July 27, 2011

John Stott (1921-2011)

John Stott, one of the great Christian leaders and Bible expositors of the 21st century, went to be with the Lord today. Tributes from the family at All Souls Church in London may be read here.

My drop into what is sure to be a large bucket full of praise is simply this: I could not often read John Stott's commentaries in sermon preparation! Why? Because his ability to outline and explain Bible passages so far outstripped my own that, if I read what he wrote before putting together my own outline, I'd be forced to either:
  1. preach his far superior outline, or
  2. feel really miserable about my own!
That's how skilled he was at handling the word of truth! I have no doubt he will be greatly missed, especially by those who knew him personally. Praise God for his books and preaching.

July 25, 2011

The Months Ahead

Pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel. Eph. 6.19

So requested the apostle Paul of his brothers and sisters in Ephesus. And so I request of you as life settles down, fall draws nearer, and a few new series of sermon lie before us. I’m hoping to accomplish three main things (and various and sundry others) in the pulpit over the next four months or so. Would you pray that, in each one, God would bless “the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel”?

Romans 12 is one of the great ‘how-to’ chapters in all the Bible, beginning with that great and lofty calling that we present our bodies as living sacrifices. Starting this week, I hope to spend a couple of months’ worth of these summer Sundays perusing it, and bringing out it’s treasures for you to enjoy. So ask the Lord to help me immensely in “the opening of my mouth”, that I will faithfully make known “the mystery of the gospel” in its wonderful, practical applications.

Psalms 61-70 are next in our multi-year (perhaps multi-decade!) trek through the Psalms. Taking ten or fifteen of these Bible hymns at a time, every year or two, maybe someday we’ll make it all the way to the end! This year’s ten or fifteen, on Wednesday nights this late summer and fall, will cover the 60’s, up to Psalm 70. There are a good number similarities in many of these Psalms. So pray that God will help me trace the common themes all the way through, but also bring out that which is fresh and unique in each poem … to the invigorating of our souls.

Ephesians is perhaps (with the exception of Romans) Paul’s most influential letter. It’s from Ephesians that we quote “by grace you are saved … not as a result of works.” It’s in Ephesians that we read of “the full armor of God”. It’s Ephesians that teaches us, in most detail, about Christian family life. And the list could go on. Indeed, a study of Ephesians could go on and on, too … for years! Just check our Martyn Lloyd-Jones’s sermons on it! But we’re going to attempt the difficult (but doable!) task of studying it in eight weeks on Sundays this fall. Since brevity is not my forte, you might pray for me in that regard! And since this is such a rich, helpful book, you might pray that the Spirit breathes life into our studies, making known to us the richness and “mystery of the gospel” in Ephesians!

As an addendum, I have a potential opportunity to take the material I gather on Ephesians and gather it together in book form. Prayers for God’s direction and blessing on that front are appreciated, too!

Finally, next to all these plans, I should post a reminder of James 4.15: “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that” (emphasis mine). I am very well aware that the plans of a man are not always the same as the plans of the Lord! So pray that, as I move through the weeks and months ahead, I’ll be open to the possibility that God may want me to go in different directions, to study different books and passages, and to tweak (or even scrap) the plans I have made. Pray that I’ll keep my plans, as it were, written in pencil … and always be open to the Spirit’s direction.

Grateful for your prayers … and looking forward to the months ahead!

July 18, 2011

The God of All Comfort

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 2 Corinthians 1.3-4

Life is often very difficult. Any and every person that walks on the guilty sod of this fallen world will undoubtedly suffer – including, and especially, the followers of Jesus. For, "in this world you will have trouble," He tells us in John 16.33. But, as followers of Jesus, we have wonderful promises like that of 2 Corinthians 1.3-4 to bear us safely through. Consider that:

1. God is “the Father of mercies”! Our God, the “Father of the Lord Jesus”, is “the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our afflictions”. We know that, more than any earthly Father, our Father in heaven longs to comfort us, His adopted children. "If you, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him" (Matthew 7.11). So allow Him to do just that in your day of trial. Go to Him in His word, and especially in the gospel of His dear Son, and allow Him to be for you the “Father of mercies and God of all comfort”.

