December 29, 2008

10 Reasons to Read Good Christian Books

One of my hopes, for our church, in 2009 is that we will become more avid readers of Christian books. We are blessed to live in a time period, and speak a language, in which solid, Christ-centered books (new and old) are available to us like never before! What a privilege! And what a missed opportunity if we don’t take advantage. So, to urge some of you to begin reading … and others to read even more, I came up with 10 reasons to read good Christian books (and I do stress the word good, for there is a lot of junk out there!) …

1. Good Christian books can supplement your Bible reading. Nothing replaces Bible reading. And if you only have time for one or the other, read your Bible. But many of us – especially on Sundays – will have time for more (especially if we turn off the TV!). And good Christian books can be a wonderful aid in pointing you to Jesus, in giving you new insights, and in helping you understand what you’re reading in the other, more important Book.

2. Good Christian books reinforce what you hear on Sunday. Numerous times, people have come to me and said: ‘You preached on such-and-such on Sunday, and then, this week, I was reading and came across the very same ideas. It was so good to hear it again; to have it reinforced. Having heard it from two different voices, I feel like I really get it now!’ So why not give yourself the opportunity, through Christian books, of being thus helped and encouraged!

3. Good Christian books can be a great basis for fellowship. What if you and a friend, or you and your spouse, committed to each read the same book, one chapter a week … and then come together weekly to pray together and talk about what you read? It might just spark those spiritual conversations that you have been hoping would be more present in the relationship.

4. Good Christian books can give you insights you never thought of. If you only ever read the Bible through your own eyes, and those of your pastor, you may miss some things. For we all have blind spots here and there. But what if you were reading something written a hundred years ago by someone living on a whole different continent? They might notice some things that we would normally miss!

5. Good Christian books remind us of the unity of Christ’s church. Sometimes I find myself reading something written three, four, five hundred years ago. Sometimes, in fact, it may have been translated from French, or German. And yet the author is reading the same Scripture and expressing the same thoughts as me. He is wrestling with the same temptations and making many of the same applications that we would make today. And I am reminded that we aren’t so different after all; that there is a wonderful oneness in Christ’s church!

Next week, 5 more reasons. But why wait? Get some today!

December 24, 2008

The Day I Leapt for Someone Else

Marveling at the humility and Christward focus of John the Baptist in John 1 and 3, and pondering what went into the making of such a man, I wrote this poem for tonight's Christmas Eve Service:

When I was just a tiny lad
I’d crouch down on my knees with dad
Leaned back, with age, upon his bed,
Three pillows stacked beneath his head.
He’d whisper stories of our faith,
But often pause to catch his breath.
Time had conspired to take its toll.
He’d withered like an ancient scroll
So full of truth, and yet so frail –
Long pauses between every tale.

He’d nap sometimes and I would wait
An hour to learn of David’s fate
After he’d sinned; or what came next
When Job was by his friends perplexed.
He’d tell of Moses in the sands,
The bread, the quail, the Promised Land;
Of Jonah and God’s mighty gale;
Of Sis’ra’s head, and Jael’s nail.

But he was tired; his lungs were weak;
The color faded from his cheeks.
And so he spoke with head laid back,
Eyes often closed, and muscles slack –
Except … Except for now and then
He’d say to mom, “Remember when
The angel came?” Eyes open wide
Now he would raise up on one side.
With grimaced face and teeth clinched tight
He’d slowly push himself upright.
This story was too full of grace
To tell it from his normal place.

“Remember when the angel came?
Son, he’s the one who chose your name.
God really did, I guess I’d say.
I remember like yesterday.
He spoke of you – your mission great;
And how we’d have a baby late.
But most of all He spoke of Him
Who’d come and save us from our sin!”

And so he’d give us his report,
But mom would always stop him short –
You know how older couples do –
She wanted in the story, too!
So she would rise up from her chair,
And her side of the story share:
“As I recall, now, six months passed.
Your aunt came by. She talked so fast
I had to calm and slow her down.
And angel’d come to her home town,
To her, in fact – she grinned so wide –
‘Before’ she said, ‘I’m made a bride,
I’ll give birth to God’s very Son.
Messiah! The Anointed One!’
And do you know what happened then?”
Mom always asked. “You leapt within
My womb, dear son. I don’t know how
You knew.”

And then she’d always bow
And thank the Lord for giving both
A Son and Savior, by His oath.

She’s right. Somehow I always knew
That, though among the chosen few,
And though a preacher of God’s word
Whose voice is by the thousands heard,
“I’m not the Christ; I am not He.”
So let my voice drown in the sea
Of waves that crash upon His shore;
Of Christward praise forever more.
I publish this from east to west:
"He must increase, I must be less."

I guess I always knew these things.
I leapt before I knew to sing.
The Spirit came, and from the womb,
In my small heart prepared Him room.

But it sure helped, as days went by,
To have a dad whose lips were dry,
Whose heart was weak, whose eyes were tired …
But who, for Christ, became inspired.
It helped, that twinkle in his eye,
And how he’d push and pull and try
To sit up straight and tell it right,
When speaking of that holy night;
When speaking of God’s only son,
Before whose path I was to run.

It helped that mother’s fav’rite part
Was not how Johnny won her heart;
Was not her infertility,
Was not the miracle of me!
Instead, the part she always tells?
The day I leapt for someone else!

So moms and dads, your kids adore …
But let them know you love Christ more!
Train them to like the Baptist be:
“More of Jesus … less of me!”

December 22, 2008

Verse for the Year

As I was reading up on Helen Roseveare, studying for the missions message from two Sundays back, I took the time to listen to an address she gave, back in 2007, on “The Perseverance of the Saints.” Among the many delightful and helpful things she said (you really should listen to it), I was inspired by her habit, each year, of selecting a ‘verse for the year.’

