May 30, 2008

Home!

Made it home about 3pm today. So glad to see Tobey and the kids ... and gratified that we can come home feeling that the LORD, in every way, achieved His purposes through our small efforts.

Anthony, Frank, Joseph, and Jamie should arrive in Memphis around 6pm ET. Check out some of their thoughts here.

May 28, 2008

PTI - Wrap Up

Pastor's Training Institute, Round 5 finished its fifth and final day today. By God's grace we were able to cover Genesis 1-11 the first two days - emphasizing the nature of sin and its effect, and demonstrating that, even in Genesis, Jesus the remedy is clearly seen. The last three days we spent covering the better part of the book of Hebrews - demonstrating how Jesus is greater than the angels, than Moses, than the prophets, than the temple, than the sacrifices, and than all the rituals and traditions tat so often plague the church here (and at home in the US!). All these religious topics, Hebrews says, are valuable only as they lead us to heaven's favorite, Jesus. And thus, to focus our attention and affection too heavily on any of them is liking eating the pie crust while leaving the filling untouched (I had to adjust that illustration for these out-country pastors who have never enjoyed pie!).

It seemed that, overall, the men really benefited from and understood what we covered. Please pray it will be applied in their lives and ministries. The traditions and pressures here make it difficult for different ways of thinking to shake down from head and heart to practice in the home and church. And much of what we saw in the scriptures WAS quite different from what is typical in the churches here.

Anthony has been able to make a lot of contact with folks who really needed to see him. That, I think, has been a blessing. As badly as I, and many of you, needed to see his face in late January ... the people here are experiencing that relief and closure. And he seems to be really encouraged by the times he has had. Tonight and tomorrow he finishes packing his belongings for bringing home.

O a personal note, I was able to spend my afternoon off today climbing a small mountain with one of Anthony's friends and with an impromptu 12 year old Ethiopian guide, Muleke. Wow, I am out of shape! And wow, what a beautiful country this is - especially when you get out of the city, which we did. Horses, cows, sheep, goats, pigs, and donkeys EVERYWHERE, dotting beautiful open hillsides and valleys.

Pray for us as we leave tomorrow (3:10pm ET).

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May 26, 2008

PTI - Day 3

Another good day. I REALLY enjoyed teaching from Hebrews - 'Jesus, Best of All'. The men seemed to drink it up. It is usually hard tell what they are thinking since they can't speak English, but they seemed visibly encouraged.

We carry on with 4 more messages from Hebrews tomorrow and 2 more Wednesday morning. Please continue to pray for us all!

PS - treated myself to my first shower in five days today!

May 25, 2008

PTI -Day 2

Greetings again from Addis. We were able to finish Genesis 1-11 today. The men seemed really encouraged to see how full of Jesus and the gospel the book of Genesis really is.

The translator also commented that it is quite helpful to observe someone preaching right through a book. Most sermons here, he said, preach messages which in which they skip here and there and everywhere using verses that don't really relate to the issue at hand. In other words, they think up a sermon outline and then go back and find verses they think will 'work'. So ... it seems that the men are not only soaking up the content, but also learning, perhaps, a more helpful way of actually preparing and delivering their sermons. That is one reason Anthony asked me to do the material in this manner (verse by verse straight through Genesis and Hebrews). I feel gratified that the Lord is making the time so useful.

We begin Hebrews tomorrow morning (at about 3:30am ET). Please continue to pray.

Anthony spoke to the men today, too, for about 45 minutes on the goodness and sovereignty of God in the midst of trials. It seemed to have a real effect. The men had a time of prayer for him and the children and presented him with several gifts as a token of the affection and condolence.

All in all it has been a full and good day. One passage that has been very near to me has been 1 Kings 17 - the widow's oil and flour not running out. The Lord has done this for me, energy wise, each day, in spite of long days and some difficulty adjusting to a different sleep schedule. The oil has not yet run out. In fact, I feel more energized than normal. Pray that the Lord keeps filing the flask.

