Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Book Review: The Westminster Directory of Public Worship

The Westminster Directory of Public Worship (1645) discussed by Mark Dever & Sinclair Ferguson  By far the best part of this book was the section by Sinclair Ferguson explaining the position of the Puritans in regards to preaching and the history behind the writing of the Westminster Confessions and Directory.  I was amazed by how unbiblical and Roman Catholic much of the liturgy seemed.  The section on preaching was very helpful and insightful, but most of the rest of the Directory sees to have been a great improvement at the time but to need still greater improvement at this present time.  There is definitely a need for the church to be continually reforming.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Book Review: "Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire" by Jim Cymbala

Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire (1997) by Jim Cymbala This is a very good book that focuses on the need for prayer (and the lack thereof) in churches today.  He does a very good job of balancing the sovereignty of God with the responsibility of people, which is a difficult task indeed when handling the topic of prayer.  His call is simple and straight-forward, we need to stop focusing on the unimportant and come back to seeking God.  This book caused me on many occasions to stop and spend time seeking the face of God and cry out to Him through prayer.  I believe that this is a book I will recommend to many people in the future, as well as reading it semi-regularly myself.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Fourth Week of Advent - Emmanuel, God With Us

As we come to this last Sunday of advent our attention naturally turns toward Bethlehem, toward the manger, to the birth of our Lord and Redeemer, the Son of Man and the Son of God.  Jesus Christ, God in the flesh.  What we see at Christmas is the infinite, all-powerful, everlasting God taking on human flesh, being made in human likeness, and living amongst His created beings as Emmanuel, God with us.
To say that God is with us implies that at some point He was not, at least not in that intimate, Fatherly, saving fashion.  We don’t often think about that, about existence without God.  Have you ever been alone?  Distanced or estranged from family and friends, with no one to listen or care or draw near?  What did you desire in that moment, in that space of time?  To be understood?  Loved?  A caring voice?  A reassuring smile?  When we are alone we desire nothing more than the presence of another and that is what we received in the face of Jesus Christ, God with us.
What joy this brings!  When once alone, we have been brought into fellowship; when once a slave, we have been made family; when once an enemy, we have been given friendship!
As we light this last advent candle, we cannot really understand the joy that comes from knowing God is with us unless we first truly grasp how utterly alone we were.  It is good for us to spend time reflecting upon who we were before Christ, so that we can fully experience the joy that comes from knowing that God is with us.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Book Review: "Worship Matters" by Bob Kauflin

Worship Matters (2008) by Bob Kauflin  This is an excellent book that focuses around leading the singing portion of a church service.  The first two sections of the book (The Leader and The Task) are excellent but somewhat slow going at times due to the extremely theoretical nature to them (although Bob mixes many personal stories and experiences into these sections).  The next two sections (Healthy Tensions and Right Relationships) are much more applicational.  I would recommend this book to anyone who takes part in leading singing or is interested in learning more about worship, but for those who are short on time I would HIGHLY recommend simply reading Section 3 - Healthy Tensions.

Song Worth Sharing

This song pretty much sums up how where I've been at for the past few weeks.

So, I was sitting trying to pray about 1 1/2 weeks back and wrote two lines which I then tried to put into a song.  The lines were:
"Lord I just want you
Need you to break through"

So yeah, I tried and tried to write something from that, and all I could come up with was a melody.  So then I was humming that for a while, and started realizing it was the melody to a song.  After trying to figure out what the song was literally for about 4 days I got some words to it and looked it up on google, and wah-lah, here it is.  So, the funny thing is, this song that I've been humming (not knowing the words) for a while now is exactly what I've been feeling and thinking and trying to pray, so yeah, kinda crazy.  God actually brought me the song at the right time though, not too early or not too late.

