June 27, 2008

Pray without Ceasing

Here is another article mainly applicable to PRBC. Pray for us, if you like! But if you are elsehwere, again, insert your church, your fellow members, etc. And pray!

That is God’s command to us in 1 Thessalonians 5.17. It does not mean that we lock ourselves away in a closet all day and never do anything but pray. But it means that, as we go about our daily routine, we ought to be lifting up the day’s events, the people we meet, and the tasks that lie ahead to God. The next two weeks, I want to ask you to add our Vacation Bible School to the list of things you are praying for through the day. I also want to ask you to tear off this leaflet and use it as a prayer guide for VBS during your daily quiet time…and for some of you…as you commit time to come and pray while VBS is happening. So, pray for…

Our Teachers and Assistants
Tobey, Carolyn G., Kurt, Alisha, Gary, Scott
▪That their lessons would be well-prepared, accurate, winsome.
▪That the manner in which they teach would convey to the children that God is great and greatly to be praised.
▪That they would love the children deeply, and so be an attractive testimony.

Our Other Volunteers
Jenny, Sarah W., Karen G., Regina, Daniel, Carolyn V., Liz, Jim, John, Bryan, Midge, Regina, and Ashley
▪That their games, snacks, administration, songs, and other duties would be done with all their hearts…and be well-prepared.
▪That they would love the children deeply, and so be an attractive testimony.
▪That they would, especially, have opportunities to interact with and show the love of Christ to the parents.

The Children
▪That God would bring them…lots of them!
▪That God would make their hearts ready to learn, teachable, and softened toward His gospel.
▪That God would give us a group of children who can, by-and-large, attend the whole week long and get the full picture we’re trying to paint.

Parent’s Night
Friday, 8:15-8:45pm
▪For pastor Kurt as he prepares a brief gospel message for the moms and dads.
▪That many parents would come.
▪That the parent’s hearts would be softened toward the message, and the children calm enough to allow the parents to hear and understand the gospel.

Remember, If we ask anything according to His will, He hears us (1 Jn 5.14)!

Rutherford on the Believer's Security

Your life is hid with Christ in God (Col. iii.. 3), and therefore ye cannot be robbed of it. Our Lord handleth us, as fathers do their young children; they lay up jewels in a place, above the reach of the short arms of bairns, else barins would put up their hands and take them down, and lose them soon. So hath our Lord done with our spiritual life. Jesus Christ is the high coffer in the which our Lord hath hid our life; we children are not able to reach up our arm so high as to take down that life and lose it; it is in our Christ's hand.

The Letters of Samuel Rutherford. Letter XXVII - To Lady Kenmure. Page 86.

Note: bairns was the Scottish colloquial way to refer to one's children.

June 24, 2008

Let the Little Children Come

The following (as will be obvious) was written directly for PRBC. Perhaps it will spark those of you from elsewhere to pray for our upcoming Vacation Bible School. And, perhaps, it will spark you to do a little reaching out where you live. Just insert the name of your church, your neighborhood, and your particular opportunities to share, reach out, and invite people to Jesus...

Vacation Bible School begins in just 20 days. As always, this is one of our main outreach and evangelism events of the entire church year. Through VBS we generally have the chance to share the gospel (quite thoroughly) with several dozen kids. And – just as vitally – we get to interact with, get to know, introduce our church to, and share the gospel with most all their parents. No other single event in the entire year provides us with as much meaningful contact with our community. So, if you are concerned that PRBC reaches the world around us with the message of Jesus, Vacation Bible School ought to be a very large blip on your radar screen! I hope that, even if you are unable to work VBS, you will be praying (more on that next week). And I hope that, even beyond praying, you will do the one physical thing that is most needful over the next two weeks – INVITE CHILDREN! Without large numbers of kids (and their parents), this event – no matter how prepared the workers are – will not be as far-reaching as it could be. So please be brainstorming ways to INVITE CHILDREN. Here are a few ideas for how to use those nifty, colorful VBS handbills on the foyer table:

Invite your family. This is simplest of all. Grandchildren, nephews, nieces, etc. These should be the easiest children to get involved. So make sure that you do all in your power to get them here – including offering to transport them when necessary.

