July 29, 2008

The Sinner's Favorite Letter

Every chapter of holy writ is inspired. Every chapter is vital for our Christian existence. Every chapter is lovely, and can usher us into the presence of our Savior. But, I think we would all agree, there are some chapters and sections that seem, especially, to take us by the hand and lead us heavenward – the 23rd Psalm, the parable of the prodigal son, the sermon on the mount, and so on. But if we were to take a survey of the most seasoned Christians, asking: ‘Which Bible passage has been the sweetest, the most oft-returned-to, the most favorite in your Christian pilgrimage … I would venture a guess that we’d get a lot of slips of paper returned with Romans 8 written on them. Here we have some of the most famous and heartening turns of phrase in all the Bible:

Ø “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (v.1).
Ø “A spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba! Father!’” (v.15)
Ø “The sufferings of this present world are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (v.18)
Ø “The Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (v.26)
Ø “God causes all things to work together for good” (v.28)
Ø “If God is for us, who is against us” (v.31)
Ø “Who will separate us from the love of Christ?” (v.36)
Ø “In all these things we overwhelmingly conquer” (v.37)

And then there is, perhaps, the most comprehensive promise of God’s goodness is all the Bible “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?” (v.32).

If the whole Bible is like an enormous treasury of the richest jewels, Romans 8 is like the golden chest, placed on a pedestal in the midst of it all, crammed full of million dollar diamonds. And beginning on August 20, I am going to attempt to pop open the lid, put on my jeweler’s eye-piece, and admire these precious gems with our congregation for several weeks’ worth of Wednesday nights. I do not know how long we will take, or when we might finish. But I want us to work slowly, holding up each individual diamond of truth and grace and looking at it from every angle – maybe only a verse or two per week. Would you pray for us ... and maybe join us online (the sermons are posted Monday afternoons)?

To whet your appetite, let me tack on a quote by Octavius Winslow, a godly pastor of an age gone by, whose congregation spent 34 weeks in this most precious of chapters, and who preached and wrote far more loftily and effectively on these verses than I ever will:

It would, perhaps, be impossible to select from the Bible a single chapter in which were crowded so much sublime, evangelical, and sanctifying truth as this eighth of Romans. It is not only all gospel, but it may be said to contain the whole gospel. In this brief but luminous space is embraced an epitome of all the privileges and duties, trials and consolations, discouragements and hopes of the Christian. Commencing with his elevated position of No Condemnation from God, it conducts him along a path where flowers bloom, and honey drops, and fragrance breathes, and music floats, and light and shade blend in beautiful and exquisite harmony to the radiant point of no separation from Christ. And amid the beauties and sweets, the melodies and sunshine of this glorious landscape of truth, thus spread out in all its panoramic extent and magnificence before his eye, the believer in Jesus is invited to roam, to revel, and delight himself.

Would you join PRBC in prayer as we do a little roaming, reveling, and delighting on Wednesday evenings?

P.S. - Winslow's book is on sale now for $6.60 (an amazing bargain). Get it while you can.

July 28, 2008

A Frightening Verse

I came across a verse this morning that knocked me back a little bit – namely, Luke 6.40:

A pupil is not above his teacher; but everyone, after he has been fully trained, will be like his teacher.

The part of the verse that frightened me a little bit was the later half: “Everyone … will be like his teacher.” Because it occurred to me that, as I am the primary teacher for the little group of pupils at PRBC, lots of people are going to be like me (for better or for worse). They may not even want to be like me, but in some ways they will. Because it is primarily me who instructs, encourages, rebukes, and trains them how to think biblically. And I am also the one (again, for better or for worse) who sets the tone for how a Christian should live. And because their eyes are so often on me, and their ears are so often listening to me, they will in some ways become like me – without even realizing that they are becoming so. That is not to say there will be 65 or 70 Kurt clones running around (I can hear the collective sigh of relief even as I type that). We all, in most respects, remain our own quirky selves. But it does mean that many of my character traits, thinking patterns, beliefs, and attitudes are rubbing off on my people almost imperceptibly.

Now it doesn’t seem like it would be true. It seems like any one of us could listen to a teacher (or observe his example) and then take the good, throw out the bad, and not really have to become like him. But the reality (both biblical and observable) is that we humans don’t always divide our lives up like that. That is why we become like the people we listen to most – even in characteristics we don’t like about them. And we’ve all seen it – teams take on the persona of their coaches, children act a lot like their parents, PhD candidates imitate their mentors, and congregations become like their pastors. I’ve seen examples of this … and perhaps you have, too. A pastor has a certain strength (be it theological or practical), and the church eventually develops an overabundance of people with similar strength. Another pastor has a particular weakness, and the congregation often follows him in that train as well. Perhaps some outside our fellowship are far enough removed from PRBC so as to see these kinds of things working out in us (although the comment section of this blog is not the appropriate format for pointing these things out!).

