportation (which will never be feasible here in Minot, ND). Still, I very much appreciate my Ray Ortlund's perspective on car ownership to the glory of God. You can read about it here.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The sword of the Lord

"Following the concluding prayer, the young king....left the Abbey and led the way to Westminster Hall where the coronation banquet was to be held. An anecdote has survived which gives clear evidence of the seriousness with which he viewed his new responsibilities. Carried before him in stately symbolism were three swords. Surprised, Edward stopped the procession and asked for an explanation. He was told that each was to represent one part of the kingdom: England, Ireland and France. 'One is wanting,' was his unexpected reply, 'the Bible. That book is the sword of the Spirit and to be preferred before these swords.' Quickly the Bible was removed from the lecturn [in Westminster Abbey] and at his insistence carried in front of the three swords representing his temporal kingdom."

- Faith Cook, Lady Jane Gray: Nine Day Queen of England, p. 56.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Self-control in the kitchen

Tomorrow in church we're studying 'the wisdom of self-control' from Proverbs. One aspect of wise self-control regards the food we eat. Whereas a lack of food in the developing world brings with it a host of issues impoverished Christians need to face, for us who have access to perhaps too much food and too many food choices (not to mention our culture's worship of slim bodies) we have our own potential sin issues. The best treatment on this topic from a gospel and God-centered standpoint, in my view, is Elyse Fitzpatrick's book Love to Eat, Hate to Eat. If you struggle with self-control in the area of food (not just gluttony but binging, self-starvation and yo-yo dieting), I cannot recommend this book too highly. You can order it here.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

From boy to man

"Dad, when will I be a man like you?" Those words are commonly heard by fathers of young sons who long to come into their own as men. God made boys for manhood, and it is our task to help lead them there. So, how can our sons know when they have become true men? Consider the following thirteen marks of true manhood delineated by Albert Mohler in his fine booklet, From Boy to Man.

A boy has become a man...

1. When he's spiritually mature enough to lead a wife and children.

2. When he's personally mature enough to be a responsible husband and father.

3. When he's economically mature enough to hold an adult job and handle money responsibly.

4. When he's physically mature enough to work and protect a family.

5. When he's sexually mature enough to marry and fulfill God's creation purposes where possible.

6. When he's morally mature enough to lead as an example of righteousness.

7. When he's ethically mature enough to make biblically responsible decisions.

8. When his worldview is sufficient to understand what's truly important.

9. When he's relationally mature enough to understand and respect others.

10. When he's socially mature enough to make a contribution to society.

11. When he's verbally mature enough to communicate and articulate as a man.

12. When his character is mature enough to demonstrate courage in the face of conflict.

13. When he's biblically mature enough to lead at some level in Christ's church.

Dads, how are we doing ourselves in these areas? By God's design, our lives are a key ingredient in shaping our sons from boys to men.

Friday, July 30, 2010

The logic of particular atonement

John Owen helps us understand that it would have been positively unjust for Christ's death on the cross to be for all people. How? By pointing out the following: It is only just for God to demand one death for a person's sins. Therefore, for the unbelievers who one day will die for their sins at the Judgment, Christ could not also have died for their sins. So, for whom did Jesus die? The elect - only those whom God causes to believe in Christ.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Power to say 'no' to self

Those of us who are Christians, it seems, are frequently looking for help in our fight against sin - and not just sin, but the sin of self-centeredness in particular. How transformed my relationships with my wife, my sons and my neighbors would be if I were less self-centered! Can you relate?

In the opening verses of Colossians, Paul gives us a powerful weapon in our fight against the sin of selfishness. Consider his logic in 1:3-5, "We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints -"

Stop right there. Paul is testifying to the supernatural and self-denying love the Colossian Christians had for each other. That's what you want. It's what I want. How do we get it? What was the Colossian's secret? Let's keep reading: "...because of the hope laid up for you in heaven." There it is. The key to the Colossian's selfless love for each other was a regular remembrance that soon they would be in heaven where all joy would be theirs for eternity. In heaven they knew they would have Christ in His fullness, THEREFORE they could afford to serve others rather than themselves, they could afford to spend their money on others rather than themselves, they could afford to help others pursue their dreams rather than use others to pursue their own dreams here and now because of the certain and eternal joy which waited for them in heaven. Their future impacted their present and robust relational sanctification was the result.

Do you want the power to say 'no' to yourself to the glory of God today? Remember the future.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Save the date!

For a few months now we've been mentioning a church-wide retreat happening in the autumn. We want everyone at Trinity to attend, so here are the retreat's vital stats:

When: October 1-3 (Friday evening through Sunday morning)

Where: Camp of the Cross near Garrison

Prices will vary depending on your lodging choice. To get a feel for the choices, check out the camp website here. More details about cost for the camp, as well as scholarships available depending on need, will be forthcoming. Stay posted!

Why: Seasonally we all need a time away from our normal routine and activities in order to listen to God's Word, talk with other believers and think and pray deeply about what God is teaching us and how He's transforming us. A church-wide retreat can provide just such an opportunity to apply God's truth at a relationally deeper level. Specifically, I'll be leading us through Ed Welch's book Running Scared, helping us face our fears and discover how the gospel has the power to set us free from their tyranny. On top of that, the retreat will be just plain fun with games, hiking, camp-fires, great food and more.

Mark it down and make it a priority. Bring your family and bring a friend. You'll be glad you did!