Bring the neighbors. If you are a parent of small ones (or even if not), there are probably kids in your neighborhood or in your school group that would be thrilled to tag along with your family to VBS. If you don’t know who they all are, sit down with your kids and ask them to help you make a list. Then turn your kids into missionaries and take them around one evening inviting the whole lot! Then make follow-up calls the weekend before VBS to remind the moms and dads and arrange details.

Invite your co-workers’ kids. Take a few flyers to work and give them to the parents that work with you. Offer to ride along with them the first night or two to make them feel more comfortable (and maybe give an opportunity to talk to mom or dad about the Lord, too!).

Pitch in at Ridge Day. As always, we are going to have a presence at the community parade and festival on July 12. Could you come along and hand out VBS invites to families with small children? Who knows what might begin with a smile, a flyer, and a warm greeting!

Post some flyers in public places. Would anyone be willing to make the rounds of the shops and stores around Pleasant Ridge, Kennedy Heights, Gold Manor, and Reading – getting permission to post our flyers on community boards? Again, who knows who might see them and be triggered into a chain of events that would end up someday in heaven, worshipping Jesus?

Just a few ideas. You may think of others. But would you serve the Lord the next few weeks by letting the little children come to Him?

June 18, 2008

"Give me some of that Red Stuff"

One of the sadder verses in the Bible is Hebrews 12.16. It speaks of Esau "who sold His birthright for a single meal." And it offers us a warning that we not become like him.

Have you ever thought it possible ... that you could slide to the place where, like Esau, you would be willing to sell your birthright for a single meal? According to the author of Hebrews, it is possible for any one of us to so slide spiritually – to let our hearts grow so cold – that we would be willing to trade in the privileges God has given us for the fleeting pleasures of worldly amusement. And it can be such a subtle thing. Notice that Esau did not sell his birthright for a night with a prostitute; he did not sell it for a drinking binge; he did not trade it in for a Baal charm to hang on his necklace. No, he traded his birthright – his opportunity at spiritual blessing – for something that wasn’t bad, in and of itself; he traded it for something that didn’t seem like a big deal; he traded it (Genesis 25.30) for “some of that red stuff.”

Now I submit to you that this is the kind of trade-off that so often begins a person’s slide away from a warm heart, away from an active faith, away from the blessing of God, and eventually out of the church. And some of you – along with others in your church, perhaps – are bartering these kinds of deals even now: trading Sunday worship opportunities for a little more overtime; trading prayer meeting for a little more sleep; trading quiet times for a little more recreation; trading serious attention in worship for distracted thoughts about the Sunday afternoon outing.

For the believer, these opportunities to take in God’s word are a spiritual birthright! What a shame to have them at your fingertips, and to trade them in for “some of that red stuff.” O, the red stuff will surely taste good. Who wouldn’t take the opportunity of enjoying some nice pasta sauce at The Olive Garden? But not at the expense of a birthright! Not at the expense of enjoying and benefiting from the word of God!

So I ask you, are you trading in that which is the believer's spiritual birthright? Are you trading in the opportunities God has given to feast on His word for a few more opportunities to sit at the table with Esau? You are on a slippery slope - one that may end up proving you never had the birthright. “See to it … that there be no immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal.” Don’t let a single meal be the beginning of a long slide that will leave you out in the spiritual cold. Don’t let anything keep you from the house of God, and the people of God, and the word of God.

You’ve seen it happen to others – people who were once so interested in what was happening in the house of God – and who have faded away. And you know it didn’t start, for most of them, with some obvious, outward sin. It started because, somewhere along the line, they traded in a Sunday here and a devotion there for “some of that red stuff.” It started with excuses for why they couldn’t come – a late night here, some overtime there, a stuffy nose one week, bad weather the next, and the ballgame the week after that. And it ended with a complete relinquishing of what is the true believer's birthright. And now, a few years later, their bellies are filled with red stuff; so full, in fact, that they no longer feel any hunger at all for the Bread of Life.

