December 27, 2007

Preaching Schedule, Edited... include April (and the ending of the Judges series). Also, shortened a few of the titles. For the two of you who might actually print this out, sorry for the wasted paper.

Also, note that there is a sermon entitled Ten Shekels and a Shirt towards the end of Judges. My plan, right now, is to repreach (sort of) a powerful sermon by the same title preached by one Paris Reidhead. As I thought about preaching Judges 17-18, I couldn't imagine giving a better exposition and, especially, application than he has already done.

So, enjoy, prepare, and click to enlarge...

December 26, 2007

More than Notion

I’m winding down my annual trek through the Bible, reading the book of Revelation this last week of the year. This year, it seemed that there was a personal letter tucked in its pages…a letter addressed specifically to me. OK, actually the letter is addressed to the church at Ephesus, and it’s “angel” (literally messenger…maybe its pastor?). But it seems as though this letter could well be addressed to me. Maybe to you, too. It goes like this (Revelation 2.1-6):

To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: The One who holds the seven stars in His right hand, the One who walks among the seven golden lampstands, says this: 'I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false; and you have perseverance and have endured for My name's sake, and have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place--unless you repent. Yet this you do have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God.'

Let me summarize what I think Jesus means:

‘Dear Ephesians,

I see that your doctrine continues to be sound. You have kept pressing on in My work…doing the things you know you should. But something’s missing. It seems the fire doesn’t burn as brightly as it has. Yes, you’re continuing in good habits (maybe even building some new ones). But don’t forget that I want your heart as well as your habits. I want you to love Me like you did when you first believed…to find your heart beating a little faster at the thought of heaven; to be excited again to tell folks what’s happened to you; to be choked up once more when you think about the cross.

Don’t settle, Ephesians (or Cincinnatians), simply for being doctrinally sound (important as that is!). Remember that “true religion’s more than notion, something must be known and felt.”
[1] I must be known and felt. Press on in that true religion. You’ll find that it alone satisfies your spiritual hunger…both now and in eternity.

He who walks among His churches and knows your hearts’

Love is not simply shown through emotion. And feelings aren’t everything. But feelings are important to Jesus. And right emotions leading to loving actions are, I believe, what He is referring to in Revelation 2.1-6. So let’s be as doctrinally sound as we can in 2008. But let’s remember that “true religion’s more than notion, something must be known and felt.”

[1] From a hymn by Joseph Hart.

December 21, 2007

Pregnant Pause

I wrote this today, imagining what went through Zacharias’s mind when the angel Gabriel appeared to him (Luke 1.8-18); what he thought about in his year of silence (Luke 1.19-20); and how he was so ready to burst forth in messianic song as soon as his lips were opened (Luke 2.57-79). Highlighted sections are links to the Scripture passages I am paraphrasing/extrapolating.

I wish that I could speak—could shout—
And spread that angel’s words about
In villages among the hills;
In brothels where men get their thrills;
And temples where man’s pride is rife.
But I can’t even tell my wife.

How foolish I! How slow of heart!
I thought the horse behind the cart.
“This news—a son? That sounds absurd”
Was my reply to heav’nly word
From angel lips untried by sin.
“You see the wrinkles on my skin,
And come to me with stories wild:
‘Old Zach and Lizzie bear a child!’
I’ve prayed, I know—that’s what priests do—
And told my wife about it too.
She’s smiles, looks down, and bats her eyes
Like girls whose hope is to disguise
A crush. She tucks her hair, now gray
Behind her ears. ‘What can I say’
She says, ‘but God is truly good.’

She’s just been saying what she should.
But how can I believe this news?
Messiah comes to save the Jews—
And old Zach and Elizabeth
Will bear a son to blaze His path!
Come on! How’ bout you show a sign,
To prove that this is God’s design."

Those were the last words that I spoke.
To prove his words were not a joke
That angel wired shut my jaws—
Nine months, so far, of pregnant pause.