May 24, 2008

PTI - Day One

Hello again from Addis Ababa. PTI got started a half day late, on Saturday morning instead of Friday lunch. I guess they are still running on 'African Time' here. At any rate, the first day went well, I think. Covered the first 4 of 9 sessions on Genesis 1-11 and felt the men were really attentive. Their reactions and questions, as compared to a year ago, demonstrate that real progress has been made. Thank the Lord for that - and pray that more is made as I (hopefully) finish Genesis 1-11 with an eight hour day tomorrow, and begin Hebrews on Monday morning.

Do pray too, for the time constraint. As those of you in Cincy would 'amen' ... I always have a little trouble getting it all in anyway ... but the loss of a half-day is going to really push the envelope. If we have electricity (which we did not today until about an hour ago), I may be able to do an evening session or two after dinner time next week.

Anthony seems to be doing well and getting some necessary things done. Continue to pray for that aspect of our trip, too.

May 22, 2008

We made it!

Arrived in Ethiopia about 2:30 Eastern Time. Everyone is safe and well. Do pray as PTI start tomorrow afternoon (about 5am Eastern). More soon if technology cooperates.

May 20, 2008

Memorial Day

Memorial Day is in two weekends. “No, actually, it is this weekend” you say. But really, it is in two weeks. “No, it really is this weekend, May 26th to be exact.” O, that Memorial Day. Yes, I know there is a great American holiday coming this weekend – one in which we rightly remember and honor those who have paid for our political freedom with their own blood and sweat. Yes, I know about that Memorial Day – and I urge you to remember it, too.

But I was thinking about an even bigger Memorial Day – June 1, 2008! “June 1 is Memorial Day?” Well, yes it is. That is the day when we at PRBC get to do as Jesus taught us: “Do this [drink the cup and eat the bread] in remembrance of Me.” That is a memorial. And that makes June 1 – and every first Sunday of the month in the life of our church – a Memorial Day.

Now there are all sorts of ways we celebrate this Memorial Day – most of all by eating and drinking. But unlike the picnics that some of us will enjoy this weekend, this feast is a little different, isn’t it? There is not so much food involved. Not enough food in fact, for the celebration to turn out really to be about food. And there is fellowship, too. But not the kind that we have at a late May picnic. In fact, not the kind of fellowship that would make this Memorial Day largely an occasion to hang out with family. No, this one is a little different ... and is celebrated with a different kind of family!

Yes, this Memorial Day does also remember that we have been granted wonderful freedom – but not freedom from political tyranny. Rather this freedom is freedom from something much more difficult to bear that political tyranny. This Memorial Day remembers that we have freedom from the tyranny of sin; freedom from the threat of hell; freedom from the just wrath of God; and freedom to become His children!

And yes, this Memorial Day does remind us that our freedom has been paid for with blood – but not with the blood of “our boys”, as precious as they are and were. This freedom was bought with the blood of God’s boy, God’s only begotten Son, Jesus. So the emotions ought to run that much deeper. God’s own Son paid the ultimate sacrifice – not for a proud country, but for a band of rebels who hated His Father and lived to serve themselves … for you and for me.

Isn’t that worth celebrating? So think about how you plan to celebrate Memorial day, or the 4th of July. Then think about how much greater is the Christian Memorial Day – and throw yourself into the celebration of it, at your local church, with the greatest of zeal!

May 19, 2008

More Prayers for the Preacher

For our proud confidence is this: the testimony of our conscience, that in holiness and godly sincerity, not in fleshly wisdom but in the grace of God, we have conducted ourselves in this world, and especially toward you. 2 Corinthians 1:12

Here are some more tips in case you are praying for me while I'm away in Ethiopia (and when I get home too!); as you pray for your missionaries; and as you pray for the men who seek to minister the word of God in your local church:

1. Pray that we would conduct ourselves in holiness. To be sure, ministering God's word takes hard work. But much of ministry consists of being holy. Robert M'Cheyne, a great minister in the Church of Scotland in the 19th century, would often receive letters from those who had been converted under His preaching. Many times they said that what he actually said was not as vital to them as how he actually lived, day-by-day in holiness. O, that ministers would see that personal holiness, not polished speaking, is what honors God most!