For more information, contact Melody Baker, Sherry Ritchie or Renee Olson.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The cost of following Christ

How much does your Christianity cost you on a given day? If we're honest, most of us don't pay a lot for following Jesus because we're risking little for His name and glory. Those who best know the cost of following are those who face the greatest opposition from others. Consider the cost paid by one French Protestant as recounted by Eustache Knobelsdorf, a German student in Paris, who witnessed the following in 1542:

"I saw two [Protestants] burned [in Paris]. Their death inspired me in differing sentiments. If you had been there, you would have hoped for a less severe punishment for these poor unfortunates....The first was a very young man, not yet with a beard...he was the son of a cobbler. He was brought in front of the judges and condemned to have his tongue cut out and burned straight afterward. Without changing the expression of his face, the young man presented his tongue to the executioner's knife, sticking it out as far as he could. The executioner pulled it out even further with pincers, cut it off and hit the sufferer several times on the tongue and threw it in the young man's face. Then he was put into a tipcart, which was driven to the place of execution, but, to see him, one would think he was going to a feast....When the chain had been placed around his body, I could not describe to you with what equanamity of soul and with what expression in his features he endured the cries...and insults of the crowd that were directed toward him. He did not make a sound, but from time to time he spat out blood that was filling his mouth, and he lifted his eyes to heaven, as if he was waiting for some miraculous rescue. When his head was covered in sulphur, the executioner showed him the fire with a menacing air; but the young man, without being scared, let it be known, by a movement of his body, that he was giving himself up willingly to be burned."

- Calvin, Bruce Gordon, p. 192

Thankfully, we're not being led off by an executioner for our Christianity today. Still, following Jesus will cost if we're taking His commission to make war against our sin and bring in His Kingdom. What price are you paying for His glory today?

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Music of Proverbs

How timely that just as we are deep into our series on Proverbs, the godly musicians from Sovereign Grace Music have released a cd based on this book of the Bible. Download a song or two - or buy the whole album and 'paint the walls of your home' as it were with the musical wisdom of God. You can find it here.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Deeply disturbed

In Numbers 25 we find a singularly disturbing individual. We know the story: just prior to Israel's crossing of the Jordan into the Promised Land, some Moabite women seduced Israelite men to take part in their pagan love-feasts. As a result, God's anger burned against Israel. Moses commanded the leaders who allowed such sin to be slain and hung in the sun.

With the Israelites weeping in response to God's judgment for their egregious sin, a Simeonite named Zimri brought a Moabite woman named Cozbi into the Israelite camp in broad daylight and into his tent. Zimri's sin could not have been more high-handed.

Still, Zimri's not the man in the story I find singularly disturbing. The truly disturbing one is Phineas, the son of Eleazer the high priest, who - out of zeal for the Lord and the holiness of His people - pursues the unequally yoked couple and runs them through with his spear. God adds to our disturbance by commending Phineas' zeal by saying in v. 11, "Phineas...has turned back my wrath from the people of Israel, in that he was jealous with my jealousy among them, so that I did not consume the people of Israel in my jealousy."

Too often our temptation is to read a story like Numbers 25, commend Phineas' spiritual zeal and apply it rather lamely to ourselves in terms of more zeal for reading our Bibles or taking a stand for Jesus in the marketplace. But the context demands that we apply Phineas' zeal in terms of our relationships with one another in the church - taking bold risks for the sake of holiness as we make war against idolatry in one another's lives.

This is where Phineas becomes truly disturbing. We like him as a model of zeal, but we want the right to pick and choose in which realms we express our holy zeal. Zeal for God which boldly challenges sin in one another's lives? We're rarely willing to go there. Challenging our Christian friends for whom church attendance is an optional extra in the summer? Challenging that person in your small group who cracks disrespectful jokes about her husband? Challenging that teen who dresses immodestly or that church member who has sat on the margins of church life for years without deeply investing in the lives of other believers toward mutual sanctification? When it comes to zeal in our relationships in the church toward greater holiness, we find the example of Phineas deeply disturbing.

And, yet, Numbers 25 commends Phineas as 'jealous for his God.' Could you or I be so labeled? Are we willing to take bold risks to make it so? If not, perhaps that is the fact, more than any other, we should find most disturbing.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Resting in God's providential plan

Do you ever wish you were somewhere else - a different city, job or climate? We all feel that way at times because, this side of heaven, we live in the realm of the 'imperfect' and the 'incomplete.'
Even great Christians feel that way at times. That's certainly true of the reformer John Calvin. Despite the fact that God had called him to minister to the people in Geneva, Switzerland in 1536, the city fathers banished him in 1538, unwilling to stomach his proposed reforms. For three years he found refuge in Strasbourg, France and flourished in ministry there. When asked by his friend Pierre Viret if he planned to return to Geneva, Calvin answered, "...it would be perferable to perish for eternity than be tormented in that place. If you wish me well, my dear Viret, do not mention the subject!" (Gordon, Calvin, p. 121) Nevertheless, in 1541 Calvin was back in Geneva where he knew God wanted him and the church needed him. Were it not for his location in Geneva over the next quarter century, John Calvin would likely not have played such an influential role in the Protestant Reformation as he did.
God's sovereignty is the ultimate corrective to our discontent. Are you 'someplace' you'd rather not be right now? Someday you may understand just how strategic your location was for the glory of God and the extension of His Kingdom. For now, you can trust Him and find contentment even there - even if you, like Calvin, think you would rather 'perish for eternity than be tormented in that place.' From God's perspective, our places are always better than we think.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

If you care about worship....