We’ll have a son—they all can tell
From watching Lizzie’s belly swell.
‘God has been good’ they stop to say.
‘Old Zach, you’ve taught us how to pray.’
I wish they knew it wasn’t me.
My faith is like an olive tree—
All shriveled, gnarled, twisted, stooped—
In spite of myself, yielding fruit.
I’d like to preach to them of grace—
How all of us, the human race,
Are like a barn, whose paint is old;
Whose wood is cracked and filled with mold;
Whose roof is gone; whose rafters sag.
Our righteousness is filthy rags.”
And when their eyes and hearts are full
With tears, to say: “Your sins, like wool
And like the driven snow shall be,
Though now a crimson, bloody sea
Rejoicing as I am, you see,
To have a boy for Liz and me,
My thoughts are wrapped like balls of twine—
I cannot put it out of mind—
The other boy the angel said
Would soon lay down his holy head
Upon another mother’s breast.
This was the news that sounded best
Of all. Messiah comes to save;
To rescue us from shallow graves
We’ve dug ourselves with our own hands,
With picks of cruelty in the sands
Of sin. Messiah will not fail
To enter in behind the veil
That I, the priest, could never cross.
He’ll enter in through pain and loss
Of His own blood—just like the ram
God gave to father Abraham.
A substitute absorbs the rod,
And opens up the way to God.

And so I set this poem down,
And I’ll recite it in the town,
In villages among the hills;
In brothels where men get their thrills;
To priests, like me, whose faith is weak…
And in my heart until I speak.
I’ll tell them, yes, about my son,
But focus the other One:

“Blessed be the God of Israel
Who saves His people from the hell
That they deserve, and has raised up
A full and overflowing cup
Of grace—salvation comes to man.
Messiah comes from David’s clan
Just like God said in days of old,
And prophets spoke with valor, bold:
‘Salvation from our enemies’
And mercy from the Lord who’s pleased
To keep His promises of grace,
His covenant with Abram’s race:
That we might serve Him all our years
In holiness and without fears.
And my son, so the angel says,
Has come to pave Messiah’s ways.
To preach about the One who wins.
Forgiveness of His people’s sins.”

I’ll save this for my son, I think,
So that when he is on the brink
Of preaching, as the Lord has said,
That he will have it in his head
That priv’leged as His lot may be,
He never will the Bridegroom be,
But publish this from east to west:
He must increase; I must be less.”

December 20, 2007

Can You SEE me Now?

OK, so we've been having trouble with the audio (hope that is fixed starting with next weeks postings). But I also notice that I (as well as Anthony and maybe others?) am having visual problems with the blog. On my computer (firefox and explorer) the header photo (of the park bench) is messed up. I can only see about 3/4 of an inch at the bottom of the shot. Same on Anthony's blog. Anyone else seeing the same cropped photo? Anyone know what might be wrong or how to correct it?

December 18, 2007

What a Lovely Bedspread!

A friend of mine recently passed me an essay on sanctification by the English Puritan Thomas Watson (1620-1686). Among many other jewels stored up in this little treasure chest were the following words concerning Christian conversation.

The world is a great Inn; we are guests in this Inn. Travellers, when they are met in their Inn, do not spend all their time in speaking about their Inn; they are to lodge there but a few hours, and are gone; but they are speaking of their home, and the country wither they are travelling. So when we meet together, we should not be talking only about the world; we are to leave this presently; but we should talk of our heavenly country.

In other words, if you and an old childhood friend were sharing a hotel room in Cleveland, on your way to Niagara Falls…you wouldn’t spend your time talking about the lovely furnishings in the Hampton Inn. That would be absurd. You’d talk about home—both childhood memories, and current family life. And you’d talk about Niagara Falls! Not because it’s wrong to talk about bedspreads and towels (they may warrant passing notice), but because there are greater things to talk about! That is what Watson is trying to show us!

