Friday, February 26, 2010

Mission Possible

Just three days from now, Howard Rodgers, Nathan Pitchford and I will be heading back to Labone, Sudan to continue our partnership with the EFC of Sudan in that region. This trip will consist of four goals:

1. Conduct 'phase two' of training Sudanese church leaders which we began in March 2009. This trip's training will include continuing a series of 'basic theology' lessons we began last time, training in the use of ESV Study Bibles which we are bringing for the pastors and a focus on their own modeling of sanctification as shepherds of God's flock.

2. Conduct 'phase one' of CHE (community health evangelism), presenting a vision and initial training seminar to village leaders in anticipation of their desire to be trained on an on-going basis toward their own implementation of community health initiatives led by the local church as a bridge toward building gospel-oriented relationships.

3. Working with a team of three men from a church in California as they explore their desire to potentially partner with us in our mission to the church in Labone, Sudan. They will be assessing whether or not they will commit to join us in a long-term missions partnership to the Sudanese church.

4. Encourage our missionary friends, David and Helen McCormack, and get a sense of their ministry context in Kandern, Germany where they teach missionary children at Black Forest Academy. We are thankful for the opportunity we will have to spend a few days with them on our return trip from Sudan.
Please be in prayer for God to work in and through us every step of the way. May the growing Kingdom of Christ be built up and furthered through this trip to the glory of God.

P.S. As you can imagine, I won't be posting on the blog while I'm away.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

God's Elusive Will?

Among other things, this Sunday's message on Proverbs 8 will find us exploring the question of how we can discover God's will. Are we supposed to pray for constant direction in decision-making? How much weight should we give 'impressions' we feel from the Lord? Questions like these have produced a lot of anxiety for Christians over the years - including yours truly.

To give you an indication of where we'll be going, consider the following quote from Kevin DeYoung:

God is not a Magic 8-Ball we shake up and peer into whenever we have a decision to make. He is a good God who gives us brains, shows us the way of obedience, and invites us to take risks for Him.

- Kevin DeYoung, Just Do Something, p. 26

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Husbands and Wives

Since we've been talking about 'wise marriage' according to Proverbs, it seems apropos to post a quote written by Ray Ortlund Jr. from his blog at The Gospel Coalition which Greg Demme recently put me on to. It succinctly summarizes Ephesians 5:33 [...let each one of you love his wife as himself and let the wife see that she respects her husband] better than I've ever heard.

God made Adam first and put him in the Garden with a job to do, a mission to fulfill. In the heart of every fallen man is the self-doubt that wonders, "Am I man enough to climb this mountain God has called me to? Can I fulfill my destiny?" A wise wife will understand that question at the center of her husband's heart. And she will spend her life answering it, communicating to him in various ways, "Honey, I believe in your call. I know you can do this, by God's power. Go for it." In this way, she will breathe life into her man.

God made Eve from Adam, for Adam, to help him follow the call. In the heart of every fallen woman is the self-doubt that wonders, "Do I please you? Am I what you wanted?" A wise husband will understand that question at the center of his wife's heart. And he will spend his life answering it, communicating to her in various ways, "Darling, you are the one I need. I cherish you. Let me hold you close." In this way, he will breathe life into his wife.

Monday, February 22, 2010

What's a wife to do?

The last two Sundays we've focused, in Proverbs 5-7, on the unique challenges and responsibilities we men face as leaders in biblical marriage. Our task is weighty, profound and difficult, yet crucial to showing Christ to our wives and the world.

As a result of these recent messages, I could well imagine a married woman asking, "What am I supposed to do in light of what God calls my husband to in our marriage?" I could equally imagine a woman who listened the last two weeks concluding, "That's great for heroicly sanctified men, but my husband doesn't AT ALL match up to the picture of biblical love you painted. What am I supposed to do?"

Three answers come to mind:

1. Pray. As Proverbs 5, 6 & 7 make clear, the biblical burden on men in marriage is monumental and simply impossible without God's help. Ladies, we need your intercession so much because we need God's grace. He can soften and reshape even the most hardened, male heart.

2. Get help. Sometimes a Christian woman finds herself in a marriage with a husband who is connected to the church but is unwilling to admit his need to grow toward her in love and service. He may be locked in a pattern of sin and pride which he denies - or is blind to. Though a woman in such a marriage cannot change her husband, she does have biblical recourse to go to the elders of the church who are responsible for her husband's discipleship and growth. No Christian woman married to a recalcitrantly sinful, church-going man need ever stay in fear, hiding or despair. Ladies, as elders we want your husband's sanctification as much as you do. If your man is caught in a pattern of sin and is unwilling to get help, please come to us. By God's grace, we will seek to help him.