So “see to it … that there be no immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal.” See to it on behalf of your brothers and sisters. And see, also, to your own soul!

June 17, 2008

We are Not Doing Right - Reprise

A couple of weeks back I wrote an article entitled We are not Doing Right – some thoughts on 2 Kings 7. The crescendo went something like this:

How silly we must sometimes look from the vantage point of heaven – 50-60 people sitting around a banquet table that could seat 200! … If we are content to feast on God’s Lamb alone, “we are not doing right.”

Like those lepers who were obligated to go and tell their starving neighbors that food had been found, we are obligated to be about letting our spiritually starving neighbors know that the Bread of Life can be found in Jesus! Now we all know that we must share Jesus with neighbors, co-workers, classmates, family, and visitors to our church … but what, specifically, can we do? A few ideas, both bold and simple:

Pray! I hope you pray for various lost people as you come across them. But pray, too, for opportunities to speak of Jesus – at work, on a plane, in the grocery, etc.. God loves to answer those prayers.

Start a Bible Study. What a great use of a lunch hour, or a Friday evening. Just pick a Bible book (probably a gospel) and read a chapter a week, a few verses at a time, talking about what they mean together.

Invite a friend to church. Especially, make use of holidays and the beginnings of new series that might pique their interest.

Take a printed sermon home (or a CD if the printed is N/A at your church) … and pass it along to a friend at work, or through the mail. If you give a sermon every week, someone might actually read (or listen to) it and be saved!

Give tracts or booklets. Sometimes you don’t have a long-term relationship with someone. But if you are visiting the hospital, or making a business trip, give a gospel tract to someone you may not see again soon. There are a few in the foyer table of most every church - probably yours included.

Greet guests at church. Ask their names, where they are from, how they found the church. Sit next to them. Invite them to lunch. And call the church office to get an address so that you might drop a line, or even some cookies and one of those tracts … and maybe have an opportunity to speak for Jesus.

Perform your servant ministry role with all your heart. You never know when an unbelieving guest may show up on a Sunday in your class, at your nursery, as you greet at the door, to hear you lead music. What a difference it will make if you are ready to give them (and the rest of the church, too!) the best you have in Jesus’ name!

Be specific about Jesus. None of the above will substitute for actually speaking the gospel to people. And, as you do that, make sure you don’t just talk about ‘the Lord’ in generic terms; about coming to church or being saved. All those things are good … but are of no avail if they don’t know specifically about Jesus and what He has done for them! So, whatever you do, speak often and well of Jesus!

June 16, 2008

They Feared the LORD and Served their Own gods

That is what 2 Kings 17.33 says about the pagan people who lived in the territory surrounding Israel, and eventually moved into the vacated Promised Land when the Israelites were booted out (for serving other gods) in 722BC. “They feared the LORD and served their own gods.”

It was true that these new inhabitants of the land “feared the LORD” whose temple was built there, and whose fingerprints were on Old Testament monuments everywhere one turned. After a rocky start in their new homes (because they had not initially paid attention to the Lord’s ways and word), they hired themselves an Israelite priest (2 Kings 17.27) to “teach them the custom of the God of the land.” And, in many ways, they seem to have listened to what he said. They came to understand the temple, and what it was for, and what sacrifices were to be offered. They learned the ethical teachings of the Law. And, in some measure, they must have attempted to put what they were learning in practice – thus it was said that “they feared the LORD.”

But yet, in spite of these few and good efforts, these Promised Land squatters still “served their own gods.” They built shrines to them on the hills of Israel. They brought them dried fruit; they made sacrifices to them. They continued in the customs which were part and parcel of their own national ways of doing things. So “they feared the LORD” – they tried to stay on His good side; they hoped to keep Him happy; they knew He could punish them if they didn’t; and they made a few small efforts to accommodate themselves to His ways. But the dominating themes of their lives were still “their own gods.”