So I got a little unnerved this morning. ‘Am I really the kind of person that I want people to turn into?’ Not nearly as much as I would like. So I write this simply to remind you to pray for me, or for your own pastor. Are there ways that you see he needs to grow? Then please, please pray for him. Or are their ways that you need to grow? Pray that the Lord helps him to teach and to live in such a way that, in becoming like your teacher, you would become whom you need and want to be in Jesus. Overall, I think, just pray that your pastor would be like and speak much of Jesus. Then none of us would have to worry about becoming too much like the teacher.

July 22, 2008

Running on Batteries

As I type these words, I am sitting in a dark office. The only light that allows me to see my keyboard is coming from the few rays of the sun breaking through the pear tree outside my office window … and from the monitor of my laptop. Why? Well, there is currently a nice sized tree, splintered like a toothpick and laying across Ridge Avenue, just down the hill from the church. Power lines are strewn around like broken rubber bands. And we have been completely without power for eight or nine hours now. And yet here I sit, typing an article on a piece of electrical equipment. How? One word: batteries! We use them all the time: in cell phones, in MP3 players, in laptop computers, etc.! Too bad they don’t come in air conditioners! But today I am thanking God for batteries … particularly the one Dell inserted into this little computer. It would be hard for me to get much done today without batteries!

Now thinking about these things got me to thinking about spiritual batteries … and the need for keeping them charged. We would all like to stay plugged in to Christ’s all day every day … to have beautiful devotionals every morning and find ourselves sending up prayers of praise and petition here and there all day long. But the reality is that some days a tree falls into our schedule. Something unexpected happens and quiet time is cut short, or is distracted or flat. And on those days, though we know Christ is with us always, the immediate source of power seems to be shut off. I would guess you have more of those days than you might like to admit. I do.

But is there such a thing as a spiritual battery? Is there a way to, as it were, overstock your spiritual supply so that, even when the week is long and the quiet time is short, there are reserves to draw upon? I think we all would say that there is. It’s called Sunday! Sunday is the one opportunity in the week to plug your heart into the wall all day long and build up reserve energy for the week. That is physically the case. But it is also the case spiritually. The Lord’s Day, like no other day, affords an opportunity to be taught God’s word. This day of rest from your normal activities, like no other day, offers time and opportunity to read God’s word and to meditate on it; to read good Christian literature; to pray. Sunday is the day to plug in so long and so well that the battery icon on your soul is fully colored in.

We all know these things. But let me ask you: How are you actually using your Sundays (especially outside the walls of the church building)? To stock up on all the things that necessarily knock down the power lines the rest of the week (household chores, work catch-up, weed-eating)? To fill up on diversions like sports and television? Or are you using the Lord’s Day to plug in to the gospel for as long as you possibly can – both in public and private worship – so that your battery will be charged the rest of the week?

“If because of the Sabbath you turn your foot from doing your own pleasure on My holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight, the holy day of the LORD honorable, and honor it, desisting from your own ways, from seeking your own pleasure and speaking your own word, then you will take delight in the LORD, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; and I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken” (Isaiah 58.13-14).

Are you riding on the heights of the earth? If not, could it be that you have forgotten to charge your battery?

July 17, 2008

Follow Me - A Prayer Request

Hello all. Just checking in to request your prayers. Friday night, from 7:45-8:15pm ET I will be speaking to a handful of Vacation Bible School parents, encouraging them to follow Jesus. The text will be Luke 5.27-32 (one of our theme passages from this week).

Please pray that there might be a Levi or two in the crowd tomorrow night.

July 16, 2008

Why won't they Believe?

Tommorrow I have the honor of giving the weekly devotional to the staff at Answers in Genesis. I have been asked by one of their leadership personnel to speak briefly and devotionally about what it was like presenting Genesis 1-11 in Ethiopia. And it occurred to me that the brief words I am preparing to share there might be encouraging to some folks around here. Here’s the short version.