I was moved. Because it seems to me that I so often find myself talking merely about the hotel in which I temporarily lodge—the ballgame, the weather, the car problems, etc. And those things aren’t sinful – they may warrant some conversation. But Watson’s words remind me of the even more precious words of Jesus: “Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12.34). If, when we are together with Christians (all of whom, because we have the same Father, are like old friends – family, even), all we have to talk about is the stock market, or the new restaurant…then it is a sad day indeed.

So what should you do? Make a list of spiritual subjects, write it on an index card, and keep it in your pocket so you can think of something spiritual to say the next time you are invited to someone’s house for dinner? Of course not! Remember, it is from the overflow of the heart that the mouth speaks. So the solution is to fill your heart with the things of Christ. Get Christ in your heart and His truth will inevitably drip like honey from your lips—not so that you can sound spiritual when in Christian company, but because you love Him; and you love the church; and you love the things of the heavenly world.

And, once Christ is in your heart, take a risk. It may seem awkward, at first, to talk about Jesus with people among whom you’re accustomed to talk only of the weather and your last doctor’s appointment. But try it out. Be intentional about Christian conversation. Be a blessing to your church family or circle of Christian friends. As another old preacher, Donald MacDonald, said: “Let us talk about Him, even if we do not have much to say.”

December 17, 2007

Can You Hear me Now?

Testing 1, 2, 3. Wondering if any of you who frequent the audio portion of this blog can give me some feedback:

Is the volume on the sermon loud enough? It seems a little soft to me, but wondering how it works for you. Leave a comment below or email me and let me know.

December 11, 2007

Odds and Ends

A few announcements, reminders, and musings:

Bruce Ware in Cincinnati
For those of you in the local area ... mark your calendar to hear Dr. Ware (one of America's formost Evangelical theologians) on Jan. 19 at Hyde Park Baptist Church. His topic will be the Trinity. Some of you have heard these messages before and should leave comments below to whet our appetites.

Kurt and his Dad in Minneapolis
This year's pastor's conference is themed The Pastor as Father and Son. So I am taking my dad with me. Anyone else out there going? Let me know and maybe we can meet up for dinner.

Baby in Tobey's Tummy
We had the ultrasound today and found out Strassner #5 is a boy! Andrew already has a rocket arm, so I'm thinking maybe we have a Peyton and Eli kind of situation brewing here!

December 4, 2007

While We're Thinking about Missions Giving...

A reminder that Pastor's Training Institute, Round 4 is happening this January in Addis Ababa Ethiopia. PTI is preparing close to seventy men to take the gospel of Jesus into some of the most unreached portions of Ethiopia. Some of them do so at great peril. But the name of Jesus is worthy of their peril...and our support!

As many of you know, this is a pastoral training program in which I have taught, and which PRBC has supported and prayed for. The cost for housing, food, and transportation for these two weeks of intensive training is roughly $40.00 per man - or about $2800.00 total. Would you consider giving to PTI? Would you consider sponsoring one or two (or ten) pastors-in-training for this fourth part of their curriculum? Would you consider taking some of that Christmas money that was going to go toward a train set, or a diamond pendant, and sending it to spread the gospel of Jesus in Ethiopia?

If you would, make your check payable to Christ Community Church, earmarked for PTI - Ethiopia, and send it to:

Christ Community Church
P. O. Box 795
New Albany, MS 38652

To find out more about the work in Ethiopia in general, click here. Here's an excerpt about PTI-4:

Three weeks from today we will all be observing Christmas. The day we all give each other gifts to celebrate Someone else. Go figure! And two weeks after that the Ethiopians will be celebrating their Christmas, but in a much different way than us. The exchanging of gifts is absent, for the most part, from the culture, but the enjoyment of food and fellowship is not. Families and friends will gather and feast on whatever meat they can afford after pooling their funds together. For the more well off, an ox will be slaughtered. From four o’clock in the morning when the process begins they will begin consuming the ox, red meat (lean) and white (fat), and eventually even cook some of it to enjoy also. Other families will merely have a chicken or two to commemorate the day together, and some will delight themselves in sheep or goat, roasted or stir-fried.