For the past thirty years or so, an inordinate amount of attention has been given to the style, sound and executional details of Christian worship. Unfortunately, this has often overshadowed the far more important biblical nature of true worship. If you are serious about understanding and making much of God in true Christian worship, please read the excellent article found here.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Awestruck beyond despair to worship

David's famous exclamation in Psalm 8:3-4 teaches us about the purpose for God's creation of moons and planets: a staggering recognition of our smallness and frailty and God's condescending care designed to increase our trust and worship of Him.
When I look at your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars
which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?
Perhaps the same logic compelled God to put creativity and engineering know-how into the minds of our world's great builders. Though their creations make us feel safer and travel farther, they equally display our innate inabilities and human limitations in a way designed to force us back to the only One in Whom there is no limitation. Unexpectedly, this insight is teased out by a very perceptive unbeliever who's books are more than worth reading: Alain De Botton. He writes,
"We see beauty in thick slate roofs that challenge hailstones to do their worst, in sea defences that shrug off the waves which batter them, and in bolts, rivets, cables, beams and buttresses. We feel moved by edifices - cathedral, skyscrapers, hangars, tunnels and pylons - which compensate for our inadequacies, our inability to cross mountains or carry cables between cities. We respond with emotion to creations which transport us across distances we could never walk, which shelter us during storms we could not weather, which pick up signals we could never hear with our own ears and which hang daintily off cliffs from which we would fall instantly to our deaths."
- The Architecture of Happiness, p. 204
If bridges, buildings, trains and communication devices do all this for us to our good to make up for our inadequacies, how much more sufficient is our God Who rules the universe and spoke it into being with a word? Can He not care for us today? Yes, He can and He will.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Discouraged?

If you're like me, many things in life discourage you, but none more than yourself. Given the depth of our sin-prone hearts that shouldn't surprise us. Where, then, can we find encouragement to keep going to get optimistically joyful? In God.

"Your Lord is not away somewhere and He never sleeps. He never greets your calls with a busy signal. He is never too tired or too busy to respond. He will never mock your ignorance or weakness, and He does not cruelly throw your failure in your face. He will never threaten that He is at the end of His rope with you. He will not grow weary of your inconsistencies, bored with your ambivalence or irritated when once again you fall short.

His loving face will always be toward you and, because of the cross, you will never see the back of His head. He will meet your moment by moment needs - providing strength from His Spirit, wisdom from His Word, resources from the body of Christ, forgiveness that is your daily need and deliverance from constant temptation. Even the trials He sends your way will supply what you need: the character to live for Him more effectively. These are all the evidences of His commitment to you, that you might be who you are supposed to be and do what He has created you to do."

- Paul Tripp, Broken-Down House, p. 223

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Vacation means ministry

Time for vacation? For many of us, that's what at least part of summer means. A couple of years ago we posted a piece by CJ Mahaney on godly, fatherly leadership which lives to serve our wives and children while on vacation. Since, that piece was so helpfully received by so many of us men who tend to make our vactations worse through self-service, we want to point you to it again. You can read it here.

At the same time, lest we think that vacation time equals ministry time only for fathers and husbands, think again as you consider the following words from Paul Tripp:

"Imagine going on a family vacation without realizing that life and ministry are one. Instead, you see vacation as an opportunity to separate yourself from the normal routine and duties of daily life. The flaw in that logic is pretty simple. If you brought sinners in the car with you, then you've brought ministry, too. So, when you're down the road all of about three miles, and already your children are arguing about who is intruding into whose personal space, you can't believe it. You tell them, not too politely, that you feel like turning around and going home. You tell them you're not paying all this money just so they can do in a different and much more expensive location all the same despicable things they do at home. Your voice gets louder as you become more irritated. It doesn't seem like a vacation anymore.

What's gone wrong? You have forgotten to live with a ministry mentality....God loves your children and has put them in a family of faith: your family. In his restorative zeal, he will expose their sin to you so that you can be his tool of rescue and redemption for them. Ever intent on his mission, he will again and again expose their need (for redemption) to you. And he won't wait for a convenient opening in your schedule." (Broken-Down House, pp. 194-195)

Tripp's words, along with Mahaney's, may be particularly apropos for us fathers. Yet, for any Christian vacationers - moms and kids included - God wants to use us to help point the sinners around us toward the Cross in hope of redemption and sanctified restoration. Therefore, vacation for Christians will never mean complete relaxation. It will involve sin, tension and demand Christ-hoping resolution (loving rebuke and forgiveness). Too often our problem on vacation is we demand what we cannot yet have: a moment in time without sin. We'll have to wait till heaven for that. Meanwhile, let's go on vacation armed for ministry.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Christ to our rescue

I am good at it
a skill
I don't think I ever
had to learn.
It resides in my
heart.
It is an anti-social
instinct,
but it shapes my
relationships.
I am able to look at people
and not see
people.
My craving
heart
reduces them to
vehicles that deliver or
obstacles in the way
of what I want.
My only
hope
for me is that
You are not like me.
You are
Love
and You are
delivering me
from me.

- "You are not like me" a poem by Paul Tripp, BDH, p. 162

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Owen - free of charge

Last Sunday I taught through John Owen's masterwork "Of Temptation" to help us in our own journey toward greater sanctification. Along the way I mentioned that Owen's three books on sin and temptation have recently been updated in a helpful way to make them more readable to a modern audience, yet retaining all the original substance.