Now there is a way to fear the LORD that is more than just a token effort. Charles spoke of that a few Sundays back. But that kind of fear is not what is in view here. This was a merely self-preserving kind of fear. And it seems to me that this kind of fearing takes a lot less effort than serving. A self-preserving fear does the bare minimum to stay safe. It wants God on its good side, and it is willing to be religious to achieve that hope. But a person who serves actually works at a positive goal, puts sweat behind it, and does so, not for his own benefit, but for the good of the person being served. That was how the Canaanites “served their own gods”, but not the LORD.

And, sad to say it, but these ancient Canaanites seem to have quite a few spiritual descendants living in America to this day. I – and many other pastors – see them every week. People who ‘amen’ the more tender and merciful portions of the gospel; people who may even ‘amen’ certain moral portions of the Scriptures; people who want to hear about God because it seems to help them get along a little bit better; people who, in some measure, “fear the LORD.” But for many of these same people it is quite obvious that they are still serving “their own gods.” Still putting more effort into the business; into the lawn; into the overtime; into the soccer league; into the family’s recreation than into the service of God. And the church suffers for it.

I’m afraid it has become almost a Sunday tradition. The hired priest stands up to do as he has been asked – to “teach them the custom of the god of the land.” The people listen. Some of them even enjoy. A few of them offer words of encouragement. Most all of them respect the word preached – “they fear the LORD.” But then many of them – maybe most of them in some places – rush off to the business, to the ballgame, to the overtime, to the recreation, to six days of pouring their time and energy into “serving their own gods.”

What about you?

June 9, 2008

A.M.B.E.R. Adoption Fund

Adopting children is one of the most significant ways that we, as believers, can join the battle for the sanctity of human life. And, as some friends in Memphis are reminding us, it is also one of the most beautiful ways to illustrate to a child (and to adoptive parents, siblings, and churches) the wonder of God's adopting alien children into His family - paid for by Jesus.

So, if you are interested in picturing the beauty of the gospel, and joining the fight for the unborn by adopting (or helping someone else afford adoption), click here to read about a new initiative, the A.M.B.E.R Adoption Fund - begun by Grace Church Memphis, named in memory of Amber Mathenia, adoptive mother of two.

And, if you're interested in overseas adoption ... check out this organization.

"Everyone's Starving in Ethiopia"

That's what the headline on CNN.com reads this morning. That's a bit of an exaggeration. But there is a serious food crisis owing to this year's drought conditions. You cannot save all of Ethiopia, but you can do a few things...

1. Pray that this year's rainy season (our summer) would provide much needed relief.

2. Pray that body-hunger would lead many to a soul-hunger for the living God. Many of those who face starvation are Muslims, superstitious Orthodox, and pagans.

3. Pray for the believers in Ethiopia - that they would minister the physical and spiritual compassion of Jesus in these days.

4. Send bread - figuratively and literally. You can't feed Ethiopia. But you can make a dent by feeding one child. Compassion International works through local Ethiopian churches (including the one where PTI takes place) to feed, clothe, educate, and evangelize the poor children of Ethiopia. $39 a month (so little for most of us) can go a LOOOOONG way in a place like Ethiopia. For some children, God will use it to stretch all the way to heaven.

June 3, 2008

'Theology 101': A New Message Series

For those who are local, and those who follow along online, just a heads up on a new series we will be beginning June 15: Theology 101. The goal is to walk through a 6 month study of all the major doctrines of the Bible - Who is God? What is He like? What about man? How does sin really affect us? How does salvation work - election, atonement, faith, justification, adoption, sanctification, glorification, etc.? What is the church? How does it function? And so on.

Really, we are going to try to replicate what a seminary Systematic Theology course ought to look like - with the passion and application of preaching!