2. Pray that we would minister in godly sincerity. It is quite easy for a minister to fall into the trap of doing his work because he feels obligated, not because he really wants to. This can be true in preaching, teaching, visiting, counseling, and any other area of the ministry. But this is insincere ministry. Rather, we ought to minister in sincerity the way God does. God does not love us, or save us, or bless us because He has to. God is not obligated to any man. God loves and saves and blesses us because He wants to. Pray for us, that we would be as willing to serve as Jesus is to save.

3. Pray that we would not minister in fleshly wisdom. We live in an age that says, "If it works, it must be good." Sadly, many ministers have taken this unbiblical idea and made it into the catch-phrase for ministry. Ministers are under a lot of pressure to "grow a church" (which is not what God asks us to do—see Matt. 16:18) and are thus tempted to find anything and everything that will work—regardless of whether or not it is biblical. There is a whole book industry ready to help us grow churches by using the methods of the world (entertainment, bribery, even ethnic and cultural segregation!). Pray that God's men would use the methods of Jesus and Paul and Peter rather than those of 21st century America.

4. Pray that we would minister in the grace of God. I think what Paul means is that we should minister in such a way that we see that it is God's grace to us that brings results—not our own works. In other words, no matter how well I preach, I cannot save anyone. And no matter how poorly I preach, God can save. It is not our works that do anything for the kingdom. It is the grace and power of God alone that makes ministry effective.

Dear Christians, please pray fervently, regularly, and biblically for those who minister to you here at home and on your behalf in all the world.

Prayers for the Preacher

Each week I have a little prayer routine I go through as I prepare my sermon on Thursday and Friday, and as I prepare to deliver it on Sunday morning. I originally began the routine after getting hold of another (much more godly) man’s sermon preparation prayer list. I shared that list with you a few years back. Since that time I have honed the requests to suit my specific needs and weaknesses—compiling the list , below in which every prayer starts with a ‘P’ to help me remember them when my list is not open before me!

Perhaps it will be helpful to you, as you pray for your own pastor. And I would love if you might pray these things for me as I teach Genesis 1-11 and Hebrews in Ethiopia, beginning this Friday! So pray that the preacher might be...

Prophetic. That he might have a word from the Lord to deliver to you; that he might not preach the product of his own wisdom, and that which merely flows from his own reason; for this is poor, heartless preaching.*

Penetrating. That he might see the deep truths of God rather than simply floating around the surface; that he might feed the people with the kernel rather than settling for the husk.

Personal. That the Lord may preach it into his own heart, both when he studies, and when he preaches. If this is lacking, he will be a mere road-sign that points the way to others, but never moves a foot itself.*

Passionate. That his soul might be affected with the case of the people to whom he preaches, and inflamed with zeal for the glory of his Master. If these are wanting, it will be tongue preaching, but not heart preaching.*

Patient. That, in delivery, he might methodically work his way through his notes, staying on course; but leaving ample room for God to interject things he may not have seen in study.

Perspicuous. That he would speak in such a way as to make himself and the passage clear; that his words and organization might not cloud the Scriptures, but elucidate them.

Praying, with you, that you’d receive, and I'd give, God's best!


*These points are paraphrased from Thomas Boston’s The Art of Manfishing published in 1998 by Christian Focus Publications. The original date of printing was 1773, 41 years after Boston’s death.

May 7, 2008

I Just Spent $336 to Kill Dandelions

Not a bad price, I think ... especially if you've seen my yard lately. I'll get fertilizer and other weed killing agents, too. So I figure 336 bucks is a pretty good value.

Now...

How much more valuable are the suffering bodies and souls of the, perhaps, hundreds of thousands of Myanmarese who are without food, water, and shelter ... and many without a Savior, too. I know what I need to do. What about you?