2. God has a good purpose for your suffering! Our God “comforts us in all our afflictions so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction”. We don't always (or ever) know all that God is doing through our suffering. But we know that He has promised that "all things work together for good to those who love God, who are called according to His purpose" (Romans 8.28). And we can be sure of at least one of those good designs that God has for our suffering. We suffer – and, in turn, receive His comfort – so that, when we meet others who suffer, we have a testimony to share and the salve of Jesus Christ to pour into their wounds. Haven’t you found this to be true? God so often meets us in marvelous comfort … precisely so that we will have a story to tell that will be just the encouragement that someone else needs to help them hang on in faith! So see your sufferings, and your comforts, in that way. Keep a record of God’s faithfulness in them. And see that record of His faithfulness as a blessing, not only to you, but to who knows who else may someday need to hear it!

3. Our God should receive the praises of our lips precisely because He has a purpose in allowing us to suffer. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” That is an action word – “blessed”. And we are to actively, intentionally engage in blessing God … even in suffering! Because we know that God is always working in our lives according to His own good purpose, even when we suffer … we ought always to praise Him for His working in our lives, even when we suffer! God is always worthy of our praise …whether through our shouts of triumph or through our bitter tears. Why? Because God is always faithful. So we can "bless the Lord at all times" (Psalm 34.1) – even in suffering. We can "rejoice in the Lord always" (Philippians 4.4) – even in pain. We can "give thanks in everything" (1 Thessalonians 5.18) – even and especially in affliction and loss.

So – those who are loved and who have been bought by Jesus Christ – rejoice when you suffer! The LORD, the Father of Jesus is “the God of all comfort”. And He will use your pain and comfort for the glory of His own holy Name. As John Piper has written:
For God's beloved naught is vain,
God does not waste the gift of pain.
Love and comfort to you in Christ.

July 13, 2011

Elisabeth Ann Strassner

Born at 1:51AM on July 13. 7lbs., 14oz. Mom and baby are healthy!
Elisabeth is from John the Baptist's mother. Ann after missionary Ann Judson. And, least interestingly, Strassner after yours truly.

July 12, 2011

You Thought I was Just Like You

So says God to some of His people in Psalm 50.21. And it caught my eye as I read it this week. How many times do I act as though God were just like me? How many times do I bring Him down to my level? Surely more than I realize! So it got me thinking. What are some of the ways we might fall foul of the accusation that God made against the Israelites there in Psalm 50? What are some ways that we are prone to shrink God down to our own size? Let me list just a few …

Flippancy. When we refer to God as ‘the man upstairs’ or ‘the big fellow’, it seems to me as though we are treating Him like we treat one another; as though he were just like one of us. It’s one thing when we don’t take one another or ourselves seriously. Sometimes, in fact, it is quite appropriate to call ourselves or others by quaint or silly nicknames. But is that how the created thing should speak to His Creator? We can’t find a single instance of it in Scripture. So, while it is right and good to refer to God in familiar terms (as our Father, and as our Friend), it is belittling to jest about Him, or call Him by names that denote far less reverence than the Bible ever uses. And we ought to be careful, even with the best intentions, of doing so.

Distrust. How easy is it, when something difficult happens, to doubt whether God will really be able to come through this time. Of course we’d never say it that way. But our fretting, and worrying, and taking matters so quickly into our own hands shows that we are (at least temporarily) thinking of God as though He were a bit like us; as though His hands just might be tied like ours are. When the truth is that God is infinitely able to come through no matter what the circumstance or problem. And we ought to trust Him to do so!