Today I discovered that this modern reprint of Owen's works on sin and temptation is available on-line for free. You can find it here.

HT: Wade Talley

Friday, May 21, 2010

Want to go to jail?

One of the most overlooked and neglected but ripe mission fields in Minot is the Ward County Jail. For many years a handful of faithful men from Trinity have led a Thursday evening Bible study with inmates in order to point them to hope in Jesus.
Recently, Matt Carr informed me of their present need for men to help out. He writes,
"In order to hold a Bible study for the inmates, we need to have two male volunteers. We would love to find more Bible study leaders, but even if you don't feel equipped to lead, we'll take you! Having the second volunteer means the difference between being able to have the Bible study or having to cancel. If we have to cancel consistently, we will lose our time-slot, and other groups (including some representing non-Christian religions) would love to have it.
I have been a 'second man' for several years now, and my experiences attending jail Bible studies have been helpful in my own walk with Christ. Through the studies presented by the leaders, I have learned a lot. Through discussions with the inmates, I have grown in my ability to communicate what I believe. During the time I have participated in this ministry, I have seen many seeds planted and have even seen some take root and grow."
If you have questions or interest in this kingdom opportunity, please contact Matt (727-6808) or Dave Steen (839-3267).

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Being godly hearers

Last Sunday I walked my Sunday School class through Richard Baxter's wise directions for profitably listening to the Word of God preached. Today, I came across a quote on the same topic worth sharing from Calvin's Preaching by THL Parker:

"The task of the congregation, as Calvin portrays it, is a continuous life-long battle against their own rebelliousness, apathy and arrogance in favor of God's teaching and call. The members of the congregation, no less than the preacher, need continually to pray, 'Come, Holy Spirit!'" (p. 53).

What a blessing to get to preach weekly to a congregation which delights in that task!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Can a person be a Christian Muslim?

In Matthew 10:34-39 Jesus said, "Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person's enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it."

Nevertheless, this video reveals a new, very influential trend in missions:


Following Jesus from The Global Conversation on Vimeo.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Broken-Down House

In you've been following my posts in the past few weeks, you will have noticed many quotes and references made to Paul Tripp's book Broken-Down House. I read a lot of books - and I've read a lot of Paul's books (all of which are very good) - but I think this may be his best. In fact, this may be the single best book on helping us come to terms with our fallen condition and applying the healing power of the gospel to it that I've ever read. With that said, if you only have time for one extra-biblical book this year, make it Broken-Down House.
Here's Tripp, himself, describing what the book's about:

Friday, May 14, 2010

Waiting

Are you waiting for something? Are you waiting for a job offer, for your children to become more obedient or for your husband to become a Christian? Are you waiting for your body to feel better, for people to become as impassioned about your ministry niche as you are or for Prince Charming to finally ride into town and sweep you off your feet?

We're all waiting for something.

Paul Tripp helps us realize that our waiting is not lost on God. In fact, God is up to something good - something eternally important - in our waiting.

"Waiting is one of God's most powerful tools of grace. God doesn't just give us grace for the wait. The wait itself is a gift of grace. You see, waiting is not only about what you will receive at the end of the wait. Waiting is about what you will become as you wait.

Waiting is hard for us because we tie our hearts to other glories. We so often live for the glory of human acceptance, of personal achievement, of power and position, of possessions and places, and of comfort and pleasure. So, when God's glory requires that these things be witheld from us - things we look to for identity, meaning and purpose - we find waiting a grueling, burdernsome experience. Waiting means surrendering your glory....Waiting gives you opportunity to forsake the delusion of your own glory and rest in the God of awesome glory.

Waiting is not an interruption of God's plan. It is His plan. And you can know this as well: the Lord who has called you to wait is with you in your wait."

- Broken-Down House, pp. 117-119

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Modern Parables

Feel like watching a movie this weekend? Try a few of these parables from the Gospels recast in modern settings. Great fodder for family or small group discussion.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A chance to grow deeper

During my message on Sunday, I challenged the men of the church - especially the married men with children - to take the theological lead in the home. That includes going out of our way to be growing and learning at ever-deeper levels biblically and theologically.

Unlike many of our Christian forebears, we are virtually surrounded by resources to build ourselves up in our faith today. Some of the best are available for free on the internet through Reformed Theological Seminary, the school through which I'm currently furthering my own education. You can access a theological treasure trove to take you deeper in Christ and the Scriptures through RTS here.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Legalism defined

Tomorrow morning in Sunday School we're going to hear the nearly 400 year old voice of Jeremiah Burroughs point us away from earthly-mindedness. Toward the end of our time together, we're going to attempt to understand how a holy passion which flees earthly-mindedness through, sometimes, making strict lifestyle choices, is different from sinful legalism. This is an important matter because the two are often confused today in Christian circles. What is sinful legalism? Here's a definition for you to chew on:

Sinful legalism = striving to obey the law of God in order to find rest of soul rather than resting in Christ's accomplishment of the law on our behalf, and/or imposing extra-biblical lifestyle requirements on oneself and/or others in order to sense acceptance from God.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Satan's limitations

A quote from our Men's Theological Training group material really encouraged me last night. If you're a Christian, I hope it encourages you, too. It should also give us more incentive to share the gospel with the lost in our world.