3. Focus on Jesus. All of you ladies probably wish that your husbands were sinlessly stellar in their Christlike love for you. Who wouldn't? Despite the fact that we elders want your husband to grow in his loving leadership in your marriage, his occasional sin is actually a blessing because it reminds you that only Jesus is the perfect Husband your heart was made for. If your husband was perfect, you would sinfully idolize him and turn away from God. Therefore, rather than growing bitter or discouraged about your husband's sins, let them prove an opportunity to remind you that only Jesus fully satisfies. Some of your husband's biggest flaws can present an opportunity for your own Christ-centered worship.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Christ for Kids

Two wonderful resources specially designed for helping kids grasp the message of the Cross have landed on the booktable (located in the library) at church:

Mighty Acts of God, a redemptive-historical Bible story book
edited by Starr Meade

The Prince's Poison Cup by RC Sproul is a compelling allegory of the Atonement. We've sold out of the books already, but have four copies
of RC reading his allegory left - for only $5.00 apiece. My boys love it and get it! To learn more, watch the following trailer:

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Memorizing the Message

I mentioned last Sunday how the wisdom of Proverbs was custom-made to be memorized more than any other type of biblical literature. Therefore, over the course of the coming months we're going to be incrimentally memorizing Proverbs 3:1-18 together as a congregation. Why that text? Because, if chapters 1-9 lay the theological foundation for the book, chapter 3 - especially the early sections of the chapter - communicate the heart of biblical wisdom, particularly verses 5-8.

For the next month or so we're going to be concentrating on verses 1-2:

My son, do not forget my teaching,
but let your heart keep my commandments,
for length of days and years of life and peace
they will add to you.

You'll see those verses again on Sunday, but don't wait until Sunday to review them. You may want to make it a daily practice in your quiet time and/or begin reviewing them at breakfast or supper time with your family.

Most importantly, don't just memorize this text - think about it, pray through it, impress it upon your wife and children and ask God to help you love its truth. Memorization is only meaningful when it moves from our minds to our hearts and lives.

Friday, February 12, 2010

A Gospel Tonic for Discouraged Parents

We've all been there - nearly ready to throw in the parenting towel due to a vicious combination of our childrens' collective sins and our sinful response to them. We brought our children into the world as we bathed them in prayer and armed ourselves with the biblical tools and confidence to be super-parents. But in the years since, chronic sin in the house has dashed our dreams and left us with a deep sense of failure and guilt. Can anyone relate?

It's a good thing that parenting, according to the Bible, has never been about 'success.' In his book Think Orange, Reggie Joiner encouarges us away from the Christian 'parenting success syndrome' by reminding us of some important facts, including that ever since the Fall, the human race has been one, big dysfunctional family. Joiner writes,

Where do we find truly 'successful' families in the Bible?

  • Noah had a drinking problem.

  • Abraham offered his wife to another man.

  • Rebekah schemed with her son to deceive her husband.

  • Jacob's sons sold their brother into slavery.

  • David had an affair and his son started a rebellion.

  • Eli lost total control of how his boys acted in church.

Joiner challenges us as Christian parents to stop obsessing about the successful obedience of our children (and our parenting skills). Instead, he writes,

What would happen if parents began to see the family in the same way believers should view the church, as a human part of God's design to demonstrate who He is to the world? Don't miss the significance of that vantage point. Our humanness does not prevent God from using us; it is our humanness [read: sinfulness] that actually becomes the platform from which He demonstrates His power, goodness and love to His people. It is an amazing thought when you realize that both the church and the home are comprised of broken, imperfect people through whom God has chosen to tell His story.

What if it's not God's plan for parents or leaders to restore the church and the home to a sublime, utopian state? What if, instead, it's God's plan to do an amazing work within the church and the home in order to put His grace on display? (p. 47)

He then goes on to strategically apply this gospel-centered perspective on parenting to our ministry in the church:

If you're a church leader, your purpose is not to equip parents to have exceptional parenting skills. If you set unrealistic expectations, you may create an atmosphere in which parents become discouraged and children get disillusioned....It is critical to guard our mindset and stay focused on the primary role of the family...God is at work telling a story of restoration and redemption through our families (p. 48).

Raising kids isn't about them or about us, it's about displaying the glory of the gospel.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Are You Spiritual Or Earthly?

A spiritual man is spiritual in earthly things. One of a spiritual mind is more heavenly and spiritual when he is about his calling, though it be the lowest, like cutting hedges, digging ditches, pulling ropes or lines, or using his axe or hammer. He is more spiritual at these than is an earthly man when he is praying or hearing [a sermon] or receiving the sacraments. Certainly, it is so, and it will be found to be so at the great day of judgment, when all the secrets of all hearts shall be disclosed.

- Jeremiah Burroughs, A Treatise on Earthly-Mindedness, pp. 16-17.