For about sixty-five men, this will be their last meal before they board a small 65-passenger bus with 110 other people and make the several hour (or in some cases all day) journey into the city for ten days. Why would they succumb to such misery as being cramped on to a stuffy 105-degree bus in which no one will dare open a window for fear of moving air making them deathly ill? And ride that way for so long only to finally arrive in a city that is not their home and to a thin piece of foam (AKA a bed) while being fed crushed peas, some boiled veggies and sour fermented mush made from a grain that we have for the most part never even heard of in our country.


To read more about PTI-4, go here. Thanks so much!

December 3, 2007

"I Can't Afford it"?

One of the reasons I enjoy reading the apostle Paul is because I find that he wrestled with so many of the challenges that face me in my own pastoral ministry – what to do with wayward members, how to organize church leadership, how to relate to the government, and so on. This week, I found particular help in reading, from 2 Corinthians 8 and 9, how Paul motivated a financially comfortably people to give their money away (the same task I am undertaking during this month of the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering).

Paul was asking the churches to give of their substance to relieve the persecuted and impoverished saints in Judea. The Corinthian church had given generously in the past (as have you to things like Lottie Moon, to your church's own missions projects, to the poor, etc.). But they had grown a little too comfortable (and, perhaps, so have some of you). It is easy, when you have a fair amount of money (and, in the grand scheme of things, all of us Americans do) to feel good when you give a nice sum to the missions offering, or to the relief of the poor. But is that what God really desires? Is God more pleased with the middle-class American’s hundred dollars…or with the widow’s two copper coins? You know the answer. But apparently the middle-class Corinthians did not. They needed to be reminded. They needed to be slightly embarrassed by realizing that churches and Christians much less prosperous than they were giving far more. That is what Paul tells them in 8.1-4:

1Now, brethren, we wish to make known to you the grace of God which has been given in the churches of Macedonia, 2that in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality. 3For I testify that according to their ability, and beyond their ability, they gave of their own accord, 4begging us with much urging for the favor of participation in the support of the saints,

Notice just a few things about the impoverished Macedonians:

1. They gave even though their circumstances were difficult. They were being persecuted (v.2). Wouldn’t it have been easy for them to roll over and die when it came to the special offering? Wouldn’t it have been easy to say: ‘Someone should send an offering to us!’ But they didn’t feel sorry for themselves. They gave. And, no matter our circumstances, so can we.

2. They gave more then they could afford. I admit – I am not, in my flesh, inclined to give like this. But the Macedonians were! They gave “out of the poverty” (v.2); they gave “beyond their ability.” Did that mean that they starved themselves? I don’t think so. But they did, perhaps, change their family budgets around so they could give. They did without some things so they could give. Perhaps they used part of their savings, or sold some of their possessions so they could give. Are we willing to do the same?

3. They begged for the opportunity to give. They must have said something like this to Paul: ‘Don’t you be afraid to ask us for money. We know we’re poor. We know we don’t have a lot. But don’t you even think about robbing us of the joy of storing up treasures in heaven.’ Where are the Americans saying things like that? Where is the church saying to their elders: ‘Please, please have another special offering. We desperately want to give our money away!’?

The Corinthians hadn’t been so generous lately. But after hearing about the generous paupers in Macedonia, they must have been a little embarrassed. Now my goal with this article is not necessarily to embarrass anyone. But if the shoe fits, wear it. If you are Southern Baptist, you have a chance this month (and every other month, too!) to give to the worthiest cause on the planet – the spreading of the fame of Jesus to the ends of the earth. Many of you God is also leading to feed the poor; to care for the orphans; to perform a dozen other beautiful acts of generosity in His name. Will you give like a middle-class Corinthian, or like an impoverished Macedonian?