"The only weapon the devil can use [against us] is our sin. Nobody goes to hell because they are oppressed by the devil or even possessed by the devil. Nobody goes to hell because they are harassed by the devil or get shot at by the devil or given halluncinations by the devil. These are all smoke-screens to hide the one deadly power in Satan's artillery, namely, unforgiven sin. The only reason anybody goes to hell is because of their own sin. And all Satan can do is fight like hell to keep you sinning and to keep you away from the One Who forgives sin."

- John Piper, "Jesus Is Able To Help Those Who Are Tempted," on-line sermon at desiringgod.org

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Boring faithfulness to the glory of God

It's Spring and that means - mission trip mailings! This time of year, many of our mailboxes are inundated with requests for prayer and money from young Christians heading to the four corners of the earth this summer on some mission trip. Many of the trips might be truly developmental, gospel-oriented and helpful to national churches. I hope they are. But, personally, I'd trade fifty, geared up twenty year olds heading out to save the world in two weeks for one twenty year old satisfied with staying home in order to humbly, quietly serve in his or her local church long term.

Yes, we need missionaries, but I can't help but wonder if what we need even more are young people commited to showing up for church each Sunday, eager to serve those around them in quiet, gospel-driven ways with no fanfare. That's the stuff the Kingdom of God is made of.

Kevin DeYoung explores this theme further in this article.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Our childrens' darkness

Last week, as I began preaching on 'Wise Parenting' from Proverbs, I talked about how wise parents understand their children from a biblical perspective - which includes coming to grips with the painful fact that our children's hearts are not naturally good but extensively depraved (see Jeremiah 17:9, Romans 3:10ff., etc.).

Modern Americans practically, if not self-consciously, deny much biblical truth. Perhaps the chief doctrine most quickly denied is the natural depravity of our children. I recently came across a telling example of that in Dave Cullen's journalisitc re-telling of the worst school shooting in American history in his book Columbine. As we all remember, the question on everyone's lips following the massacre was 'Why? What influenced Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold to commit such a crime?' Cullen writes:

"National polls taken shortly after the attack would identify all sorts of culprits contributing to the tragedy: violent movies, video games, Goth culture, lax gun laws, bullies and Satan. Eric did not make the list. Dylan didn't either. They were just kids. Something or someone must have led them astray."

- Dave Kullen, Columbine, p. 107

Without minimizing the very real influence of wicked, outside forces, most people - especially parents - insist on seeing people as morally neutral, blank slates whose direction in life for good or bad is largely or entirely influenced by external agents. Not only does the Bible tell a different story entirely, it does so for a crucial reason. Unless we help our children understand their inherent wickedness (due to the Fall), they will never utter Paul's cry in Romans 7:24, "Wretched man that I am, who will rescue me from this body of death?" And without such a painful realization, they will never feel the joyful liberation of v. 25, "Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!" As painful as it is for us to face, the best gift we can give our children is a compassionately communicated but straight-forward assessment of their dark hearts. Only then will our gospel proclamation to them be meaningful, life-changing and God-glorifying.

Friday, April 30, 2010

How the gospel affects parenting

This Sunday we begin a two week exploration of the theme of wise parenting in Proverbs. In preparation, we have stocked our book table with some of the best resources on parenting from a decidedly Christ-centered perspective we could find. I hope you will take advantage of them. The best new book on this topic, in my estimation, is William Farley's Gospel-Powered Parenting. At one point he helpfully lists seven ways in which the gospel affects parents and parenting. May you profit from them as much as I have.

1. The gospel teaches Christian parents to fear God.

2. The gospel motivates parents to lead by example.

3. The gospel centers families in their male servant leaders.

4. The gospel teaches and motivates parents to discipline their children.

5. The gospel motivates parents to teach their children.

6. The gospel motivates parents to lavish their children with love and affection.

7. The gospel is the solution for inaequate parents.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Four Key Questions

Want to jump-start your heart and challenge your spiritual life? Take a few minutes to deeply ponder the following four questions. Even better, talk them over with your spouse, best friend, children and small group.

1. What are you most loving and devoting your affections and attention to these days? What gets you most excited? If you asked the people who know you at work, school, your neighborhood, Facebook, etc. to tell you what they think your greatest loves are, what would they say? How would their answers compare with Matthew 22:37? (look it up)

2. The Bible draws a direct connection between our practical, visceral grasp of the depth of our sin and unworthiness and how much we prize its antidote - the gospel of God's grace to us in Christ (see I Timothy 1:12-17). To what extent are you investing time and building relationships in order to further expose the depth of your mutual sin and exalt the glory of the Cross and Who Jesus is for you?

3. Are you (and your spouse and/or children if you're married) pursuing the most godly, Bible-saturated, gospel-loving people you know as your best friends and closest confidants? See Proverbs 13:20.

4. Are God's non-negotiable priorities the 'sun' of your life, marriage and family around which everything else revolves? Do you quickly sacrifice your earthly pursuits when they're in competition with or threaten to marginalize eternal ones? See Matthew 6:33 & Hebrews 10:23-25.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Limited to the glory of God

"Every human being is essentially subject to three foundational limits. We are limited in wisdom, in power and in righteousness....Knowledge and acceptance of these three limits is essential to productive living in this fallen world....None of us should give way to the smug assurance of arrival. All of us should be living as students, desiring to be truly wise. And all of us would benefit from the commitment to listen more, study more, question more, and speak less."

- Paul Tripp, Broken-Down House, pp. 69-70

What we can learn from an athiest

So, who's more off target - a notorious athiest or the adherents of liberal 'Christian' churches? Find out here.