“Every year,” she said, “between Christmas and New Year’s Day, I seek to have time alone with God and ask Him for a particular verse for the coming year.” She went on to describe the blessing of being able to meditate and re-meditate and then, after that, to meditate even a little more … for 365 days on a single verse. And I thought: ‘This lady seems to love Jesus more than me. She has certainly walked with Him a lot longer than me, and through a lot deeper valleys. So I’ll try this out … a verse for the year.’

This is not to say that I am not going to be embarking, once again, on a Bible reading plan for the year. Daily bread is an absolute necessity! Nor am I insinuating that a ‘verse for the year’ is the key to Christian growth. Despite the fact that Christians are always looking for them – and book publishers constantly marketing them – there is no key to spiritual growth … except for seeking and finding Jesus in His word.

So Helen Roseveare’s ‘verse of the year’ is no talisman; it is no magic formula for spiritual maturity. But it is one way, that I have yet to employ, of finding and feeding on Jesus in His word.

‘So then,’ you ask, ‘what’s your verse? What’s it going to be?’ Well … it’s not January 1st yet. So I don’t know! But I am thinking, so far, along the lines of Matthew 11.29, in which Jesus says: “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

I want to be more in love – really in love – with Jesus in the new year (and even before then!). And I want, too, to be more like Jesus. Particularly, I want to be transformed into His likeness by way of gentleness. “Learn from Me, for I am gentle” Jesus says. And I need to learn that. It can’t be learned by rolling up my sleeves, putting my nose to the grindstone, and trying harder at being gentle. In fact, those times when I find myself rolling up my spiritual sleeves are often the times when I am least apt to be gentle and humble! So I won’t learn gentleness in my own strength. But I can learn it by looking unto Jesus. By loving Him in and through a verse like Matthew 11.29.

So, whether I finally select this as my ‘verse for the year’ or not, maybe at least two things will come out of these few lines. First, you will be spurred (I hope) to pray for your pastor in the area of gentleness. And second, I think you might be spurred to follow Helen Roseveare’s example and select for yourself a ‘verse of the year.’ Any idea of what yours might need to be?

December 8, 2008

Small Potatoes?

It is Missions Week at PRBC … which means a lot of things for me. One of them is that I have been doing some close looking at recent newsletters from our missionaries, trying to pinpoint some very specific ways in which we can highlight each of them for prayer. And I’ve noticed something. Peculiarly, one of the families always includes stories about individuals. They invariably treat us to individual names, individual stories and circumstances, and close up individual photos. Why is that?

I suspect that this family knows what makes for good copy. Names and stories connect a lot better across the ocean than do statistics. But I also know, from reading the letters, that there is another reason this family is always reporting on individuals – because that is virtually all they have to report on. Even if they wanted to tell of crowds and numbers, they couldn’t. The crowds are a lot closer to single digits than anything that would look impressive in a missionary newsletter. They write about individuals because they can probably count on their fingers the number of converts they have coming to their home for Bible study and prayer.

Would you be discouraged? I know I would. And though I never detect it for a moment in their reports home … I am sure that each of our missionary families sometimes wonders what in the world they are doing ‘in this far off, difficult place.’ So we need to pray for them. We need to ask the Lord to remind them of Galatians 6.9, and make it real to them: “Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we shall reap if we do not grow weary.” Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. Maybe not even in their lifetimes. But God will reap a harvest of souls from their missionary labors if they do not give up.

I think about Henry Martyn. Today, his name is very famous in missionary circles. But when he died, he was a ‘failure.’ He had ministered in India and Persia for more than half a decade before dying at age 31 with tuberculosis. His harvest up to that point? One single, solitary convert – a Muslim named Abdul Masih. Imagine the missionary newsletters Martyn would have produced on his laptop! He would have only needed one photo! And yet that one lonely convert became a wildly successful evangelist after Martyn’s death. And “in due season” Martyn’s harvest was reaped! O, pray that our missionaries would know the Henry Martyn’s and the Galatians 6.9’s … and not lose heart in the days of small potatoes!

And pray for yourself, too. I know for a fact that some of you have been laboring with that child, or that church, or that relative, or that classmate for the longest time … with no seeming result. You have been sharing Jesus and giving out tracts for years on end with no converts to show for it. Some who read this little column are preachers who feel, perhaps, at the end of your rope. But whoever you are … do not grow weary. Keep loving. Keep sharing. Keep praying. Keep going. Keep preaching. Don’t lose heart. Remember Henry Martyn and Abdul Masih. Remember Galatians 6.9. Remember that someday, for God’s glory, your labors will prove to have been worth it. In due season, we will reap!

December 5, 2008

I will soon be eating one of these...

Is this furry creature a sheep or a goat? How do you know? What are the differences between sheep and goats (biblical pun intended)? See ANSWER below.

These are some of the issues Anthony and I will be addressing as we head to Ethiopia again in January for Pastor's Training Institute, round 7. Our topic? The doctrine of the church. What is it? Who should be a member? Why? What about leaders? Who, really, is in charge? And so on. Sound simple? If so, you are ahead of the game! Many church-goers (American and Ethiopian) may have no more answers than you do about the animal above! But surely the shepherds of the church ought to ... both in America and Ethiopia!

So please pray that we might do a faithful job of communicating what Spurgeon called "the dearest place on earth ... the church of Jesus Christ" to these 60 or so men. And pray that the fruit of our ten days away might be beautiful, faithful, Christ-centered churches.

ANSWER: This, my friends, is a sheep. I know, I know. It doesn't look like the furry white sheep we are accustomed to. But there are other kinds of sheep. And they look very similar to our American goats. But they are not the same! Easiest way to tell? A sheep's tail hangs down, while a goat's points up. There are other differences, too. Google away if you're interested.