So enjoy (FYI, in case you don't get this the first time through, this song is talking to God)


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Third Week of Advent - The Love of a Deliverer

Have you ever delivered someone from something?  Maybe it was a friend from a bully at school, or maybe it was your child who got a speeding ticket or spent the night in jail.  We don’t often use the term “deliverer” in our everyday speech.  It comes from the Latin “deliberare” and literally means “to free away from”, or to free from the grip of.
What have you been delivered from?
What does it take to deliver someone, to be someone’s deliverer?  If you deliver a friend from a bully, it may require your own comfort or your wellbeing.  If it is your child from a speeding ticket, it may require some of your hard earned money.  If it is your child from jail it may require your hard earned money, your comfort, AND your reputation.  By becoming a deliverer one always puts themselves in a position of jeopardy.  If you are to free someone or something from another’s grip you always put yourself at risk in the process.
What have you been delivered from?
As we light the third advent candle and think about the love that God displayed in sending his only Son to earth, let us remember that love is sacrifice.  No one possesses love more than the one who would lay down their life for a friend.  But Jesus, our deliverer, in coming to earth to set us free from the grips of sin, laid down his life for his enemies!
How great a love!  How great a friend!  How great a deliverer!

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Purifying Effects of Our Hope in our Future Glory

You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise...when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.
Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation - but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it.  For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship.  And by him we cry, "Abba,  Father."  Now if we are children, then we are heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.  I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.  The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed....Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.  For in this hope we were saved  But hope that is seen is no hope at all.  Who hopes for what he already has?....But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope.  For in Christ Jesus neither [following the law] or [not following the law] has any value.  The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

Are you suffering?  Are you suffering the effects of sin either from within or without?  We see sin in our own hearts and lives and we feel the sin from those around us that hurt us or discourage us.  These verses from Galatians and Romans remind us that our current sufferings are only temporary, and are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.  Did you know that the glory of Christ will be revealed in you?  Does your heart and soul groan under the burden of sin?  Does your spirit groan within you, begging God to remove sin from your life and from your heart?  Be reminded and encouraged that by faith we eagerly await, through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope.  We will receive a future glory, we will be transformed into the image and conformed to the likeness of Christ.  Right now our chains are gone, but then our sin will be gone!!  Hallelujah, what a savior!  What a promise.  What a redemption.  We were bought from slavery, we were set free from death and the grasp of sin, and one day we will be brought into perfection.

So be encouraged, keep fighting sin because yours is the victory in Christ Jesus.  Walk in the Spirit, putting to death the misdeeds of the body.  Commune with God in prayer, eagerly expecting and awaiting the glory that is to be yours.  In the words of John "I write this to you so that you will not sin, but when you do sin we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense - Jesus Christ the Righteous One.  He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins...We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands."  And he goes on to say "How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known.  But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.  Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure."

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Second Week of Advent - Our Hope in the Fountain of Living Water

In our world it is difficult to understand the idea of thirst and the desire that one can have for water.  Water is such a basic human need that when it goes unfilled it is literally impossible to focus on anything else.  I don’t understand what it means to be thirsty, so thirsty that it consumes me.  So thirsty that I would give anything for a drink of water, that I can’t think of anything but water.  I feel so dry…dry…dry…  This consumes my thoughts and feelings and desires and everything that I am in this moment.  That is what it means to thirst.
The imagery of thirsting after Jesus as for a fountain of water has been lost on us.  Thirsting for water?  Why?  If I’m thirsty for water then I just go to the spigot and get a drink.  And so with Jesus, when he says that he is the fountain of living water, when he says that he who is thirsty should come and I will give to him to drink, we imagine him to be something like a spigot.
When we thirst we come and turn the spigot on, and when we don’t we leave it behind.  And if we turn the spigot and nothing comes out we just go to another source to fulfill our desires.  So we fill ourselves with the soda of this world and the milk of the earth, rather than waiting on the fountain of living water.
As we light this second advent candle and think of the hope that we have in Christ, let us be reminded of Him as the fountain of living water, the one who gives freely to all who thirst after him, and let us wait on the Lord in eager expectation of the salvation that is ours.  Let us echo with the prophet when he says “as for me, I watch in hope for the LORD, I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me.”
Let us be reminded of our hope, and wait expectantly for the one who will quench every thirst.  Let us not be so consumed with the now that we fill ourselves with the soda of this world that will not satisfy, but instead let us look forward to the blessed hope that has been revealed in the face of Jesus Christ, waiting to be filled with the fullness of Him who is that which we truly thirst after.  May we allow ourselves to be thirsty for the Way, and the Truth, and the Life rather than being so quickly satisfied with that which will only make our stomachs sick.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Christmas Shopping

I question whether I should even be posting this, but it is something that has been on my mind.  I welcome any thoughts that come from this, whether they align with things I have said or question there validity.  Feel free to comment (I need all the Christmas shopping help I can get.....)