HT: Ron Molzahn

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Male Crisis?

For a number of years from various quarters I've been hearing about the increasing lack of male commitment to the church, gospel zeal and willingness to sacrifice for the sake of Christ's Kingdom. Our missionary church planter in Toulouse, France, Michael Gibbons, weighs in on the topic and its impact on contemporary missions here.

Do you agree that most young, Christian men today are little more than grown up kids committed more to X-Box and their hunting buddies than the gospel and Christ's church? Or, have twenty and thirty-something Christian guys always been this self-absorbed and willing to let the ladies take the lead for the Kingdom's advancement? How would the Scriptures direct us to address this crisis? What role might God be calling you to play?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

She smiled at me!

That thought struck with humbling clarity this morning as I made my way through WalMart. On my way from the cash register to the door, I passed an older lady who smiled at me. Amazing!

How so? What's the big deal about a person's passing smile? Quite a lot in light of what Romans 3:10-12 says about who I naturally am:

None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good, not even one.

In light of that text, that lady had more reason to hit me with her cane than smile at me. In spite of my sin (and yours), God has flooded our world with marks of His grace - including the passing smile of a stranger in WalMart.

Our flesh is wired to complain about what's going wrong in our world today. Instead, let's silence its God-dishonoring lips with the awestruck wonder of seeing and delighting in the many, many evidences of God's kindness to us. The sun didn't have to shine in Minot today, but by God's grace it is. What a display of His love! Did your car start this morning? Amazing! Did your children wake up this morning, instead of dying in the night like your sins deserve? Yet another display of God's grace. It surrounds us like an ocean of love. Unfortunately, because we swim in it every day, we so rarely see it. Let's make this day different. Before today is done, let's take time to notice the little gifts from God (like how our hands coordinate perfectly with our brains) as well as the big ones (like how our convinction of sin drives us back to the Cross) and let our Godward, awestruck praise flow!

Friday, April 16, 2010

God cares, so should we

One the too rarely discussed and prayed for topics among American Christians is the global crisis of sex trafficking, the wholesale exploitation of women, girls and boys in the developing world. Here are some facts we need to consider:

  • The US State Department estimates that close to 800,000 women and children are trafficked against their will across national borders every year for sale/exploitation.

  • UNICEF states that from two to four million women and children are currently in the sex trade system

  • Every year $32 billion is spent by commercial sex trade 'consumers

  • 16,000 'sex slaves' are imported by the US every year

  • Sudan - where our African sister church is located - is one of the most prolific nations for sex trafficking
James 1:27 states, "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained from the world."

What can we do?

1. Pray. God alone has the power to overthrow the international sex trade to His glory. Pray that God would raise up courageous national churches in the developing world to stand against the sex trade and do their part to rescue and give a new life to women, girls and boys who are enslaved to this system of destruction. In particular, pray for the development of a new sex trade rescue center called Mukti in Calcutta, India which is being led by EFCA Indian partner churches.

2. Learn more. In order to pray more specifically and, perhaps, for you to get involved in a tangible way at some point in order to help eleviate this God-dishonoring system in the developing world, educate yourself more fully through the following websites:

http://www.ijm.org/
http://www.sistersinservice.org/
http://www.freedomfirm.org/

To receive the newsletter from our TouchGlobal missionaries working with sex trade victims in Asia, send your request to Asia.Women@efca.org

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Christianity powerfully explained

I have recently come across the clearest, most compelling article explaining the gospel and its transforming, liberating power for sinners I have ever read. It is worth not only pondering deeply but sharing with our yet unbelieving friends. Read it here.

HT: Dawn Talley

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The goal of evangelism

I recently attended a promotional event for a Christian camp. According to the various speakers, the camp is a successful ministry and is being mightily used by God because such and such a number of campers 'made decisions' to follow Christ. That's a predictable scenario at Christian fundraising events, but we need to ask ourselves if this is a good and biblical measure of ministry success. More to the point, are 'decisions' the goal of Christian evangelism? Tim Keller helpfully answers this question as follows:

"The 'Great Commission' is not just a call to 'make disciples' but to 'baptize'. In Acts and elsewhere, it is clear that baptism means incorporation into a worshipping community with accountability and boundaries (cf. Acts 2:41ff.). Much traditional evangelism aims to get a 'decision' for Christ. Experience, however, shows us that many of these 'decisions' disappear and never result in changed lives. Why? Many, many decisions are not really conversions, but often only the beginning of a journey of seeking God. (Other decisions are very definitely the moment of a 'new birth,' but this differs from person to person.) Only a person who is being evangelized in the context of an on-going worshipping and shepherding community can be sure of finally coming home into vital, saving faith." (source unknown)

Only one on-going, worshipping and shepherding community is presented in the Bible: the local church. Therefore, even if a person comes to faith in Christ outside of the local church, they should be quickly and deeply integrated for their dicipleship and maturation. The Bible simply offers no category for a believer (new or old) who is disconnected from the local church.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Remembering who we are

"I am not what I ought to be;
I am not what I want to be;
I am not what I hope to be in another world;
but still I am not what I used to be;
by the grace of God I am what I am."

- John Newton

Friday, April 9, 2010

The logic of election

"I can choose to eat whatever food I prefer. I cannot, however, choose my preferences. In the spiritual birth, we are given new 'taste buds' so that for the very first time we can choose to do good things [including responding to the gospel with faith and repentance] because we have been given new desires, or preferences, for the good."