Give to Samaritan's Purse here (earmarked for "MYANMAR"). Almost everyone of you is going to have some free cash laying around in the days ahead, thanks to the generous US government. Please use it wisely! Perhaps God intended these little kick backs not as 'economic stimulus' but 'missionary and compassion stimulus.'

The doors are finally being opened to relief workers ... and they need our support sooner rather than later. So give! And read this insightful article by John Piper on what else we should be doing in response to such a tragedy.

May 6, 2008

Misappropriated

In the sad culture in which we live, we are all too accustomed to hearing about high-end theft—mail fraud, money laundering, etc. One of the chief methods of sophisticated thievery is the misallocation, or misappropriation, of funds—it’s a politician accepting illegal kickbacks; a university president going to Hawaii on state funds; a nun taking diocese funds to the blackjack table; a pastor funneling church offerings into his own pockets. And all of it is theft. Someone gives something for a designated purpose, and the money is misallocated (stolen) for selfish, personal use.

But it occurred to me, this week, that we often do the same dirty deed to our God and Father. We misallocate His gifts, using them for purposes other than that for which He designated them—we use sex for cheap thrills; we use money to tickle our own fancies; we use time for a whole lot of nothing; we use lips meant to praise God for tearing others down! All misallocations of God’s gifts; all forms of robbing God!

I was reminded of this folly again this week from the story of poor Solomon. I call him poor not because he was literally poor (as we shall see), but because he so often set himself up to be remembered for all the foolish things he did, rather than for his wisdom and love for God. Solomon was given a great gift by the Lord—he became greater than all the kings of the earth in wisdom (1 Kings 10.23). “All the earth was seeking the presence of Solomon, to hear his wisdom which God had put in his heart” (1 Kings 10.24). So far, so good. God had given Solomon a gift, and Solomon appeared to be making good use of it. But verse 25 gives us a hint into what happened as Solomon used God’s gift of wisdom: “They brought every man his gift, articles of silver and gold, garments, weapons, spices, horses, and mules, so much year by year.”

Now what was wrong with that? Didn’t Solomon deserve a little kick back? Well, actually, NO! God had commanded in Deuteronomy 17 that Israel’s king should not multiply wives (which Solomon did in a extravagant way, 1 Kings 11.1-4); that he should not multiply horses, especially not Egyptian ones (which Solomon also did, 1 Kings 10.28-29); and that he should not become rich and silver and gold, which Solomon did in the passage we have been discussing! Three instructions given to the king, and all three broken!

Now what makes Solomon’s increasing wealth even sadder is that he gathered it in the form of counseling fees! As people came and benefited from God’s free gift to Solomon, he used that free gift to make himself wealthy! He had originally asked for wisdom so that he might know how to govern God’s people. And God had given it for that purpose. He had written, if you will, the words: ‘For: Shepherding My people, Israel’ in the bottom left-hand corner of the check. But Solomon misappropriated the gift. Instead of using it simply to shepherd God’s people wisely, he used his wisdom to build for himself international acclaim (“all the earth” was seeking him out), and to gather for himself unnecessary and forbidden wealth!

Now there is a lesson here for us all. Whether God has given you the gift of wisdom in some secular field; or the gift of preaching; or a talent for music; or an ability to lead people; or any spiritual gift mentioned in the Bible … He has not given it to you so that you could make a name and a fortune for yourself! He has written, as it were, in the corner of the check: ‘For: My glory’! And we need to use His gifts for that purpose. Whatever it is He has given us the ability to do, we must not use it to make a name for ourselves, or a cushy lifestyle for ourselves—but to reflect His glory; to use the money for His kingdom; to deflect the praise to our Maker.

This counsel especially applies to those of us who are preachers. People come to us to hear God’s wisdom. There is nothing wrong with that. Hopefully we are able to oblige them. But God forbid that we use our ability to dispense the truth to build a name for ourselves; to accrue more and more pats on the back; as leverage to garner a bigger salary or a bigger church. God forbid! So would you pray for your pastor—that he would have and heed the wisdom of Solomon—and also learn from his folly?