I assumed, given the 3rd world setting of the men at PTI, that there would be no real need to hammer away extensively at evolution. Most of the guys have probably never even heard of Charles Darwin. So I said to Anthony, ‘I guess I don’t need to go into great depth undercutting evolution, huh?’ His response was: ‘Not so fast. Many of the men probably believe it.’ Why? Because Ethiopia is the land of Lucy, the ancient ape-like fossil hailed by some scientists as the evolutionary link between us and the monkeys. And, while I doubt any of the men at PTI are clued in to the science of it all, for many Ethiopians (including some of the trainees, I suspect) Lucy is a great symbol of national pride. Lucy allows them to say: ‘Ethiopia is the cradle of civilization. Man had his origins right here in our country.’ So, though they may not know the ‘science’ behind evolutionary thinking, they have a personal interest (a national pride, really) that causes them to lean toward evolution, or at least to see it as a respectable alternative within the church.

But what does that have to do with the staff at AIG, or with you, for that matter? Well, though the external reasons for rejecting biblical truth may be different, the Ethiopians are not all that different from the folks that AIG is trying to convince. How can people (even some who appreciate the Bible) go through something like the Creation Museum, and still walk away skeptical? Not because the facts are unconvincing. But because they have a personal interest that makes evolution more appealing to them. In this case it is not national pride, but personal pride. If a person accepts AIG’s science, they have big problems. Because if the science of Genesis 1-11 is correct, so probably is the theology. And that theology says that I am accountable to God, that I am a sinner, and that I am under a death sentence. And the natural man wants to reject these ideas at all costs. That is why he cannot believe creation science. That is why evolution is so appealing to people. Not because they really understand the ‘science’. But because, if they allow themselves to believe that we exist merely by chance and do not belong to a Creator, then there is no need to feel guilty or to repent.

People reject well-explained and well-researched biblical truth – not because the truth isn’t clear enough – but because they have personal reasons for doing so. And that is true of that co-worker or classmate with whom you are trying to share the good news of Jesus. The gospel is so plain … and attractive. Why won’t they believe? Not usually because you have not presented the facts clearly enough. But because they have a personal interest in keeping things just as they are. Their desire not to change keeps them from seeing obvious truth.

So what is the upshot? As important as clearly, winsomely sharing truth is … it is not enough. If it were, everyone who ever heard the gospel would be saved. But they aren’t because clearly presenting the truth is not enough. That is NOT to say truth is deficient. But rather to say that, if the Spirit of Truth does not come and open people’s eyes to the truth, they will never see and believe. Because it is in their best interest (they think) not to. They are internally biased not to see the truth. So as you share Jesus with friends, don’t get fed up and say to yourself: ‘It’s so obvious! I don’t see how anyone could reject this!’ Instead remember that there are all sorts of interests of the heart that blind the eyes. And make sure that you not only speak the truth of the Spirit, but pray that the Spirit of Truth would come along beside you and help them see!

July 8, 2008

No Really, we DID Want it to Look Better

The Website that is. I am realizing that, with Firefox at least, the new website may look really terrible and jumbled up due to Firefox's cache system. If so, and you are really distressed about it (fat chance!), try this:

  1. Open the Clear Private Data window:
    • At the top of the Firefox window, click on the Tools menu, then select Clear Private Data....
  2. Uncheck everything except the checkbox for Cache.
  3. Click Clear Private Data Now. Now that your cache is cleared, visit the web site again to see if the problem is solved.
Something similar would probably work if you're having Explorer or Safari issues.

College Missionary Dies in Peru

Gregory Gomez, who recently graduated from Ole Miss (where Tobey and I graduated), and who attended North Oxford Baptist Church (my childhood and college home church) was sent out this summer as a Baptist Student Union summer missionary (something numerous of our college friends were) to Peru.

He was killed Saturday in a tragic bus accident.

I do not know Gregory or his family. But the places where he has walked have been much the same as where my feet have trod. Why him and not me? It makes me think ... and remember that life is brief. And yours or mine could be over sooner than we think. What a gift it would be to die serving the King!

Make sure it happens to you ... whether sooner or later. And make sure you pray for Gregory Gomez's family and friends.

Website Changes

Same information ... slightly new look.

July 7, 2008

Free Subscription!

OK, it's not as exciting as it sounds. I am not offering National Geographic or Ranger Rick or even Christian History. But it did occur to me that some of you may like to check in on the PRBC sermons every now and again 9without having to type in the web address every time), and I thought I'd drop you a little hint that might save you some time (and encourage you to drop in a little more).

In your Google Reader or Yahoo program, or whatever you use ... simply subscribe to:


and you should get them delivered to your Google page, or desktop, or whatever. Enjoy!