- Rod Takata, Ruling elder at Bethlehem Baptist Church

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Dating's Downfall

In recent years some strong critique against traditional dating has been marshalled by conservative Christians in favor of a more old-world, courtship model. I won't dispute the many benefits of replacing dating with courtship. At the same time, unless courtship faces up to the fundamental sinfulness of both parties and their desperate need for the gospel, courtship, as much as dating, may add up to a form of false advertising and portend future heartache on both sides. Paul Tripp agrees:

"Honestly, most dating [or courtship] is only about half a step from used-car sales. Stay with me here! To put it bluntly but accurately, the idea in Western culture dating is to sell yourself [or, in courtship to sell your son or daughter]. The last thing you want is for the other person to really get to know you. Consequently, a man who doesn't like to shop will suddenly be saying things like, 'Sure honey, I would love to go to another twelve stores to look for those special shoes you have in mind.' A woman who doesn't appreciate sports will find herself volunteering to watch sports with her date and his buddies for hour upon endless, grueling hour.

Having presented one another with only their best behavior, the man and woman each convince themselves that they have found a nearly perfect person. As they move toward that day when they will actually begin living together in the world's most comprehensive relationship, they do not factor into their expectations the difficulties of life in this broken-down house of a world. Then, when the marriage takes an unexpected turn they are shocked, saddened, and utterly unprepared. Six months after the wedding, the wife is crying and saying, 'This is not the man I married!' But, of course, he is. He is precisely the man she married. It's the guy she dated who was the fake."

- Paul David Tripp, Broken-Down House, pp. 27-28

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Job's key to unlock Philippians 2:3-4

We're all wired to 'think more highly of ourselves than we ought' (Rom. 12:3) and consider others' needs/desires primarily when its to our advantage or convenient. Therefore, Philippians 2:3-4 is one of the most challenging texts in the Bible:

"Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others."

We only need to keep reading to discover the primary, theological key to winning this war against selfishness as Paul, in vv. 5-11, holds up the ultimate 'exhibit A' of other-centered sacrificial service: Christ's incarnation and death on the Cross in our place.

This morning as I was studying my Bible I came across a second key to unlock selflessness toward others in Job 31. Verse 15 reads, "Did not he who made me in the womb make him? And did not one fashion us in the womb?" In the process of defending his fair treatment toward others, Job bases his pattern of selfless, other-centered service on the fact that the people in his life were made by God every bit as much as he was. They have hopes, dreams and a mission in life from God as much as he does. They were made in the image of God as much as he was. Therefore, it would be wrong to put his agenda ahead of theirs or act like they exist to serve his desires. No, their lives were every bit as valuable as his. Consequently, he devoted his life not only to serving God (see Job 1:1) but to serving others.

Who in your world are you tempted to marginalize or manipulate to serve your agenda today? All of us have someone we generally take for granted or treat more like a possession than a person. Let's not only use Paul's picture of Christ the Servant in Philippians 2 to fight our naturally selfish instincts today, let's use Job's example of remembering that the people in our lives are every bit as important as we are. They, too, were made by God.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

The danger of going too far

For decades the debate over our interpretation of the creation account in Genesis 1 & 2 has been lively, not only in American culture but within conservative Christian circles. A number of hermeneutical issues are at play, including debates over genre, language, literary context and theological intent.

While there may be room for differences of opinion regarding some of these interpretive elements, we must be careful to hold with an indefatigable grip to the historicity of the account and the reality of Adam, Eve and the serpent. Considering the fact that Paul grounds our justification in Romans 5 and our glorification in I Corinthians 15 by assuming a literal Adam (our federal head in death) failing God's test in a literal garden, setting the stage for our salvation in a literal Jesus (our federal head in life), the historicity of the persons and events of Genesis 1 & 2 must be maintained.

In light of that, I am saddened and concerned by recent comments made on this subject by one of my scholar-heros. Watch and consider carefully if he is not giving away too much in his pursuit of scholarship:

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A model from the mountains

Are you enjoying a regular feast of God's Word in your diet of daily disciplines? Personally, I find a reading plan or structure of some kind helpful as a guide to set my study on a given course to give me direction. Sometimes, the most enriching way to study the Bible is to choose a single book and soak in its pages long and deep. That doesn't have to involve reading commentaries (though it could). It might just involve reading and re-reading until the message of the book is part of you. Our good friend and Colorado church planter, Vince Black, recently let me know what his current study of God's Word looks like:

"I took the month of March to read and study through the book of Galatians in my personal reading. I don't have a schedule to get through a certain amount of reading but I try to read through the entire letter in one sitting. I've done that now for 31 days. It has been extremely helpful in my understanding of the argument of the letter. I think I will start in on the Minor Prophets in April in much the same way."

Intricate study of the book of the Bible using outside sources is helpful in many ways, but it's hard to beat simply reading and re-reading and then reading again a book all the way through to get a clear sense of how its entire message hangs together. May Vince's example inspire us to take up the Book and read, re-read and then read again.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Faith Isn't Just Fire Insurance

True saving faith is not simply a matter of believing in Christ because you are afraid of going to hell; faith is not simply a matter of avoiding punishment where you do not have any desire to love and enjoy Christ. Rather, true saving faith means that you come to a deep, heartfelt conviction of how precious Christ is, and 'account all things loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus our Lord' (Philippians 3:8). You come to see Christ as all your salvation and happiness (Colossians 3:1).