I think I will recommend Wayne Grudem's Christian Beliefs, a slimmed down version of his Bible Doctrine, which is a slimmed down version of his Systematic Theology, to my congregation.

Please be in prayer for me as I pray and preach.

"We are not Doing Right"

2 Kings 7 tells an amazing, comical, and convicting story. It contains all the elements that would make for an award winning, satirical short film. So, every time I read it I find myself chuckling, but also moved by the poignant manner in which it pokes spiritual truth into my side.

The story actually begins in chapter 6, when the neighboring Arameans besiege the Israeli capital of Samaria. So long and so effective was the siege that there began to be a fuel and food crisis within the walls of Samaria. People were starving. The enemy was unrelenting. Death seemed to be certain. But in chapter 7, verse 1, the prophet Elisha predicted that, by the time the next day was through, food would be selling at all time low prices, the abundance would be so great!

How on earth could a deadly food crisis turn into an unprecedented food surplus in one day? That is the amazing part. The Lord caused the army of the Arameans to hear the sound of heavy cavalry in the sky. Perhaps it was the army of the heavenly host marching. Perhaps it was just a strange and distant thunder, or an earthquake. But, whatever the phenomenon, the Arameans mistook it for an approaching army. ‘The Israelites must have snuck a messenger out to go and bribe the Hittites and the Egyptians into ambushing us from the rear.’ Terrified, the Arameans fled, leaving their enormous camp, with all of its food rations, sitting empty outside the walls of Samaria.

So the famine was over and food was readily available just a few miles outside the city gates. But how would the Israelites have known it? They were all locked tight in the city. They might have sat for days, even weeks, without realizing the coast was clear. But here is the comical part! Four hapless lepers (they remind me of Puck and the other artisans in A Midsummer Night’s Dream) woke up one day and said to themselves: ‘If we stay in the city we’ll starve to death; and if we go to the Arameans looking for food, they probably kill us. But maybe they’ll be nice and offer us a sandwich.’ Fat chance. But off they went to what seems like a foolish end. But as they walked the little road to the Arameans’ camp, they found clothes and gear discarded all along the road where the Arameans had fled. And when they reached the camp they found fresh food just a-waiting for them! So they sat down and began to gorge themselves. You can picture them – four men sitting in a camp meant to feed perhaps 40,000 - with gravy dripping down their rotten chins, laughing and offering one another toasts! Look at them them scrambling around, gathering jewelry and jerky, silver and sandals - and hiding it all under this rock, and in that cave, and here and there and everywhere … like children hiding their candy so little brother doesn’t find it! The turn of events and the characters involved are really quite hilarious if you picture it all on the movie screen of your imagination.

But there isn’t just comedy in this story – there is conviction. Listen to what the lepers said to one another over their lamb-chop dinner (v.9): “We are not doing right. This is a day of good news, but we are keeping silent; if we wait until morning light, punishment will overtake us. Now therefore come, let us go and tell the king’s household.” Wow! I don’t know that many of us would think that way if we stumbled upon a pocket of oil in our back yards. But here are these goofy characters getting their theology exactly right! God blesses us, not so that we can keep the rack-o-lamb to ourselves, but so that we can bless others.

I was particularly convicted by verse 9 this week as it relates to the gospel. Fool that I am, I find that God has prepared an undeserved, unearned, unexpected, lavish banquet for me in Jesus. But very often I find myself “keeping silent” – content to feast on the Lamb of God myself, but not always too eager to “go and tell.” Do you feel the same? How often we come to banquet on Sunday mornings and don’t bother to invite our fellow neighbors, who have no idea that there is a feast awaiting them in Jesus. And how silly we must sometimes look from the vantage point of heaven – 50-60 people sitting around a banquet table that could seat 200!

I am not belittling the day of small things. And I know that some of us are indeed reaching out, gong and telling. But I find myself convicted by this story. If we are content to feast on God’s Lamb alone, “we are not doing right.”