Pettiness. Isn’t it a common thing, for many Christians, to become bitter over offenses committed against us … and to use God’s justice and hatred for sin as an excuse to hold on to our own petty lack of forgiveness? I think it is! It is easy to try and pass off our bitterness as righteous indignation; to be able to treat people with contempt, or talk about people viciously, all the while convincing ourselves that we are only saying about them what God would say! That was part of the problem in Psalm 50. The people were slandering one another, and assuming that God would back up their words. Why? Because they thought He was like them … holding grudges, and harboring bitterness, and behaving pettily, and so on. But God is not like that, is He? He is not like us in this regard at all. God’s forgiveness is full and free because Christ died for us. And so, when we sin and repent, He casts our sins into the ocean of His forgetfulness, and remembers them no more. And we ought to do the same.

Imagination. Isn't imagination a good thing? In most spheres of our thinking, definitely so! But not when it comes to our conceptions of God. The second commandment specifically warns against imagining God, especially in a physical sense. Why? Because, when we try to imagine what God looks like, we have nothing visual with which to compare Him except created things … which we are expressly warned not to use as likenesses of God! And so, when we do so, we inevitably end up imagining God in our own image and thinking that He is just like us … because we are all we know with our own two eyes! It would be better for us to simply accept the fact that God is Spirit; and that, even in His incarnation, we do not know exactly what He looked like. And, rather than imagining His face here and now, we ought to long for that day when we will truly see Him face to face, there and then! In that day, it will still be true that God is not like us. But in that day, miraculously (1 John 3.2), it will also be true that we will be like Him!

July 11, 2011

Pray without Ceasing

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. Over the next week, 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 maybe print this blog post 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 - Tammy, Midge, Allen, Stephanie, Joyce, Carolyn G., Eric, Linda, and Mirian
▪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 - Mark, Scott H., Mandy, Diane, Alisha, Regina, Carolyn V., Philomina, Gwen, Scott M., CJ, Sarah W., Brian, Brad, and Karen
▪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, 7:45-8:30pm
▪For Charles as he prepares a brief gospel message for the parents, from the book of Jonah.
▪That many parents would come.
▪That the parent’s hearts would be softened toward the message, and that many might be drawn to Christ.

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

July 7, 2011

A Cause Big Enough to Live for

I thought the following article by John Piper was very perceptive and challenging. Here's a flavor:
What kind of Christians do we want our churches to breed? Consider: Apathetic Christians, who spend most of their discretionary time in worldly entertainment, seldom pray, weep, or work for the reaching of the perishing peoples of the world. Do not coddle them. Confront them. Tell them to get a life. PG13 videos every other night leaves them spiritually powerless and empty. They need a cause big enough to live for. And die for.
The article is an introduction to Desiring God's upcoming fall conference: Finish the Mission.

Some of you might think of attending. I think it could be quite stirring and helpful.

July 5, 2011

Sermon Series: Minor Characters of Major Significance

Over the last few weeks we've given our Sundays and Wednesdays to observing the lives of some of the bit actors in God's drama of redemption; some of the Bible's lesser known characters. What can we learn from some of these men and women whom we may have never noticed before? A lot actually - both about the good news of Jesus, and about our own personal discipleship. So listen in! I hope you are encouraged and helped.

1 Kings 18.3-4 - "Obadiah feared the Lord greatly" MP3
Jeremiah 38-39 - The Other Ethiopian Eunuch MP3
Acts 18 - Priscilla and Aquila MP3
2 Samuel 17 and 19 - Barzillai, the Gileadite MP3
Various Texts - "John, who was also called Mark" MP3
Colossians 1 and 4 - Epaphras, Small Town Pastor MP3
2 Kings 11.1-3 - Jehosheba, the Faithful Aunt MP3

I hope to add a couple more sermons to the series (and this blog post) in the next few weeks. So, if you're interested, check back. And, as always, I hope you enjoy the word of the Lord!

Vacation Bible School

VBS is coming ... July 11-15, 6:30-8:30pm nightly. Check it out.