True saving faith also means that you love every part of Christ's salvation - holiness as well as forgiveness of sins. It means that you earnestly desire God to 'create in you a clean heart and a right spirit' as well as 'hide his face from your sins' (Psalm 51:9-10). Do not be like those who care nothing about Christ at all, except to be delivered from hell. 'Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.' (Matthew 5:6)

- Walter Marshall, The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification, p. 51

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Sudan Prayer Request

I just got word today from our ReachGlobal contacts in Africa that AIM, the missionary aviation ministry we typically use to fly into Sudan, has announced plans to pull all of their workers out of Sudan at the present time in preparation for the election of officials in Southern Sudan. AIM has made this decision based on the fact that things in Sudan could get violent depending on the outcome of the vote.

Where does that leave us regarding the one or two remaining 2010 trips we had planned to return to Sudan to continue our Community Health Evangelism training? We're not sure. Lord willing, the elections will be peacable and Southern Sudan will remaina peaceful place to send our missionaries. So please pray that our God might give us wisdom to assess the unfolding situation well and make decisions which are both biblically wise and most helpful to our brothers and sisters in Labone Payam.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

'Quiet Time' Killer

We've all been there - seated comfortably in a chair with Bible in hand in some early morning or late evening hour when all is still, ready to engage with God through study and prayer - yet we feel numb and far from God, desensitized to the eternal Word which should be leaping off the page and driving us to our knees in fervent prayer. What's wrong?

Many things could be wrong, including many natural, physical realities (like too little sleep, on-coming illness, lack of exercise leading to general lethargy, etc.). Or the problem may be spiritual. Why don't we have more fruitful experiences of rich communion with God? Possibly because our orientation since we last sought God's face has been decidedly earthly-minded.

Jerremiah Burroughs points to this when he writes, "You complain many times of your vain thoughts in the performance of holy duties. You cry out of dead spirits then, but here lies the cause: you have given yourself up so much to the things of the world at other times that, when you come to converse with God, your hearts are so dead and dull....Oh, how many prayers have been spoiled by an earthly heart!" (A Treatise on Earthly-Mindedness, p. 46)

We cannot expect fruitful and fully-engaged quiet times unless we make a concerted effort to spend the rest of our time in a generally God/gospel-oriented frame of mind/spirit. That does not mean we should live like monks, read only Christian books, listen to only Christian music or seclude ourselves from unbelievers. It means that whatever we do (I Cor. 10:31), we should do with an eye toward pleasing God out of a delight in His grace. Such a Godward orientation in the ebb and flow of life sets us up for rich seasons of biblical study and prayer in our private devotional lives and with our families during daily, family worship. By contrast, even the most disciplined daily devotional habits cannot make up for a general orientation of earthly-mindedness.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Out of Africa

Tomorrow it will be two weeks since we left Minot for our third mission trip to Sudan. We are currently in Kandern, Germany for a few days to encourage our Trinity missionary friends David and Helen McCormack. Though we plan to give a full report during the worship service one week from today, let me briefly fill you in on our trip thus far:

1. Leadership Training. Last year we began the long-term training of Sudanese church leaders. This trip we've been able to build on that, teaching on such subjects as Christian leadership character development, prayer, how the Bible fits together from Genesis to Revelation, etc. As usual, we were prepared to teach on much more than we actually had time for. One of the best aspects of our instruction this trip was growth in the number of pastors we were able to train. By God's grace, we taught men from five different communities.

2. Community Health Evangelism. Most of our time in Labone, Sudan was spent presenting a vision seminar for CHE to the church and village leaders (including two chiefs), helping them understand what CHE is so they can make an informed decision about inviting us back or not to continue training them in it. Most of our CHE training focused on understanding worldview, the difference between relief and development and the importance of those in need taking ownership for solutions to the problems they face. In the next month we'll be waiting to hear from our African friends to see if they want us to continue training them in CHE. If so, we'll likely have at least one more trip to train them intensively in CHE principles later this year.

3. California Partnership. This trip was unique in that three leaders from a church in California joined us during our time in Africa, exploring the possibility of forming a partnership with us in training our friends in Labone in the future. Please be in prayer with us for them as they spend the coming weeks talking and praying about that possibility.

4. Kibera. After our time in Sudan, we had the chance to spend two days in Nirobi, Kenya and visit some Christian ministries reaching out to children in the largest slum in the world: Kibera. Through a school, food program and orphanage, we witnessed amazing ministry to some of the poorest people in the urbanized world. The sacrificial efforts of these saints on a daily basis was a great encouragement and challenge to us all.

5. Germany. When I was in college, I'll never forget a missionary telling our church that the greatest encouragement to those on the field is to have Christian friends from their sending church travel to visit them and witness their ministry first hand. That's what Howard, Nathan and I have been doing for the last three days here in Kandern. Friday we spent time with David McCormack at Black Forest Academy's High School campus, watching him teach, getting a tour of the facility and meeting faculty, staff and students. Today we worshiped with Black Forest Christian Fellowship, the church connected to BFA, and spent extra time with its elders and deacons. Tomorrow we will join Helen at BFA's elementary campus and get to see her in action as she helps teach special-needs students. The McCormacks are a true blessing to this school and a help to the ministries of their students' parents who are serving on the mission field all over the world.

Tuesday morning we'll board a plane in Basel, Switzerland for the three final flights which will bring us home. It's been a very fruitful trip, but we can't wait to get home and share much more with you about what we've seen God doing in other parts of the world.