How should a Christian approach the cultural tradition of gift giving associated with Christmas?  What things should a Christian purchase for friends and family that points to the gospel and reflects the influence of the gospel in our lives?  I guess what I'm trying to say is this, as believers we are to be transformed by the grace given us through Jesus' sacrifice for us, and the truth of Scripture, and this transformation is to touch every area of our life, even our eating and drinking (Galatians 3).  If this is the case, then it means that the way in which we buy and give presents should be a reflection of the gospel at work in our hearts.

So here are some truths of Scripture, that to me seem to be inherently contradicted in the tradition of gift giving.

1) In James it says that we are not to judge another by their material possessions.  We are not to value one friend above another because of their financial situation.  This is in direct contradiction to the common practice of giving to those we think will give to us.  It is considered rude to not give presents to those who give to you, however it seems that the Scriptural teaching would be that we should give to those who CANNOT possibly give in return.  And this is in line with the gospel as well, which teaches that while we were yet sinners, completely and utterly unable to repay God, He came and gave us the greatest gift possible.

2) Jesus teaches in a number of different places against the hoarding of wealth or storing up treasures on earth.  In fact, he encourages the selling of our possessions in order to give the proceeds to those who are in real need.  I always struggle to know WHAT to buy for people around Christmas time.  I have no problem giving to others, I will frequently throughout the year give to those who are in need, but what do you buy for someone who needs nothing?  Should we even be buying things for those who need nothing?  I struggle to buy jewelry for someone who already has enough to wear a different set of earrings and different pair of jeans everyday for two weeks, a different shirt everyday for a month.  I think through the presents that I have bought around Christmas time, and I don't know of any time that I was really giving to address a real need.  So then I have to wonder, by my giving am I causing another to violate the very teachings of Scripture, and thereby, rather than imparting life as I should as one given life through the gospel, I am rather teaching them to desire material possessions as equal to or more important than God?

3) Jesus teaches that it is better to tie a millstone around our neck and be drowned than to teach a little one to sin.  I think of the things that we teach our children around Christmas about the joy of giving and receiving gifts.  How we teach them that we just cannot live correctly if we don't have a Christmas tree, lights, and presents.  The phrases that come out of people's mouth to their children about the NEED for buying presents, the priorities that are taught in the name of tradition, and I can't help but see these things as being in contradiction to Scripture.  If we were half as good at teaching our children the devastating nature of sin and our need for a savior as we are at teaching them how to find the perfect Christmas deals and the perfect Christmas presents we wouldn't have half as many children walking away from the church.  If we were half as adamant about the "right" nature of baptism and the "right" modes of repentance as were were about the "right" way to celebrate Christmas, maybe our children would see that God is really of importance to us and that our walk with him is a reality.

These are not easy things to address.  They are things that are so ingrained in our culture that they often don't even seem wrong on the outside.  We just do things the way they've always been done and assume they are right.  But what does God think of your Christmas shopping?  I'm definitely not saying that you should not go out and shop this year, but I think that there should be a healthy dose of considering why you are doing it, how you go about it, and what you will be buying.

In the end, my desire is that God be glorified through every action in our life.  My desire is that our hearts be right before God, that we not put things over him as more important, and that our love shines forth for all the world to see.  I will be out doing Christmas shopping this year.  I will lovingly give gifts to those whom I care about.  I will struggle, as everyone else, with what to get for them, and probably, like everyone else, end up getting them what they already have.  But my desire, above everything else, is that through my giving they may see the Gift that they have been given in Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, and that they might come to love him more and desire his presence in their life.